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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Nov. 7, 2018): Dreaming in the dark

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

Heavy Machinery def. Forgotten Sons via pinfall. Candice LeRae deflects questions about her & Johnny Gargano, saying she wants answers from Nikki Cross and plans to ask General Manager William Regal for a match to get them. Regal informs Women’s champ Shayna Baszler about her 2-out-of-3 falls title defense against Kairi Sane at TakeOver. Dakota Kai def. Taynara Conti via pinfall following the Kai-ropractor.

- Wasn’t sure what to expect from the opener, but was pleasantly by the lengthy, well worked tag match. If there’s a nit to be picked, it’s in having Steve Cutler & Wesley Blake lose so shortly after their act with Jaxson Ryker debuted on television. Not only does it slightly derail their momentum, but especially a week after The Mighty were defeated, the heel teams in a very crowded tag division don’t seem very threatening.

How little Ryker was involved doesn’t answer any heel/face questions we might have about the stable, but it does protect him in this loss, and point to Forgotten Sons being a vehicle for his push.

Possible booking concerns aside, there wasn’t much I disliked here. Heavy Machinery have really grown on me. Otis Dozovic started out looking like a charismatic-yet-mediocre worker of the Road Dogg variety, but has shown skill in both selling and delivering believable offense (which makes stuff like his Worm/standing elbow drop, the Caterpillar, much more palatable). And Tucker Knight looks like he might be able to hang, too, if this was any indication! Wesley Blake has always been underrated in my book, and from the looks of things, he’ll be the Sons workhorse.

- This was a big night for Johnny & Candice Wrestling. Gargano had the bigger challenge, but LeRae is the one trying to find a way into her division’s title picture. On that score, the most important thing her interview accomplished was setting up a match with a hot act in Nikki Cross. Her delivery sold her as someone who’s harried to the point of being unhinged by the situation she finds herself in, which is interesting, but again leaves her defined by her husband’s angle after saying she didn’t want that any longer. Candice could be poised for a breakout moment if she snaps on all the men who’ve framed her career and defiantly goes her own way. We’ll see if she ever gets it, or remains a supporting player in Johnny’s WWE story.

- Thoughts on the Women’s title match set-up are here. Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir make for an imposing set of enforcers for the champ. I was a little worried for Regal here, to be honest.

- Maybe it’s because I just watched her on NXT UK on Wednesday afternoon, too, but Kai’s booking gives me whiplash. There’s only so many cycles of “loses to championship-level act, beats undercarder” I can go through until I’m just numb... especially when she hasn’t been given much in the way of character development since Shayna was punking her. She’s a really good wrestler though, so I’ll keep pulling for her.

Every time I see Conti, I think she’s gonna be great. And after each of her matches, I’m just not sure. She shows some flashes here, but is still pretty green. They should emphasis her judo-type throws more than kicks; especially in the Rousey era, that offense gives her instant credibility. She’s got a bit of a tendency to overact that comes across as cartoony. Still, one look at her, on the ramp or in the ring, and you see why WWE wants her to succeed. It’s just a matter of putting it together.

Bianca Belair interrupts a Mia Yim interview, setting up a match between them for next week. The Matt Riddle/Keith Lee/Kassius Ohno fallout video from last Wedsnesday airs, followed by a great video hyping the WarGames match at TakeOver. A self-shot video features Johnny Gargano explaining his attack on Aleister Black, and his state of mind heading into their match on Nov. 17.

- Wow, have all involved done a great job of making Belair annoying AF. She should keep adding pauses to “un-de-fee-ted” until she’s spelling it out and popping her gum between every letter. Mia was fine as a generic babyface, and I’m looking forward to their bout next Wednesday.

What’s up with Bianca and Nikki Cross, though? Was tempted to take its possibly being dropped as a sign maybe the Twisted Sister’s SmackDown appearance was more call-up than one-off, but then I remembered they teased the LeRae match earlier. Hmmm...

- Dang, WWE is good at video packages. If you’re not excited about WarGames after that, I don’t know what else they could do.

- Welp, Johnny’s lost it, and it’s great. I’ve not been the biggest fan of Gargano’s stick work in the past, and this has some of the tell-don’t-show proclivities I find problematic, even in his excellent ring work. But still, everything about this worked for me. Content-wise, his explanation is what we expected, but there’s nothing wrong with the most obvious answer, especially when it fits so well. It perfectly utilizes the grating elements from the end of his babyface run, where he was promising to always be there for the fans even as they were chanting “Johnny Failure” at him.

The short sentences were great, with pauses and increased volume from Johnny at all the right points. Even the selfie-style camera work WWE overdoes on all its brands made sense here for a former #DIY-er who’s outside the building for thematic effect, but also biding his time before he wrestles a guy who probably wants to kick his face off.

There are several ways his arch can go from here, and they’re all interesting. He could drift further onto the darkside, including a possible reunion with his partner, or a title win that makes him realize it wasn’t worth selling his soul. Or he could find himself just to the brink of doing something there’s no coming back from, kicking off a climb back up the mountain and into the esteem of the fans.

With everything they’ve invested in this story, Gargano and NXT couldn’t afford to have this promo miss. It didn’t.

Mr. Regal announces a singles match between members of the WarGames teams for next week to determine which side gets the entry advantage. Lars Sullivan def. Velveteen Dream via pinfall, after a distraction from NXT champ Tommaso Ciampa. Dream fights back from a beatdown by his TakeOver opponent to stand tall with the belt at episode’s end.

Pitting Sullivan against Dream at this juncture, a little more than a week away from Velveteen’s first NXT title shot, was an interesting decision. Now that I’ve seen the match, it seems to me the main point was to remove any doubt about Dream’s status as a babyface. From refusing to win by countout to being inspired by the crowd’s support to “hulk up” out of Lars’ trapezius submission, everything built toward the end of the episode with Velveteen sharing the Experience of his holding the brand’s top prize with the fans.

It worked. Full Sail ate it up, and I reckon Staples Center would to, were it to happen at TakeOver next Saturday. But it probably won’t.

Is that the right call? It depends what they have next for him. If you want to see what happens when a relatively fresh act loses their first title shot and the brass isn’t sure what’s next, look to Sullivan. He’s still a menacing presence who works matches that are violent fun despite all being structured more or less the same. But while he’s not quite a Samoa Joe or Braun Strowman of the black-and-yellow brand, that’s his trajectory.

As for the decision to have Dream take an ‘L’ in his last match before WarGames. Eh, it’s not ideal, but it fits. The post-match stuff makes up for it (even as it provides a lot of fodder for “reverse momentum” theorists), and really, doing something that costs you a match just to strike a blow against your rival is a very WWE babyface thing to do... so it fit right in with the main goal here.

There was nothing wrong with this episode, but it never really found a rhythm. The important things - Johnny’s a heel who thinks he’s still a face, Dream fully embraced the fans’ support - worked, so you can’t call it anything but a success. But I doubt it’s an episode we’ll return to for rewatches or discussion outside of those two items.

Grade: B-

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