It’s been more than 20 years since fans last saw a WarGames match at a professional wrestling show, and there are some good reasons for that. Have you ever actually watched one? They drag, man. There’s a lot of downtime between spots, and the appeal of pasting two rings together is one that I kind of fail to really grasp. Yeah, you can toss a dude from one into the other, but like…so? Fortunately this is NXT, and the yellow brand has never had a bad PPV. Thankfully, this month’s outing kept that streak alive. The show may have started with a dud, but everything else on the card was spectacular, if occasionally forgettable. That is, at least, until the main event — what can I say? I may now be a believer in the presence of Adam Cole (BayBay). The match was suitably violent and crazy, with tons of high spots, some scary bumps, and a few moments that made fans literally jump out of their seats. So how did WarGames stack up?
- Because they tape an episode of NXT before these events, NXT pre-shows are taped earlier in the day and are always useless. They did use the opportunity to explain the rules of the actual WarGames match, and we learned that the actual way to spell Booker’s endorsement is “Goodt,” but for the most part it was a wash. So let’s talk about some of the elements of the show not directly related to matches themselves.
- Throughout the night we see Regal go to each of the teams competing in the main event to ask who is going to start the match in silent vignettes — and while the Undisputed Era and AOP/Roddy scenes are pretty mundane, the Sanity clip is amazing. The camera cuts to the locker room where Wolfe and Dain are having a one-sided argument that Wolfe is losing, Nikki is in the corner rocking back and forth with her hands in her mouth, and EY is walking around talking to himself. As soon as the door opens and Regal enters the frame, Cross hops up and bolts out the door like a jerk dog hitting full sprint as soon as she hears the word “walk.” It’s fantastic.
- No one too miraculous in the crowd this time around, as the only major name expected to sign soon is (King) Ricochet, and he’s on a non-compete with Lucha Underground until early 2018. A couple of the UK fellas are there, as are Finn Balor and Samoa Joe, but the most interesting bit is Kevin Owens chilling in the crowd wearing an Undisputed Era shirt. Maybe we will one day see the Mount Rushmore of wrestling in the WWE? I mean, no, that’s never happening, but still.
- They appear to be using the Raw stage setup rather than a unique layout for TakeOver. At what point does it feel like this cost cutting should be concerning to viewers?
- Though most of the commentary was fine, tonight was peak “pop culture Mauro.” I really didn’t need a Gucci Gang reference tonight, buddy. Not sure if it’s technically racist, but saying that Andrade Cien Almas is ‘living la vida loca’ is really off putting as well. Dial it back and act like you’re talking to actual people and not just the physical embodiment of the internet’s attention span.
Match 1: Kassius Ohno Vs. Lars Sullivan
I feel like NXT has too many guys they think are top tier. Don’t get me wrong, every performer on tonight’s show performed exceptionally and played the parts they were asked to well (Alexander Wolfe even left a good portion of the back of his head out there), but two of these matches came into the show with a bit of a “who cares” vibe about them. While Drew McIntyre and Andrade Cien Almas were able to rise above that stigma and put on a fast-paced and interesting match, the bout between Kassius Ohno and Lars Sullivan was just kind of there. That’s not to say there aren’t any good spots: Sullivan catching Ohno with a pop-up powerslam was dope, and Kassius got to show off a lot of his stiff strikes in a cool stomping sequence, but otherwise this was a forgettable big-man match that ends when Lars ducks a discus elbow to hit his shitty looking Uranagi (dubbed “the freak accident” by Mauro) for the win.
This was perfectly fine for both guys, but it screamed weekly TV, not PPV. Especially knowing that they also filmed a UK Title match featuring Pete Dunne and Johnny Gargano, this felt like a questionable addition to the show card. I take this as a sign that the office has high hopes for Sullivan, but I’m not so sure. Yeah, the dude looks like the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing when he’s in there with guys like Raul Mendoza or Johnny Gargano, but when he’s up against larger guys like Ohno you realize he’s not all that large of a dude in context. His monster shtick only works if he looks imposing — but even here against Ohno (who is 6’4, 260) he doesn’t look like a monster. It’s going to be hard to worry about Randy Orton or John Cena going up against this dude, when they’re about the same size. As for Kassius, I guess it’s back to the cold storage until it’s time to job to the next hot newcomer on Triple H’s roster.
