Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: Matches originally scheduled for NXT TakeOver Tampa Bay were moved to the weekly TV show for a sort of NXT TakeOver: In Your House, and Triple H moderated an argument between his Garbage Sons.
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 1, 2020.
Worst: [Vague Gestures]
Thought NXT with no TakeOver and no fans was depressing? How about no TakeOver, no fans, and Sam Roberts on commentary? The next time Mauro Ranallo screams a bad analogy at the top of his lungs and you think it’s a little much, remember how lucky you are that it’s not five high-octave minutes of WWE pre-show Ben Shapiro sharing America’s worst wrestling opinions.
Up first on an almost impossible to get through episode of NXT is Velveteen Dream vs. Bobby Fish, somehow booked poolside by Adam Cole last week. I miss when William Regal made a point to show up and dunk on wrestlers for pretending they had the power to sign matches. Dream still doesn’t seem to have that pre-injury spark back yet — possibly hurt due to the lack of crowd response making his basic offense look less like a meta statement on sports-entertainment and more like, well, basic offense — and while Bobby Fish is great, he doesn’t have the obvious, over-the-top dipshit personality that anchors a lot of Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, or Roderick Strong matches. Dream wrestling in little gloves is cute, though, and probably a good idea if he’s going to be handling Fish.
Anyway, enjoy Sam dumping on Animal Crossing and saying Velveteen Dream’s not going to be able to get out of a hold while Velveteen Dream’s literally in the middle of getting out of the hold.
Best: Atlas, Shrugged
I think the high point of this week’s episode for me was the NXT debut of Jake Atlas. Great to see him on the show. He’s up against the dreaded DeXtEr LuMiS, aka “Dahmer Krueger,” and as much as that character cracks me up with how corny its whole existence is, I have to admit this is Lumis’ best NXT match so far. Thanks, Jake Atlas!
Two fun notes: (1) Lumis is now using the head and arm choke as a submission finisher, which I am unironically referring to as the HAGER CLUTCH, and (2) he has got to stop doing that move where he gets a running start, slides out of the ring on his belly, and then has to turn around and stand up to throw a punch. Why are you even doing that? He did it in a match at NXT Cleveland a few weeks ago and the entire building was split between laughing out loud or just standing there in confusion. I know you have to add theatrics to something to make it “yours,” but how is you almost breaking your wrists once per match to put yourself in the compete opposite position to throw the strike you’re trying to throw adding to your presentation? It just makes you look like an idiot. Imagine if The Rock set up the Rock Bottom by doing a handstand on the second rope and dropping himself onto his own head.
Yarp: The True Knot Lucha Brothers Are Back!
Walking Wild® loses a solid but a little underwhelming (partially due to commentary) nine minute match with KUSHIDA that’s mostly a ZOOM seminar on creative ways to get into an arm bar, but it’s mostly the prologue to Wilde getting abducted by the same public domain luchadors who kidnapped Raul Mendoza back before we were all quarantined. That’s what you get for not staying inside like you’re supposed to, Joaquin!
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? At least put in the effort to dress them up like the Lucha Dragons. We know there’s already at least two Sin Caras.
Best, But Kinda Sad At The Same Time: No One Will Survive Blackheart!
I thought the gauntlet match to see who’ll get the final spot in the NXT Women’s Championship number one contender match at NXT TakeOver Regular Episode was extremely well-booked. By the numbers, sure, but that’s by design. The numbers are there because they work. Shotzi Blackheart starts off the match and gives the performance of a lifetime, running through Deonna Purrazzo, Xia Li, Aliyah, and Kayden Carter. Not that those are top shelf opponents in NXT terms or whatever, but it’s a big accomplishment for a relative newcomer to take out four opponents in a row. And then, because opportunism is the shittiest thing you can employ in the WWE Universe, evil Dakota Kai enters last AND utilizes outside interference from Lady Diesel Raquel Gonzalez to take out a tired opponent and win the match. Gauntlet matches only really exist so you can get pissed about how unfair they are. That’s part of what made Kofi Kingston having to win a million of them to get to WrestleMania such an anomalous accomplishment.
The “kinda sad at the same time” modifier up there is because Shotzi did all this in front of nobody, when a performance like this would’ve seriously impressed the Full Sail crowd and ingratiated them to her, and would’ve built some substantial heat for the eventual Kai/Shotzi rematch. ESPECIALLY if Kai wins that number one contender match. It is what it is, I guess. At least Shotzi got in the tank entrance before the world went to shit.
