With this week’s episode of NXT, WWE stared down the debut of All Elite Wrestling Dynamite and said, “Bring it.” A fierce confidence in the NXT brand and in its ability to continuously deliver fantastic matches and jaw-dropping moments filled the whole show. From the opening video package to the night’s final image of Tommaso Ciampa confronting NXT Champion Adam Cole, WWE delivered two hours of television that should remind us all why NXT is so remarkable.
Right away, Cole and his challenger Matt Riddle brought their A games in the NXT Championship match to open the show. Let’s ignore the lack of a build heading into this bout; while it could have been even more captivating as a part of an established program, these two competitors still tore the house down. Of course, it helped that the Full Sail crowd was immediately hot; the fans added even more intensity to a hard-hitting contest. It had all the usual ingredients of NXT’s best matches, like stiff strikes, innovative offense and heart-pounding near falls. At a few points, you had to believe Riddle could win the match; if nothing else, it would have kicked off the show with a shocker. But for now, NXT is Cole’s kingdom and everyone else is just living in it. The champion managed to win without the interference of his Undisputed Era stablemates. This time, Cole weaponized the cast around his injured hand to stun Riddle before finishing him off with the Final Shot. Because the cast played into the finish, Riddle has a natural argument for a rematch. But two surprising returns on the show might complicate his climb back to the top.
As Cole celebrated his victory, Finn Bálor’s music hit and the fans went wild. Bálor, the longest-reigning NXT Champion of all time, has flamed out on the main roster, so a return to the black and gold brand could be the shot of adrenaline his career needs. Adding a star of his magnitude to the NXT Championship scene instantly makes it more competitive. But Bálor was only the first new challenger to confront Cole on Wednesday. At the end of the night, former NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa made his triumphant return to the Gold Standard of Sports Entertainment. Again, the crowd added even more emotion to the moment. Ciampa’s run as champion was cut short by an injury and the brand has been somewhat lacking in depth ever since. Now that he’s back, NXT is firing on all cylinders. Imagine the possible matches given the crop of excellent talent atop the card, like Cole, Riddle, Balor, the Velveteen Dream, Ciampa and, of course, his frenemy Johnny Gargano. (Let’s hope these two pick up their narrative, which was promptly cut off by Ciampa’s injury.) We can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.
Excellent matches are always at the heart of NXT’s best shows and this Wednesday was no different. After Cole defeated Matt Riddle, Io Shirai and Mia Yim put on another really good match. As two of the top wrestlers in NXT’s women’s division, these two vied for a chance to earn a shot at the NXT Women’s Championship. Since Shirai turned on Candice LeRae and embraced the dark side, she’s been even more aggressive in the ring and that was the story here. Despite Yim’s best efforts, Shirai won this competitive match. If she does emerge as Shayna Baszler’s next challenger, the program would be a fresh twist because the champion is used to facing competitors the fans can wholly cheer for. With Shirai’s villainous turn, it’d be interesting to see how WWE frames the conflict between her and Baszler and who the fans align with.
Speaking of the champion, Baszler and LeRae put on an entertaining bout that made both women look particularly strong. As with the Cole-Riddle match, this contest didn’t have a lot of build going into it but the competitors still told a powerful story in the ring. LeRae is exactly the kind of challenger Baszler excels with: she’s a sympathetic underdog who could pull off the upset if the chips fell the right away. But the women’s division still begins and ends with the Queen of Spades. Though LeRae was moments away from victory a few times late in the match (she even locked in Baszler’s own Kirifuda Clutch), Baszler put her away by making her tap out to the very same hold. The champion looked vulnerable in the victory and you can’t help but wonder how much longer Baszler can keep the title. Meanwhile, even with the loss, LeRae cemented herself as one of the best competitors in NXT’s women’s division.
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