NXT Deadline 2023 Review (10/12/2023)
By Mick Robson
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We're a few days late- as in I'm watching the PLE and starting the review just a few hours before the follow-up NXT episode airs, but here we go with NXT Deadline! Apologies for the delay- a number of family commitments have gotten in the way, including my great uncle passing away Tuesday morning. RIP Uncle Bill. I know my wrestling obsession isn't something you really understood, but you were always supportive of anything that brought me joy.
Speaking of things that bring me joy- some of you may know that I've had some involvement in Wollongong-based promotion Rock N Roll Wrestling this year. I've been very infrequently involved at training, with intermittent ankle issues associated with my Cerebral Palsy stopping me from diving all the way in with all the bumps and moves. My ankle's doing better after some treatments now, but if I'm being honest with myself, the chances of me getting to be an actual wrestler are slim at best. So I've brought up a few ideas, and on Monday afternoon, we went with me being a referee. So I reffed my first training match, and I'm hoping to be able to pop up on RNR shows in the zebra stripes in early 2024!
Now back to NXT. The signature match of Deadline in the Iron Survivor challenge. Part Ironman match, part Gauntlet, part Rumble, part Scramble, this unique match type was unveiled one year ago, where Grayson Waller and Roxanne Perez won the inaugural men's and women's versions of the match. The Iron Survivor matches were huge hits, and despite not being absolutely locked in on the NXT product as of late, I knew this would be an event that needed coverage.
Let's do this!
General rambly predictions run through most of this hour, but we do have an actual Kick-Off match!
Match 1: Nathan Frazer vs. Axiom
First of all, on paper, a banger match that could have easily made the main PLE. And in practice, they wasted little time putting on a show, even exchanging headlock takeovers and shoulder blocks at a rapid pace. Man, I miss NXT TakeOvers... counter for counter through this one, as Frazer goes for a rana and Axiom cartwheels out of it. Vic Joseph and Booker T bring up the best of three series these two had a year ago, which is why they're so familiar with each other.
Things get a little more rugged as Frazer delivers an elbow smash, followed by a flatliner into the middle turnbuckle. A massive chop in the corner, and Frazer is noticeably slowing this one down with bad intentions. He's still got flash though, as he hits a springboard moonsault into a reverse DDT flawlessly. Shades of TNA-era AJ Styles! Axiom somehow kicks out and fights back. He knocks Frazer to the outside and hits a gorgeous springboard moonsault!
Back in the ring, Axiom goes up top but Frazer springs up and hits a superplex into a twisting DDT for a near fall. A Phoenix Splash misses, but the superkick does not. Massive "this is awesome" chants from the crowd. Frazer goes for the springboard moonsault DDT again but Axiom kicks him out of the air! Axiom looks for the Golden Ratio but Frazer greets him with another superkick for a near fall. Frazer goes up top but Axiom meets him up there and hits a Spanish Fly! The Golden Ratio follows, and that's it!
Winner: Axiom (at 10:50)
Star Rating: ***3/4. Insanely good for a Kick-Off match that the people were wild for. As Booker said, "they won't put you on first no more!" Hopefully these two guys get big opportunities in 2024!
The main PLE broadcast kicks off with the music of Shawn Michaels! Bit of a rare treat to see the head of NXT on screen. He does the Triple H/DX "Are you ready?" bit, and then Cult of Personality hits! The crowd roars as CM Punk appears live on NXT!
HBK and Punk exchange plesantries, then Shawn says, "Nice hoodie" to Punk- he's wearing a pink Bret Hart hoodie, and of course, Bret and Shawn have quite the history, to say the least. Punk says, "No! You and Shawn made up! I made up with Triple H! This is all about healing!" He talks about being backstage and taking selfies with NXT Superstars who say, "I grew up watching you," so he does the same with Shawn.
The big question- is CM Punk signing with Raw, Smackdown... or NXT? Big "NXT" chants from the crowd. I'm watching this after I already know the answer, but let's be real- Punk was never going to NXT. "Cult of Personality" hits again to wrap up the segment, which seems to take both Punk and Shawn a little by surprise. Not a whole lot of substance to this CM Punk appearance, but it's sure nice for the NXT audience to see him.
