We kicked off this episode of, in play-by-play commentator Mauro Ranallo’s words, the “Gold Standard In Sports-Entertainment” with the recently-deposed NXT North American Champion Johnny Gargano on his way to the ring, microphone in his hand but no title around his waist thanks to his defeat at the hands of Velveteen Dream in last week’s main event.
Johnny Gargano Promo
Johnny talked about his main roster call-up, putting over the fact that he is representing NXT on a much bigger stage. But he also lamented the fact that he lost his title to Dream last week, eliciting a rather apt “Johnny Failure” chant from the Full Sail crowd. It’s here that things started to get interesting, as Gargano was seemingly about to credit Tommaso Ciampa, the man he has engaged in a blood feud with for the past two years, but now a man who seems to have a bizarre stranglehold over him, with all of his career success. Ciampa’s music cut him off mid-sentence, and he managed to convince a squirming Gargano to tag with him in the upcoming Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic by telling him that he needs Ciampa – when they team together on Raw and SmackDown, they win, and if they enter this tournament, Johnny can once again win a championship. I liked the way they continue to get Ciampa over as a master manipulator, but ever since it was revealed that Gargano was the one who attacked Aleister Black and put him out of action, Johnny has seemed too weak-willed to me, and that problem continued here. However, I thought the segment went some way to justifying why Ciampa and Gargano are totally on the same page on Raw and SmackDown despite their NXT relationship being complicated at best.
We cut to a Cathy Kelley interview with Ricochet. The highlight of this promo was Ricochet’s resplendent cherry tux with black bow tie and lapel flower! He told Cathy that, with Aleister Black by his side, he feels comfortable with whatever numbers game The Undisputed Era want to throw at him, and confirmed that the two of them will enter the Dusty Classic so that they can face off with the Era. That will certainly be a match to savour. The field for the tournament is looking pretty stacked.
After tonight’s matches of Shayna Baszler vs. Mia Yim and Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic were hyped by the announce team, we cut to Ciampa leading Gargano outside through a back entrance. Gargano’s wife, a stony-faced Candice LeRae, was waiting for them. Ciampa made himself scarce and Johnny begged Candice to trust his decision. The portrayal of Gargano’s family as very wary of his relationship with Ciampa again gets Ciampa over as super-manipulative, which I like.
Vanessa Borne & Aliyah vs. Taynara Conti & Xia Li
After Vanessa Borne interfered in Aliyah vs. Taynara Conti last week and helped Aliyah win, establishing a new heel alliance in the NXT women’s division, Conti looked for payback here and recruited her own partner in Xia Li. Given that Sasha Banks and Bayley would make an appearance later on this episode to hype the fact that they will be defending the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship across all three WWE brands, a women’s tag team match seemed appropriate here. The match was a fine NXT TV match, and once again Borne and Aliyah went over after a mean-looking double-team backbreaker on Li. I’m looking forward to seeing these two dominate the women’s tag division in NXT, hopefully with a match against Banks and Bayley on the horizon soon.
We cut to Velveteen Dream arriving at the arena earlier in the day. He was accosted by an interviewer before The Undisputed Era rolled up behind him. The Undisputed Era are by far my favourite act across all three WWE brands. Their classic cocky heel characters are just so very entertaining. Here, Adam Cole hyped Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish’s entrance into the Dusty Classic, while burying the fact that the interviewer was talking to Dream and not to the Era. Dream’s declaration that he doesn’t have time to listen to them left The Undisputed Era spluttering with faux-anger, and both acts departed.
We cut to Cathy Kelley outside NXT General Manager William Regal’s office, who was about to declare the identities of the final four teams in the first round of the Dusty Classic, only for a commotion down the hall to attract the cameraman’s attention. We saw Bianca Belair and Io Shirai arguing and being separated by the backstage crew. It was later revealed that they will wrestle in two weeks for the right to go to NXT TakeOver: New York and face Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship. That should be the culmination of this decent mini-feud between the two women.
Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic
A hoss fight for the ages: the 6’3, 335-pound Keith Lee against the 6’7, 270-pound Dominik Dijakovic. This match was really, really great with shows of strength and incredible displays of athleticism. The crowd popped big for multiple spots, even for such basic moves as a leapfrog and a monkey flip, such was the sheer size of the competitors on display. The finish came when Dijakovic hit an Asai moonsault to the outside on Lee, and neither wrestler was able to get back in the ring before the referee’s count of ten. I actually loved this booking. It had an incredible sense of realism: if two wrestlers the size of Dijakovic and Lee attempt high spots like a moonsault to the outside, it will take a greater toll on them than it would smaller men, and trying to quickly move their huge frames afterwards proves a lot more difficult. It also leaves the crowd wanting more and did indeed elicit a “let them fight” chant once they had both returned to their feet after the match. More to come from these two.
The full bracket for the Dusty Classic was then revealed, with first round matches beginning next week. Moustache Mountain will face Street Profits, and Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch will face The Forgotten Sons. The winners of those two matches will meet in the first semi-final. DIY will face Undisputed Era, and Aleister Black and Ricochet will face Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel, and the winners of those two bouts will meet in the second semi-final. I think I’m looking forward to every match in this tournament. It would be great to see Aleister Black and Ricochet get one over on Undisputed Era, but that would mean DIY fall at the first hurdle. It’s this kind of booking and storyline possibility that makes NXT TV so fresh and interesting.
Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection Promo
The inaugural WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions Sasha Banks and Bayley came out here to two massive pops. They put over NXT and the days they spent here, including their matches together and the ground they broke, having the first ever Iron Woman Match, and they put over the Tag Titles. This was very much a feel-good nostalgic segment, but a segment which also hyped something new in the Women’s Tag Team Titles. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing them defended in NXT.
Shayna Baszler vs. Mia Yim
The story here was Shayna Baszler cementing her position as the dominant champion, and notably the win came without the help of her buddies. Last week after Mia Yim beat Xia Li, Baszler, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke attacked her to send a message to the NXT Women’s Division. Shayna continued to send that message in this match, which ended with a convincing victory. Although Shayna hurt her hand early, she battled through it, targeting the right leg of Yim throughout the match. The finish came when she made Yim tap to the Kirifuda Clutch, though not before Yim had tried to prevent her from locking it in by grabbing her injured hand, so Shayna pinned Yim’s arms to her body with her legs while she locked in the move.
Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable episode of NXT, which mainly featured the women’s division and put over the new Women’s Tag Titles, setting up potential stories to come. It also set up stories for the men’s tag team division in the announcement of the bracket for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic.