THE BANK STATEMENT #1 - NXT Takeover: Stand and Deliver


For the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to find a way to introduce myself to the world of Hardway HQ. I wasn’t sure if I should try and be bombastic, edgy, or even wild with the typed word. So I settled on something a little more simple.


“Hi everyone.”


That’s all I got. It works though.


My mindset when it comes to wrestling is a little more complex than many other writers on the internet. I am not, and will never be, about the “quality” of wrestling matches. If it looks good, then it’s good, and if it isn’t, then it isn’t.


I love the creative aspect of the industry. The booking, the characters, and most of all, the storytelling within the match. Moves are great, but if the booking, the performers, and the art in between the ropes make sense, then you have something great.


I personally believe the sport of wrestling is in a completely different mindset than ever before. Never before has the internet had so much influence on the mainstream wrestling scene. Twitter, Squared Circle on Reddit, TikTok, the whole kitten kaboodle really influences the industry. Obviously some good, with the Speaking Out movement, the Fabulous Moolah WrestleMania 34 deal, and the Brodie Lee outpouring of love. But definitely some bad, especially when it comes to instant, emotional, gut-punch reactions to segments on TV. Instead of digesting and letting things play out, if it doesn’t connect instantaneously, the emotional, irrational thinking believes it’s bad, and will always be bad.


Social media has influenced today’s generation of pro wrestling, and it’s always not for the better.


Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s not, but for a good long while, I started to believe pro wrestling had passed me by because of that element. The things I liked, the other hardcore fans didn’t, and I felt the television product reflected what they wanted. I even got a little bitter about it, not going to lie. I couldn’t watch for a long, long time. I even started to feel like the “back in my day” guy...in my mid-30s. That’s a tough place to be in.


So I went “social media silent”, as the kids say nowadays, in 2018. I avoided wrestling for a while, and slowly started dipping my toes in in the Summer of 2019. I still held resentments that “my wrestling” had passed me by and I just tuned in and out. Nothing really caught my eye.


Thank goodness for NXT going onto USA.


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Ever since NXT started airing Wednesday every week on the USA Network for two hours a night, I have immersed myself in the content. Whether it was an opportunity to go up against the new All Elite Wrestling program on TNT or not, I just admired the style of show NXT was putting on the air. The show, from start to finish, was good, solid wrestling. Simple and effective storytelling in between the ropes, and the good, more realistic characters just makes it more digestible to me. No disrespect to AEW, I just feel like the content on Dynamite doesn’t suit my tastes in wrestling that it once did, or at all in certain situations. They lack identity, while NXT has theirs: an underground fight club meets heavy metal rock.


The only small gripe I have with NXT is the flow of the television show. I personally think that the main show storyline should thread throughout the entire program, not just when on last. I’d love a little more character development backstage and not just in front of the crowd. But despite those nuisances, the show is, in my opinion, the best pound-for-pound program on TV today. It’s fun and packed with action.


So when it was announced that the latest Takeover was going to be TWO NIGHTS, with Night 1 airing on both Peacock and USA, and Night 2 exclusive to Peacock, I was pumped. Stand and Deliver looked like, on paper, to be fantastic and fun to watch. And with the announcement of my first article coming to Hardway HQ on the forefront as well, I decided to make this the subject of my piece.


BANKIE’S NXT TAKEOVER STAND AND DELIVER REVIEW


POSITIVES:


The Women’s Division: The absolute best part of this two day event were the women’s title matches. The one thing that NXT has done 100% right has been their handling of the women’s division. Unlike other companies, the integration of women’s wrestling on their TV shows have been organic, unforced, and natural. It doesn’t feel out of place at all, and that is the biggest strength that NXT has, and the performers, as well as the NXT creative staff, deserves all the credit, and then some.


The Night 1 Main Event of champion Io Shirai and Raquel Gonzalez was a lot of fun. Io showcased her never-say-die attitude, including jumping off the skeleton that was in the center of the entranceway, while Gonzalez demonstrated her dominance, overpowering Shirai and winning the championship, The build-up of protecting Gonzalez throughout the past several months and putting her in opportunities to display her persona in her ring work paid off. It was a beautiful way to end the first part of this event.


The Night 2 NXT Women’s Tag Team championship match was immensely impressive as well. Shotzi Blackheart is looking more and more like the female Jeff Hardy, while Ember Moon is the workhorse of the team. The tandem has gelled as an in-ring product. Meanwhile, the Way of Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell are a lot of fun to watch. The Way, being one of the rare groups in NXT to be doing character development in backstage vignettes, really emphasizes an old school chickenshit heel mentality, and it showed in this match.


Add in the other female talents on the roster, including Toni Storm, Mercedes Martinez, Dakota Kai, and the awesome Xia Li, you have the deepest women’s roster in the game, and it’s not even close.


