Welcome one and all to a special edition of the NXT Spotlight here at TJRWrestling. I was very fortunate to attend the Takeover: War Games event in Houston and wanted to give my perspective on everything that went down while I was there live. I will also be mentioning the two matches that they taped for this week’s TV show. I would assume otherwise it’ll be a lot of video packages and recaps. I’ll also be addressing the recent call-ups from NXT and then will wrap up with a small Q&A that I asked for on Social Media this week. So let’s get to it!

The first note I have to make is that attendance was not good for this show. The picture above shows everything that was blocked off in the lower level and then the entire upper deck was blocked off. When you look at just a year earlier for the same weekend Takeover in Toronto, that was a complete sell out. Now, obviously there are a a couple mitigating factors. The Toronto show was much stronger on paper and Toronto as a market hadn’t got many major shows, so there was definitely an audience for it. Houston was a one match draw though. If you weren’t into the War Games match, then there wasn’t much on the undercard to sell you on. Die hard NXT fans would be excited and those are who attended. So the crowd was VERY loud despite the size.

Ruby Riot defeated Sonya Deville
Pete Dunne defeated Johnny Gargano to retain the UK Title

These were the two matches taped for TV. Riot vs. Deville is interesting in hindsight considering what took place Monday and Tuesday. There was no dark match, so Riot got the “first person out” pop. Deville got no reaction whatsoever. It was a really good match though, I believe it went about 7 minutes. Riot won with her finisher.

Dunne vs. Gargano was incredible. Go out of your way to see this. It was painfully obvious that this should’ve been on the actual Takeover card instead of Ohno & Sullivan. This went 15 minutes live, so if they go on the Takeover show, maybe they don’t get that long. That’s about the only positive I can spin for this being on TV instead of Takeover. There was no shenanigans or any reference to DIY or Ciampa, which had been plaguing Gargano as of late on TV. This was just a straight up barnburner. A couple sick bumps on the apron and the floor by each guy. Gargano had Dunne in the Gargano Escape but Dunne bit his fingers to get out. Dunne finally caught him in The Bitter End for the pinfall. Huge reactions throughout the match. This was just fantastic.

Kassius Ohno vs. Lars Sullivan

Any hope that there was a good reason for this to be on Takeover were immediately washed away. This was wrestled as a TV match, whereas Gargano/Dunne was wrestled as a Takeover match. Like I said, it was just painfully obvious that these should’ve been switched. Ohno got a good initial reaction, nothing much for Sullivan. I like what they’re doing with Sullivan, but as I’ll explain later with Velveteen Dream, based on this crowd it does not feel like it’s registering. The finish was as expected.

The Velveteen Dream vs. Aleister Black

When I did my preview piece, I said that I thought this match could steal the show. The story was really intriguing to me and was easy to follow and understand. As I was sitting there live though and seeing the reactions that Gargano and Dunne are getting, but the reactions that Deville and Sullivan weren’t getting, it dawned on me that this crowd may be dead silent for TVD and not care at all. Those fears were quickly erased though. Black got the loudest ovation on his entrance out of anyone on the card. He was the first one of the night that the crowd all rose to their feet when he came out. It’s such an awesome entrance to see live on a big stage. He came across as a rockstar. Then, TVD came out and he got a far bigger reaction that I expected. It was clear that the crowd was into this story. So now it was up to these two to deliver a match to live up to the hype. They did that and more. Such a fun match. The mannerisms for both guys that the crowd was just eating up. The crowd, while never turning on Black, were fully behind TVD by the end of the match. Then with Black finally acknowledging his name, the crowd erupted in respect for TVD. I’m not sure if this was an attempt to turn TVD babyface, I really hope not, but at the very least Triple H has to be thrilled that the work they’ve put into him is working out. I hope there’s more to this program because they’ve really got something going.

Fatal Four Way for NXT Women’s Title

I’m sure this will surprise all of you, because it certainly did me, but the order of loudest ovation in this match during entrances was Peyton Royce (and it wasn’t close), Ember Moon, Kairi Sane, and then Nikki Cross. Nikki had been getting some really good reactions in Full Sail, but that’s what’s interesting about these shows out of Orlando. It shows who’s actually getting over. I love everything about Nikki, but even the group entrance for Sanity didn’t get much of a reaction. Peyton getting the loudest ovation was shocking. I expected silence or total boos. I guess the NXT crowd loves a smoking hot women more than anything still. It came across that Ember was the sentimental favorite and who the crowd wanted to see win the title. I have no problem with Ember winning the match, I thought it was between her and Peyton, but I didn’t like how they presented it. I would’ve left Asuka off the celebration. It just reminded everyone, “hey, you could only win the title once I’m gone.” Ember had worked her butt off to beat Asuka and it would’ve meant a lot more for her to win by actually beating Asuka. Asuka handing her the title just reminded everyone that she couldn’t win it beating Asuka. Maybe that’s nitpicking on my end. Ember, much like Asuka earlier this year, is looking at a very different division now after how the events on Raw and Smackdown. More on that later though.

