What is in store for NXT?
The world is in crisis but the show must go on! How has NXT recovered from the insane brawl between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano?
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Tom Phillips and Triple H are in the WWE Global Headquarters studio!
HHH “broke the internet” on SmackDown so why not have him join his creation of NXT? A very special night tonight as NXT Women’s Champion, Rhea Ripley, will be here for an interview ahead of her match with Charltote Flair, as well as an interview with Finn Baor about what’s next for him in the NXT franchise. BUt of course, we must discuss the story that is Ciampa and Gargano.
From day one at the Performance Center, the WWE Tryout in 2015, “it was kind of the start of our friendship.” They grew together on the indies but the tryout started them being paired together. Was it destiny or luck? Either way, the two became even closer friends, as well as stronger rivals. Ciampa and Gargano both admit having instant chemistry, and both wished to do more with each other. Gargano and Ciampa both felt they did so well, and were encouraged by how everyone talked them up, they felt they were getting their contracts. But then they were told they weren’t. It was hard for both men to swallow that pill. Gargano heard this so many times, but it was still hard to take. But in the end, Ciampa and Gargano had each other to pull through it. That is when they truly became real friends fighting for the same dream.
And then the Crusierweight Classic comes. Gargano was in, Ciampa wasn’t. Ciampa confronted HHH about it. Couldn’t he just be in the first round with Gargano and see what happens? And so, that is what we got. And everything changed with that match. Not just for the WWE or NXT, but for them. The fans loved it, the stage was set, not it was just about delivering. Shawn Michaels says that when you get up to bat, you swing for the fences. And that is what they both did. “If wrestling is art, and we’re artists,” they both feel that was their masterpiece. “So many seeds were planted there for the future.” Ciampa admits his hesitation that perhaps cost him. He let it happen and that was hard to accept, but Gargano earned it. Does Gargano see himself as better? Well, yeah.
Then from there, Team DIY took it to the next level. TakeOver: Brooklyn II, DIY VS The Revival. A huge debut for the Barclays Center. Differences were put aside and the goal was obvious: NXT Tag Team Championships or bust. DIY clicked and that was a real moment of, “Hmm, I think we can actually do this.” They didn’t win, but they were solidified as a unit. DIY and Candice LeRae were one big happy family. But Ciampa and Gargano argue “What if” about that first match with The Revival. The team worked because of their friendship and the fans being behind them. Does Gargano regret it? Of course. He doesn’t like letting anyone, especially his friend, down. People wanted them to win in Brooklyn, fans needed them to win in Toronto. Nothing was going to stop DIY. And nothing did, as they became champions together.
“Those are the moments you dream of. Those are the moments you work for.” And all those times they were told they didn’t belong, DIY could say back, “Screw you.” But we know what came next, and before getting to that “moment”, NXT takes a break.
NXT returns with more of the DIY story.
Gargano says “I believe that people are loyal to you until their needs change.” They became champions, the fans were on their side, and DIY worked because they had that connection. DIY were fighting champions eager to share their reign with the world. Ciampa knows they had a hard fought journey through NXT, living a dream. They were lucky enough to take the titles around the world, to Australia and Japan. The friendship, the team, it all grew stronger and closer. Those moments together were great. Things didn’t turn out how either wanted, but nothing they can do about it now. Ciampa’s shoulders were torn, and the timing weighed on Ciampa. Ciampa’s needs changed. His heart wasn’t in it anymore.
And then the Authors of Pain come in. Akam and Rezar are big, strong badasses and that’s hard when you’re not 100%. Toronto was a dream come true, but San Antonio was a nightmare. AOP wins against DIY first time out, and it was rough. There was a hangover of sorts where DIY couldn’t get their footing. Everyone backstage knew what Ciampa was going through but no one knows what you’re feeling. Orlando brought the instant classic tag team triple threat. It was such a blur, but maybe their hearts weren’t in it. DIY loses again, and the dream of being NXT Tag Team Champions was incredible. Ciampa admits it now: “That night in Toronto, Johnny was the star.” Johnny Wrestling was born but Ciampa was perhaps forgotten.
It was the greatest tag team match of that year, and perhaps ever. But the competitor inside Ciampa didn’t like Gargano was the ace. That doubt, that anger, and that jealousy got in Ciampa’s head. They’re both competitive. Two alphas in one team doesn’t work. Ciampa let it fester, “it is what it is.” Ciampa knows Gargano better than anyone. And he knew that Gargano knew that getting the titles back would mean a different tactic. It would a change. Before getting to “that night,” NXT takes another break.
NXT returns with part 3 of the DIY story.
