The entire roster of NXT stands below a screen that says “In Memory of Pat Patterson” and a short video plays covering the history of Patterson, the “first” WWF Intercontinental champion. The entire video is soundtracked by Sinatra’s “My Way.” Photos of him and all of the greatest and fans alike all look too happy. Then the big finale actually has audio of the man himself singing. If you didn’t have feelings while watching this, you are an alien and I don’t want to know you.
A new show opening fires off, and we’re in the thick of it. Damian Priest is in the ring, ready, and Johnny Gargano is at commentary.
Damian Priest & Leon Ruff vs. Legado Del Fantasma (Santos Escobar & Raul Mendoza) (2 ½ stars)
Damian Priest is not in the mood for other issues as he slams one of the members of Legado Del Fantasma into a steel door, he’s focused on keeping Ruff alive for this weekend’s War Games. Legado Del Fantasma isn’t taking his actions lightly. Santos Escobar and Raul Mendoza lead on Ruff early, but when Ruff gets his feet going, he really shines more and more every day. Ruff gets flung into his corner and Priest stands tall over Escobar, who immediately tags out to Mendoza. Ghostface showed up and gave enough of a distraction with Priest for him to be dove on and give Legado Del Fantasma the momentum in the match. Ruff finally gets in towards the end of the match and has a good run of offense, but he gets a pin on Escobar but Mendoza is the legal man. As Priest finally gets back in, Ruff tags himself in on the finish and Ruff gets the pin on Mendoza. Escobar pulls Mendoza out.
Two Ghostfaces stand behind Gargano at the desk while Ruff and priest stand in the ring. Nice set-up for the North American belt match at War Games. Shotzi Blackheart, Ember Moon, and Rhea Ripley get a nice filmed bit of them preparing for war, and Moon and Ripley have a gift for Shotzi. She seems real impressed. No fourth member yet, but tonight’s main event is Shotzi vs. Raquel Gonzalez.
A video plays of all of the trials and tribulations of the Undisputed Era. It goes from the most recent, all the way back to the beginning, and all in between. It’s typically great video package work. Undisputed Era vs. Team McAfee is brimming with tons of fire and fury and it’s gonna be brilliant…
CAMERON GRIMES IS READY AND HE’S UP NEXT. STRAIGHT TO THE MOON. LET’S GO.
Oh, okay, Candice is backstage with her team. And she pushes Raquel as strength, mentioning she’s gonna show them it on full display all over Shotzi, making her feel like she’s been run over by a tank.
August Grey is in the ring when we cut back to the ring AND FROM NORTH CAROLINA, IT’S CAMERON GRIMES, BABY.
August Grey vs. Cameron Grimes (2 ¼ stars)
Grimes has something in a bag. He pulls it out and it’s a leather strap – alluding to his strap match with Dexter Lumis at War Games. “I’m back, baby!” Grimes screams from the get-go. A real fast five minute match with a ton of action all at once, Grimes really shines and sells perfectly, showing he’s absolutely ready for the next step in action, once he gets past this whole Dexter Lumis thing. And to expand on that, he has continued his story in not being afraid of him, at least until he sees him, selling the physicality and character for Lumis’ cold, stoic delivery of a serial killer gone soft. Why does Lumis want to haunt Cameron Grimes? Has that been explained? It hasn’t moved an inch, if so. I just feel that Grimes is pulling that weight. He sold the haunted house, he made the blindfold match, he did the strap match preview as a beautifully perfect human as a wrestler performing a bit can be. Even when Lumis shows up after, it’s Lumis that does the action and Grimes sells it again, writhing in pain and pouring out agony. Pan in on Lumis and his stare. Cool. Oh, yeah, there was a match here somewhere. Grimes gets the pin with his Straight to the Moon Meteora for the pin after Grey got in a few good moves and a tilt-a-whirl sideslam that looked particularly amazing. But, yeah, Grimes was destined for a win so he can lose to Lumis at War Games because… Lumis is good, apparently???
Tony Nese vs. Jake Atlas (3 ¾ stars)
Nese and Atlas have a very good match that gets interrupted by the arrival of Pat McAfee’s team. Atlas has been showing a lot of promise in recent NXT episodes, but he’s never really hit another level in any match. But this one with “wily veteran” Tony Nese really pushes him to do a lot of more aggressive and faster-paced work, keeping up and even impressing beyond initial expectation. Atlas’ finisher of the cartwheel DDT is legitimately perfect finisher and his execution here is really something else. He gets to yell at the interviewer after his big win over a former Cruiserweight champ. Atlas mentions this win is just the beginning and he wants to get back to the top to face Santos Escobar and the Cruiserweight Championship.
