Welcome to the WWE NXT review here on TJRWrestling. It’s the first episode of NXT this year, so they are using the New Year’s Evil theme for the show. I’m going full play by play review style for the whole show since this is like a Takeover-style event.
This is episode #438 of WWE NXT. It took place at NXT’s home called the Capitol Wrestling Center at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando. Check out my past WWE NXT reviews right here.
The show began with a shot of the building along with host Dexter Lumis standing on a platform on the far side of the building. There were the usual fans behind the plexiglass barricades as usual. The announce team was Vic Joseph and Wade Barrett in the building along with Beth Phoenix calling the action at home in North Carolina.
Damian Priest made his entrance first for the opening match because this is NXT where they actually start with matches instead of promos. Karrion Kross was up next with his lovely girlfriend Scarlett joining him for the “Fall and Pray” entrance. Scarlett is tremendous.
Damian Priest vs. Karrion Kross (w/Scarlett)
They locked up with Joseph noting this was a commercial-free match. They locked up, then went out of the ring and kept holding on as Priest got back in the ring first. Priest with a boot to the head followed by punches and Kross managed to lift up Priest into a front slam. Kross worked over Priest with punches along with a kick to the face. Kross with two corner clotheslines and then an overhead suplex for a two count. Kross grounded Priest for a bit and then hit a clothesline over the top to the floor. Kross whipped Priest into the steel steps. Kross tried an attack with the steps, but Priest kicked him in the ribs. Kross with a knee leading to Kross sending Priest back in the ring. Kross worked over Priest with punches to the ribs, Priest talked trash to him and Kross did repeated forearms to the face. Priest started a comeback with a kick followed by a right handed punch to the face and Priest hit a lifting flatliner to send Kross face first into the mat. Priest hit a jumping back elbow against the turnbuckle along with a big clothesline. Priest with a Broken Arrow sitout slam for a two count. Kross charged, Priest moved and Priest worked over Kross with kicks, knee lifts and a takedown using the left arm. Priest wrenched on the left arm of Kross, who managed to get out of it and connected with repeated elbows to the ribs. Priest and Kross each connected with boots to the face, Priest with kicks to the body and Priest hit a springboard body attack off the middle ropes. Kross avoided an attack, ran the ropes and hit a huge clothesline for two. Kross set up Priest upside down against the turnbuckle in the tree of woe as Kross hit a running knee to the ribs. Priest broke free with a headbutt while Kross was on the turnbuckle, then a kick to the face and Priest slow managed to get a Razor’s Edge slam for a two count because Priest was too hurt to make the cover right away. Kross with a kick to the head while Kross was on the apron. Kross tried to get in the ring, but Priest kicked him in the head. Priest charged leading to leap off the middle rope over the top onto Kross on the floor. That was impressive. Back in the ring, Priest went up top with a spinning heel kick and the South of Heaven sitout slam for a two count. Kross came back with a counter into an overhead suplex and then a stiff-looking Powerbomb for a two count. Priest left the ring, Priest, hit a spin kick and then Kross caught Priest on the floor. Kross sent Priest into a steel grating that was part of the set. Kross with a powerslam on the bottom half of the steel steps. Back in the ring, Kross had a sadistic smile on his face, Priest said “I’m still standing.” Kross kicked Priest in the head, then a Saito Suplex and Kross hit a running forearm to the back of the head for the pinfall win after 16 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Karrion Kross
Analysis: ***1/4 This was a hard-hitting match to put over Kross in a decisive way. I think maybe Kross should use a Powerbomb as a finisher instead of a running forearm to the back of the head. A lot of people have running strike finishers already. They got a lot of time, each guy got in plenty of offense and Priest was in control for most of the second half of the match until Kross finished him off. The thing about Priest is that he’s really improved in the last year, he’s got a unique set of moves as part of his offense, so it’s fun to watch his matches. Kross winning was the obvious result here because I see him getting back in the NXT Title picture soon.
After the match, Kross had a confident look on his face as Scarlett went into the ring and hugged her man for his win.
Analysis: There is a rumor that Priest was nearly called up to Smackdown last week. Maybe that’s still the plan and perhaps Priest is on Smackdown later this week. This could have been Priest’s NXT farewell.
