NXT Takeover: Tampa Bay
NXT Episode #398 – 08/04/2020
WWE NXT Women’s Title #1 Contendership Ladder Match
Candice LeRae vs. Io Shirai vs. Mia Yim vs. Dakota Kai (w/Raquel Gonzalez) vs. Tegan Nox vs. Chelsea Green (w/Robert Stone)
Ah yes, empty arena wrestling! My favourite! And it’s NXT, my favourite cutting-edge wrestling sub-division and it features Mauro Ranallo, my favourite energetic commentator!
This was filmed before THUNDERDOME and before Full Sail was filled with developmental talent being told how to react, so the women are wrestling in front of black curtains and guard rails. Feels like the house show set from WWF Attitude on the Playstation.
Io Shirai makes her entrance and Mauro fucking Ranallo immediately shoots off the “JOSHI JUDAS!” tagline, making me want to turn off this VLC player window…that’s streaming the award-winning WWE Network, of course!
Good save there, Shane.
“The daughter of the devil herself!” – Mauro, again. Y’now, I can’t possibly comprehend it anymore. He does it on purpose, right? Apparently, Io said her dream opponent is Charlotte Flair. She knows how to work the media, I’ll give her that.
Out comes Tegan Nox, and I’ve seen her in a few good multi-person ladder matches at local promotions when she was on the indies. I swear, during one month she did three of them and I was there live for two. Robert Stone accompanies Chelsea Green, and he looks like a Poundland Mortimer Plumtree. No fucking socks with his suit and shoes either, the heathen.
Christ, I hate how soulless these entrances are. The “Here I come, here’s my entrance, here I come, here’s my pose in the middle of the ring, now I’ll stand in the corner” choreography of this is so sterile. No character or feeling of it being real. Io tries to inject something into it, but it’s awash in a sea of drab.
Imagine telling two MMA opponents “Right you; sulk in the shadows whilst your opponent makes his entrance. And you; meet with Clair and James to iron out your pose, routine and correct walking footwork”.
Mauro just rolls out catchphrases and bullshit as Mia comes out, and all of it goes right through me. It still sucks but I’m at least able to ignore the majority of it now. Ah, here comes Shawn Michaels and Diesel! I mean, Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzales. Great looking double team here. Real potential for that 90’s throwback. Talking of the 90’s, Dakota has the same hair style that my mom sported at the start of that decade.
Christ, Candice as well? Do we really need this many people in this match? Oh, her music is bad, and I’m saying that as an unapologetic pop-punk fan. I still have no idea why there are guard rails. Gotta keep those invisible fans at bay, am I right?
So six women fighting in a ladder match during a pandemic (in a venue where there’s little-to-no actual COVID testing). Cool, cool.
Kai gets surrounded by the babyfaces at the start for trying to get Raquel to help out, and with it comes the first bit of NXT over-acting cringe, with all the faces milking it and taunting Kai like it’s an amateur stage show. JUST HIT HER, FOR FUCKS SAKE. The silence makes it so much worse too.
Candice finally takes it to Kai with her Super Dragon tribute strikes and they all take turns battering Kai. The three faces work like a team, helping each other with big smiles on their faces and none of it works because, a) this isn’t a tag match and ,b) there is no crowd for this high energy to bounce off.
We don’t even get the moment where the faces all square off and battle it out, because Io interrupts with a missile dropkick. This match is basically a 6-person tag from this point. I know it’s tough to work face vs face and heel vs heel, but you also didn’t have to book a big mulit-person ladder match either.
Io and Candice battle over a ladder until Chelsea interupts with what I assume was a double facebuster but it looked off so it could’ve been anything. It’s also time for everyone to indulge in the ‘Survivor Series Selling’ trope, where regular moves hurt more because they’re in a ladder match, so the wrestlers spend ages outside the ring, licking their wounds from devastating bodyslams and dropkicks.
