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[2019-02-06-WWE-NXT] Drew Gulak vs Eric Bugenhagen / Drew Gulak vs Matt Riddle

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"Think shoot, but work" - Stone Cold Steve Austin

Someone actually took this quote literally for a change and somehow we now have Full Sail Shoot Style. 

The fact that this match presents a complete innovation of style for WWE is just the icing on the cake. It's really the complexity of this match as the surprise payoff to a handful of angles perfectly built over the past month that makes it even more impressive as a viewer. Kayfabe will always be dead but we are still in the era of prestige television. Or the Kliq have been binging a lot of ECW on the Network. Either way, what brought us to the dance was the near perfect debut of Matt Riddle and immediate feud with Kassius Ohno, which cemented Riddle as the Top Prospect for NXT while also presenting his character as a unique submission specialist and full of surprises. Simultaneously, Gulak came into NXT for a cameo run backed with a clever angle to garner heat by seeking to "clean up" NXT by making it a "no fly zone". So you have the perfect setup of the fresh babyface against the invading heel on the surface, and the two most focused submission based workers in the whole company in the same building for one night. Let's make it happen.

Drew Gulak vs. Eric Bugenhagen

Before any talk of a shoot fight can emerge we get the incredible debut of Bugenhagen, working a hair metal gimmick straight outta Spinal Tap. It's an idea bad enough to work if pulled off just right and somehow Bugenhagen makes it happen through sheer force of will. It's campy and fun and when it comes time to show off his musical chops, Bugenhagen plucks the ring ropes as if they were guitar strings. Amazing. Not to be impressed, Gulak breaks up the shenanigans and goes to work quickly. Gulak shows some impressive strength before Bugenhagen gets a bit of shine that includes an Air Guitar Abdominal Stretch. It doesn't last long and Gulak hooks a dragon sleeper (the Gulock) for the tapout. *1/2

Gulak immediately runs down the lack of competition and claims to be the best submission specialist in WWE, which brings out Matt Riddle and his pink flip flops. Riddle basically tells Gulak to leave NXT or he'll tap him out. Gulak accepts and it's on.

Drew Gulak vs. Matt Riddle

Very tentative start with both guys keeping their guards up and going to the ropes. This transitions quickly to a ground game as Riddle goes for an armbar early but Gulak powers out and the two trade throws while staying locked up. Riddle persists with the armbar and Gulak keeps powering out and trying for the dragon sleeper. Any reset to a standing base is met with takedowns before they move back to a vertical base and Gulak gets a takedown into a head scissors. Riddle finally lands the first huge bomb with a big kick, follows up with the senton bomb but can't keep control. Gulak hits a pair of heavy dropkicks and ties Riddle up on the mat. A headlock segment in this environment is a legit struggle, with Gulak switching his hold around in various ways to keep control using the arms as leverage. Palm strike exchange yields a big suplex for Riddle. Both guys are down but Riddle makes it up first. Big kicks to the chest but Gulak catches one and hits a dragon screw leg whip. Riddle catches a rear naked choke but can't hold it and hits a huge German suplex instead. Look out though, because Gulak hung on to the arm, eventually locking in a crossface chickenwing. Riddle breaks free and we get a punch-and-chop exchange. Riddle deadlifts Gulak into a powerbomb and follow up with a knee to the face. Sick. Gulak kicks out! Elbows from Riddle to the face (how he just beat Ohno) followed by the Bro-mission and Gulak has to tap. ***3/4

 

So we got a fun segment with the debut of a really entertaining new face putting over the badass invading heel, only for the heel to get his ultimate comeuppance from the rising babyface in a unique style of work we haven't seen even attempted in this company since the Attitude Era.  If nothing else, this was highly entertaining television and proves without a doubt that shoot style has a place in the corporate world. 

 

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Yeah, great segment overall. First match was a funny debut, Bugenhagen got himself over pretty quickly with that curious gimmick and Gulak's facial expressions were a delight. And then we had the real deal, a very good mat-based, 'shootesque' match. Not as great as Gulak/Gallagher from last year, another very different match from what WWE formula actually is, but both Gulak and Riddle teached the Full Sail crowd to enjoy this style of wrestling and that's always great to see.

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