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NXT Minus 6: The Best Matches of 2019

Bradley lists out the top NXT matches of 2019 and crowns his match of the year!

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I saved the best for last.

Everything 4.8 stars or better.

Three 5-star matches.

Undisputed Era versus The Revival, NXT TV, November 20, 4.8 stars

A dream match-up of sorts. Timing. Teamwork. Intensity. Dash Wilder eats the pinfall with a defiant “kiss my ass.” Rewatching this match made me realize I should have done a separate list just for all the great tag team action we got from NXT in 2019. 

Lio Rush versus Angel Garza for the NXT Cruiserweight Title, December 11, NXT TV, 4.8 stars

Even before the opening bell, these two turned up a level of intensity not typically seen in the Cruiserweights. I appreciate the addition of Rush’s wife in a tasteful way that made sense without being overbooked. I feel bad that his title run was so short; Rush is a special talent. However, Garza’s victory was well deserved. He’s worked his ass off to get over for all the right reasons.  

Io Shirai versus Shayna Baszler, cage match for the Women’s Title, June 26, NT TV, 4.8 stars

There are matches in a cage, and then there are cage matches. Everything Baszler and Shirai did was all about the cage. The big spots. The hard shots. The ending. What a gloriously tragic ending. My heart broke for Shirai when Baszler fell out of the cage onto the floor. Then we get the birth of batshit crazy Io, and for that I will be forever grateful. 

Fatal 5 way for #1 contender spot, Ricochet versus Aleister Black versus Adam Cole versus Matt Riddle versus Velveteen Dream, 4.8 stars

I believe the expression is “turning chicken shit into chicken salad.” We don’t get Ciampa-Gargano IV for the title. Instead, our consolation prize is this hot gem. So many subplots & history between all the contestants made for great drama. And of course, an ending that set the stage for one of NXT’s all time great rivalries. Bonus points for Mauro Ranallo referring to Ricochet as the Lord of the Fly. 

Johnny Gargano versus Adam Cole, Takeover New York, 4.8 stars

I wanted this to be 5 stars. I wanted it to be MOTY. It almost was. The end brought me down. After taking all that punishment, one guy fights off 4 and still kicks out of a dump truck of finishers? Sorry. No. Despite the ending, it was a great match & a deserving moment for Johnny Takeover. 

Io Shirai versus Candae Lerae, Takeover Toronto, 4.8 stars

The Evil Genius of the Sky is crazy wicked. Even her walk to the ring screams insanity. I had low expectations for this match, primarily because I’ve not been impressed with Lerae. I’m happy to say I was very wrong. Lerae more than held her own, but Crazy Io was just too much. Possibly my second favorite NXT Women’s match ever, behind Bayley-Banks in Brooklyn.

Men’s War Games, Takeover War Games III, 4.8 stars

Car crash of the year. Insane violence. A super avalanche Air Raid Crash. And Kevin Owens!!! It wasn’t perfect, but after what every man went through for our entertainment, I wouldn’t criticize a single thing. 

Adam Cole Versus Johnny Gargano, NXT Championship Match, Takeover XXV, 4.9 stars

This was better than their previous match. The underlying story of their familiarity led to some amazing counters & chain wrestling. Gargano in particular hit moves I’ve never seen from anybody. The only reason I’m not giving this 5 stars is they relied too heavily on superkicks. At times it felt like I was watching the Young Bucks battle each other. 

Image result for nxt tag team ladder match"NXT Tag Title Ladder Match, Takeover XXV, 5 stars

It starts with an air guitar battle with Montez Ford and Kyle O’Reilly. It quickly turns into very real violence. They played fast and loose with the ladders. I even loved Jaxson Ryker’s appearance. Watching 6 guys flatten a human being with a ladder is a sight to behold. I’ve written about how special the ending is, with Angelo Dawkin’s nuclear spear and Ford’s leap onto the ladder. Lost in the excitement was the ridiculous bump Wesley Blake took off the ladder. Much respect for that. I can’t remember the last time I ended a match with an audible “holy f$%&ing $h!T!” The story was simple: be the best team in a place where that still means something. If for only one night, the Street Profits could honestly say they were the best tag team on the planet. The story. The effort. The emotion. The ending. Perfect. 

