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The best of NXT's 2018 Coconut Loop house shows

NXT Live

Pictures by JJ Williams

The NXT brand has grown to become a global touring promotion in just a few years, having some of the best matches in WWE history under their banner. We all look forward to every TakeOver event, knowing that they have built up so much goodwill with the fanbase due to a consistent product that delivers in ring night in and night out.

The greatness of NXT is the layers. Sure, the world watches TakeOvers and the loyal watch the weekly TV shows, but then, there's the Performance Center-fueled Coconut Loop house shows. I was fortunate enough to attend 35 non-televised events around the state of Florida last year and these are the matches that stood out to me.

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Aleister Black vs. Buddy Murphy
January 20, 2018 | Sebring, FL

This was a match that, at the time, I wrote was TakeOver worthy. As great as the 205 Live run has been, I do wish we could have seen a few of Buddy's great Florida matches on NXT TV as the chemistry he had with opponents was off the charts. They had counters to each other's counters and their sequences were crisp. It was one of the top matches I have seen down here and we can only hope these two champions meet again someday.

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Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Adam Cole
March 29, 2018 | Cocoa, FL

You could definitely see the makings of their future five star ladder match here. Ricochet was on fire with different types of wrestlers to work with, there was plenty of speed rope running, everyone getting demolished by Lars, teamwork to all take down the big man, and even he rare Adam Cole and Velveteen Dream staredown that still hasn't happened on TV. This was one of those unique match-ups with a purpose that was a treat for the live crowd.

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Dakota Kai vs. Bianca Belair
May 24, 2018 | Cocoa, FL

This was another TV tune-up match as these two eventually got the TakeOver Chicago pre-show spot. This match had a second gear that most NXT matches don't have. There's an unspoken rule that finishers are protected on the loop, so when Dakota went for the Kairopractor and Bianca escaped, it created a different buzz. Belair is a powerhouse and there's so much potential for her to be the next unstoppable champion of the brand going forward. Kai is just the type of underdog with fight to chase as we've seen with her constant improvements against Baszler on TV. This could be a match up that gets revisited someday.

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Roderick Strong and Kyle O'Reilly vs. Raul Mendoza and Humberto Carrillo
September 21, 2018 | Sanford, FL

The NXT tag champs are known as being the standard in NXT. Nobody will ever out work Roddy and Kyle so it's incredible when they find guys that can not only hang with them but push the pace. The young luchadors who have minimal enhancement TV work in 2018 became one of the hottest crowd winners on the loop. This match would play on a bigger stage and win over any crowd. Both teams receieved standing ovations and this is one that must happen again someday.

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Matthew Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno
September 27, 2018 | Lakeland, FL

This was their first time meeting in NXT after their storied history on the independent scene. If you've seen their EVOLVE matches and know what fits in the WWE style, this would be exactly it. The punishing Ohno tried to lay a beating on the faster Riddle and while a thunderstorm passed over the building, you could still hear the striking exchange once Bro got fired up. We still haven't gotten to their best on TV yet and hopefully we will soon as this one felt special.

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The NXT Halloween Rumble
October 27, 2018 | Orlando, FL

Words do this no justice. This was the last show before Halloween at the infamous OLE and we had ourselves a costume Rumble. By far, the greatest moment of this was Kassius Ohno showing up as a ten foot tall T-Rex and still being able to go up and over the top. EC3 as Batman and the in-ring debut of Drake Maverick as Robin was also a great touch.

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Rhea Ripley vs. Candice LeRae
November 9, 2018 | Tampa, FL

The NXT UK Women's Championship had been hidden from the public for some time, yet the champion was defending her title across Florida. This was a match that nobody could have expected just a few months ago and it delivered. Candice has always wrestled her best against stronger opponents and there aren't many who wrestle bigger than Ripley these days. She has a presence that she uses as champ to overwhelm her opponents. One incredibly impressive spot in this one was LeRae running up to and hopping on the bottom rope to deliver a mid rope German to a prone Ripley.

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Matthew Riddle vs. Dominik Dijakovic
November 10, 2018 | Daytona Beach, FL

This was two machines throwing bombs, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots come to life which is the Riddle style that we all know and love. This was the intense, physical hard work that brings the best out of each other since the fans can see who truly has what it takes to compete at that level. Dijakovic is one of the best match-ups for this style with his height and wingspan. Someday, this match will make a TakeOver.

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Marcel Barthel vs. Fabian Aichner
Lumberjack Match
December 14, 2018 | Jacksonville, FL

There is a gem of the Coconut Loop and that gem is Jacksonville, a town so far from every other on the loop that they have their own storylines, favorites, and recurring match-ups. Aichner and Barthel have been in a long running program based around their hatred of Lars Sullivan who Barthel now claims he rid NXT of. Aichner was always left to take the beatings and after these two have previously fought to a double countout in their last match, they came back with a lumberjack match. It was an absolute spectacle with the roster around ringside, allowing for the craziest dives to the outside, interference, destruction, and Otis Dozovic doing commentary for those nearby.

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Ricochet vs. Johnny Gargano
December 14, 2018 | Jacksonville, FL

This very well could be a TakeOver preview in the near future and if it plays as good as this one did, nobody will be disappointed. Gargano's new routine involved running around ringside just far enough from fans that they couldn't reach him while he mimed high fives to appear to still be a good guy. Johnny was all about the banter in this one, telling Ricochet that he himself could do a triple moonsault. For all the nonsense they then went with and with the level of in-ring match that we all know they can have, these are two absolutely amazing talents and I can't wait to see what they can do on TV.

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Matthew Riddle vs. Keith Lee
December 15, 2018 | Largo, FL

This match went ten minutes and in the moment, I deemed it my Florida MOTY. While it's all subjective and many of the previous match-ups could easily be someone else's favorite, this just had everything I want to see in a top tier match on the loop. There were minimal rest holds and no stalling for the crowd to plead with the wrestler to wake up that we see so much of. It was two hosses going at it for the purpose of winning. They respect each other and remained friends post-match but once the bell rang, it was on. Nobody takes the pounce like Riddle and seeing Lee being deadlift German suplexed is a moment of its own. This is one of those match-ups that must happen again on any WWE show you can imagine.

That wraps up the 2018 Coconut Loop from here and we'll be back this Friday, January 4th in Jacksonville, FL, for another year of NXT action.