Before we get to the opening, last week's video about Finn Bálor losing the title and unleashing the demon is replayed... setting up the theme for tonight's episode.
Former champ Finn Bálor opens the show, but he skips the usual theatrics of his entrance and just walks to the ring. A "thank you Finn" chant gets him to smile, and he says it should be him thanking the fans. He says that each of his trilogy of matches with Samoa Joe could have gone either way... and then he's interrupted by Elias Samson.
Playing a song he wrote for the former champ, the Drifter gets drowned out by boos from Full Sail. When he's done singing, he says that Bálor is nothing without the belt, then the Irishman Pele Kicks him in the face. Finn picks up the guitar and strums it a couple times before throwing it at Samson, who catches it on the ramp.
Cathy Kelley's interview with Eric Young from after his debut is shown, then Andrea D'Marco catches up with Bálor as he walks backstage. He says he'll finish delivering his message to Joe after he deals with Samson in the main event.
Our first match of the night is amazingly American Alpha's first time back at Full Sail since winning the tag belts. They get Corey Hollis & John Skyler in this one. Chad Gable & Jason Jordan both get to show off early, but get a little too cocky and the Olympian gets caught in their opponent's corner. A knee & leg drop combo lets them attempt a cover, but Gable gets to the corner for a tag. JJ goes into his finishing sequence, but when the straps come down, The Revival appear on stage. After a bit of a staredown, he pulls the straps back up so he can pull them down again, hit the corner shoulder block and then tag his partner in for Grand Amplitude and a win after five minutes.
The current and former champs jaw at one another, but when American Alpha invite Dash & Dawson into the ring, the heels leave, saying they'll fight on their time, not the champ's.
- Right from the jump, Finn annoys me. I was really encouraged by his throwing his arms up in the air with the crowd during his music. That's something that, even if only for a short while, would signal a real difference in his approach to whatever comes next. Then, he's back to smiling and thanking the fans. I'm not asking or hoping for a heel turn, but consistency and development would be swell.
- Same issue with following up the Pele Kick with strumming the guitar and tossing it back to Samson. He sold angry at being interrupted, and popped the crowd by decking the jerk who did it, then he's back to being a cut up. Imagine how much better this goes if he cuts out all the goofy/pandering stuff? March to the ring, start talking about wanting another shot at Joe, kick the Drifter's head off after his song, smash the guitar. Boom - progress.
- Live crowds do love to hate Samson, but I don't know how long that will be the case if he continues to be whipping boy to the stars.
- Guess it hasn't been that long ago, but Dallas feels far enough in the past that I can't believe we're just now getting this kind of show setting the wheels in motion for the next live special - which is now less than a month away. Maybe it's the time I spent thinking about Ring of Honor's problems this week, but NXT's not exactly making the most of their schedule this cycle, either.
- Not sure I'll ever be able to let go of my belief that Gable & Jordan are better as villains. I'm fine with them as babyfaces - Chad is too great in peril (and in general) and JJ gives great hot tag - but the stretch in this match where they're showing off for each other and then doing victory laps mid-match is great rudo schtick.
- These are all nits, because there's no such thing as a not-fun American Alpha match. But even the way Tom Phillips has taken to calling them "the Alphas" sounds heel-ish (I'm just saying).
Quick interview with Shinsuke Nakamura about his match with Alex Riley from Kelley, and Swagsuke says he's "shaking with rage". Their match lasts about two minutes, with A-Ry taking a lot of stiff looking knees and forearms after he mocks the King of Strong Style. The match, and Riley's WWE career, ends with Kinshasa.
In the General Manager's office, Austin Aries gets a minute of William Regal's time. The two agree that A-Double being an impact player, but before what they can decide what he'll do next, Blake & Murphy walk in demanding a tag title shot. Aries says they're disrespecting him - especially since they didn't bring Alexa Bliss, which prompts them to bring her into frame, which pleases the Greatest Man That Ever Lived - and an argument leads to Regal making a tag match for next week. Austin gets out his phone to make a few calls and bring in a partner.
Bliss has a match with Rachel Ellering (daughter of Road Warriors' manager Paul). The newcomer and Alexa start out with some grappling and Ellering gets the upper hand, before Pixie Hulk is able to stomp her arm and take control. Rachel actually powers out of a wristlock, but Bliss slips out and sets up her Sparkle Splash with a choke slam, getting the pin in a little under four minutes.
