Welcome back to NXT recap, but this week, we’re not caring about the day or what network or whatever. Halloween Havoc is back, and it’s sponsored by Geico. Host Shotzi Blackheart joins us after a massively cool retrospective package on previous Havoc excursions. Then sparks fly and a really loud guitarist starts shredding and finally Damian Priest enters. Johnny Gargano comes in and cuts open an massive inflatable pumpkin.
HALLOWEEN HAVOC IS BACK, BABY.
(As I have with the AEW recap this week, I will continue a zero-to-five star rating scale.)
NXT North American Championship (Devil’s Playground Match) – Damian Priest (c) vs. Johnny Gargano (4 stars)
The Wheel is Spun, the Deal has been… DONE. Devil’s Playground – or Falls Count Anywhere – is the match type, and Priest leads early. After Gargano goes out early, action goes all over the ringside and ramp areas. A few close falls with some high spots, the match really starts hitting a nice stride moving around and getting creative with a bunch of different items in a few different locations. Seeing Gargano on top of the stage where Shotzi was with the wheel was a beautiful image, but then the Grim Reaper actually showed up and gave Gargano a tombstone and sent Priest into a dusty explosion which was a beautiful moment. Gargano finally pinned Priest, selling the moment perfectly. Gargano is now North American champ again and first two-time champion of the belt’s short but acclaimed history.
Vic Joseph is revealed to be dressed as Waldo. And Wade Barrett is apparently dressed as Bad News Barrett… and he’s afraid he’s got some bad news, believe it or not. A bit of the commentators and the video package combo presents Pat McAfee and Lorcan & Burch wandering around while explaining their huge moment last week. We come back to Cameron Grimes pleading that he can’t do this match and William Regal insists. Cut back to the ring with #ForTheBrand himself in the ring. Putting over his debut (a good match for his standards, a weird match for normal standards), McAfee talks for a solid five minutes and is finally interrupted by Kyle O’Reilly. Then out of nowhere, Pete Dunne is suddenly back. Particularly a moment I wish crowds were around, this would’ve been a nuclear pop. Dunne and O’Reilly fend off the McAfee, Burch, and Lorcan, and then Dunne turns on O’Reilly. Dunne joining up with those three makes this formidable and interesting. McAfee spits some good shit on O’Reilly’s corpse and we cut back to Grimes continuing to plead. At this point, I was expecting a lot – mostly bad and probably disappointing. What I got in less than ten seconds after this is Michael “PS” Hayes doing the dance and cutting a tiny promo on Cameron Grimes that was too perfect. Too good.
Santos Escobar vs. Jake Atlas (1 1/2 stars)
Escobar coming out the gates and getting all the help in the numbers game throughout made this match less of a match and more another chapter in the Escobar story with the Cruiserweight belt. Atlas did what he needed to, but no one mwent all out here and had a massive push. The Rey Mysterio tribute in Escobar’s gear was real cool.
A quick video package of Ember Moon talking about Dakota Kai played, adding a nice touch of mentioning “now she’s one of the best in the world,” which I can only agree with her. Shotzi looks insanely great in all these individual spots, sending us into the next match…
Presented by Geico. (I mention this exactly for the reason it really felt weird tonight when they said it.)
Haunted House of Horror Match – Cameron Grimes vs. Dexter Lumis (4 1/4 stars)
Grimes is scared shitless. It is painfully obvious. The Marilyn Manson music playing throughout the opening was a nice touch, but also really distracting. When he wasn’t just saying Lumis, Grimes was a perfect fit here. Crazy jump scares and really good found footage-feel lighting and noise gave this an immediate flavor that was unique and refreshing. The shower spot was absolutely hilarious. Grimes had seen about three things up until this point and he was already over all of it. Lumis then crawls through the open window and there’s a really fun chase sequence, ending a few more screams and shenanigans with a To Be Continued… As far as cinematic matches go, this is already an impressive one.
