24th Sep2019

Opinionated: Was the debut episode of NXT on USA a good introduction to the brand?

by Chris Cummings

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So, we’re a few days on from the debut of NXT on the USA Network. A new era for the gold-and-yellow brand of WWE. The show has gone from one-hour to two-hours each week and will, in a couple of weeks time, be a full two-hour live show on USA. The debut episode, which saw the first hour on USA and the second hour on the WWE Network, was a hyped and anticipated program. All wrestling-fan eyes were on it. So, how was it, and was it a strong intro to the brand for those who may not have seen it before?

The show kicked off with a four-way women’s match that saw Io Shirai, Mia Yim, Bianca Belair and Candice LaRae compete in a very exciting ten-minute battle to determine the number-one contender for the NXT Women’s Championship. LaRae picked up the win. It was a really nice match that opened things off in a solid way and highlighted four top stars. I thought this was a good way to begin things. It felt like the show we all know and love, yet had a little bit of a new sheen to it, feeling a little different but not enough that it would rattle or upset existing fans.

We saw a squash match with Cameron Grimes picking up a quick win, and we got a bloody lovely NXT North American Title match which saw the champion, Velveteen Dream, lose his golden strap to Roderick Strong. This was a powerful and important match that closed the first hour of NXT on the USA Network. Strong becoming champion added a dynamic to the show too, giving The Undisputed Era members a title-belt each, with Adam Cole (Bay-Bay) as NXT Champ, O’Reilly and Fish as NXT Tag Champs and now… Roddy as the North American Champion. Draped in gold, the first hour ended with Era celebrating on the ramp. A big cool way to kick things off, for sure.

The second hour played differently, bringing in a few lesser-seen faces and providing us with a main event that showed how unpredictable and different NXT is. The final match was, of course, the Street Fight between Killian Dain and Matt Riddle. These two men beat each other up, brawled backstage and the show closed with a good portion of the locker-room brawling too, as we saw a wide shot of dozens of wrestlers beating the living poop out of one-another. I thought this was an excellent close to a very bleeding good debut show, a nice way to say “you’ll never know what we have planned” to those tuning in for the first time, and a message of “don’t worry, NXT will remain the show it’s always been” to those concerned it was going to change too much.

In-between the big parts of the show we saw some other fun stuff. Pete Dunne battling Arturo Ruas in an enjoyable hard-hitting MMA-based technical match. This was a nice way to highlight Ruas, who hasn’t been on NXT TV an awful lot, and a good way to introduce Dunne to those who may be unfamiliar with the Brusierweight. Dunne won, and it shows that NXT has plans for the former UK Champion. Xia Li had a bit of a messy scrap with Aliyah, which came and went without a great deal of interest. It could have been better but it could have been worse, too. Lio Rush made his WWE return as he faced off with Oney Lorcan in a match that would determine the number-one contender to the Cruiserweight Championship. Rush would pick up the win in an impressive match that really did allow both of these talented workers to show some of what they can do. We also saw Imperium appear, lead by WALTER, the UK Champion, and a feud began between WALTER and KUSHIDA. A battle of the caps-lock wrestlers, you could say.

Overall, I thought this was a very strong way to debut on USA. There were some big-time moments from Candice becoming the new contender, to Strong winning the North American belt, to Rush returning and the show’s closing brawl. I enjoyed it a lot, and if I’d been unfamiliar with NXT it would have been enough to make me curious enough to tune in again next week, which is surely part of the aim right now.

I think we’ll be seeing different faces each week. Keith Lee versus Dominik Dijakovic has been announced for next week, a match between Candice and Shayna will be coming soon, and Dakota Kai is returning shortly. I like the idea that certain talents won’t appear each week. It allows people to not be over-saturated, and gives new faces a chance to appear and shine. It’s what will set NXT apart from RAW and SmackDown, and once 205 Live stops as its own show and merges into NXT, we’ll have even more wrestlers, feuds and another title to focus on.

NXT’s debut was an enjoyable one, showing the brand off in a authentic way. It didn’t bring in former NXT talents, it didn’t use main-roster names to gain attention, it just went with the roster it already has, a talented bunch of great workers, and revealed a tiny part of its hand in the process. It leaves things very open for coming weeks, and I, for one, am excited to see where things go.

NXT, NXT, NXT!!

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