“Johnny Gargano VS Tommaso Ciampa is a story of moments.” TakeOver: Chicago, the first time they main-evented such a special. The NXT Tag Team Championship Triple Threat: DIY VS AOP, in a Ladder Match. It felt like the last time DIY was ever going to get those titles, and both men felt their lives would change. May 23, 2017 is a night no one will forget. An incredible match from two incredible teams, and punctuated by Gargano taking the ladder shot for Ciampa, that was for naught. A Super Collider double powerbomb would lead to Akam and Rezar retaining the titles.
But the night wouldn’t end with the main event. Fans cheered, but Ciampa demanded his moment. The betrayal shocked the fans in Chicago and around the world, but it shocked Gargano most of all. An Air Raid Crash through tables. Does that look familiar? Ciampa says it wasn’t personal, it was business. Gargano says it was a desperate attempt to keep Gargano out for the same amount of time Ciampa would be out with his injuries. “Tonight wasn’t our moment. It’s my moment.” There was nothing Gargano could do but sit and wait. Ciampa watched the slump but then watched the recovery. Gargano waited for Ciampa’s return, but in the process got his NXT Championship in Philadelphia.
Gargano lost to Andrade Almas, and then Ciampa punctuated the night with his return. Things would escalate for Gargano and Almas and that is when Ciampa struck again. Gargano was, for a time, without his dream. But before things turn into a nightmarish dream match, NXT takes a break.
NXT returns with part 4 of the DIY story.
Gargano VS Almas, career VS title, and Ciampa costs Gargano both. “From that point on, it was just about me.” DIY was more like Johnny Wrestling and friend. Every time Ciampa walked out, it was nothing but a cascade of boos, jeers, and chants of “Johnny Wrestling!” Gargano would haunt Ciampa vicariously through them. Then, an unsanctioned match. If Gargano won, he’d return. if Ciampa won, he’d get his title match. TakeOver: New Orleans gave us just the first of many instant classics between the former tag team partners and friends. Ciampa’s crutch, exposed concrete and Ciampa’s own knee brace were utilized, but Gargano’s good heart almost caught him. But in the end, Gargano knew Ciampa better, and a knee-brace STF brought Johnny Wrestling back!
“That was a moment.” Ciampa acknowledges Gargano won the match, but Ciampa won so much more. From then on, Ciampa was a star. TakeOver: Chicago II would have a Street Fight almost as brutal as New Orleans. Ciampa outsmarted Gargano with exposed wood. Then things took a strange turn when then NXT Champion, Aleister Black, would end up in the mix. Gargano cost Aleister his title match, Aleister would be assaulted and unable to compete in a rematch, so TakeOver: Brooklyn 4 would have a DIY Last Man Standing match! Gargano’s obsession cost him, and Ciampa stood tall. And that was when we all realized we “missed the boat” with Ciampa.
Ciampa says Gargano started to change. Gargano would become NXT North American Champion, doing things “Ciampa’s way.” DIY would reunite oddly enough, but before they could get even more golden, Ciampa’s neck injury would disrupt things. NXT takes another break before bringing us closer to the present.
NXT returns with part 5 of the DIY story.
Ciampa’s neck injury would force him to relinquish the title. “And just like that, my entire career, my entire time as the NXT Champion, gets completely derailed.” No one saw it coming. It was the greatest 238 days of Ciampa’s career, and they were gone. Gargano says it was fate. Gargano still gets his NXT Championship match, but it has to be against Adam Cole now. And at TakeOver: New York, in a Best 2 Out of 3 Falls, it was another Johnny Wrestling classic. Cole would even take some plays out of the Psycho Killer’s book, but it wouldn’t be enough. The Undisputed Era would try to screw Gargano over, but it wouldn’t be enough. In the end, Gargano had his moment. And strangely enough, Ciampa would help him celebrate.
Gargano admits getting caught up in the moment. He saw his greatest enemy as his old friend again. Johnny Triple Crown was on top of the world. Ciampa says Gargano having his moment “felt right.” They wanted to put this all behind them. Ciampa would go away until he was ready to return fully. When he did, fans loved Ciampa again. They followed his line of “Daddy’s Home” and chanted it. Gargano admits getting caught up in that, too. Gargano wanted to believe it was his best friend who came back. Cole VS Gargano, TakeOver: Portland, “Daddy’s taking back Goldie.” And for those first 30 minutes, Ciampa swore that was happening. “You’re gonna have to kill me. You ain’t gonna beat me.”
The Undisputed Era tried to screw Ciampa over like they tried with Gargano, but it wouldn’t work here, either. Cole may have even had flashbacks to his feud with Gargano at the time. Cole escalated to a low blow but Ciampa would return the favor! However, someone else returned a certain favor, and it was Gargano. Gargano betrayed Ciampa, bringing us to where we are now. Ciampa says he knew when Gargano appeared, it was going to end badly. Gargano says he wanted to believe his best friend was back. But what Gargano saw was “the same look I saw in Chicago three years ago.” Ciampa says this is where he and Gargano differ. When Gargano had his match, Ciampa let him have his moment. When Ciampa had his match, Gargano wouldn’t give him the same chance.