Rhea Ripley vs. Raquel Gonzalez (3 3/4 stars)
We get a Tale of the Tape for Rhea Ripley and Raquel Gonzalez, really pushing this as a MMA-esque bout throughout the opening, especially with the camera work of each woman backstage. The hate and anger boiling over, these two get right away at it and strike hard from the get-go. In the one way I can only describe as “a slobberknocker develops,” Ripley and Gonzalez really got this show going again. The wrist control sequence, while also very simple, looked really great and had them transitioning back and forth for the benefit for both. Rarely are there so many 50/50 moments to start for a while. And then Raquel powerbombs Rhea into the surrounding structure and then throws her down hard on the outside. Stretch work on Ripley occurs until the end of the commerical break, where a near-reversal by Ripley ends with a near-fall by Gonzalez. Not seeing a lot of Raquel Gonzalez other than a few NXT matches recently, this match does showcase her as a little cautious, yet good worker with a lot of creativity. Ripley gets the win and looks like the star she’s been booked as for a year now. A matter of time before she’s back in the title picture.
Apparently Cameron Grimes is running back to the Capitol Wrestling Center? Great googly moogly, this is good shit.
Drake Maverick, dressed up as Hollywood Hulk Hogan, starts cutting a promo on the backstage interviewer as Hogan. And I can tell he’s into it, but it’s not good, and even he gives up. But then, and I swear to Flair, I’m not making this up… Killian Dain does this.
At least NXT can get wacky right most of the time. Speaking of getting wacky right, Cameron Grimes has somehow run all the way back to the arena. Collapsing from exhausting and being surrounded in the graveyard within the ringside area, Grimes screams and pleads for the beings creeping on him to stop and he’s finally in a ring for the first time in this match. And of course Lumis is behind him. One of these things starts climbing all over Lumis and finally Lumis throws a zombie on Grimes. And finally he puts Grimes to sleep. The End. Outside of the main event tonight, Tommaso Ciampa cut a really great, passionate promo that made too much sense – NXT has lost its sight on what it was and is too focused on what it wants to become. They promoted Ciampa vs. Dream and Moon vs. Kai for next week’s show.
NXT Women’s Championship (Tables, Ladders, and Scares Match) – Candice LeRae vs. Io Shirai (c) (4 3/4 stars)
The promo before with Candice basically narrating is perfect and I need more and more of her doing this forever. Video package was also top-notch. LeRae’s gear and look was, as always, so good. Then lights went out and Poppy showed up again for Io Shirai. Light show aside, wasn’t what it once was with these two. And finally, the wheel is spun (sadly) for the last time, and Tables, Ladders, and Scares is revealed. You say, oh, TLC with a new name… But they make it apparent there will at least be goofy scares, the first being LaRae pulling a table out to reveal a bag of fake body parts being spilled out of the bag. With as good as a story as these two have had, this was everything I thought this could be. The last ten minutes of this match are hellaciously good, if not full blown great. The chair sequence leading to Shirai missing her Moonsault was a peak moment of the match at that time. The Shirai suplex with LeRae landing on the top of the chair was extremely nasty. The creativity of the dragon screw spot with LeRae’s foot caught in the chair leading into the table spot towards the ramp was the point I knew this was one of the best matches of the year on NXT. Once I saw the silliest of spots immediately after, it was almost like my brain couldn’t take it all because it was all too great for this. This should’ve been a TakeOver main event. LeRae gets thrown up on the ladder by the Grim Reaper from earlier, but Shotzi shows up and gets involved before too much interference. Shirai finally recovers from the tables and starts moving a ladder, climbs, but gets knocked off, with LaRae all by herself. But she’s taken too much and couldn’t grab the belt, and gets thrown over by Shirai into a ladder that is broken in two, as LaRae sells it with pure grace. Shirai retains in one of the most insane and wacky nights of NXT’s history.
All together, this night surely had some downs, but far more ups than last week and as of recent. The return of Halloween Havoc was definitely a really great idea, they didn’t make it too goofy and ridiculous. They pushed it to its limit, but never went overboard, I guess is what I’m trying to convey. If they did this again, I’d be extremely glad, but I’d like to see it as a real PPV and not just a really great NXT episode. Twas fun for what it was, though.
Last thing: We can all stay home this Halloween. Gargano family got the Best Costume. Good luck beating that.