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NXT's decision to pilfer War Games from WCW's archives and turn it into their own annual gimmick was one of the smartest ideas the brand has ever had. For whatever reason, Vince McMahon was never willing to use the War Games match for a main roster show, despite the obvious nostalgic appeal the match would have; which left the gimmick vacant for an entire generation.
NXT has not only revitalized the match, they have made it significantly better. While a few of the early War Games matches are classics; the reality is that especially in the later years, the War Games matches were generally not very good. By the mid-90s, with the WWF popularizing ladder matches and the Hell in a Cell, the War Games match actually began to feel outdated, which is one of the reasons WCW stopped doing it as an annual event.
By taking the roof off of the cage, including a lot of weapons and plunder, and focusing on the more modern, high-spot-heavy style, the match feels new and exciting, with enough elements like the timed-entries and the one-man-advantage to be nostalgic as well. With NXT's generally serious approach to wrestling, it works similarly to how it was originally intended in 1988.
War Games 2020 was a solid show; it was not a perfect show and there were some hiccups during the matches; but like most TakeOver events, it was easy to watch and full of good wrestlers who work really hard to have the best matches possible. When NXT is at its best; it is straight-forward wrestling with satisfying character arcs. I think that this show, while not maybe a classic, blow-the-doors-off TakeOver, fulfilled those two main objectives.
Men's War Game Match: ****1/4
I enjoyed this match more than the women's match and thought it was the right choice to main event. The women's match used more plunder; but this match felt more personal and the work in general was just at a higher level. This was that kind of perfect mix of old and new that I'm talking about; a real rivalry between two teams, settled inside the cage, but wrestled in the modern style with just a ton of non-stop action.
McAfee is an interesting personality. The idea of using celebrities for wrestling angles is that you will drum up some extra outside interest by using them. McAfee really hasn't done that in a notable way, NXT ratings during his involvement have been kind of bad, but he has shown such a knack for the industry that he has become objectively a good character and the hardcore fans enjoy seeing him, which is pretty unusual for a celebrity performer. He was really good in the build-up for this match and organized a team quickly to make the main event really work for this show. One small quibble is that I didn't like that he kicked out of the Panama Sunrise at the end of the match; you don't need to protect McAfee that much and NXT's main problem with their matches is that none of their moves are protected.
I'm hoping there is some significance in Kyle O'Reilly winning the match; since Balor appears to be ready to wrestle and NXT needs to have a top contender for the title, and O'Reilly, who legitimately broke Balor's jaw, is a logical opponent and he got the big win tonight. One thing I really enjoyed was towards the end of the match, there was a cool sequence with O'Reilly and Pete Dunne squaring off. At that point I would have really liked to have seen Dunne get the win for his team; he deserves a push and would be a good challenger for Balor, and also he is only 27, and NXT needs young faces to push at the top.
Women's War Game Match: ***1/4
This match started pretty slow, as the performers had to work their way around the booking quandary of the babyfaces having the woman-advantage when that rule was designed for the heels to have the advantage. So they had to do a lot of stalling and spots where people laid down in the corner and sold for no real reason so that the heels could still control the match despite being down a person for most of the match. So we got about 20 minutes of that; and then finally Io Shirai made it into the ring and things picked up from there as they moved into all the plunder spots that the NXT-versions of these matches all include. The women worked really hard, but I didn't think this match was anything special.
Raquel Gonzalez was given the big rub in the match; pinning Io Shirai after a powerbomb from the top rope, through a ladder. This was a strong booking move, and if you believe Gonzalez is going to be a star, it was a great performance for her, and it's good that NXT put somebody new over big like that.
I didn't like this match for either Toni Storm or Rhea Ripley, who in my opinion have more potential than Gonzalez, and outside of Rhipley's first few minutes in the cage, neither of them did that much in this match. Both of them could be major stars on the main roster right now, and they were just kind of side characters in this match. It also simply wasn't a great look for any of the babyfaces, who got beat up week-after-week on television, got the woman advantage for the War Games match, and still lost.
Johnny Gargano vs Damien Priest vs Leon Ruff: ***1/4
I was interested in seeing how this match would be structured, since like the women's War Games match, it was awkward having two babyfaces take on one heel in a triple threat match. They worked around it by having Ruff get sidelined for a portion of the match and then having the Scream guys come out and help Gargano. Ruff was a comedy figure as champion, and NXT has largely avoided that kind of stuff, which is why their mid-card title is actually important. Gargano is fine as the heel champion, I think it's time to give him a proper reign.
As an aside, I simply can't believe WWE changed Punishment Martinez's name to Damien Priest. If the idea is to have someone who will get people to stop and pay attention to your product; wouldn't having a 6'6" guy throwing crazy karate kicks everywhere be better off with the name PUNISHMENT MARTINEZ? Damien Priest is not a bad name; but Punishment Martinez was a great name and I feel like WWE made an unnecessary change there.
Timothy Thatcher vs Tomasso Ciampa: ****
This was excellent professional wrestling. Thatcher isn't for everyone, but I think he is great. His direct, physical style, compiled with his excellent facial reactions and intensity are a great character to work with in the ring, and Ciampa is the perfect opponent for him. WWE really has done a better job than I thought they would with Thatcher; he is pushed as basically the Minoru Suzuki of NXT.
This match was also put in a very difficult spot, coming in as grappling-heavy match following the plunder match that was the women's War Games match, but they made it work thanks to some really intense fighting and some fortunate color coming from Thatcher. Ciampa is a guy who was the biggest star in NXT a few years ago, but once he wrapped up his feud with Gargano he has been just floating around the mid-card. Really, he should move up to the main roster and he would do great there if they just gave him a fair shot.
Dexter Lumis vs Cameron Grimes: **
I'm all for having more mid-card feuds that conclude with PPV matches, but this match just went on for too long without that much happening. Grimes works really hard and has charisma, but I just see his hillbilly character and it is the kind of thing Vince McMahon will love as pure comedy, and he will end up as the new Heath Slater when he is so much more than that. I'm not a big fan of Lumis, he is different but I don't find his creepy character entertaining or interesting in any way, and he isn't that good in the ring either. The time for this match would have been better served somewhere else.
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