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NXT recap & reactions (Feb. 6, 2019): Grapple Surprise


NXT returned to us last night with their first episode of the TakeOver: Phoenix fallout. You can find all the results in the live blog here.

Johnny Gargano kicks off the show with a promo. He’s proud to be our North American champion and claims Johnny Wrestling is back.

He is interrupted by the NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa. The champ claims he’s out here to celebrate Johnny’s moment. He says that they own the world right now. This was the dream they shared back in the day driving up and down the road.

Gargano says “No” to all this. There is no “our moment.” The only reason he came out after Phoenix was to prove he doesn’t need Ciampa.

Now the Velveteen Dream interrupts. He finds all of this cute. Dream claims tonight is about the man who stole TakeOver by just showing up. He reminds them he won World’s Collide. And he’s going to use his title shot against Johnny. Johnny is OK with this.

This was quite the interesting opening segment.

Johnny Wrestling is a curious case. The more nuanced story regarding Johnny’s slow heel turn leaves the fans in an interesting position. Some want to still cheer him. Some want to boo him. They’re all OK with a “You Deserve It” chant. They also want to chant “Johnny Jackass.” (Though the Full Sail crowd is always a curious case.)

He acts like a heel but thinks he’s a face. But thinks he’s a face enough that some fans still treat him like such. Without a clear crowd behind him, his presentation a bit muddled for a wrestling show, a genre that lives more in black and white. It’s still an enjoyable story, but the confused crowd is a byproduct of such a slow progression.

The other two are more set in their roles. Ciampa continues to be the manipulative SOB that you just love to hate.

And the Dream is always a delight. (Him telling Ciampa that he sees “lust in your eyes” may have been the best moment of the opener.) However, what I don’t understand is why Velveteen would choose the lesser title instead of the top prize in the company. Wouldn’t he want to get another chance to do what he couldn’t at TakeOver: WarGames and try to defeat Tommaso to win the top prize? Why would you ever choose a secondary title when you could fight for the primary one?

The fact they didn’t give us a good enough reason of why Dream chose to bypass the company’s top prize for a secondary one detracted a bit, but otherwise, a solid opening segment.

Jaxson Ryker def. Mansoor

After the match, he attacks his opponent further with another sit-down powerbomb.

It’s a squash, baby.

This just continues to show that Ryker is meant to be the standout of the Sons. However, a very quick squash, even with a post match attack, doesn’t give us much of a chance to show us why. We’ll need to see Ryker get something more than three minutes to decide if he is going to be special like they’re trying to present him.

Drew Gulak def. Eric Bugenhagen via submission

Gulak cuts a promo post match, complaining that he’s the best submission specialist in WWE and that’s what he gets? That’s just majorly disrespectful. If there’s someone in the back that wants to step to him, come out and get stretched.

Out comes Matt Riddle! He claims Gulak can either get out of the ring or he will come to the ring and tap him out of it. Gulak takes the match.

After a fantastic grapple bout, Riddle def. Gulak with the Bromission.

The men shake hands post match.

What a great surprise this was! This was like going to a sporting event and getting your seats upgraded from the nose bleeds to the lower level.

Gulak vs. Bugenhagen was all we expected. And it was fine. I know Eric was supposed to be the fun loving wrestler, but count me on the side of Gulak and announcer Nigel McGuinness. I saw this dude walk out and though “Gulak better kick the s*** out of this guy.” (Though I admit to laughing pretty long when his entrance gag went a minute longer than anticipated.)

It was a perfect opponent for the hardass Gulak and perfectly set up Riddle answering the post match challenge. Because the Bro is a fun loving guy too. (His kicking his flip flops off at the same time popped me.) But Bro can go.

The match was a blast. This type of submission/grappling style match is still unique in the WWE so it’s fun to watch in general. Watching two guys so damn good at it makes it special.

The fact it was an unannounced match added to how special it was. They could have easily said this would happen next week, and we’d all totally understand. But tossing us some surprises like this here and there spices things up.

Io Shirai, Kairi Sane, & Bianca Belair def. Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke, & Marina Shafir

This was a fun 6-woman tag match that set up a couple interesting things in the finish.

Io pinning Baszler is the biggest takeaway. Pinning the champion in a tag match puts one in the championship picture. It’s just how it goes. However, Bianca’s reaction to all of that was also a big point of note.

It was surprising that she was co-existing with the Sky Pirates as long as she did. But things start to fray when she first tagged herself in when she wasn’t the intended tag. And then Io returned the favor later when she tagged herself in for the win.

Bianca’s “I won but I didn’t get the pin” disappointment was perfect. It was clear but not too over the top. She was still willing to celebrate with the Sky Pirates, who over celebrated the win. (And if Bianca tossed Kairi down after Sane twirled Belair’s braid at the end, I think we all would have understood.)

This could be the start of an Io Shirai vs. Bianca Belair feud that figures out who faces Shayna next.

The match itself was fun. The four vets all did their part and the Sky Pirates continue to be fun. Duke and Shafir continue to do well with what they are asked. They weren’t out of place in this match even though they were often on offense.

This was a pretty fun episode this week. Bro vs. Gulak was the highlight for me.

Grade: B+

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