At the end of my Stand & Deliver Night 1 review I said "Let's see if Night 2 can top it." And the answer is no. No it can't. S&D Night 2 was a pretty good show made to look not so great trying to follow such a fantastic Night 1. In fact I would say the best match on Night 2 was behind the three or four best matches on Night 1. Maybe NXT is better reigned in at around two hours. Maybe Night 1 just had the better roster of talent. Regardless, I was underwhelmed by Night 2 and in a perfect world I could actually see either night of WrestleMania besting this show.
The show opened with the Cruiserweight Unification match between Santos Escobar and Jordan Devlin. These two worked pretty hard for the bout's 18 minutes but didn't do anything we haven't seen before in one of these ladder matches (I've said this before but I think it's time for a long moratorium on ladder matches - they just aren't special anymore). There were plenty of big spots but it's simply not safe to do anything that comes close to the danger of the TLC matches of 20 years ago. And without that level of danger there's not much point to a ladder match (There was a nice Devlin moonsault off the top of the ladder - pretty spectacular). What made things worse is the late-match interference of Legado Del Fantasma, who knocked the ladder over as Devlin was climbing, and then just left. So first off, why did they wait so long to show up, and second, why did they voluntarily leave afterwards? Their involvement made no sense at all; what is this, RAW? The finish came when both men were climbing but Escobar pushed Devlin backwards off the ladder, through a ladder propped up against the turnbuckle, before retrieving both belts to become the Undisputed Cruiserweight Champion. Side note: Vic Joseph needs to stop acknowledging the "This is awesome" chants - he did it twice in this match alone, and his response is always "This is indeed awesome." Stop it. This was fine but nothing more. ***1/4
Next up was a free TV-quality Women's Tag Title match, as Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart faced Candice LaRae and Indi Hartwell. They got ten minutes, which was plenty to do what they needed to do. The most memorable spot was Shotzi almost killing herself with a tope onto both opponents, who somehow BOTH missed catching her - that's pretty inexcusable. Fortunately Shotzi hit the dasherboards back-first and seemed to be fine. And then Ember did a top rope moonsault onto both opponents, who succeeded in catching her. Back in the ring, Ember hit her Eclipse finisher (still a marvelous-looking move) on both challengers, and Shotzi hit her top rope senton on Indi to retain the belts. Again, this was fine. ***
The best thing on the show up to this point was Johnny Gargano vs. Bronson Reed for the North American Title. Like Gargano's match with Keith Lee last year, this was a mismatch of styles, but I found this bout less unwieldy than that one. Bronson did his best to keep up with Gargano but ended up looking slightly out of his depth in spots. Still it was an admirable showing that ended after sixteen minutes with Gargano hitting two vaulting DDTs to retain. Johnny Gargano needs to be a babyface again - his heel character is at odds with his strengths as a wrestler. He's a natural gritty underdog veteran who manages to dig deep and deliver in the clutch, so why is his character a goofy cult leader type? It's also baffling that they turned him heel right after Tomasso Ciampa returned from injury as a babyface, after they'd spent months trying to kill each other. Anyway, this was solid work. ***3/4
The NXT Title match was next, as Karrion Kross finally got his big coronation. And I'm still not sold on this guy. The match layout was really puzzling as well. Finn Balor dominated 90% of it and played the cocky heel even though he was supposed to be an underdog babyface. Balor laughed off Kross's offense and did everything he could to provoke an emotional response so Kross would make a mistake. This psychology is precisely backwards; isn't the heel supposed to be disrespectful and antagonistic? So Finn hit his big moves culminating in the Coup de Grace, but Kross kicked out. Kross escaped an abdominal stretch and his his Saito suplex, followed by a couple forearm smashes to the back of the head for the pin, the win and the Title. Kind of an odd finish. So Kross will now get the title run he was supposed to have last year. Why wasn't Finn given similar treatment on the main roster after relinquishing the Universal Title, hmm?? Anyway, Kross barely had anything to do in this match besides sell, so I'm still not convinced he's the breakout star he's being presented as. But we'll see. Another match that was fine. ***3/4
Now for this main event. Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly had a pretty great 20-minute match.....that went 40. In what universe does a match like this need forty goddamn minutes? Both guys worked their asses off, did some innovative things (particularly using a chain they attached to one of the ropes in numerous different ways), took some crazy bumps (like the one through the entrance ramp that two 200-pounders shouldn't realistically be heavy enough to break - this ain't Bam Bam vs. Taz), and told a good story. But there was no reason this had to go 40 minutes. The only company that can get away with that level of overindulgence is NJPW, because their 40-minute matches feel like 25. This felt like 40. I think this is a match that would've been much improved within the USA Network time constraints. More is not always better. But the finish was pretty cool and felt like a true coup de grace, unlike so many long matches where the finish feels anticlimactic. Cole had set up an opened chair upside down, leaving the legs pointing up as though he was going to impale O'Reilly on them. O'Reilly hit a low blow which knocked Cole on top of the chair, then climbed to the top rope, wrapped the chain around his own leg, and hit a kneedrop to Cole's back which collapsed the chair. O'Reilly covered him for the win, and Cole was stretchered out. I would say the last ten minutes of this were great (though it could've used some blood), but the first thirty were just stretched way too thin. Cut this match down to 25 minutes and it would be ****1/2. In its 40-minute format I give it a generous ****.
So yeah, Night 1 was easily the better Stand & Deliver show. That felt like a promotion firing on all cylinders. Night 2 felt a bit uninspired and at times overindulgent. I'll watch Night 1 again, I won't watch Night 2 again.
Best Match: Cole vs. O'Reilly
Worst Match: Women's Tag
What I'd Change: Like I said, cut 15 minutes from the main event, fix the psychology of the NXT Title match.
Most Disappointing Match: The Ladder Match
Most Pleasant Surprise: Eh?
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
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