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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Dec. 12, 2018): Bittersweet symphony

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

After an Adam Cole promo promising Undisputed ERA would all have titles in 2019, EC3 def. Bobby Fish via pinfall. Heavy Machinery ran in to help EC3 when Undisputed jumped him after the match, and the faces stood tall after hitting their finishers on Kyle O’Reilly. Dakota Kai & Io Shirai call for a tag match against Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch def. The Mighty via pinfall.

- The usual good stuff on the mic from Adam Cole (BAY-BAY), and needed after the ERA took a high profile ‘L’ in WarGames. Just like after he lost the North American strap, the Panama City Playboy’s particular cocktail of charm and arrogance is pretty much equal to a rebound win in the ring. If there’s anything I was let down by from our time with Undisputed this week it’s that Kyle didn’t get to say anything. But he did get to cower and sell for the oddball babyface squad, and that was pretty great.

- Still mystified by whatever it is they’re doing with fka Ethan Carter. Not even so much the roll-up win, which didn’t do much for him but at least protected Fish in his first televised singles match since returning from injury. But what’s with the sleeveless fur duster? That’s not a criticism, necessarily, but I’m gonna need an answer.

As with most of EC3’s outings, this was an acceptable, five minute made-for-the-main-roster affair. He still seems ill-suited to playing a tecnico. Moves like his counter powerbomb and the Name Drop elbow are fun, but they’re spaced out with the rest holds and posing which served him well as a main event heel in TNA.

Mostly, this was a vehicle to get us to a Heavy Machinery tag title shot, and it worked. Sign me up for some vignettes of the One-Percenter attending one of Dozer & Tucker’s Steaks & Weights workout/grill sessions. If they’re half as fun as EC3 getting Otis fired up to do the Caterpillar elbow on Kyle was, they should be winners.

- There’s no point even wondering about the weird over-enthusiastic friend thing Io’s doing in all these team promos, because if reports are right, the team is short-lived. Kai’s injury was just one of the reasons this episode felt melancholic. At least she got to rock that hard-earned Kingslayer shirt like the champ she is.

- Another week, another fun tag match. Lorcan & Burch’s win over The Mighty was a bonkers little five minute outing with no filler. The Brit-Am Brawlers picking up the win is the right call, and especially if War Raiders are sidelined for a while due to Hanson’s injuries, they’re definitely deserving of a second go at the tag champs. But this was a good showing for Shane Thorne & Nick Miller, too. I just have no idea where it leaves them.

Their heel turn has been hamstrung by creative asking them to switch between playing chicken$#!+ and sadistic. They were the former for the Street Profits program, now the latter for this quick one with Oney & Danny. At this point, they’ve been positioned as an enhancement team for so long on this show, it’s going to be difficult to sell them as contenders again. Maybe a trip across the pond is in order. Hopefully it’s not already time to consign them to the main roster house show squad with SAnitY and... almost every other former championship NXT Tag Team. But maybe.

Yay One and Two, though! Right?

Johnny Gargano cuts a promo about next week’s steel cage match with Aleister Black. We learn Dominick Dijakovic will be on next week’s episode as well. Cathy Kelley interviews the MMA Horsewoman, who laugh off both whoever Shayna Baszler’s next challenger is and the threat of Shirai & Kai. After footage of Lacey Evans qualifying at a Florida house show last weekend, Mia Yim def. Reina González to claim the third spot in the Fatal 4Way to determine the #1 contender for the Women’s title.

- Johnny Badass continues to excel within his latest gimmick tweak. The overacting tendencies which grated on me work now that he’s clearly unhinged, but trying to hold it together while convincing his fans and himself that his mission is still a righteous one. Gargano’s belief that kids will still be waiting to high-five him when he finishes his story no matter how much blood he has to get on his hands in order to win the NXT title is a fascinating wrinkle. Also looking forward to seeing if the bring Johnny’s delusion into conflict with Tommaso Ciampa’s oft-repeated boast that he ended Gargano’s fairy tale.

Overall, even though we only got a couple quick segments on it this week, the story of the three men currently in the NXT championship remained my favorite thing happening on this show, or in pretty much the entire company (sorry, Becky, it’s true).

