Last week set the stage for Dallas, but there's still two shows until we get there! Here's one of them.
Actual wrestling starts us off, with the undefeated Elias Samson against fan favorite Johnny Gargano. After a balanced opening few minutes, the Drifter starts inflicting punishment with an elbow and kicks. Gargano tries for his Spear from the apron, but Samson counters with a high knee. When Elias tries the same thing moments later, Johnny Wrestling rolls him up for his first loss on NXT television after a couple minutes.
Losing enrages Samson, who attacks from behind, hits his neckbreaker and continues to work over Gargano on the floor. Apollo Crews eventually runs down to push him away, and they have a staredown. The Drifter backs away from a fight with a smile on his face.
Full Sail approves of Rich Swann's dance moves, but it's all business when Finn Bálor makes his way to the ring for a non-title affair. It's a chess match early on, but then the newcomer gets in a lot of offense over the bout's five minute runtime, highlighted by hurricanranas and drop kicks. After one of the latter, Swann takes a bit too long setting up a dive to the floor and the champ puts him into the guard rail and then kicks him in the head from the apron. Back in the ring, Bálor blasts his opponent into the corner and finishes him with a Coup de Grâce followed by the recently re-christened 1916.
- Full Sail doesn't like Samson, I guess in the right way. Personally, I remain unmoved one way or the other. He's a solid worker with a good look, but the new wrinkle of looking wide-eyed to signal he's about to go on a deranged attack just makes me miss when the guy who is now Adam Rose did something similar.
- Not terribly excited that he and Crews - another guy who's skills I recognize yet can't get excited about - will round out the TakeOver: Dallas card, but it should be a good test for both, and how it's booked will lead to a lot speculation about their futures.
- Continue to be intrigued by the use of Gargano (and Tommaso Ciampa, when it's his turn in the same role), and thought his getting the win while taking the beating was a pretty ingenious way to build both of them. That NXT doesn't do that kind of finish three times a week helps.
- After a show last week which really highlighted their comedic timing, Corey Graves and Tom Phillips flexed some other muscles tonight. Their call of Swann vs. Bálor was the best example - explaining why William Regal would make the match and why the champ would take it (to stay fresh and because trying to ground Rich would make him work the style Joe will want to force him into) really added to what otherwise could have been nothing more than fun filler.
- Watch for Swann in Global Crusierweight Series - should be a great way to launch him as a major player on NXT.
- Props to Finn for a lot of good non-verbal character work, especially in the final minute or so. I don't think it's teasing a heel turn (but if we do get Gun & Gallows as his back-up after next weekend, who knows?), but there's been a good progression since London in portraying him as a man who knows he has to do more to stay on top. Bringing back his old finisher is a great example of that (and makes one less guy trying to end things with a foot stomp, which is fine by me).
An interview with Alex Reyes sets up our main event. Emma explains why tonight will be different from previous times she's faced Asuka, and Dana Brooke reveals she's been hurt since Respect. Tonight, the Australian promises to take down the Empress of Tomorrow, and Brooke won't pat Reyes head because they mean business. SIKE
Video package details Shinsuke Nakamura's various signing announcements and first appearances as a WWE Superstar, and recaps last week's big announcement of his TakeOver: Dallas match against Sami Zayn.
Accompanied by her boys, Alexa Bliss returns to face Sarah Dobson. It's all Bliss for most of the match, until Dobson lands a few kicks in the ropes off an Irish Whip. A cross body goes wrong and looks to catch Alexa with a shin to the nose. The non-roster wrestler tries for a cartwheeling splash, but Blake distracts the ref while Murphy pulls AB out of the way. A Glitz Flip and Sparkle Splash end it in about four minutes.
Samoa Joe storms off before Reyes can even finish a question backstage. He then ambushes Bull Dempsey on his way to the ring, choking him out with a Coquina Clutch. Bull's scheduled opponent Danny Burch gets the same in the ring, and Joe screams at the camera that this was a message for Bálor. He'll do the same thing in Dallas to claim HIS title.
