Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: Timothy Thatcher, who looks like Drew Gulak if Gulak came from California instead of Pennsylvania, debuted as NXT Tag Team Champion. Finn Bálor showed up to make a date he wasn’t going to keep, and Tommaso Ciampa was attacked by the White Rabbit.
If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, you can do that here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, where everything and everyone is terrible.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for April 15, 2020.
Worst, Then Best: Montage Of A Dream Deferred
Finn Bálor was supposed to face The Velveteen Dream in the night’s main event, but there was a Finn incident — a Finncident, if you will — backstage. Two referees found a Finn Bálor t-shirt next to an overturned garbage can and Finn was nowhere to be found, which can only mean something terrible has happened. Top bets include “stuck by Imperium and thrown into Lake Osceola,” “abducted by two mysterious masked men in the Full Sail parking lot,” and, “didn’t want to leave his house and roll around with someone in their sweaty underwear during a global pandemic.” One of the three. Tom Phillips puts it into the proper context:
“In the wake of one of the more disturbing scenes in NXT history, tonight we are faced with another.”
Now left without an opponent, Velveteen Dream opens the show with a promo talking about “new levels” causing “new devils,” because he’s been playing a lot of Ghosts’n Goblins on his 3DS. He’s interrupted by Adam Cole, who believes (or at least asserts) that Dream is the one who vanished Bálor so he could worm his way into an NXT Championship match. Assuming that’s true, Cole does the only reasonable thing and sics the available, non-immunocompromised members of Undisputed Era on him. Good Guy Keith Lee makes the save to set up a tag team match for the main event, and remind us how fun it is any time he’s able to check Adam Cole into oblivion
Unfortunately for Dream, Lee is ALSO attacked only a few minutes into the match by the nightstick of former Cobb County prison guard Damian Priest. It looks like Dream’s going to have to go it alone until, suddenly, Dexter Lumis is in his corner. No entrance, not even a shot of him climbing up onto the apron, just a hard cut to a different camera angle and boom, there he is. And brother, it just works. Who knew that Velveteen Dream’s best friend would be the other guy who crawls around on his belly and stares at people? It’s like two snakes finding each other in the terrarium. Bless whoever was like, “Prince should accidentally become friends with a serial killer.” How good would that movie be? AND THE SOUNDTRACK.
I don’t know how, but Dexter Lumis showing up like a murderous Orange Cassidy to take the hot tag and heroically stomp the shit out of the NXT Champion felt like NXT’s first inspired decision in a while. Maybe since they came to USA Network. I just wish they’d been able to do this in front of fans, because oh man, Full Sail would’ve started up the “holy shit” chant right around the time of that standing dropkick.
This Week In The Largely Unnecessary Interim NXT Cruiserweight Championship Tournament
Drake Maverick wrestles the first of his purported final three matches in WWE as somehow even LESS than an independent contractor, and takes a hard loss to Jake Atlas. You know, one of two things is going on here. One, Maverick’s firing was either a work, or they reneged on it when they saw the social media outpouring for his goodbye video. Or two, they laid a guy off for real and are using his upcoming inability to provide for his family during a societal collapse as a wrestling storyline. The first one would be a huge slap in the face to everyone else who did get laid off for real. The second one means they’re outright exploiting him, and/or planning to pat themselves on the back for giving him his job back after they book him to win. It’s not like he could, say, win actual, real-life competitive sports matches to win a championship and save his job. WWE controls the narrative and everything in it. So either way, it’s just a confusing, bad situation. “Real life sadness due to unemployment and confusion” is a “ripped from the headlines” plot we don’t really need to see on escapist TV shows right now.
It’s a shame that it feels so iffy, because Drake Maverick is awesome and deserves a spot on the show, and Jake Atlas is out here busting his ass with cartwheel DDTs and a complex introspection on the nature of self-worth and masculinity. I’m surprised they didn’t have Los Conquistadores roll up in a mini-van and kidnap them for sounding like human beings.
SPEAKING OF THAT;
This week’s most important moment is the debut of lucha libre institution and recent cowboy taxidermist El Hijo del Fantasma. His WWE look is more Lizmark Jr. than El Fantasma, but I guess every luchador in the company has to more or less look the same. On the topic of look changes, he’s up against Gentleman Jack Gallagher, who if you haven’t been watching 205 Live is now covered in horrible nautical flash and dresses like he’s the star of a gritty British prequel to Christmas. Have you ever wondered what Santa was like BEFORE he started delivering presents??
Hijo del Fantasma breaks out his signature dive here, which will never have a better name than the Lucha Underground version, the Arrow From The Depths Of Hell. It’s notable that he accidentally clips the top rope with both feet but is still going fast and hard enough to eat Gallagher up. That sort of thing usually compromises the entire move and leads to some bad situations. You could shoot El Hijo del Fantasma with an actual bow and arrow and he’s gonna follow through with the dive.
Afterward, Fantasma’s foolishly hanging out in the Full Sail parking lot, the nation’s leading site for cruiserweight abductions, and has to fight off the same masked men who kidnapped (and murdered?) Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde.
