Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: NXT went to war (games), and then the American Thanksgiving holiday made it hard for a wrestling blogger to have an afternoon off to spend with his family and write half a dozen 3,000 word wrestling columns. Sorry! This one is for two weeks!
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 November 27 and December 4, 2019.
Best: NXT DEADLY GAME
While NXT technically won the war for BRAND SUPREMACY and received both jack and shit for it, the real story coming out of Survivor Series weekend was KEITH LEE. He got a big star-making moment against Roman Reigns at the end of the men’s Survivor Series match featuring a Spirit Bomb that practically turned The Big Dog into puppy chow, and while he didn’t win, even the LOSS was awesome and he got a Shield respect fist-bump afterward. So Keith’s suddenly and immediately the top guy in NXT now, right?
Well, kind of.
As seen above, the first post-Survivor Series NXT opens with Josiah Williams doing his best attempt at a Poppy opening credits remix. Like a lot of Survivor Series, it felt weird that the current NXT roster would be happily dancing with the crowd because they showed brand superiority over a bunch of people who were in NXT before. Performance Center trainees who’ve never been on the show celebrating the fact that Survivor Series decided they were more “NXT” than Asuka, Kairi Sane, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, the Four Horsewomen, and like a dozen others? All right. But yeah, Undisputed Era interrupts to take credit for everything, and the NXT Superfriends of Keith Lee, Tommaso Ciampa, Dominik Dijakovic, and a not-especially-helpful Matt Riddle stand up to them. Finn Bálor also wanders in, and that sets up two matches: O’Reilly and Fish defending the Tag Team Championship against Lee and Dijak, and Ciampa vs. Bálor in an “imagine this having a clean finish” match.
Let’s talk about Lee first, as we always should.
The tag match ends in the most hilarious way, with Keith Lee accidentally causing a viral GIF moment and being so stunned by it that he forgets to get back into the ring and help his tag team partner avoid Total Elimination. In case you missed it somehow, Adam Cole jogs down the ramp to get hungry and leave no man untested and gets straight-up POUNCED into the crowd by Lee. It was instantaneously the most iconic NXT image of the year, and, if God and Vince McMahon’s production teams are just, one of those things you’re gonna see in highlight videos for the rest of your life.
Also, it’s just super fucking funny. It needs the Shooting Stars meme treatment or the Ducktales moon theme behind it. As a quick note, remember that this is time #1 that Dijakovic has been ignored and disrespected since stepping in to help out Ciampa’s War Games team.
The only downside to the match is that early on, Bobby Fish gets launched out of the ring and lands awkwardly on the side of his face, causing him to get taken to the back and replaced by Roderick Strong. Concussion scares are no joke, especially for a guy like Fish with terrible injury luck. Fingers crossed that he’s fine and will be back soon.
Ciampa vs. Bálor is pretty good but forever in second gear, and really only happening in this form to set up a run-in from Adam Cole. Cole wants to control the pool of championship challengers, and believes he can do that by leveraging the anarchic appearances of Bálor — who, to Cole’s credit, previously targeted guys Cole hates, like Johnny Gargano and Matt Riddle — to take out Ciampa. It works in a “wins and losses” kind of way, but when Cole oversteps and tries to celebrate their shared villainy, Bálor gives him the Gargano Special:
This firmly cements Bálor as what you might call a “tweener,” better described as “chaotic neutral.”
A chaotic neutral character is an individualist who follows their own heart and generally shirks rules and traditions. Although chaotic neutral characters promote the ideals of freedom, it is their own freedom that comes first; good and evil come second to their need to be free.
Wrestling needs to ditch the “heel” and “face” terminology completely and adopt the more nuanced Dungeons & Dragons classifications. That sounds like I’m setting up another joke, but I’m serious. Not only would it give us more engaging characters than “good” or “bad,” it’d eliminate like 20% of terrible wrestling conversations on the internet and allow us to debate character alignment based on factual in-universe evidence and observable trends. Honestly, I don’t think pro wrestling’s ever allowed me to be as dorky about it as I want to be.