There was a brief video shown hyping up the Cruiserweight Title match up next.
The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament returns next week. The winners of the tournament get a shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles.
The Undisputed Era team of Adam Cole and Roderick Strong did a promo about facing Breezango next week in the Dusty tournament. Cole spoke about how Undisputed Era fulfilled the prophecy in the past by winning all the titles and they’ll do it again in 2021. Strong put over Breezango as a team that’s talented and gets the job done. Cole talked about how they’ll win the tournament and then earn a shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles. Cole also said Kyle O’Reilly will become NXT Champion later in the show.
The Grizzled Young Veterans team was shown behind the plexiglass watching the show. They are in the Dusty tournament.
Santos Escobar (w/Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde) vs. Gran Metalik (w/Lince Dorado)
Metalik was aggressive early, so Escobar left the ring like the heel champion that he is. Metalik did some impressive rope work leading into a hurricanrana. Escobar slid out of the ring, so Metalik hit a springboard moonsault onto Escobar on the floor. That was great. Back in the ring, Metalik jumped over the top with a senton splash for two. Metalik slammed Escobar off the shoulder leading to a kick while Escobar was on the apron. Metalik went for a hurricanrana off the apron, but Escobar caught him and swung Metalik into the barricade. They slipped a bit on the apron although it’s fine considering it was a tough spot.
The show returned with Escobar lifting up Metalik on his shoulders and dropping him onto the turnbuckle with Metalik selling his ribs after a rough landing. Escobar worked over the back of Metalik with a surfboard submission for a few seconds. Metalik got a sunset flip for two with Escobar coming back with a clothesline. Metalik with a superkick to the jaw and then a bulldog. Metalik with a rope walk into a missile dropkick off the middle ropes that sent Escobar out of the ring. Metalik stepped on the middle rope over the top onto Escobar on the floor. That’s such a cool looking move with Metalik getting a lot of hype as he flipped onto Escobar. Back in the ring, Metalik with a springboard splash off the top. Metalik tried an attack off the top, but Escobar stopped his momentum with a rising knee to the face to knock Metalik out of the ring. Escobar hit a suicide dive that sent Metalik into the barricade. Back in the ring, Escobar got a two count. Back in the ring, Metalik with punches, then Escobar sent Metalik onto the top rope and Metalik had to adjust his mask. Metalik was on the turnbuckle, Escobar punched him onto the apron with a hard landing for Metalik. Dorado jumped on Wilde and Mendoza on the floor to prevent cheating. Metalik with a cross body block on Escobar for a two count. Metalik went up top, Escobar tripped him up, drove the back of the neck into the knee and then Escobar hit the Phantom Driver for the pinfall win after about 13 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Santos Escobar
Analysis: ***1/4 This was a good match with a few moments where they messed up a few things, but that’s why they call them high-risk moves. If everything was smooth in the match I’d go closer to four stars, but it wasn’t at that level. These guys are outstanding wrestlers and got a chance to show what they can do here. Metalik makes everything look easy including moves like a step on the middle rope into a dive on the floor and a moonsault off the middle rope. Escobar didn’t get that much offense, but he blocked the top rope move leading to a couple of big moves of his own leading to the pinfall win.
Rhea Ripley and Raquel Gonzalez were shown warming up for their match in separate parts of the arena.
There was a video showing that Xia Li and Boa are up next.
There was a video of Mercedes Martinez telling Io Shirai she wants the NXT Women’s Title as we saw highlights of Martinez attacking Shirai in the past.
There was a dark and mysterious entrance for the new and improved Xia Li with Boa while somebody was seated on a throne on the stage. It has been a few months since Li has been in a match because she was being trained with Boa by an unknown leader.
Xia Li (w/Boa) vs. Katrina Cortez
Li with a two-handed thrust followed by a spin kick. Li looked at her trainer sitting in the aisle with a salute. Li with knees, then a kick to the ribs and a after shot to the ribs by Cortez, Li no sold it to show she is tough. Li with a jumping knee followed by a spinning kick to the head for the pinfall win in about two minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Xia Li
Analysis: 1/2* A squash match to put over Xia Li after she spent months training to be a killer fighter. That’s a strong finishing kick by Li that looks a bit like Kofi Kingston’s Trouble in Paradise kick, but not exactly the same thing.
