Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: We skipped the column due to the coronavirus pandemic turning NXT into WWE Backstage for a week. Also, Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano hate each other, did you know?
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 March 25, 2020.
A few notes before we begin:
- NXT is back at Full Sail University this week, which looks eerie without any fans in it. More like Empty Sail, am I right folks? If you’re going to perform in a tomb, at least make it your own, I guess.
- As First Reported By Sports Illustrated™, NXT TakeOver: Tampa Bay has been canceled and its scheduled matches will take place over the next few weeks on USA Network. It sucks, but there’s nothing else they can do.
- This week’s NXT reminds me a lot of this week’s AEW Dark, where they did twice as many matches as usual to get independent wrestlers a payday. Monday’s three-hour Raw had three matches total, one of them apparently by accident, but NXT had SEVEN. But hey, old school Hulu NXT would sometimes cram five matches into an hour, so I’ll take what we can get.
With all that typed out, keep in mind that while I might slip from time to time, I’m not comparing shows like this to regular episodes, and I very clearly understand the imminent danger we’re all in and how lucky we are that professional wrestling’s found a way to continue in any form at all.
First, The Good News: Io Shirai Is Back
Aliyah and Xia Li, tag team name Xialiyah, are supposed to have the latest qualifying match to see who’ll participate in but not win the NXT Women’s Championship number one contender ladder match at NXT TakeOver: Tampa Bay NXT on USA Network. It turns out Aliyah (and presumably the ghost of Vanessa Borne) attacked Li backstage, so she’s not medically cleared to compete. There is, however, someone in the building medically cleared to compete who can take her place: Io by God Shirai. Signing up for a match with Xia Li and getting Io Shirai instead is like asking someone to remind you when it’s 5:30 and having them pull out a pistol and shoot you in the face.
Shirai wins, of course, because Aliyah’s OVR is like 15 and Shirai could kick Brock Lesnar’s ass if she wanted to. Io qualifies for the ladder match, which means she’s almost definitely moonsaulting off of it onto somebody in the night’s biggest “oh my God you just got back from injury, be careful” moment.
Dear Io Shirai:
Meanwhile, In Five Of The Other Matches
Candice LeRae gets a much easier qualifying draw than Io Shirai and defeats Kayden Carter by submission with the CAN Not Escape. Candice puts some serious effort into selling her missed Lionsault, grabbing her face like she just got punched in the nose and trying to “re-set” it afterward. Kayden’s coming along well enough, although I’m still not totally sure who she’s supposed to be or what her character is. She and Shotzi Blackheart are both new stars with unique looks, so hopefully once the world’s leveled out again we can figure out who they are and why they’re here.
Kayden being from, “the Philippine Islands,” is pretty funny though. Such a weird wording choice. Not wrong, but weird. It’s like billing Santana Garrett as being from, “the Peninsula of Florida.”
Egotistical and handsome young rookie Austin Theory faces formerly egotistical, handsome jaded veteran Tyler Breeze in a real Looper situation of a match. I’m happily surprised that Breeze wins, too, because he could very easily fall into that Kassius Ohno “gatekeeper” role where he’s only around to job out to whomever’s new. I think Breeze has a lot more in the tank as both a performer and a character, and when Austin Theory’s a 14-year veteran he’ll be as old as Seth Rollins is right now. So he’s got time. NXT’s got a real recency bias that I hope works itself out to benefit long-suffering characters and workhorse veterans now that there aren’t, for lack of better phrasing, “call ups.” Breeze reviving his career and succeeding wouldn’t make people going back to NXT feel like a backwards step anymore, too. Follow in Finn Bálor’s footsteps, you know? And bring back the car wash boots already.
Fun note: my parents went to NXT live in Cleveland earlier this month, and ever since then they’ve both randomly said, “ALL DAY!” to each other to emphasize points. So THAT’S effective as hell.
Killian Dain squashes Tehuti Miles, who is a really interesting cat hidden under gear that looks like he’s been rummaging through Enzo Amore’s abandoned locker. In case you don’t know, Miles is a former running back and wide receiver for the Maryland Terrapins who also served in the United States Army and almost died in an explosion in Afghanistan. As soon as fans are back in the building and he’s not wrestling in camo overalls with one of the straps undone like he’s Kelly Kapowski, I think he’ll be able to make a quick connection.
Also, what’s the end game for Dain here? He just hanging out to be NXT’s Viscera and squash little guys only to get his ass kicked by anyone important, or what?
Oney and Twoey get a much-needed win against WWE Raw Superstars Shane Thorne and Brendan Vink. Vink is really maximizing his location relative to the Performance Center and Full Sail to get exposure during the pandemic.
