By John Moore, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
NXT TV Hits
Io Shirai, Kairi Sane, and Bianca Belair vs. Shayna Baszler, Marina Shafir, and Jessamyn Duke: Duke and Shafir are still not ready for television, but that didn’t hurt this trios match because the other four did a good job keeping the spotlight on themselves while Duke and Shafir played the role of faceless goons very well by taking shots for and protecting their great leader Baszler. This was a good moment of vulnerability for Shayna, as they had the babyfaces dominate her, but that sets up three potential title feuds for Baszler. In turn, it elevates Io Shirai into NXT Women’s Championship consideration.
Eric Bugenhagen: Drew Gulak was supposed to be making his NXT debut (I believe this was Gulak’s first match on NXT), but Eric Bugenhagen stole the show with his magnetic personality. I feel like I should hate this guy especially after he came out making the world’s most annoying sound come out of his mouth, but everything else was just so damn wholesome. Credit to the WWE music guys for giving him good theme music. My first thought was PG Joey Ryan or Rick Rude, mostly because of the pornstache; but that didn’t stop the greatness that is Eric Bugenhagen (add his last name to the list of fun to pronounce last names in my book). I wasn’t the only person captivated because Full Sail gave the guy a standing ovation out of nowhere. This guy was so popular that night that WWE recorded Bugenhagen’s off-air encore performance where he does an air guitar duet with Kayla Braxton, which also gets Kayla out of her shell in a wholesome way.
Drew Gulak vs. Matt Riddle: Moving past the greatness that is Eric Bugenhagen, Gulak managed to put himself in the spotlight in a good way with is open challenge and subsequent strong encounter with Riddle. Gulak looked strong in his squash over Bugenhagen gave him instant credibility in the match against Riddle. He was still expected to lose because Riddle is getting the strong push at the moment, but he came into the match with more credibility than say Kassius Ohno, who’s nearfalls are hurt by his lack of credibility. As for the match, this was a fun MMA-style bout with a good mix of strikes and submissions. This match will satiate people looking for a more realistic wrestling match without high flying. Gulak has not only improved in terms of personality, but his in-ring has improved since two years ago since Gulak has added a lot of aggression and strikes to his offense. WWE didn’t sign Zack Sabre, but they have a good Sabre analog in Drew Gulak. As for Riddle, the guy is just fun to watch in the ring, especially if you’re really into a hard hitting slugfest.
Opening segment: A really fun dichotomy between the usage of personal pronouns between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. Gargano was full-on babyface, talking about how “we” won the North American title and how “we” went on this journey with him. Ciampa comes out and uses pronouns like “we” and “our” in reference to DIY’s journey from the indies to being top NXT champions. Gargano’s being selfless and Ciampa’s being selfish. A nice added part of their exchange was Gargano trying to distance himself in the end of the promo because of their long feud. Velveteen Dream comes out in the end with an odd preposition, going after the secondary title as opposed to the world title, but Dream is so solid on the microphone that it’s easy to overlook the odd setup and motivation. On one hand, I hope Dream takes a page out of Gargano’s book by not fully giving up his heel edge, but at least he hasn’t lost his edge on the microphone.
NXT TV Misses
Jaxson Ryker vs. Mansoor: It was fun to see local Bay Area favorite Manny Faberino in his NXT TV debut (WWE did have Faberino play the role of a local Saudi prospect at the Greatest Royal Rumble early 2018 even though I believe the guy was raised in Oakland/Alameda). Ryker looked solid in his squash as well. The miss comes from the Forgotten Sons being stuck in this holding pattern and this match made it look like NXT doesn’t really know what to characterize Ryker as yet. The Miss for this whole scene ultimately comes from Ryker looking very one-dimensional. He’s a silent big man and nothing more yet.
Check below for the new Pro Wrestling Boom with Jason Powell and his guest Rich Bocchini (f/k/a Rich Brennan) discussing his work with Tony Schiavone in MLW, working for Michael Cole in WWE, his trial by fire in NXT, being produced by Vince McMahon, and much more.