- We’ll see how well, I want to say Jessica and Mary? (Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir) do with their match next Wednesday. So far, every time they’re on screen they succeed in making me hope someone slaps the taste out of their mouths. So... good job, ladies!

- Decent little women’s qualifier, as Mia joins Bianca Belair and Lacey Evans in the #1 contender’s match in two weeks. No (non-spoiler) word yet on who the fourth competitor will be in that bout, but Mauro Ranallo & team did a good job making me hope Yim emerges victorious on Dec. 26 - or at least ends up facing the Queen of Spades at some point. They introduced her real life friendship with Shayna into the equation, and now I really want to see that play out in a kayfabe feud.

González is another member of NXT’s work-in-progress women’s midcard. She’s 100% invested in her mean Texan character and her offense is basic, but seems solid enough. Hopefully she’ll get another year or so to develop at this level and not get fast-tracked because of her size like another legacy prospect who’s challenging for the Raw Women’s title this Sunday.

Aleister Black speaks on his steel cage match with Johnny Gargano, and the women’s tag match is confirmed for next week. Tyler Breeze returns as Mr. Regal’s mystery challenger for Ricochet, and Ricochet def. Tyler Breeze via pinfall following a Michinoku Driver to retain the North American championship.

- Since his return has established that Black is a more than capable mic man in these kind of focused, intense interviews, can we never again have him making jokes and playing a Cena-esque role like he was during the end of the feud with Andrade Almas and (Aleister’s now wife) Zelina Vega? Seriously, this was another home run for the Stoic Satanist. It’s just a guess, but I’m thinking Aleister spent as much time in promo class as he did in the gym while he was rehabbing this fall.

Another thing this episode drove home is how NXT has given some of their top tier men’s acts a signature promo location/style. The ERA has their nWo-esque spot, Ciampa sets up his camera in a trailer, Gargano now records outside at night. Black’s should be this non-descript set with the smoke machine... it gives off a slightly supernatural vibe without being too out there in a way that would feel out of place on the show.

- Hey look everyone! It’s Tyler...

I was excited for Prince Pretty’s return home to the place where he reached his greatest, if not most personally lucrative, heights. The brand where, despite a cheeky gimmick, he spent time in the main event, chasing the top title and anchoring live specials with living legends like Jushin Liger. And I stayed excited throughout a pretty good match that he’d never get to have on the main roster, and not just because there’s no one quite like Ricochet there or anywhere else in the company.

But I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to what might have beens and what still could bes (Tyler’s Raw beard of futility didn’t help, either). Could Breeze ever get ten minutes like this on television at the next level? Might he & Fandango ever be acknowledged in story as good workers AND funny dudes? Was this be the opening of Triple H’s revolving door between brands for more than just NXT house shows? Why isn’t the Gorgeous One already on 205 Live? When will Finn Bálor show up in NXT UK? How quickly can Luke Harper be back on Wednesday nights?

Those distractions didn’t keep me from appreciating the best Prince Pretty match I’ve seen in a while, or the latest good Ricochet one. And I can’t sell the One and Only short here, either. I’m down for whatever we’re calling his version of an open challenge for the N.A. championship. While my and others’ minds first go to something like the controversial Will Ospreay match that went viral back in 2016, Ric can work pretty much any style he’s asked to. If the series of bouts with Pete Dunne didn’t remind us of that, let’s run some folks through NXT Now to really reinforce the notion. Bring a few blokes over from England, and unsigned ones up from Evolve - whatever it takes. Give me one relatively story-free Ricochet showcase every taping. It doesn’t even matter that there won’t be much suspense about their outcome. I want to see the King make me jump out of my seat on nearfalls even though I know he’s not losing.

His match with Breeze didn’t quite contain one of those, but that may have been because there’s emotional baggage connected to Tyler. Not just frustration with his booking, but his ties to the early days of this show. Even though Ricochet didn’t get me to bite on a false finish this time, I bet he can. Let’s give him a bunch more chances, with a bunch of different opponents.

Honestly, my focus may have been on next week and that steel cage match. I think team NXT knew that, and planned this as maybe not filler, but padding. It was fun. Now bring on next week.

Grade: B

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