For a more detailed recap, check our live results post here.
This is the first episode from Atlanta’s Center Stage, and it’s a welcome change. The crowd was alive, if still a little too cute in spots (hey, Central Florida doesn’t have a monopoly on smark alecs). The set felt fresh, even if it took me a while to get used to the hard cam placement and the tag corners. Overall, really looking forward to few months worth of shows here.
On with what was a really, really good show...
After Undisputed ERA welcome us to 2018, Shayna Baszler def. Dakota Kai via referee stoppage when she injures Kai’s arm. Ember Moon runs in to stop her from inflicting further damage with a rear naked choke. Authors of Pain vow to reclaim their titles from whoever wins the scheduled main event, and General Manager William Regal confronts an unconcerned Baszler. Kassius Ohno def. Raul Mendoza via pinfall with the High Tension elbow strike.
- Don’t want TakeOver: Souled Out or anything, but sign me up for The ERA doing “we run this $#!+” stuff like opening the show. That it happened via pre-tape is perfect for Adam Cole’s weasel nWo schtick. This entire episode did more to establish Undisputed as a top heel act than anything since Brooklyn, to the point where my only real complaint about them remains that stupid name.
- As already mentioned in my preview for this episode, I’m loving the way Shayna’s been presented. Putting the sound of horses at the start of her entrance theme is brilliant, whether it’s actually foreshadowing the appearance of at least one of her MMA teammates or it’s just Hunter being Troll-ple H. Mauro Ranallo and the announce team could have done a little more to remind us that Kai was pretty darn successful in the Mae Young Classic herself, but they seem kind of reticent to talk about the tournament... maybe because they don’t want to remind us that the new badass on the block didn’t win it.
- Maybe could have used a little more from Ember here, but I’m okay with them saving that for later, especially since they let Regal infer that Shayna is angling for a title shot. This was the first of several doses of the former Lord Steven tonight, and while I never want NXT to turn into a Raw or SmackDown-esque authority figure-driven show, I do wish we got more of him on a regular basis. To paraphrase Montez Ford, I just like the way he does business. And seeing a pro like Regal feed and play off the developing talents is a delight.
- It wasn’t much, but they’re letting Akam and Rezar talk more, including a few lines in English. Testing them out for when Paul Ellering might no longer be around? I wonder if he’d make the jump to the main roster with them, which is something we all should be wondering about, as they remain the most puzzling “why are they still here?” act in NXT.
- Ohno vs. Mendoza was a fun little match which let Raul show why people rave about his ringwork while giving Kassius the kind of win he needs to continue to have value in a gatekeeper role. Had it been the best match on the show, I still would have loved this episode. With everything else we got this week? I almost forgot it happened.
Zelina Vega holds an impromptu press conference and questions whether Johnny Gargano really earned his #1 contender spot, and says she and Andrade “Cien” Almas are confident they’ll defeat him in Philly. The Velveteen Dream interrupts Christy St. Cloud’s interview with Gargano to demand Johnny thank him for allowing him to even get a chance to earn his title shot, a chance Dream insists he would have made more of.
Aha! Yes! My girl Zelina brought up my pet peeve from the Fatal 4Way, which wasn’t so much that Johnny was wrong to pin Aleister Black after Undisputed’s attack, but that someone should bring up that he benefited from their nefarious act so he could address it. And Vega using it as her latest psychological wedge against Mr. Wrestling is even better than my fantasy booked conversation between Gargano and Black.
Having that segue immediately to the return of The Dream so he could refer to himself in the third person a lot while making Johnny question whether he even deserved to be in the field for a shot at the #1 contender spot?
I love this show.
The Street Profits film an episode of Street Talk backstage that ends up in the GM’s office, and with Regal booking them into a #1 contender’s match for the tag titles next week against Authors of Pain.
The issue with Ford and Angelo Dawkins’ act since ending their rivalry with Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss was that their segments didn’t have a purpose, and this vignette started out in the same troublingly aimless fashion. Then the Profits had their conversation about manners and knocked on Regal’s door and it became AMAZING.
