Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: EC3 returned, Vanessa Borne reminded us that there’s true beauty in the world, and Keith Lee got into a hoss fight (and lost!) against Lars Sullivan. I guess that’s what makes you the “hottest free agent in WWE” when you’re already technically employed by WWE.
If you missed this episode, you can watch it here. If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, click right here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, where everything and everyone is terrible.
Note: Make sure you’re reading the Best and Worst of NXT UK as well, so you’ll be caught up whenever they decide to start doing “battles for brand supremacy.”
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for December 5, 2018.
Best: So It’s Not Just A Clever Name
Opening this week’s show with his Grand Theft Auto San Andreas loading screen entrance theme is the King of Brothers, Lord Matthew Fredrick Riddle, taking on the debuting Punishment Martinez. Yes, “Punishment” is supposed to be his actual first name. You may recognize Big Pun from his run as the ROH World Television Champion, his appearances in New Japan Pro Wrestling, or from that part in All In where Dalton Castle said he had a jerkier brother named “Encouragement.” Dalton Castle already took all the best jokes.
Anyway, it’s only about three minutes long, but I loved it. I feel like there’s got to be something actually wrong with you if you don’t like Matt Riddle. Punishment coming in and losing his debut as glorified enhancement talent, aka “pulling a Donovan Dijak,” is probably for the best. He looked great, pulled off some impressive stuff, and fought hard in the loss. WWE’s signing so many people on such a regular basis it’s hard to even get that “notable indie guy” spot. You’ve got to be a tippy-top guy now to get that. Plus, this will allow him to actually become an NXT character and develop as part of the world, instead of looking like someone put a POPULAR INDEPENDENT STAR decal on the hull of the show.
Riddle squashes are great, especially when he’s knocking out Big Kass with some six seconds magic, but his matches are always better when his opponent can beat him up a little. That seems to be par for the course for people who come in from toughman competitions or actual combat sports. Punishment dishes out some Martinez, allowing Riddle to react and show his ability to fight competitively and adapt. That Bromission that gets immediately broken only for Riddle to slap Pun in the chest over and over with urgency and lock it back in was A+. It wasn’t Sasha stomping Bayley’s hand, but it was on that family tree. Good stuff.
After the match, Riddle gets sneak-attacked by the Build-a-Bear workshop version of AJ Styles.
I’m sad they’re going to do another match between the two and make it competitive instead of having Ohno die on the way back to his home planet (of Melmac), but I’m confident Riddle will still come out on top with authority. Again, it’s like watching The Beast wrestle the Prince he becomes at the end of the movie.
Fun fact: I looked it up, and the Disney Beast’s real name is “Prince Adam.” That would explain why he Has The Power.
Best: A New #1 Contender To The NXT Women’s Championship
Unless those other three are God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we know who’s winning. Bianca Belair vs. Shayna Baszler at NXT TakeOver: Phoenix is something I need in my life. ?
Best: Humberto Carillo And Raul Mendoza
Up next is an extremely WCW match in which a team of impossibly talented cruiserweights from Mexico look impressive but end up losing to a couple of dopey, identical, moderately-sized average-ass American guys. It’s Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler, aka Aces and Aints, versus Humberto Carillo and Raul Mendoza.
It’s impossible to say Carillo and Mendoza are becoming one of my favorite tag teams on a show with Heavy Machinery and the Street Profits and Oney and Twoey, but shit, it’s close. These guys HAVE IT, and everything they do in the ring looks pretty. They’re clearly light years better than the Forgotten Sons, who win the match with a goddamn jumping stomp, but sadly sometimes that’s the role of the enhancement talent. To enhance. I grew up wanting White Lightning Tim Horner to kick Ric Flair’s ass, too, but it wasn’t going to happen.
One thing NXT’s getting really good at is being reliably trustworthy with the futures of its characters and never prone to falling into lazy-ass Raw tropes that you can forget it’s “a business” for an hour, and let yourself get mad that the guys you like lost to guys you don’t. That’s what the complaints about a wrestling show should be, you know? “What they did was really good, and I wish things had turned out differently for my favorites.” Instead of, “why does it seem like this show was written as fast as possible by a hungover college kid five minutes before he had to turn it in?”
