WWE NXT Deadline 2023: Three Things We Hated And Three Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s review of "WWE NXT" Deadline, a show that taught us who the Iron Survivors are, who did not attack Trick Williams, and that there is a person named "Izzy Dame!" And yes, these are all things we'll touch on over the course of this column — we're actually going to at least touch on pretty much everything, though if you didn't watch the show, you should still check out our live coverage/results page for full details of everything that went down.

That's not what this is. This what stood out to us, the WINC writing and editorial staff, over the course of Saturday evening's "NXT" premium live event. Did we cheer for Trick Williams? Did we weep for Roxanne Perez? Did we briefly entertain even the thought that CM Punk might become exclusive to "NXT," and why is the answer to that question "No, of course not, did you really just ask me that"? These are three things we hated and three things we loved about "WWE NXT" Deadline 2023.

Hated: Big moments fall flat on rushed three-hour show

"NXT" Deadline promised to be a chaotic end to WWE's premium live event schedule for 2023, with two Iron Survivor matches and multiple title bouts headlining the card in Bridgeport, CT on Saturday night. Unfortunately for the black-and-gold brand, the major moments — including a big return, a title change, and a new affiliation in the women's division — all managed to fall flat due to the rushed nature of the three-hour event.

The opening bout of the evening saw Dragon Lee capture his first piece of gold under the WWE umbrella, defeating Dominik Mysterio in an entertaining back-and-forth contest to claim the "NXT" North American title. The only issue was the closing sequence, which saw a couple of awkward moments from both competitors leading to a completely underwhelming finish, which wasn't aided by any means due to the lack of excitement at the commentary desk. There was some speculation that Mysterio may have suffered an injury down the home stretch, leading to the clunkiness, but regardless, the commentary duo of Booker T and Vic Joseph did very little to put over the luchador's milestone.

Two other big moments on the Deadline card came in the women's division, with the return of Cora Jade — which had been heavily speculated — coming and going within 30 seconds and commentary failing to put over the significance of her appearance, despite that she's been gone for the past several months. As one of the major stars of the "NXT" brand, Jade's comeback saw her lay out women's champion Lyra Valkyria before holding the title above her head, a moment that was met with complete apathy from Booker and Joseph.

Kiana James also scored a major upset victory at Deadline, defeating former champion Roxanne Perez inside a steel cage after assistance from Izzi Dame. However, the heel turn and fresh allegiance received no reaction from the live crowd in Conneticut due to the fact Dame has only made one appearance on "NXT's" weekly programming, predominantly working live events and the streaming "LVL Up" show since making her debut earlier this year.

Even the opening segment, which saw CM Punk and Shawn Michaels tease the potential of the Chicago native signing with NXT, was cut off without any genuine progression between the two legendary stars, while the close of the event saw Carmelo Hayes seeming to sneak up behind Trick Williams as he faced down Ilja Dragunov, only for the show to go off the air before there was any further tease or development in that long-running storyline.

Why were there so many rushed sequences that fell flat? Who knows, but it made for an awkward premium live event and put a damper on several important moments.

Written by Liam O'Loughlin

Loved: Pre-show matches, and great ones!

What's that saying? "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone?" That's how matches on WWE pre-shows are for me. I had no idea how much I loved them and how truly needed they were until I didn't have them anymore. I even remember the specific instance when I missed them for the first time, a two-night WrestleMania where we were exclusively shown video packages ... which we then had to watch all over again during the event itself. So when WWE announced pre-show matches for a couple events earlier this year, I was thrilled, and when I saw there was such a match added to Deadline, I was happy once again.

I will admit, I haven't watched too much of Nathan Frazer, and I really only saw Axiom on the main roster, but they certainly made fans of me tonight. That match was so darn good, and both men have that high-flying, hard-hitting, fast-paced action style of wrestling that I find myself liking more and more as I get older. So this was a happy surprise. Also, as we've already said, this show felt weirdly rushed in some ways, so looking back on this match is refreshing. Seems like it got the crowd hot, at least.

Now that WWE has set this precedent, I'm going to need GOOD pre-show matches only moving forward. I know that might be a difficult ask sometimes, but don't put these throwaway feuds on the show just to make people happy that there's some wrestling happening during that first hour. Frazer and Axiom set the bar for me. I only want good, spot-fest matches on my pre-shows moving forward!

Written by Daisy Ruth

Hated: Well I didn't vote for you

After losing to Carmelo Hayes at Deadline, Lexis King got on the mic and revealed that he was never behind the attack on Trick Williams — he just lied about it so Hayes would want to fight him and he'd get a showcase match on the PLE. Which would actually have been kind of a clever twist, if the match in question had showcased anything beyond the fact that Lexis King is not very good at wrestling.

I'm sorry, I tried to receive the character with an open mind despite all the terrible things I heard about Brian Pillman Jr.'s AEW run, and actually the character has potential in an over-the-top, gonzo kind of way, but I hope it's a long time before I see this dude wrestle another PLE singles match. Put him in a tag team, put him in a faction, make him a manager, I don't care; do something to hide the fact that he doesn't seem to know how to even move properly in the ring, despite the fact that he's about the celebrate the sixth anniversary of his pro debut. Melo did his damnedest to make chicken salad, but this was by far the worst match of the evening, and King's physical awkwardness was front and center the entire time.