There was a video shown from earlier in the day with William Regal informing us that Timothy Thatcher had a minor injury, so he can’t compete in his match this week. Regal said as soon as Thatcher heals, he will face Tommaso Ciampa in the Fight Pit.
Bronson Reed was interviewed by McKenzie Mitchell. Reed said that NXT is going to see his aggression in 2021 and it’s going to be a colossal year for him. Reed said he’s got his money on Rhea Ripley in the Last Woman Standing Match.
Analysis: I can see Reed getting a significant push in NXT this year. I think he’ll win the NXT North American Title in the first six months of the year.
Rhea Ripley entered first for her match followed by Raquel Gonzalez up next with the announcers talking about how they were friends that became rivals.
Last Woman Standing: Rhea Ripley vs. Raquel Gonzalez
Ripley started with a dropkick, but then it turned into a slugfest as they exchanged punches and Gonzalez hit a running clothesline. Gonzalez with a fallaway slam two times in a row. Gonzalez hit a third fallaway slam while the referee counted Ripley down with Rhea getting up easily. After some trash talk from Gonzalez about their matching tattoos, Ripley punched her in the face and then Ripley with a dropkick that sent Gonzalez out of the ring. Ripley grabbed a kendo stick from under the ring leading to kendo stick shots to the body. Gonzalez with a forearm, Ripley went for an attack off the steps, but Gonzalez hit Ripley in the body with a steel chair. Gonzalez whipped Ripley into the barricade leading to a count, but Ripley got up again. Gonzalez tried to use handcuffs, Ripley blocked that and sent Gonzalez into the barricade. Ripley handcuffed the right hand of Gonzalez into the part of the steel cage connected to the plexiglass. Gonzalez kicked Ripley pulled her handcuffs out of the fence, so Gonzalez had some of the cage along with the handcuff. Gonzalez hit Ripley in the back, but then Ripley sent Gonzalez back first into the ring post. Gonzalez sent Ripley into the ring bell at ringside. Gonzalez cleared off the announce table and gave Ripley a back body drop onto the announce table, which broke under Ripley. It looked like a rough landing for Ripley on her back. Gonzalez put parts of the table, leather chairs and other objects at ringside on top of Ripley. Ripley got back up at the count of nine and Gonzalez tossed her back into the ring leading to a break. There was picture in picture action, but I don’t recap that.
The match returned with the women on the stage leading to Gonzalez hitting Ripley with the steel steps to the face. Gonzalez with a running boot to the face to knock Ripley off the stage, which is only a few steps. They battled near the backstage area where Ripley elbowed Gonzalez in the face to prevent a move and then Ripley tackled Gonzalez into the door where the glass broke. I hope that was prop glass (sometimes they something called sugar glass) that is breakable rather than regular glass. Both women were down selling for a bit with Ripley getting back and sending Gonzalez into some lockers. Ripley put Gonzalez onto a table that was backstage. Ripley jumped onto some lockers that were nearby and she jumped off with a flipping splash that drove Gonzalez through the table. I guess it was more like a Senton Bomb. Both women were down, the referee counted them and then when Ripley got up, Dakota Kai beat on Ripley with kendo stick shots to the back along with a kick to the face. Gonzalez managed to get up before the ten count as well. Ripley tried to fight back against both women including Ripley slamming locker doors into Kai’s face. Ripley shoved Kai into a locker and put an equipment case in front of the door. Gonzalez was back on the stage where she hit Ripley with a steel chair to the ribs. Ripley managed to take down Gonzalez and then slapped on an inverted Cloverleaf submission. Ripley tried to choke Gonzalez with a chair as well, but then Gonzalez broke free with a kick that sent Ripley into part of the stage. Each woman got up before the ten count, Gonzalez charged and Ripley slammed her with the back of the neck of Gonzalez hitting the LED board on the stage. Ripley went onto the steel steps, Ripley tripped her up and Ripley was sent into the steps. They did a crazy spot where Gonzalez picked up Ripley and gave her a Chokeslam through a part of the stage that was breakable. Both women were down in this hole that was on the stage, Gonzalez got out of the wreckage first and Gonzalez got back up before the ten count while Ripley stayed down. Gonzalez wins after 18 minutes.
