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NXT recap & reactions (Apr. 15, 2020): And still... kinda

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Essential NXT returned last night (Apr. 15) from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.

A New Partner

With Pete Dunne stuck overseas and unable to defend his portion of the NXT tag team titles, the BroserWeights were tasked to find a replacement for a title defense against Undisputed ERA last night.

Dunne did all the work, which feels like that would be the dynamic when these two have an assignment. The Bruiserweight came through though as he chose blue chipper Timothy Thatcher as his (interim) replacement.

Bobby Fish didn’t have his normal tag team partner either. It was Roderick Strong instead of Kyle O’Reilly. However, those three are so in tune with the other that it doesn’t matter. They’re a smooth tag team.

Thatcher didn’t get too much time to show off in this bout. Most of it was Riddle playing the face in peril. But he did have a flurry early on and he had the hot tag and submitted Roddy for the win. So that’s quite the debut.

I haven’t watched any Evolve or PWG, but I know there’s a little history between Riddle and Thatcher, which should make this interesting. I also know that Malcolm Bivens once managed Thatcher. And currently, Bivens has his eyes set on those tag team titles. Even if you’re like me and don’t really know the history, the fact it’s there should shine through in this program.

Where’s Cole?

It’s been a good month and a half since Adam Cole has been inside Full Sail/WWE Performance Center. He invited Velveteen Dream to a face to face confrontation but still sent a poolside promo, claiming that people should be protecting the normal - him as NXT champion.

Dream still came out to deliver his rebuttal. However, it was putting Cole over as perhaps the greatest NXT champion of all time that caused an issue.

That compliment brought out Finn Bálor, who can also claim to be the greatest NXT champion of all time. Finn was great here. He’s so cocky. He doesn’t care about Dream but hates the idea that someone may be better than him that he has to go and make himself known.

As he walked off, Dream made the challenge for next week.

That’s a marquee match, though at this point, neither man can lose. So it’s very possible we see Undisputed interference, Imperium interference, or both.

Tick Tock

The segment setting up a Tommaso Ciampa/Killer Kross feud took less than a minute.

Ciampa set up a video to admit he lost to Johnny Gargano last week and to say it was time to move on. He was done with both Johnny and Candice. But before he could finish his thoughts, he was attacked.

The attack knocked over the camera but we did see a woman’s boot (presumably Scarlett Bordeaux) and Killer Kross’ face.

It was well done, keeping the allure of Kross throughout all this, from the creepy videos, to stalking last week in a car, to a sneak attack in a lonely room. Keeping him away from the ring so far has helped build his character’s mystique.

The Impossible Mountain

Charlotte Flair was represented by a video promo, where she put herself over big time. She claimed she dominated three eras of Women’s wrestling. And now she’s come to NXT to run through the division that she has heard was the best there is.

She actually challenged Mia Yim, who was her first ever match in NXT when Mia was just enhancement talent, for the first title shot. And she said she’ll fight them all. So Io Shirai didn’t really need to win a ladder match at all since it sounds like she’s not going first and she’ll get a shot anyway.

That disconnect from last week aside, this really set Charlotte up a the mountain to climb for all the women in NXT. Putting over her own legacy so much makes her the big bad in the women’s division and when someone does beat her, it’ll be a big deal. That may be a while though.

A Lil Help

Tegan Nox faced off with Raquel González to get a little revenge on the woman who cost her the feud with Dakota Kai.

The match played up the size difference between the women. Raquel bossed Nox around, using that advantage. But Nox wasn’t going to be kept down that easily and eventually fought her way back. When the referee’s back was turned, Dakota Kai delivered a big kick to her on the apron.

This brought out Shotzi Blackheart, who lost the gauntlet match weeks back because she had to deal with both Dakota, who was in the match, and Raquel, who wasn’t. She took out Kai with her horned helmet. This distracted González, who was rolled up by Nox.

This was a good way to get Shotzi involved in a feud while protecting Raquel in a loss but not too much that it detracted from Nox’s win.

Cruiserweight tournament

The cruiserweight tournament delivered us a fun opening match this week.

Akira Tozawa picked up a big first win over Isaiah “Swerve” Scott. It was a strong bout, with some fun submission reversals by Akira (something I always appreciate) before putting Scott away with a Senton. Picking up a win in this group is big because it’s stacked, with Scott, Tozawa, Jack Gallagher, and El Hijo de Fantasma all in it.

Akira cut a quick promo after, vowing to get the title he briefly held years ago back. This gives Tozawa focus and drive that he hasn’t been able to show lately.

Not the Voice of NXT

Last week, I discussed how much I loved Mauro Ranallo calling NXT for that empty arena show. His voice is associated with NXT, and he is able to bring a unique energy to make up for the lack of an audience. I felt the show was better because he was the one calling it.

Now that WWE insists on taping these weekly, Mauro isn’t an option. He called the action from home after was taped. So we get Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton instead.

Even though these guys have their roots in NXT, they’re the current Raw duo. That makes this feel like more of an extension of Raw. Tom Phillips is fine, but he’s not the energy Mauro brings. He’s akin to a glass of milk if it were an announcer. He’s your prototypical WWE announcer to a tee. It didn’t detract from the show. But it was a drop from last week.

All the rest:

- Finn Bálor opened the show with a victory over Fabian Aichner. He had to contend with Marcel Barthel on the outside too, but he got the job done. He’ll probably have to face Barthel at one point, but of course he has Velveteen Dream first.

- We got a Keith Lee video package this week where he talked about his journey to where he is today. It was really good. He delved into how he had to defy his parents to do this, even getting kicked out of the house for his dream. It didn’t rewrite the formula of these hype videos but Lee is so charismatic that it works even better than usual.

- Dexter Lumis picked up a win over Tehuti Miles. As a fan of horror movies, I really love this gimmick. From the music, to his vacant stare, to the black gloves. And it’s not too over the top that hit will be hard to book matches. Later on, Lumis creepily watched from the crowd during the tag title match. We’ll see which of those men he was stalking. Or maybe he was just taking in a show.

- Xia Li got some revenge against Aliyah after Aliyah orchestrated an attack on Xia weeks back. Li showed some fire at the end while she finished off her foe with her kicks.

This was a pretty good show. The Thatcher debut was big, though as someone who doesn’t know his work, it wasn’t big for me as it would be for people who followed his career. Meaningly I’ll need time to learn what makes him so popular with the folks who know him, if that’s something that translates in the NXT system.

There was nothing bad on this show and some good matches, but outside the main event, it was pretty standard fare.

Grade: B

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