The following week’s show opens with The Undisputed Era once again complaining about the general state of things, Cole calling out Finn Bálor for answers — are you HEEL or FACE, Finn, I need to know right now — and getting Keith Lee instead. Cole is all, “I AM THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA, I AM UNDISPUTED,” and Lee is all, “bitch you a GIF,” so they come to blows. Lee holds his own against them three-on-one, but eventually Ciampa has to make the save.
Because NXT has no main roster creative involvement and these show-opening promos to set up tag team main events are purely coincidental, this sets up Lee, Ciampa, and Dijakovic against a united (minus Fish) Undisputed Era posse. Is there a memorable GIF in this one, you might be asking? But of course. This is KEITH LEE. He is the GIF that keeps on giving.
The six-man tag features a run-in and a ref bump — again, no main roster creative interference here, please move along — and, most importantly, the following GIF. Finn Bálor shows up to dropkick Adam Cole in the back and 1916 Ciampa to show his Chaotic Neutral Dominance, but does not seem to notice Godzilla rising from the ocean to murder him with fire breath.
Finn not having any peripheral vision is bad but works for the shot, and is justified by the expert timing of Lee grabbing Finn by the neck the second you see him realize something’s wrong. It’s like, [elaborate taunt] [pause] [blink] [GRAB]. You think this is going to end in a random disqualification, but nope, Survivor Series empowered Keith by God Lee just powers the hell up, Spirit Bombs Finn, Bask-hammer’s Cole, and pins the NXT Champion to win the match. Again, “challenger has pinned the NXT Champion” does not suggest we’re booking NXT like Raw and Smackdown, shut up is what. But hey, Raw and Smackdown booking can still be exciting and fun to watch as long as everyone’s into it, and you don’t do the same thing every week for 15 years in a row.
Next week we get Finn vs. Ciampa vs. Lee for a shot at Adam Cole and the NXT Championship. As a quick note, remember that this is time #2 that Dijakovic has been ignored and disrespected since stepping in to help out Ciampa’s War Games team. Dude is literally still at ringside while you’re announcing that everybody but him gets to be in the mach. I hope he doesn’t show up and chokeslam everybody, but I wouldn’t blame him.
Best: The Fallout From Women’s War Games, Or, ‘Dakota Kai Descends Into Badness’
In case you missed it, neuvo Bayley Dakota Kai went rogue and eliminated the Nox Populi with a sneak attack at War Games. It wasn’t just a beatdown, either. Kai straight up murked her former tag team partner, repeatedly smashing her knee in a shark cage door and leaving her in a semi-common state of injured reservation. On the first episode following War Games, Kai’s coming to the ring with Tegan’s knee brace in her hand like a trophy and facing one of her two War Games teammates who actually made it into the match and somehow won the thing, Candice LeRae.
Kai, who is so evil right now she can barely contain herself, hits Candice in the face with Nox’s Magic Shoe. That brings out the other War Games teammate who made it into the match, Captain Rhea Ripley, to scare her to the back. When you’ve betrayed your friends it’s fine to go face-to-face with the little nice lady in Disney parks-print gear, but you’ve gotta run in fear if the short-hair Aussie comes running after you boots-first.
Later in that episode, Shayna Baszler turns babyface by attacking a Xia Li vs. Vanessa Borne match for being terrible. No, in all seriousness, she shows up looking to make herself feel better for getting pinned at War Games by bullying her least threatening classmates and knees Li in the face about it. Arbiter of justice Rhea Ripley shows up again looking confident as hell and steps to Shayna, assuming a straight-up one-on-one title match would involve handcuffs, chair beds, and 20 minutes of team-based cage violence. Baszler bails, apparently cowering and refusing to do things right here, right now like a good WWE babyface, leaving Ripley feeling like she’s on the top of the world. This becomes important later.
A week goes by, and Dakota Kai decides to up her evil ante by making her TitanTron entrance video black and white footage of Tegan Nox screaming and getting destroyed. Kai’s gone full Age of the Fall here, people. Oh, and she admits to being the one who attacked “that hood rat” Mia Yim and took her out of the War Games match, which makes everyone involve seem super stupid considering Kai’s standing front and center while everyone’s checking on Yim on the War Games kickoff show and Yim’s like, “this is fine.” Kai’s even trying to get into the ambulance with her. Was she wearing a mask or something? Wouldn’t Yim have at least been like, “somebody in a mask attacked me?” How Big Cass do you have to be to not see your backstage attacker? Does Mia Yim have Finn Bálor peripheral vision, and Kai attacked her from the side? Come on. You could’ve had Baszler attack Yim and Kai still take her place and turn on the team without adding that unnecessary extra bit.