Winner: Raquel Gonzalez
The announcers put it over as the biggest win in the career of Raquel Gonzalez, which is a statement I would agree with in terms of singles matches.
Analysis: ***3/4 That was a wild brawl where they used all of the elements around the Capitol Wrestling Center by brawling on the stage, the backstage area and then finishing off the stage. We have seen the gimmicked stage spot used in WWE for many years, but it hasn’t happened on NXT TV that much, so it felt like a big deal. Ripley had to fight off Gonzalez as well as Kai, which made it a cheap win for Gonzalez due to all of the chaos and interference. They also booked it in a way where you can say Gonzalez earned it because Ripley was able to take care of Kai and it was a few minutes after that where Gonzalez found a way to win. I expected Gonzalez to win because I figured she would get some more momentum after winning the women’s WarGames match last month. Clearly, Gonzalez is getting a big push and she may be the next NXT Women’s Champion.
There was a shot of Johnny Gargano leading his group called The Way for an epic celebration. They showed some police officers escaping them to the arena.
The announcers talked about the great show so far while putting over the performances of Raquel Gonzalez and Rhea Ripley. The Way’s entrance complete with police escorts was shown with Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae arriving with driver Austin Theory and Indi Hartwell. They drove into the building and then they walked into the building with Gargano carrying the NXT North American Title with him.
Let’s Hear from Johnny Gargano and The Way
Johnny Gargano talked about curses including the curse of the fan in the front row that can’t get a girlfriend: “We’re rooting for you.” Gargano mentioned his Cleveland Browns making the NFL Playoffs after 18 years, shoutout to Baker Mayfield and he bragged about reversing the curse. Candice LeRae told her husband Johnny that he might be the most powerful person that ever existed. Candice gave Johnny a plaque that said that he broke The Curse last week. Theory told Johnny he was like a real-life superhero. Hartwell and Theory presented a gift to Johnny that was the four members of The Way with Johnny thinking it was amazing. Johnny said he had a way to make this night way better. Johnny revealed that he and Theory are entering the Dusty Classic.
Shotzi Blackheart made her entrance in her tank. Blackheart called out LeRae, so Theory told her she can’t disrespect Candice. Blackheart shot a ball (or something) into the groin of Theory, who went down. Blackheart went into the ring, she tossed out Hartwell and Blackheart kicked LeRae off the apron onto Hartwell on the floor. Gargano teased that he wanted to fight Blackheart, but then Kushida showed up to trip up Gargano on the apron. Kushida stood in the ring with Blackheart. The host Dexter Lumis rang the bell and pointed to the screen that had a drawing for this tag team match to happen right now.
Analysis: I think Gargano’s heel promo work has improved to the point where he’s one of my favorite talkers in NXT. The bit with Shotzi shooting a ball at Theory was pretty funny too.
Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae (w/Indi Hartwell and Austin Theory) vs. Kushida and Shotzi Blackheart
Gargano and LeRae were dressed in street clothes with white shirts, black pants and sneakers rather than wrestling gear. Kushida wrestles in jeans anyway. Blackheart sent LeRae into the ropes leading to a splash on the back against the ropes.