Aleister Black Vs. The Velveteen Dream
If you’re anything like me, you sort of wrote off the Velveteen Dream as a joke the moment you saw him. The effete Prince-tribute character has been tried before (anyone remember when they did this to Prince Iaukea? What about Orlando Jordan) and it is a surefire failure — a comedy character; a remnant of “gay panic” in wrestling fandom that we’re meant to boo because it’s “weird” or not traditionally masculine. It’s sort of a sad thing to see, honestly — shoot, even his initials are VD. He was never meant to be taken seriously. So then how the hell did Patrick Clark make the character so damn relatable? In the weeks leading up to this showdown with the stoic occultist kickboxer that is Aleister Black, the Dream emerged as a more serious and engaging personality than anyone anticipated. Dude became obsessed with getting Black, whose demeanor and position on the card made him think little of the Dream, to simply acknowledge him as a competitor — to say his name. He became a man who was flamboyant and caustic, yeah, but was just looking for respect. He also may have been a teleporting trickster demon, but that’s pure speculation. For wrestling fans who appreciate every aspect of a performance — from character moments, to ring work, to reverence for the past, to friggin kayfabe — this match made a star of the Velveteen Dream.
First off we need to talk about presentation. Black’s entrance is still bulletproof. Even if you don’t like black metal, you want to enter a room with even a fraction of the presence this heavily tattooed Dutchman displays as he literally rises from the grave like Nosferatu and slowly marches to the ring. Then there’s the Dream, whose midriff-revealing fringe poncho and chaps seemed like an odd selection at first until he got in the ring. VD slowly unzipped each leg of his chaps to reveal the airbrushed faces of he and his opponent on either leg in a stunning ode to the legacy of Rick Rude — the best “cocky jerk” wrestler of all time. It was far from the only nod to the late, great ravishing one either, as Dream used Rude’s signature hip gyrations as well as his finisher (the Rude Awakening) throughout the match. Dream sold his ass off for Black, too. Every submission hold looked like it was pure agony and my man stumbled like a punch drunk prizefighter with every kick he absorbed. Dream’s offense looked stark and crisp too, from his cartwheel Death Valley Driver to that cool inverted Roll the Dice he busted out toward the end. This was a performance that Dream can hang his hat on. If it weren’t for the madness of the main event, this would be the most talked about match of the night in a walk, and Velveteen Dream would be the main reason why. I don’t want to speak ill of Black — he’s potentially my favorite superstar in NXT and definitely came to play in this match, but we already knew he was a star going into this. For the Velveteen Dream, who inevitably ceded the pin after eating a super crisp Black Mass, this was a coming out party. I’m still not sure if his gimmick will allow him to shine when he gets to main, but this match proved that Patrick Clark is more than a Tough Enough also-ran.
Even better, Black grabs a microphone and plops down in the middle of the ring after the match. Dream, still groggy from getting his face kicked clear off his head, crawls toward him, barely able to move. Now Black’s theme song claims dude doesn’t endeavor to be good, nor does he endeavor to be evil, but what he does next is downright sweet. Crouched down and looking at his fallen opponent, who is spent from what is easily the greatest performance of his young career, Black simply says: “Enjoy infamy, Velveteen Dream.” HE SAID HIS NAME! This extravagant weirdo who tried to kiss him, stole his jacket and who communicates mainly through hip swivels and innuendo, had earned his respect. It’s such a satisfying end to what was a silly, but engaging feud. It also leaves us with so many questions. Is Dream a face now? Are these two going to hang out more? Can Dream use that bomb ass roll the dice as his finisher now? Hopefully the answer to all three of these questions is yes.
Nikki Cross Vs. Kairi Sane Vs. Payton Royce Vs. Ember Moon for the NXT Women’s Championship
Going into the event, this was probably the match I was most excited for. With Asuka stepping away after having literally cleared out the NXT women’s division, it felt like this was the chance to do something new and cool with belt. Now the match itself was great, with all four women getting a chance to flex their muscles and show off some killer moves and spots…I just feel like they chose the most boring option when it came time to name a winner. If you think about it, for the Ember Moon character, there were only two ways the story could go. Barring a main roster call up, she could either win the match and earn the title she’s been chasing for like half a year at this point, or she could lose and go heel. Personally, I would have prefered the latter (#TeamPeyton), but I get why you’d give her a run with the belt at this point. She earned this, and it’s her home state, so why not?