Tegan and Kai go through a sequence that might be good if there was a crowd to react to it (I know I keep bringing that up but, honestly, it can’t empathised enough just how important that factor is), so it just comes across as flat. Mauro calls Tegan “Lady Kane” for using a chokeslam and adds that it’s “Big Red Machine approved”. I swear to fuck.
There’s an awkward tug-of-war spot and it’s then that I’m glad I’m alone watching this. I met up with some friends at a socially distanced BBQ a few weeks back and my wife brought up the empty venue WrestleMania that she caught me watching (Edge vs Orton, FYI) and she went on about how embarrassing, and bad it was. Surprised she didn’t file for divorce there and then.
Candice and Tegan find themselves at opposite ends of an upright ladder, and they simultaneously pause for dramatic effect because they’re both wholesome, good people and they can’t comprehend the inherent moral quandary that they find themselves in. OH FUCK OFF.
All six women suddenly recover from their Survivor Series finishers on the outside and race up and down the ladders at a manic pace. Chelsea gets her foot caught in a ladder and waits patiently for Mia to hit her with a chair. Honestly, even with all the complaints it’s still just your average WWE TV ladder match so far but it’s hard to even enjoy the averageness without a live audience. It’s still got nothing on the empty atmosphere of a Fight Club: Pro show though, where most of the crowd treats the wrestling as a coffee shop acoustic guitar act.
To highlight a general positive about the match, you can’t go wrong with Io. I am all in on Io; everything she does is crisp and done with urgency and character and life. Even the shitty ladder-in-the-ropes slingshot spot is made better because of her sheer aura. Raquel then sends Io off the top of the ladder onto everyone outside the ring, which takes Io out too despite her turning it into a crossbody.
Raquel grabs Dakota and carries her into the ring and then up the ladder, but she has to stop and think about it first, staring at the briefcase before climbing. Can anyone in this company act naturally and on a whim? Why does every little act and reaction require some sustained, prolonged thinking time? AmDram hour.
Yim stops Raquel in her tracks and Candice drags Dakota off the ladder very roughly. She lands awkwardly on her leg, not pleasant at all. Yim and Tegan send Raquel through a table with an Awesome Bomb ’99 but the camera cuts on impact because this is WWE and nothing can just be allowed to be good.
Dakota then sends Nox down to her doom with a brutal kick, sending her off the ropes and through a ladder in a crazy bump. Io springboards in to knock Dakota off the ladder in what was probably a botch but who the fuck knows, and then Candice and Io exchange German suplexes. Mauro is still referring to Io as the JOSHI JUDAS and it fills me dread.
Chelsea’s leg is fucked so ROBERT ‘LAUNDRY DAY’ PLUMTREE takes matters into his own hands and he climbs the ladder to help pull Chelsea up (really showing off those ankles Rob, for fucks sake.) Fucking hilarious hearing the refs deadpan shout “Get down Stone!” with all the enthusiasm of Willy Wonka pleading with Mike Teavee.
She grabs the briefcase after Robert pulls her up but of course she has to fuck around a bit and feign idiocy whilst Candice and Io get in postilion to send them both to the ropes and to the floor.
It’s now down to Io and Candice (because I guess Yim has broken her tailbone, or something?) and she sends Candice off the ladder onto another bridged ladder in the ring , and Io grabs the case.
Man, that would’ve been a bit of alright if there were a crowd, despite the usual WWE habits and tropes. The big bumps were devastating and they came off as organic without much bullshit, it’s just that the actual bullshit wasn’t able to hide behind a natural atmosphere created by live fans.
Still, it was fast-paced with little down time, which for a 22 minute match in an empty venue, involving the best women’s division in North America, you kinda expect nothing less than that. The first two thirds are iffy, but the final third with all the destruction is fun.
Shame about the lack of audience and shame about the WWE/NXT-isms but it’s probably about as good as a multi-person WWE TV ladder match with no fans can get.