After the five-way match last week dominated the show, this was a return to a more typical episode of NXT, with four major segments taking place on the show.
Adam Cole/Johnny Gargano Segment
Having won said five-way last week against Velveteen Dream, Matt Riddle, Ricochet and Aleister Black, Adam Cole was in high spirits on tonight’s show. The vacant NXT title belt sat proudly on a plinth in the middle of the ring for this segment. It still bore the former champion Tommaso Ciampa’s custom sideplates, giving him a rather spectre-like quality.
Cole immediately called out Johnny Gargano, the man he is due to face in nine days at TakeOver: New York for the championship. The two went back and forth on the microphone, engaging in a heated war of words. In Cole’s eyes, it’s fitting that he will return to the arena where he first debuted in NXT, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, to win the title. Indeed, his debut involved him beating down the champion, Drew McIntyre, and raising the title above his head. Now he will raise the title again, but he will walk out champion this time. What is also fitting is that every accomplishment in his NXT career came at a TakeOver event: his debut, winning the first ever WarGames match under the WWE banner, and becoming the inaugural NXT North American Champion. And now he will return to TakeOver to become the new NXT Champion.
Gargano countered by telling him that he didn’t come in to NXT as a star, like Cole did. He had to scratch and claw and earn everything he’s done in his career, because he’s constantly been told no throughout his life. He was told he’s too small to make it as a professional wrestler, that he doesn’t have “it”. He was rejected at his initial WWE tryout. He and Ciampa debuted as a couple of small-time indy guys trying to prove themselves in the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, and they left afterwards without contracts. But he kept working, kept competing, until WWE took notice. From then on, he earned the nickname Johnny TakeOver for his amazing matches at TakeOver events. And his path leads him to the NXT Championship, where he thought he would have to go through Ciampa, but now has to go through Cole.
Cole seemed a little rattled by the amazing display of babyface fire from Gargano here. He left the ring as Johnny’s music played, but when he got to the ramp, he stopped and the other three members of The Undisputed Era came out to the stage. Cole then told Gargano that the match at TakeOver won’t be definitive, as Triple H said it would last week. It will, in fact, be Undisputed.
This was an outstanding promo segment which established a good degree of heat between the two competitors where there was absolutely zero before. With only nine days and one more episode of NXT to go until TakeOver, this was much-needed. The segment established Johnny as the fighting babyface who has had to earn everything he’s ever accomplished in his career, and Cole as the made heel who has a gang of cronies watching his back, and who seem poised to give him an unfair advantage in the title match. I am looking forward to the inevitable physical confrontation these two should engage in next week to further hype the upcoming bout.
Vanessa Borne & Aliyah vs. Lacey Lane & Kacy Catanzaro
The story here was the path of destruction that Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler is carving out in NXT. Fed up of being mistreated by the powers-that-be and being made to defend her title in a Fatal Four Way at TakeOver: New York, she hit the ring with Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke midway through this tag team match. Vanessa Borne and Aliyah knew what was coming and high-tailed it out of there, but 2018 Mae Young Classic competitors Lacey Lane and Kacy Catanzaro were making their debut as a tag team and were not so well-equipped to handle the situation. Despite a game attempt to defend themselves, the debutants soon succumbed to a beatdown from Baszler and her buddies. Baszler then climbed onto the commentary desk to raise her title after telling Percy Watson that as long as she continues to receive poor treatment, these attacks will continue.
I liked this run-in, as the sight of Baszler, Shafir and Duke approaching the ring was a legitimately scary one. NXT has done a great job of building them as monsters bent on annihilation, and they certainly had that air about them here. It remains to be seen whether they will get involved next week as two of Baszler’s TakeOver opponents, Bianca Belair and Kairi Sane, square off ahead of the big show. There is no love lost between Belair and Sane themselves, so that match will certainly be one to watch.
Matt Riddle vs. Kona Reeves
“The Finest” Kona Reeves made a return to NXT TV after some time away, but this match was only going to go one way. Reeves couldn’t even capitalise on a mid-match distraction from Matt Riddle’s TakeOver opponent, Velveteen Dream. Dream was wheeled out onto the stage, lounging on a purple sofa and sipping from a goblet, by two of his lady-friends. Someone backstage needs to sort out more video monitors for talent to watch the show on, and provide better signage around the area. It appears to be too easy to get lost! Whether intentional or not, this was the first time I’ve ever seen a sofa in a wrestling arena, so a moment to look back on! Riddle then made short work of Reeves, making him tap to the Bromission. Dream, though, took it on himself to announce Riddle as the winner of the match, which caused Riddle to take a sip from Dream’s goblet and toss the rest away, much to Dream’s dismay. Riddle then told Dream he’d see him in New York before returning to the back.
This was pretty goofy storytelling, getting both the flamboyance of Velveteen Dream and the cool-dude vibe of Matt Riddle over. While they are two of NXT’s bigger characters, they can both back it up in the ring, so I’m really looking forward to their match for the North American Championship at TakeOver: New York.
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Final Match
Ricochet & Aleister Black vs. The Forgotten Sons (Wesley Blake & Steve Cutler) w/ Jaxson Ryker
This match had been hyped earlier by a WWE.com exclusive clip from the aftermath of last week’s five-way match for the #1 contendership to the NXT Title. Ricochet and Aleister Black were the last competitors to leave the ring after that bout, and before they could do so, they got jumped from behind by the Forgotten Sons, who elicited “We Forgot You” chants from the NXT Universe. Sadly, it doesn’t appear like the Sons connect with fans!
Whatever you might think of The Forgotten Sons, they put on an outstanding match here with Ricochet and Aleister Black. The action was fast and furious, with momentum shifting between either team throughout the contest. The final momentum swing came when the referee noticed Jaxson Ryker on the outside pushing Black’s foot off the rope during a pinfall attempt, and promptly ejected him from ringside. Black would soon nail a Black Mass on Wesley Blake, before Ricochet tagged himself in and hit a 630 senton from the top rope, as Black hit a moonsault to the outside from the opposite turnbuckle on Steve Cutler. Ricochet then covered Blake for the victory and a huge pop from the Full Sail crowd.
This was the right call here in my view, as Ricochet and Aleister Black are now a main roster tag team, and they get a big NXT farewell match with the War Raiders at TakeOver: New York before potentially challenging for the Raw or Smackdown Tag Team Titles at WrestleMania 35 two nights later. Speaking of the War Raiders, they would come to the ring during the celebrations for a nice stare-down, and to hold their belts high. While it may be clear they will retain at TakeOver, they feel a step above the Forgotten Sons in the ring, so however good this match was, the TakeOver match should be a notch higher.
Overall, I really enjoyed this episode of NXT, which furthered the storylines for all four of NXT’s championships. This made the show feel big-time, which one might hope for two shows out from TakeOver, but knowing they delivered so well is rather satisfying. I’m looking forward to the go-home show.