A quick note from the Best and Worst of NXT for April 1:
I’ve got to say though, it’s pretty weird that these guys are wearing Black Shadow and Dos Caras masks without, you know, being Black Shadow or Dos Caras. I hate that NXT has become a promotion where they expect fans to not know anything about wrestling. Especially when Dos Caras is a former four-time world champion’s dad, you know? As @luchablog correctly pointed out, if NXT used Tiger Mask and Jushin Thunder Liger masks here, maybe American fans would realize how weird it is for WWE to use easily identifiable wrestling legend iconography for unidentified kidnappers in a throwaway segment. Y’all don’t have the Conquistadors’ masks somewhere in storage down there?
Wait, does this make me an accessory to kidnapping?
In this week’s final tournament match, KUSHIDA (which is going to be hard for me to stop typing in capital letters) defeats Tony Nese, because of course he does. The announce team is still WHOAAA SHOCKED at KUSHIDA’s top rope Hoverboard Lock transition even though he’s already done it in NXT several times, but it’s dope, and WWE spent like five whole years being stunned by John Cena’s top rope leg drop, so it is what it is. Give me a Kushida vs. El Hijo del Fantasma final or give me death. You don’t want to see Fantasma dive 15 feet out into the aisle and get arm-barred on the way down?
Best: Hands Down
Mia Yim defeats Jessi Kamea, who has given up her adorkable Mae Young Classic dancing nerd gimmick to wrestle in what Lacey Evans might wear if she was a New Japan Young Lion. At least she has a last name again! And shout-out to that Erik Watts-style missile dropkick. Jessi is truly a high flyer of the highest magnitude:
After the match, Yim is confronted by La Reina Charlotte Flair, and the two exchange pleasantries about past NXT encounters before Flair completely and utterly burns her by calling her a “good hand.” Oh, and in case you’re one of the many who misheard it, Charlotte said the deepest division, not the “Divas division.” Although calling the NXT women’s division the “Divas division” would be tremendously condescending.
Perfectly Fine: This Tag Team Match
Tegan Nox teams up with Shotzi Blackheart to face Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez in a tag team match that was set up last week, and it’s perfectly cromulent wrestling. It feels like the Kai and Nox story should’ve ended (or at least should’ve gotten paused) after one of those Kai gimmick match wins, but in the era of Gargano and Ciampa, do feuds ever really end? The best news is probably the return of Shotzi’s bumper-car entrance, reminding us that NXT currently features a character whose gimmick is, “green-haired werewolf with horns who gets around in a go-kart-sized tank.”
Also On This Episode
Chelsea Green and Robert Stone are my favorite characters from Too Hot To Handle.
Here’s Damian Priest wearing a beanie and cutting a promo on a rooftop, confirming my suspicions that his character is just Chris R from The Room. “WHERE’S MY FUCKING MONEY, KEITH??” I believe this makes Matt Riddle and Timothy Thatcher Johnny and Mark, respectively.
Finally, please enjoy the re-imagining of Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae as a Peanuts character and a pastel goth who joined The Dark Order over dinner. You’ve gotta love the intense tonal shift between smooth jazz and BLACK AND WHITE SHAKY CAM. Someone at Full Sail watched Zach Braff stare into a broken mirror in Garden State and thought, “yes, this is the quality of symbolism for me.”
“You can play by the rules as much as you want, but let’s be honest … the NXT that I love has become a toxic wasteland where the good people are taken advantage of, and the horrible people thrive, and are rewarded for it.”
That’s not new, man, that’s called working for WWE. Sami Zayn and Neville did a whole bit about it.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Vince when he finally watches Dark Side of the Ring
Dakota Kai made me sign up for 3 subscriptions to Columbia House then stole all the CDs I got for a penny
Io: Why do I want to face Charlotte? Because i want to show her…
Every Internet Snark in Unison: HOW TO DO A MOONSAULT!
Baron Von Raschke
Here’s to you, Drake.
If Lumis just randomly starts showing up and causing indiscriminate chaos towards faces AND heels, I could get WAY into that
Adam Cole is Dennis’s personality with Mac’s face and Dee’s hair
You know Candice is evil now because she has black lipstick
who knew kidnapping Dj Z would be way easier than King Cuerno?
The Real Birdman
Was looking for a drunk/sad Zack Ryder in the background of this Chelsea Green vignette
Gargano: “And we’ll be the first married couple to reign supreme”
Steph watching at home: “Hunter! What a great anniversary present! A couple we can squash to remind everyone who really reigns around here! Thank You, babe. I’ll call my trainer tomorrow!”
The only other thing to mention is that “Karrion Kross” and whatever they’re calling Scarlett Bordeaux are basically doing Death Proof and Planet Terror at the same time. They’re going to rule NXT with THREATENING STOCK FOOTAGE! Thinking about wrestling them? DON’T.
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. We’re not sure you ever actually read this part or do what we ask, but hey, it would really help us if you commented down below and shared the column if you liked or laughed at anything. The world’s tough, and that makes this kind of thing a lot easier.
Join us here next week for Charlotte Flair versus a Good Hand, and the Big Priest Man taking on Keith Lee for the North American Championship.