For a more detailed recap, check our live blog here.
Bianca Belair def. Lacey Evans, Io Shira & Mia Yim by pinning Evans after K.O.D. to become #1 contender and Women’s champ Shayna Baszler’s opponent at TakeOver: Phoenix. Jaxson Ryker def. Mitch Taverna via pinfall following a rebound powerbomb.
- Really strong opener, but before we get any further into that, can we talk about Belair’s dope jeans gear? I forget where, but I was reading a discussion about new ring attire for Becky Lynch somewhere recently and someone suggested she should rock a Stone Cold inspired jeans/black t-shirt ensemble. That idea was, reasonably I thought, shot down because women wrestling in jeans is impractical and prone to wardrobe malfunctions. Not so, says the next challenger for the NXT Women’s title.
The amount of shine each wrestler got in this went about as you’d expect. The two who’ve been on NXT programming the longest were presented the best. Bianca was her swaggy self, refusing to team-up with anyone, breaking up pins with her hair and hossing around the competition to win the match and earn a title shot. Evans looked ready for the call-up we now know she’s getting. They even protected her finisher in defeat (love it or hate, NXT has built the Women’s Right very well).
Shirai looks great in action but remains a cypher outside that. I can extrapolate over her friendly arrogance from the Mae Young Classic, but that character hasn’t really been developed here yet. We need a reason to root for her beyond beautifully executed moves and a love of Rey Mysterio. If anyone was lost in this match, it was Yim. After a flurry of early offense delivered with Io, she either disappeared or sold the rest of the way. Which is about what you’d expect from someone who’s signing was just announced a few months ago. But you have to wonder if someone who’s been established as more of threat couldn’t have made the cut over Mia or the Genius of the Sky - where’s Candice LeRae, for instance?
Regardless, it’s time for Belair to take her un-de-fe-ted self to a TakeOver for a match that’s technically heel vs. heel, but NXT crowds already cheer the EST. The only question is whether she and creative lean into that more than they have to date. She already doesn’t cheat, so I’d guess they leave her be. Watch her shine.
- The most notable thing about Ryker’s squash was the weird production gaffe which left us without commentary between commercial breaks. Jaxson looked mean and won in a couple of minutes; Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler just cheer from the sidelines but don’t get involved. We need to learn something else about Forgotten Sons. Maybe Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness and Percy Watson told us that something else tonight, but we didn’t hear it if they did.
Velveteen Dream recaps his 2018 and forecasts his 2019 in Velveteen Dream style. The NXT champ’s match against Aleister Black is confirmed for Phoenix, and Tommaso Ciampa takes credit for his old tag partner following his lead before suggesting Johnny Gargano should challenge for Ricochet’s North American title at TakeOver. Next week Matt Riddle will face Kassius Ohno, and we’ll get the “Year End Awards”.
- We’re still waiting for any sign of what Dream will be doing after he came up short in his NXT title match at WarGames 2. In the meantime, I’m okay with him producing these hype videos where he shows highlights & complimentary tweets from Hall of Famers and repeats the last word of his sentences in a whisper. Still can’t wait for...
- Oh, Tommy Sports Entertainment. You crafty son of a b****. He’s not only driven his archrival crazy, he used him to pin a loss on his next challenger and is now redirecting him to another target while offering up a perverted version of the dream they once shared. It’s such a good plan, and Ciampa’s such a good all around performer, I kind of want it to work. But it’ll be even more glorious when it falls apart - especially if the frequently stated fantasy booking of Gargano working a long con to get close to his former partner before crushing his soul comes to fruition.
Anyway, I especially dig how confidently he lays out these plans as if he has the authority to do so (very interested to see what William Regal has to say about his declaration that Johnny “can’t have an opportunity at my title”), but still makes his way a path Gargano has to choose. Have I mentioned how much I love this story lately?
Undisputed ERA def. Heavy Machinery via pinfall following Total Elimination to retain their NXT Tag Team championship.
Two themes emerged from this episode’s big matches.
One was that the acts who’ve been promoted to Raw and SmackDown are ready. We’ll see if the main roster is ready and, more importantly, has plans for them. Probably even more than Evans, Otis Dozovic & Tucker Knight did that by proving they’re wrestlers as much as they are a fun time comedy team. Will they get a chance to show that, or follow The Revival, American Alpha and others into the muck & mire of tag wrestling at the next level?
We’ll find out soon enough. We’ll always have a really good match from this show to look back on either way. We’ve seen Dozer sell - especially during his mini-singles run that ended with a good showing against Ciampa a few months back. Tonight it was Tucky’s turn, and as Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong targeted his leg, he showed he can handle that responsibility, too. I especially liked a sequence where they transitioned from Otis’ Scotty Too Hotty-inspired Caterpillar move into their new Hoss Toss, a catapult - power slam tandem maneuver that would make Dash & Dawson proud.
The other theme of the show was that NXT heels don’t have to cheat to win, at least not all the time. Sometimes, like Roddy and Kyle, they’re just a-holes who are really, really good at pro wrestling. The finish here involved methodically taking Knight out while they threw a series of attacks - a Tower of Doom spot, an axe & knee combo and finally their high/low finisher - at Dozovic until they won. It made their opponents look tough while they looked skilled. What a concept!
They kept it up with their fallout interview, too.
If you like good tag wrestling, and enjoyable wrestling shows, make yours the black-and-yellow.
This was pretty short episode (it ran about 50 minutes) and very much to the NXT formula of a couple good matches, a couple promos and a squash or two. It’s probably not must see, because everything went about as you’d expect.
But why wouldn’t you want to watch 50 minutes of a well put together wrestling show?