Additionally, Tony Nese learns a valuable lesson about how much good ripped abdominal muscles do for you in professional wrestling during a five minute loss to Cameron Grimes, who eats cornbread and never shaves his chest. It’s the best thing on the show besides the main event, and the Cave In looked good to me for maybe the first time ever. Not a lot else to say as you tend to forget even great Tony Nese matches as soon as they’re done, but it was a fun watch and a good win for Grimes. Grimes has that good kind of NXT momentum where he’s not squashing everyone and winning constantly, but always looks like he MIGHT win, even when he doesn’t. That’s the kind of character you can put in the ring against anybody and not have to worry about it so much.
Best: BIVEN ON A PRAYER
Matt Riddle and Roderick Strong is the best match of the night in a walk, because of course it is. Riddle and Strong could have a three-star match in one of those hurricane booths at the mall you can pay to stand in and get your hair blown around. What’s important here, however, is the post-match attack from Saurav Gurjar and Rinku Singh. Gotta say, pretty smart to kick Matt Riddle’s ass over the Tag Team Championship during a travel ban.
More important than that, even, is the appearance of their manager: Malcolm Bivens, aka the former Stokely Hathaway, who anyone who’s seen his work will tell you is the best manager in wrestling and one of the most valuable on-screen performers they could’ve signed. And anyone with a Twitter account will tell you is funny as shit on a regular basis. Dude created engaging lore around the theft of his CD player. He’s incredible at this, and I’m SO happy he’s finally on TV. Stoked, even.
This Week In Empty Arena Interviews
Keith Lee, Damian Priest, and Dominik Dijakovic are tasked with finally, formally setting up a triple threat for the North American Championship that was definitely previously set for TakeOver: Tampa Bay. Lee shows he’s a good dude by admitting that he made a mistake and owes Dijakovic an apology, Dijakovic pretends like he no longer loves Keith and only cares about the North American Championship because Keith hurt his feelings (and back) by not trusting him and then throwing him at the ground, and Priest shows up to inform everyone that that championship that kinda looks like a bunch of ashtrays on an old coffee table is what will validate his legacy and get him paid and laid. Also, Keith Lee is wearing grey sweatpants with hot pink sneakers because he’s a baller. They brawl, Dijakovic hits a big springboard somersault that would’ve popped the shit out of the Full Sail crowd, and we’re doing the Pretend Tampa Bay Kickoff Show next week. It’s gonna rip, fans or no fans.
Other than Adam Cole cutting a promo from poolside while ‘Theme From Undisputed Era’ playing on Spotify in the background for emphasis, the last thing you need to see is Papa Triple H showing up to organize the final chapter in the Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano rivalry, and inadvertently make them look teeny-tiny.
The first time they tried to end this feud, Ciampa got hurt. The second time they tried to end this feud, the coronavirus happened and completely shut down society for months. Triple H trying to make the epic years-long feud blowoff match happen is starting to feel a little bit like Odin trying to prevent Ragnarok. It’s just not going to happen like you want it to, man. As it stands, they’re going to have an empty arena match — which would probably rule if there were fans around for everything else — with the winner officially being the “heart and soul” of NXT. If they engage each other again afterward for any reason whatsoever, they’re both kicked out of the company. I hope it ends with Sami Zayn showing up and pinning them both, because only one person gets to be the heart and soul of that place. Don’t @ me.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Aliyah last time on NXT TV: I just wanna go home
Aliyah next time on NXT TV: I just wanna go home
Damian is the only one out here right now who’s voice sounds exactly like i’d expect it.
If Candice is happy, the whole world should be happy.
Dave M J
So Damian Priest just said he needs the North American Title to live forever.
Petition to make the North American title the NXT equivalent of Lucha Underground’s immortality amulet.
CharLOTTE has these WEIRD inFLECtionS when she TALKS SOMETIMES.
It’s so weird.
Phillips, Grimes, Nese & Saxton is the whitest group of guys I’ve seen on WWE TV since The Mean Street Posse
Tehuti Miles just told Killian Dane “I’m too quick for you” and I’m immediately reminded of the Red Viper v. The Mountain. I only pray that it ends exactly the same way
Austin Theory and Tyler Breeze trash talking each other is making this match. Normally I don’t care, because we can’t hear it, but actually hearing them call each other names or Theory looking right at the camera while saying his name is great
Tyler Breeze calling Austin Theory “youngblood” is amazing
The funniest comment someone ever made here is still “Austin Theory looks like someone tried to draw Finn Bálor from memory”
I know there have been things that are beyond their control but it seems like since the last Takeover NXT has been too vanilla. There doesn’t seem to be that edge anymore that there always used to be.
so glad io came back to cure the coronavirus
WAIT JUST A MINUTE, FOLKS! The WHITE RABBIT is in the house, and he’s going to jam his fingers into the heart and soul of NXT until they bleed!
Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up on Smackdown any time soon.
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. Make sure to drop down into our comments section and let us know what you thought of the episode. 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 coronavirus shit where we’re trying to keep folks employed and writing about empty arena wrestling shows.
Join us here next week for the North American Championship triple threat, Bobby Fish vs. the Velveteen Dream, and a “second chance” gauntlet to get Dakota Kai into that ladder match. See you then!