It’s finally here folks. The first Report Card ever to emanate from live inside the arena. If I wasn't so unnecessarily arrogant I’d probably be a little nervous to be honest. With that being said though, I think it’s only fair that I paint the picture for you a little first. The Brighton Centre was a lovely venue but I have to say that it startled me slightly to see the audience that filled the building. It was very different from what I would expect at a main roster house show with the crowd being almost completely male adults, most of whom were wearing Shinsuke Nakamura or Asuka t-shirts.
I’ve never seen so many wrestling shirts in all my life, it was like a superstore or some kind of elite faction of humans that I’m highly likely to disagree with on everything ever. Speaking of the crowd, I was shocked that I managed to fly under the radar for the whole event as I wasn't asked for a photo once. I assume that my fans were just a little scared or star struck but I thank them nonetheless. In all honesty, it’s likely for the best that I wasn't publicly exposed as someone in no physical position to critique well-trained athletes as that probably wouldn't help my already plummeting credibility.
Before the first bell, we were informed that we could vote for a ‘classic match’ to re-watch live. The options were a clash between future WWE champions Jinder Mahal and Seth Rollins, a storytelling masterpiece between Sami Zayn and ‘The King of The Cruiserweights’ Neville and the final option was a match between wrestling superstar Sasha Banks and a woman who I believe was named Bayley? Not sure what ever came of her, to be honest. Zayn and Neville won the vote regardless and we saw some clips of it before the first match of the night. With all this nonsense established, let’s get started. Oh, by the way, my memory is terrible and so for that reason, I will be following the TakeOver format of grading matches rather than the individual performers involved.
DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.
Trent Seven vs. Jack Gallagher
If you saw either man’s NXT match with Tyler Bate I’m sure that you can imagine what this match looked like. There was quite a bit of comedy mixed in with all of the mat wrestling and we even got some mustache twirling. I appreciate that I’m supposed to be amused by this spot but it actually greatly angers me as it reminds me of my incapability to grow facial hair that looks any good. I really don’t appreciate these two self-absorbed mustache snobs reminding me of that fact either as it took me out of the wrestling show. No, but in all seriousness, both guys were super over too which really enhanced all of the comedic stuff they did.
As a guy that prefers personalities in his pro wrestling, I actually enjoy Trent and Jack more than most of the British talent. They both have a presence and charisma, even if slightly understated at times. Gallagher’s style is always fun to watch and that was even more evident when coupled with Seven’s shenanigan-filled selling. It wasn't a long match but everything that was done looked very good and it was a fun start to the show.
Aliyah & Ruby Riot vs. The Iconic Duo (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce)
I’m not surprised to be writing this but Kay and Royce are a really fun live event act. I’ve said before that I find them a little too grating at times and that was no different here but in this case, they were so over the top that it just made them all the more entertaining. They cut a cliché heel promo before the match and got some heat but what I enjoyed most was the way that they were always trying to listen to the audience and react to them naturally, in character the whole time. As obscenely over the top as those characters were, both performers were so committed that they actually came across as completely authentic people and that’s impressive.
I felt bad for Aliyah as she got very little reaction, for reasons that aren't really her fault. They need to pick a character and disposition that’s memorable and then give her some time as right now people just aren't invested in her. Riot got a strong response and I still like her aesthetic and style but I have to concede that I’ve not yet been wowed by her in-ring work. I may be missing something because I never saw her work before NXT but it comes across slightly clunky to me at times. I’m not saying she’s bad but I’ve just not quite connected with her performances yet. Perhaps that’s just me though.
It was at this point that the wrestling expert seated next to me informed his friend that the issue with the match was “they’re working the WWE style, a company that has Alexa Bliss as their women’s champion”. Yes, people like this still exist and they do actually attend live shows sometimes. Don’t get me wrong here, the work was far from spectacular and some of it simply wasn't very good but I was entertained by the heel’s antics nonetheless and as I type this, I remember more of what they did than some of the performers that utilized a wide range of crazy maneuvers. Regardless of the style, call me old fashioned but I like pro wrestlers to be entertaining and Kay and Royce were that here. They won as heels too, which surprised me.
WWE United Kingdom Championship
Pete Dunne vs. Mark Andrews
This was a good match but my enjoyment of it was somewhat hindered by my own personal lack of interest in Mark Andrews. I just can’t connect with him as a personality and find his characterization very bland. His in-ring style isn’t particularly for me either but he’s obviously very talented and athletic so I understand why he’s revered by many. My issue with his style is that at times I feel like there’s very little attempt made to portray the action as competitive or violent but instead it comes across more as a cooperative dance. This isn’t me saying that I think Andrews is a bad wrestler by any means but more my attempt at explaining why I don’t personally enjoy him.
Fortunately for me though, Andrews’ opponent here was Dunne, who brought a physicality and aggression that helped my investment quite a bit. Dunne’s work on the arm is always fantastic and his strikes look great too, especially with the way they go with his fantastic heel mannerisms. Unfortunately, I can’t bring you a William Regal/Alexa Bliss Facial Expression Scale rating though as my eyesight is simply too poor. Andrews was a lot more enjoyable for me with all of his flashy offense being well placed and he sold well too. They eventually got to an excellent finishing sequence before Dunne closed the show and retained the belt. Good match.
Sanity (Young, Dain and Wolfe) vs. Roderick Strong, Kassius Ohno and No Way Jose
People are probably going to dislike this comment but in an instant, Jose felt like the biggest star on the show so far to me. He has a tremendous look, genuine charisma and the ‘No Way’ presentation is fun live too. He was the weakest wrestler on the babyface side by a distance but in this kind of format who honestly cares? Everything he did connected with the people and he brought an energy that lifted everyone up. That’s all that matters. Also, after seeing him live I can confirm that Alexander Wolfe is just as wacky and odd in person so that’s fun I guess.
