Let’s call a spade a spade. NXT is struggling more than it ever has, especially since the purported Wednesday Night War began last year. Its world champion Finn Balor is out with a broken jaw, after a belter of a match with Kyle O’Reilly at the latest TakeOver special. Its previous champion Karrion Kross had to surrender said NXT title due to a shoulder injury, in a match which saw the departure of Keith Lee from the brand, who himself has had a rocky start on RAW. Add to this the ongoing pandemic and the recent rebranding of the Performance Center to the Capitol Wrestling Center, and the black and gold brand is having a hard go at things.
In the second WCW revival this year, NXT has resurrected the Halloween Havoc banner, a staple of the Atlanta promotion’s Pay-Per-View schedule, opting to host a supercard on the Wednesday before the real most wonderful time of the year. Though there wasn’t an objectively bad match to be found on the show, the women’s division shone the brightest, with an excellent Battle of the Badasses part deux and a physical main event for the title.
Johnny Gargano def. North American Champion Damien Priest in a Devil’s Playground Match to win the title
The show started off hot, as the champion Priest entered to a shredfest courtesy of guitarist Charlie Corletta of The Silencer. After this rock star moment, Johnny Gargano, Jack Skellington-inspired gear and all, gets nuclear levels of “fuck you” heat by slashing the inflatable pumpkin in the staging area. When hostess Shotzi Blackheart spins the wheel to make the deal, it lands on Devil’s Playground, which is essentially an old-school hardcore match, no disqualification and falls count anywhere. This kind of match is something of a rarity in WWE, regardless of brand, but Falls Count Anywhere is not a match type that is very common in NXT. As such, we were treated to backstage brawling, fighting near the various setpieces, and some nasty-looking spots, especially the laundry cart sandwich spot in the backstage area.
Closing the match was a tombstone shot from a masked Ghostface figure, costing Priest the title after the weapon shot and a nasty spill off the hostess’ platform, allowing for Gargano to claim his second North American Championship. All told, it was a great opening match, giving a show-long throughline of the mystery attacker. Was it Candice LeRae? Was it Tommaso Ciampa, because #DIY reunion?
Rating: 3.5 out of 5, this was a TakeOver-quality match that was sadly wasted on the CWC. The baton vs. kendo stick showdown was a great highlight bolstered by the picture-in-picture break which followed.
Pat McAfee addresses his costing Breezango the NXT Tag Team Titles last week, Cameron Grimes is petrified of the Haunted House of Terror, Pete Dunne returns and turns on Kyle O’Reilly
A series of vignettes cover the NXT Champion Finn Balor, as well as the new NXT Tag Team Champions Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan, along with their apparent new leader Pat McAfee. Before the champs head to the ring, Cameron Grimes is backstage with NXT General Manager William Regal, trying to get out of the Haunted House of Terror showdown with Dexter Lumis. Regal denies him, to the shock of no one, and Grimes is dreading his immediate future.
Burch, Lorcan, and McAfee reveal their partnership, as well as their mission to destroy The Undisputed Era, before Kyle O'Reilly interrupts them. It looks like a lamb leading himself to slaughter before Pete Dunne returns after months away from the brand, armed with steel chairs and with vengeance in the mind. In a massive twist, Dunne wallops O'Reilly with the chair, aligning himself with McAfee and The Brand in a four on one assault. This would normally suggest that War Games is on the horizon, with four Brand members and four Undisputed Era members, but with the next TakeOver as yet unnamed, it is unclear if this will be the case. In any case, a heel Bruiserweight is going to make for some damn fun matches in the near future.
After this, a van comes to take Cameron Grimes, and riding shotgun is Michael "PS" Hayes. Begrudgingly, Grimes hops in as we fade out.
NXT Cruiserweight Champion Santos Escobar (w/ Joaquin Wild and Raul Mendoza) def. Jake Atlas in a non-title match
This match came as a bonus, as it was unannounced until just before it happened. The contest itself was fine, but it reeked of afterthought, as has the Cruiserweight title since its reallocation to the NXT banner. Further, the champion Escobar won with the loaded luchador mask once again, which only does so much to make him a threat without that or his Legado del Fantasma teammates. There's not much else to report here, as it felt like we weren't really supposed to care about this match, which was over before it started and did little for anyone involved.
Rating: 2 out of 5, I needed a good few more minutes of this to care about it. It didn’t get out of first gear, and given we have a champion in it, that’s not good.
Following this match, we get the recently returned Ember Moon discussing the rise of Dakota Kai, from victim of the ruthless Shayna Baszler to standing as a credible threat in the women’s division.
