Games Well Played: A Review of NXT War Games

Working as I do on Saturday night, I wasn’t able to watch this event live and thus watched Survivor Series before sitting down to what was actually the first half of the weekend WWE network event double header. This worked out really well for Survivor Series, because following War Games would not have been an easy task. War Games was really, really something.

For those out there that don’t follow much wrasslin, NXT is the WWE’s third brand. Some look at it as the big show’s farm system, but over the years it has become an attraction unto itself. The dilemma facing NXT this year was re-stocking their shelves with talent following the departures of Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Asuka and many other top stars. By mining the indies, developing in house taken, and with the support of the WWE performance centre and its coaches (including Shawn Michaels), they have done just that. The NXT roster on display at this event showcased the strength of WWE developmental as well as just how good a wrestling show can really be with the right ingredients.

A strong undercard: The beauty of an NXT event is that it keeps the fluff and padding to an absolute minimum. Matches on the undercard are well booked, promoted and have stakes that you can invest in. War Games was opened with a solid match between Kassius Ohno, a veteran babyface trying to climb the mountain and Lars Sullivan, a sadistic heel that beats people senseless. The hero tried to overcome, the villain was too much. Simple, effective, got the crowd moving.

Aleister Black versus The Velveteen Dream (a character that blends Prince with Rick Rude) was a really welcome surprise with the two athletes drawing in an unsure crowd and selling them false finishes and real moments of drama. I fully expected to fast forward through this match but was blown away by the work from both guys. Shoutout to whomever made Velveteen Dreams tights, they were outrageous.

Real emotion: After the undefeated championship reign of Asuka came to an end, the very smart booking decision was made to let the title cool off a bit while the women of NXT battled it out to claim the throne. After a strong and steady build up, four contenders made it to war games to determine the next champion: Mae Young Classic winner Kairi Sane, Australian vanity heel Peyton Royce, SANITY member and screaming person Nikki Cross and Booker T trained Ember Moon. The ladies delivered a hard hitting match with plenty of “holy shit” spots and the right finish, crowning Ember Moon as the new NXT women’s champion. All of the women were invested in winning and it showed. The look on Embers face after capturing the title was not a work, but real pride in a spot earned. The double Eclipse off the top rope was nothing short of spectacular and Kairi Sane’s elbow drop is one of the best ever.

A shocking title change: Drew McIntyre inherited the NXT standard bearer role after defeating Bobby Roode for the championship, and to say he looks the part would be an understatement. So, to see him lose his title to Andrade “Cien” Almas was definitely not something I expected. But why not? Shouldn’t anyone capable of challenging for a world title be capable of winning it? With a good match build and just the right amount of outside interference, this one left the crowd wondering what would come next, and thats a good thing.

Delivering the goods on a gimmick match: I have only ever seen one full war games match and it featured the NWO and the Ultimate Warrior… the less said about it the better, so this wasn’t a nostalgia match for me. It also wasn’t Hell in a Cell or TLC, where the gimmick matches are on the WWE calendar as the draw, regardless of who is in them. This took three sets of three guys that couldn’t stop fighting one another and put them in an environment where they could do just that: A double ring surrounded by a cage and subsequently filled with weapons and bodies.

“Getting your shit in” is a wrestling term for the need to pull off all your signature moves over the course of a match. In this case, I’m using it to describe how every participant in this 9 man match managed to get in their key offence and some kind of brutal variation of it as well. Everybody got their shit in. The Authors of Pain looked like monsters and continue to grow as a team that can have great matches with great opponents. The members of Sanity looked like the crazed brawlers they are supposed to be, with Killian Dane showcasing an incredible range of offence and Alexander Wolfe taking one for the team and juicing (bleeding) alot. Roderick Strong, dressed in Authors of Pain gear while teaming with them, put on a “guts and determination clinic” but it was the Indie all star team of Bobby Fish, Kyle O’reilly and Adam Cole (Bay, Bay!) that came out on top with the win.

I’ve never been an ROH guy, so I don’t know the history of guys like Cole and Strong, but its not hard to see why WWE would want them for the NXT brand. Wether they are able to make the jump to RAW or Smackdown successfully will have to be seen, but they are right at home here.

My final thought on this event is really a more general thought on the quality of NXT programming: It’s really good old school wrestling seasoned with indie style and WWE money behind it. After years of not watching any wrestling at all, NXT brought me back with quality matches and the presentation of an athletic contest. If you are reading this and haven’t watched any wrestling in a while, I would suggest giving any match from this card a shot and see if the genre can’t win you back.

From this common man to you, cheers.

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