Best: Undisputed Era Rent Promo Space For Only $19.99*
I cannot explain in words how much I love the fact that the Undisputed Era got attacked in their normal promo space a few weeks ago, so now they’re locking themselves inside the back of a U-haul to cut promos. Also, Roderick Strong saying that The Mighty is “more like The Weaky.” STOP MAKING ME LIKE RODERICK STRONG, NXT.
Best: Velveteen Dream’s Experience Magicks
I’m also fascinated by the fact that Velveteen Dream’s ability to turn everyone purple by raising his arms isn’t just a lighting trick for his ring entrance, it’s an actual superpower he possesses. When the set isn’t nice enough for his interview, he snaps his fingers and makes a bunch of purple lights come on while his theme plays. When he’s done, he snaps again, and it’s gone. “The Experience” is that the man is a mutant with such an impossible sense of confidence he’s developed the ability to manipulate his own personal reality.
Velveteen Dream and Queen Cathy are the best on-screen NXT duo since Sami Zayn and “ray of sunshine” Renee Young. I hope Dream stays here forever, and never goes up to Raw to have people tell him he’s got no balls and beat him up 3-on-1.
Best: Get Rich Or Kai Trying
The best match of the week is Dakota Kai’s latest attempt to stand up to Shayna Baszler. It’s GREAT. I appreciate that they’re taking a different kind of trajectory with Kai than they did with Bayley, where instead of having her lose to EVERYONE for a couple of years to build up sympathy, they just had her be terrified of a legitimately terrifying opponent and realize she’s never going to get anywhere in wrestling being afraid of getting hurt.
The key moment of the bout comes when Baszler steps on Kai’s hand and prepares to stomp her elbow into the ground. When she jumps to do the stomp, Kai moves and counters with a roll-up. Not only is it showing that she’s learned from previous encounters, it’s showing that yeah, if you just move your arm out of the way when the person stops stepping on it, you won’t get it stomped again. It’s the kind of logical homework and match planning that comes when you take a second to breathe, prep with your prefrontal cortex instead of your brain’s Fight Or Flight response, and have enough confidence in yourself to know you belong.
Of course, Baszler still wins, and doesn’t need her Four Horsewomen pals to help her do it. That’s also really important. Baszler needed Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir to get her past Kairi Sane, sure, but she isn’t a cowardly heel. She’s a bad-ass with a self-imposed inferiority complex. When she loses, she beats herself up about it and tries harder to win. When she can’t find a solution, that’s when she cheats. It’s the same thing Asuka had going as NXT Women’s Champion in that feud with Ember Moon. Baszler has to struggle to beat a resurgent Kai, but she can handle it, and is still able to whip out a beautiful counter and choke her out.
The post-match is when the attack happens, because yeah, she’s still a heel. Io Shirai shows up to even the odds, because one Io Shirai equals two of anybody else. If Shayna had trouble getting past Kairi Sane, she needs to stay 100 feet away from Io goddamn Shirai at all times.
Best: The Champ Is Here (In Your Head)
Finally we have a promo from Tommaso Ciampa, which escalates until he’s positioning two emotional rage-monsters (Aleister Black and Johnny Gargano) against one another and manipulating them into fighting each other in a steel cage instead of focusing on him. He knows that one way or another, the beef between his top two contenders is enough to talk them into a dangerous situation, and that if Black’s going to challenge him for the strap in Phoenix, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to throw him in a cage against the guy who previously injured him and took him out of title contention. It’s super smart. He knows Gargano can’t let shit go, and that he’s got Gargano’s emotional well-being in the palm of his hands. Black isn’t susceptible to Ciampa’s machinations, but Johnny will do stupid shit if you taunt him enough.
Black lays out Ciampa to end the segment, which is exactly the step we need to get Ciampa and Gargano reuniting as an evil version of DIY. I really hope that happens and sticks. Gargano’s ultimate quest for redemption won’t mean as much unless he completely loses himself to the dark side for a while. Take your time with that story. You don’t have to burn through it. Have Gargano go bad for a while, slowly realize what’s been going on, and have to work toward actual redemption for misdeeds instead of just not cheating to balance out the fact that he thought about cheating. That was Sami’s story. This is so much deeper.
- EC3 defends the honor of his leg in a match against Bobby Fish
- Ricochet defends the North American Championship against [oh god the spoilers ruined this for me but I’m SO EXCITED TO TYPE ABOUT IT TO YOU IN CAPITAL LETTERS]
- Oney and Twoey face The Weaky, and these nicknames have gotten so out of control it sounds like baby talk