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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Feb. 7, 2018): Beastly

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

The scheduled tag title opener never starts after SAnitY attacks Undisputed ERA before the bell. General Manager William Regal, determined to ensure “this ends tonight” books a six-man tornado tag for the main event. Heavy Machinery def. Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss via pinfall following Compactor. After some tense interactions during the match, Moss walks away from Sabatelli following the bell.

Not having security ready before the inevitable brawl between these two factions might be the biggest gaffe of Regal’s tenure as GM. The inability for any tag team to get a clean rematch is really becoming an issue. It also makes any attempt to sell the tornado tag as a feud-ending affair pretty laughable. If WWE’s first WarGames match couldn’t end it, a no DQ six-man on a pre-taped episode is going to do the trick? Good luck with that, boss.

Honestly forgot about Tino and Riddick’s win over Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight from the last taping, but maybe it made more of an impression on folks who are bigger fans of either of these teams. This was probably the most well-rounded appearance from Heavy Machinery yet. Knight sold well, and they built to the final sequence more than in some of their other non-squash appearances.

Seems early to be teasing a break-up between Sabatelli and Moss, both because I’m not sure who the face would be in a feud and because I’m much more optimistic about their prospects as a team than separately. Tino’s mannerisms and interaction with the crowd during the match (and this fallout promo) give the impression he could be in for a solo push. If either man is going to get one, the former NFLer is probably the right pick.

Johnny Gargano puts over his match at TakeOver: Philly as once again proving he’s Johnny Freakin’ Wrestling, and calls out Tommaso Ciampa for his post-match crutch shot. Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega answer instead. Vega says Johnny Loser didn’t prove anything except that he can’t beat Almas. When Zelina gets aggressive, Candice LeRae gets in the ring and shoves Vega to the ground. The champ and his business associate hightail it after a quick fight, and Zelina asks what it will take to get rid of Gargano. Johnny agrees to a title match with his NXT career on the line. Even LeRae looks shocked.

Confident Johnny isn’t quite as compelling as trying-to-convince-himself Johnny, but especially with the crowd already eating out of the palm of his hand, there’s still no better babyface in the company. Whatever might have been lacking from his overall delivery, Gargano nailed the two big moments of this segment - furiously vowing to deal with his former partner, and defiantly, recklessly putting his career on the line to shut Vega up. A little disappointed Candice’s reaction to her husband accepting Zelina’s condition wasn’t a bit more nuanced or convincing, but she’s been put in the middle of the brand’s biggest angle days after joining the company full-time. Her non-verbal acting wasn’t that bad, and she deserves time to get used to playing to the cameras. I expect she’ll get improve after more time with the coaches at the Performance Center.

The champ’s business associate nailed her part of this, as usual. Vega transitioned from condescending and button-pushing, to flustered, embarrassed and angry when LeRae sent her packing again, back to gloating and disrespectful after Johnny accepted her condition for a rematch. Almas does a lot without saying anything, too. He actually licked his chops when Gargano put his career on the line!

Having read the spoilers, I don’t want to do too much dissecting of the angle itself, as I’d risk inadvertantly giving something away. But adding Johnny Wrestling’s career to the stakes is a smart, unexpected plot twist. Upon first hearing about the match, I legitimately didn’t know how they’d play it and... I’ll just leave it at that.

And no matter what you might think of the booking, we know the match isn’t gonna suck. If we get a match... I’ve said too much.

Shayna Baszler meets with the press to say she’s become the most feared woman in NXT in just a few months, and the champ won’t give her a rematch because she’s scared. Tyler Bate wishes Roderick Strong luck in his UK championship match against Pete Dunne next week, and says he looks forward to more match of the year candidates with the NXT roster. Bianca Belair makes quick work of a local talent. Kairi Sane’s Royal Rumble appearance gets a hype piece.

She has a long way to go in the ring, but I love Baszler’s character work. While I’m sure these promos are scripted and rehearsed, The Queen of Spades oozes confidence in them. She seems to have a subtle, naturally occurring People’s Eyebrow thing going on, too. Her title chase has been really well laid out, as well. She’s got Ember, Regal and the whole division reacting to her moves, and it helps her come across as dangerous for her brain as well as her physical abilities. Good stuff.

Bate being on camera would seem to dispel “heat” rumors, but nothing about this milquetoast interview indicates they have big plans for him. Or plans to get him over as anything other than “good match lad”, either.

On the subject of screen time, The -EST got some here. Not sure there’s much else to say. Belair’s a very exciting prospect, but it’s time to move her up the ladder and see how she does in a legit program. Also, maybe a new finisher? Of all the impressive things she’s shown us in the ring, I think they can do better than the Alley Oop.

Aleister Black will be on next Wednesday’s show. A tweet from Moon informs us she’s answered Baszler’s challenge and the Women’s title rematch is on that episode, as well. SAnitY def. Undisputed ERA in a six-man tornado tag via pinfall after Killian Dain hit Bobby Fish with Ulster Plantation.

Brawls are fun. They made great use of the backstage corridors in the venue, and creatively worked in the obligatory “everybody rotate through hitting a move on somebody” bits. Nobody came out of this looking bad, and Dain and Fish in particular shined - enough so that I now have another singles match/feud I never knew I wanted on my wish list.

A fun match is not a great one, however. And even if this isn’t really supposed to settle things between the groups, this raised a bunch of questions and maybe exposed some narrative gaps.

Will SAnitY ever get a rematch? Why have Authors of Pain disappeared again? WHERE’S NIKKI CROSS?

Questions aren’t a bad thing, but as mentioned above, the decision to have WarGames be a middle-of-the-feud match and not the end is something I’m struggling with a lot. It may be a case of “plans change”, with Roddy’s new role in two divisions and whatever caused Lars Sullivan to exit the scene as likely culprits. I trust NXT to get it all sorted. But I don’t think the way the story’s stopped, started and weaved has done either Eric Young or Adam Cole’s posses any favors.

Ah well. SAnitY needed a win. The ERA are chicken$#!+ heels and can absorb a loss coming off a big Rumble weekend. From the way he high-stepped his way to attack Fish in the opening segment to how he let Dain hold up his lifeless body in the closing shot, I fell in love with Alexander Wolfe all over again tonight. And The Beast of Belfast looked like, well, a beast. Let’s see what happens next.

And what’s coming next is a couple of packed episodes featuring three title defenses, one with one of the brand’s biggest star’s career on the line, and more. Even when it’s not great, NXT gives you something to come back for.

Grade: B

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