By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Adam Cole and Pat McAfee angle: The initial angle during McAfee’s online show did nothing for me because I assumed that the “celebrity” would be positioned as the babyface. McAfee’s personality clearly works for his fans, but I’ve always found him to be grating and obnoxious on WWE television. And that’s what makes him such a good heel. It was refreshing to see NXT lean into that while making Cole the babyface. McAfee came off like an asshole with the short jokes, and the kick he threw followed by Cole’s face-plant bump off the broadcast table looked great. NXT creative took a feud that did nothing for me on paper and in one angle turned it into something that I now look forward to seeing play out. Well done.
Rhea Ripley vs. Dakota Kai for a shot at the NXT Women’s Championship at Takeover XXX: It seemed like it took them a couple minutes to get in the groove, but this turned out to be a heck of a match once they did. Raquel Gonzalez is missed in Kai’s corner, but it was also cool to see Kai positioned as a competitive threat to Ripley in a straight up match (until the finish when Mercedes Martinez interfered). Both women benefitted from this match, and the finish sets up Kai vs. Io Shirai, as well as Ripley vs. Martinez in what could also be a hot Takeover match.
Damian Priest vs. Oney Lorcan vs. Ridge Holland in a ladder match qualifier for NXT Takeover XXX: You have to love Lorcan. The guy loses more than he wins, makes his opponents shine, and never loses his own in-ring credibility. This match was just the latest example, as he made Holland look like a badass and put over Priest clean, yet still came off like he put up a hell of a fight. Holland had a good first outing on NXT television despite not winning the match. I enjoy Priest’s work, but I was actually hoping that they would go with Lorcan or Holland to continue the theme of newer or lesser utilized qualifiers for ladder match that will crown the new North American Champion.
Legado Del Fantasma attack Breezango: I don’t think NXT creative wanted me to feel happy about this beatdown angle, but the heels are so much cooler than the comedy babyfaces. I really hope the plan is to give Tyler Breeze and Fandango more of an edge coming out of this attack. They are a talented duo, but the comedy bits have run their course and just don’t feel right in NXT.
Bronson Reed vs. Shane Thorne: This was unexpected fun. I assumed it would be a straight up showcase for Reed, but Thorne received a solid share of the offense and made the most of it. Reed still went over strong and it actually came off more impressive because Thorne put up a credible fight. Reed continues to impress and hopefully Thorne will get some creative love soon.
NXT Champion Keith Lee vs. Cameron Grimes in a non-title match: A very well worked match. But NXT creative really needs to pick a direction with Grimes. He’s been put over strong in some matches, then made to look like a goof in other matches and angles. This felt like the opposite of Reed vs. Thorne in that it felt like the Lee character was off his game because Grimes was so competitive. It shouldn’t feel awkward when Grimes pushes Lee or anyone else to the limit or even beats them. Grimes is so talented and he should be a player in NXT, but this inconsistency with his push and his mid-card promos are make him feel inferior.
William Regal announcement: I’m over WWE’s second chance gimmick. It was fine when it was new and you didn’t see these second chance matches coming, but it’s happened often enough now that they have become expected. This approach is starting to hurt the original qualifying matches having any sense of finality when it comes to the losing wrestlers being eliminated.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features referee Rob Page discussing the difficulty of reffing tag matches in the modern era, making three counts if a wrestler's shoulders are down even if it wasn't the planned finish, the growth of F1rst Wrestling, and more...