So, in front of a record-breaking crowd of over 93,000 fans jam-packed into the WWE Performance Center in Orlando (hey, if they could lie about it in ’87, why not now?), NXT presents “The Great American Bash: Covid, What Covid?” I have to disclose that the first wrestling PPV I ever watched was 1989’s NWA Great American Bash headlined by Ric Fair and Terry Funk, so NXT has pretty big shoes to fill here. Then again, the WWE has prostituted the Bash name with so many awful events in years past that NXT should have no problem putting on the best GAB of the sports-entertainment era.
I haven’t followed the recent happenings in wrestling, having turned on WWE Backlash just in time to see ninjas running around my screen for no goddamned reason and turning it right back off again to never revisit, but NXT has never failed to deliver in its high-profile shows, even if this one is just meant as an FU (or “Attitude Adjustment”) to AEW’s Fyter Fest. The last show I watched was actually NXT’s In Your House, which I enjoyed immensely. I’m super-psyched for Banks vs. Shirai, so let’s get down to ringside!
NXT Women’s Championship Number One Contender’s Elimination Match: Candice LeRae vs. Dakota Kai vs. Mia Yim vs. Tegan Nox – I dug the set. Typical top-notch opening video from the production team as well. You can never fault the ‘E on that front. Predictably high work ethic in this match, but right away we hit my biggest problem with these types of matches: eliminations frequently happen a lot quicker than they would on PPV. LeRae was gone before the match could really get going, and we fell into the usual three-way formula for a bit where two people fought while one disappeared, though they tried to get out of that rut near the end.
Random thought was how Nox looked perpetually surprised at everything happening during the match. There were a few times where someone looked out of position so the other person would just fall where they needed to be or take a bump anyway, and that sloppiness hurt things. I enjoyed Kai’s work the most throughout and Nox took it with a beautiful Molly-Go-Round and Shiniest Wizard combo. Any tribute to Muta gets high marks from me. – 3/5
Oney Lorcan vs. Timothy Thatcher – I’ve never gotten into Lorcan, but Thatcher’s been pretty great. The crowd singing Lorcan’s theme and chanting his name during the match just felt contrived and phony and it really took me out of things even as both guys did some decent mat exchanges. Thatcher can make a Butterfly Suplex look like a believable finish: that’s how badass he is. He subbed Lorcan, and I still don’t care much. They traded some stiff shots, but their grappling exchanges didn’t translate well when you have Shaq hawking a pizza over them. Thatcher’s awesome, Lorcan’s meh, and let’s move on. – 2/5
Karrion Kross promo aired. I know a lot of people dig him, but I just can’t believe anything he says or does. My immediate reaction is always “trying too hard.”
Aliyah and Robert Stone vs. Rhea Ripley – Ripley, who could and should be one of WWE’s biggest stars, deserves better than this. I liked Stone better when he was called Famous B. Aliyah’s still really sloppy and not ready for primetime. Ripley basically wrestled herself the whole time in a nothing comedy match that did have an impressive visual of Ripley subbing them both at the same time. At least the right person won. – 1.5/5
Strap Match: Dexter Lumis vs. Roderick Strong – You just know they came up with Samuel Shaw’s new ring name by combining Dexter Morgan and Dr. Loomis. This company does not do subtlety. Strap matches are really tough to pull off well, with Sting and Vader having one of the only truly great ones that I can recall. Lumis looks like a third member of the Vaudevillains. More scripted crowd chants just drew attention to the fact that they have a fabricated audience.
They didn’t specify the rules even when stating it was the first strap match in NXT, but it was safe to assume they were going pinfall and not the “four corners” approach. Strong bounced around like a damn pinball, but this match was sooooo…sloooooow. They were about 10 minutes in before Mauro finally confirmed the match required pinfall or submission in the ring with the strap still attached to win. Strong is a brilliant wrestler, but a horrible trash-talker. Has Cole taught him nothing? Also, when it’s No DQ, why was Fish even trying to hide the fact that he was interfering? Lots of submissions on this show, as Strong submitted to Lumis’s “Silence” head-and-arm triangle with the strap. I dug Lumis’s “Stranger Things” music, but that was about it. Strong did his best, but he had very little to work with. – 2/5
GREAT promo for the Lee vs. Cole match for next week. Adam, not Michael, though I’d pay to see Keith Lee squash “the Voice of WWE.” LeRae attacked Yim during a backstage promo to make up for her early elimination, and Johnny Gargano’s reaction to it was priceless. I was psyched we had so much time left for Shirai and Banks, but of course they had to do an in-ring segment first to hype a match next week involving Santos Escobar, Drake Maverick and…Breezango? Another interview, this time to hype Grimes vs. Priest next week. I DON’T CARE, BANKS AND SHIRAI OR BUST.
After starting strong, NXT: GAB fell into a series of matches with one really talented performer having to carry one much less so, and the show had really suffered for it. Not so here, as it was up to the ladies to save the show. I suspected a screwy finish going into it, as I didn’t see NXT/WWE wanting either champ to lose. I was looking for a Nitro finish, but I was hoping what would lead up to it would be awesome.
Io Shirai vs. Sasha Banks – I can hear Moody salivating from here. Banks hits the Eyepoke of Doom and wins. Just kidding. Bayley legit made me laugh during Sasha’s entrance. Shirai wasted no time in showing why she’s awesome with some crisp flips and a tope suicida to the outside. She’s so good that Vince would have her joining Tozawa’s Ninja Clan and then jobbing to Nia Jax within three weeks on the main roster. That’s how good she is.
Both women predictably used a lot of knee attacks, and Sasha was great at ragdolling any time Shirai hit anything high impact on her while still not coming off as sympathetic or any less of a heel. Pretty awesome that Shirai channeled Rey Mysterio while Banks has always slipped in homages to Eddie Guerrero in her matches. Both men have plenty to be proud of as both Banks and Shirai lived up to that impossible legacy with a great, great match all their own. They miss-timed a German Suplex and Sasha landed right on the back of her head, but it’s not a Sasha Banks match if she doesn’t nearly kill herself at least once (thankfully, she seemed okay).
They had hiccups here and there (like the aforementioned German Suplex) but fought through them and the slight “mistakes” never negatively affected the match since both were so good at making the match seem like a genuine struggle, even during the more “pro-wrestling” moments.
In the “Covid Replay” of the night, Banks powerbombed Shirai into the audience plexiglass in an innovative spot. Predictably screwy finish where both Bayley and Asuka interfered, but at least they didn’t go full Nitro with a DQ. (Never go full Nitro.) Shirai hit the moonsault on a blinded Banks thanks to Asuka mist for the 1, 2. 3. – 4/5
It was really a one-match show, but what a match. Beg, borrow and steal to see that one, but the rest was okay at best (solid opener) to forgettable at worst (everything else). Disappointing overall from a company with so many rock-solid Takeovers under their belt, but at least the main event lived up to the hype.
Matches = 2.5/5
Entertainment = 3/5
Overall = 2.75/5 Bibles