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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Dec. 13, 2017): Mixed messages

For a more detailed recap, check our live results post here.

Before we dig into segment breakdowns... this “WWE Holiday Week” edition of NXT, with the episode airing on USA Network an hour earlier in what the company touted as the brand’s broadcast debut, was damn weird.

If the goal was to make regular viewers appreciate the 30 seconds of in-house ads we get during a normal broadcast by inundating us with what felt like an hour of (2016 Warrior Award winner) Joan Lunden for elder care services - mission accomplished!

If it was to frustrate long-term viewers by (a) inundating us with commercials, but more importantly (b) leading us to believe the same show would be aired both places, then leaving one of the advertised matches off the broadcast version without clearly announcing it could be found on the streaming edition - also mission accomplished!

Beyond my own personal recapper/reviewer problems, I also question if what did show up on USA was terribly effective in letting newcomers know what NXT is all about. In the course of the longer story, a couple squash matches are useful. If you always watch Raw and you tuned in for this, you may think the black-and-yellow brand just offers more of what you get on Monday and Tuesday already.

We’ll dive a little more into the main event down the page, but while I liked it, I also wonder if presenting a barnburner like last week’s Johnny Gargano and Kassius Ohno match might not have been a more effective sell for the Network subscription needed to watch NXT on a regular basis. I figured we’d get more of a push for next week’s UK title rematch, as well.

It’s difficult for me to get an accurate read on this as a way to impress casual wrestling fans that this is a show they’d enjoy more often. I’ve been watching every week for years, so I’m not someone they need to hook. But my gut says this was an underwhelming sales pitch.

Hope I’m wrong. On with the show...

After a long recap of the title scene and General Manager William Regal’s series of matches to determine the next #1 contender, our first match sees NXT champion Andrade “Cien” Almas def. Fabian Aichner’s via pinfall following a hammerlock DDT (and a Zelina Vega distraction) in non-title action. A quick introduction to Aleister Black leads into a commercial on the USA Network version.

Aichner is really impressive, and Almas is quickly becoming one of my favorite salesmen in WWE. The way he took the Italian’s tornado DDT was a great example - devastating, but kind of funny, visibly demonstrating the move had a disorienting effect on him without hamming it up too much and completely taking us out of the match.

Decent little primer on what the champ and his associate are all about while also giving the former cruiserweight a platform to impress with his moveset again. But when almost everything in the match is included in the highlight package which follows the bell...

At least Nigel McGuinness finally offered a name for El Ídolo’s finisher. If it sticks, I’ll probably have to look up how to spell it for at least a few months, but “Cien Dolores de Cabeza” (100 headaches) does sound cool.

On the USA Network version, Ember Moon is profiled in a long video featuring Corey Graves, Charlotte Flair, Carmella and the woman herself all talking about how big a star she’ll be someday. That leads into a recap of her title win, complete with an operatic score, and then another commercial.

This got the biggest reaction out of me of anything that appeared on either version of this episode, but probably not the one Triple H and company wanted. Moon supporters will likely dislike this take, too, but here goes.

It’s Finn Bálor all over again.

If your kayfabe/in-story sales pitch for a wrestler is that they have a “great look”, as both Graves and Charlotte mention in this video, you’ve got a problem. Is having an interesting, attractive or distinctive look part of being a successful performer in this business/artform? Absolutely! It needs to be integrated into a character, though. It’s not a character trait in and off itself.

This is already giving me flashbacks to fans arguing that Finn was a license to print money on the main roster because he has a great entrance. With and without paint, Bálor has that. But especially in the deeper waters of the main roster, that and a cool leather jacket will get you a feud with The Miztourage.

Ember’s other attributes, per the company line summarized in this production, are also carbon copies of the Irishman. She’s great in the ring, and she’s always wanted to succeed as a wrestler. Those are wonderful things! They also don’t help me invest in the performer beyond a casual “eh, good for you”. I don’t want to see Moon fail, but I’m not gonna be terribly upset if she doesn’t reach the top, either - and that’s because they haven’t given me a reason to be.

If you feel that her journey to the Women’s title was actually as epic as it’s depicted as being here, you’re likely much more #TeamEmber. I hope there are lots of you. But I suspect I’m not alone in failing to be sucked in by the way they’re pushing her now.

