121. Damien Priest (c) vs Johnny Gargano (Devil’s Playground Match for the NXT North American Championship, NXT Halloween Havoc 2020)

NXT first brought back WCW’s Halloween Havoc moniker in 2020, in the days of the pandemic. I must have missed it in 2020, as I don’t remember anything about it. But thanks to WWE Network’s ‘Most Hellacious Halloween Havoc Matches’, I caught up with one match from the 2020 show: Damien Priest vs Johnny Gargano in a Devil’s Playground bout for the NXT North American Championship. Well, it certainly was an hellacious match!

And what is a ‘Devil’s Playground’ match? I feared it would be a match full of silly stipulations like the Texas Death Match between Vader and Cactus Jack (click here for my review). Fortunately, it was merely a No DQ, Falls Count Anywhere bout. No shenanigans, no buffoonery: just a Halloween-themed brawl!!!

You can always rely on Johnny Gargano to put on a very good-great match. Damien Priest? He’s still an unknown for me. He entered NXT after I stopped being a regular viewer, and when I stopped watching full NXT Takeover events. I’d just skip to the matches that interest me. Even now, as he’s on the main roster, I don’t think I’ve ever watched him in a singles bout. But he looked pretty great here!

Unfortunately, it’s a TV bout that marred by several commercial breaks. I always find it hard watching a TV bout thanks to these breaks. I assume nothing exciting happens during the breaks, but it ruins the flow of the match. The same applies here. The commentators even tell us that Priest hurled Gargano through a wall during a break…we we never get to see it! Why not show us a quick replay?

But Gargano and Priest put a Takeover-level of effort into this bout. They start off slow, reluctant to use weapons and venture outside the ring. But soon enough, they end up outside the ring, backstage, and eventually into the Halloween-themed set, where they up the stakes and come up with some creative high spots. It’s a textbook way of increasing the tension, but increasing the brutality and amount of high spots as the match goes on.

The ending may be marred by interference, but as I presume it was part of an ongoing storyline between the two wrestlers, I can forgive it. I’d be reluctant to say this match was great, as it didn’t wholly suck me in. There was just something… lacking to stop it from reaching five stars. Maybe it’s even a stretch to call it a four star match, as I doubt I’d return to it any time soon. But it was a pleasant and engaging way to spend twenty minutes watching wrestling, and sometimes that’s all you want, isn’t it?

Hammy’s Rating: **** (out of 5)

(Click here for more of ‘A Wrestling Match A Day‘)


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