So NXT hilariously baits-and-switches their one announced match for the week, revealing that the scheduled Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley match is actually just a chance for Mia Yim to get the jump on Kai and beat her down. Again, it seems like there are more effective ways to secretly attack your opponents than by someone announcing it’s about to happen, and you having to run down a ramp in front of fans and television cameras to get to them. Didn’t Yim recently pull off successful sneak attacks on Shayna Baszler’s friends without announcing it beforehand? Oh, right, USA Network, Survivor Series. Shit’s gotta be dumber now. Got it.
Earlier in the night, Shayna Baszler more or less squashes Xia Li in a reminder that heel champions, especially Shayna Baszler, should occasionally just win via kicking somebody’s ass. If your character is exclusively a cowardly loser, they stop being imposing. See: Raw comma Smackdown.
Baszler remembering she’s tough and threatening continues immediately following the Yim and Kai brawl, as she and the Lesser Horses show up to attack Rhea Ripley 3-on-1. I guess Candice LeRae’s still selling the brace-facing and couldn’t help out, and that’s the extent of the positive friendships in the NXT women’s division. Baszler and Pals do a great triple-team Kirifuda Clutch where Duke and Shafir hold Ripley’s arms out to the side so she can’t break the hold, and Baszler triumphantly announces that Ripley’s getting her NXT Women’s Championship opportunity on December 18. Might as well start choking the shit out of her about it now, right?
This is all still mostly good stuff, but the continuity feels too loosey-goosey for the NXT I’m used to, and the booking feels too familiar. I don’t know, maybe I’m just still gun shy because of Survivor Series. The matches will be good. I can’t decide if Ripley winning right now is the right call, or if she needs Shayna to break her, like so, with her knee. If Shayna’s run has to end, at least let it be to a transitional champion, who then immediately loses it to Io Shirai.
Also On These Episodes
Lio Rush has a pretty enjoyable and successful Cruiserweight Championship defense against Akira Tozawa, who appears to be on a brand-spanning loser tour on his way out of the company. It brings up a good question, I guess: why did they move the Cruiserweight Championship to NXT, rebrand it the “NXT Cruiserweight Championship,” and then not actually cancel 205 Live and bring all the cruiserweights over?
From this week’s Best and Worst of Raw on that same subject:
Is it concerning to anybody else that Raw and Smackdown removed all the top cruiserweight stars and former champions from 205 Live — Mustafa Ali, Cedric Alexander, Buddy Murphy, Drew Gulak, and now Tony Nese — just to make them infrequently reoccurring jobbers? Then they moved the Cruiserweight Championship to NXT and put it on Lio Rush, and left 205 Live itself stocked with guys like The Bollywood Boyz and Ariya Daivari? You built a division, gave it a show, penalized anyone who did well on it without any love or promotion by bumping them up to the lowest rung on a different show, and then more or less separated the champion from the division. Why the fuck would anybody want to watch 205 Live at this point? If you don’t want a show, just don’t make the show.
Short version: move the noteworthy cruiserweights to the show where the cruiserweight division is, use the non-cruiserweight jobbers on your roster as jobbers since they’re never on TV anyway, and give the actual Cruiserweight Champion someone competitive to fight so it’s as good as possible. I love Tozawa as much and probably way more than the next guy, but it makes your champ look like shit when his top competitor that’s pushing him to his limits in a championship match was just on Raw getting short jokes made about him by Jerry Lawler.
WWE finally seems to have realized that if they’re gonna make Monsoor a battle royal winner who can pin Cesaro whenever the company’s in Saudi Arabia, they should probably have him at least show up on the stateside wrestling shows. He’s pretty good, but I saw AddMayne in our open thread say he looks like Seth Rollins’ voice, and now that’s all I can see. Mansoor pins Shane Thorne here, who then goes outside and cries about it. A heel who loses and sits down and yell-cries about it? He’s almost ready for the main roster!
