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WWE NXT preview (Feb. 21, 2018): High stakes

Tonight’s show finds us in back in NXT’s new home away from home, Atlanta’s Center Stage, for the third episode from a taping (spoilers from which are here) which builds from TakeOver: Philadelphia - and takes us much of the way to TakeOver: New Orleans.

Here's what to expect.

The Headliner(s)

If you’re not (apologies to Cody and The Bucks) all in already, I’m not sure what to tell you.

There are no guarantees, in life or in graps, but if there were, the quality of the latest match between NXT champion Andrade “Cien” Almas and Johnny Gargano would probably deserve one. The chances of this fourth showdown between extremely talented dudes with great chemistry not being at least good are... not good. Even before the belt was in the picture, or either guy had attained their current mastery of their character, Cien and Johnny were tearing it up. Now that they’re the top of the NXT food chain? Forget about it.

Want a great story? With or without Tommaso Ciampa and his crutch, Almas used every advantage afforded to him by his business associate Zelina Vega and circumstances in general to retain his title over Gargano at TakeOver: Philadelphia. After the referee counted three, that was when defeated challenger’s former tag partner attacked. What was going through the mind of Johnny Wrestling when he agreed to put his NXT career on the line for another title shot? He’d gone to the ring to call out the Sicilian Psychopath. Was his focus on Ciampa what allowed Vega to push him until he would risk it all? Is he overcompensating because he still, deep down, doubts his ability to reach the top as a singles star?

We’ll find out. Tommaso might be there, setting up a showdown in New Orleans or Chicago (depending on the health of his surgically repaired knee). Candice LeRae will be there, and might end up in a proper feud with Zelina when all is said and done. Whatever happens, at the end of this episode, Gargano will be the new champ... or he’ll be gone.

All in yet?

The Title Scene

Thanks to a disqualifcation-triggering save from Kairi Sane, Ember Moon survived another war with Shayna Baszler with the Women’s title still around her waist. But she may be in no shape to answer another challenge from the Queen of Spades, or anyone else, any time soon. Baszler inflicted a lot of damage on the champ’s already injured shoulder last Wednesday. She probably smells blood in the water, but she also need to deal with the Pirate Princess before trying to finish off Ember Moon.

After losing to SAntiY in a six-man tornado rules match, tag team titleholders Undisputed ERA probably want another shot at Eric Young and crew. But seeing as how EY and Alexander Wolfe still haven’t had a rematch for the belts, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly probably won’t have to look too hard. Now, don’t ask me where Authors of Pain have disappeared to again... you’d think it would be hard to hide guys as big as Akam and Rezar, but Paul Ellering manages to do it.

Ho-hum. Pete Dunne is still the United Kingdom champ. Now what?

Other stuff to keep an eye on:

- Looking to build on the momentum he gained with a (non-knockout) win against Kassius Ohno in Philly, Velveteen Dream will bring The Experience to No Way Jose’s fiesta on this week’s show. But is Dream already looking ahead to proving he’s the hottest young thing on the black-and-yellow brand by taking out 2017 Match of the Year winner Tyler Bate?

- The Dusty Rhodes Classic starts soon, so we might see some more tag teams trotted out. They can’t fill the field with just Heavy Machinery, Street Profits and angry TM61. Maybe they can find Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch? Maybe they’re with AoP?

- Ditto all of the women not named Ember, Kairi or Shayna. We miss them. The official preview from says we are getting Nikki Cross vs. Vanessa Borne, which is a good start.

- Johnny really might leave NXT after tonight, y’all.

NOTE: Spoilers are out there for these pre-taped broadcasts (including here), but many Cagesiders don't partake. If you are going to post or discuss spoilers for this show before they happen, or results of future shows, please use the spoiler bar in your comment.

See you tonight for NXT, Cagesiders!

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