For the fourth time already (wow!), it’s NXT’s new annual tradition: War Games!
I’ll be honest… I had completely forgotten that KUSHIDA was not a part of this card until the pre-show failed to mention him. He’s been getting something of a huge push recently, so I was surprised he wasn’t included in some format. I figure he was initially planned to get a run at Finn’s belt starting at least a few weeks ago, but Finn’s injuries have put him in a holding pattern. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure why else he would have been on such a tear as of late to just not get included on this show.
Still, KUSHIDA or no, War Games 2020 looked like a pretty loaded event, with our fifth and sixth War Games matches under the NXT branding (the second for the ladies and the fourth for the men). All of the previous War Games shows have been pretty spectacular, so NXT had a high bar to clear on this evening.
How did they do?
WOMEN’S WAR GAMES: Shotzi Blackheart, Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai, and Ember Moon vs Candice LeRae, Raquel Gonzalez, Dakota Kai, and Toni Storm
The women started off the show with something highly irregular: a War Games match in which the babyface team had the numbers advantage. I never really liked that rule about one team having a perpetual advantage… I always thought it should alternate. Team 1’s second guy is before Team 2’s, but Team 2’s third guy is before Team 1’s, then Team 1 gets the final advantage (so you can argue that winning the advantage match still matters since you get two out of three).
The reason I say this is that I think War Games matches are a little stale. They always follow the same pattern, and everything feels like it’s in stasis for too long before the actual affair starts. It’s always… an even contest, then a 2-on-1 beatdown, then a heroic equalization, then a 3-on-2 beatdown… it just feels like “how much can you do with this?” after a point. Though, to be fair, the women’s war games match last year messed with the formula well enough. So what do I know? I’m just being picky.
This was an adequate little match until Io Shirai finally got into the ring, at which point everything ramped up and became can’t-miss wrestling. Io’s garbage can dive was a 5-star spot, both because it required so much trust and muscle memory on her part, and also because it was visually absurd in the best kind of way. Just… put a garbage can over your head and upper body while you are 15 feet up, and… jump. What could possibly go wrong?
And to follow that up, Io only had a SECOND zany garbage can spot, when she was squished into the can by a top-rope stomp from Dakota Kai. Garbage Can Io was the MVP of this match, and of my life.
The third great moment of the match was Ember’s Eclipse through some set up chairs. I love Ember Moon; I think she is the best. I feel bad that she is already something of an afterthought in the division, but it’s just great she came back from such a devastating injury. I’m pulling for you to get the belt back, Moon! I know you’ve been there and the division is loaded, but… I can hope.
All told, this ended up being a fantastic match, but it admittedly took a while to get there. But that’s more the makeup of the match than the fault of the competitors.
Tommaso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher
Ciampa as a sports entertainer really excels as a storyteller. He can reach through your screen and grip you by the collar and MAKE you care about the angles he is involved in. He is fire and passion personified. He is one of the best pure engagers in NXT’s history.
So they put him in a match without an real semblance of a story other than “They Want To Fight”. It’s weird. I don’t always understand your life choices, NXT.
This was another match that was moving along at a fine-but-underwhelming pace until it just found its motivation and turned into an impassioned dynamo of a bout. NXT really does these slow burn matches as well as anyone on the planet. Just in the past two months, I’ve already lost count of the number of NXT matches that, six minutes in, I say “this is okay, I guess…”, but by the end, I was devouring in spoonfuls. NXT: masters of making me think I don’t like a match until I realize I love it.
Thatcher vs Ciampa fit that bill, with their match starting with simmering anger, and the tenacity rising consistently from there. I will say… I miss the three arm lift spot in pass out holds. At one point, Thatcher had Ciampa in a choke-out, and the ref just kept tapping Tommaso’s limp arm until he finally broke the hold. But a few weeks ago at Survivor Series, the ref just looked at Drew McIntyre and went all “Shit, he dead” and ended the main event. You know what help clarify this, WWE? Lifting the arm three times!