Garganos says Ciampa is a snake that can’t be trusted. That’s why Gargano was fixing our mistake. Ciampa says the issue is beyond even just the NXT Championship. It is two men who want to be the face of the black ‘n’ gold. Two alphas, one brand, “it’s just business.” Gargano says he was just trying to give us the reasons why, but then the psycho attacks. They brawled all over the performance Center, where this story truly started. Their tryouts, their teaming up, their friendship, it is all represented by the PC, and they tore the PC apart. The chants of “Fight Forever!” might just come true.
NXT returns to HHH and Tom Phillips.
DIY tearing up the WWE PC, HHH saw it all live. It is very symbolic of the level of intensity between them, but we’ve seen nothing yet. This is far from over.
What is next for “Prince” Finn Balor?
HHH notes that while Finn’s first run in NXT was extraordinary, it was missing “that spark.” When Finn returned under the mantra of his future will be his past, “that spark” was there, and HHH was excited to have that Finn Balor on his roster.
Finn Balor’s arrival was still in the early days of NXT, and he surely brought things we’d never seen before. “I am the future.” Whether he was Finn or the Demon, Balor was the top of NXT mountain, even setting a record length reign.
Finn Balor speaks.
“2014, Prince Devitt. Best Wrestler in the World.” NXT did what it did best: signed the best. Devitt became Balor and proved he was the best. Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe and many more. Finn proved he was the best of the best by beating them all, and becoming NXT Champion. He proved he was the best by staying the NXT Champion for 292 days. But how does he build upon that? NXT goes to break before looking back.
NXT returns with more of the Prince Balor story.
It was the WWE Draft, and Raw took NXT’s Finn Balor in the top 5. Everyone was excited, and Balor took pride in being Raw’s biggest get. Raw wants the best wrestler, and he was picked. First night against Kevin Owens, Cesaro and Rusev, then Roman Reigns later in the night, Balor shows the world why he is the best. Then Balor becomes the inaugural WWE Universal Champion against Seth Rollins. But he got hurt.
Balor tells HHH and the others. Everyone is bummed, some pity him. “Poor Finn.” No, not “poor Finn.” Balor is the best, and he proved it. But for nine months, he had to recover. For nine months, he had to work to come back. And in those nine months, something changed. Raw’s atmosphere has changed. Jinder Mahal, Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley against Finn Balor, and suddenly these men are having the best matches of their careers. “Do you see the common denominator?” It’s the best wrestler in the world, Finn Balor, getting the best out of the rest. “You’re welcome.” The 2019 Royal Rumble PPV pits the best against The Beast for the WWE Universal Championship Balor never lost. “And there it is, that feeling.”
Balor gives his all against Lesnar. Balor feels that feeling he hadn’t felt since NXT. Yes, Lesnar won. That made Balor realize what he was missing. The feeling he had facing Joe, Kevin, and everyone in NXT. Lesnar beat Balor but he saved Balor. Balor has his passion back. Balor knows what he needed. He needed to wrestle. NXT is the only place Balor can get that feeling. Balor is addicted to the adrenaline and the pain that he hadn’t felt in three years. Yes, matches, merchandise, appearances, but where’s the wrestling? Balor wants to prove that he is still the best, and you do that in NXT. “Finn Balor has come home!”
NXT returns with part 3 of the Prince Balor story.
“I can’t sleep at night.” Balor prays to get that rush back. And so he stopped trying to please everyone, and focused on himself. Please the marketing, please the merchandise team, please the house show makers, please the media department, but what about himself? Balor is sick and tired of that. He’s doing what’s best for him. He’s 38 and been doing this for 20 years, so he’s not going to waste doing what he doesn’t believe in. So the best thing for Finn was to go back to NXT. But it wasn’t going back to the brand, but back to The Prince, “the best wrestler in the world,” what Balor believes in. So it wasn’t personal when he went after Gargano, it was for Balor.
TakeOver: Portland was Balor’s return to the ring. Johnny Wrestling was just as determined to stay the face of NXT, but he was in the ring with The Prince. The Prince shot the “banner” through Gargano’s Rebel Heart, but it was far more than a win for him. “The 2018 Finn Balor is dead.” The best wrestler in the world knows these are uncertain times. But one thing is certain: Balor will take on Walter, and he will get what he wants. There are a lot of other NXT stars addicted to the same thing. So if they want to dance, the Prince is ready. Can Balor’s addiction bring him back to the throne?
Tom Phillips and HHH discuss the history WrestleMania will make.