The PLE hype video airs for the top matches- the Iron Survivor matches and Ilja Dragunov vs. Baron Corbin for the NXT Championship.
Rey Mysterio's music hits, and the former US champ comes out on crutches to support the challenger for the North American Championship, Dragon Lee! All the stars coming out tonight! He joins Vic and Booker on commentary. The champion- Rey's son, Dominik.
Match 1: NXT North American Championship- Dragon Lee vs. Dominik Mysterio (c)
They go face to face and the crowd erupts in "We want Mami" chants. Me too, guys, me too. Dragon Lee gets straight to it, sending Dom to the outside with a hurricanrana and wiping him out with a tope con hilo. Back in the ring, Dom gets beaten down and put in a Fujiwara armbar but he finds the ropes. Dom sends Dragon Lee to the apron- Lee's leg is caught on the ropes- then he gets spiked with a DDT! Back in the ring, Mysterio takes control while mocking his dad at ringside.
Dom hits the Three Amigos but cockily pulls Lee up from the pin at 2. Dom looks for a big move in the corner, but Lee knocks him down in the tree of woe and hits a vicious diving stomp on the apron. Back in the ring, Lee hits a second stomp and covers, but Mysterio grabs the ropes. Lee charges and Dom nails him with a dropkick for a near fall. Lee looks for a powerbomb, but instead Dom hits one for another late 2 count. Dom misses the 619, and Lee delivers a sit down powerbomb for a great near fall. Dragon Lee follows up with a tilt-a-whirl DDT... and that does it!
Winner: Dragon Lee (at 10:33)
Star Rating: ***3/4. Few better ways to kick off a PPV/PLE than with a big title change. Dragon Lee was a late replacement after Wes Lee had to get back surgery, but he's still a great choice as champion. And I have to give Dominik credit- after largely being a hater of him since his 2020 debut, 2023 has seen him much improved and now a dependable worker- working with guys like Dragon Lee has helped immensely, but he really turned a corner with the WrestleMania match with his dad. Love to see people working hard and improving, and Dom's undoubtedly done that. Excellent start to the show!
They show Ilja Dragunov and Baron Corbin arriving at the arena earlier today.
Match 2: Women's Iron Survivor Challenge- Tiffany Stratton vs. Lash Legend vs. Blair Davenport vs. Fallon Henley vs. Kelani Jordan
Fallon Henley draws #1, and Blair Davenport joins her at #2. They exchange rapid-fire pin attempts in the early going, trying to rack up points. Davenport beats Henley down but she fights her way up and hits a dropkick to the back close to the 5 minute mark.
#3 could be the favourite- Tiffany Stratton! Henley goes to meet her but gets blindsided by Davenport and thrown into the barricade by Stratton. Davenport and Stratton join forces to beat down Henley. After some double team moves, Tiffany drops Blair with a superkick. Tiffany hits Fallon with an Alabama Slam, but Blair throws her out and steals the pin! Davenport is on the scoreboard.
#4 is Kelani Jordan. She runs down and takes down Tiffany and Blair with clotheslines and a backflipping back elbow. Then a double dropkick. Overdrive on Stratton, but Davenport breaks up the pin. Split legged moonsault on Davenport, and Stratton breaks it up. Apparently she calls it One Of A Kind, a direct tribute to Rob Van Dam. Cool. After 90 seconds, Henley comes out of the penalty box fired up! She hits Tiffany with a blockbuster and a Shining Wizard to claim a fall. Fallon and Kelani battle in the ring, trading strikes and armbars. Stratton and Davenport return to the match and start laying the boots into them both.
Our final entrant at #5 is Lash Legend, and she runs into to hit a Tower of Doom spot. Chokeslam for Stratton, powerbomb for Henley. Lash stack pins them both, and that's an immediate 2 points! Blair and Kelani both jump on her back for a sleeper, but she fights them off. Kelani takes Lash down with a top rope rana. She hits an Asai moonsault- slightly overshot, but amazing athleticism! As time counts down on the penalty box, Lash's Meta Four faction block the door from opening. They climb out onto the roof, and Tiffany pushes Fallon off it through the announce table! Then she takes out everyone else with a flip dive off the penalty box roof!
