When WWE announced plans to add a fresh coat of paint to its black and gold brand, NXT 2.0 was born. The relaunch of the Wednesday night show on USA Network in September proved more than a change in color scheme with new faces making their presence felt right out of the gate. The months since have seen a line the sand forming between the established stars and emerging talent. This all built up this new era’s first big Peacock event NXT TakeOver: WarGames.
Some fans may not know you can actually attend these shows for free by joining the Facebook page and filling out a questionnaire. (Similar to other TV shows with audiences, you are informed if you are chosen to be a part of the live studio audience.) For this writer, it was the perfect occasion to experience my first live NXT production since before COVID, with the main events taking place at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando. The WWE PC is transformed for shows like WarGames with an intimate setup that takes fans close to the action.
The enthusiastic crowd was invested right from the start of the event, which kicked off with the women’s WarGames match. Ring announcer Alicia Taylor did a good job hyping everyone up for the two-ring cage spectacle. The battle saw revitalized women’s champ Mandy Rose lead her group Toxic Attraction and Dakota Kai against Raquel González’s team of Io Shirai, Kay Lee Ray, Cora Jade. It was the skateboard-wielding Jade who scored the win for her team after a strong performance highlighted by a death-defying flip off the top of the cage. The 20-year-old scoring the win certainly confirmed NXT 2.0’s dedication to developing young stars.
The men’s WarGames saw a similar result as Bron Breakker’s team with Carmelo Hayes, Grayson Waller and Tony D’Angelo took down the old guard of Team Black and Gold’s NXT champ Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Pete Dunne, and LA Knight. The veterans helped the younger names shine in different spots throughout the match. Hayes, the North American champion, was wisely chosen to start the cage match against Johnny Gargano. Breakker, the son of Rick Steiner and nephew of Scott Steiner, continues to make new believers as a viable future WWE headliner.
In a lot of eyes, Johnny Gargano is the heart of NXT. Much like Kyle O’Reilly, there has been some uncertainty regarding the future of the popular superstar in WWE. After a losing effort, he addressed the speculation to the audience. He teased us by saying he would tell us everything this Tuesday night. Despite a grueling WarGames, Gargano spent time interacting with fans ringside and posing for selfies after cameras stopped rolling. It’s something “Johnny Wrestling” has done over the years as a way of demonstrating genuine appreciation for their support. A cool moment came when his pregnant wife and fellow superstar Candice LaRae joined him in the impromptu meet-and-greet — just the latest example of the connection the couple has with their fans.
Bron Breakker (WWE)
Shawn Michaels Helping Next Generation of WWE
Shawn Michaels is one of the most decorated and respected WWE superstars in history. And these days, the Hall of Famer is passing on the knowledge to others through his role as coach, mentor, producer, creative consultant, and everything in between. With Paul “Triple H” Levesque focusing on his health after undergoing a procedure following a cardiac event, the “Heartbreak Kid” has taken on more responsibilities in developmental.
“I started out doing two hours a day, three days a week. Now I’m doing it about 23 hours a day, seven days a week,” Michaels said reflecting on recent years. “People out there thinking it’s all Vince McMahon and Bruce Prichard type of production. They just are the ones who gave us the direction of what it is they wanted from NXT going into the future. It is still all the team Hunter [Triple H] put in place doing it here.
“I love learning and growing in the different aspects of WWE, but I have a greater appreciation for everything he took on. I now understand how you can not return a text when you get it. I’ve never had so many emails, learning computer stuff. Things I swore I would never want to do. But have since learned to do that. It has been a blast. To be able to step in for my friend is my honor to do.”
Getting ready for a big night for #WWENXT…
— Shawn Michaels (@ShawnMichaels) December 5, 2021
For HBK, the new class at NXT 2.0 ran with the ball at WarGames. He was thrilled at the effort when asked about what he thought about the show backstage.
“I’m just excited about this new launch of NXT,” he said. “I will say I think they get held to an unfair standard. Nobody likes change. I know that was very tough. I thought tonight was a fantastic show. I’m so thankful for our veterans who go out there and deliver consistently like they always do. We have such faithful veterans that are out there and having to bring up an entirely new generation. We put a lot of our young guys in a really tough spot, we threw them in the deep end like we’ve been doing the last 10 weeks. They went out there and looked like they belonged.”
For many of the talent on this TakeOver, it was trial by fire. Michaels says Tony D’Angelo for example had only around three matches on TV prior to being in the WarGames main event. Standout Breakker isn’t that far behind with a little over a dozen. Coaches can do their best to prepare them, but the legendary performer says it’s up to the new generation to step up. He thinks they did that.
“There has never been a generation that has been put in a position that these young men and women have,” Michaels added. “I was in the wrestling business 8 or 10 years before I had to go out there and do live TV. These guys have only been doing it for 10 weeks. That’s an amazing credit to their hard work and credit to them. They also have the ‘it factor’ and are gifted men and women. The fact of them come to a sports background, they are goal-oriented, disciplined and focused..which has been a breath of fresh air. It’s great energy to be around.”
WWE NXT 2.0, Tuesdays, 8/7c, USA Network