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    Wednesday, October 7, 2020

    The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: NXT Takeover 31

    It has been seven long months since I last watched a full wrestling show of any kind. However, the intrigue that NXT TakeOver 31 brought got my attention enough that I felt it was probably worth the watch. Sure, Johnny Gargano is still an attraction on the card, but everything else felt new. With names like Damian Priest, Candice LeRae, Santos Escobar, KUSHIDA, and Isaiah "Swerve" Scott being highlighted, it felt like NXT was moving forward from its continued reliance on bankable names like Adam Cole and Tommaso Ciampa.

    Besides, the main event scene feels fresher with Finn Bálor atop the mountain and his challenger—a babyface Kyle O'Reilly—vying for the chance to become the top dog of NXT. It was a surprising turn of events that made me want to at least check out the whole show. While I've always viewed KOR as an entertaining performer and Superstar, who'd have thought we'd see him being the focus of The Undisputed ERA for once—and with no ERA members at ringside.

    Cool Kyle Gets His Moment

    Jumping on that point, this match is easily the best one on the card. The chemistry that they had was phenomenal, and, for a second there, I actually thought KOR could pull off the upset. Blow-by-blow and hold-for-hold, they had each other's number and it actually felt like a balanced matchup with the way they were exchanging hits.

    The submissions he put Bálor in were excruciating to watch and it obviously gave the Prinxe a hard time. And even though submissions are normally rest holds that slow the pace down, the way they were delivered still felt surprisingly fast-paced and didn't bore me one bit. The snappy deliveries and the unique transitions made me wonder if I was actually watching one of those shoot fights that could end at the snap of your fingers.

    And even though Finn won this one cleanly, there were no more questions to ask. Cool Kyle was a solid main eventer who could headline a show. I wouldn't mind if Kyle stayed behind while the rest of the ERA got drafted to RAW or SmackDown or vice-versa.

    As for Bálor, I wouldn't mind seeing him mix it up with KUSHIDA whose newfound demeanor has got himself on the up and up. Besides, how long has it been since these two mixed it up? Maybe a little taste of their NJPW history might be entertaining for fans who aren't as familiar with the talents of the Japanese Superstar.

    Life With The Garganos

    Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae both failed in their bid to capture some gold on this night. However, what's surprising is Gargano's character development. Sure, he's still enjoyable to watch. His skills in showcasing his matches are still ever so present. However, he's evolved into this comedic weasel-like character with over-the-top facial expressions that could be considered meme-able.

    His match with Damian Priest for the NXT North American Title was a solid opener. It was a great opener to the show although I didn't like it as much as I wanted to. Gargano was impressive with his performance (as always) but part of my disappointment stems from my confusion over Priest's character. What is he supposed to be? Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? Is he trying to act cool?

    Don't get me wrong. He's talented, athletic, and he has that unique look. I was even in awe when did that cannonball to the outside. But, it's just difficult for me to invest in a character who doesn't totally connect all the dots. I think it's more of how he's got that natural heel look but this match has framed him as a "good guy" against the scheming Gargano. A lot of his mannerisms are actually cocky ones. Maybe he should just continue playing the heel role.

    On the other hand, LeRae's match against Io Shirai was another intended masterpiece but it did feel too sluggish for me—which, by the way, was a theme of the night for me. The spots and exchanges were cool but they lacked the "oomph" and snappy delivery that made for some hard-hitting action. It may be the consequence of having few bouts with longer run times, but I don't seem to remember old TakeOvers being this sluggish.

    Business did start to pick up once Gargano inserted himself in the fray. His attempt to replace the referee was annoyingly funny and his reactions were top-notch. While I admit that I have some Gargano burnout, Johnny as a second to LeRae does make sense and could help his character development soon.

    I remember Daniel Bryan's initial run where he was riddled with the Yes/No gimmick. It was a little cringy for me, but it all worked out in the end. We got some funny Team Hell No skits plus it brought the spotlight to DB. I actually think they're in the same boat—overly talented individuals who need to develop their entertaining characters. Bryan has overcome that and, hopefully, it will bring success to Johnny too.

    Is The Dream Really Over?

    For some reason, the controversies surrounding Velveteen Dream have finally started to show its effects. The absence of cheers (and jeers) was noticeable and it's not surprising since it has been rumored that he's in really hot water even with the locker room. The way the booking of this match was handled, maybe it is a punishment of sorts for the once-revered Superstar.

    This was the perfect spot for someone like KUSHIDA who was squandered in obscurity before this PPV. KUSHIDA really needed to dispose of a big name and since Dream really doesn't have much to lose, it helped in his favor, and his uncontrolled viciousness is another fresh take I enjoyed.

    I do hope this means that a push is coming for the Japanese Superstar since we all know what happened to another previous import in KENTA. KUSHIDA does have a lot to show for and they haven't really utilized his potential as much as they should have. Even as it comes at the expense of VD, it should theoretically be okay. Dream has been pushed to the moon so even as it stands, it shouldn't hurt his character as much.

    El Legado ERA

    Is it just me or am I the only one who sees El Legado Fantasma giving off the same vibes as The Undisputed ERA? They may be a lower-tier version of the faction, but they could tread the same path. Santos Escobar gives me the same feelings I get when I watch Adam Cole—even when I hate his ring name. I kind of wish that they'd at least have a showdown before Cole or the ERA move on to the other brands.

    Anyway, this match was the most "meh" for me. Was it exciting? Yes. Was it action-packed? Yes. But somehow, I couldn't care any less about the feud. It may be a case of me not following 205 Live or the weekly NXT shows, however, something about this rivalry doesn't sit right with me. It doesn't produce the reaction that I have with other feuds.

    Bringing up Ashante "Thee" Adonis doesn't help either. Okay, maybe it does from a storyline point of view, but, it didn't give the pop that most saves would elicit. At this time Ashante isn't really a bankable name yet and this feud probably isn't the best use of his time. But hey, maybe he's next in line for the NXT Cruiserweight Championship so there's that.

    Final Notes

    To be honest, the show was your typical NXT TakeOver with around five matches on the card. But really, it felt sluggish at times with slight hints of greatness here and there. I'd say the mood started to pick up around the time Johnny inserted himself into the NXT Women's Championship match. That's actually where a lot of the greater moments happened. The Toni Storm return and the Ember Moon reveal got huge reactions from me (and probably from most fans as well). The main event was solid. It was a good thing that the banter and commentary by Beth Phoenix and Wade Barrett made everything tie in well. But overall, I'd say this is one of the lesser TakeOvers in recent history. It's not bad, but it isn't what I'm normally used to reviewing; it's a solid but slow show littered with some great moments here and there.

    Grade: B

    Match to Watch: Kyle O'Reilly vs. Finn Bálor (c) for the NXT Championship

    Photos from WWE


    Miguel “The Migz” Llado is your NXT reviewer at the Smark Henry offices. A lover of music, wrestling, videogames, and food, he lives his life tweeting his mind off (@the_migz) Instagramming random food items and locations (@tha_migz), and streaming videogames on Twitch (@the_migz) while he pursues his musical career via his YouTube channel (Migz Llado) and courtesy of his band The Mox (TheMoxGarageRock). You can also add him on PSN (MigzLlado) to show your WWE2K19 (or any PS4) skills.
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: NXT Takeover 31 Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Migz Llado
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