The heavily hyped matches with implications for the men's and women's titles are still ahead, so NXT gets right down to business on Jan. 20 with in-ring action.
Playing his character of at least one, maybe two gimmicks ago, Adam Rose returns to Full Sail to face Sami Zayn. The pair chain wrestle at the start, with neither man able to get much of an advantage throughout the bout. Zayn in particular has trouble getting much momentum going in his first match back in Winter Park, Fla., with Rose getting in quite a bit of offense during the five minute match. A Koji Clutch out of nowhere secures a submission win for the man who'll compete in next week's Triple Threat to determine the #1 contender.
In an interview with Rich Brennan, it's promo time for the babyface half of tonight's main event. Johnny Gargano promises not to back down against Samoa Joe, a bully he plans to walk right up to and punch in the mouth.
Outside somewhere on campus, Chad Gable & Jason Jordan discuss not being on the ballot for 2015 tag team of the year - especially considering that Blake & Murphy, a team they defeated in London, were in the running for the award. In challenging the former NXT champs, Gable & Jordan give themselves a pep talk, and decide on a team name: American Alpha.
The latest in the series of bouts between Apollo Crews and Tye Dillinger is next. While Tom Phillips & Corey Graves discuss each man's plan to start or get back to winning in the new year, Crews takes care of business in roughly four minutes. After pinning Dillinger with a Spin-out Powerbomb, he grabs a microphone and says he wants to finish the match Baron Corbin and then Joe interrupted last year. The belt doesn't need to be on the line... he wants to see who wins when he wrestles Finn Bálor.
- Call me an NXT hipster, but I spent most of the opening contest thinking about how much I missed Leo Kruger.
- Maybe it's time to ditch the low-riding tights, Sami? He's just back from injury and his ring work doesn't look to have missed a beat, but I'm a wee bit concerned with Zayn's physique. Hoping it's an irrational fear caused by Chris Hero's last days in the company.
- Boy, I missed watching him wrestle. If he'd been working every week for the past year, we'd probably get annoyed by how much he sold for a guy who's trying to claw his way back to being main roster enhancement talent. But for only his second televised match since last Spring? Loved it.
- Corey Graves, who was his usual phenomenal self all episode, really provided the narrative throughline for the night in the three singles matches featuring the men who will battle to become #1 contender next week. Tom Phillips, who I normally don't mind, talked enough it felt like a three-person booth at times. Stop repeating things your partner already said in question form, Tom.
- Quality work from Johnny Wrestling all night, but - especially in light of how the main event went - I find myself wondering what he and Tommaso Ciampa are doing here. I don't dislike their presence, but... it does kind of distract me. If they're going to be regulars, let's give them a story.
- More good stuff from everyone's favorite amateur wrestlers, as they brought their absence from the awards into kayfabe as many of us predicted they would and debuted their new name. I chuckled at Chad's insecurity about floating the idea before claiming credit when JJ actually liked it. Still think these guys are rudos, though. Especially with a moniker like American Alpha.
- Haven't we seen Dillinger vs. Crews, like, four times now? They have pretty good chemistry, and they managed to convince me the Perfect 10 might pull off the upset when he hit his exposed knee facebreaker. Even Full Sail didn't seem that into this. Tye's well on his way to solidfying himself as an almost Honma-esque character who will get a HUGE pop when he pulls one out someday. Apollo needs... something.
- Not sure a rematch with Finn is that something, either. But I adore that NXT returned to that plot point.
Blake & Murphy are making jokes about Gable & Jordan's new name when Alex Reyes tries to ask them some questions. He's shut down by Alexa Bliss, who scolds her charges for embarrassing her in London before building them back up, saying it took half the tag roster to beat them. She promises to lead by example when she tags with Emma against Bayley & Carmella later.
Videos teasing a sinister turn for Aiden English & Simon Gotch, and using Kevin Owens' appearance at the Milwaukee live show as a reason you don't want to miss NXT house shows are shown.
A debuting Rich Swann spends three minutes acrobatically escaping Baron Corbin's offense, but gets caught with a Deep Six (Bossman Slam) to lose his first televised WWE match.