Back in the ring, Legend hits a couple of big splashes, but only gets 2 counts. Kelani looks for a top rope rana but Lash catches her in a powerbomb position and uses her as a weapon. Tiffany comes in to break it up with some flying knees. Fallon breaks up the pin attempt on Kelani at the last possible moment. Blair comes in with a top rope double stomp on Kelani to get her second point. Lash shows some great power carrying two women at once until Tiffany dropkicks her down. Kelani re-enters the match with a rolling wheel kick. Fallon with a great moment- bulldogging Lash while giving Tiffany and Kelani a dropkick! Top rope cross body by Kelani on Lash occurs soon after, but Tiffany breaks up the pin. The action is getting more frantic as time counts down. Tiffany gets her first point by hitting Legend with the Prettiest Moonsault Ever!
Kelani hits Tiffany and Blair with the 450 splash and Fallon breaks up the double pin. All four women lock in simultaneous submissions, but realise the clock is their enemy at this point. Blair hits Kelani with a top rope German, then blasts Fallon with a running knee strike. Blair claims a 3rd fall with 15 seconds left! Lash gets out of the penalty box and Blair runs away until time expires!
Winner: Blair Davenport (at 25:00)
Star Rating: ****. This had a slightly pedestrian start, but once all the competitors were in, they went balls to the wall. Err, figuratively. Kelani Jordan really stood out, as did Lash Legend. They don't have a great deal of experience, but they really brought their A game here when it mattered.
Davenport celebrates and grabs a mic to gloat. 'I am your Iron Survivor. Lyra Valkyria, that clock is ticking." On cue, the champ's music hits and she walks out. Then she gets attacked from behind- it's Cora Jade! Cora Jade is back, looking a little different than the last time we saw her four months ago. She's sure to give a boost to an already stacked NXT women's division.
Backstage, Carmelo Hayes and Trick Williams are warming up for their matches. Melo is coming after Lexis King for trying to frame him as the man who attacked Trick, trying to break up Trick-Melo Gang.
Match 3: Lexis King vs. Carmelo Hayes
They start with some chain wrestling until King uncorks a right hand, Melo responds with a double leg and the fists are flying! Melo remembers his finesse though, and comes out of the corner with a rana, a couple of arm drags and a dropkick. He can do it all seamlessly. They brawl on the outside, King looks for a chop but smacks the ring post. Melo immediately zeroes in on the arm.
Back in the ring briefly, Hayes looks for a springboard attack but King shoves him to the outside then delivers a baseball slide. He then boots Carmelo into the steel stairs. From there, King beats him down and works the back. After a couple of backbreakers, Melo tries to mount a comeback, but gets turned inside out by a King clothesline. They battle on the top rope and both tumble hard to the outside.
They slowly get back in the ring and exchange chops. Melo breaks the rhythm with a schoolboy rollup for a near fall, then hits a series of clotheslines, including one of the springboard variety. Tilt-a-whirl faceplant gets Hayes a long two count. King returns fire with a Jackhammer for a near fall. Melo goes for a springboard and King punches him out of the air. King tries to hit some kind of backbreaker, then Melo tries to hit some sort of knee or kick, none of it looks quite right, but he goes up top and hits Nothing But Net for the 3 count.
Winner: Carmelo Hayes (at 11:12)
Star Rating: ***. This wasn't your typical Carmelo Hayes NXT PLE barnburner. Lexis King's style is more slow, which could have worked, but he's not an effective enough heel. The fans don't seem to particularly care one way or another about TAFKA Brian Pillman Jr. Then that messy end sequence didn't help at all. At least Melo went over, going into his main roster debut against Grayson Waller on Smackdown this week.
Post-match, Lexis King grabs a mic and admits that he didn't really attack Trick Williams. "But thank you for the PLE spotlight, my friend," he laughs. After that, I wouldn't be exactly rushing to put him back there.
Backstage, Trick apologises to Carmelo for letting Lexis King come between them. They're good. Melo tells him to "whoop that Trick". "I like it," Williams replies. He's hyped up for his match!
