Tonight’s show finds us in NXT’s new home away from home, Atlanta’s Center Stage, for the first episode from a taping (spoilers from which are here) which takes us all the way to TakeOver: Philadelphia.
Here's what to expect.
This spot should probably go to the championship match announced for tonight a couple weeks back, but WWE hasn’t mentioned it a ton since then, so we’re going to focus on something they’ve spent a lot more time on - establishing Women’s champ Ember Moon as the (baby)face of the division.
With the mini-documentary “Free The Flame”, portions of which have been played during NXT’s USA Network debut and last week’s 2017 Year in Review special, then released in full online, they’ve probably done a better job giving Moon a relatable character with depth than ever before. Certainly better than they did during her rivalry with Asuka, where the Empress of Tomorrow asking “Ember who?” might have been the thing fans remember about what was supposed to be an epic feud.
Simultaneously, the black-and-yellow brand’s been building Mae Young Classic runner-up Shayna Baszler as menacing presence. Her debut on NXT, where she choked out Kairi Sane and had a staredown with the champ, drew comparisons to Samoa Joe. The Queen of Spades reign of terror has continued to the Performance Center, where she choked out one trainee last week to set-up her first match tonight with Dakota Kai. Then she did it again with Kai and Moon looking on...
There’s reason to get excited about seeing Kai on WWE Network again, too, but I don’t like her odds of winning this one. I do like the way Shayna is being established as a “big bad”... exactly the kind of nemesis a hero espousing honor, integrity and skill should need to defeat in order to be respected as a leader and top star.
Now, if they could just integrate the red eyes and the howling into her character, we’d really be onto something. In the meantime, we’ll settle for the next steps in building what should be a mythic clash.
The Title Scene
Since winning the tag team championship in Brooklyn, SAnitY hasn’t been victorious a whole lot. They lost the belts on a regular episode of NXT, and now they’ll try to get off the schnide and win them back the same way, as they’re exercising their rematch to face Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly of Undisputed ERA this week. Can they avenge their WarGames loss, or are they just a bump on the road before Fish and O’Reilly deal with Authors of Pain or Street Profits?
A SAnitY member was one of the people in contention for a shot at NXT titleholder Andrade “Cien” Almas in Philadelphia, but Killian Dain went down - along with Lars Sullivan and Aleister Black (although Adam Cole and Undisputed ERA played a role in Black’s first loss) - to Johnny Gargano in a Fatal 4Way. Almas and his associate Zelina Vega don’t appear to be taking a third dance with Johnny Wrestling too seriously. We’ll see if he can change their mind over the next three weeks.
Checking in on United Kingdom champion Pete Dunne - he looks like he’ll be busy across the pond for the next several weeks. Maybe the division will get to represent with a pre-TakeOver dark match on Rumble weekend.
Other stuff to keep an eye on:
- Issues between Black and Cole are already set to be settled (or furthered) in the City of Brotherly Love on Jan. 27. Now we want to see news that another battle that started in that 4Way, Sullivan vs. Dain, will continue on to TakeOver, as well.
- SAnitY’s Nikki Cross looked to be starting an alliance with Moon a few weeks back when she helped the champ against The Iconic Duo, but Cross was clearly still interested in the belt. While they’re pushing Baszler, hopefully they won’t forget about Nikki.
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See you tonight for NXT, Cagesiders!