- Gonna miss the odd chemistry they have, but it's time for Dana to show us what she can do without Emma. Provided her injury is healed, she should be a big part of the women's scene this year.
- Always nice to see Alexa, but this was not a great showcase for her. It's probably fair to pin most of that on Dobson, but the match was sloppy and seeing as how neither she nor the Boys have any kind of story right now...
- There are worse ways to leave a job than being sacrificed to a Samoan Submission Machine, right?
The new #1 contenders for the tag titles get an extensive video package, detailing their amateur backgrounds. The theme is that both came up short as singles guys (Chad Gable at the Olympics; Jason Jordan in the NCAA tournament), but think they've found the missing piece by teaming with each other.
Alex Riley vs. Apollo Crews and Bull Dempsey vs. Samoa Joe are announced for next week, and a teaser is played for new character No Way Jose.
Final match of the evening starts by demonstrating how well the two combatants know one another. Emma gets caught in the flying arm bar, but makes the ropes and watches as Asuka mocks her with a dance. Several submissions later, the Aussie rolls through on an ankle lock and sends the Joshi star to the floor. She takes out her legs when she tries to come back through the ropes, and proceeds to assault her with kicks and by pulling her arms while standing on her hair.
The heel slows things down for the longest we've seen Asuka work from underneath in her NXT career. Another hair pull leads to Emma being admonished by the ref, during which Dana chokes Asuka. The Emma-mite Sandwich only gets a one count, and the #1 contender's comeback begins with a hip attack shortly thereafter. They trade strikes, and Emma rolls up Asuka and almost gets the win, but the official sees her feet on the ropes.
As we near the fifteen minute mark, a frustrated Emma tries for a kick which is caught and turned into an ankle lock. That's transitioned into a suplex, which sets her up for a running knee. Asuka slaps on her submission finisher and wins via tapout.
- Really upset they haven't released the American Alpha video as a standalone clip. If they do, it'll get its own post, because I thought it was a fantastic piece of business and probably the best thing on the show. Erased all my doubts about them as babyfaces. Put them over as a tag team and promoted pirs wrestling in a way WWE hasn't done in over a decade. Great, great stuff.
- Will probably be more torn about that match than any other on the card, because I think Gable & Jordan and Dash & Dawson are equally entertaining and important to the future of the scene, if in different ways on both counts.
- Our sources tell us that No Way Jose is not Manny "La Sombra" Andrade, so calm down everyone (it's Levis Valenzuela, Jr.).
- Couldn't shake my fear for Emma on the main roster throughout the last match, but that's because I realized how women's main events have become common place enough on Wednesday nights that they're not newsworthy anymore... and she can kiss those goodbye on Mondays and Thursdays.
- These two have really good chemistry and I was impressed how they built upon their previous encounters and created a small sense of danger for Asuka, even though we all knew there was no chance she was losing. Maybe for that last reason, I found myself in the same boat Full Sail seemed to be in, however - unable to really lose myself in the bout.
- Was on the fence about whether or not they'd kept Asuka and Bayley apart too much leading into Dallas, but they missed another opportunity to at least put them on the same screen here tonight. It's cliche, but she could have showed up to keep Brooke in check and then displayed a little more moxie when eye-to-eye with the challenger. They've only got one more week to tell a story which, with what's been on-screen so far, is that their John Cena-esque champ is scared. I really want a strong 'go home' speech from the Hugster next week, where she owns up to her fears and talks about how she'll fight through them. It's trite, but it works, and their program needs it for the audience outside the internet bubble.
The usual solid show. There feels like there should be more momentum heading into Apr. 1, though. It's almost like NXT knows the card is killer so they're coasting instead of accelerating into the show.
It also could be that the roster's expanded to where they're not featuring each story on every episode - we haven't heard from Baron Corbin in three weeks, for instance. It's a challenge, and I don't feel like they've gone out of their way to answer it.
Some good stuff, and I'm still jazzed for next Friday, but... something's off.