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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Feb. 14, 2018): Mind games

For a more detailed recap, check our live results post here.

Pete Dunne def. Roderick Strong via pinfall following Bitter End to retain his United Kingdom championship.

These guys are good at the whole wrestling thing.

The only real knock on this is that Dunne and Strong didn’t manage to overcome the fact that, whether you read spoilers or not, most fans knew a title change wasn’t happening. But even though they didn’t have me biting on nearfalls like some of the absolute best NXT television matches do, this was still really great stuff.

It was also the perfect opener for... well, any wrestling show, really. But especially one built almost entirely around two title bouts, where the second would be more angle than match but equally focused on psychology.

Logically, this was quite brilliant. Roddy and the Bruiserweight are so good at all the other parts of a hot match, their focus on specific body parts blended right in with the stiff shots and rapid transitions. Props to Mauro Ranallo and Nigel McGuinness (Percy Watson was there, too) for reminding us how Strong’s targeting of the UK champ’s lower back and Dunne working over Roddy’s hand and arm aided their causes without beating us over the head with that information. Even something which often bugs me about NXT matches - the sudden finish - was fine here because it was happened quickly due to the work the Brit had done throughout.

Big picture, this doesn’t really answer any questions about what’s going on with the UK division, which is what’s really needed to add some suspense to Dunne’s defenses. Strong’s overall story, furthered a bit by this fallout interview clip, is really interesting right now. And if reports of Triple H overseeing 205 Live are right, it will be fascinating to see if this setback is mentioned during his second round match in the Cruiserweight tournament.

Nigel is calling both, after all...

An announcement that Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas for the NXT title takes place next week is followed by a video explaining how Gargano’s NXT career came to be on the line in that match. Velveteen Dream is interviewed by reporters about his Feb. 21 match against No Way Jose, and he calls out Tyler Bate. A promo from Aleister Black where he states his intention to go after the NXT championship is interrupted by Killian Dain, who says he has the same target. Dain promises he’ll end the Dutchman if he gets in his way; Aleister responds by telling the SAnitY member he’s just signed up to “Fade to Black”.

Dream cryptically talking crap certainly hasn’t gotten old, nor has Black’s aggressively disinterested monotone. The Beast of Belfast handled his lines pretty well, it was the lines themselves which didn’t really land for me. I get that threatening Aleister with “chaos” was meant to evoke Dain’s stable, but it didn’t really land the way a hoss drawing a line in the sand should. Just show this tweet from Nikki Cross to remind us about SAnitY... it does a better job of getting across the group’s weird charisma than just about anything that’s been on our screens the last two weeks.

Mostly, everything here was about setting things up for the next few episodes. We’ve already discussed the current NXT title feud (and will a lot more over the next week or two, I reckon), and Dain vs. Black should be a kickass #1 contender’s match for whoever wins Gargano/Almas IV. Velveteen vs. Jose will be what it will be, but a chance to work with Bate should be another opportunity for both those young men to shine.

TM61 def. John Skyler and Andrew Duckworth via pinfall following Thunder Valley on Skyler.

Couple things worth pointing out from this squash:

  1. They’re doing everything but officially changing TM61’s name. Shane Thorne’s warm-up jersey flat out had “The Mighty Don’t Kneel” on the back, and he, Nick Miller and the announcers continue to refer to the team as “The Mighty”.
  2. We’re being shown a more aggressive version of the Aussie duo. Check out this clip if you don’t believe me. Not positive it’s working yet, especially coming so soon after the “This is TM61” series wasn’t shy about showing what a couple of loveable goofs Miller and Thorne are. But it hopefully means they’re getting more of a character arc in their second go round, so we shouldn’t judge it after a couple of one-sided wins.
Shayna Baszler def. Ember Moon via disqualification when Kairi Sane attacks Baszler to save Ember and her damaged shoulder from permanent injury. Sane chases off Shayna, and Moon retains the Women’s championship.

The bar wasn’t set terribly high by their first encounter, in my opinion anyway, and whoever agented this one was smart to keep it simple. At this point in her development, Shayna is all aura, attitude and reputation, and all those things are best served by keeping her matches brief and focused. From her Goldberg-esque (Gold-basz?) entrance to the determined, sadistic look on her face when she was in the driver’s seat, what we got here served her better than what we got from Philly.

Moon’s gimmick continues to get what it needs out of this program, too. Even her occassionally reckless tendencies, like the suicide dive which hurt her more than it hurt Shayna, can be explained away as “too much fire”. Sane got one of the best pro wrestling matches we’ve seen out of Baszler in the Mae Young Classic final, so I’m looking forward to the rematch this likely sets up... and really intrigued about what will happen when/if the Pirate Princess gets involved in the title picture. Mostly to see if they learned from the mistakes they made booking Ember in a babyface vs. babyface (or not entirely heel) feud during her rivalry with Asuka.

Clocking in at just over 50 minutes, and largely made up of stuff that happened in the ring even though there were only three matches (and only one of real length), this edition of the black-and-yellow brand felt a little slight. Still, there were no real problems with what we got, and it continues to feel like NXT is building to something really big in New Orleans, and before.

Like next week.

Grade: B

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