When it comes to watching wrestling week-on-week, with so many hours of new stuff regularly dropping, there’s just too much to keep up with even if you just stick to WWE (which I don’t!). So a choice has to be made – and generally, I enjoy the smaller scale of the WWE’s scrappier, edgier proving ground, NXT (or, as it’s been known since its more colourful rebrand last year, NXT 2.0).

The wrestlers – a mixture of fresh up-and-comers with everything to prove, alongside seasoned veterans with distinct personalities who feel like they’d get lost or misused on the overstuffed, bombastic rosters of Raw and Smackdown – all feel that bit more relatable and human, and storylines at smaller scales, with lower stakes, feel like they’re given more attention by creative in NXT 2.0. Just like on the bigger shows, not everything hits, but when it does, it can be some of the most emotionally involving and satisfying action in wrestling today.

It helps of course that NXT is only hit with a delay of a week or so on the UK’s WWE network, so you never feel too far behind. Smackdown and Raw arrive a month after transmission, so when you’re able to catch up with each episode, they’re always completely out of sync with the live events, to the extent that big PPV shows will drop and resolve storylines that sometimes haven’t even landed for us lowly UK viewers who use the official service for their wrestling fix.

Consequently, when an NXT PPV show happens, you can go into it having been invested in and almost all caught up with all of the events that have led to it. So every fight is unmissable – every match has an emotional heft that is sometimes missing from a number of the fights you get at the biggest wrestling events.

The same is true of WrestleMania weekend’s NXT Stand and Deliver 2022, which took place in a much bigger arena than the NXT roster are used to – and on the same day as the start of WrestleMania 38 itself. Each fight has been carefully built up and every single one – even the pre-show, ‘warm-up’ match, felt like it meant something. You can’t say the same about The Mysterios vs The Miz/Logan Paul on WrestleMania itself, or even the daft Sami Zayn vs Johnny Knoxville fight – both of which should be entertaining at the very least, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they also just both feel like meaningless cries for attention, no matter how much WWE have tried to sell us the Zayn/Knoxville feud.

Kicking off the NXT show – or really, just prior to the show as a warm-up – was Toxic Attraction vs Raquel Gonzalez/Dakota Kai for the NXT Women’s Tag Team Championship. Gigi Dolan and Jacy Jayne have been really effective heels in NXT alongside the leader of Toxic Attraction, NXT Women’s Champion Mandy Rose. Though Gonzalez and Kai have had the belts before, their friendship/betrayal/forgiveness storyline brought them into this match as underdogs with a shaky alliance. Casting the tall, powerful Gonzalez – who physically towers over all three of the other competitors – seems odd on paper but works thanks to the build-up to the fight.

And it was a great opener, full of shocks and crazy moves inside and outside the ring, with a truly satisfying ending, which saw the underdogs triumph and those awfully arrogant Toxic Attraction girls finally lose their belts.

The fight that officially opened the show was a five way ladder match for the North American Championship – with a great mix of personalities, styles and experience among its participants. Watchable, hilariously arrogant Aussie douchebag Grayson Waller, current NA champ Carmelo Hayes, likeable, downtrodden Cameron Grimes, seasoned heel Santos Escobar and impressively powerful Solo Sikoa all competed. All had their times to shine in a ridiculously melodramatic match which also featured sequences from Waller, Hayes and Escobar’s entourage – having their own mini-battle going on, because having a five way ladder match clearly wasn’t dramatic enough already.

And damn was it dramatic. The twists and turns familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a ladder match were all here, including multiple, hilariously slow climbs to the top and dramatic drops from crazy heights. Waller’s leap from one ladder to another as he targeted a prone Hayes – who moved out of danger – which resulted in him horrifyingly smashing his arm was the crazy stunt that everyone was immediately talking about and which made this one an instant classic. Grimes, who’d been long overdue a big win, took home the belt in a dramatic and well-earned win, which had me pretty much leaping out of my seat. A great match and definitely a result to be pleased with.

