Straight to our opening credits this week. With so much wrestling on Wednesday nights, NXT means business!
TM61 are out as we open with tag action. Their opponents are two men who’ve been eliminated from the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC), Ariya Daivari and Tony Nese. EVOLVE regular Nese starts off with Shane Thorne, and quickly takes control with a flurry of kicks. After the Aussie answers with a drop kick both men tag out. Things get chaotic and lead to Tony and Shane both end up taking dives to the ramp. A cheap shot on Thorne lets the cruiserweight duo work him over for a time, but Diavari taunts Nick Miller, which allows his partner to hit an European Uppercut. Nese cuts off a tag and we get a commercial.
The makeshift team is still in control when we return, but another uppercut does bring in Miller. Nese manages to land a few kicks during Nick’s house afire routine, but TM61 lands stereo splashes and nearly get a win with the leg sweep/clothesline combo, but Ariya breaks up the pin. A frog splash by Daivari almost leads to a pin, but that’s broken up, and a roll-up with a handful of tights is kicked out of. Thorne hits another clothesline and brings in his partner for their Thunder Valley finish in just under eight minutes.
Interviewer duties for our promised sit-down interview with Women’s champ Asuka fall to Tom Phillips. They discuss her title defense in Brooklyn, and Asuka says the crowd was crazy and Bayley was the heart of NXT, but she fought harder. Tom runs down the list of women who’ve been unable to beat her over the past year, and the Empress of Tomorrow says they’re lucky they don’t have to face her anymore. She talks about the importance of representing Japan, and speaks in her native tongue to her fans there. Finally, Phillips asks if any Superstar is ready to challenge her. The champ says something in Japanese, than tells him “no one is ready for Asuka”.
Steve Cutler, who will be sacrificed to the NXT champ in the main event, tells Dasha Fuentes that he doesn’t think Shinsuke Nakamura has sacrificed much at all in his career. He puts over his four years in developmental, then says he doesn’t care if you like, love or hate him, you will respect him.
- Solid opener, but did anyone else find it weird how they just kind of glossed over TM61’s loss to Authors of Pain in Brooklyn? I don’t think it’s a slight to Thorne & Miller as much as an indication they’re not really ready to have Paul Ellering’s guys do anything meaningful yet.
- They exist in a pocket universe until it’s time for them to take the belts. Maybe it is an issue with the Australians, though. If a second babyface team was over enough to work a long program with them, we might see more AoP vs. TM61. While this was a fun match, I still don’t feel much attachment to Shane & Nick, and judging by the middling reactions, I don’t think I’m alone.
- In fact, this kept up last week’s theme of my being more impressed with the folks putting over the winners. I’ve never been a huge fan of Nese in EVOLVE, but he looked like he belonged here, which follows up on a good showing in the CWC and should put him in the conversation should anyone wash out from the ten names headed to Raw in a couple weeks. Daivari looked solid in fewer minutes, too.
- The Asuka interview was a fantastic piece of business - for Asuka, and whoever eventually beats her six months down the line. Saying that the women promoted to the main roster were “saved” from facing her? Damn straight. But there’s a lot of truth to the “No one is ready for Asuka” line, and they have their work cut out for them to keep things interesting until somebody gets there.
- Regarding her delivery, she spoke slowly, but didn’t really appear to be searching for words. Blending in Japanese at key points fits in excellently with her overall babyface badass persona. She’s making strides, and considering how gifted a non-verbal actress she is, I wonder how much more they need her English to improve.
- Feel kind of like a jerk for thinking it, but I can’t be the only one asking if this is the “get him on TV before we release him” tour for Cutler.
After Leah Von enters, Ember Moon makes her televised Full Sail debut. The two acrobatically avoid tie-ups, but Moon gets a quick two count off a cross body. Von takes control with a knee to the gut followed by a clothesline, but some rest hold work leads to her getting kicked and taking a back elbow from Ember. A suplex sets up a corner handspring splash and the diving stunner finish in roughly 2:40.
Charly Caruso asks No Way Jose about being disrespected by Bobby Roode last week. He didn’t like it, and “no way” will he be talked to like that and “no way” will he change for anyone.
Tag champs the Revival get a hype video, which leads us to a scene where Tommaso Ciampa’s ribs are being checked by a trainer. Johnny Gargano walks up and says if he’s cleared, William Regal gave them a tag match on next week’s CWC live finale. Ciampa gets the okay, but is more worried about getting revenge on Dash & Dawson. They agree to show what DIY can do next week, then set their sights on the tag belts.