NXT Title Match – Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (w/Zelina Vega)

Another sign of what HHH and staff is doing with a character is working, was Almas. Again, I thought perhaps this match would be quiet on the reactions and the competitors would have to earn the crowd’s interest. Not the case. The crowd really bought into Almas and Vega as a pair and as a top act. This was as hard hitting as I expected, as evident by the major injury that McIntyre endured. The question is, was this the original plan? I’m inclined to say yes. I think Drew was probably on his way up to the main roster as that’s really where he belongs. He’s always felt out of place in NXT to me and when plans changed away from Cole and McIntyre, I think they weren’t going to wait around to get back to it. I missed when the injury happened, and haven’t watched the match back yet. I’ve heard that it came when Drew missed the boot in the corner and straddled the top rope. The final DDT definitely came across odd based on how Drew took it, but it makes sense with that injury and trying to protect it. With or without the injury, I’m perfectly fine with Almas becoming champion. As I said in the preview, sometimes you just go with the hot hand and Almas/Vega were certainly the hot hand. I hope he thanked her over and over again for reviving his career. She’s made all the difference.

WAR GAMES!

If you read my preview piece, I explained my love for War Games. It will always be my all-time favorite gimmick match. I was very hopeful for this version of it, because it would be under Triple H’s vision and had undeniable talent in it, but also fearful that it would be NOTHING like the match I loved. Thankfully, it stayed true to form and they gave me and everyone else, 37 minutes of exhilarating action. Right off the bat, I think it’s clear to say that no roof was a good idea. My only complaint, and it was the same one from the preview piece, I hated the shark cage portion. I know it’s to help sell some action figure sets, but it was just dumb. Then the sound effects when the cage lit up, it just was unnecessary. They should’ve all been surrounding the cage. Now with the complaint out of the way, let’s talk about how great this match was. Nine guys involved and every single one of them came out looking stronger and better than they did coming in. That is damn near impossible to do, but they pulled it off here. I’ve been going to wrestling events for 29 years, since the first War Games match I saw, and Roddy Strong’s superplex off the top of the cage was the damndest thing I’ve ever seen in person.  I know Alexander Wolfe’s injury was a big topic point and sadly, I missed it live. I need to go back and watch the match, but something was happening in the other ring at the exact same time and my eye was on that. All I saw was a ref immediately calling for a towel and by the time they were done with the towel, it was completely red. He had a trainer on the other side of the cage with him at all times. No one seemed panicked, and he was obviously allowed to finish his last couple spots, but the ref did clearly let everyone know that Wolfe wouldn’t be there to help with the Superplex spot. I don’t know that we’ll ever see War Games again, it’s not like the scenario to use it comes up all the time, but I do think that Triple H presented a match that people would want to see in the future and hopefully we will see it at some point. Kudos to every single person in this match. Thank you for keeping the essence of that match alive.

Let’s get to some Q&A! We’ll start with a 2 for 1.

“What do you think of recent call-ups & who will be Ember’s next challenger?”

I don’t think one has to do with the other. Yes, five women from NXT were called up, but none of them were in line to be title challengers. One thing that I’ve noticed from an NXT perspective, they like calling up people that didn’t get much TV time on NXT. Braun Strowman, Mandy Rose, Elias, Sarah Logan, all were either never used on TV or very sparingly. It’s really an interesting dichotomy & I think speaks to the randomness of call-ups. I can’t imagine WWE sees someone (MAYBE Braun) and says, “I see A-B-C for them, keep them off TV until we can execute it.” I’m a huge fan of Logan and hope she’ll be the one that shines the most. I’ve made no bones about hating Liv Morgan and it’s really odd to have her on the same show as Carmella. All of Ember’s opponents from War Games are still in NXT and a name to look out for is Bianca Blair. I expect her to get a big push soon. I’m sure Ember will go into a feud with Billie & Peyton as other challengers are established.

I also want to address Hideo Itami being called up to the 205 Live group. I hate this and I can’t imagine when he left Japan, he was looking forward to coming over here to be a part of the cruiserweight division. A talent like him, when healthy, does not need to be hamstrung to one set of opponents. We need to see him against the likes of Joe and Balor and Nakamura, etc. If Itami is a cruiserweight, then Balor should be too. And with recent rumors of Vince souring on Balor, maybe we’re not that far off from that happening.

“Who should be Almas’ first challenger?”

I think most people would say Adam Cole, but I think there’s going to be a lot more to the three stable feud coming out of War Games. Roderick Strong is the only one that can fall out of that program into something else easily, so he’s my pick. I could see heading into the January Takeover, Cole and EY, Sanity/Undisputed Era/AOP for the tag titles, thus leaving Roddy for challenging Almas. His quest to win the title has been really well done and even though he’s gotten multiple title shots, they’ve been against two different champions, so it’s a fresh matchup with Almas.

“Who will be NXT’s next signing and when?”

I actually wouldn’t expect much in terms of signings for a little bit. I think James Storm in January is a possibility, but beyond that I think they’re going to stick with what they have right now.

“Who is NXT’s MVP of 2017?”

This is a great question that does not have an obvious answer. I think Asuka would be most people’s choice and I wouldn’t argue that. Bobby Roode would be in the discussion and would probably be my choice ultimately, but one name that I think deserves some contention is Johnny Gargano.

“As we head to 2018, what are some current roster members to look out for?”

I think there are big things ahead for Bianca Blair as I stated, I think The Street Profits will be in the tag title discussion sooner rather than later, and one name I would love to see get a reset/restart is No Way Jose. He’s uber charismatic and solid in the ring. The crowd, no matter where they are, loves him. He’s a guy you want on your roster and should always be solidly in the midcard. He’s never recovered since being taken off the Takeover: Orlando show.

That’ll do it for me this week. Thanks to everyone who sent me questions! I’ll be back next week with our normal NXT Spotlight, so until next time, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…. But if you do, name it after me.