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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Feb. 28, 2018): Clear the path

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

After the usual excellent video package recapping last week’s main event and closing angle, Velveteen Dream def. Tyler Bate via pinfall following Purple Rainmaker.

Just when I thought I was over last Wednesday, NXT starts off with a reminder. Complete with melancholy music over Candice LeRae consoling Johnny Gargano, and an ominous soundtrack for shots of old Blackheart himself waving goodbye. Even worse, Johnny has been edited out of the standard opening already, with a few shots of Tommaso Ciampa added in.

It hurts so good.

At ten minutes, the opening match was pretty lengthy for a non-main event bout on the black-and-yellow brand. Despite that, I never got into it as much as I’d hoped. There wasn’t much to fault from Dream and Bate, two performers I enjoy that seemed to have good chemistry. But something was missing.

Best guess is it needed more. More build, more time, more clarity regarding the stakes. Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness and Percy Watson frequently reminded us that Velveteen has a lot of momentum from recent wins and fan support, and Tyler is on a losing streak. But it’s not clear what that means for either man - especially the Brit, since we already know he’s got a spot in The Dusty Classic with Trent Seven.

Give them a few more weeks to put together a story beyond a fallout video with a water bottle, put something on the line and give them five more minutes as the last match on an episode (or, if they can find room, on a future TakeOver).

Paul Ellering and Authors of Pain vow to win The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic again in order to get their tag team titles back from Undisputed ERA. Johnny Gargano is shown signing his termination papers. Adam Cole def. Cezar Bononi via pinfall following a shining wizard to the back of the head, after he, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly pretend to offer him membership in their stable so Cole can get the jump on him.

Fun seeing NXT continue to play around with how they deliver interviews and promos. Just switching up the angle helped AoP’s feel special. After a long time standing around behind their Hall of Fame manager, the trio are finding a good rhythm to these three-man talking segments. Akam and Rezar sound better and more comfortable delivering lines in English. This was good, and I don’t care if they’re faces or heels, I would love to see them tear the ERA a matching set of new ones.

That’s partially because all I got out of the Cole/Bononi affair is that Undisputed are a bunch of douchebags. It’s one step forward, two steps sideways with this group - and especially the Panama City Playboy. Coming off some high-profile losses, he picked up a needed win here... by once again proving he can con a Brazilian rookie, I guess? Not sure about a shining wizard/knee strike as a finishing move, either.

Bononi remains as protected as a guy with one televised win can be; it took three guys and some dirty tricks to beat him, after all. He’s someone WWE obviously likes. He got a fallout interview vowing to build on his Future Star of the Year award, so maybe that’s the start of something for the big man.

The build to this episode’s women’s match is recapped, then a new ‘Street Talk’ is shown with Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford interviewing one another about who will win The Dusty Classic. Shayna Baszler def. Kairi Sane via submission with the Kirifuda Clutch. Afterwards, Baszler sends a warning to Women’s champion Ember Moon.

Did I see the gag in the Street Profits clip coming from a mile away? Yep. Did I love it anyway? Yessir. Probably cause Pete from Alabama and Darnell Washington seem like smart dudes. I should try to recruit them to do a podcast for cSs.

Still not convinced the Pirate Princess gimmick is viable long-term in WWE, but I do like the way they’re setting Kairi up as a possibly career-spanning rival for Baszler. Shayna looks a little more fluid each time I see her, and she’s progressing along the learning curve in NXT as rapidly as she did on the independents and in Japan. Her character work remains strong, and they keep presenting her in the best possible light considering where she is in her development.

The Mae Young Classic winner got a lot of offense in, but having the Queen of Spades even their series makes sense. If I had to guess, Shayna wins the belt in New Orleans just before Moon heads to Raw or SmackDown, and they see how fans react to Sane as a babyface chasing the title.

It’s a perfectly fine program, but I really hope they figure out how to get a couple simultaneous feuds going for the division soon.

Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega gloat about the champion’s 4 - 0 record against Johnny Gargano, and the fact Johnny Wrestling is done in NXT. Aleister Black cuts off their exit, but before he can speak, Killian Dain arrives. They brawl, and Dain puts Black down with a crossbody as Almas and Vega exit the stage.

Fine gloating by the heels here, with some good lines from both about “Johnny Jobless”. Not sure if Zelina referring to the champ as “her man” is indicative of a change in the way their relationship will be presented (she already edited it in a tweeted version), but the line about creating his success rather than feeding off it was choice - and can be used to help further a feud with Candice if they decide to go that way.

Have to say, El Ídolo’s English promos are a little tough to decipher (and NXT officials know it - his part is cut out of the above clip). But that’s what this show is for, and it’s impressive he’s attempting full segments without using Spanish at all. His mannerisms are so good they sell the content as much as his words, anyway. His shocked realization he might soon have to fight the two men in the ring, followed by mocking relief when he and Vega recognized they’d be able to simply slip away while the two likely future challengers battled in the ring was perfect.

Black’s entrance was perfectly timed, and I love how they do it at Center Stage with him walking up the stairs to the floor. Having the Beast of Belfast just bellow lines that sound like the come from a Game of Thrones episode (“YOU’RE IN MY PATH”) is preferable to delivering full speeches, and this was just enough of a second taste from these two to leave us wanting more in their eventual #1 contender’s match.

That stip hasn’t been added yet, but their match is booked for next Wednesday.

This episode seemed designed to get us to New Orleans in the singles title scenes before The Dusty takes over, and it did the job. But while it looks like they’ve established a third Moon/Baszler match and a way to determine who gets next crack at Almas, no one’s status really changed, with especially Cole, Dream and Bate leaving the episode pretty much exactly where they entered it.

And with none of the matches or segments being home runs...

Grade: B-

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