Match 4: Men's Iron Survivor Challenge- Trick Williams vs. Dijak vs. Bron Breakker vs. Josh Briggs vs. Tyler Bate
Dijak draws #1, and is joined by Josh Briggs at #2. Briggs has been a tag guy through his NXT run, but he was a champion in EVOLVE- the final one ever, in fact- so I'm curious to see if he can shine in this one.
Briggs immediately rolls Dijak up for a long 2 count, infuriating him. They trade shoulder blocks but both big men stay on their feet. They show some speed and agility as well, and Briggs busts out a running hurricanrana! He dives into what Booker describes as like a Pounce, which knocks Dijak down for a 2 count. Dijak comes back with a big vertical suplex. Chokeslam gets a near fall. Briggs comes back with a big boot. Heavy artillery here, but neither man staying down!
We count down the 5 minutes, and right on time, Dijak hits Feast Your Eyes and gets the 3 count! Tyler Bate makes his entrance at #3 as Briggs must go to the penalty box. Bate takes the fight to Dijak straight away, knocking him down with a European uppercut off the second rope. Exploder suplex into the corner gets a near fall. Briggs re-enters the match, throws Bate out and hits Dijak with a Clothesline From Hell to get a fall under his belt. Briggs throws Bate around, but the Big Strong Boi keeps kicking out. He hits Briggs with the Tyler Driver 97, but Dijak returns to break up the pin. Dijak looks for Feast Your Eyes, but Bate turns it into a roll up for the 3 count! Dijak's back in the box!
WHOOP THAT TRICK! It's Trick Williams at #4! He takes down Briggs and Bate with leg lariats. Dijak back and Trick hits both big men with a double neckbreaker. Trick launches off Briggs back and meets Dijak mid air with a clothesline! Bate hits Trick with a massive airplane spin, and everyone breaks up the pin. Bate sends them to the outside, then hits Trick with a rebound clothesline, followed by the Tyler Driver 97- and Bate gets another fall!
The crowd chants "Free that Trick" as we count down to #5, Bron Breakker. Immediate Spear and 3 count on Briggs. Damn! Bate gets Speared! 3 count! Dijak goes for a springboard- nope, Spear! 3 count! Trick returns to the match and trades punches with Breakker. Bron levels him with a clothesline. Trick returns fire with a uranage, and Bron rolls out. Everyone's out of the penalty box, so Trick takes out everyone with a cross body to the outside! Back in the ring, Dijak hits Trick with a tornado kick out of nowhere to get a second fall!
Dijak goes up top but Bron meets him with a Frankenstenier- which Bate catches into a powerbomb for the 3 count! Breakker is pissed and goes to work on Bate. Bron hits a moonsault fallaway slam- holy shit- but Briggs breaks up the count. Everyone back in the match around the 20 minute mark. Briggs and Dijak hit Bate with a double chokeslam. Stereo moonsaults and they each get a fall. An unholy alliance brewing here! Bate comes back with a springboard DDT on Dijak, but Briggs hits him with a rebound lariat. The seconds are ticking down on this match. Bron and Trick re-enter the match at the same time, and Bron throws Trick into the ring post, then Spears him through the barricade of the timekeeper's area! Dijak chokeslams Bron through the announcers table! As Dijak and Bate fight on the turnbuckles, Trick rolls up Briggs to get a fall! Dijak hits Trick with Feast Your Eyes, but Eddy Thorpe runs down and pulls the ref out! Thorpe kicks Dijak- and Trick rolls him up for a 3 count! Trick counters the Tyler Driver 97 into a jackknife pin for the 3 count! Bron goes for the Spear, but Trick hits him with a flying knee and gets his 4th fall with 4 seconds remaining!
Winner: Trick Williams (at 25:00)
Star Rating: ****1/2. This proved to be a brilliant concept when it was introduced last year, and these 5 men put on an absolute master-class in it. If the Iron Survivor match is a gimmick that lasts the test of time, this is going to be the "Royal Rumble 1992" equivalent. Incredible action start to finish, and then they went turbo speed in the last 5 or so minutes, then Trick had his crazy run of points in about the final 2 minutes. Insane and wonderful.
