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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Dec. 5, 2018): Master of puppets

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

Matt Riddle def. Punishment Martinez via submission, then was knocked out by a Kassius Ohno sneak attack. A Ricochet hype video and meeting with “the press” sets up a North American title defense against a surprise opponent. Heavy Machinery get a segment where they point out they haven’t lost in six months and call for a title shot. General Manager William Regal’s announcement about a Fatal 4Way to determine the #1 contender for the Women’s title is shown, and we see Bianca Belair qualified for the first spot at a house show. Forgotten Sons def. Carrillo & Mendoza via pinfall.

- Opening match was a fine three minute affair, most notable for being a slightly head-scratching way to debut Punishment. I’m assuming he’ll get the Dijakovic treatment and disappear after a doing a few jobs before returning with a proper launch. It’s also possible that mid-card “jobber to the stars” will be the 36 year old’s role, either here or at the next level. As we saw in short bursts in this one, he can lay in some offense which lives up to his name. It’ll also never not be impressive to see guys takedown or throw around a 6’ 6” dude.

If that is his assignment in WWE, he might seek out some tips from the man who ended the segment by continuing his issues with Riddle. Props on building an interesting story for the the Bro’s introductory feud... just getting promos like this fallout one from Kassius Ohno make it seem worthwhile. That they did this little bit of follow-up to the WarGames 2 squash hopefully means KO and Riddle will get 10 minutes or more on a future episode (or in Phoenix) to really maximize this program’s value.

As for Matt’s latest television outing? It was also fine. Not sure if it’s because he’s trying to be a little more cautious now that he’s in The ‘E or what, but a lot of his strikes don’t appear as dangerous as they did on the indies. My recollection of a Riddle flurry from Evolve was much more Roderick Strong-like than what we saw in this match. By the time we get to a longer Ohno match, I hope to see him laying those chops in. They were a little too patty-cake here for my liking. What can I say? I’m a sick sunnamagum.

- After a couple of weeks of filler, we got back to business this week. As the first episode from tapings often do, and especially the first episode of the first taping after a TakeOver, we got several small scenes throughout the episode moving stories and characters forward:

  • With his last two rivals beaten (Adam Cole) and elsewhere (Pete Dunne), Ricochet needs something to do, and the NXT version of an “open challenge” should be fun (bonus points for not being answered by Dolph Ziggler).
  • Tucker Knight & Otis Dozovic make fun foils for what I assume will be a time-killing television tag title feud - and I liked mentioning their previous shot at Authors of Pain. Plus, I didn’t realize they hadn’t lost in that long.
  • Finally, having qualifying matches for the Women’s #1 contender match at house shows is a smart way to make those matter in some small way.

- The tag match was a blast. After a bit of a lackluster start, the Forgotten Sons duo of Steve Cutler & Wesley Blake have turned in a couple solid, entertaining outings in a row. Their tandem offense reminds me a little of the best NXT heel duos, both Blake’s previous collaboration with Buddy Murphy and even The Revival - minus Dash & Dawson’s rasslin’ flair.

Cutler & Blake are a little one-note, but Jaxson Ryker’s menace at ringside is palpable. Their overall characters are interesting, too. It’s rare to see an act so clearly launched with ‘Reality’ Era shades of gray booking in mind. They’re angry, but they don’t cheat. They don’t pander for fan support, but their (based on real life for two of them) former military gimmick won’t get booed unless they try to get booed. Cameras even made sure to catch a few pro-Sons fan signs this week.

Carillo & Mendoza just need characters, and they could really take off. Raul’s cut a few promos and has proven himself a more than steady hand over the past year. Humberto can flat out go, and he’s demonstrated some real charisma in their two televised outings. Get Mrs. Black down here once a month for tapings to manage them or something... it’s not like she’s swamped on SmackDown.

Anyway, between the champs, injured challengers-in-waiting War Raiders, Burch & Lorcan, The Mighty, Heavy Machinery, the Evolve champs, these two teams (especially Carrillo & Mendoza), and... I’m probably forgetting some people... the tag scene could improve in 2019. And it’s not like its 2018 was bad!

Cathy Kelley interviews Velveteen Dream, who reminds us everyone is talking about him but won’t reveal his next move. Undisputed ERA cut a promo from a new, more secure spot. Bobby Fish answers EC3’s callout, and Roderick Strong & Kyle O’Reilly mock the top tag challengers in general, and War Raiders in particular for getting injured in WarGames. Mauro Ranallo tells us the Raiders will be out for a while due to Hanson suffering broken ribs, a punctured spleen & other injuries. Shayna Baszler def. Dakota Kai via submission. Io Shirai rescues Kai from a post-match beatdown by the Horsewomen, but Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir pull Baszler to safety before Dakota can get payback.