I didn't learn anything new about the other four performers, all of whom are obviously very good pros and unsurprisingly performed fine here. Though he’s lacking in charisma and presence, Strong’s offense is spectacular and that showed in his hot tag and eventual finish as the babyfaces went over.
It was now time for intermission which finally gave me the chance to laugh at people without interruption. On the big screen, we were treated to poorly veiled silhouettes of main roster superstars as they asked the question “Who Am I?” I couldn't help but laugh at Roman Reigns’ image garnering a huge response of mostly boos, even here in the Brighton Centre he was the most over guy on the show. That big dog really does bring the big fight.
We were then welcomed back by a William Regal promo in which he personally thanked me for my invention of the Facial Expression Scale and named it as the proudest moment of his career. This brought a tear to my eye. If I can be serious for a minute, (shout out to Lance Storm) I won’t often get a chance to discuss Regal singularly so I’ll take this opportunity now to point out what a great example of a smart pro wrestler he really is. For all of his immense technical ability, Regal never took himself too seriously and got himself over with silliness and shenanigans. A truly versatile performer and a legitimate legend. Much respect to the “Real Man’s Man”.
NXT Tag Team Championship
Authors of Pain vs. Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss
Rezar and Akam certainly have an aura to them but seeing them live without Ellering definitely highlighted his impact to me. Sabbatelli and Moss both have good looks but seemed terribly miscast as the default babyfaces here, especially due to their lack of overness. In response to Moss’ early showing, a seemingly distraught audience member let out a cry of “QUIT THE BUSINESS!” This made me chuckle, even if it was a little indicative of some of the people attending the show. I’m not going to claim that either Moss or Tino were particularly impressive here but I did feel for them as the audience had seemingly judged them before they even walked out. This is a problem that NXT has brought onto itself though.
They are so busy protecting their spot as a ‘super-indie’ that they have built an audience that will almost certainly not like talents like this. A good example of this would be the aforementioned expert next to me who responded to Moss’ strikes with a confident comment of “you have to remember, this isn’t strong style”. Wow, I really would’ve been lost without this kind of insight throughout the night. If this show proved anything it was that this certainly isn’t developmental anymore. Why do all the talents still want to make it to the main roster? Well because it is absolutely still very much the minor brand, even if not a traditional developmental territory. This simply wasn't very good and had little crowd investment, unfortunately. It would’ve worked better for the crowd as an AOP demolition but no complaints from me, this is the only way they’re going to improve.
NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka vs. Ember Moon
I’ve said this before but I reiterate, though her mic skills are lacking, Moon has a genuine charisma in person. There’s something special about her, she just needs to find the way to best channel her. Asuka is similar in that sense and physically, this match was very good. Both have great, diverse offense and I really appreciate how good both women’s strikes are as it elevates the match’s competitiveness as a whole. Speaking of such, Asuka’s kicks were tremendous and elicited the Daniel Bryan/Miz “YES” chants. The wrestling expert seated next to me responded to this by explaining that “Bryan didn't actually invent kicks”, instead crediting “Japanese Strong Style”. I wish I was making this person up but not only was he real, he was seated directly next to me.
However, this match wasn't really suited to my tastes. I know that some people don’t like the WWE formula but personally, I like a good shine and heat segment in there somewhere. In this match, though, neither ever really had any sustained momentum and instead simply traded big moves. I understand that this was the story that they were telling and that it was supposed to be a high-octane exchange but it’s just not really for me. A good explanation of why is that it always leads to an underwhelming finish. After a ton of false finishes following exciting moves, the end came with a roll-up whilst Asuka held the tights. This was a good match between two spectacular performers but its rhythm and flow weren't really for me.
Bobby Roode and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs. Aleister Black and Drew McIntyre
Its main event time folks and more importantly, ‘Cien’ time. Drew brings a real unique intensity that’s actually pretty rare in wrestling nowadays and Black’s entrance is simply awesome in person. He has a real presence and aura but it needs to be protected by the booking, a mystique is necessary and I fear that would quickly vanish on the main roster. That’s not something to worry about for now of course but down the line, it’s worth considering as he’s going to be a lot more exposed. As I’ve said it before but Almas is an absolute superstar and Bobby Roode is over to a stupendous degree. After seeing him in person I disagree even more with the suggestion that Roode is only over due to his theme song.
From my vantage point, he carries himself more like a star than 90% of the main roster talents and he’s confidence and charisma is apparent in an instant. Roode was so over that it took him minutes to even lock up, instead simply soaking up the reception and interacting with the crowd. Everyone’s offense here looked great but whilst this wasn't a standout wrestling match, it was very much what I like to see on a house show. It was four superb performers having fun and entertaining the crowd in a smart fashion that preserved their bodies but still kept the people interested. The finish unsurprisingly came with McIntyre pinning Almas after some fun back and forth exchanges between the two teams.
Grade: A* (mandatory due to Almas' involvement)
I had a fun time watching this show as I generally love the house show format, even if I eye-rolled a few times at some of the audience’s reactions. I still think that the NXT product is rather silly in the way that it uses talents that don’t need to be there but this time that was good news for me as I got to see world class performers in a small venue and all for a very reasonable price. There was a nice variety of stuff on the show and I personally got a good fill of house show silliness which was really the only reason I attended. Well, that and Almas of course. Speaking of such, the night ended exactly as I knew it would. By the early hours of the morning, ‘Cien’ and I were slamming ice cold Pepsi Max’s in a misty nightclub, all whilst surrounded by Brighton’s most beautiful women. A night to remember for sure.