Backstage, Meta Four mock Briggs, Jensen and Henley for losing. They get to scrapping, and they're gonna need to settle it in the ring at some stage.
Match 5: Steel Cage Match- Kiana James vs. Roxanne Perez
Kiana tries to attack Roxanne with her loaded handbag, and when that fails, she tries to slam her face into the steel cage. Roxanne turns things around and tries to catapult Kiana into the cage, but she blocks and tries to climb out. Perez stops her and dropkicks her into the steel for a near fall. Roxanne tries to come off the cage wall with a cross body, but Kiana catches her and slams her into the cage wall.
Kiana keeps up the attack and gets a near fall after a spear into the cage. A big spinebuster gets another 2 count. James goes for another spear but Perez moves and Kiana tastes the steel. Roxanne gets some shots in and climbs to the top of the cage. Kiana meets her there and they trade strikes. Kiana drags her down and powerbombs her out of the corner. Near fall. Kiana powerbombs her into the side of the cage a couple of times, then Roxanne counters into Pop Rocks! Long 2 count for The Prodigy.
Kiana crawls out the door- this cage match apparently can't be won by escape- but she drags a steel chair into the ring. Perez grabs the chair, but Izzy Dane slams the cage door in her face! Dealbreaker using the chair by Kiana- and this one's over.
Winner: Kiana James (at 11:27)
Star Rating: ***1/4. Look, this was no Becky vs. Trish at Payback. But it was still a spirited effort and it was easy to buy into the intensity of the feud by watching the action in this match. I'm not sure who this Izzy is, but I'll have to keep an eye out for her on NXT.
Main Event: NXT Championship- Ilja Dragunov (c) vs. Baron Corbin
Corbin comes out riding a motorcycle. I like him more than most, but he ain't the American Badass. Dragunov comes out swinging early, but one big shoulder block puts him down. Big size difference here. Corbin clotheslines the champ to the outside. Dragunov quickly re-enters the ring and returns the favour. They fight on the outside and Dragunov hits a German suplex on the floor! Corbin hits a gordbuster on the announce table- ouch! Back in the ring, another gordbuster on the ropes gets a near fall.
Corbin keeps his attack focused on the ribs of Dragunov. Dragunov fights back and tries to break the waistlock but is spiked with a DDT. Corbin hugs a limp Dragunov then plants him with a spinning uranage. Corbin locks in a dragon sleeper but the champ fights out with knees to the head. Corbin goes for a chokeslam but Ilja breaks out with more knees. Top rope senton lands for Ilja but he hurts his own ribs in the process!
They trade bombs and both men collapse on the mat. They get up and throw again. Dragunov unloads machine gun chops in the corner. They fight up top and Corbin drops him with a super chokeslam! Dragunov kicks out at the last moment. Dragunov catches Corbin with a Death Valley Driver into the corner. Ilja charges but Corbin counters with a Deep Six! Kick out! Corbin hits a running Death Valley Driver, followed by a brainbuster- and Dragunov kicks out! Corbin goes for the End of Days, Dragunov rolls through, and after a struggle, he hits a powerbomb on the big man! Coast to Coast. A spike DDT. A couple of H Bombs. And- as Corbin did earlier- Dragunov hugs his limp prey before hitting Torpedo Moscow for the 3 count!
Winner: Ilja Dragunov (at 20:55)
Star Rating: ***1/2. A great battle where the champ had to fight from underneath. Slow in points, yet kept compelling by the convincing selling of the champion, he's one of the best in all of WWE at conveying excruciating pain.
As the champ celebrates, the music of Trick WIlliams hits and the winner of Iron Survivor stares down at Dragunov. They clash at New Year's Evil, an NXT special episode on Jan 2.
A high quality PLE to close out WWE's year! No TLC this year, next stop is the Rumble. Highlight of the show by far was the Iron Survivor matches, but just about everything we saw up and down the card was good to great. I know the hype has been around Carmelo Hayes for years, but I think Trick Williams is starting to make a better case for himself as a breakout star. The quality of this show was such that I'm inclined to start making more time for weekly NXT shows. Very enjoyable watch.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Until next time, take care.