Same: The North American Championship Triple Threat
I think more so than Raw or Smackdown or even AEW Dynamite, NXT’s empty arena shows are showing how crucial the crowd’s rabid response to NXT, its matches, its characters, and its plot progression are to NXT existing and feeling like itself. These shows, at least to me, feel like they’re not even happening. The wrestling’s still good, but NXT being the WWE brand that actually excites people and gets them reacting is what makes it special. If you remove that, the line between it and something like Raw or Smackdown is pretty damn thin. Like, Street Profits and Kevin Owens vs. Austin Theory, Angel Garza, and Seth Rollins could be switched with Lee vs. Dijakovic vs. Priest and there wouldn’t be much difference. Again, I know none of this is WWE or the performers’ faults and they can’t do anything about it, but get SOMEBODY out there reacting to it. Subtracting 100% of fans and adding a color commentator who sounds like hates having to be there kills the whole vibe.
So anyway, yeah, with no TakeOver we’re forced to do Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic vs. Damian Priest in a triple threat match for the North American Championship on a normal, empty building edition of NXT TV with only Tom Phillips and Sam Roberts to react to it. I’m kinda shocked Sam didn’t spend the whole match talking about how Keith actually sucks and doesn’t belong on a TakeOver episode. Even moreso than how it affects our enjoyment at home, I think the lack of crowd response hurts the performers in the ring. How can you get invested and feel the ebb and flow of the match without folks reacting to it? It’s gotta feel like practice, even when it’s a high stakes championship match on TV. That might explain some of the rough spots, which I’m not sure would’ve happened under normal circumstances.
Again though, I want to make sure I’m typing too many sentences about how I appreciate the performers for trying to work through this insane global situation, and how happy I am that pro wrestling’s trying to persevere in spite of every sports organization in the world shuttering its doors weeks ago. I just don’t think WWE’s doing them any favors by pretending it’s business as usual, because the context is off, and context is everything.
Next week we’re getting a (I won’t say “the”) blow off to the Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa feud that’s been going on for four damn years with that same loss of context. If they spend the entire episode kicking out of stuff without a crowd to react to it, we’re officially in “tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it” territory.
To Leave You On A High Note After All This Depressing Distillation Of Content And Intent
Here’s Malcolm Bivens formally introducing Rinku, Saurav, and Bivens Enterprises. Times are tough, but at least we’re getting Stoke.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
I hope for Dexter’s entire career Bobby Lashley tries to convince everyone that he’s a serial killer but no one believes him despite it being very obvious that he’s a serial killer
“The Archer of Infamy” uses a nightstick as a weapon? Sure. Can’t wait til next week on AEW when “The Blade” shows up with a gun and “The Butcher” shows up with a potato peeler.
Blackheart’s run in this gauntlet match would be more impressive if she wasn’t beating people who qualified for the match by losing a different match.
Anyone figure out why Councilman Jamm is on commentary for NXT yet?
Sam Roberts has a face for radio and a voice for audiobooks for the deaf
Dexter Lumis is Imperium catnip
Vince: I’m proud of you, Hunter.
HHH: Wow….thank you, Vince. I guess I always knew, but to actually hear you say it…I’m really emotional right n….
Vince: You found the son of Tony Atlas and SQUASHED him just like I would have! So proud!
HHH: …and the moment’s gone.
Sam Roberts sounds like Walter the Muppet and looks like if Walter the Muppet were stitched together entirely out of human assholes
Dexter Lumis looks like a tatted blonde Von Kaiser from Punch Out!!
*hears Sam Roberts’s voice for only a second*
Welp, looks like I’m just watching AEW for the next two hours.
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. As always, make sure to drop down into our comments section and let us know what you thought of the episode, and if you liked or laughed at anything in here, give us a share on social media to help us out. It helps more than you know, especially during all this COVID-19 nightmare where we’re trying to keep freelancers lancing freely writing about almost wrestling shows.
Join us here next week for Gargano vs. Ciampa, the number one contender’s ladder match, and (I hope) extended vignettes of Matt Riddle trying to figure out how to get Pete Dunne back to Full Sail during a travel ban. Also, you know, WrestleMania this weekend. See you then sometime!