Tommaso Ciampa vs Tony D’Angelo was the next match. Ciampa has long been a crowd pleasing, always entertaining presence in NXT, but after a failed recent attempt to win the Championship belt he made an emotional speech to the audience in which he announced his imminent retirement. It felt truly genuine; Ciampa had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout. D’Angelo spoiled the moment by challenging Ciampa to one last fight, with the objective of proving himself to be the ‘Don’ of NXT (D’Angelo has an overcooked Mafioso style gimmick which veers from fun to annoying very quickly) – and Ciampa accepted.

So here we were with Ciampa’s supposedly last fight; this one was hard hitting by WWE standards and resulted in a shock loss for Ciampa that’ll definitely make D’Angelo into a much more compelling and believable bad guy for the NXT brand. However, the finest moment came with Ciampa’s emotional walk back from the ring to backstage; not only did the crowd thank a very grateful Ciampa for his years of entertainment, but the tearful wrestler was also blindsided by an appearance from legend Triple H, who gave him a real hero’s send off. Not a dry eye in the house; beautifully handled.

Three way tag team action next. Defending champions Imperium were looking to retain the Tag Team Championship belts. Relative rookies The Creed Brothers – who have a real hint of The Steiner Brothers about them, with their impressive builds, genuinely awesome feats of strength and sibling chemistry – along with previous champs, the fast-paced, acrobatic MSK, were the challengers. An excellent match with some truly epic moments – both Imperium and The Creed Brothers had the opportunity to show off some jaw dropping strong moves, with MSK feeling like the nimble underdogs – it have a somewhat surprising win to MSK, who pulled out a dazzling aerial display from both team members to score a pin and take home the belts.

Women’s four way followed: Toxic Attraction’s leader and the Women’s Champion, Mandy Rose, against Cora Jade, Io Shirai and Kay Lee Ray. Having attacked and built up rivalries against all three women over the prior months, Rose was always going to have an uphill struggle to win – but despite plenty of drama and near misses, she managed to retain the title. Not the result anyone wanted, really, but the women’s division of NXT still has its Queen heel!

Perhaps the least essential and most manufactured feeling rivalry of the event, the Gunther (previously Walter, which the crowd can’t help but chant) vs LA Knight match was still an entertaining watch. The always jacked, charismatic LA Knight – despite his obvious physical prowess and ability to have the crowd on his side (he’s taken a babyface turn since the relaunch of NXT last September) meant that the outcome, which saw the brutal European Walt- sorry, Gunther – take the win, was a bit deflating.

Which brings us to the last match of the night – Dolph Ziggler vs Bron Breakker for the NXT Championship; a belt which the young Breakker held until a few weeks ago. Ziggler, a veteran from the big WWE Raw brand, swaggered and bragged his way into NXT a few weeks back and won the belt, shocking everyone and setting Breakker up for revenge. Breakker, the impressively built, relative newcomer with wrestling heritage – his Dad is the legendary Rick Steiner and his uncle is the equally renowned Scott Steiner, both of whom had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame just twelve hours prior – had a meteoric rise to the top of NXT, winning the championship just a few months after his very first appearance. With Ziggler being a big name from Raw, no one expected him to stick around – yet he won the belt and this fight, with Breakker chainsawing his way through the NXT logo live on stage for his entrance, should have sent him packing back to Raw.

A number of times over the dramatic duration of the match, it looked like that’s where he was going to end up too, with Breakker pulling all of his powerful tricks out of the bag, even taking down Ziggler’s BFF, Robert Roode – who’d sneakily assisted Ziggler to the championship win – a few times to satisfying effect.

Yet Ziggler’s early removal of a turnbuckle cover would – after a long war of attrition which saw each participant alternately gain the upper hand on multiple occasions – prove to quickly turn the tide and end the match in his favour; another shock defeat for Breakker which will see Ziggler sticking around NXT for a little while yet.

It was a huge night for NXT, with matches taking place in a big arena with a huge stage and crowd for them to bring the brand to. Aside from a few deflating results (the good guys can’t always win though, right?) and Grayson Waller’s crazy stunt that looked like it ended pretty badly, the matches themselves were masterful showcases of timing, prowess and theatrical moments aplenty. Just what modern wrestling is all about, right?

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