A LOT happened, so let’s get right to it.
After our new opening video (check it out here), Tom Phillips, Percy Watson and Nigel McGuinness are intro-ing tonight’s show when Tommaso Ciampa hobbles his way into the ring. He trades a crutch for a microphone, and proceeds to update us on what’s been going on with him for the last couple weeks. The whole thing is transcribed for you here, but in a nutshell, when the fans started dreaming up new partners for Johnny Gargano after news of his injury at the Kentucky house show hit the web, Ciampa became convinced Johnny would replace him, too. He fought through that injury and the one he suffered during the ladder match at TakeOver: Chicago, even though he knew the latter would put him on the shelf for a long, long time. So he decided to take Johnny out for the same amount of time. He vowed to return the baddest S.O.B. in NXT.
After a video package on Danny Burch, who will be facing new United Kingdom champion Pete Dunne tonight, the commentary team discusses what we heard from Ciampa. Phillips updates us on the injury status of both former #DIY-ers... Tommaso does require “major knee surgery” and Johnny still isn’t talking to anyone.
Alluding to the fact this episode was originally promoted as having a “glorious message” from NXT champion Bobby Roode, we get an interview with the champ from the back of a limo. He will be having a celebration of his TakeOver win over Hideo Itami... but we’re not invited. He’ll be back next week.
Entrances for both Burch and Dunne, then it’s UK showcase time. Phillips is still saying a weekly show focused on the division is coming to WWE Network. Both men trade takedowns and arm/finger work, but Danny’s just serves to anger the champ, who slaps him. Burch fires back and slams Dunne before going for a crossface, but Pete gets free and nails him with a forearm that earns a nearfall as we head to a break.
The Bruiserweight is in control when we get back, but Burch gets his feet up on a charge into the corner and follows with a dropkick. A strike and a headbutt both lead to covers, but Dunne returns with a flurry of his own for a two count. After a clothesline gets Danny another cover, they battle at the apron. That ends with a draping DDT on the champ for another nearfall, but Dunne throws Burch into the turnbuckles with a release German, then hits Bitter End for the win after just under eight minutes.
Dunne gets some in-ring mic time to say that since January he had to watch some boy carry a championship which belonged to him. History will show the WWE’s United Kingdom brand began when the title and everything else in it belonged to the Bruiserweight.
- The best villains always think they’re in the right, and that’s the best thing about both the content and delivery of Ciampa’s promo. Sure, we know jumping from “ReverendKain wanted an Evolve reunion with Johnny & Drew McIntyre” to “Gargano will betray me” is nuts, but it’s still real to the Sicilian Psychopath. Who, as we were reminded tonight, is good at playing a psychopath.
- Seriously, who doesn’t want this feud to start yesterday and last for at least a year? I wanted that before Tommaso hit this out of the park. Unfortunately, if he is getting surgery for an ACL tear, we’re looking at TakeOver: Houston (Survivor Series weekend) as a BEST CASE. Damnit. Time to build other guys, and establish Johnny as an even bigger babyface for Ciampa’s return, though.
- Provided we’re not being worked, at least in terms of type of injury and course of treatment. I’m still not sure what to make of the Kentucky setback which started all this... was that kayfabe to set-up the rationale Ciampa gave us on this episode, or did they retcon the break-up story to incorporate it? Bravo either way, but especially if it was rewritten to use the house show incident.
- Bottom line, this was a ten minute promo (which had the benefit of post-production editing, but still) that I never wanted to fast-forward and which made me more excited for a feud I was already amped about. Great stuff.
- Maybe they are scripting these as they go like it was Raw, because the Roode bit was an interesting cover. It worked, cause arrogant sleazeball Bobby is the best Bobby, but still... weird to have confusion about what to promote on a show you taped six days ago.
- Continue to love the rebirth of Martin Stone as Danny Burch - just the fact he got a video package warms me heart. He keeps delivering on everything they give him, too. Holding out hope that whenever this UK show they keep insisting is happening does happen, he gets an underdog title chase storyline.
- Another strong match from the Brits, and the new champ in particular. If rumors are right and a show isn’t on the horizon, it might have made more sense to have Dunne beat someone with less effort in his first outing with the belt, but this worked so well as a fun showcase of their style, I can’t be mad.
- That said style is allowed to not conform to the typical WWE format remains one of my favorite things about it. Just something like going to commercial on a spot other than “guys go to the floor” is refreshing.
- Biggest question about the WWE UK scene remains “when can we see more of it?” But I think getting them back on NXT, and having the champ advance his story and rivalry with Tyler Bate via that promo, kind of tells us we’ll be seeing more of it here for the time being.
We join Kayla Braxton backstage for an interview with Velveteen Dream, but he cuts her off because the “ambiance” isn’t right. If they fix the set and Kayla’s hair, maybe... just maybe...
A hype video for Authors of Pain is narrated by Paul Ellering. The tag champ’s manager says The Book of Pain was just a prologue to their vanquishing of past champions. Akam & Rezar are children of war forging a new destiny. The Book of Pain is closed. The Book of Dominance is opened.
While Phillips asks Nigel & Percy what they’ve heard about Andrade “Cien” Almas’ work habits, he’s out to the ring for a match with the waiting Cezar Bononi. Almas dominates the big Brazilian with his usual offense, but he fails to lift him up for a suplex after his corner slap taunt, and Bononi rolls him up at around the three minute mark for a huge upset. Cien is pissed initially and grabs a chair from the timekeeper’s area, but then laughs it off, shrugs and leaves as commentary again questions his attitude.
