WWE Performance Center, Orlando, Florida

A welcome shot of 80s nostalgia was fired into the hearts of the WWE Universe, as NXT delivered a throwback flavoured with their own smash mouth style. Rushonrock King Of The Ring Andy Spoors reports…

Things have come a long way in wrestling since 1985. No longer considered (quite as) camp, the action is faster, sharper, relentless. Larger than life characters have long been replaced by physical specimens that have a body fat percentage of close to zero. Fans can make their voices and opinions heard. Not by pantomime cheering and booing at a live event but through the keyboards of social media.

It was a much simpler time. To be reminded of years gone by is a welcome relief from the current shitshow that is the modern world and the year 2020. NXT have long mastered the art of putting together PPV events. They’ve even previously dabbled in nostalgia by bringing back the WCW gimmick War Games match to great success.

From the moment Triple H announced NXT would be presenting a Takeover to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the inaugural In Your House pay per view, the question was never if their Superstars could deliver a great event. Rather, it was whether the original set design of a mock front door, window and garage would be used in the confines of the WWE Performance Center. Testimony to the faith fans have in the black and gold brand,

The night’s action kicked off with Grammy-nominated (and seemingly one of WWE’s favourite bands) Code Orange delivering a performance of the PPV’s theme in front of the aforementioned house set.

NXT have always celebrated rock and metal through live performances or their NXT Takeover themes, so to see a band open the show again signalled the intent to distinguish this show from the weekly episodes – despite the same venue being used.

An impressive six-woman tag match opened the show, a slot usually reserved for tag team title matches. If history has taught us anything, NXT likes to come out of the blocks and their motto of FTMF (Follow That Mother Fuckers) means the opening match is as important as the main event.

Sadly the match didn’t quite hit the dizzying heights of Takeovers gone by but the interwoven rivalries between Candice LaRae and Mia Yim as well as Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox against Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez, pushed the match along at a frenetic pace.

The tighter camera shot of the ring combined with a vocal set of performance center trainees, elevated the event from the sterile atmosphere the COVID 19 lockdown has created in previous months within wrestling. Proof that not only is WWE willing to try new things, but also the importance of keeping in touch with the pros of their competition and not being too proud to utilise your own version of their success. Growth.

At Rushonrock we have been somewhat critical of Damien Priest, but his match against NXT veteran Finn Balor here was not only his best in the company so far, it was a legitimate contender for match of the night. Perhaps credit should go to Balor, for once again bringing out the best in a Superstar, but that would do a disservice to Priest. The rangy Superstar has lost every feud he has featured in, but even in losing out here, the Archer of Infamy looked a million bucks. A wince-inducing back bump from the ring apron to the steel stairs led to his ultimate demise, but fans at least got a glimpse of potential that has been sorely lacking so far.

A nice touch on the night was the use of commercial breaks to advertise old school products like WWE ice cream sandwiches or ICOPRO (a Vince McMahon bodybuilding supplement range from the 80s) acted out by Superstars themselves. The use of 90s backstage interviewer Todd Pettengill was another great touch, with the man himself more than happy to self-deprecate throughout.

Keith Lee and Johnny Gargano delivered on the buzz surrounding their heated rivalry. Since leaning into his change of character, Gargano has added another layer to his personality. Gone is the scrappy underdog, replaced by the ‘if you can’t beat the bad guys, join em’ mentality. He may have enjoyed his finest work in NXT against Ciampa, but it is refreshing to see a Superstar break from his typecast and effortlessly U-turn. Constantly attacking Lee’s eyes and hands to make up for the size differential, before taking the loss, did more for his character than drifting along in the same persona could ever do.

The recent trend of WWE featuring a ‘cinematic’ style match (obviously pre-recorded ahead of time) continued as Adam Cole defended his title against Dream in a Backlot Brawl match. With cars surrounding a ring in a parking lot, both Superstars made memorable entrances. Cole arrived in a monster truck and Dream rolled up in a Lamborghini dressed in homage to Negan from The Walking Dead. The match itself featured commentary, that in all honesty was badly needed. Quick cuts to multiple different camera angles really took its toll on the audience at home. Every time a shot seemed to best placed to show the action, a quick cut would have other plans. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but seeing gaggles of production teams throughout, made it difficult to fully escape into what seemed like an action-packed match.

With Cole extending his record-breaking title reign, there does seem to be more questions than answers. Cole has undisputedly (pun intended) achieved everything he can in NXT. One of the few key players that has systematically elevated the brand to new heights, but after three years it feels like the right time to test yourself in front of a bigger audience. There is limitless potential and matchups – not just for Cole but all of the Undisputed Era to grasp on Raw or Smackdown. 

On the flip side, Velveteen Dream has seen his star diminish over the past few months. Since returning from injury, something seems to be missing. The same panache and level of detail that got the WWE Universe excited and labelling him as the future of WWE, seems to have faded. It felt like the right time to pull the trigger on his pursuit of the NXT Championship and a move to the main roster could be hugely damaging right now. Let him reclaim some of the magic that fans were drawn to and that star can rise again.

One of the reasons for others losing their shine, may be the debut of Karrion Kross and Scarlett. Once again Kross stole the show with an astonishingly routine win over NXT mainstay Tomasso Ciampa. Very few in the brand’s fledging history have been given such a push right out of the gate and Kross just feels special. Fans might not have been familiar with his work on rival promotion Impact, but the fact he used a modified version of Brock Lesnar’s F5 finisher should tell you everything you need to know. The next big thing? You better believe it.

The last time the NXT Women’s Championship featured as the main event of a Takeover PPV, Sasha Banks and Bayley went toe to toe in an Ironwoman match back in September 2015. The buzz for this match is exactly why one of the most decorated women in WWE history was brought to the black and gold, but it is easy to forget that both of her opponents in this triple threat brought something extra too. Rhea Ripley arguably had the best 2019 of any Superstar in the entire company. At the tender age of 23, Ripley has forced herself into the main event of an NXT Takeover, captured the NXT Women’s Championship and performed at WrestleMania. Sure, 2020 hasn’t been going quite as well but she has more years ahead of her than behind in the industry and will most likely shape the future of the division over the next decade.

The night would, however, belong to Io Shirai. A superstar in her own right back in her native Japan, things have never quite fallen into place for the ‘Genius of the Sky’ on NXT. Until now. A potential match of the year candidate, all three women deserve a lot of praise for a fantastic triple threat. Perfectly paced, high spots and captivating action throughout, this match matched the great women’s NXT matches of the past. The eastern style celebrations of Shirai covered in confetti and streamers from the audience signals another new and exciting chapter for the brand…one which ironically seems to have been born with more than a nod to the past.

Rushonrock prediction results

John: 4 (out of a possible 6)

Andy: 3