By David Dodgson (@DodgeeWriter)
Time to wrap up a marathon week of WWE programming with NXT. After an average PPV, a decent but unspectacular RAW, and a poor episode of SD Live, it is not so much a question of “will NXT outdo the main roster this week?” but “how easily will NXT outdo the main roster this week?” With both the tag titles and the UK Championship on the line, I am expecting the answer to be very.
Tag Team Title Match: SAnitY (c) v. The Undisputed Era
Straight into the action then with Eric Young and Killian Dane (Alexander Wolfe is still recovering from that nasty gash to the head he received in War Games) defending against Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish. The match starts with Fish and O’Reilly trying but failing to overpower Killian Dain. They then try and again fail to outsmart Eric Young as the champions hold the early advantage.
Back from a break, we see Fish and O’Reilly now in control, keeping Young isolated from his corner and making quick tags with plenty of double team grounding and pounding. Somewhat predictably, Young fights his way back into the match until both he and O’Reilly end up down on the canvas looking for a tag. O’Reilly gets there first, and Bobby Fish prevents Eric Young from bringing Killian Dain back into the match.
The hot tag eventually comes after O’Reilly and Fish get spilled to the outside and Dain dominates, splashing both opponents in the corners. He gets a near fall after delivering a Michinoku Driver to Fish by planting him on top of O’Reilly. Young tags back in very quickly and goes to the top rope for an elbow drop, but he gets pushed off by Adam Cole, who has just arrived at ringside. Also arriving at ringside, however, is Nikki Cross, who takes Cole down with a cross-body dive. She then unloads with punches and it takes two refs to drag her away up the ramp.
Back in the ring, Young nets a near fall on O’Reilly, prompting Cole to try and enter the ring. Killian Dane pulls him out but gets shoved into a ring post for his trouble. Young then takes Cole out with a suicide dive. That proves costly, however, as he gets taken down by Total Elimnation as he gets back into the ring. 1-2-3 and we have new champs. Winners: Undisputed Era
O’Reilly and Fish were doing a great job as cowardly, devious heels but it was the arrival of Adam Cole that really got the match going. Plenty of drama, chaos, and controversy that has become the hallmark of both factions made this a memorable bout (even if it was hard to avoid spoilers online since the taping took place!) Putting some gold on the Undisputed Era is a good call to keep their momentum going from War Games. They look set to be a dominant faction in NXT for the foreseeable future.
Number 1 Contender’s Qualifying Match: Lars Sullivan v. Roderick Strong
This should be an interesting match between two guys who have risen through the ranks of late. Roderick Strong has gained a reputation for taking opponents to the limit, and Lars Sullivan has yet to have a stern test as he has ploughed through his competition. Strong starts aggressively using his speed advantage to keep out of Sullivan’s way – that is until he gets spun around by a vicious clothesline.
NXT’s resident powerhouse proceeds to lay Strong out with heavy move after heavy move, eventually trapping him in a bear hug. Strong forces his way out and hits Sullivan with a huge dropkick. He then tangles the big guy’s leg in the ropes, hitting him with a series of moves before dumping him to the outside. Sullivan never gets knocked off his feet, however.
An ill-advised attempt to climb the ropes by Sullivan gets him caught in a trademark Strong superplex. That barely results in a one count though. An Olympic Slam brings the ref’s count up to two but Strong is clearly beginning to wonder what he has to do to win here. Sullivan then hits a big pop-up powerslam and Freak Accident for the victory. Winner: Lars Sullivan
Sullivan is being built up in a classic but effective way as he destroys opponents until coming up against a tougher opponent (Strong in this case). Despite being pushed hard, he kicks out of moves that would put anyone else away, and it ultimately takes one finisher to get the win. We’ve seen it time and time again with the like of Brock Lesnar and most recently Braun Strowman, but it still works. Sullivan and Killian Dain in the same four-way match next week will make for interesting and wince-inducing viewing. I would not want to be Aleister Black or Johnny Gargano!
UK Championship Match: Pete Dunne (c) v. Tyler Bate
What a year these guys have had. Their first meeting in January in the final of the UK Championship tournament was great, and their second meeting was one of the best matches an NXT Takeover event has ever seen. If this third match is half as good as either previous encounter, we are in for a treat.
The match starts out with a series of tie-ups, Dunne immediately pulling at his opponent’s fingers as he is wont to do. Any time Bate escapes, Dunne immediately takes cover between the ropes, smirking to himself as Bate starts to lose his temper. Bip and Bam make an appearance to knock the champ down for a two count as the pace picks up. The fight spills to the outside with Dunne delivering a mean looking suplex from the top of the ringsteps to the floor.
Back in the ring, Dunne returns to grinding down his challenger, targeting the fingers as he does so. After one nasty looking stomp that draws a loud gasp from the crowd, Bate appears to have to pop his fingers back into place. Dunne mercilessly goes right back to the same target, shrugging away the shock of the crowd and cries of pain from his opponent as only the Bruiserweight can.
Bate eventually breaks Dunne’s grasp on him with a huge exploder suplex as the fans chant ‘UK!’ A deadlift belly to back suplex earns Bate a near fall with the NXT fans now trading chants in support of both men. Dunne counters a Tyler Driver 97 attempt into a triangle lock and refuses to let go even after a deadlift powerbomb. Bate eventually picks up Dunne again and slings his neck into the ropes to escape.
We then get the airplane spin three times as Mauro Ranllo informs us the broadcast will continue as long as the match does. I’m sure no-one watching on the WWE Network will mind. Bate gets another near fall after delivering a suplex off the ropes and the ‘this is awesome!’ chants are well deserved.
A Bitter End out of nowhere only gets Dunne a near fall, much to the champ’s bewilderment. Both men take each other down with huge clotheslines and the match then descends from the technical contest of the opening stages to an all-out brawl as they exchange stomps and punches. Tyler Bate gets the upper hand with a couple of big blows but can’t capitalise due to the damage sustained to his fingers earlier on.
Dunne counters a top rope dive with a punch and a powerbomb for a near fall. The fight then goes to the outside again with Dunne appearing prepared to settle for a count-out loss before Bate takes him out with a suicide dive. Back between the ropes, he finally lands the Tyler Driver 97 in full but it is Dunne’s turn to make a dramatic kick out at the last moment.
The contest finally ends as Dunne lands on his feet after Bate delivers a German suplex from the top turnbuckle. He immediately hits the Bitter End one more time and it is finally enough. Winner: Pete Dunne
These guys simply cannot have a bad match. This was a PPV calibre contest that would not have looked out of place at Wrestlemania or Summerslam. The only criticism to be made (as usual) is that the selling was not always consistent as the two competitors delivered big move after big move. However, the switching of gears and styles from drawn out mat grappling sequences to brutal brawling to high energy, innovative offence was incredible. I will now give serious consideration to making a late addition to my match of the year list.
The best hour (or more accurately, 70 minutes) of WWE programming all week by some distance. There was a bit of filler in terms of recaps, backstage interviews, and hype packages, but there were three high quality matches filled with drama and excitement (which is three more than Smackdown delivered the night before). The UK guys stole the show once again, fully deserving the main event spotlight even when the NXT tag titles were on the line. The Undisputed Era have claimed their first gold on the brand, and we have an intriguing fatal four-way to decide the new number 1 contender to Almas’ title next week as well as a women’s title match between Ember Moon and Sonya Deville. NXT’s future continues to burn bright.