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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Oct. 17, 2018): Master of whisperers

For a more detailed recap, check our live blog here.

War Raiders def. Undisputed ERA via disqualification when a healthy, chair-swinging Bobby Fish attacks Hanson & Rowe to keep the NXT tag titles on Roderick Strong & Kyle O’Reilly. Adam Cole, who ran in earlier, joins the celebration.

We haven’t seen a whole lot of Hanson & Rowe outside off their running in to chase of the ERA whenever needed. That certainly wasn’t a decision based on the former War Machine needing work, but I wonder if it wasn’t done in order to save their big showcase match for Strong & O’Reilly. The champs are so talented they can make anyone look good. If you’re already good, like their opponents on this episode, they can ensure you look pretty amazing.

For the ten-plus minutes before the screwy non-finish, we were treated to a little something for everyone. The Raiders got to both hoss and fly around, showcasing what’s made the big guys stars everywhere they’ve been. We got a good story with lots of layers. The challengers were able to overcome almost all of Undisputed’s dirty tricks. It took a while for Kyle & Roddy’s cheap shots to land, but once one did, they worked over Rowe’s leg, giving us some psychology and a reminder of their technical acumen. When Hanson & Rowe overcame all that, Adam Cole tried to get involved. When he was dispatched so easily the referee wasn’t even tempted to call for the bell, it looked as if we might get a title change - credit to Nigel McGuinness for really selling the idea by shouting “We have new champs!” after they hit Fallout.

But Bobby Fish is back, six or seven months since he went out with a knee injury. It’s amazing how well the addition of Roddy went. That and using Fish for promos and other videos really made it seem like the group’s oldest member never left. The pleasant surprise of his return helps cancel out any problems I might have had with the DQ. Not that I had many. You don’t need spoilers to guess these guys are set to be part of a likely WarGames match.

We got a really good preview of what some of that bout, and probably a few more straight tags between these squads, will look like. War Raiders looked great and Undisputed ERA is better than they’ve ever been. That’s how you start a show.

Shayna Bazler def. Britt Baker via referee stoppage; the woman who will face Kairi Sane for the Women’s title at Evolution also laid Baker out with a high knee as officials were helping her up. General Manager William Regal says he plans to speak with Nikki Cross about who attacked Aleister Black after her match tonight. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch def. Bing & Rocky via pinfall. Regal will make an announcement about the NXT championship next week.

- NXT’s settled on a nice formula lately. Big stuff on top and at the end, squashes/enhancement matches and teases in between. It’s pretty basic, and a good reason why Triple H & team probably don’t want to expand to two hours. They’ve all but mastered this format. If it ain’t broke...

- Already wrote today about how the sameness of the Baszler vs. Kairi Sane build has numbed me to their upcoming fourth showdown. It’s not bad at all. As I more or less just said, there’s nothing wrong with the classics. I do wish they’d pushed a little further with Sane acting full of herself, or the glimpses of Shayna questioning her attitude as much as her approach. The Queen of Spades plays a great sadistic heel, and the story could be she’s doubling down on those aspects of herself after some reflection. But it also feels like the same stuff she did with Dakota Kai. Been there, done that.

Nice to see my fellow Pittsburgher... or should I say, Brittsburger? Probably shouldn’t say that. Anyway... Baker committed to selling the elbow stomp, up to and including wailing in pain while the official called for the bell and tried to check on her. Hopefully they bring her back so WWE fans can see more of what she can do in an actual match.

- Similar thoughts about the latest rung on the ladder Burch & Lorcan are climbing toward another title shot. I’m always happy to see them, even for just a couple minutes. There wasn’t much time to get a gauge on the two Chinese wrestlers or the Brit-Am duo’s ability to help them develop their games. Tian Bing got a chance to do a little more than Rocky, who mostly just worked a rest hold.

More Danny & Oney please. Send them to England if Moustache Mountain need challengers for those shiny new tag belts.

Bianca Belair vs. Nikki Cross ends in a no contest when Aleister Black mysteriously returns to get answers from Cross. The whispered answer leaves him seething with rage, Nikki pleased and us with a cliffhanger.

The final fifteen minutes or so this week had a lot to accomplish, and it more or less crossed off each of its objectives.

First of all, it was a really good match. There first bout between Cross & Belair was shortchanged in terms of time and finish. This one also maybe could have used another five minutes to really let it peak at the right time, and the ending here was even more screwy than last month’s double countout. But in the time we got they told a fun story that perfectly utilized their characters. Cross needed to keep things chaotic to counter all of Bianca’s other advantages, but never stayed down when Belair was able to dictate the action. The EST was frustrated to rage and near tears by Nikki’s antics, but resolved to keep moving forward until she proved to everyone she was the better wrestler.

This might have been my favorite women’s main event on the brand since Cross’ feud with Asuka, which probably isn’t a total coincidence (say, that reminds me... can we stop saying SmackDown’s Last Woman Standing match at Evolution is a first time ever deal? No? Well, that sucks).

Before we get to its short and long-term story implications, one great thing about the non-finish is it means the feud continues. That’s important because if their next match is better than this one, we have more kickass wrestling to look forward to! But it’s also important because these women have great chemistry, and we’re seeing Bianca make real strides in ringwork and with her character while working with Cross.

With regards to plot, while I didn’t necessarily want a lights out, mystical teleporting (in for Black and I guess out for Belair?) scene... it was a cool moment. It moves the attack investigation along at a point when we really need that story to move along. And Nikki and Aleister were fantastic in their roles! Growling commands and quivering with anger is the scariest version of the usually Stoic Satanist we’ve seen. Cross’ giggling lunacy is old hat, but seeing her drop almost all of those mannerisms at Black’s command is intriguing. It’s also the latest example of the streaming show playing with edgier subtext than Raw or SmackDown could ever - either because advertisers wouldn’t let them, or because of how embarassingly they’d handle it.

Where do we go from here? The most obvious route is that Nikki told Aleister what he beckoned her to, and she’s happy about the destruction she’s about to see as a result of finally revealing her secret to the right person. But could she be playing him, at least a little? Using his anger to gain an ally to replace the ones she lost (say, that reminds me of something... could not getting “called up” with SAnitY be the best thing that ever happened to the Twisted Sister? I mean, she’s on television a lot and they... aren’t)?

Can’t wait to see more of their partnership, whatever the reasons for it. And wherever it leads.

The middle wasn’t great, but everything else was. And the middle wasn’t bad, just less exciting. Even if you’re inclined to ding the main events for bogus finishes... Bobby Fish and Aleister Black are back! Just in time for the TakeOver home stretch!

That’s worth shouting about, right?

Grade: A-

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