Once more to Cathy Kelley, who's speaking to Bayley about her rematch for the Women's title. Bayles says she's working hard to get ready after Asuka gave her the fight of her life in Dallas. Nia Jax walks up to say their match in London was one mistake that she's learned from, something the Hugster hasn't done. They bicker about their London bout and what would happen in a rematch.
- Though the Riley/Nakamura bout was exactly what I wanted it to be - and either Shinsuke is an even better actor than I gave him credit for or A-Ry legit pissed him off with the slaps to the back of his head, because, damn, did that boy get his ass kicked after that - I don't want to celebrate it too much. No matter how big a jerk he seemed, the man did just lose his dream job.
- Fun squash aside, could we please get one of the best pro wrestlers on Earth something to do other than beat up journeymen?
- Ahhh, the General Manager's office scene... how I missed you. And it's not just the backstory these provide, or the chance they provide to get to know the players a little better. Regal is such a great straight-man, not having him interact with the guys and gals at every opportunity is a missed opportunity to have a more entertaining show.
- Aries isn't calling Bobby Roode, because if the Dirty Heels reunited on next week's show, WWE would have already spoiled it. But I still hope Aries is calling Bobby Roode.
- Not much to go on, but Ellering showed some promise. She worked her way through technical stuff and power spots smoothly, and came off naturally when she was selling and on offense. Unlike a lot of the women they bring in for these enhancement matches, I'd like to see more of her.
- Bliss continues to be a bit of a riddle. Her heel mannerisms are so good, it's almost alright that she seems to have plateaued in the ring. And she's not bad, but I think it's time to give up hope she's gonna be Four Horsewomen class someday.
- What in the blue hell is up with giving her the choke slam, or upper-chest slap-push as it worked out here? I'm guessing it's an attempt to tie-in the Freddy Krueger/skeletal hand jewelry she wears (she also does a gesture with that hand before her finisher now, too), but she - and her hand - are too small for it to work. There's no reason Ellering or any opponent wouldn't just swat her mitt off their chest before she could push them over.
- So, the story we're doing with the Hugster is that Asuka's beating sent her back to where her character was last year at this time? Not crazy about that, but I understand why they'd try to do it. The rise from fangirl to badass is a key selling point for the Bayley gimmick, so it's worth exploring ways to tell that story repeatedly.
Tom Phillips informs us next week will feature Blake & Murphy vs. Aries & partner, plus Bayley vs. Nia Jax.
Another Bálor entrance, but this time he does it up. He gets the best of Samson early on, so the Drifter rolls out before a commerical. When we return, Finn is working the arm, but Elias sneaks in a shot when the referee calls for a break, which lets him go on offense for a bit. Drop elbows and a suplex get him a couple nearfalls, but the former champ battles back and sends his opponent to the floor once again with a series of drop kicks and clotheslines. That leads to the soccer kick from the apron, then the sling blade, corner drop kick and 1916 for the victory in around six minutes.
Grabbing a microphone, Bálor says he'll make no excuses for losing to Joe in Lowell, but he wants his rematch. He's always been obsessed with the NXT title; now he's a demon possessed who's stalking it like prey.
The champ arrives, and shouts his way down to the ring about how Finn doesn't get a rematch. Regal slides in between them, saying he makes the decisions around here and this scene won't devolve into chaos. He books them as the main event of the next TakeOver, June 8 here in Full Sail.
Joe keeps yelling, so Bálor uses some cover from the GM to launch a tope con hilo onto the champ. Finn grabs the belt and tells Joe to enjoy it while he can, because he won't have it for long. He drapes it over his body and leaves.
- Match-wise, the main event was fine. It served its purpose, and Samson is actually growing on me as a worker (my concern from above about his utility stands, but maybe they just see him as a jobber-to-the-stars type).
- The closing angle was a well-executed way to set-up the next NXT title feud. My issues with consistency from Bálor aside, he displayed good fire. Even without a mic, Joe established himself as a heel with a move right out of the Kevin Owens playbook by claiming Finn doesn't deserve another shot after all the chances he got. The only thing better than Regal setting up people's jokes when he's taking zero shit as the authority figure.
- But I'm just not excited for more of this feud.
This was a nice return to a formula which has served NXT well over its existence. It will likely lead to a really strong TakeOver card which will make us forget a lot of our issues with the weekly show and the direction of the brand.
But those live shows use really amazing wrestling to accomplish that, and there wasn't anything here which qualifies as that. Factor in the stories they're telling not resonating with this viewer, and this was a step in a positive direction - but just a small one.
What say you, Cagesiders?