On September 9th 2017 NXT made a house-show styled stop in Toronto, and tailored the event specifically towards the local market by having both Tye Dillinger and Bobby Roode make their final NXT appearances at the show. A lot more seats went unsold than I had anticipated, potentially speaking to the dwindling flame of interest in NXT since TakeOver Toronto almost a year prior packed out a much larger venue. Nevertheless, my night was quite fun and I took notes and blurry photos furiously. Here is my review of the matches that occurred:
Match 1 – Tye Dillinger vs. Kona Reeves
The crowd was, as expected, hot for a home-town hero (at a Wrestling show, if you’re from anywhere in Canada, you’re in-front of a hometown audience.) Poor Kona Reeves came out and was met with nowhere near the enthusiasm of his opponent’s arrival. That mattered little as he put in a really strong performance, playing the heel nicely even from the very early moments of the match. Early-on in the match Kona acts the overconfident heel, celebrating tiny moments like he had won the match and escaping from harm by breaking the rules, but quickly Tye makes him look a joke with a series of deep armdrags.
Tye Dillinger’s easy to understand and chantable gimmick gave way to his opponent receiving “1” chants from the audience whenever he gained an advantage, berating the young man for attempting to stand up to the returning hero. Tye is granted a chorus of “10” chants all match long and the audience, in general, was very engaged with the match but I was bored. There was far too much pandering and waiting and by far not enough actual wrestling. This is, regrettably, the core problem with the E in general, and it is regrettable that NXT, which once showed signs of being better than that, seems to have been infected. The match ends with a flurry of action and Tye hits Kona with the Tyebreaker for an undisputable win in this solidly worked, kind of boring match.
Match 2 – Aaliyah and Ember Moon vs. Mandy Rose and Vanessa Borne
Mandy and Aaliyah start off for their respective teams and immediately they give Mandy a chance to impress, as she cartwheels out of a modified headscissors attempt. Prior to this the crowd had been sour on her, hyped for Aaliyah as the hometown hero herein. However, with this feat of fluid athleticism, suddenly the audience liked Mandy. It was a simple, effective moment.
The faces look impressive for a while, both putting on a good performance and looking strong until Vanessa Borne gets a handful of Aaliyah’s hair and turns the tide. The heels use standard babyface-frustrating quick tags to isolate the Canadian. In this flurry of action Mandy Rose came out with some nice throws and looked very dominant against Aaliyah, ostensibly the hometown hero. Mandy stays strong looking, getting a submission hold and nice impact off of a clothesline, before tagging in Vanessa. It is with Vanessa in the ring that the crowd begins to chant for Aaliyah to make a comeback. Even with the crowd chanting for Aaliyah, I swear the biggest sounds were still Mandy’s strikes.
As the match builds to a conclusion we see Aaliyah make a hot tag to Ember Moon, who hits a bunch of nice looking spots, even taking out both opponents at once. During the fracas Vanessa Borne and Aaliyah get tagged in for their respective teams and Aaliyah scores a Northern Lights Suplex hold for the three count on Borne. I had known from the beginning of the match that Borne would eat the pinfall herein, and it was the outcome that made the most sense for the builds these women are all at in their careers. Genuinely surprising me, however, was how well Mandy Rose performed. I’d even say she was too good. She has a lot of potential to make a splash in the scene.
Match 3 – Johnny Gargano vs. Killian Dain
Gargano starts off the underdog, as is to be expected of most people who would book men of this size disparity against each other. Dain is, simply, too big for Johnny Wrestling’s usual tricks to down people. Eventually, as this match-up type usually goes, Gargano tries for a backpack sleeper, but it too is no good. They tease a comeback with Gargano getting in a flurry of action, but Dain squashes him back down and abuses him. The large man stands on and splashes Gargano’s back and dips deep into the well of big man vs. little guy spots.
