Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: Sam Roberts showed up for commentary like some grand harbinger of doom, Keith Lee retained the North American Championship in a hoss division triple threat, and Dakota Kai won a gauntlet match by being the last person to enter, which is obviously how you win gauntlet matches.
(h/t to UPROXX reader MachiavelliX for this week’s subtitle)
If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, you can do that here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, where everything and everyone is terrible.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for April 8, 2020.
Welcome To Quote NXT TakeOver USA Unquote
This week’s episode takes the form of “NXT TakeOver USA,” which is what happens when the big WrestleMania show you’ve been building to gets canceled because of a global pandemic and you don’t want that sweet skull and crossbones logo to go to waste. It’s also a great illustration of how the concept of “NXT TakeOver” with no fans reacting and 20 commercial breaks is depressing as hell. It’s like watching a print of Avengers Endgame in an empty theater with the volume turned down, and not all the special effects are done. And it ends with Pepper Pots kicking Thanos in the balls.
Best: Io Shirai Is Your New Number One Contender
Anyway, the best match of the night is the Women’s Championship number one contender match involving basically everyone who isn’t brand new, a jobber, or busy at WrestleMania. Like we learned at WrestleMania, in fact, ladder matches without crowd reactions are difficult to pull off, because it feels like there’s no drama in people climbing, and no believable teases that this is going to be the finish. Plus, nobody in the women’s version is a crazy parkour nut who wants to do corkscrew planchas off the ring post or whatever.
They work hard, take some nasty bumps all things considered, and the right person wins: Io Shirai, who will hopefully stand still while Charlotte Flair moonsaults at her, let Charlotte whiff her completely, and then show her what that shit’s supposed to look like. I think it’s interesting, though, that they had Candice LeRae be the one getting pie-faced off the ladder to give Io the win, as based on what happens later in the show, it might constitute a double turn. The last thing I want is for Io to suddenly become a babyface again, especially when we need evilest possible Io to send The Queen to the Boneyard. I’d be willing to accept Io as a stop-gap win for Flair on her way to getting dunked on by Bianca Belair at SummerSlam or whatever, but if Bianca’s just going to stay on Raw and Candice has turned into the Natasha to Johnny Gargano’s Boris, Io’s really the only answer, isn’t she?
Note: Io Shirai should also be the number one contender to the North American and NXT Championships. Keith Lee would probably turn her into a fine paste, but I think she’d have a pretty good shot against Adam Cole.
Worst: They Had All This Time Away From TV And Are Still Calling Themselves ‘EVER-RISE’
Ovaries are back, and they’re on hardcore enhancement duty for Malcolm Bivens’ new team of Rinku Singh and Saurav Gurjar, who are already just “Rinku” and “Saurav” despite already having a t-shirt produced with their full names on it. Their tag team name is “Indus Sher,” by the way. Sher means “lion,” and the Indus is obviously a river in Asia, so they’re basically RIVER LION. They’re one bobblehead promotion away from being a Minor League Baseball team.
Unfortunately they’re also greener than a gamma-radiated goose’s shit and don’t have much chemistry together, which isn’t helped much by the former 3.0’s willing but competent at best tag team stylings. So it’s about five minutes of … I guess you could say fine, average-ass tag team wrestling between two guys WWE obviously wants to push as monsters who aren’t particularly monstrous beyond their physicality, and a team that looks like Colt Cabana got split into two guys and named themselves like a biscuit mix. Oh, and Stoke doesn’t get a promo. Not great, Bob.
Also Best, Maybe?: I’m Not Finnished With You
I got excited a couple of months ago when it looked like we were getting a Finn Bálor vs. WALTER match at NXT TakeOver Dublin, but when Finn went to NXT UK and just kinda left and they held a battle royal to find WALTER’s next opponent instead, I thought they’d scrapped it completely. So it makes me happy to see that Finn V WALTER is still on at some point, and will presumably reengage when the pandemic’s over and folks can actually travel again.
Speaking of the travel bans and as a quick side note, I’m on Team Devlin when it comes to thinking William Regal holding a tournament to name an “interim Cruiserweight Champion” while the actual Cruiserweight Champion can’t leave his home country for fear of global pestilence is some bullshit. Is the Cruiserweight Championship so important that we can’t understand he’d be over here defending it if he was physically able? It’s not like he’s injured, or just isn’t defending the title. It’s the whole world, guys. It’s also pretty rank that there’s already a tournament to name a new champion starting next week, while they’ve got to “consider” what to do about Pete Dunne’s Tag Team Championship. Something’s afoot.
Ah well, if it builds to a Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon-style unification match somewhere down the road, that’ll be pretty cool. But damn, NXT. Cold blooded.
Worst: This Ain’t It, Chief
What we were promised here was the “final beat” in the ongoing … uh, beat-off between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. The feud’s been going on for four years. Every time we get close to a resolution that would allow the characters to move on, fate intervenes in the form of an injury or, in this case, a global virus that shuts down society. But this is it, and we’re devoting the entire second hour of what was supposed to be the WrestleMania weekend TakeOver to the match. This is EVERYTHING. So what did we get?
An okay 20-minute match for the middle of a feud, used as a 60-minute end of a feud.
It’s like somebody watched the Edge and Randy Orton Last Man Standing match from WrestleMania and were like, “that was pretty divisive. You know what would make it better? If it we made it longer, even MORE melodramatic, replaced the low volume commentary with an hour of silence, and gave it a screwy finish that left everyone unsatisfied.” Brother, you know how much I adore these wrestlers and this feud if you’ve read ANY of these columns over the past several years, and I would legitimately rather get a root canal than sit through this entire match again.
