It’s been a hectic couple of months, with no slowing down on the horizon, so I need to apologise from the word go. I’m only halfway through this month’s look back column and this week’s AEW Dynamite was the first I saw live in a long time. But I did get a chance to watch NXT TakeOver Portland.
I liked it. There was not a bad match on the card. However, there was also not a “My God! What a match!” match on the card, either.
With that in mind… 10 thoughts!
1) The pre-show was a waste of time and I am sure that, going forward, this will be my last one for NXT if they’re just going to have talking heads acting like wrestling is not pre-determined, bad comedy and bickering.
2) Okay, look, I don’t mind the style of music that opened the show, but this felt like an anodyne version of it. The song was dull and it did nothing to help the show. Music concerts and wrestling… they are hit and miss at the best of times. When it’s good – Joan Jett playing Ronda Rousey to the ring, Motorhead playing down HHH – it can be awesome. Otherwise it’s Salt’n’Pepa insulting the heels or Kiss concerts or that ridiculous rap act feuding with Curt Hennig’s cowboy act… AUGH! And the lacklustre cheers for Poppy following the song indicated maybe I wasn’t the only one who felt that way…
3) North American Title: Keith Lee (c) v Dominik Dijakovic
Started a little sloppy (Lee’s rana notwithstanding) for a few minutes, but then they decided to just hit one another and it became quite good. In fact, as it went on, it became very, very good. The moves these guys were pulling out for men of their size was just jaw-dropping. That senton onto the chair… my God! The flips out of moves was just incredible. This is going to sound odd, but I don’t want either of these guys to go to Raw/Smackdown – they’ll be so watered down they’ll just end up as another in a long run of dull generic wrestlers. Stay in NXT and just wow the crowds. Lee wins to retain the title, and there is a legitimate show of respect at the end. Great match!
4) Street Fight: Tegan Knox v Dakota Kai
Kai jump-starts and this is one from the word go. Look, WWE’s “street fights” have become stale and boring, an excuse to go walking through the crowd, do some stuntman falls and use a few weapons. Become? How about, have been for 20 years. Then AEW almost self-parodies the street fight concept with Moxley/Omega. Then there was this one. The story drove the match, not the weapon shots. These two looked like they genuinely do not like one another – and after Kai turning on Knox at WarGames, who could doubt that? – and this felt a lot more intense than what we’re used to. Yes, blood would have made it better, but these two went out there and just had a brawl. And then… we had an ending that ruined everything before it. A woman (I had no idea who she was) came out and threw Knox into a table, giving Kai the win. It took away from the central theme of best friends busting up in a big way and just felt like a huge let-down.
5) I think Nigel McGuiness (who I loved watching as a wrestler, FWIW) is the best commentator on any WWE show. Questioning the decisions of the wrestlers, his knowledge of the moves, his selling of how things hurt and where they hurt, he doesn’t talk down to the audience, and he even points out when he disagrees with his colleagues without turning it into abuse or bickering – he is head and shoulders above all the rest. Still not as good as AEW, and why? Because he is playing a heel character, not a straight ahead commentator.
6) Johnny Gargano v Finn Balor
Okay, that was one of the best hype videos I’ve seen in ages. And the digs at Raw and Smackdown were just stunning. This was the match on the card I was looking forward to most. It was not a spotfest (there were spots, sure, but it was not built on them), and it did not rely on what seems to have become Gargano’s calling card of constant near-falls and false finishes. This was a wrestling match. And, in the end, the better man on the night won, and that was Balor. This was just a good wrestling match.
7) Women’s Title: Bianca Belair v Rhea Ripley (c)
I am a fan of Ripley (hey, we South Australians gotta stick together) and Belair is one tough woman, and this was a fine match. There was nothing wrong with it – they beat each other, they hit one another with decent strikes, but it did not feel any different to an NXT TV main event. That’s not a slight on them, but it seemed to lack the feel of a PPV match. Maybe it was the forgone conclusion of the match, maybe it was Ripley’s win out of nowhere (one riptide, that was it), maybe it was the match it followed. Ripley retained… and then Charlotte Flair came out, laid Ripley out and made it official – we are going to have an awesome women’s match at Wrestlemania.
8) Tag Title: The Undisputed Era (c) v The Broserweights
I did not have high hopes for this match. I’m glad to be pleasantly surprised. A really good tag team match. All four guys got to shine without losing the tag team formula, some nice double team moves. They even had the crowd going crazy for a bunch of submission holds! I will say this – there is something wonderful about tag team wrestling when done well. WWE doesn’t do it well often. This was well done. And then – then! – the Broserweights actually won to become the new champions after a back and forth series to end it.
9) NXT Title: Tommaso Ciampa v Adam Cole (c)
This was a good match. The two men had some great chemistry in the ring. I mentioned the women’s title felt like a TV main event – this felt like a TV main event drawn out insanely. Half an hour was too long. I grew bored at times. Seriously – it felt too long. It was a good match – every match on the card was a good match, let’s be honest – but this was certainly the least of the night.
10) The ending of the main event gets its own thought. For a second match we had interference costing the face the win. And, worse, it was Johnny Gargano, who had fought as the babyface against Balor suddenly costing Ciampa the title, giving Cole the win. Why? Why not let Ciampa win, then attack, like Flair did (although that would be another repeat) so the inevitable fight would be for the title? On this show, the story-telling was misfiring for NXT even as the wrestling was its usual top-notch self.
Okay, here’s the lowdown. Good show, 6 good matches, not a dud amongst them. But not a great show. MOTN went to the opener, Lee v Dijakovic, but the tag title match was insanely good fun. However, like I said, the story-telling is beginning to overwhelm the action to its detriment. This is a WWE problem and has been for years – using PPVs to hype TV things. When you have 4 PPVs for the year, that does not work at all. NXT are better than this.
I hope they stay better than this.
Tags: Adam Cole, bianca belair, Broserweights, charlotte flair, Dakota Kai, Dominik Dijakovic, Finn Balor, johnny gargano, Keith Lee, Nigel McGuiness, NXT, Poppy, Portland, Rhea Ripley, street fight, Takeover, Tegan Knox, Tommaso Ciampa, Undisputed Era, WWE