By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive“.
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I’ll be honest here. It has felt like too long a time since NXT had me really excited. Really, unconditionally invested. That bubble of adrenaline in the pit of your stomach we all know well. That weeks long stretch when a wrestling product is hitting all the right buttons at the right time.
Until recently, it was something missing from NXT since a Coronavirus shaped fist squashed that fervour out of WWE’s third brand. It missed Full Sail. It missed that passion, that din. The atmosphere only an admittedly smark heavy crowd could give to a product it had helped build from the ground up for nearly a decade. Even when, for instance, a gimmick in other walks of life would have had no chance of getting over in the first place. Whether through cheers or jeers. NXT had a place it could call home. And in that home it was at its most creative.
Then, along came a global pandemic. It wasn’t just the drastic change in ambiance that could be laid at the virus’ feet. So, too, could the lack of storytelling momentum. As wrestlers left, right, and centre were dropping from the screen like flies, through either contraction of the illness, or an active want to avoid it. Let’s not forget, of course, the sour taste left in our mouths with the #SpeakingOut alleged Velveteen Dream and Austin Theory having plenty of airtime throughout. Without even a hint of a statement allowing concerned and disgusted fans to put their minds at ease when watching a product they had hitherto no moral qualms in watching.
All pooled together to create what was a product not in top gear at best, a tough watch at worst. Themed Takeovers and double bill television specials helped brush off the malaise. The “plexiglass” era provided a much needed injection of energy into proceedings. Colourful mid-card acts grabbed the bull by the horns, making a name for themselves and their futures all the while. Yet, something still felt off about it all throughout, personally, a grueling transition period.
Well, wouldn’t you know it. With a delayed NXT Takeover normally scheduled for Survivor Series weekend to help us see out a memorable for all the wrong reasons 2020, things are looking up. As the annual NXT Takeover:Wargames Network exclusive is returning to our screens at just the right time.
Fans of WWE have their favourite times of the year. Wrestlemania and Royal Rumble the obvious answers, with Summerslam the hipster’s outsider choice. Over the past few years, however, a different point in the WWE calendar has become the go to annual event for me personally. Thanks to boosts in creative, urgency, and general direction, all culminating in a gang warfare, Canadian Stampede style climax more organic than Survivor Series has been in years, Wargames is a peak for many reasons.
Say what you will about the sans roof version NXT has provided, compared to the claustrophobic WCW original. But the last three iterations have given us plenty of classic moments. The rage filled proclamation by General Manager William Regal. Something I like to imagine he practices in front of his mirror the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year. The coming together of those affected most by Undisputed Era’s shenanigans the weeks and months prior. Forming a who’s who of internet darlings all fighting the same fight. The coming out parties for, and showcases to the wider WWE audience of the Viking Raiders, Rhea Ripley, and Undisputed Era themselves in NXT’s inaugural Wargames. Which was a fine introduction to the infamous faction and it’s wily but destructive ways.
Of course, too, the Wargames match itself. An encapsulation of wrestling’s most popular tropes today. Finisher and nearfall sequences aplenty. Choreographed high spots. Feats of strength by one against many. Ones that defy the norms of war to the point of disbelief yet enamour those watching with their coming of age foundations. So many cooks in such a claustrophobic kitchen should be a recipe for disaster. But one thing that NXT, and by extension WWE, do so well is something I like to call Organised Chaos. That intangible quality to take what is actually a thoroughly planned out and concerted effort and present it as one of Good Ole’ JR’s favourite adages, a car crash.
That Organised Chaos is a skill those in the ring, as well as those in the back with the blueprints for the bout, should be commended for. Over and above the intricacies that come with putting together a standard singles match, even. That is not to say, however, that the dramatic finale is the only point worth the critique.
For every great story comes with a build that sets the scene for the pay-offs and emotional highs we want to see come to fruition. A build comprised of classic TV matches – your Pete Dunne Vs Ricochets and Io Shirai Vs Mia Yims of the world – that sate you fully but leave you wanting more. Just like August’s Cole Vs McAfee and October’s O’Reilly Vs Balor, whose both fallouts have played an integral role in the upcoming battle. The shock returns to TV for your Ciampas and Dunnes, who’ll both likely have unfinished business with Undisputed Era for years to come. Even the easy to assemble but hard to whittle down highlight videos as time draws nearer – the ominous air raid siren sending chills down your spine and goosebumps up your arms.
And so, despite the setbacks in overall presentation and unforeseen circumstances thrown NXT’s way this year, the stage has been getting set for another mighty showdown. Before our very eyes and without us even noticing, it would seem. Thanks to little information from newsfeeds and even a delay to what had been a staple these last three Novembers. Which, like a welcome flash in a dark year, made the announcement that much sweeter.
A twist to proceedings for the men’s edition makes things extra juicy, too. With Undisputed Era the heroes of the piece, Dunne, and Tag Team champions Burch and Lorcan the villains. With that to look forward to, there is also Pat McAfee’s seamless ability to demonstrate a hard balancing act in wrestling. That of chewing up the scenery casting all eyes on him, while bumping like a veteran so as to make his opponent look devastating.
These small ingredients all add up to make a recipe for success. NXT’s Wargames matches haven’t disappointed yet. And even after a questionable year, mainly in front of a much diminished crowd, this weekend looks to deliver more of the same.
Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.
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