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NXT preview (May 18, 2021): Correcting course

NXT returns tonight (May 18) from the Capitol Wrestling Center (CWC) in Orlando, Florida.

Advertised for the show:

  • Johnny Gargano defends the North American title against Bronson Reed in a Steel Cage
  • Toni Storm vs. Zoey Stark
  • Cameron Grimes’ nemesis Ted DiBiase will appear live
  • Arash Markazi interviews Pete Dunne
  • A Prime Target special on next week’s Finn Bálor vs. Karrion Kross NXT title match

As usual, here are our five questions about NXT tonight:

1) How will Austin Theory get into the cage?

Look, this isn’t our first rodeo. We all know what it means when a wrestling show tells us they’re booking a steel cage match to ensure there’s no outside interference.

It doesn’t necessarily mean Theory will succeed - either in interfering in the match, or even getting into the cage. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s kind of a meathead. At some point he’ll have to set up his next feud, too (unless he’s still beefing with Dexter Lumis? But that story feels like it may have shifted over to being Candice LeRae & Indi Hartwell-specific).

He and Johnny Gargano already wounded Bronson Reed with a backstage attack last week that motivated General Manager William Regal to book this match. And Johnny didn’t need help beating Reed at TakeOver: Stand & Deliver... although in that case, the Colossal One was coming off a gauntlet match the night before.

Overall, there’s a decent amount of intrigue about the outcome of this one. Gargano’s title reign has been great, but now that The Way have the Women’s Tag championship, watching him deal with being belt-less could be a lot of fun. It could also free him up to jump back to the top of the card, something I thought out loud about in this space last week. Getting a past main eventer back in the NXT title picture is also the kind of reaction last week’s ratings could trigger.

2) Will Triple H & team “course correct” in response to their numbers the last couple weeks?

A lot of fingers pointed at the booking when NXT’s Tuesday ratings looked a lot like their old Wednesday ones last week. Specifically, folks called out the decisions to take the top titles off a pair of established stars right before the schedule change.

They’ll get a chance to reverse direction in atop the men’s division next week, and it’s hard to argue they shouldn’t. Post-injury Karrion Kross never had much buzz, and as I & many others have noted, he’s always felt like main roster act. Finn Bálor, on the other hand, brings main roster-level star power but fits right in with the black-and-gold brand style.

Tonight’s hype video for the Kross/Bálor rematch next Tuesday probably won’t tip their hand. But it should add spice to what will already be a suspenseful showdown.

3) Can Raquel González officially be a face?

The fix for the Women’s champ seems easier, especially since they’ve been teasing it since before she won the strap. And her first clearly heel rival is literally standing right night to her.

Will babyface Big Mami Cool vs. Dakota Kai be a ratings bonanza? I don’t know. But the flip-flopping González has been doing gives audiences zero reason to invest in her one way or another.

4) Is Hit Row part of the answer?

Isaiah “Swerve” Scott’s stable just got its official introduction last week, so this is almost certainly jumping the gun. But the act feels like the kind of thing that could really catch on. All four members of the group look very comfortable in their roles, and they bring a cool factor NXT’s been missing since the height of Undisputed ERA’s run.

It’s impossible for Triple H’s brand to ever recapture the alternative vibe it had before AEW hit the scene. People are much less willing to buy NXT as the anti-WWE when there’s an actual competitor on a major cable station, and the wrestlers showing up aren’t people you never thought WWE would sign any more - because most of them have been WWE wrestlers for a while now.

Finding the right gimmicks for performers like Swerve might be a way to get some of the rebel swagger back, though. Supporting the brand that supports the stars “Vince doesn’t get” is cooler than watching the show Chris Jericho likes to dunk on.

5) Why aren’t we doing MSK vs. Grizzled Young Veterans?

It feels like the men’s tag scene has faded into the background since the Dusty Classic ended. Which is weird, because it felt like we were primed for the hottest tag feud since the days of #DIY, American Alpha, and The Revival.

Nothing against Legado Del Fantasma, but the entire act feels like it’s spinning its wheels right now. Santos Escobar should be done with the Cruiserweight title after last week’s thrilling main event loss to Kushida. Maybe after Raul Mendoza & Joaquin Wilde get the shot NXT’s been building to we can get back to having Zack Gibson snarl menacingly at Wes Lee & Nash Carter.

Give us your questions and answers in the comments below. Then join us in our live blog and we’ll see what Qs and As tonight’s show gives us.

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