The big alert has been called off. It turns out that the early reports were wrong, all wrong.
Nikki Cross crawls into the ring while Tom Phillips is welcoming us to the show. She slithers over to Dasha Fuentes’ microphone and, leaning over to speak into even though it’s still in the announcers lap, creepily asks Ruby Riot to come out to play. Nikki says she wants to be friends. Ruby makes her way to the ring and after a brief staredown - IT’S ON! Nikki tried a sneak attack, but Riot pulls a double leg takedown. Cross puts her rival face first into the steps and then jumps off them onto Ruby before they’re separated. It takes six officials to eventually pull them apart.
Phillips, Nigel McGuinness and Percy Watson rundown tonight’s loaded show, before kicking it to a flashback of Hideo Itami putting the NXT champ to sleep last week. Kayla Braxton catches up with Bobby Roode backstage. The Glorious One restates his position that NXT is his now, and while he doesn’t approve of Hideo’s unprovoked attack, he’s fine with Itami getting a shot - but he’s gonna have to earn it.
Andrade “Cien” Almas enters first for our first match of the night, and starts by taunting Drew McIntyre. El Idolo does his familiar lounge-in-the-ropes move after avoiding being grabbed, so McIntyre boots him to the floor. As they battle on the floor, Almas pulls the larger man face first into the ring steps. They trade chops, and back in the ring Cien connects with a reverse DDT and an elbow for a two count. He sets Drew up for the double knees, but opts for the scream-and-slap instead. That sets off the Scotsman, who catches his next open-hand strike and pummels Andrade instead. McIntrye connects with an elbow from the top, before Almas fights back one last time with more chops before getting caught for a powerslam. This one sadly ends in under four minutes when Drew wins it with a running boot.
- Delightfully weird way to start a show, as Phillips sold being caught off guard by Nikki’s presence (as did Dasha) and Cross is so great in this role. It’s a mix of scary and charming and calculated that’s not easy to pull off, and she’s nailing it.
- While booking two pull apart brawls between the same participants in one 55 minute show is a curious decision, I’d argue it was needed and successful here. There’s been a lot of fan anticipation for Cross/Riot, but this episode made their battle feel heated and personal in-story, while whetting our appetites for a full-on war without giving a match away.
- The champ’s promo wasn’t really great shakes, but it did highlight a pleasant booking change. After what feels like years of NXT title rematches, it’s great to see so many viable options in the title picture. Even if you’ve read the spoilers, it’s still fun to debate future challengers and match-ups for the first time in a long time.
- Hard to fell much beyond disappointment about Almas/McIntyre due to its runtime. Like the women’s angle on this show, it served its purpose: Drew looks like a total badass, and we’re being forced to question not only where Andrade’s priorities are, but if his showmanship is part of the problem or a cover for his frustration (is he the guy who doesn’t care, or the guy who acts like he doesn’t care because winning matters so much to him he can’t deal with losing any other way?).
- Something about seeing McIntyre in this setting makes him seem huge. I’ve followed his career through the first WWE run and onto the independents, so I think it’s the combination of high production values in a small venue, but... yeah. No wonder Vince thought he was the Chosen One.
- As much as I wish McIntyre/Almas was longer, and hope we see a 10 - 20 minute version of it someday, booking Drew to mostly silently burn through name-brand competition is a great way to roll him back out to the WWE Universe.
General Manager William Regal informs us Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross will fight later tonight, and then we’re taken to a really well done video package called “Who Is Roderick Strong?” Roddy takes us into his past and opens up about being raised by a mother with drug addiction issues, a dad who drank too much and the scary night that came to a head when his mom shot his father. Strong also chronicles how he came to start training wrestling with his dad and Jim Neidhart in a homemade ring in their trailer park, and how that gave him confidence and purpose. Head here to watch that part of that; next week we’ll get part two.
Even after Aleister Black’s ominous entrance, Kona Reeves isn’t scared. He takes the fight right to Black at the bell to start their match, but Aleister manages to drive him into the opposite corner with strikes of his own. The referee separates them, but Kona takes a cheap shot. That triggers a flurry from Black, ending with a big kick that downs Reeves. Rather than cover, he crosses his legs and admires his work. Then he rises to end it with Black Mass in a little more than a minute’s time.
New interviewer Christy St. Cloud has a chat with Riot. Ruby says normally she’d be on-board with SAnitY’s non-conformist ways, but they try to push their beliefs on people and she can’t get behind that. Nikki’s learned that she pushes back, and says tonight she’ll beat Cross en route to a Women’s title shot. Meanwhile, outside Full Sail, Braxton tries to run down Almas to ask him about his latest high-profile loss. Cien is anxious to leave with the two lovely ladies he has with him, and when they reach his SUV, only wants to know if Kayla wants to come with them.
