Last time in the Best and Worst of NXT UK: It was almost a month ago when NXT UK aired their last pre-pandemic lockdown taped episode, featuring a 20-minute Battle Royal. They still haven’t done any more tapings, and won’t for a while yet, but this week they put together an episode featuring Dark Matches that never aired on TV before, so that’s definitely worth a recap. If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT UK, click right here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter if you want.
And now, the Best and Worst of NXT UK Hidden Gems, from April 30, 2020.
Best: Lament For A Virtuosa
Talk about a blast from the past! This match features:
- An excited live crowd, at a music festival no less!
- NXT UK Women’s Champion Toni Storm, long before Kay Lee Ray appeared to emotionally destroy her and take the title.
- Deonna Purrazzo.
This is a great match, with plenty of time for back-and-forth and in-ring drama. Toni Storm shines in it as well, but watching from today’s perspective it’s hard not to see it as a perfect encapsulation of Deonna Purrazzo’s time with NXT. She comes to the ring like a star, and holds her own against the top woman on the brand she’s visiting, never once giving Toni anything but her very best. But for all her effort and all her talent, there’s never a moment when you think she might win. Deonna is there to help create shine, but all of that shine is going on Toni.
None of that is Toni’s fault of course. She just seems happy to be having a great match with an opponent as good as Deonna, and that’s part of what makes this so enjoyable to watch. Toni’s been a bit adrift herself lately, but hopefully by the time wrestling returns to normal she can find a place within WWE where she can continue to shine. And hopefully Deonna finds some other place, where she can have some shine of her own.
Best: Riddle Me This, Bullman
I still find Ligero awfully boring for a guy who wears a mask with giant horns on it (and in this match, a harness with shoulder horns too), but he’s extremely athletic and knows his way around the ring, so he works fine against somebody like Matt Riddle, who has charisma enough for the both of them. In fact, watching this made me think about how many other guys in NXT UK I’d like to see Riddle in the ring with. Maybe once international travel is a thing again and he and Pete Dunne are reunited, they could go spend some time in Pete’s homeland. Just long enough for Matt to wrap his muscular limbs around Noam Dar, and maybe a Coffey or two.
Anyway, Riddle’s victory is assured from moment one, but he’s one of those guys that’s always fun to watch even when he’s just beating somebody up. Which is not to say Ligero didn’t get any offense in — he got more than expected, but he was no match for the King of Bros. I’m excited about the prospect of one day watching Matt Riddle wrestle in front of a live crowd again.
Worst By Default: Disassembling A Witch
Honestly I enjoyed this match too, but I’m trying to have at least one “Worst” in here, and this is the obvious choice. This was Shayna Baszler visiting NXT UK when she was NXT Women’s Champion. As great as Shayna is, I think we all got a little bit tired of watching the ultra-dominant women’s champion tapping out (or just rendering unconscious) anyone who got in her way. This is one of those matches, against Isla Dawn, who’s not in line to take any titles off of anybody anytime soon.
I like Isla Dawn, as I’ve said many times before. She’s got a fantastic look, a fun energy, and tons of charisma, but she’s not exactly what you’d call a great worker. Her drop kick is… not a thing of beauty, for example, and when she manages to get an opponent down on the mat, it’s always an open question whether or not she’ll know what to do with them. Her lack of technical proficiency becomes especially glaring when she’s in the ring with somebody like Shayna, who’s as technical as she is ruthless. So this never quite feels like a wrestling match so much as Isla trying to get a couple of things done before she inevitably passes out in the Kirifuda Clutch. Still, there are worse things to spend your time watching (just not on this show).
Best: Un Dragon Andalou
This match is preceded by a Zoom interview with Ilja Dragunov where he talks about being the Number One Contender to WALTER’s NXT UK Championship, which among other things gives me hope that WWE still has plans for this show and its currently frozen storylines. Also, it feels kind of weird to see Ilja in his house. Not that you see much of it, but it’s just strange that the Soviet Supersoldier Dragon Man lives in a house at all. I guess he must have escaped from that secret laboratory where they grew him from the DNA of Victor Drago, Finn Bálor, and Vlad the Impaler.
In the only match on the show between two regular members of the UK roster, Dragunov fights A-Kid, and damn what a match. This is easily my favorite A-Kid match I’ve seen, and at least one of the best Dragunov matches too. I’ll admit A-Kid hadn’t made much of an impression on me before, but this is one of those “Okay, I get it now” matches. Other than the fact that it’s face-vs-face, I can’t imagine why they didn’t put this on TV in the first place.
A-Kid looks so great in this match that at one point I was thinking, “Surely they wouldn’t make a thing out of Ilja being the Number One Contender and then immediately show him losing to a midcard newcomer,” because it really seemed like that was about to happen. Towards the end if was almost comical watching each guy knock the other one down and then scurry up to the top turnbuckle to hit his move as quickly as possible, but it didn’t take away from the match. If anything, that level of almost cartoonish escalation just added to the fun.
This whole episode is worth checking out, but if you were only going to watch one match, this should absolutely be the one.
That’s all for this edition! I’ll be back to recap whenever there’s new stuff to cover!