- Want to be sure to not undersell the most important development from this hour of programming... DREAM CAN MAKE HIS MUSIC PLAY AND LIGHT ANY SET IN PURPLE WITH JUST A SNAP OF HIS FINGERS! He might need to be wearing that floral print blouse, but he can do it. Just ask Queen Cathy. No wonder even Triple H is getting asked about him.

- Another shout out to the continuity department; I marked out for Adam Cole double-checking that the doors were locked before Undisputed did their a-hole routine. That’s why he’s in charge. He remembers how Hanson & Rowe got the drop on them last time. Although, while I’m sure WWE is playing this report up to help sell the destructive nature of WarGames, it doesn’t sound like War Raiders will be pestering the tag champs any time soon.

- While I want to believe we’re headed into the final act of a year long story which will culminate in Dakota Kai beating Shayna Baszler for the Women’s title, I don’t. At least she’s getting an opportunity to prove she can have a match with the champ which is as good as anyone else, including Kairi Sane, has been able to put together. The Kiwi’s comebacks were great, and the Queen of Spades delivered some stiff strikes and a slightly scary looking gutwrench superplex to believably, emphatically shut them down. The end could have been set-up a little better than essentially having Shayna trip her, but before that, they worked together really well to reaffirm Baszler as mean-spirited technical ace and Kai as never-say-die striking expert.

The champ’s back-up, I want to say Jessica and Mary? (Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir), didn’t do much, probably because they haven’t learned to do much yet. House show reports are promising, but evidently not promising enough to have them bust out anything but basic punches and kicks in the post-match segment. They did give off a vibe of “I hope someone kicks their asses soon” while standing ringside in their Let’s Fight/Play shirts, so they’re good at at least that part of the job.

And kick their asses, Io Shirai did. The 2018 Mae Young Classic runner-up looked great double dropkicking Duke & Shafir out of the ring and then nailing the champ with some Dragonball $#!+. We’ll see how they book this out from here, but if they goal is to get the Horsewomen ready in a hurry, having them work with Stardom stars is a great idea. It helped Shayna a lot when she went to Japan.

After another teaser for Dominick Dijakovic, we learn that Fish vs. EC3 and Ricochet’s title defense will be next week. NXT champ Tommaso Ciampa arrives to gloat about his most recent TakeOver win and chastise everyone for not believing what he says. As he’s vowing to win ‘Sports Entertainer of the Year’ again in 2019, Aleister Black cuts him to tell him he plans to invoke his rematch clause for TakeOver: Phoenix. Johnny Gargano cuts Aleister off to say they’re not finished yet. Ciampa baits them into competing again in a steel cage, which leads to Johnny taunting Black about injuring him in the August parking lot attack. Aleister tries to take Gargano out with Black Mass, but he evades. So he levels Ciampa with the kick instead.

How did I love the closing angle? I tried to count the ways, but couldn’t.

There are a lot of moving parts to this, and they all depend on previous things working well, so there’s a lot to admire & appreciate before we even get to the mechanics of these 10 minutes. Ciampa nails a post-TakeOver gloating promo which has become old hat for him at this point, and just when it seems he might drift into “cool heel” territory, he menaces Mauro Ranallo (who did a bang-up job playing someone who was afraid but couldn’t show his fear).

After Tommy Sports Entertainment has the Full Sail faithful completely against him, we get Black’s crowd-pleasing entrance. Aleister’s mystique is best served by either not saying much of anything or loading every utterance with as much meaning & emotion as possible. Here we got the latter, as the Dutchman went from seething with contempt to frothing with anger over the course of the scene. But even his best shots, particularly calling Ciampa the “puppetmaster” pulling Johnny Gargano’s strings, played right into the Blackheart’s hands. Or I should say fed his ego.

Which set up the arrival of the third player... poor Johnny. Gargano pretty much doesn’t know who he is at this point. He seems to be trying to appeal to both the crowd and his former tag partner for approval. It only confused him more when Ciampa somewhat mockingly called him “Johnny Badass” and the fans chanted along. Gargano was perfectly willing to walk into the trap the champ laid for him, and that acceptance emboldened him to twist the knife in Black’s back, taunting Aleister by reminding him of the parking lot attack which left him on the sidelines for months.

And, of course, when Tommaso thinks he has everyone right where he wants them, we get a brief moment of comeuppance. It doesn’t hurt that Aleister connecting with a no-look Black Mass was COOL AF!

Interesting that Regal went ahead and booked the Black/Ciampa title bout for Royal Rumble eve when it seemed logical to put some kind of stipulation petaining to Phoenix on the Dec. 19 steel cage match between the #1 contender and the champ’s old partner. Maybe that’s yet to come, or something will happen there to change the formula for TakeOver.

Can’t wait to find out.

Let’s never do two weeks of filler again, okay NXT?

Grade: A-

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