NXT WarGames Sunday sent mixed messages to the brand’s viewers. Since the launch of NXT 2.0, the show has claimed to be all about the future. New wrestlers were going to be introduced and future recruitment would center around the idea of making main roster stars. The days of the independent darlings being featured were over.
That’s not quite the message that was sent Sunday. Yes, new people won each of the WarGames matches. Bron Breakker pinned NXT Champion Tomaso Ciampa to become what we already knew he was – the number one contender for the title. Cora Jade scored the winning pin in the women’s WarGames match, a match with a story built around her overcoming a worked injury.
Still, other matches seemed to indicate the old-school NXT crew was still on top. Cameron Grimes won his Hair versus Hair match with Duke Hudson. Roderick Strong got a clean victory over Joey Gacy in the Cruiserweight title match. Imperium also retained their tag team titles over Kyle O’Reilly and Von Wagner and did so clean.
There was no real youth movement on this show. They’ve also left themselves with fewer new babyfaces on the men’s side after Breakker was put with the heels and Wagner turned on O’Reilly.
Here are the key takeaways from Sunday’s show:
MEN’S WARGAMES: CORRECT ENDING, OKAY MATCH
Bron Breakker, Carmelo Hayes, Grayson Waller and Tony D’Angelo defeated Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Pete Dunne and LA Knight.
The match itself was fine. It was not on the level of past NXT Takeover WarGames matches, but that was expected considering the inexperience of the NXT 2.0 team. Breakker was in his 12th professional match. Tony D’Angelo was in his fourth.
Breakker still showed all the signs of a future superstar, even if having him work heel in this match was a blunder. Hayes and Waller worked hard, each being involved in some big stunt spots. D’Angelo, on the other hand, looked lost and didn’t do much in the match at all. This was way too early for him to be in this position or in this type of match.
The match featured some of the brutality needed in a WarGames match, particularly from Pete Dunne, but this won’t be confused with the great WarGames matches from the past. The heels had the advantage in the match, which at least allowed the babyfaces to shine since they could come to their team’s rescue.
On the negative side, having D’Angelo chain the door shut made no sense since he still had a partner yet to enter. Plus, Knight showed you could just climb the cage anyway. Trick Williams throwing random weapons into the cage was redundant. Nearly everything had already been used in the women’s match earlier. When he was chased away by Dexter Lumis, one wondered why Dex waited so long to “help” his allies.
The real story of this match was the return of full-blown babyface Johnny Gargano. He came out to his old “Rebel Heart” music. Gargano’s gear was a mashup of his former Takeover outfits. He and Ciampa played to the idea of it being DIY’s last hurrah and did a couple of signature spots. The fans loved all of it.
He savored his entrance and several moments in the match as if he knew it was about to be his last in NXT. Perhaps it will be. Gargano’s contract expired on December 3rd and he signed a short extension to work this match. He said on the microphone to the live crowd after that match he’d address it all on Tuesday’s episode of NXT 2.0.
WOMEN’S WARGAMES MATCH: HARD WORK, POOR DESIGN
Io Shirai, Kay Lee Ray, Raquel Gonzalez and Cora Jade defeated Dakota Kai, Mandy Rose, Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jayne.
Dusty Rhodes invented the WarGames match in 1987 when booking for Jim Crockett Promotions. Sadly, he’s not there to remind them how to work it. This match was put together poorly from the beginning. The wrestlers involved worked hard, but the agents really should have known better.
The babyfaces had the advantage, which is completely backward. It made the babyfaces look like bullies when they had the numbers. Even worse, the heels were on top when the numbers were even. The core story of pro wrestling is babyfaces working to overcome obstacles so they can get one clean shot at the heels, because in a fair fight, the babyfaces should win. Therefore, the heels do everything they can to keep it from being a fair fight.
This match presented the opposite and the fans cheered Toxic Attraction and Kai. It’s a natural reaction – they looked like the underdogs. To make it worse, the heels consistently made big comebacks on multiple babyfaces.
The story they told in the end was Cora Jade overcoming a worked shoulder injury to get a victory. Jade’s character is all about her getting fluke wins, which isn’t the most inspiring way to build a fan favorite. It happened again here where she pinned Jayne after Gonzalez hit Jayne with her finisher and Jade happened to be right there.
Making Jade look lucky in every situation won’t get fans more behind her, no matter how many times they tell us she’s only 20.
HAIR VERSUS HAIR MATCH
Cameron Grimes defeated Duke Hudson.
Grimes carried Hudson to a decent match with a classic happy ending. They teased the idea of the babyface getting his head shaved anyway when Hudson attacked Grimes after losing, but Grimes came back and Hudson indeed lost some hair.
The is the closest the show came to classic, effective pro wrestling. The babyface won, the heel was humiliated, and the crowd knew exactly who to cheer and who to boo.
TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel defeated Von Wagner and Kyle O’Reilly.
This match was excellent, especially when O’Reilly was in. They worked Wagner into the match carefully and he did execute, so this was a step forward for him. He was a little over the top in his post-move playing to the crowd, but that’s youthful exuberance for you.
The only odd thing was Imperium (Aichner and Barthel) worked as much like babyfaces as O’Reilly and Wagner did. Aichner in particular was impressive, and the fans were cheering Imperium for the most part. O’Reilly did get a “Thank you, Kyle,” chant after the match.
O’Reilly took the fall for a few reasons. First, he may well be on the way out. His contract is reported to be just about up. Second, they wanted to break up his team with Wagner. After the match, Wagner tried to attack O’Reilly from behind, but O’Reilly had it scouted and out-foxed the young (newly-turned) heel.
It makes all the sense in the world for O’Reilly to team with – and then feud with – Wagner, but it seems this was all fast-forwarded due to O’Reilly’s contract status. They’ll meet in a Steel Cage match Tuesday in what could be O’Reilly’s last NXT match. He’s likely to put the Wagner over on the way out.
CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
Roderick Strong defeated Joe Gacy.
This was a puzzling result. This had all the makings of Gacy winning the title and re-defining it as a more “all-inclusive” championship. Instead, he lost clean. We’ll have to see if they have lost a little faith in the politically correct Gacy character, or if they have something more in store.
Gacy is a good worker and Strong is excellent, so the match was fun to watch. It just didn’t seem to have much point if Gacy was just going to challenge and fail.