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NXT recap & reactions (Mar. 18, 2020): Buying Time


NXT returned last night from the Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.

Buying a week

NXT pretty much took a week to buy themselves some time to figure out their plan for the future.

They put on a generally entertaining, but certainly inessential, show. It was basically recapping big beats that are going on in the promotion, with Triple H and Tom Phillips playing our hosts for the night. They focused on wrestlers with long histories that they could explore. There was an hour long retrospective of the Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa program. There was a look at Finn Bálor. And a feature on Rhea Ripley.

These things were all done well, and we’ll touch upon them a little more in a bit. But they didn’t bring anything new to the table. This isn’t a sustainable format. Eventually they’re going to have to figure out how to progress their stories as the perform in front of empty crowds due to the COVID crisis.

This week just gives them time to figure out what their plan is going to be. It will help them figure out who they have at their disposal given possible travel issues. Next week, hopefully they’ll have mapped out how they’re going to present their stories in this new era.

Now let’s take a look at what they gave us:

Gargano/Ciampa retrospective

As mentioned above, the first half of the show was a retrospective of the Tommaso Ciampa/Johnny Gargano feud.

Honestly, this is the only feud that this long look works with give their long history. And it was well done. Both men narrated it and let us know their thoughts. That helped connect everything together in regards to motive. Because now we had the babyface of the story explaining his long run of heel actions. And we had the villain narrating all those times he was the victim, leading into their conflict right now.

I certainly appreciated Gargano’s explanation for his actions at TakeOver: Portland. He claimed he came out to support his old friend but then saw a look in Ciampa’s eyes when Tommaso grabbed for the title when the referee was down. It was the same look he had when he stabbed Johnny in the back. Ciampa had a very good retort saying that he allowed Johnny to have his title match against Andrade (“Cien” Almas) at TakeOver: Philadelphia. But Gargano didn’t do the same in Portland. And that’s true! This connected the entire story to really make the entire three years cohesive, solidifying as quite the epic rivalry.

We got a lengthy look at some of the matches because they were trying to soak up time with this. And it was clear pretty early on that this was going to take up a good chunk of the show. So while it was well done and surely entertaining, it was still recapping a story that most fans know very well. (Though with this story being over such a long period of time and NXT possibly picking up new fans last October when they moved to USA, there were certainly some where didn’t know the nitty gritty details that they gave here.)

But they added enough so it didn’t feel like complete waste of time. It was pretty much an hour long documentary of NXT’s more storied rivalry. And WWE produces these things very well. Plus we finally got that explanation we were promised.

Finn Bálor’s history

Finn Bálor got the same type of treatment that the Gargano/Ciampa feud did. He has a long history in NXT given his first run there. So they decided to discuss his NXT tenure the first time around, his ups and downs on the main roster, and then his return to NXT as a new man.

This was carried by the strength of the interview Bálor gave. The most interesting part was Finn explaining that it was his match with Brock Lesnar that reminded him of the thrill of the fight he knew from NXT. That was his catalyst to return.

Rhea Ripley interview

Rhea Ripley doesn’t have a long history in NXT like Finn Bálor or the Gargano/Ciampa history. So instead, they drew on her very different personality in the first Mae Young Classic when she was kind of a standard tall blonde.

It was comparisons to other women like Charlotte, Lana, or Toni Storm that made her realize she wasn’t being true to herself. That was the catalyst for the total change we saw from the first to second MYC. And the catalyst for her great success.

It was a good little character building bit, but it didn’t have the meat to it for the time it took up.

I feel weird grading shows given they’re trying to figure things out on the fly.

So I’ll say this for this episode instead. As someone who has to watch NXT weekly, this was enjoyable enough. But if I didn’t have to sit down at 8 PM every Wednesday and watch NXT live, I probably would have skipped this one. After sitting through these two hours, I know skipping it would have been the right call.

What they presented to us was well done, but it was pretty much a recap of what we already knew.

It’ll be very interesting to see what they plan for next week.

And we’ll see you then. Stay safe out there.

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