An “earlier today” video shows Peyton Royce & Billie Kay in the Performance Center. They’re putting themselves over and (I think, the sound was horrid) talking about giving the gym an Iconic makeover, but get upset when the non-Iconic Ember Moon walk into frame. The Aussies mock her for being out injured, but then a trainer walks up and says Ember has to sign her medical release. Peyton & Billie look concerned and Moon gives them a smile before walking off.
Tom tells us in two weeks, Asuka, Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross will rematch for the Empress’ belt in a Triple Threat elimination match.
- Still a dumb name, and kind of a generic gimmick, but at least Patrick Clark is committed to being Velveteen Dream, I guess. Early days, I know, but compare first impressions of this to something like Tyler Breeze - and that’s not revisionist history in the time of Fashion Police love, he was fantastic from the jump. I remain pessimistic.
- Continue to have no idea what Ellering is talking about, but this video was cooler than just him with a microphone not making sense backstage while AoP try to look more menacing than confused by their own manager, so I’m down.
- While I’m impressed with how far they seem willing to go with this Almas angle, I hope we’re getting close to the point where they turn the corner and either make him fully ungovernable or have him decide to commit to his in-ring career. Given how rocky his WWE launch has already been and their track record with Latino wrestlers, I worry he won’t come back from too much more of this.
- Bononi is someone I could see getting fast-tracked to the main roster, at least if he’s as not-dangerous in matches as he appeared to be here. You don’t have to be Vince McMahon to think he’s got a great look.
- Why on Earth did the Peyton & Billie video have cell phone quality audio? And are they destined to be jobbers to the stars?
- Looks like we’re still headed toward Asuka/Ember II in Brooklyn. Kind of takes some of the suspense out of the title match they announced, but that’ll be fun regardless.
We finally see the post-TakeOver video of Hideo Itami freaking out and trashing the locker room during a confrontation with failed peacemaker Kassius Ohno. Then our second helping of “earlier today” footage sees Itami and Ohno shaking hands in the parking lot. Next week, Hideo will face Oney Lorcan.
Main event time, and Killian Dain accompanies Eric Young & Alexander Wolfe to the ring for their tag match with Roderick Strong & Ohno. Roddy & SAnitY’s leader brawl from the bell, battling one another into corners before Strong connects with a backbreaker. EY reaches the ropes and Wolfe makes the tag. A dropkick from Roddy gives him room to tag in Kassius, who handles both the legal men until Dain trips him while the referee isn’t looking. Gutbuster from Wolfe followed by an elbow drop by Young gets two. With Ohno outside taking a beating, Young ties up Strong in the ring as we head to our last commercial.
KO (NXT version) is playing face in peril when we return and SAnitY is employing quick tags to maintain momentum and keep him in their corner. They cover after a Wolfe suplex and Young neckbreaker, but Ohno eventually springs into his corner for the hot tag after dodging an elbow drop. Strong comes in hot, hitting a high knee and facebuster on Alexander after enziguris on both men, but the German gets a foot on the ropes. A blind tag sets up another EY neckbreaker for a nearfall. Kassius cuts Dain off before he can interfere again, but when he’s taken down by Young, it looks like the big Irishman will play a role.
That sets up the return of No Way Jose for his first on-screen appearance since WrestleMania weekend. He proves to be the equalizer, occupying Dain while Ohno hits Wolfe with the elbow and Strong pops EY up for End of Heartache, and SAnitY takes another loss after ten and a half minutes of action.
- One angle I don’t need to see them hurry up, at least not yet, is Itami’s. They can take their time adding an edge to him. With his and Ciampa’s turns, I’m getting a little of the old “shades of grey” feeling we used to get from NXT heels in the days of Neville, Breeze and Tyson Kidd.
- Plus, I AM PSYCHED for Hideo vs. Oney!
- The last match of the evening is the first NXT main event I haven’t really liked in a while. It was fine, but didn’t rise much above the level of a standard WWE tag.
- Part of it is, as remarkable an in-ring athlete as Roddy is - the speed with which he took out Wolfe & Young after Ohno finally reached him for the last tag was something to see - I’m still not fully invested in him as a character. The “Who is Roderick Strong?” vignettes need to be built from, not rested on.
- Also not sure I buy that he’s SAnitY’s kryptonite. But that might just be the salty Tye Dillinger fan in me.
- Really appreciate NXT’s attention to detail on something like No Way Jose’s absence, though. It’s been a while since he was taken out on a Facebook Live video before TakeOver: Orlando, and even people whose job it is to recap the show can forget a detail like that. I may not be super-excited he’s back in the mix, but I’m glad they mentioned his absence in a way which serves the larger story.
- Looks like they set up a match between Jose and Dain on YouTube after the episode. As long as it’s a way to show Killian throwing the big man around as part of his move of the card, I approve of No Way’s return all the more.
There are quibbles to be had, but the forward momentum on display in this first episode from the latest taping is really great to see. Stories are moving toward the next TakeOver (and beyond, unfortunately, in Ciampa’s case), sure, but they’re also setting up big things for the next few weeks.
After so many weeks in recent memory feeling like placeholders, dealing with episodes that almost seem like they have too much crammed into an hour is okay by me.