WALTER/CIAMPA and DUNNE/KUSHIDA: Walter and Pete Dunne are two fantastic European professional wrestlers. Walter from Austria; Dunne from England. One is a heavyweight; the other a junior heavyweight. However, both men are bruisers, in the sense of emphasis on strikes and a ground game. They aren’t the sizzle on the steak, but they are the proverbial steak itself.


The performance that both men gave in their matches on Night 1 was absolutely stupendous. Dunne has showcased time and time again that he is a big match player in WWE. He and Kushida set the entire tone for Takeover, opening the entire event and putting together a solid performance. Despite Kushida’s toughness, it all led to a Bitter End and a defeat at the hands of the “Bruiserweight”. On the other side of things, Walter and Ciampa absolutely tore down the house and had, in my opinion, the match of both nights, putting together a classic, old school style wrestling war. Strikes were the name of the game, and a vicious Chop put down the former NXT champion for three.


These two men personify vintage professional wrestling to me. As someone who is not as familiar with the European wrestling scene, I can honestly say that if these two men are representatives of that continent, then the pro wrestling scene is completely on the rise overseas. Impressive, impressive stuff.


KYLE O’REILLY’S ENTRANCE GEAR: Look, I know that the Cole vs O’Reilly unsanctioned match was violent, but it felt a little too long for me personally. However, the one thing that completely stood out was his ring vest to the squared circle. On the front, it simply said “AXE AND SMASH”. My belief is that it was a personal shout out to Demolition, my personal favorite old school tag team. Take the E off AXE and that is what you get. Just a simple reference to that tag team showcases what professional wrestling showed also should be: being current and edgy, while paying homage to the men that paved the way. I am now a Kyle O’Reilly fan simply because of that.


NEGATIVES:


JOHNNY GARGANO, CREATIVELY: Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not a knock on Johnny Gargano as a wrestler. He is, pound-for-pound, one of the most creative in-ring wrestlers I’ve ever seen. From his days in EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA to his first few years in NXT, Gargano has ruled the roost and then some. However, on a creative level, there really feels like he is running on fumes. Once the end of the Adam Cole NXT title rivalry in 2019, it felt as if it was time for him to go up to either RAW or SmackDown. However, it has not happened. While the Way is a fun, old school throwback with LaRae, Hartwell, and Austin Theory, I personally cannot boo or get into this persona of Johnny Gargano. He is such a fan favorite and I just can’t buy evil Gargano. I just hope that he could finally get to the “big show” and make his impact with a fresh environment. He needs it.


THE LACK OF FUTURE OPPONENTS FOR KARRION KROSS: When Karrion Kross returned from injury two months ago and began his run to regaining the championship he never lost, I was very excited. He and Finn Balor had a fun match at Takeover, leading to his victory and the beginning of his second reign as NXT champion. The moment the match ended, it hit me: he doesn’t have any challengers ready for him. If I was the booker (WRITER’S NOTE: I’m far from it, I’m just a fan thinking from my couch, using the armchair perspective), I would not go instantly to Kyle O’Reilly, who just became a fan favorite and needs a little more of a run before moving up the ladder to that marquee battle. A lot of other talented performers just aren’t there yet for that opportunity. Kross is the present and future of NXT. I just want, as a fan, to see if there is anyone that creative has prepared for Kross to face during this run as champion.


THE GAUNTLET ELIMINATOR: Now, the only thing I did not enjoy from Stand and Deliver was the Gauntlet Eliminator from Night 1. The match itself was different, as it had that “Deadly Draw” match vibe from NWA: TNA in 2004. I don’t know a wrist lock from a wristwatch, but everything looked good from the performers inside of the match. The storytelling was fun. But I, as a fan, felt the wrong guy won.


On television, it felt as if NXT was leading towards an inevitable Gargano/Dexter Lumis match, especially with the interactions with the Way and Lumis from the previous few months. But when Lumis was eliminated quickly by LA Knight (the best “mic guy” in NXT by far), I was stunned. No disrespect to Bronson Reed, but I felt like the fans wanted to see Lumis win and then win the North American championship the next night. Maybe there are other plans, but on your biggest week of the year for WWE, that’s the direction you go and help enhance a very intriguing character further his rise in NXT.


Other than those negatives, I give an absolute THUMBS UP to Stand and Deliver. NXT continues to be consistent and is developing the best product on television today. I can’t wait for the first show on Tuesday and see what they have in store for the fan base.


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I hope you enjoyed this first BANK STATEMENT on Hardway HQ, and there will be many more to come. I will bring an honest, real fan perspective on pro wrestling in many different facets and I will not hold back.


BANK ON IT.


@BANKIEBRUCE on Twitter.


Bankie Bruce

BankieBruce@gmail.com


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