On The Fight Game Podcast, John LaRocca and I once did a segment in which we gave a thumbs up and thumbs down to something in wrestling every week. Since I love re-using bits, I’m going to use it for my PPV recaps. I’ll probably do recaps on events that I can’t do live coverage for. Since I didn’t watch NXT No Mercy live, I’ll recap it below.
For context, I’ve been watching NXT again for the last two months after taking a long, several month break because of what I saw as idiotic stereotyping of Asian characters. This is the first PLE I watched in full, after selectively watching matches and segments from prior since I took the break.
As you’ll tell based on the ratio between thumbs up and thumbs down, I liked this show a lot.
Thumbs Up: Ilja Dragunov is the truth
Recently, I had a conversation on the show with LaRocca about Ilja Dragunov. The guy has nothing but great matches. He may over-annunciate in the ring at times, but bell-to-bell, there are few better in all of WWE. But the conversation wasn’t about the quality of wrestler Dragunov is. It was about if WWE would see him as a main eventer on their TV. I wasn’t quite sure a month ago when we had that conversation and I’m still not entirely sure now, but I see it much more than I did.
From a size standpoint, I’m sure they’d wish he was three or four inches taller, but they probably think about that with almost everyone. But he has a uniqueness that makes him different than most on the roster. He emotes at a higher intensity level than most. He makes every match seem like an athletic contest where at the end of the match, you know he’s exhausted every opportunity to win. He has moves down and good timing and can go zero-to-100 better than most, but it’s that feeling that he’s laid it all on the line in a match that makes him stand out.
He and Carmelo Hayes had one of the best matches on WWE TV all year long. It was a knock down, drag out affair that Booker T (of all announcers) helped effectively sell for Hayes. He said that it was time for Hayes to bite down on his proverbial mouthpiece and get ready to throw knockout blows. I am usually embarrassed while listening to him, but here, he sold Hayes’ story. You think this is a show? No, it’s a damn fight.
Melo was with him step for step, but it was Dragunov’s moment and his night.
Where does Melo go from here? He’s got a high ceiling too, but his size will also be a detriment on the main roster.
Did what I said I was gonna do with the NXT Championship. Went out like a G. Thank you #NXTNoMercy
— Carmelo Hayes (@Carmelo_WWE) October 1, 2023
Thumbs Up: The Bakersfield crowd
Two of my buddies, John LaRocca and “The Heartbreak Kid” David Rubio were in attendance at NXT No Mercy, so they get some credit here. But the atmosphere was tremendous for this WWE PLE. While I don’t discredit the loyal and consistent live crowd at the Performance Center, the same-same look of it gives me negative feelings because of how terrible NXT 2.0 was. It’s like if you had a piece of broccoli as a kid and hated it and wondered why as an adult you had such a negative reaction to it. For the record, I do eat broccoli. My wife makes me.
It just shows how much better a big show is in front of a live crowd that isn’t the same set of people. While I don’t think they’ll ever be able tour normal sized arenas weekly for television, if I had the ear of someone in WWE, I’d tell them to try and run a few live Tuesday nights as a special TV show in addition to the PLEs they run on the weekend. NXT in front of a loud crowd is a strong product.
Thumbs Up: 95% of two matches
I loved 95% of Bron Breakker’s match with Baron Corbin. Breakker’s intensity jumps through the television. If you watched their multiple segment long brawl on last week’s NXT show, the match was pretty much a continuation of said brawl. I’ll never be labeled as a Corbin apologist, but I’ve been witness to the lowest lows of his career when WWE was shoving him at us when we were asking for the opposite and here, he was absolutely perfect going toe-to-toe with Breakker. This was an excellent violent brawl. Well, until the finish, which I’ll get to.
The Heritage Cup match between Noam Dar and Pete “Butch” Dunne was a great change of pace match. The British Rounds style changes the strategy of the match and also creates immediacy at the end of every round. Dar and Dunne had a match full of drama and creativity, well, until the finish.
Thumbs Down: Bad finishes and weak interference in those same two matches
My excitement died nearing the end of the Breakker/Corbin match. As Bron was taking care of business, Robert Stone dove off the top rope at him. Referee Tom Castor (ahem, Derek Sanders) was right there watching it all. Not only was there not a disqualification, but the interference is what caused Breakker to lose. Baron Corbin hit the End of Days to win the match. I’m generally okay with interference if it’s creative and well done, but this wasn’t that. However, it wasn’t the only poorly booked interference of the night.
Dunne and Dar would’ve been fine having a match with no one at ringside. But of course, Dar had Meta-Four and on this night, Dunne brought out Tyler Bate. Oro Mensah interfered twice during the match. And at the end, Joe Coffey, who added to the multiple people ringside, clotheslined Dunne while the referee was occupied and Dar won the match. The irony is that what was excellent about the match was the scientific wrestling, the submissions, and the realistic striking. So of course, the match ends with none of that being the reason for the match ending.
Thumbs Up: Trick “Daddy” Williams has gold
Trick “Daddy” Williams oozes with charisma. It was awesome to see him win the North American championship. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and it’s great to see his career growth.
— WWE (@WWE) October 1, 2023
Thumbs Down: Trick Vs. Dom was really bad
His match with Dominik Mysterio flat out sucked. It was the Swiss cheese of wrestling matches with hole after hole after hole. Dom Mysterio himself is much improved, but in most of his big matches, he’s carried by a more veteran wrestler. He gets by because he gets heat like an oven door. Trick’s striking was off. His timing was off. His Booker T leg lariat was off. His reaction to a mishap where a second referee had to join the match was off. At the very least, the finish looked good. Trick has a long way to go. Hopefully, he wrestles some of the better in ring workers in NXT for his upcoming title defenses.
Thumbs Up: Sky is the limit for Tiffany Stratton
Just like baseball fans who want to see their favorite team’s top prospect in the major leagues as soon as possible, a lot of WWE fans want Tiffany Stratton on the main roster as soon as possible. And anyone who watched her match with Becky Lynch can see why. Athletically, she’s tremendous. She has great timing. She’s improved far faster than just about any woman who receives a paycheck from WWE. And one would think that having matches on the main roster against better women would be even better for her. It’s hard to disagree.
But on the flip side, you’d like to see her continue her rise in the current system. She can always be better in the ring. And she won’t always have Becky Lynch to dance with. While I’m not normally too excited by extreme rules matches, Stratton and Lynch went above and beyond the call of duty with this one. These matches can be cartoony at times because you’re using weapons without a lot of impact. But here, I thought they sold the impact of the weapons well. The selling wasn’t over the top. Lynch rightfully won the match, but if they have match number three, and do it on WWE TV, you could see Stratton being anointed as next. I just hope they let her marinate for at least another six to twelve months in NXT.