Not much I didn’t love in this clip, but a quick top three probably consists of:
- Dawkins’ momentary “Oh $#!+” face before internally self-talking himself into “You know what? Bring. It.” after hearing their opponent would be AoP.
- Regal’s down low vanity and love of the camera, and Montez playing to it.
- The way Ford seems to know the mic he’s holding isn’t live and therefore only occassionally remembers to use it.
Lars Sullivan def. Lio Rush via pinfall with Freak Accident, then gets on the mic to call out Killian Dain before grabbing Rush and carrying him to the top rope to deliver a Super Freak Accident.
Speaking of “Bring. It.” - I can’t be the only one ready for a full helping of Dain vs. Sullivan, right? Good squash, better promo, best post-promo exclamation point.
And while this reads a little like continued punishment for young Lio after the Emma flap, he did get a Fallout interview to tease future character development, and in my opinion, nailed it, so don’t give up on the 23 year old yet. It doesn’t look like WWE has.
We see Undisputed ERA jump SAnitY backstage and leave them laying. As the trio gloats about the assault in the ring, Nikki Cross tries an attack to avenge her stablemates, but is held off by referees. Regal appears to announce Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly will defend their titles tonight, and Roderick Strong and Aleister Black answer the call. Fish and O’Reilly def. Strong and Black via pinfall to retain their titles after Aleister chases Adam Cole into the stands, leaving Roddy alone to take a Final Elimination and be pinned. Afterwards, Black heads back to the ring for retribution, but is again attacked by Cole, who eventually hits a Death Valley Driver onto a steel chair. The GM returns one last time to inform Cole his TakeOver match against Black is now an Extreme Rules match.
Whew. There was a lot going on here and it was almost all good.
The only folks it wasn’t great for were Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain. This makes twice they’ve been jumped and dispatched by The Era, and that doesn’t even count losing their titles and WarGames to the new faction on the block. Dain will be fine, because he’s a hairy giant man, but EY and Wolfe either need a win streak on this brand or to just be called up to the land where they don’t talk about what happens on this brand very often. Twas also a bummer that Nikki didn’t even get to hit one crossbody on Adam Cole. I know it’s likely coming down the road, but considering she also seems to have been transitioned out of the women’s title scene for now... I need my Bannockburn Banshee, damnit!
Beyond that (and even that, really) this all built from the past so well I could cry. Regal’s been trying to get Undisputed to play by something resembling the rules since August, so of course he’d call them on this and give the first guys who stood up a title shot. Roddy’s been dealing with these @$$holes for almost as long, and Black beat all three men one-on-one and recently paid for it in the Fatal 4Way. They’re not a logical long-term unit, especially after Aleister left Strong hanging for the pin tonight, but they’re not a nonsensical, slapdash pairing, either.
That history paid off in the ring, with the babyfaces convincingly displaying a spark from before the bell even sounded. From Aleister’s “As will I” acceptance of the challenge, this was a really good match that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Roddy has experience with both Fish and O’Reilly from Ring of Honor, and that chemistry was really on display in the striking exchanges with Kyle. He’s a fantastic hot tag, and selling is an underrated element of Black’s game (case in point - this Fallout video), which made Strong’s entrance in the final act even better.
Chasing after Undisputed’s leader was a mistake, yes, but in character for Aleister, who as Velveteen proved, is only stoic until you really piss him off. He paid for his temper, and the beating he took as a lesson set-up Regal for one last beautiful moment as he added the stipulation to Black vs. Cole he hopes will finally teach Adam a lesson of his own.
Did I mention I love this show?
The first episodes from a new set of tapings tend to be chock full of story to set-up the rest of the shows filmed that night, but this was even more jam-packed then we usually get. With a variety of methods - standard promos, interviews, squashes and longer matches - NXT advanced almost all of their angles and characters toward Philly by using seeds that it’s planted over the last six months.
That’s what I’m talking about.
And if you want to fall a little more in love with the black-and-yellow brand, make sure you go read Meninity’s awesome FanPost describing How a night at Center Stage made them appreciate NXT’s diversity.