Image result for bate WALTER cardiff"

Tyler Bate versus WALTER, Takeover Cardiff, 5 stars

Not to take anything away from WALTER, but this match is Tyler Bate. The Big Strong Boi gave us his Sgt. Pepper. It is one of the single finest performances I have ever seen.  When it was over, I had a tear in my eye, not because Bate lost but because I knew I had just witnessed a masterpiece. Bate’s effort touched me in a way that few matches ever have. And to think that he was only 22 at the time is still something I can’t quite comprehend. 

Image result for war raiders versus black & ricochet"War Raiders versus Aleister Black & Ricochet for the NXT Tag Team Titles, Takeover New York, 5 stars 

It’s hard to create genuine moments in wrestling today. Everybody knows everything. Eras are ending. History is made. Torches are passed. That’s why this match is so special. The action was amazing. When it was over, I gave it 4.9 stars. The post-match put it over the top. The show of respect from the War Raiders to Black/Ricochet was genuine class. The fans send off felt so spontaneous and was almost more emotion than the arena could hold. The in-ring action, the level of respect between the competitors and the gratitude from the fans is absolutely everything that is great about wrestling. It was a moment you simply could not script or predict. For that reason, it is my 2019 NXT Match of the Year.

Thanks for spending your time with my crazy ramblings about the best wrestling on the planet. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

Here’s to a great 2020 from the Black & Gold Standard!


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Opinion

Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021

It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…

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It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.

It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!

5. Samoa Joe

I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.

In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!

4. Kris Statlander

AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.

Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.

Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.

Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.

3. Tay Conti

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.

Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.

This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.

2. Bianca Belair

We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.

You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.

Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.

Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.

1. Darby Allin

Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.

The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.

What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.


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Opinion

NXT Minus 6: About that Cole-O’Reilly match…

It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

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It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

Exclusive: Kyle O'Reilly is ready to renew his career-long rivalry with Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver

6. I was jacked to 11 for Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly. I was ready to give it a Tokyo Dome 6 stars. MOTY before the bell rang. A masterwork of storytelling. I correctly predicted it would be an unsanctioned match. Then the action started, and it quickly became “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans | WWE

5. After the first few acts of violence, it was apparent that the problem with the match would be the stipulation. The last NXT unsanctioned match was Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa in 2018. That was 3 short years ago, but things move quickly in today’s world. There is very little chance an unsanctioned match can deliver the level of violence it promises as long as NXT is on the PG-13 Peacock.

The Most Brutal Spots from Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly's Insane Unsanctioned Match at NXT Takeover - EssentiallySports

4. Fans are losing their minds over all the content Peacock is leaving on the cutting floor. A lot of it was offensive and would never work today, but that’s not the point. The fact is there’s only so much violence Peacock’s parent company NBC will tolerate from wrestling. Take the chain, for example. Other than the clothesline, it was practically useless. O’Reilly tried to make it work, but it fell flat. In an unsanctioned match, 20 feet of heavy duty chain should be all you need to decimate another human being.

The B Word: Did Pro Wrestling's Blood Dry Up? | Ring the Damn Bell

3. Maybe I’m a victim of my own wrestling memory. An unsanctioned match in Memphis in the 80’s would have been a bloodbath. Someone would have been hung over the top rope with the chain around his neck. Whipped across the back. Hog tied. Someone would have wrapped it around their fist for a few stiff shots to their opponent’s forehead. But that goes back to my original point. None of that would fly today even if NXT was only on the WWE network.

5 Hilarious moments from this week's WWE programming

2. I’ll go so far as to say the only violent-promising stipulation that interests me is Falls Count Anywhere. There is zero drama in wrestlers pulling chairs from under the ring. The chance to use the naturally occurring environment as a weapon still holds a world of suspense. Someone is going through windows, walls, off the stage, over the guardrail, stuffed in a locker. Honestly, I’m tired of people getting hit in the stomach with folding chairs. Of all the ways to hit someone with a folding chair, that’s the least practical. 

WWE Announces Multiple Injuries At NXT New Year's Evil - WrestlingRumors.net

1. I’m sorry to say Kyle O’Reilly versus Adam Cole didn’t deliver what I expected. Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I don’t need over-the-top violence to entertain me. Maybe I don’t need wrestling to keep pushing the envelope. Five of my top 6 matches of 2021 are straight up wrestling matches. Maybe all I need is two (or three or four) strong characters and a good story. Damn, I sound old. 


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