LeRae wrenched on the left arm of Blackheart. Lumis was on commentary, but he doesn’t speak, so he just sat there saying nothing. Blackheart had LeRae on her back, then went to her butt and wrenched on the arm. Kushida tagged in, so that meant Gargano was legal and Kushida was aggressive with a dropkick to the face. Gargano with a forearm, Kushida with a hiptoss into an armbar and then Gargano went for his submission, but Kushida got out of it leading to another armbar. Gargano got his foot on the bottom rope to break it. Kushida with a running armbreaker where he drove the arm of Gargano into the mat. They exchanged strikes, Kushida charged and LeRae stood in front of Kushida to stop him from going after Gargano. Johnny charged, Kushida moved and Kushida punched Gargano in the jaw. Blackheart with a flipping neckbreaker and then double armbreaker snapping along with kicks to the arms by the babyface team. Kushida with a handspring that knocked down Gargano. Blackheart hit a suicide dive onto LeRae on the floor and almost jumped too far, but it looked like Shotzi was okay. Kushida hit a dive on Gargano on the floor as well. The referee was looking at the girls, so Theory shoved Kushida off the top rope, but then the referee managed to see the end of that and admonished Theory. Kushida sent Gargano into Theory so that Johnny’s head hit near the groin of Theory (in a drop toe hold spot), so it was the second low blow shot for Theory on the night. Kushida with a roll through into a pin attempt where he held onto the legs of Gargano and got the pinfall win. This match went about 10 minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Kushida and Shotzi Blackheart
Analysis: *** Good tag team match with a lot of offense from Kushida, who managed to finish off Gargano with a clean pin. That should lead to Kushida getting a North American Title shot against Gargano at some point in the future. Nice spot with Theory too. That’s the kind of booking we get on Raw/Smackdown too often, but NXT is more selective about how they do that. That’s a win that should elevate Kushida a bit. Blackheart and LeRae have had a rivalry for months, so this continued that story while possibly leading to another match between them.
There was a commercial letting us know the next NXT Takeover event is Sunday, February 14 on WWE Network. That is Valentine’s Day. They usually have a name for it, so maybe they’ll call it Takeover 33 or something like that.
Finn Balor was shown with the NXT Title as he walked towards the ring. Kyle O’Reilly was shown warming up in the locker room with his Undisputed Era buddies. That match is next with the announcers noting the match will be commercial-free.
The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic begins next week: Undisputed Era vs. Breezango and Ever-Rise vs. Grizzled Young Veterans.
There was an interview with NXT GM William Regal with Mckenzie Mitchell on hand to conduct the interview. Regal announced that they are soon going to have the first-ever Women’s NXT Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic.
Analysis: That’s pretty cool. The NXT Women’s division is really strong, so they can pair up some singles wrestlers, or try to create some long term teams. I think of Kacy Catanzaro and Kayden Carter as a duo that could really stick out in a tournament if they were to win it all.
There was a shot of Pete Dunne watching this match with his buddies Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan.
Kyle O’Reilly made his entrance for the main event with Joseph noting no more commercials and they’re sticking with the match until the conclusion. They went past the top of hour two to air the conclusion of this match. Finn Balor made his entrance as the NXT Champion. This is Balor’s first match in three months since he suffered a broken jaw the last time he faced O’Reilly last October.
NXT Championship: Finn Balor vs. Kyle O’Reilly
There was a lockup that led to Kyle hitting a shoulder tackle and Balor was touching his jaw right away. Kyle with a leg scissors around the neck, but then Balor avoided a kick to the head. Kyle continued to apply the leg scissors around the neck to put pressure on Balor’s neck/jaw some more. Kyle slapped on an armbar as he took down Balor to the mat. Kyle continued to work on the left arm of Balor for about a minute. Balor went for the dreaded abdominal stretch with Kyle using his mouth on the ropes to break it. Balor kicked the rope while it was against Kyle’s mouth. There was a trainer that checked on Kyle, who said he was good. Balor slapped on a tight headlock, but Kyle broke free and hit a running knee to the back. Balor was on the apron, so Kyle wrenched on the left arm against the ropes two times in a row. Balor got back into it by going after the jaw of Kyle by stomping on the jaw repeatedly. Kyle hit a belly to back suplex, but Balor turned it into a crossface submission right away. Balor hit a running elbow to the jaw and then he drove his forearm into the face of Kyle again. Balor ran the ropes, but Kyle stopped him with a knee to the ribs. Kyle with an armbar followed by a trip into a pin attempt for two. Balor with knee strikes to the face while grabbing his left arm to sell the injury. Balor avoided the charge, Kyle with a kick to the back, Balor with a jumping kick to the head and Kyle with a roll through into a kneebar submission. Kyle with a running kick that knocked down Balor with Kyle’s own momentum sending him out of the ring where he landed hard on the floor. Kyle got back in before the ten count.