Some of you will say, “actually I LOVED it,” because you could drive a car off a cliff and die and someone on the Internet would watch it and say, “actually I thought they did a great parking job, I enjoyed it.” Let’s just go down the list of things that didn’t work for me here.
It’s too long. Whoever decided “good matches” in WWE need to be 30-60 minutes long needs to get reassigned to the mail room. It was full of commercial breaks, which made it feel like TWO hours, and the lack of commentary or crowd noise or even some kind of background music like the cinematic matches at WrestleMania got made it feel even slower. It’s just an hour of listening to grunts, moans, breaths, over acting terrible out of context taunts like “is that all you’ve got, daddy?” and bleeped-out curse words. It felt less like a Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa match, and more like someone trying to spoof one. It took everything that was bad about the recent trend of non-stop kick-out marathons, applied a Boneyard Match filter to it, and thought that’d be good enough. Which is sad, because the simple, effective, logical storytelling of NXT has been the key factor in making it WWE’s best brand in a walk. You felt rewarded for watching, and like you were actually going to see a match play out like you might want it to, and give you a finish, good or bad, that makes sense and engages you on a basic, professional wrestling kind of level. It was still “sports-entertainment,” but it rarely ever made you feel like you were wasting your time.
Then we have the issue of Johnny Gargano’s devious plot to win his rivalry with Ciampa being getting his ass kicked for 55 minutes but wearing a cup, so at the end his wife could show up and kick him in the balls, thereby lulling Ciampa into a false sense of security so she could sneak up behind CIAMPA and kick CIAMPA in the balls, so Johnny could win. Comical evil for the sake of comical evil, whether I’ve previously felt like the characters were justified in their motivations or not. You could practically see Shawn Michaels slobbering all over the paper as he wrote this all out, not stopping to think about how effective that final, defiant crawl up the Undertaker’s legs at WrestleMania 26 or “I’m sorry, I love you,” would’ve played out if they’d been 60 minutes long and built around Whisper wandering out to fake cry in front of Shawn’s opponent to swerve them into taking a wedgie. Good will and fandom of both the wrestlers and the promotion aside, this was as bad as any of those legendary goofball swerves we make fun of Vince Russo for booking. This turned the feud into a Dignity on a Pole match.
And man, it didn’t have to be. Circumstances fucked it. The cinematic presentation of the match was a good idea and something WWE should continue playing with, but it lacked both the absurd ambition of the Firefly Fun House and the dumb, escapist fun of the Bone Zone. It was just long, and boring, and up its own ass, and morose. At the end they even teased the thought that maybe they were going to end the feud with Gargano and Ciampa realizing what hatred and toxic masculinity have done to them and finally reaching some kind of understanding after having fully found themselves in the other’s shoes, but nope, we got a wife swerve and the approximation of a Road Dogg cup gag from 20 years ago.
At least we got a post credits scene.
So what, Ciampa just attacks Gargano the next time he sees him and they both get kicked out? Ciampa attacks Candice for screwing him over and they swap back alignments and build to ANOTHER match? Gargano and Ciampa start fighting again and Triple H shows up to kick their asses 1-on-2 for not listening to him? Killer Kross reveals he’s got mind control powers and is the reason Gargano and LeRae went full dark?
At this point I hope the first post-quarantine show reveals that everything from the quarantine was a dream. AJ Styles isn’t dead, Rhea Ripley never lost the Women’s Championship to somebody who doesn’t even want it, and Gargano and Ciampa didn’t end their feud on a deaf and dumb student film.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
I wish for John Cena to portal in, wander around looking confused for 5 seconds, and then portal back out
Baron Von Raschke
I want to thank NXT for the commercials during this Ciampa/Gargano match…without them, I would have had the sound down on Dynamite when Jericho said that he owed Cody’s mom a slap in the face.
I would have laughed if the luchadors kidnapped Johnny & Candice on their way to the car.
It’s weird that I’m watching a Shawn Spears match over a Chiampa vsGargano, but here we are
Does Io have to cash in on Charlotte? I’d give a good 4 rolls of toilet paper to see Shirai vs. Cole.
Dave M J
Candice: YOU SAID YOU WERE ONLY GOING TO BE A HALF HOUR. HOME. NOW.
Johnny: Awww, but-
Candice: …would be a damn shame if your Spider-Man figures got thrown in the garbage
Triple H: “Ok guys, tonight is your big empty arena match. Feel free to wrestle all around the performance center, use gym equipment, tear the place up, fight on top of the truck and when it is over, the winner is going to cry over the loser because they won the battle.”
*Ciampa and Johnny look at each other*
Triple H: “What?”
Ciampa: “That was Edge – Orton at Wrestlemania.”
Triple H: “…I’m not going to lie I missed Mania because I was binge watching Tiger King; Carole Baskin, am I right?”
Me every 5 minutes during the Gargano/Ciampa match:
I actually love that Johnny won because he has a friend besides Ciampa
The Voice of Raisin
In any other promotion, this match ends with Father James Mitchell showing up to tell Gargano and Ciampa that they’re already in hell and have to literally fight forever.
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. Does that count as the first bad TakeOver?
As always, make sure to drop down into our comments section and let us know what you thought of the episode, and if you liked or laughed at anything in here, give us a share on social media to help us out. It helps more than you know, especially during all this COVID-19 nightmare where we’re trying to keep freelancers lancing freely writing about almost wrestling shows.
Join us here next week for the beginning of the Jordan Devlin Memorial Interim Cruiserweight Champion Tournament, and Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox blowing off their feud in a dramatically shot, 45-minute fight in the woods that ends with Raquel Gonzalez throwing Kai into a well. See you then!