Authors of Pain def. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch via pinfall following Final Chapter on Lorcan. After announcements for next week’s UK title match between Tyler Bate and champion Pete Dunne and Undispute ERA’s tag title shot, the champs SAnitY deliver a pre-taped promo saying they haven’t left the battlefield since WarGames, and vowing to get a different result next Wednesday.

- See the above comments on Aichner/Almas. Love both of these teams, and they got to do their thing in just a couple minutes. Unlike at least one half of the opener, however, I’ve got no idea what’s next for either of these teams. The Brit-Am Brawlers, as Mauro Ranallo dubbed Oney and Danny, especially need some kind of arc. Gritty, talented jobbers is a useful house show gimmick, but on television, they need to be headed in one direction or another.

- Not convinced they’re a great fit as in-match técnicos, but one way I definitely prefer EY and crew as babyfaces is in these promos. As chaotic good guys (and gal), they sound badass. Valiant, even. When they were supposed to be heels, it was just Wyatt-adjace word salad.

After a quick introduction to Adam Cole, Shayna Baszler’s debut is confirmed. In the main event, Aleister Black def. Cole via pinfall following Black Mass to earn a spot in the #1 contender Fatal 4Way.

As mentioned briefly above, this was fun. It got across both mens’ personalities. While it’s not ideal for Cole to take a clean loss in his first match after what appeared to be his arrival moment in Houston, it fits that his overconfidence - in not sweating that Regal barred Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly from ringside and getting caught multiple times because he chose to talk trash rather than finish Black... including screaming “Is that all you got!?!?” into Aleister’s boot on the Black Mass - cost him. The plan is pretty clearly to lean on AC’s charisma over all other attributes, and I trust in NXT to craft a good program out of that, and his tendency to lose or run away, over time.

The right man won. Black vs. Almas needs to happen for the belt at some point, either Philadelphia or New Orleans, and this gets us one step closer to either option. The brand’s reliance on Fatal 4Ways is worthy of a small eye-roll, but they’re useful in spinning multiple stories out of one match, so it’s impossible to get too upset about it.

Aside from the opportunity cost associated with not putting a different match in this spot, there was nothing wrong with this qualifier. They decided to push their two most charismatic stars instead of a likely “five star” match, and that’s a perfectly logical choice. Might not have been the one I’d make, but how’s my territory doing?

On the WWE Network version (prior to the main event), Women’s champ Ember Moon def. Peyton Royce in a non-title match, via pinfall following an Eclipse. When Billie Kay starts a two-on-one assault of the champion, Nikki Cross arrives to chase off The Iconic Duo. After a tense moment, the SAnitY member stares at the belt before leaving.

Once I learned this was still happening and sifted through an episode that was almost but not quite the same as the one I rearranged my schedule to watch an hour earlier (again - not a huge issue, but would it have killed you to let us know ahead of time... or even during the USA version?), this might have been my favorite match of the night.

It’s neck-and-neck with the main event, and felt more emblematic of what I think of as a “NXT Women’s match” than any of the ones which made the broadcast edition did for a “NXT Men’s match”.

What pushed it over, and this includes the “Shades of Kay” call by Nigel (who was on tonight), was the post-match angle. Billie looked fierce, and continued to show the signs we saw last week of being fed up with always taking a backseat when the Duo gets a title shot - especially since Pey can’t close the deal. Cross is always great, and they’ve figured out a way to make her “crazy” schtick also be adorable, just like her indie “White Chocolate Cheesecake of Sports Entertainment” character was a heel you wanted to hug as much as you wanted to see her opponent shut her up.

The program started here can take us all the way to Philly - and beyond. A tag match. Nikki vs. Ember. Moon vs. Kay. And more.

Imagine if Billie is the one to capture the title rather than Royce?

A lot of interesting ways they can go, and all of them should be entertaining. Why wasn’t this on television for more people to see again?

Oh, because they had to tell us about the champ’s “look”. How could I forget...

Again - I’d love to find out I’m off base and this thing killed in the ratings. If that happens, let me know. I’ll be busy getting excited about next week.

Grade: C (USA Network version); B- (WWE Network version)

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