Tommaso Ciampa Grounds NXT 2.0

So far, reviews of the new NXT 2.0 have been mixed.

To many pro wrestling fans, the black and gold NXT will always be held as a defining era. Back when black and gold NXT was being promoted as a third brand rather than a developmental territory, it waved the banner for athletically driven, realism-based wrestling. It boasted talent who’d first made their name in indie and international promotions. With NXT 2.0, World Wrestling Entertainment has once again made its third brand developmental, with a crop of fresh talent receiving most of their know-how from WWE’s own Performance Center, rather than indie veterans.

However, some of those veterans who made black and gold NXT so distinct still linger, foremost among them Tommaso Ciampa. The current NXT champion began his second title reign on the premiere episode of NXT 2.0, in a fatal four way against Pete Dunne, LA Knight, and newbie Von Wagner for Samoa Joe’s vacated title.

Ciampa, like Samoa Joe, had to vacate his first NXT championship following a neck injury. That ended a stellar, widely industry praised feud with Johnny Gargano. That feud would have culminated in a match at NXT Takeover: New York. His recovery was captured by WWE cameras in the documentary “Blackheart.” Since returning to NXT, Ciampa had a brutal rivalry with Timothy Thatcher. Those battles ended with the two earning each other’s respect and becoming a tag team. Thatcher has not been seen onscreen since NXT 2.0 premiered.

Ciampa seems not only to be going it alone as a singles performer once again, but to have naturally and gracefully assumed a special place in the locker room.

He’s a credible O.G. who’s leading the charge of the new brand. Many of its new talent assembled around Ciampa, who opened the episode with a heartfelt address. He praised the passion of NXT’s performers and led the audience in a chant of, “We are NXT.”

As the night continued, the featured roster continued to be a mélange of familiar and well-known talent. Ciampa teamed with heavily spotlighted newbie Bron Breakker in a tag match against Pete Dunne and Ridge Holland. Breakker’s considerable strength was pitted against the titanic presence of Holland. Meanwhile, Ciampa handled the punishing catch-as-catch-can tactics of Dunne. The piped-in crowd noise of the 2.0 premiere was absent. Instead? The genuine cheers and chants that have always made NXT feel so intimate were obvious.

Kyle O’Reilly, who was slated to take part in the fatal four way for the NXT title until a locker room attack by Dunne and Holland, reappeared and attacked Holland outside the ring, giving Breakker an opening. Breakker rolled Holland back in the ring and scored a pinfall victory. Tension seemed to arise between Ciampa and Breakker after the win, as Breakker continues to eye “Goldie” covetously. It’s clear that this team up was temporary, leading to a ‘rookie vs. champion’ storyline between the two.

With Ciampa’s has new level of enthusiasm. And with the presence of him and other vets of the black and gold days, NXT 2.0 stands a chance of evolving… while still remaining grounded.

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