The match continued with Kyle wrenching on the left arm, Balor fought him off and fought off a Guillotine choke attempt. Kyle went for a triangle choke, but Balor got out of that and then Kyle slapped on a heel hook submission where he wrenched on both legs. Balor got out of that with a hard right hand to the jaw of Kyle, who was selling the jaw injury by holding his face. Balor lifted up Kyle leading to a driving elbow drop. Balor with a lifting reverse suplex followed by a Crossface submission and O’Reilly used his left hand to knock Finn’s hands off Kyle’s face. Kyle with some kicks, but Balor came back with a Slingblade neckbreaker along with a double foot stomp to the chest. Balor with the running dropkick that sent Kyle into the turnbuckle in a move that Balor loves to do. Balor went up top, but Kyle kicked him in the leg to crotch Balor on the top rope. Kyle with a superplex followed by a brainbuster for two. Kyle went for the armbar on the injured left arm with Balor fighting out of it again. Balor was up against the turnbuckle, Kyle charged, but Balor kicked Kyle in the ribs for a liver/kidney shot like we saw in their October match. Balor hooked the arms of O’Reilly with his legs while pulling on the face/jaw of O’Reilly, so that led to O’Reilly tapping out. This match went about 18 minutes.
Here’s an image of what the finish looked like with Balor forcing O’Reilly to tap out.
Winner by submission: Finn Balor
Analysis: ****1/4 An excellent main event match as expected. It was a notch below the Takeover match, but I still liked it a lot. The pacing of the match was a little slow early on, so some fans might not like that. I don’t mind it because it’s about telling the story that they are having a physical match where they are trying to wear eachother down. Most of the match was spent in the ring too. The last match saw Balor injure his jaw, so Balor got some payback in this match by working on his jaw (after kicking the rope) and it continued throughout the match while O’Reilly worked on Balor’s left arm for most of the match. These are two skilled technicians, so of course they were going to pick on body parts in the match. What I liked is how relentless both guys were in going for submissions with Balor attacking the jaw and that played a part in the finish. Balor has a few different moves he can use as a finisher, but for this match it made sense to end it on a submission where O’Reilly just couldn’t take the pain anymore. I really liked how it was booked.
There were still a few minutes left in the show as O’Reilly was grabbing his jaw. Balor had some blood above his left eyebrow. Balor was on his knees telling the referee to put the title in his hands. I think he might have said: “Put it in my f**king hands.” They showed replays of the key spots in the match.
Balor stood in the ring with the NXT Title while O’Reilly was being checked on by his Undisputed Era buddies Adam Cole, Roderick Strong and Bobby Fish. O’Reilly had a frustrated look on his face as he held his jaw while sitting up against the turnbuckle. Balor looked confident as the champion and then stared into the camera to end the show.
Analysis: I would love a proper feud between Balor and Adam Cole for the NXT Title. They have wrestled before, but I’d like to see it again. I alluded to it earlier that I think it’s going to be Karrion Kross as the Takeover challenger for the NXT Title, so we’ll see if that’s what happens on February 14 at the next Takeover.
Three Stars of the Show
- Finn Balor
- Kyle O’Reilly
- Raquel Gonzalez/Rhea Ripley
I give it an 8.75 out of 10.
It was an awesome show that felt like a Takeover. They promoted some of the matches for weeks and I think they delivered an exciting night of wrestling for over two hours that reminds the fans what NXT is all about. The Balor/O’Reilly NXT Title match was outstanding with Balor working on the jaw and O’Reilly working on the arm. They kept going for submissions until it was Balor that found a way to retain. I liked the Gonzalez/Ripley Last Woman Standing match as well. The interference from Dakota Kai made it a bit cheap for Gonzalez, but it was also a decisive win after Gonzalez put Ripley through a part of the stage for a big bump leading to the finish.
The other matches were all pretty good. Karrion Kross beating Damian Priest was okay, but not a great match. The Cruiserweight Title match was fast-paced and they had a few questionable spots in there. The mixed tag was fine. It was an easy show to get through.
I think the NXT brand is in a good place right now. Bring on the next Takeover on February 14.
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