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For the first time since NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III, which took place in August 2017, WWE held an NXT TakeOver show that did not include a match featuring The Undisputed Era in any form. For the group that has been the driving force of the brand for more than three years, it was a footnote that might have gone under the radar. Despite that little fact, NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day was one of the most complete, top-to-bottom wrestling shows you will see. Each of the five matches were above-average, and featured a good mix of variety and styles that built nicely into satisfying finishes.
After almost missing the show, the major angle at the end of show did feature The Undisputed Era, with Adam Cole turning on Finn Balor and Kyle O’Reilly, launching a new feud between Cole and those guys. Clearly, Cole vs Balor is a big match, and Cole as a heel wrestling O’Reilly in WWE is another marquee match for NXT.
Those matches should be good, although I feel like at this point NXT might be better off moving Cole up to the main roster instead re-establishing him in a major feud in NXT. NXT has been a brand that historically has done well by moving on from talent quickly and replacing their spots with fresh, new talent. Since moving to USA, that hasn’t been the case, with The Undisputed Era, along with Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa staying for far longer than expected, which has created a kind of stasis in NXT.
This isn’t a knock on those talents, but it has changed the dynamic of NXT into mimicking the main roster by continuing to push the same names in key positions, instead of establishing new names to fill those roles. Again, Cole is great, but at the end of this show the major takeaway was that Cole was the top name on the brand, and will ultimately overshadow an excellent performance from Pete Dunne in the main event. NXT is just a different style of show in 2021 than it was a few years ago; that doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse, but it’s certainly different.
A small nitpick I have is that the canned crowd reactions, especially the booing, feel incredible inauthentic and manufactured. Nobody really gets booed like that in wrestling, and it makes the entire production feel fake. It is particularly strange when it is used for NXT shows, since they have real fans in the building making genuine noise. WWE can do a lot better when it comes to producing something that sounds a little more natural.
Finn Balor vs Pete Dunne: ****1/4
Very good, physical struggle between two elite wrestlers. This was not the typical NXT main event with a million near-falls, but instead felt like more of a real fight between two guys that desperately wanted to be NXT Champion. Dunne has been in WWE now since 2016, and has been great the entire time. By leaning out and getting a few guys to surround himself with in Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan, he does feel like more of a star, and you could have made a great case that he should have won this match.
Balor has been a very good champion and is perhaps doing the most entertaining work of his career as the ace of NXT. At some point, you have to think that he should get another run on the main roster; because he is someone who is talented enough to be in the main event of WrestleMania, or SummerSlam, or any show WWE produces. He has already been in that spot and apparently prefers to stay in NXT, but it’s easy to imagine the potential he could have if handled correctly on the main roster.
Io Shirai vs Mercedes Martinez vs Toni Storm: ***3/4
They did a triple threat match here, which was fun and very physical, but I can’t help but think that a singles match between Shirai and either women here would have been even better, but that is hopefully waiting for us at a later date. I’ve never been a huge fan of Martinez, who has been around forever, but she was very good in this match and set a strong, physical tone that was a nice contrast to Shirai’s aerial exploits.
I’ve written before that it is complete booking malpractice to have Toni Storm be a heel when she is such a natural babyface, but she is still a hell of a performer and continued her stretch of good matches while working with Shirai. Shirai is at the point where she has been on top for so long in NXT that she should really go up to the main roster soon to remain fresh, and I’d definitely pick to have Storm be the woman who unseats her as champion. Shirai has been a great champion for NXT; a case could be made that she has been the best champion in NXT history, full-stop. Whoever ends up beating her for the title, it will feel like a huge accomplishment when they do it.
MSK vs Grizzled Young Veterans: ****
Very entertaining match; MSK have been around for a while and have always been very athletic high-flyers, so far being in NXT has been very good for them as it has given them more creative direction than some of their other stops. Grizzled Young Veterans are a really complete tag team and are underrated because they have been in organization the last few years that does not prioritize tag team wrestling often, but they are arguably the most talented team in the entire company.
The mix of styles between MSK and Grizzled Young Veterans was the key for this match; it led to a natural psychology with the more traditional heel team trying to slow down the young, high-flying babyfaces. The reason I think MSK looked so good here, as opposed to when they were on the indies, is that instead of being put in there with another high-flying team and just doing spots; they worked with opponents that had a natural contrasting style and it led to MSK looking like they had to struggle to pull off their signature moves and pick up the win.
Kushida vs Johnny Gargano: ****
This was my favorite Gargano match in quite some time. Gargano has struggled in the past to work as a heel in his matches despite his outside-of-the-ring persona; his TakeOver match against Damien Priest last October being a good example where Gargano is the heel, but basically sells for most of the match and makes a babyface comeback. In this match, Gargano clearly worked as a heel in this match, and did a great job working with Kushida to have a very entertaining back-and-forth match.
Much like the Tomasso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher match from TakeOver: War Games, this match was stylistically different than the other matches on the show, relying on a lot of chain wrestling and between-the-ropes action to tell the story. NXT can sometimes devolve into every match just being a bunch of big moves and kick-outs; which is a fine style for some matches, but it is good to have diversity in your matches and this match provided that.
Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez vs Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart: ***
The effort in this match was very high; with all four women working very hard and taking some nasty-looking bumps to put together an all-out match for the tag tournament finals. Unfortunately, the execution didn’t always match the effort, they tried a lot of complicated stuff and it didn’t always work. Really, this match would have worked a lot better if they simply cut out about 25% of the high-impact spots; it would have been a smoother and more professional match. Still, it had a ton of action and energy which is what you want out of an opening match.
The company clearly is very high on Raquel Gonzalez, as she continues to be protected in finishes and put into the glory spots. Really, all four women have very high star potential, all in different ways. Gonzalez is big and athletic, Kai is a savvy and smart veteran worker, Moon is an incredible athlete and experienced, and Blackheart has great physical charisma and is an improving worker. You could take any one of them and put them on the main roster and they could do really well if they were decently booked.
Must Watch Matches
Kenny Omega and KENTA vs Lance Archer and Jon Moxley: **** – AEW Dynamite 2/10
WALTER vs A-Kid: **** – NXT UK 1/14
Kota Ibushi vs SANADA: ****1/4 – NJPW New Beginning in Hiroshima Tag 2
In latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the relationship between AEW and NJPW; they go over some potential dream matches, possible talent exchanges, look at how each company can benefit from working with the other, as well as some potential pitfalls that could come from the new relationship.