A bout that was set-up by a backstage interaction last week is next, as Andrade “Cien” Almas squares off with Austin Aries. Each man uses his signature style at the start as they work to draw. Aries goes outside for a breather, and when he’s chased back into the ring, tries again by throwing Almas over the top, but he catches himself for his trademark pose and sends A-Double to the floor and follows with a plancha.
Back in the ring, Cien smells blood and goes for a top rope manuever, but gets shoved face first to the floor. Bringing his opponent back in, Aries viciously works him over before hitting a back elbow and trying for a cover. Almas kicks out of that and eventually fights his way out of a rest hold, but after landing a couple of strikes gets caught with a dropkick. Austin sets him up on the ropes, but gets pushed down himself. After a moonsault from the top is dodged, Andrade lands on his feet and immediately hits a standing moonsault for a nearfall. After another offensive stalemate, A-Double slides in and out of the ring, thwarting his opponent’s next moves. Cien finally goes for a springboard rana, which Aries turns into a powerbomb and transitions into Last Chancery. The luchador taps in a little more than eight minutes.
- While there were still a couple sloppy moments in the match, this was a much better showing for Ember than TakeOver. An intense yet energetic entrance (love the jump slide into the ring, although between that and her finisher, I hope she has a good chiropractor) and a borderline scary comeback sequence. It seems like kind of an overly high-concept gimmick, but as long as she can use it to get us pumped for her matches, that’s fine, and this made it look like she’ll be able to do just that.
- Are we officially going with Total Eclipse for the O-Face? It’s a little too Bonnie Tyler meets Stephenie Meyer for my taste, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.
- Feel like Caruso totally exacerbated the Roode/Jose thing with her leading questions. Whatever happened to ethics in kayfabe journalism?
- Top notch video for our top guy champs. And I can’t tell if Tommaso is just being his focused self when he’s interacting with Johnny, or if he kind of wants to kill him for taking advantage of the compassion he showed in the tournament, tapped out in their tag title match and then being nowhere to be found when he was getting his ass kicked last week.
- Really digging Aries now that he’s in full heel mode, and there were moments where Cien sucked me with his wrestling. But like the opener, this suffered from a lack of interest in the protagonist. And even more than that tag match, Full Sail really wasn’t feeling this one.
- Not that there’s been a ton of competition, but this was my favorite match of this taping so far.
Another “Sanity” vignette airs, and we learn that Roode and Jose will wrestle next week.
The “injured” Samoa Joe joins Phillips and Corey Graves at commentary for our final match of the night. After initially playing the jerk by not knowing Tom’s name, Joe is very gracious, saying he’s unhappy that he lost, but it was because he made mistakes and Shinsuke was the better man in Brooklyn.
Nakamura toys with Cutler to start, and the crowd encourages the former Marine to “take the countout”, discretion being the better part of valor and all that. The champ’s attacks lead to a couple renditions of “Good Vibrations”, but then Cutler catches a charging Nak with snake eyes and puts the boots to him. That only serves to anger the champion, who enters his finishing sequence and delivers Kinshasa to call it a day after three and a half minutes.
Watching Swagsuke in the ring with his belt visibly upsets Joe, and the champ’s smirk doesn’t help. He gets up, but instead of heading to the ring marches to the back as the episode ends.
- Sure, it’s basically infringing on a JeriKO gimmick, but who cares? Corey and Joe’s riff on not knowing Tom’s name was so well done, and different from how Kev & Chris do it, that it was its own thing. A former champ not knowing the lead announcer’s first name is one thing, but being brazen enough to ask the guy across from him "that's his name, right?" is lethal. At least it would be if the guy’s partner didn’t really murder you by looking into the camera to say, "We'll go with that".
- Anyway, yeah, Nak squash. The entrance is as long as the match, he goofs around, gets mad, ends it. Get used to ‘em.
- Joe suddenly discovering the spirit of competition and the value of sportsmanship is something else though. Of course, he hasn’t changed his stripes and is laying the groundwork for something that will probably be devastating to the champ and General Manager, but he sells a couple different reads on it - at least to me.
- The seething rage is there, there’s no hiding it. But is he forcing it down because he really wants to be a better man, or because he needs to for his plan to work. I think we all know the answer, but like Stephanie McMahon on Raw (a performance I admire even if I’m not big on the story it’s in service of), that they’re able to create any doubt or even make it intriguing is a credit to their efforts.
- Look out Shinsuke. I think Joe is gonna kill you.
Another building block episode, but - outside of the first bout - everything was more immediately important. Throw in an above average outing from Aries & Almas, and this one got the job done just fine.
Whaddaya got for us, Cagesiders?