Eventually, after enough time for my mind to wander onto other subjects, a telltale mark of boredom, Gargano mounts his comeback with strikes and spear and tope suicida. This comeback builds into a sequence where the two men go back and forth, punctuated by some nice big moments such as Gargano hitting Dain with an Avalanche Hurracanrana. The flow relies of Killian Dain looking unbeatably strong, so he powers out of submission attempts and, in the end, eats a superkick to be put down.
Match 4 – Hideo Itami vs. Aleister Black
I won’t lie, this was the match I was most excited to see heading in to the event. It was unclear whether or not my long-time favourite NOAH star, KENTA, now known as Hideo Itami, would be making an appearance at this event but I had most-certainly bought my ticket in the hopes I’d finally get to see him wrestle in person. While it wasn’t all I had hoped it to be, it was meaningful nonetheless. It was also one of the better matches of the night.
Itami lays on his new heelish antics from the onset, frustrating Black by bailing on the ring. This nets him the upper hand to start, and he uncorks some strikes on Black. They have a good grappling exchange and Itami lays on the heel cockiness only to be faked out by Black who catches him in a hold. The clear, easily read though physical actions alone, characterization these men put forth goes to show that they know damn well how to work in the ring.
Itami takes control with lots of kicks and ground work, and adds insult to injury by mocking Black’s poses. Itami dominates the match for a very long time, using well executed kicks and submissions, At one point Aleister Black has a terrible landing on Itami’s head off of a springboard moonsault. Itami doesn’t lose pace though and busts out a flurry of action, capped off by a Fisherman’s Suplex, but he can’t secure the win. They tease a comeback by Black, which item suppresses until Black scores a huge running knee.
Frustrated, Itami shoves Black into the referee and sticks him with a solid DDT for another two count. Frustrated he heads outside and gets a kendo stick from under the ring and goes to wail on Black with it. Unfortunately for Itami the referee yanks the weapon away from him and, in his moment of distraction, Aleister Black hits him with the Black Mass and puts him down for the three count.
For some reason the crowd never bought into this match, even though it featured solid in-ring athletics and psychology. The end result was a bit predictable from early on, but it was expertly executed.
Match 5 – The Velveteen Dream vs. Bobby Roode
The Velveteen dream shouldn’t work so well, but for some reason I found it to be a very fun gimmick in a live environment. Patrick Clark, back on Tough Enough, certainly exhibited a passion for the history of wrestling and, more explicitly, the WWF. It seems terribly fitting that he wound up with such a gimmick driven, retro-inspired character. A character whose gimmick is reinforced by careful choices made about his in-ring performance. Also, because I can’t help but notice it, The Velveteen dream’s initials are VD. Childish humour. Hyuk-hyuk.
While Roode left NXT as a villain, here, in Canada and returning to the brand he debuted on, he has been emboldened and made a hero anew in his final appearance with NXT. Roode shows off his amateur wrestling skills and looks dominant to begin with, making Velveteen dream look like a joke. Somehow the Dream turns the situation around after some mess in the ropes and gets himself some big heel heat by teasing a top-rope dive to the outside, only to hop down and do a low double axehandle off of the apron instead.
When the two are back in the ring the Dream starts wrestling like someone out of the 80s or early 90s, doing a side Russian leg sweep, middle rope leg and elbow drops. He even puts Roode in a camel clutch, the ultimate old school heel submission hold. Once Roode starts going on the offensive again, with suplexes and throws all over the ring, the crowd gets more into it. The Velveteen dream does a good flipping Death Valley Driver, landing on his feet afterwards, but when he chooses next to fly at Roode he gets countered into a sharpshooter for the obligatory Canadian-wrestling-in-Canada-Bret-Hart-Tribute spot. Realistically he could have milked the Sharpshooter for far longer. As the match moves to its final moments the Velveteen dream is left looking really good as he escapes two attempts by Roode to hit the Glorious DDT and goes down to the third attempt for the three count.
