NXT recap & reactions (Sep. 20, 2022): Scaling the corporate ladder

Ladders, Ladders Everywhere

NXT kicked off its semi-new era tonight in a puzzling way. Shawn Michaels, who I assume is firmly an on-screen authority figure now (welcome back, sheriff!) stripped Solo Sikoa of his North American title. Why you ask? Because Solo was an unsanctioned competitor in an unsanctioned match. The fans didn’t pick him, therefore the match results are null and void.

That means Carmelo Hayes lost the title to Solo for basketball reasons. WWE wanted a cliffhanger moment and something to talk about, so they put the title on someone they never intended to keep said title. For those of you saying maybe they just figured that out today or within the past few days, NXT is pre-taped this week, which makes it more than likely that taking the title off Solo was always the plan. Yes, it was a hell of a moment, but now it’s utterly meaningless. The only thing it did was create an opening for a ladder match in six weeks at Halloween Havoc.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to a ladder match. Especially after the last time NXT held a ladder match for the North American championship. But Melo didn’t need to lose the title for that. Solo is not only officially gone from the black and gold brand, his title reign win officially never happened. There’s a better way to do this where they don’t make a title enhancing hands look like a stunt.

However…what I do like is the fact Melo looks off his game right now. He and Trick went to the ring to talk their talk and Chase U interrupted. A good tag match ensued between Trick & Melo and Andre Chase & Bodhi Hayward. Peep this: Melo took the pin. Not Trick, but Melo. Andre Chase got a surprise victory over Carmelo Hayes, proving Melo is losing momentum going into this ladder match to get back a title he never truly lost. He’s so focused on the unfairness of Shawn taking the title from him as punishment for bending the rules—irony—that he found himself on the wrong end of a teachable moment.

Last week I said Melo is NXT’s main character. This week only underlines that fact for me.


Extracurriculars

Strong Returns

JD McDonagh and Tyler Bate started their match perfectly: Several pin fall attempts illustrating how well they know each other. After they felt each other out, the fun really started. This NXT championship number one contender’s match had everything I want in a wrestling match. Character-driven moves, back and forth action, 3rd act near falls, and the feeling that either competitor can win. Tyler didn’t come into the match overconfident or arrogant, but he did aim a little too high. In a fight where the opponent knows every move before it happens, then the logical thing is to surprise them with the unexpected.

JD didn’t expect Bate to go for a Tyler Driver ’97 off the top rope but he was prepared. JD blocked the move by putting his own body on the line—perfectly in character—with a headbutt and went for an amazing Spanish Fly off the top rope. One Devil Inside later and JD walked away with the victory.

But he wasn’t happy about it. While JD and Bron Breaker squared off, Ilja Dragunov made his triumphant return to Florida! He was sorely missed and immediately inserted himself into the championship picture. While Bron welcomed the extra competition, JD sawed at the mere sound of Dragunov’s music.

This is a good thing because it gives Bron more to do, provides a very worthwhile foil for the seemingly unfazed JD, and makes everyone involved a bit more interesting.

This was easily the match of the show and one of NXT’s best main events in quite some time.

Diamonds in the Rough

Toxic Attraction and Ivy Nile & Tatum Paxley wrestled a solid match with a nice story. Toxic Attraction is on a mission for dominance while Ivy is doing her best to hold her focus with all the Diamond Mine drama happening. Different stakes for different folks, and I bought it.

Ivy just couldn’t focus long enough to be her normal self, and she took the pin for her team while letting her partner down in the process.

Damon’s Story

There’s a better way to do this, right? WWE is usually really on point when it comes to relaying story beats so all the particulars are clear. But Damon Kemp isn’t skilled enough yet to shoulder that load. Much like last week, his delivery is stilted and he doesn’t sound convincing. He’s a work in progress but maybe they put him in a position to win?

Night Night

Cora Jade and Wendy Choo have good chemistry together. They didn’t get a lot of time—most matches on the show didn’t—but they clearly work well together. Wendy is a babyface everyone loves and that makes her the perfect opponent for Cora. Cora got the win thanks to a DDT, and Lash Legend attacked Wendy after the match. Lash working with Wendy is a good look for her on multiple fronts. Hopefully it works out.

Still a Good Team

The Cageside Slack came to an agreement: We rather see Tyler Bate as a cult leader than Joe Gacy. Bate looks the part while Gacy…well, yeah. Also, why was Malik Blade wrestling in an argyle sweater vest and trunks?! Steve Urkel had better fashion sense than that.

Whew, fix it, Jesus.

Those things aside, this was a pretty good tag match all about showcasing the Dyad. Edris Enofe & Malik started strong, hitting the ring like sneaker shoppers on Black Friday, but once the Dyad slowed the pace, they, ironically, couldn’t keep up. The Dyad, without the Joe Gacy shenanigans, are still a dope team capable of really good matches. This was another example as they simply outsmarted and outmaneuvered Enofe & Blade.

More of that crisp tag action and less hugs with Gacy.

Bloodshot

I can’t even talk about this ladder match qualifier match between Grayson Waller and Oro Mensah. And I enjoyed the match! You know why I can’t? Because Apollo Crews showed up with one eye bleeding. Yes, blood dripping from his eye. Understandably, this stopped Waller in his tracks and Mensah took advantage. Mensah moves on to the ladder match at Halloween Havoc, while Apollo has yet another gimmick. As Stella pointed out, the man has a new gimmick every week.

Well, I don’t like it.

1-1

I know what NXT is doing with Nathan Frazer and Axiom. I get it completely. Get them over by wrestling a few dope matches. But it’s not working for me. I barely know who these two are other than the fact that they love comics and challenge each other. I just need a bit more juice to get emotionally involved.


The main event really boosted this show. And the surprise return at the end put the cherry on top of the sundae. While some of the action throughout the two hours left something to be desired, and there’s still too much Gacy, the show finished very strong.

Grade: B+

That’s my grade and I’m sticking to it. Your turn.

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