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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Jan. 17, 2018): Fire and fury

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

The most refreshing thing about Atlanta’s Center Stage is the fans cheer babyfaces and boo heels - and you can still tell which acts they’re invested in, regardless of alignment! What a concept!

On with the show...

After learning Otis Dozovic tried to lift Tino Sabatelli’s Maserati in the Performance Center parking lot to set-up our first match, Sabatelli and Riddick Moss def. Heavy Machinery via pinfall with a ropes-assisted roll-up by Moss on Tucker Knight. Undisputed ERA deliver backstage promos which feature Adam Cole vowing to “mangle and embarrass” Aleister Black in Philadelphia and Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish promising to drop whoever wins tonight #1 contender match for the tag titles. A video package on Cole and Black’s Extreme Rules match at TakeOver: Philadelphia features quotes from Aleister about Fading Cole to Black.

Moss’ belief that he also owns Sabatelli’s stuff, and the former NFL player letting him think that, is the best thing about their act. It’s an annoying quirk and something their opponents can use in verbal battles, plus it could be used in a break-up angle... not that I have much more interest in seeing them feud with each other than I do in their tag programs. I know folks love him, but Dozer’s never gonna be my fave. I do like him better as a guy who will try to move your car himself cause he needs a parking space as opposed to just one who says weird catchphrases and does The Worm.

Inventive set-up aside, the opener was fine. Sabatelli and Moss got a win they needed to stay viable after losing the Street Profits feud, but I’m not enthralled with either of these teams. Knight probably impressed me the most here, showing off some agility and breaking out a fun spin maneuver that goes well with his partner’s crowd-pleasing stuff.

The promos and hype pieces for Undisputed ERA, Aleister Black and TakeOver: Philadelphia all did their job, reminding us who the players are and why we care. And the more they let Bobby Fish talk, the better - at least as far as I’m concerned. Guy just has a natural smarmy charisma that’s always seemed suited to WWE.

Roderick Strong def. Fabian Aichner via submission with Stronghold, then cut a promo saying he wants to face Lars Sullivan.

Good match - probably the best on the show. At some point, they’re going to have to pull the trigger on Aichner with some wins and a storyline, but I’m not rolling my eyes too hard yet when Mauro Ranallo runs through his spiel about the Italian being an impressive newcomer who’s one win away from breaking through. Probably because the Italian is an impressive newcomer who’s one win away from breaking through.

Interesting to see him working with Roddy, another guy who’s over pretty much solely based on in-ring ability at this point. And that’s not a criticism of Strong. NXT utilizes his character and history when it fits and leaves it alone when it doesn’t in a very main roster kind of way - witness how he still had a bone to pick with The ERA last Wednesday but has moved on to other things... after losing to them again.

Don’t doubt that Strong/Sullivan would be a blast, but I think the crowd shared my disappointment when it became clear Roddy was calling out Lars. We want that hoss fight with Killian Dain, darnit! I smell a triple threat where NXT’s utility man takes a pin...

The first part of our look at TM61’s history chronicles Shane Thorne and Nick Miller meeting in their native Australia, attending Harley Race’s camp, their first WWE tryout and then their experience in Japan. It ends with them winning their first GHC tag titles in front of Race. Part two is next week.

Back to the reality show-esque mold NXT’s used for folks like Finn, Roddy and Ember in the past to reintroduce the Aussie tag sensations... and why not? It’s never hurt an act, and for someone like Strong, it made all the difference. Thorne and Miller are likeable and talented, and we were never given a chance to get to know them as much more than gifted in-ring performers in 2016, so here’s hoping this does the trick. It was WWE’s usual top notch production, emphasizing elements which should help get them over with the NXT audience. Looking forward to more of it.

Lacey Evans def. Aliyah via pinfall following a right hand strike, then grabs a mic to run down the rest of the women’s division before she leaves when she sees Shayna Baszler on the stage. Baszler chokes out Aliyah until Ember Moon appears to make the save. The champion challenges Shayna to a fight, which the newcomer wants to be in Philly for the belt. Ember agrees, but commentary reminds us the General Manager needs to make it official.

Sad to say, the main takeaway from this episode’s women’s match might be how little Aliyah’s progressed in her years in Developmental. Evans is still a little rough, but shows more flashes than her opponent, who’s still doing the same cartwheel spots we’ve seen every time she gets on our screens. Lacey didn’t seem terribly comfortable working rudo between the ropes, but her post-match promo was an attention-grabber, partially for the way she dismissed the rest of the scene, but mostly for her strong delivery.

The story of Shayna’s rampage baiting Ember into a title match, and Regal acquiescing, probably could have used a little more time to breathe. But with a quick turnaround between TakeOvers - and a banged up Kairi Sane - they’ve made the most of it. Hard to tell how much is because of the new audience, how much is a result of the greatly improved presentation of Ember since winning the belt and how much is because Baszler is an extremely easy character to dislike, but Center Stage’s reaction to the champ here had to sound great to Triple H and company’s ears.

General Manager William Regal does book that match, and then is confronted by Zelina Vega, who wants Regal to make Johnny Gargano face Velveteen Dream to prove he deserves his NXT title shot against Andrade “Cien” Almas in Philly. The GM won’t do that, but after word No Way Jose will return next week, a fired up Johnny Wrestling hits the ring to tell us he is done being doubted, and he’ll face Dream next week en route to becoming NXT champion at TakeOver!

Both Vega and Gargano are getting a GREAT story to work with - the kind of layered material they probably just won’t get on Raw or SmackDown - but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve praise for killing with it.

It’s scary how great Zelina is in painting the picture in a way designed to create doubt in Gargano several different ways, and manipulating Regal into turning down her idea so she can use that as an additional way to make Johnny question himself (making it look like The GM “advising Johnny against” facing Velveteen means Regal doubts him, as well).

Mr. Wrestling takes it from there, delivering a fantastic speech full of fire which addresses the questions raised by Andrade’s associate, but doing so in a way where we’re not sure if Johnny is trying to convince us, or himself. I didn’t think someone could sound that motivated and that unsure at the same time. Well done, sir.

Brace yourselves. It’s really gonna hurt when if he loses in Philly.

Authors of Pain def. Street Profits via pinfall following Last Chapter on Montez Ford to become the #1 contenders for the tag team championship. They’ll face Fish and O’Reilly on Jan. 27.

How little Ford and Angelo Dawkins got to do here probably tells us something about where the popular team is in their development. Montez sold like a champ, and his powering through Rezar’s hold to get to his corner, then taking advantage of a mistake from the bigger man to get the tag was an inspiring spot. The Profits maximized the brief time they got on offense... but it was brief.

They looked better than Heavy Machinery did in a similar position a few months back, though. Don’t think they’re too far off. But another mid-card feud while TM61 faces The ERA in New Orleans seems like the right next step for Ford and Dawkins.

This was all about making sure we remembered that Paul Ellering’s squad is scary, and mission accomplished. Seeing them demolish guys who are a little bigger than the champs makes you wonder how Undisputed stands a chance. But then you remember that it’s Fish and O’Reilly, and realize we should be in for a really good match in a little under two weeks.

Not quite as stellar an outing as week one in Atlanta, but the difference was pretty much just match quality. The character and angle advancement remained top notch. We talk a lot about how amazing NXT’s roster is, but their creative team has been every bit as good as the performers.

Grade: B+

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