By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Karrion Kross and Tommaso Ciampa: The show opened on a high note with the excellent Kross and Scarlett entrance. Kross destroyed his opponent and looked great in the process, and the post match confrontation by Ciampa was top notch. I love the way that an eager Scarlett held open the ropes for Ciampa, basically daring him to enter the ring with Kross. Ciampa’s promo was well delivered and while everything pointed to Kross vs. Ciampa at the pay-per-view, the official announcement still felt like a big deal.
Drake Maverick vs. Kushida in an Interim NXT Cruiserweight Title tournament match: The drama over Maverick needing to win the tournament to extend his employment has been a great hook. Maverick was booked to show heart, and I loved the way he told the referee not to stop the match despite the punishment he was taking. Maverick going over was a nice upset win that sets up the Triple Threat tiebreaker for next week. It became a bit predictable once Jake Atlas came out to watch the match, though I was able to rationalize that perhaps Atlas was there to console Maverick if he lost given the support he showed Maverick after beating him earlier in the tournament. I suspect the Maverick release story is either a work or became one along the way. If not, WWE is making a big mistake by releasing someone so talented and versatile.
El Hijo Del Fantasma vs. Akira Tozawa in an Interim NXT Cruiserweight Title tournament match: A match that lived up to high expectations. Fantasma winning his block was predictable, but only because he was the right person to advance to the finals. The parking lot attack on Tozawa by the masked men continues to point to Fantasma being the Exalted One of NXT’s Lucha Dark Order.
Shotzi Blackheart vignette: A terrific display of Blackheart’s lovable wild child persona. The use of a real tank was great, and Blackheart’s delivery was fun. She’s like a female, punk version of Bear from Alaskan Bush People. Don’t judge me for watching a corny reality television show with my girlfriend. Okay, fine, go ahead. I deserve it. But I’m hellbent on finding a way to work in a “7 Little Johnstons” reference one of these weeks.
Matt Riddle and Timothy Thatcher: I love the idea of a cage fight, but I’m surprised it’s not being saved for Takeover. The storytelling going back to Thatcher replacing Pete Dunne in the tag team with Riddle was really well done. All of this also sets the stage for what should eventually be a really intriguing return by Dunne. Will Dunne be next in line to feud with Thatcher or will he actually align with him?
Mia Yim vs. Santana Garrett: The match was fairly forgettable simply because it was just a basic showcase for Yim. But it set the stage for the post match angle that forwarded the Yim and Keith Lee vs. Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae feud.
Rhea Ripley vs. Io Shirai: Three nights of Charlotte Flair on WWE television this week? Gee, swell. I can’t stress enough that Flair is extremely talented and should be featured prominently, but the company has gone overboard with her push to the point that it’s become damaging. Flair’s outside interference in this match isn’t going to put heat on her, it’s going to put some heat on NXT for delivering another copout finish, even if it leads to a Triple Threat at Takeover. There are other ways to get to a Triple Threat that don’t involve leaving television viewers feeling ripped off by an attractive main event concluding with a lazy “apparent no-contest” finish.
Roderick Strong vs. Dexter Lumis: I’m not sure if I’m more disappointed by Lumis losing clean so early in his television run or that he’s working as a babyface. I’m still holding out hope that Lumis is an equal opportunity sociopath in that he’ll face anyone now, but the long term storyline is that he’s dangerously obsessed with Velveteen Dream.
Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan vs. “Ever-Rise” Matt Martel and Chase Parker: Burch and Lorcan have lost too many matches lately for a showcase win over Ever Rise erase the damage. I guess you have to start somewhere and hopefully they can get back to making Burch and Lorcan feel like a team that is capable of beating any team on any given night.