Speaking broadly of jobbers, The Forgotten Sons beat a pair of them (from EVOLVE!) and have realized the perfect combination of their talents: Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler as nearly identical, deluded “tough guys” who hit everyone as hard as they can as much as they can, and Jaxson Ryker as the 911-style enforcer at ringside who doesn’t say anything, doesn’t wrestle, and pops in at the end to celebrate and maybe chokeslam somebody. That’s it. That’s the version of the team that works. Stick with it.
Here’s Ryker’s chokeslam on Leon Ruff, by the way, and I think I speak for everyone when I call it a Ruff landing.
Before you ask, yes, if Adrian Alanis had taken the move instead I would’ve described it as a Jagged Little Spill.
Kassius Ohno loses to Matt Riddle in a battle of Before vs. After. Inspired by the build to Survivor Series, which featured NXT guys having passionate brand loyalty against a bunch of wrestlers who were also in NXT, Ohno’s here to represent NXT UK in the build to the upcoming Worlds Collide event, pitting NXT against a bunch of wrestlers who were also in NXT. Worlds Collide, your only chance to see matches like Pete Dunne vs. WALTER, Undisputed Era vs. Mustache Mountain, and Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno!
Speaking of folks who should be current NXT UK stars but are hanging around at NXT Domestic for some reason, there’s a Pete Dunne vs. Killian Dain match on this week’s show. It ends with Dunne putting Dain in a sleeper on the top rope for some reason — okay, the second rope, but “top rope” in commentary terms — and Dain just falling backwards on him, giving him the ol’ Vader/Cactus Jack nut-squash and pinning him.
Like a lot of our commenters echoed in the open discussion thread, why is Pete Dunne suddenly losing so much? The guy held a championship for like 700 days, and now he’s putting fat dudes in submission holds that knock them out while they’re both standing precariously on the ropes? When did Pete Dunne of all people stop thinking about how wrestling moves work? Next week is he gonna Irish whip a guy into the ropes, leap frog him, and then just keep jumping straight up and down in the middle of the ring because he doesn’t know what to do next? Can we show him Survivor Series and that England Raw to shake the fear of WALTER out of him and get him hanging out with Tyler Bate and Trent Seven again? I don’t enjoy geographically lobotomized Pete Dunne.
Finally there’s KUSHIDA vs. Cameron Grimes, which is a nice return to action for KUSHIDA. As previously mentioned, he works well as a guy who wins matches in realistic ways, instead of just building up momentum until he’s stored specials and then doing his signature moves. KUSHIDA looks like he works for his wins, which not only makes him look like a creative and interesting wrestler, it makes his opponents look equally competent. Yeah, I would’ve preferred to see KUSHIDA beat the hillbilly top hat off of Grimes in five seconds too, but this was probably the better call.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The (Two) Weeks
Dave M J
Cameron Grimes: As soon as I graduated high school-
…wow, now THAT’S a plot twist.
that look Candace just gave Rhea….Johnny might as well start packing up his stuff
Dakota Kai looks like she and Bayley spent all day spraypainting BUTTS and FARTS onto I-4 overpasses
The Real Birdman
Tozawa rocking a Raw shirt. Arrest him.
I know that Keith Lee gif is gonna be the big meme take away of the night, but I don’t think we should be overlooking the entire UE shimmying Dijakovic across the ring like a weird reverse conga line.
Does Velveteen Dream return and insist on a Cruiserweight title match just because the belt would go with so many of his outfits?
“Your a looser”. KOR talks like a lot of my facebook friends type.
The pop when Keith lee wins the nxt belt you will hear in space.
Can we talk about how Keith Lee looks like the Hulk halfway into his transformation?
The Voice of Raisin
One thing the past two months have taught me is that one hour is the perfect amount of time for a wrestling show.
Next week we’ve got a loaded show featuring:
- Finn Bálor vs. Keith Lee vs. Tommaso Ciampa for a shot at the NXT Championship (go Keith)
- Lio Rush defending the Cruiserweight Championship against Angel Garza, who once removed some breakaway pants in front of Rush’s family
- Mia Yim vs. Dakota Kai
And in two weeks, Shayna Baszler defending the NXT Women’s Championship against Candice LeRae’s new wife Rhea Ripley! It’s gonna be great, so drop a comment below to let us know what you thought of the show, give us a share on social, and be here for all the Wednesday goodness.