By the end, another really good match. Ciampa is friggin’ CIAMPA, and Thatcher routinely gets me convinced he and the guy he is in there with are trying to murder each other for realsies.
Cameron Grimes vs Dexter Lumis
Cameron Grimes came out with his own strap, and he refused to use the official match strap. What nefarious plot was this a part of?
Sometimes it’s just nice to have a red herring.
But still… Checkhov’s Strap.
I love Cameron Grimes. If he isn’t careful, he is going to become one of my very favorite current wrestlers. There are some gimmicks that almost always work on me. A really good cowardly heel is one. The first couple of times I saw him, he was just… “oh, that hillbilly guy”, but this Lumis feud has sold both of these guys to me. I’m buying all their stock.
Lumis is surprisingly good in the ring, but… I almost wish his wrestling matched his character a BIT more. He has some intensity, but he pretty much just “wrestles”. I wish he was either a partial no-sell machine, slow stalker like early Undertaker, or he went in the complete opposite direction and went Wolverine berserker rage at the bell.
Like both of these dudes. Like their story. Liked this match. And it didn’t even build like the first two of the show… it started fun and just kept going. It never hit the highs of its predecessors on the night, but it WAS more consistent.
NORTH AMERICAN TITLE: Leon Ruff vs Johnny Gargano vs Damien Priest
Why are there any army of Ghostface Killers? Why does WWE constantly want me to care about Austin Theory? These are the questions I ask myself. On the scale of Great Wrestling Reveals, Austin Theory as Johnny’s savior stoked about as much flame as when Savio Vega replaced Shawn Michaels.
Can I be completely honest? When Theory took off his mask, I actually said “Oh okay, it’s Jake Atlas” before commentary pointed out to me that I apparently can’t tell those two guys apart.
So while this match had kind of a bummer ending, the ride there was great, and I genuinely thought any of the three might win. At no point–until the Ghostfaces attacked–did I definitively think any one of them was going to win. The story they were telling was working so well that I bought in at every corner.
For as all in as I am on Heel Johnny Gargano Vignette Clips (loved the WAHW GAMES promo with Candice), Heel Johnny Gargano Wrestling Matches just don’t have anything for me. Against Leon Ruff, sure. Because he can come across as a bully. But against anyone else? I miss Johnny Wrestling.
Also… I really dug Leon Ruff getting the Heroic Return From Injury spot. That’s good stuff to help actually clear the He’s A Joke bit they saddled him with.
MEN’S WAR GAMES: Undisputed Era vs Pat McAfee, Oney Lorcan, Danny Burch, and Pete Dunne
Guys. I think I don’t like War Games matches, guys. That’s not normal, right?
Again, I just had such a hard time caring about anything here until Cole entered. Last year, both War Games(… War Gameses?… War Games MATCHES… ) had drama before the culmination of everyone entering (Ciampa’s team had the mystery fourth man; Rhea’s team had Dakota’s brutal heel turn). Both War… both matches tonight just felt like waiting around until everyone was involved.
Nothing is necessarily wrong with it. It’s probably just me. I am somehow formula’d out on these already, I worry.
There was a spot where Team McAfee busted out some cricket paddles, and before commentary again clued me in for the night, I kind of thought they were machetes because of the weird angle at which the camera caught them. And I’m here to tell you: if War Games had machetes, that would really break up the monotony of waiting for the ring to fill up.
As with the gals, once everyone was involved, this was a perfectly good match, though possibly the worst War Games (…War Game?) in NXT’s history. It just didn’t feel like it had the extraordinary moments most of the others have had. Undisputed Era have really settled into their role as good guys, though, and they brought their record in these matches up to 2-2 (except for Roddy; he’s 1-3, but good on him for getting a win!)
I really enjoyed this show. I probably enjoyed the first three bouts a bit more than the last two (though the North American match’s only flaw was its ending), but nothing was bad. If I did star ratings, everything was north of 3 for me between match quality and entertainment value.
I really love NXT Takeovers. Ever since they seemed to have bottomed out with Takeover XXX, the overall quality has been sky high again.
Until next time… take care!