The match itself was fun, but not that memorable. As seems to be her lot in these matches, Nikki Cross took all of the big bumps (including a nasty looking powerbomb to the outside), so she was often napping on the outside, leaving Royce to fill all the gaps to maintain the flow of the match. Sane, who got new and (slightly) better theme music for this match, played her part pretty well. She hit one hell of a surprise spear on Peyton, then an Insane Elbow on the lovely Australian stacked on top of Nikki Cross for a close call that was fairly great. Still, this was Moon’s show. Whether it was her gear, which somehow managed to both have Houston Texans colors and look like Wonder Woman cosplay, or her constant topes, the match was clearly meant to be a star vehicle for Ember — and she did live up to her end of the bargain…just in a relatively mundane way. Moon felt like the safe choice here, and it’s not that she isn’t talented or deserving of the spot, it’s just that Cross or Royce would have made for more interesting stories going forward.
As far as ring work goes, this was a match that built to a boil. Toward the end, when the finishers come fast and thick, the pace is pretty great. At one point Nikki Cross does a crossbody onto the other three women, before hitting her swinging fisherman neckbreaker on Sane. Moon breaks up the pin but then falls victim to a hanging neckbreaker. Royce takes advantage of the situation and hits her Perfect Plex on Cross, only for Sane to make the save by Alabama Slamming Peyton onto Nikki before hitting her finish for a close two. Eventually, Ember is able to hit the Eclipse on both Cross and Royce to claim her place as only the sixth NXT Women’s champion ever, joining such luminaries as Paige, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley and — of course — Asuka in the process. Asuka is actually on hand to deliver the title to her former rival in a nice little passing of the torch that managed to feel pretty genuine, despite it being pretty manufactured. As to where this leaves the division, I think things are okay. I have to assume the Iconic Duo is staying til at least after WrestleMania to serve as lead heels until Triple H can find someone to fill that gap. Sane, I imagine, will find a few life as a upper-midcard face. Cross will likely remain in the title scene as Moon’s chief foil, before what I hope to be a full Sanity call up on the SmackDown after WrestleMania.
Drew McIntyre (c) Vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT Championship
As a smarky fan who reads all the internet rumors, listens to Observer Radio and writes prediction pieces for this site, it’s not often that I’m surprised by a wrestling show. Sure, there are times where I’m caught off guard by a wrestler’s performance (again, shout out to Velveteen Dream), but the results are usually fairly obvious when you gorge on this kind of information. So color me shocked when my man Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, who is amazing but really hasn’t done anything since he showed up on NXT, pins Drew McIntyre to win the NXT Title. It’s a good shock because I read it as Drew McIntyre being called up to main (though what looks like an unfortunate injury may sour that potential) and the company giving Almas a chance to thrive at the top of the card. Now the former La Sombra has been dynamite between the ropes, but I think we can all agree that it took the injection of Zelina Vega to really bring his character to the top. Maybe it’s the language barrier, maybe he’s hampered by creative not letting Cien go full “Ingobernable,” but the addition of the diminutive Vega really put Almas over the top, leading him all the way to the NXT Title. Dude really needs to step up his design game, though. His in ring gear is usually fine, if unremarkable, but his entrance attire is almost ubiquitously poor. Tonights sequined robe looked like it hadn’t been finished in time for the show. Now that Cien’s the champ, I expect better from whoever’s making his ring gear.
Like the women’s title match, this one started out kind of slow, but built into a barnburner by the end. The real meat of the match was the strong counter wrestling on display from both men, as so many sequences happened in quick flurries that proved the grit and athleticism of both competitors. Almas reverses a powerslam into an attempted Impaler only for Drew to hold on and hit a release suplex out of desperation. Later, Drew sets up for a corner Claymore, but Almas is too quick and hits a shotgun dropkick and goes for his double knees signature. He sees Mac getting up at the last second but manages to land a back elbow as he hits the corner. Drew catches an attempted plancha and tries to powerbomb Cien, but Vega is standing in the way. When Mac turns around to go the other way, Almas turns it into a hurricanrana and drives his opponent into the post before following up with a moonsault from the corner to the outside. The whole latter half of the match is crazy fast action, and it’s a real testament to both men’s conditioning that they never slowed down or looked tired in what was maybe the second longest match on the card.