Another backstage spot, this one with Carmella & Bayley discussing their friendship and upcoming match for the Women's title. They agree to deal with that after tonight's tag match, but get cut off by tag champs Dash & Dawson, who make fun of the Hottest Chick in the Ring for being just like her partners Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady - unable to win the big one.
The injured Dana Brooke escorts Emma to the ring, and they tease dissension with their tag partner before the next bout. A pre-match double-team leaves the champ banged up, but she soldiers on and starts the action. A rally is cut short by a distraction by Dana and a cheap shot by Alexa. The Hugster escapes the heels' corner and Carmella swamps Bliss with Thesz Presses, tosses the Aussie from the ring and gets a tap out with her modifed Figure Four head scissor hold.
- After a few scenes which seemed to tease troubles between the members of the Factor, this interview settles us back into their Queen and her goofy subjects dynamic. Credit for showing Alexa realizing she needs to throttle back the abuse to keep them in line, and hopefully we'll get to see how they react to her tapping to Carmella later.
- Really smart the way NXT used this segment and the one with Baymella to advance multiple storylines. It's early yet, but they appear to making real strides in keeping more members of their growing rosters in angles that are frequently updated.
- As intrigued as I am by the Vaudevillains being full-on bad guys again like in the days of the Lucha Dragons feud, I'm more grateful for our first Drifter-free episode in a long while.
- Glad to see that whispers of Swann's debut being dark match material were incorrect. He got an opportunity to show some of what he's capable of in a match all about building the Lone Wolf up, which was impressive. The 450 out of the back body drop and running up the ropes to escape the Cobra Clutch were both cool spots, and a great example of making the most of your minutes.
- Elevating Carmella continues to work only occasionally for me. Bayley doesn't seem threatened at all, and if that's not addressed at some point, it will be difficult to get invested in their match. Liked the way the match was set-up, and the finish was well executed. But her initial moves as hot tag were rough, and was too close to the old Divas style of slaps and hair pulling for my taste.
- Nothing they gave us tonight took me off the idea that Emma vs. Alexa is a feud I want, and pretty sure I want it as heel vs. heel.
- Nice to have Brooke back (what did I just type!?!?) - she was annoying, but almost entirely in the way an evil manager type is supposed to be. And stuff like yelling "I'm not touching her" at the referee is great.
The NXT champ reveals he spoke to General Manager William Regal and will soon face Apollo Crews mano a mano.
True to his word, Johnny Wrestling takes the action right to Joe in the main event. Four minutes or so of the Samoan Submission Machine dishing out punishment follows, with Gargano playing the plucky underdog who won't stay down. Eventually, a series of strikes creates an opening for the Coquina Clutch, and Joe wins by submission.
- A commitment to make sure Finn is on each edition of NXT is nice, even if it's only to deliver a few lines. The champ shouldn't be missing as much as Bálor was last year.
- After getting hyped for the main event, was kind of shocked at how brief it was. I put it together based on the runtime of the show, but considering the build to it and some buzz I saw from the tapings, really thought this would more of an eight-minute back-and-forth.
- Like Swann/Corbin, dug how Johnny sold for Joe here. It's the kind of thing which has to be worth something backstage. Gargano's apron bump when Joe kicked his leg out was particularly noteworthy.
- Otherwise, nothing to complain about, but not much to talk about either. The bouts with the possible #1 contenders did their jobs: we've been reminded that Sami is a fighter who still has some rust on him, Baron is an arrogant force of nature and Joe is capable of killing everyone.
- Having watched a lot of old Rumble footage for work the last couple of weeks (an aside: I'm a lucky S.O.B. who's in the position I'm in thanks to everyone who's been reading my musings on this show over the years... so, thank you), I've heard a lot of great color guys like Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan lately. And nothing made me laugh harder than Graves' "he's an idiot" retort to Phillips when discussing Gargano's beating the ten count to continue tonight's main event.
Very workman-like show this week. Efficiently and effectively moved the major stories forward with a good mix of wrestling and interviews. The lack of a real standout match keeps me from rating it higher, but if you're going to be following the show, it's probably not an episode you want to miss, either.
Give us your take, Cagesiders.