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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Dec. 6, 2017): Back on track

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

William Regal recaps the #1 contender tournament announcement and informs us Velveteen Dream is injured, so he’ll find a suitable replacement to face Kassius Ohno tonight. Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega gloat about winning the NXT title, brag about injuring Drew McIntyre, and say they’re not worried about whoever Cien’s first challenger ends up being. Lars Sullivan tells reporters he’s going through Roderick Strong and Almas for the title. Killian Dain def. Trent Seven via pinfall following a Vader Bomb to advance to the #1 contender Fatal 4Way.

- Have to say, this was the least interesting/creative way to deal with the change from the taping report to the announced matches, back to the taped line-up. And I don’t think I’m saying that just because of the depressing news Patrick Clark is hurt (no word on the nature or extent of his injury, but he hasn’t wrestled since Houston). Full marks for casting some doubt on the spoilers, but not telling a story about Velveteen’s absence seems like a missed opportunity to set something else up down the line.

- The championship celebration was pretty much what it needed to be. Almas can convey a lot without speaking, as he showed when he was holding his belt up for the booing crowd at Full Sail during his pre-promo victory lap, but it makes sense to get him more comfortable cutting promos - in English and Spanish - during this reign. Vega was great (as usual) as his hype woman, telling us to embrace the legend of the new champ. Zelina didn’t need to do much this time, as she can be tagged in to handle narrative-advancing speeches when needed. This was all about El Ídolo acting smarmy, and he doesn’t need any help for that.

- Decent enough interview for Lars, although I like it when he uses big words and they really play up the intellectual monster angle. Heck, I wouldn’t complain if they went completely Hank McCoy with him (Mauro Ranallo isn’t the only one who can make comic book references).

- Continuing the theme from the first third of the episode, Dain/Seven was a brief, hard-hitting affair designed to remind us that SAnitY’s beast is, well, a beast. Not sure that dominating half of Moustache Mountain in three minutes does the UK division any favors, but the more important thing that happened here was further integrating that roster into the overall brand, so I don’t think any real damage was done. Nothing that can’t be undone in two weeks, anyway...

Undisputed ERA get a backstage promo to tout their WarGames win and reveal Adam Cole’s tournament match against Aleister Black is next Wednesday, and Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish are getting a tag title shot against SAnitY the following week. Sonya Deville def. Ruby Riott in a No Holds Barred match via submission with a triangle through the ropes. Ember Moon answers question about being the new Women’s champ, but is interrupted by The Iconic Duo for an exchange which sets up Peyton Royce’s shot for next week.

- Initially, I thought presenting Undisputed like they were a boy band hanging out on the set of their new video was an underwhelming choice that sent a weird message about the stable. But that call resulted in their segment having a weird energy that fit the group, and the content of their speeches clearly established their role. Cole’s line about Black only being unbeaten because he hasn’t faced anyone like him and the news the reDRagon boys are getting a title shot were a nice one-two punch to indicate the ERA is about to arrive.

- Deville and Riot have good chemistry, and this was a smartly constructed match that built on their previous singles bout and the Triple Threat with Moon. The finish - where Ruby took out Sonya with a dive but got caught in a submission when returning to the ring - was clever, and passing out rather than tapping out protected the leader of SmackDown’s new faction as she exits NXT in defeat. None of that helped these ladies overcome the sense that this didn’t matter, though - as evidenced by the crowd using this match to catch their breath during four-plus hours of taping. Wish it meant more, because whether I’m right or wrong for thinking it, then I would have liked it more.

- A conversation with my non-wrestling fan better half, who walked through the room during the new Women’s champ’s “press conference”:

J: “Why is she wearing red contacts?”
S: “Not sure exactly.”
J: “Does it have anything to do with her character?”
S: “Ehhh... kind of?”
J: “She should stop.”

Otherwise, this probably didn’t rank in my top five Iconic Duo moments, but I would totally subscribe to The Iconic Times.

An announcement is made that Tyler Bate will challenge Pete Dunne for the UK title in two weeks, and a teaser runs for a debuting Superstar who uses spades in their gimmick. Johnny Gargano replaces Velveteen Dream, and def. Kassius Ohno via submission with GargaNo Escape to advance to the #1 contender Fatal 4Way.

- Assuming the strategy is to use next week’s simulcast on USA Network to plug subscriptions, because while Cole/Black and Royce vs. Moon is a really nice show, the tag title bout and take two on a match of the year candidate for the UK strap is TakeOver-worthy stuff.

- Speaking of TakeOver-worthy stuff, Gargano and Ohno got buzz as the best match of the taping and while there are some good ones yet to come, Bate, Dunne and everyone else we haven’t seen yet have their work cut out for them.

How much credit should go to his in-ring ability and how much to the great program they’ve written around him is both debateable and irrelevant, because there’s no one else on the roster they could tell this story with, and no one but Johnny Wrestling could capitalize on it. In a vacuum, Gargano is one of my favorite babyface wrestlers in the world. With this angle - starting with #DIY winning and losing the titles, Tommaso Ciampa’s betrayal and his now months long quest to get some momentum as a singles wrestler - I think even the most jaded fan would experience unpleasant side effects if they tried to boo him.

So many great moments in this match.... The countered slingshot spear and the way it made Johnny hitting it later more (figuratively) impactful. Gargano thwarting a senton and then being taunted into getting his head kicked off after Ohno eventually connected with it. The suicide DDT that followed that. I’m probably forgetting some nearfalls because the kickout after Kassius’ big boot/Northern forearm combo knocked my socks off.

This proves the former Chris Hero still has it, at least at times. I’m cautious about starting a full blown (if virtual) “You’ve Still Got It” chant because he was facing with one of the absolute best and he got to work a little more rudo than NXT normally allows him to - so it remains to be seen if we’ll regularly get this Ohno or the pretty good, player/coach version we’ve seen for most of his second WWE run.

As I said earlier when talking about the man who advanced to the Fatal 4Way here, though, it really doesn’t matter. This was a seriously kick-ass match. Enjoy it and worry about everything else later, or never. Just enjoy it.

A solid episode that didn’t blow me away, until the main event absolutely did.

Grade: B+

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