The finish of the match will be a talking point for both good and bad reasons moving forward. Almas manages to avoid a Claymore in the corner, but Drew climbs the turnbuckle only to get crotched by Cien. Almas then hits a crazy looking spike DDT for the win, but the move is a little hard to watch because it appears that McIntyre held the top rope all the way down. He sold the move well and ceded the pin, sure, but with Triple H claiming that Drew may have torn his bicep in the process, it may derail the Scottish superstar’s momentum. Though I hope it’s all a work because I don’t want anyone injured, I do feel like Mac could use a bit more seasoning from a character standpoint. I read a comment online where someone said that they “want(ed) to like Drew more than (they) are entertained by him,” and honestly that’s a pretty accurate description of my feelings on him. I’m really happy that he got to come back to the WWE as a conquering veteran of the indies, and it seems like he’s matured a lot in the interim years. That being said, face Mac has a personality problem. He’s a little bland and his ringwork, which can be stellar against the right opponent, isn’t enough to make him stand out. If he’s not injured, I hope that this leads to a call up on SmackDown, where I could see him feuding with his former 3MB mate, Jinder. As for Almas, who knows? He needs a top face challenger, so that narrows down his options a bit. Shoot, we may see Almas take on a resurgent Aleister Black at whatever TakeOver accompanies WrestleMania.
WarGames: SAnitY Vs. The Undisputed Era Vs. Authors of Pain and Roderick Strong
While this may not have been a traditional WarGames match in the eyes of WCW purists, I dare say it was the best match to ever carry the name. Every man on every team got a chance to shine and do something amazing. This was the best that ReDragon has looked since coming to NXT, as both Fish and O’Reilly got to show off their brutal kicks and tandem offense (even hitting a killer Chasing the Dragon on Roddy late in the show). Alexander Wolfe looked like a damn gladiator out there after busting the back of his head wide open off of a top-rope German suplex onto a table but still being with it enough to hit Sanity’s tandem finisher on Cole toward the end. The AOP got a lot of their signature power spots in, as well as a few new ones like the Super Collider where they sandwiched Killian Dain before powerbombing Fish and O’Reilly. Young and Strong were the ironmen for their teams, putting in strong performances that saw both men take and dish out multiple finishers. Really though, this match was all about Killian Dain and Adam Cole (BayBay), who each put on the performances of their NXT careers.
Dain was the one to introduce weapons into the match, bringing tables, chairs, kendo sticks and garbage cans into the ring and tossing everyone around throughout the match. He also proved his insane athleticism numerous times, whether that meant hitting a shotgun corner dropkick/senton on both Authors of Pain or going coast to coast on O’Reilly. That a man his size can move like that is just unfathomable. For Cole it was a more nuanced performance, built on taking crazy bumps (like being superplexed from atop the cage) and character resiliency. That the match ended with Cole scoring the clean pin on Young after a shining wizard into a chair, speaks volumes of what the company expects out of the former Bullet Club leader. The crowd got behind him too, with a thunderous shout of “BayBay” every time his name was said aloud even in the sparsely attended Toyota Center.
As a coronation for the Undisputed Era, more specifically for Cole, the match was a considerable success. I don’t know that they looked like a dominant faction or anything, but all three men came out looking strong and like leaders in the WWE. Cole is obviously being positioned strong for a potential run at the title (presumably when a face champ has claimed the belt from Almas), but I worry that there isn’t a lot of competition for him at the top. Sure, Aleister Black and Roderick Strong could fill that void, but NXT is pretty light on top tier faces at this point. For Sanity, this was a decent showing too. It’s only a matter of time before they lose the belts to Fish and O’Reilly, and then I hope it’s not too long before they pop up on SmackDown to square off with the New Day, provided the Bludgeon Brothers don’t become much of anything when they debut this week. It’s a little sad that Young and Dain will not taste singles gold while in NXT, but not everyone can be champion. The biggest question marks hover around the AOP and Roderick Strong. The AOP should be called up to Raw to face off with Seth and Dean in a battle of the flack jackets, but will likely stay with the developmental brand until at least the Rumble in January. For Roddy, the world is his oyster. He’s a hell of a performer (a shit promo, but a great wrestler) and will likely stick around the main event scene, potentially facing off with the newly christened champion in Almas if he can move past his hostilities with Cole and company. He has a real chance of winning the belt too…unfortunately, I’m not sure he’ll be that great of a champion. Like I said, he’s an immensely talented in-ring performer, it’s just the rest of his game that needs some updating before he becomes more than just a flash in the pan.