As Ruby enters for their match, Cross attacks her from behind. That leads to their second pull-apart brawl of the show - this one highlighted by Riot suplexing Nikki onto the steel before being thrown into the stage and pummeled by the SAnitY member. The former Heidi Lovelace gets free and sends her to the floor, where she hits Cross and some officials who came out to stop their melee with a crossbody. Nikki ends up being literally carried off kicking and screaming by four men.
- Discussed it in our FanShot on the Roddy video, but this is what’s been missing from his launch here in WWE. I’m not always one for the Olympic-style, heartstring-tugging tale of personal struggle, but - maybe because I didn’t expect it as a way to build Strong; more likely because it was a honest - this worked for me in a big way. We said we needed a reason to care about this guy, and they’re giving us one.
- Don’t think it’s possible for me to like a one-minute squash more than I dug Reeves vs. Black. Those guys went at it like they were in Japan, making even a short, one-sided affair seem visceral and real.
- Everything about Aleister is connecting, and that they’re successfully introducing (or re-introducing) so many dudes at once is part of why the main event scene feels so exciting.
- And now we can add the Messiah of the Backbreaker to that list! Poor Kassius Ohno, though. Nobody bats 1.000.
- “Christy St. Cloud” sounds like the name of someone Bruce Wayne dates for 12 issues of Detective Comics before she gets killed by an Arkham escapee or rides off into the sunset because the billionaire playboy is too emotionally distant.
- Ruby’s already one of my favorite promos on the WWE women’s roster. She’s quickly showing improvement from her first NXT interviews, and is delivering the script naturally while adding to her performance with little mannerisms like that sneer. Good stuff.
Back in the GM’s office, Regal is with Asuka. He tells her that since Nikki & Ruby couldn’t help him clear up the title picture, next week there will be a battle royal to determine her next challenger. The Women’s champ shrugs and walks off.
Our main event gets the usual championship treatment from NXT, with UK titleholder Tyler Bate and Jack Gallagher shaking hands before their sporting contest. It’s the technical showcase you’d expect to start, and Jack escapes a headlock with his headstand spot while Bate breaks free from a full nelson with finesse. Gallagher works the champ’s wrist and arms, even turned his wrenching of limbs and joints into a pinning predicament. That’s the first of several flash pins before Tyler breaks free and lands a crossbody. A standoff takes us to commercial.
The Gentleman’s in complete control when we return, still focusing his attention on working the wrist and stretching the arm of Bate. The champ gains the upperhand in a test of strength, but several counters follow before Tyler breaks out Bop and Bang on Jack, leading to a two count off a bridging suplex. Bate lifts him for another suplex, but Gallagher reverses with a body scissor takedown to return to the wristlock. More power from the younger man as he powerslams out of that for a nearfall. Jack heads to the ropes to regroup, where he’s sent outside by a punch. Bate charges for a dive, but he’s met with a headbutt! Back in the ring, Gallagher delivers another and covers, but the champ kicks out. Jack looks to return to his earlier arm work, but Bate gets free and bounces off the rope with a spinning heel kick. He quickly follows that with a Tyler Driver 97 to retain his belt in just about ten minutes.
Pete Dunne, Mark Andrew, Wolfgang and Trent Seven watch his celebration from ringside as the announce crew tell us to watch for Bate’s next defense on the new weekly UK show - coming very soon to WWE Network.
- DILLIGAF Asuka is the best Asuka.
- Not sure how many people have the time or inclination to add another hour of wrestling from WWE to their schedule, but that United Kingdom show is coming, Cagesiders. I know because the NXT announce team told me 70ish times during the main event.
- And, you know what? I’m in. Give me matches of high quality that feel a little different than the usual style we get from Stamford, the young champion growing perhaps too confident for his own good and Pete Dunne’s disdain for the whole thing, and I’ll watch.
- It will also move these showcases off my NXT. As good as they’ve been, they’d be better with an angle behind them. And as discussed above, this brand is too stacked to be spending valuable minutes on guys who aren’t involved in it full-time.
- Plus, if they use Gentleman Jack, it’ll give me more opportunities to see a guy who’s joining the Cesaro/Sami Zayn “put that guy in a match on TV and I’m paying attention” club. This was Gallagher’s third straight night delivering a fun-to-really good bout on a WWE program.
- The headbutt still makes me uncomfortable, though. Doesn’t matter how many times it’s explained to me how his are safe.
Give me five more minutes of Almas/McIntyre, and this could be my platonic ideal of an hour-long wrestling show.