McAfee, Burch, Lorcan, and Dunne make their way down. Pat on a mic should be no surprise – he’s great and he’s genuinely good at being a heel. He even went the rich man route, which is like dead and buried, but with him, it’s actually pretty funny. “We have run this place since we got here,” and he’s not wrong. He sells Pete Dunne as the longest reigning NXT UK champion, which is true. He then goes to Lorcan and Burch, calling them main eventers and they even get moments on the mic. But then Pat turns to the camera and speaks directly to the fans, telling them that everything they will do to the Undisputed Era and Pete Dunne even finishes the whole bit by saying they are going to end the Undisputed Era.
Three things: Raquel Gonzalez is getting ready for her match. Grizzled Young Veterans are back. An extremely weird dark promo. Not sure what’s it’s promoting other than water torture and weird culty vibes. I would later remember this is what they are doing now with Xia Li and Boa.
Ever-Rise vs. Grizzled Young Veterans
The Vets come on down, but ALL OF THE SUDDEN Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel of Imperium are tearing down and throwing out Ever-Rise. They get a mic and tell the Vets that they are back to take over the division and they are ready to take them down to prove it.
Grizzled Young Veterans vs. Imperium (Aichner & Barthel) (4 ¼ stars)
These guys have some history, obviously, and it shows with the chemistry that works from start to finish. To even have this match unannounced on NXT is bonkers. Great spots and drama throughout, this match really reminded myself that the NXT tag division isn’t as thin as I originally thought, especially with the types of matches these guys could have with anyone else already around right now. Imperium and Grizzled Young Veterans even went into great territory in an unexpected turn, giving this a real hope of a lot going forward for both teams after this real slobberknocker. Ever-Rise show up out of nowhere and mess up this really beautiful tag match, but it at least prevents either from looking bad with a loss. They run off before they get mauled.
Thatch-As Thatch-Can. Today’s lesson: Distractions. As he turns, he is distracted by a Tommaso Ciampa standing in the ring. As he mentions he has nothing to do with him, Thatch leaves. Ciampa calls him a disappointment, and Ciampa teaches him a lesson: don’t be an ass. But then the student helps out and blindsides Ciampa leaving Thatch to throw Ciampa all over ringside. He gets back in the ring with him and the standing guillotine is applied, and Thatch just grins his toothless grin, dropping Ciampa to the mat. Before the main event, he is surprised his student took the initiative to help him out, and come Sunday, Ciampa is gonna learn the lesson of respect.
Just like last week, the main event is…
Ladder Match for the advantage at War Games – Raquel Gonzalez vs. Shotzi Blackheart
I love when people actually use the ladder as a weapon. It annoys me when it’s just a prop to win a match. It should be used and abused and a big deal. The way these two women use it right away is genuinely refreshing. Not only do they have really creative spots with the ladder, but Shotzi hops on Raquel’s back and Raquel rolls out of the ring, slam her against the apron but she doesn’t budge, walks up the steel stairs, and she still hangs on, and then finally knocked her off her back slamming her into the corner post. They continued this really hot streak by doing a few different spots on the outside, culminating in Shotzi diving off the fence around the ringside onto a standing Raquel.
After the break, there’s either a clear botch or a slip on the apron. She goes for a bulldog off the apron, but Raquel reverses into a facebuster on the apron, then follows that with steel steps to Shotzi’s face. Gonzalez goes up the ladder first, with both fighting up top. Both fall and Shotzi took a weird fall, holding her ankle. More ladder creativity occurs with a classic battering ram spot missing and getting caught on the middle rope for Shotzi to land a big splash into the ladder. She follows that up with a huge splash off the top rope to the outside.
Indi Hartwell puts a ladder up for Candice’s team and they all get involved to check on Raquel. Ripley and Moon run in to cause some more pandemonium. Hartwell gets in the ring to climb the ladder, but Shotzi gets involved and stops her, then Raquel knocks out Shotzi to advance BUT THEN IO SHIRAI DIVES ON HER BACK. And after all of it, the NXT Women’s Champion wipes out everyone – the refs, both teams, everyone – with a huge moonsault. And Shotzi grabs the briefcase. Io Shirai is the fourth member of Shotzi’s team. Going to war Sunday!