For the first time ever, the winner of the Women’s Royal Rumble, or any Royal Rumble match for that matter, chose the NXT Women’s Championship. Charlotte Flair wants after Rhea Ripley, and HHH says it is fitting that it is Charlotte challenging. The Queen was once in NXT, and now she wants back in against Rhea. A bold move from Charlotte, but even bolder for the younger star in Rhea not backing down. Rhea speaks now on her rise to this moment.
“NXT is like my mosh pit, but it wasn’t always that way.” When Rhea started with the Mae Young Classic, at just 20 years old, she was new to everything and completely terrified. But this was still her childhood dream. She went from big fish in a little pond, to the little fish in a big pond. Being so young and from a place with a young wrestling scene, for Rhea to get her name and the country on the map, that was big. Rhea’s only problem was wanting to please everyone. This brought comparisons to others, like Charlotte Flair or Toni storm and even Lana. Being tall and blonde with a big smile, “I wasn’t me.” Come the second Mae Young Classic, Rhea decides to do what she wants and how she wants to.
Rhea blows everyone away just on the transformation, and Rhea knew then she was on the right track. Rhea loves proving people wrong. And when NXT UK started its journey, Rhea did the same thing as MYC II. Rhea rips through her side of the bracket, and meets Toni Storm in the finals. An insane match and a historic moment on the line given this would crown our first NXT UK Women’s Champion. And to everyone’s surprise, Rhea wins. “I knew I had her exactly where I wanted her.” Toni’s bad back and one big Riptide, Rhea makes history. It was only a year and a half, in a small Women’s Division, Rhea was dominant. But so was Shayna Baszler.
So the first chance Rhea got, she stepped up to the Queen of Spades and took her shot. “I know what your’e going to say. You’re going to say you’ve beaten everyone here. But you haven’t beaten me, b*tch!” Those would be words that sparked another historic moment, but first, NXT takes a break.
NXT returns with more of the Rhea Ripley story.
Survivor Series makes history in 2019 when it adds NXT to the mix! And leading the charge for the black ‘n’ gold against red Raw and blue SmackDown, was Rhea Ripley! Rhea would beat captains Charlotte and Sasha Banks! Then in the same weekend, Rhea’s team wins the first-ever Women’s WarGames match before moving on to leading NXT to a victory in the Women’s Elimination Tag match! “After Survivor Series Weekend, everyone knew who Rhea Ripley was.” But the only thing missing: her name on the NXT Women’s title.
Rhea finally gets Shayna 1v1 in a title match. It was stressful, but it was exciting. And it was Rhea’s moment. The Horsewomen would try to screw over the Mosh Pit Kid, but the will of a champion took over. The Riptide dethroned the Queen of Spades, and for the first time ever, there was a woman who was both NXT UK and NXT Women’s Champion in her career. Sharing the ring with both fellow superstars and the fans was a memory no one will ever forget. That was a great end to 2019. Merry Christmas, right? And Rhea felt so excited to be the biggest face on NXT.
But then comes 2020. The Women’s Rumble featured the biggest names of all three brands, and The Queen of Flair and the Queen of Spades dominated the field. And in the end, Charlotte Flair was the last woman left. Something told Rhea then and there that it should be Rhea VS Charlotte. No one wants Charlotte VS Becky again. No one wants Charlotte VS Bayley again. But something new that everyone wanted: Charlotte VS Rhea. Rhea came to Raw to put the challenge out first. But Charlotte played coy. Rhea wants to be the best and that means beating the best.
Portland came, Rhea defended her title against Bianca Belair, and it was a match worthy of the Road to WrestleMania. Rhea wins and has her road to Charlotte open, and that is when Charlotte would strike. “So I thought about it, and I’ll see you at WrestleMania.” 2020 has been full of curve balls, but Mania is still happening. And it won’t be in Charlotte’s element. Charlotte revels in the stadiums, the pageantry. But now, it’s in Rhea’s world of the WWE PC. That is where the blood, sweat and tears are every single day. Charlotte and Rhea are two very different people, obviously. Charlotte gets what she wants when fans “WOO~” for her.
But now, there’s no one there to do that. It’s just Charlotte and just Rhea. The venue may have changed, but Rhea vows the result will be the same as it ever was: Rhea pinning Charlotte and staying NXT Women’s Champion. Tom Phillips and HHH note this will truly be historic. This will be one to remember one way or another.
Well, this is definitely a different NXT. I’d say they learned lessons more from Raw than SmackDown. A huge match replay isn’t really worth it, and they can’t really pull off new match content given the restrictions going on around the country and the world. But the interviews and recaps were pretty good. The DIY story got the most play because it’s truly the biggest and longest running story for NXT. Now, given that TakeOver: Tampa is postponed, and at worse cancelled, surely stories get their payoffs on NXT TV instead. I hope we get that for a good half hour with picture-in-picture so we don’t miss a thing.
My Score: 8/10