After the match was over I was left with a very clear image of The Velveteen Dream. His aesthetic, both in attire and move selection, is decidedly and explicitly retro. His promo work before the show exuded a tinge of Golddust, with a hearty dose of the 80s. He excels at getting heel heat from the moment he walks through the curtains dressed like a cross between Prince and Hendrix all the way through the match as he talks smack and disappoints fan excitement. On top of all of that excellent potential, Bobby Roode made him look good.
Match 6 – Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss vs. Sanity (Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe) (c) – NXT Tag team title Match
Before the match Tino and Riddick talk smack and, for their sin against Sanity, are dumped out of the ring. The disheveled rebels Alexander Wolfe and Eric Young take the self-aggrandizing jocks on a tour of the building, introducing them to all the sights and surfaces of the arena.
Once the match was actually contained in a ring it seemed the structure bolstered Tino and Riddick’s efforts, as they successfully isolate Alexander Wolfe, keeping the demented mastermind Eric Young out of things. This lasts a good long while, and when Young finally gets the tag he comes in and wrecks both of his opponents. This leads into a sweet sequence that ends with a diving elbow drop on Tino for a two count. There’s a little more back and forth action. Sabatelli and Moss are given a chance to hit a cool Gory Special/Facebuster combo move but can’t put Eric Young down before he tags in Wolfe. Together Young and Wolfe hit a tandem move for the win.
Usually I find wild brawls outside of the ring to be boring because of the inability to see the action in a small venue through a sea of people. The E, however, in this larger venue with spotlights, made it work much better. Sabatelli and Moss didn’t make me want to watch more of them, but they didn’t bomb on their half of the match either. Quite fun.
Match 7 – Lacey Evans vs. Nikki Cross
This was a simple, quality outing. Lace put on a good show, holding her own for most of the match with strikes and submission work. She demonstrated particularly entertaining ring mobility as she manoeuvred around the posts and ropes with unique kicks and elbows. The crowd booed her solely because she repped the American flag. Cross made the comeback w/ lariats and a spinning fisherman buster for the win. Really, Lacey was doing just fine and the win was very fast and almost out of nowhere.
Match 8 – Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Drew McIntyre (c) – NXT Championship Title match
This match started with Almas being a brilliant heel, attacking McIntyre while the Champ was down on one knee and still wearing his entrance coat. . Almas shows his brilliance early on in how he uses the ropes to evade his pursuer and, simultaneously, aide him in targeting the larger mans arm. Almas is a smooth worker, making it all look good, as he controls the situation.
McIntyre is no slouch though, as early on when Almas has him down, he bridges out of a pin in a way you would expect a man half his size more likely to do. They demonstrate this with the two men working a nice reversal sequence which McIntyre capped off with a brilliant display of muscle power as he hoisted Almas over with a beautiful vertical suplex. Sometimes it’s the simple things that you really pop for. Then again, sometimes it’s things like McIntyre catching Almas out of the air for an Air Raid Crash that you pop for. Take your pick. McIntyre’s got things in spades.
Almas does make an incremental comeback, building up towards nice, strong Tornado DDT. This leads into them really taking it to each other and Almas taking some mighty big hits from McIntyre. Almas works the arm again to weaken up the much bigger Scotsman. McIntyre powers out of a Fujiwara Armbar and plays up his sore arm but nonetheless gets the kill with a Futureshock DDT and the Claymore kick in sequence.
It’s of particular importance to note that Almas kicked out of many big, hard hitting moves during this match and was made to look like a real contender. This being published after he faced McIntyre again, this time on a TakeOver special, makes me excited to see the true spotlight, high-stakes version of this match. See, the one downside to this match that kept me from truly buying in was that, in it, the winner was too obvious.
While I may not be fond of the presentation the E is known for. the NXT brand has a certain charm and edge to it. They present their product, and their stars, in a different light. It still has the high gloss and sheen in terms of set-up and production values but there is something inherently exciting about seeing how they are prepping talent for the big time and building new stars. The Velveteen Dream made one hell of an impression at this show and I have heard that, as of this writing, he has just impressed many more people. The future for these talents, and the WWE as a whole, is bright if they don’t get in their own way.