By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Finn Balor turns on Johnny Gargano: When AEW Dynamite beat NXT in the ratings, WWE preceded the official word by issuing a press release that congratulated AEW on its premiere while also noting that they viewed it as a marathon rather than a sprint. And we’re still early in the marathon, but NXT made its first decisive move in turning Balor. Last week, I praised NXT and AEW for showing creative restraint rather than falling into hotshot booking mode. And I stand by that, as the Balor turn struck me as being a calculated move that was likely planned when the decision was made to bring him back to NXT. I love the move, as it is so nice to see something other than the smiling babyface Balor from the main roster. My only concern is that this angle played out on a show that ran head to head with a World Series game and perhaps should have taken place last week instead. That being said, NXT won the main event battle by delivering a hot North American Title match that concluded with a win and the Balor turn, while AEW closed with a flat draw main event finish.
Roderick Strong vs. Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic for the NXT North American Championship: Again, this was the superior main event of the dueling Wednesday night shows. The tower of doom spot was frightening in that it didn’t look like top man Strong was going to go over for the the suplex, but Lee and/or Dijakovic somehow managed to make it happen. The late spot with Dijakovic hitting Feast Your Eyes on Strong at ringside followed by Lee taking out Strong with a shoulder block to pave the way for the rivals to face off in the ring together was excellent. I suspected it was setting things up for Strong to steal the pin as he did, but he took so much punishment in the match that it was hard to say for sure.
Rhea Ripley vs. Bianca Belair: A very good match. I assumed Ripley would go over if for no other reason than Belair already lost to NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler, but I was second guessing that assumption when Io Shirai interfered and set up a strong near fall for Belair. Ripley and Belair both strike me as being main roster ready, but I’m selfishly happy they are both in NXT where they will be booked properly.
Matt Riddle vs. Cameron Grimes: I must confess that I was worried for Grimes when this match was announced on Wednesday. I assumed Riddle would win and the concern was that he would do so quickly and decisively. After all, multiple Impact Wrestling writing regimes booked the then named Trevor Lee as a hayseed scrub. I should have given the NXT creative team more credit. This was an excellent match and Grimes clearly gained something in defeat by being so competitive with Riddle. The post match angle with Tyler Bate was a bit of a double whammy for Grimes and a little too convenient that Bate just stood in the crowd for the full match, but I’m already looking forward to what should be an outstanding match between them.
Angel Garza vs. Jack Gallagher: It was a pleasant surprise when this match was announced. Gallagher is one hell of a talent, yet his push sadly peaked when the cruiserweights were still being featured on Raw. He took the loss in this match and so it doesn’t look like they have plans for him in NXT, but I still enjoyed the match, and Garza continues to stand out in a positive way.
Isaiah Scott, Tyler Breeze, and Fandango vs. The Forgotten Sons: A soft Hit for a decent six-man tag match. Scott had a good showing and that moonsault off the chest of Ryker onto his sidekicks at ringside was really cool. Still, there’s something about Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler that just isn’t clicking. And while there seems to be an audience that feels differently, I’m just not a fan of the Breezango male stripper routine.
Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai vs. Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke for a shot at the WWE Women’s Tag Titles: It’s nice that the WWE Women’s Tag Titles will finally be defended in NXT. It’s just too bad that NXT doesn’t have any established women’s tag teams. You can’t blame the creative forces, as Sasha Banks and Bayley appeared in NXT as tag champions in February and the titles haven’t been seen at Full Sail since then. So we were left with a babyface team that hadn’t really worked together in NXT facing a heel team that never wins in a No. 1 contenders match. The actual match was nothing special, but the right team went over and I am looking forward to seeing Nox and Kai challenge Asuka and Kairi Sane next week.
I understand the praise for the Balor turn, based off reports. I haven’t seen NXT yet this week because I watch it later in the week, when time permits. AEW’s main event finish was far from flat, though. Moxley and Pac had a great match, and the finish was logical. I don’t really get the labeling of it as “flat” there when this is a match they surely will want to go back to.
Totally agree with you. I liked the ending to AEW and it was a nice change of pace.