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WWE NXT preview (Feb. 7, 2018): Without a smile

Tonight’s show finds us in back in NXT’s new home away from home, Atlanta’s Center Stage, for the first 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)

There’s no clear cut cut justification for a rematch. Sure, there were shenanigans courtesy of Zelina Vega, but Candice LeRae ran her off, and Johnny Gargano lost the NXT title match about as fair-and-square as babyface can lose to a heel. It ran Gargano’s record against NXT champion, Andrade “Cien” Almas to 0-3.

But pretty much everyone who watched their match in Philly wants to see it get run back a fourth time. And Johnny Wrestling’s not going to have his smile all the way back until he’s conquered the singles mountain on the black-and-yellow brand.

Will he ever really be satisfied as long as Tommaso Ciampa is lurking around, though? The Sicilian Psychopath didn’t get involved in his former #DIY partner’s match on Saturday, Jan. 27, but The Blackheart’s show-closing crutch attack ensured he’ll never be far from Gargano’s mind until they settle things once and for all.

An answer about which of these issues takes precedence for Johnny should come when he returns to our screens and addresses his future on this episode.

It probably all comes down to the Ciampa’s health. Was the knee brace he was sporting in the City of Brotherly Love mostly for show, or is the image of him limping off into the night the last we’ll see of him for another month or two?

Whether he shows up on our screens tonight will be a pretty big indication.

The Title Scene

A major theme of this episode is SAnitY vs. Undisputed ERA. The two announced matches are showdowns between the two factions spinning from Eric Young’s group acting as equalizers for Aleister Black in his match against Adam Cole at TakeOver. The history goes back farther. Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly won the Tag team titles from Young and Alexander Wolfe in December, then beat them down before their rematch. Will this one happen without incident? And can the crafty Cole survive a one-on-one encounter with the Beast of Belfast, Killian Dain?

On last Wednesday’s “Aftermath” episode, Shayna Baszler was crowing about how she really won in Philly. But in addition to leaving with the Women’s championship, Ember Moon went on to make history in the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match. You showed her, Shayna! Still, Moon is likely looking for some payback from the arm “injury” The Queen of Spades gave her in the match, and the choke out she tried for after.

United Kingdom champ Pete Dunne didn’t seem too worried about new #1 contender Roderick Strong when they bumped into each other backstage after Roddy beat Tyler Bate. Strong is awful busy after advancing to round two of the Cruiserweight tournament on 205 Live, but we imagine he’ll find time to try and unseat The Bruiserweight soon.

Other stuff to keep an eye on:

- Speaking of tournaments, we know The Dusty Rhodes Classic will be back soon. Does it start here? Or will teams who should get a bit of a rub from it like Heavy Machinery, Street Profits, TM61 and Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss get a chance to warm-up ahead of it?

- We’re still looking to learn what’s next for most of TakeOver: Philly’s winners like Aleister Black and Velveteen Dream, and some of the other folks who came up short - like Authors of Pain and Kassius Ohno. Those (pardon the expression) losers all seemed none-to-pleased, and were left with questions not about what’s next, but about their roles on the black-and-yellow brand moving forward.

- We know Kairi Sane is healthy from her Rumble appearance... can we get another women’s feud going? This is also where I make my routine plea for something for Nikki Cross, and wonder where The Iconic Duo disappeared to.

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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