The Haunted House of Terror, Part One
As a treat, albeit with a fair share of tricks, we get NXT's third-ever cinematic match, as the van rolls up to the haunted house. “Don’t Chase the Dead” by Marilyn Manson, which also served as the theme song for the night, plays the van into frame as Grimes exits the vehicle. It will only do so good to describe what happens in the match, but to sum up, Lumis is a horror movie villain, and Grimes is the dumbass teenager whose ball went over the fence. More accurately, Dexter Lumis channels his inner Jason Voorhees, breaking down doors at will, and we even have a shower scene (relax, it’s a PG production) with a zombie… Lumis’ sister? Does he know there’s some horrors in this house?
Roll your eyes if ye must, but if Huskus the Pig Boy can get away with a “WAP” reference, so can I!
Rhea Ripley def. Raquel Gonzalez
First and foremost, both women walked into this match looking like absolute stars. While Io Shirai and Candice LeRae may have rightfully had the main event slot, this semi-main (if you consider the Haunted House of Terror to have gone on before this) was the sleeper hit of the whole show. With both Ripley and Gonzalez billed at around the six feet tall mark, and Ripley’s previous performances in matches such as WrestleMania’s NXT title match and the Battle of the Badasses earlier this fall, this was a slugfest in all the best ways.
As physical as this match was all around, it would be a grave error to not talk about the senton catch on the outside as a jaw-dropping spot, a counter that we don’t see enough of, especially from two competitors of this stature. Even in defeat, Gonzalez looked particularly good in this match, and this solidifies the case for the brutal Aussie to challenge for the NXT Women’s Championship very soon.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5, a star-making showing by both women. Holy shit, watch this.
Dexter Lumis def. Cameron Grimes via knockout in the Haunted House of Terror
After a backstage vignette involving the hilarious duo of Killian Dain and Drake Maverick, the two dressed as The Shockmaster and Hollywood Hogan respectively, we get the conclusion of the Haunted House of Terror, which has spilled back into the Capitol Wrestling Center. What follows can only generously be called a match, as while it does take place inside the ring, there is smoke, zombies, and not a single prayer for the Technical Savage.
Taken as a whole, the Haunted House of Terror was not going to take itself seriously, and it delivered about as much on that front. It was fun, the horror references and nods were plentiful, and it does give Dexter Lumis, who won with his signature head arm triangle, some of his heat back after having to bow out of the North American Title picture due to injury several months ago.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Tommaso Ciampa laments the current state of NXT, two heat-filled matches billed for the next episode of the show
Before the main event gets underway, Tommaso Ciampa vents his frustrations about the current state of the brand, going as far as to pin the blame on The Velveteen Dream. Ciampa insists that Dream “can’t get out of his own damn way,” which cuts pretty close to the bone given the hot water Dream landed in this summer (if you’re not aware of #SpeakingOut, might wanna Google that quick). It is then announced that on next week’s show, we get Ciampa vs. Dream, as well as the previously-teased Ember Moon vs. Dakota Kai.
NXT Women’s Champion Io Shirai def. Candice LeRae in a Tables, Ladders, and Scares Match to retain her title
Candice LeRae enters in her best Sally attire, completing the set that her husband began in the opening match. Poppy plays Io down to the ring with her song “Scary Face,” something of an indication of Shirai’s TakeOver-level “shit’s on” persona. The wheel lands on Tables, Ladders, and Scares, which is a TLC Match with Spirit Halloween decor. The spot that had me rolling was the bag of fake body parts spilled out on the ringside floor, before Io gave Candice a hand. What had me gasping was the laptop shot on the outside, as part of the device flew and hit commentator Wade Barrett in the face.
Now that’s some bad news if ever I’ve seen it.
This match is intense and physical, making the viewer cringe, jump, laugh, and cheer the whole way through. There are bumps taken and spots executed that make you go “oh, fuck taking that one, how did they agree to that one?” Ghostface makes another appearance, though hostess Shotzi Blackheart disposes of them to stop the potential screwjob, allowing Io to grab her belt to retain.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5, match of the night by a mile.
For a TakeOver-esque show, this was a banger. For an episode of standard TV, this was great. As stated before, the women’s division shone the brightest on this night, but even in the weaker aspects of the show, this was a standout showcase for NXT. Though the identity of the Ghostface figure is unknown at this time, we shall see if that was a one-off gimmick, or part of a much larger storyline involving the Gargano couples' pursuit of gold.
NXT Halloween Havoc is streaming on-demand on the WWE Network. All clips courtesy of WWE's YouTube channel.