And again, I'm really not trying to dump on the guy, and I feel bad. It's not like I want him to retire. I just don't need to see him get that showcase again for a while, no matter how many people he cleverly tricks into hating him.

Written by Miles Schneiderman

Loved: NXT strikes while the iron's hot with Trick Williams

It's been one of the most remarkable rises in popularity of 2023 — and the exploits of Trick Williams came to a head Saturday night as he came from behind to claim the men's Iron Survivor match and set up a future "NXT" title showdown with Ilja Dragunov.

After spending the majority of his WWE run to date working as back-up for Carmelo Hayes, the emergence of Williams in recent months has been a welcome surprise for "NXT," who now have a genuine groundswell of support for an up-and-coming babyface star. The 29-year-old entered the match against Bron Breakker, Tyler Bate, Josh Briggs, and Dijak to a thunderous ovation in Bridgeport, with the trademark chants of "Whoop That Trick" sounding out through the arena.

But the support wasn't just limited to his entrance, with the fans remaining firmly behind Williams, even when all hope of victory seemed lost. As the former "NXT" North American Champion began to gain momentum, the crowd went with him on that journey, which culminated in him pinning Breakker — the biggest and baddest man in the contest — to earn a shocking win and send the fans into raptures.

There have been plenty of occasions throughout WWE's lengthy history in which they've dropped the ball and failed to capitalize on a performer's authentic popularity with the audience, but they appear to be looking to strike while the iron is at its hottest with Williams, who possesses all the tools to become a major player in the coming years. His upcoming title bout with Dragunov, as well as the mystery surrounding his recent backstage attacker, has turned Williams from a bit-part player on Tuesday nights to a legitimate focal point of the program, somebody the WWE universe share a special relationship with.

Is he still a bit raw bell-to-bell? Of course. But Williams is still in the infancy of his pro wrestling career, and if he can continue to garner the love and adoration of the "NXT" fanbase, all while learning the tricks of the trade in the Performance Center system, the sky truly is the limit for the Carolina native.

Written by Liam O'Loughlin

Hated: Cringe Much, Punk?

It's no secret that I don't like CM Punk, but the opening segment Saturday night was just overall bad, and my feelings about him only slightly have anything to do with that. We knew he'd be at Deadline, he basically flaunted the fact, so this didn't come as a surprise, but I guess I didn't think it would open the show. It was just awkward. Shawn Michaels came out, Punk's music hit, and he even did the "Heartbreak Kid" pose on the ramp. And Michaels is my favorite wrestler, so that made me roll my eyes.

It just got so much worse and cringe-worthy when Punk got down to the ring and took a selfie with Michaels because "I grew up watching you and people are saying that to me now backstage!" They stumbled through this. It seemed like either they were both too caught up int he moment to know what to say, or they genuinely just forgot. It also seemed extremely rushed — Punk clearly hadn't finished what he was supposed to say and was preparing to continue when his music suddenly played him out.

And let's get to the elephant in the room: Who's Michaels' best friend? I'm sorry, I really can't believe Punk has mended fences with Paul Levesque and that Punk wouldn't punch him in the head the first second he got the chance. And honestly, who REALLY believes CM Punk, of all people, is going to "NXT"? This man had his own show created for him in AEW when he couldn't play nice with others, I don't think he's going to be hanging out with the rookies much, especially not putting them over. It took up time on a show that fell too rushed already.

I don't like the guy, but I'm sure looking forward to him showing up on Monday's "WWE Raw" so he can just announce where he's going and get it over with. Or maybe he'll just say he can go anywhere and I'll be complaining about this all over again.

Written by Daisy Ruth

Loved: Full circle

I enjoyed the main event, even if I wasn't completely enamored of it. The match was a little slow in pace and a little epic in tone, the kind of thing that works great when it's Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso at SummerSlam, a potential capper to one of the greatest storylines in history, but somewhat less great when it's Ilja Dragunov vs. Baron Corbin and it hasn't even been the top story on its own show. In other words, I think somebody backstage thought this Corbin/Dragunov program was way deeper and more resonant than it actually was.

That said, it did what it needed to do. It gave Dragunov another win, another title defense, over an established main roster talent, in a contest that if nothing else made Dragunov look exceptionally hard to kill. Beating Baron Corbin might not look like much on paper, but Dragunov took an absolute beating from a significantly larger opponent on his way to that victory. Even if the story didn't merit the melodrama, Dragunov successfully sold the idea that he wanted to win, and ultimately that was enough. And now here we are, back where we started: Dragunov, and Trick Williams, and Carmelo Hayes.

If Deadline didn't feel overall like the most satisfying show, there's some comfort to be had in the fact that it wasn't designed to be satisfying. Deadline was a show whose main goal was to set up the next show — the wacky gimmick matches were to crown No. 1 contenders, Kiana James and Roxanne Perez are probably still feuding after this, etc — and part of that is going off the air by jumping headfirst back into the messy drama that is Hayes, Williams, and the "NXT" Champion. Williams and Dragunov are on a collision course for the title after they both survived Deadline matches that took them to their limits, and meanwhile Hayes is over here definitely not being the still-unknown mystery Trick assailant, nope, definitely wasn't him, he isn't being eaten alive by jealously and insecurity and he definitely isn't standing right behind you as we fade to black.

I love "NXT" so much. Deadline might not have been anything special, but the road to Stand and Deliver 2024 is going to rip.

Written by Miles Schneiderman