Even though this week’s episode of NXT concluded with Shinsuke Nakamura’s official sendoff to the main roster, the show as a whole was decidedly forward-facing. Young powerhouse Dylan Miley asserted himself as a wrestler to watch, while Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot built anticipation for the first official match of their singles feud, and last week’s #NXTMVP Oney Lorcan had another fantastic match.
This week’s winner tangled with Lorcan and proved that you can, in fact, make a second first impression: Drew McIntyre.
The former Chosen One’s WWE return was handled masterfully. From his appearance at TakeOver: Orlando to his impassioned post-match promo Wednesday night, McIntyre and the NXT braintrust portrayed the Scotsman as a big star from another territory rather than a veteran from the WWE who’s reinvented himself. It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s the difference between being Alex Riley and being the #NXTMVP. “One of the best in the world… He could’ve gone anywhere,” color commentator Nigel McGuiness emphasized, connecting McIntyre to acts like AJ Styles or Shinsuke Nakamura.
McIntyre’s performance delivered on that promotional promise, providing wrestling and verbal magic that actually felt like something new. He didn’t act or talk like Intercontinental Champion Drew McIntyre; he acted and talked like a world-traveled champion with no fear inside of him.
Through his own hard work, talent, and good use of his time elsewhere, Drew Galloway did what perhaps nobody else has accomplished in this era: took his WWE gimmick, made it better elsewhere, and then made them beg him to come back. For McIntyre, this week’s episode of NXT was equal parts coming out party, campaign victory speech, and coronation.
In his match with Oney Lorcan, McIntyre looked dominant and showed an explosiveness that simply wasn’t there when he was first being presented as the next great wrestler more than half a decade ago. His belly-to-belly suplex on their initial exchange was the perfect early-match move: it looked exciting, sounded loud, and made McIntyre look very strong. His gutwrench suplex onto the apron demonstrated his killer instinct and willingness to harm his opponent to win. His biel throw from the tree of woe proved he won’t be denied and can get himself out of any predicament. As Percy Watson put it, “Drew McIntyre fights you like he despises you, like he wants to separate your limbs from your body.”
After the match’s incredibly physical conclusion, which saw McIntyre bloody Lorcan before putting him away with a running Claymore, the victorious Scot cut a brief, but passionate promo, reassuring the live audience, “I have all the Raw talent; I can put the SmackDown on anybody; but I don’t want to be anywhere else but right here in NXT.” While the wording of that sentence sounds utterly contrived, the sweaty, amped-up McIntyre somehow turned it into “I am here to kick ass. You can be sure of that.”
Any questions about what NXT Champion Bobby Roode will be doing without Shinsuke Nakamura around seem to have been answered (sorry, Kassius Ohno). Just one week into his official tenure, Drew McIntyre has Super Mario 64 triple jumped almost everybody in the promotion and already feels like the next NXT Champion.
In spite of the fact that next Wednesday’s show will be main evented by main roster call-up Tye Dillinger taking on Eric Young, NXT proved this week that they can continue to thrive in spite of the talent they’ve lost since Samoa Joe’s promotion to Raw. More than anybody else on the card, Drew McIntyre embodied this continued readiness to take on the wrestling world, making him a clear choice for #NXTMVP.