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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Mar. 14, 2018): Long and short

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

SAnitY (Alexander Wolfe and Eric Young) def. Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss via pinfall following their suplex/neckbreaker combo to advance to the second round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Tommaso Ciampa is again booed out of Center Stage by Johnny Gargano fans before he can speak.

- As with last week’s promo from the faction who once held tag team gold, my favorite part of the opener was seeing Nikki Cross with the group. Killian Dain was there, too, but he doesn’t jump on Wolfe’s back as part of a spastic entrance to the ring. And he sure as heck didn’t crossbody Riddick Moss to clear the ring for the team to win. Not much was made of Dain’s loss last week, with the announce team instead focused on the fact SAnitY debuted in the last Dusty Classic and the tension between Moss and Sabatelli.

Those two seem fine, by the way. An inadvertent elbow led to some sniping between them but didn’t directly factor into the finish, and their fallout interview features a commitment to make their partnership work that wasn’t there the last time we saw them. This match was also fine, but both teams come across as mid-card fodder. That’s about right for Tino and Riddick, but there’s too much talent in EY’s stable for them to just be spinning their wheels.

- If you liked last episode’s “(almost) Everybody Hates Tommaso” segment, you’ll like this one. Center Stage seemed a little more motivated, and on the same page. Ciampa had a shorter fuse, but didn’t blow up quite as much... maybe because he didn’t bring a crutch with this time. These have been a great way to keep the heat on while trying to convince us Gargano is actually gone.

Dakota Kai def. Lacey Evans via pinfall with a roll-up, and is then cornered by Shayna Baszler. Ember Moon appears to make the save and challenge Shayna to a match for the women’s title at TakeOver: New Orleans. A brawl ends when Kai assists Moon, setting Baszler up for the Eclipse. Mauro Ranallo informs us Moon vs. Baszler is official for April 7. Street Profits (Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins) def. Heavy Machinery (Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight) via pinfall following a frog splash from Ford to Dozovic to advance to the second round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic.

- It’s good the fact Evans has a gimmick leads us to believe NXT has plans for her, because the way they book her doesn’t. It’s basically the inverse of Bianca Belair, who looks dominant but for whom confidence is her only character trait. This minute-long match let Lacey get in some offense at the expense of her opponent’s previously established injury, but otherwise didn’t do a whole lot for her.

- Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t a clever bit of booking, as it reminded us that Kai’s injury came from Baszler and gave her a chance to get a small measure of retribution against the Queen of Spades. If New Orleans goes the way I suspect it might, Dakota and Kairi Sane chasing Shayna should be pretty great - for us and Baszler’s learning curve.

- The champ’s promo was brief and showed good fire. This was the right time to bring her back since it means the injuries Ronda Rousey’s buddy inflicted were serious, but Moon didn’t let the Horsewoman physically bully anyone in her absence - tonight was the first time Shayna threatened someone, and our heroine was there to stop her. Fun brawl with the aforementioned Kai kick, and even a one-armed Eclipse is impressive (Baszler’s sell was great, too). The presentation of Ember continues to on-and-off confound, but this was an effective return.

- If you like fun, this episode’s second Dusty Classic bout is something you’ll want to check out. The ceremonial peace-offering of the plastic cup and Tuckey and Dozer using Ford as a battering ram against Dawkins - and all of Montez’s reactions to Heavy Machinery, really - were a blast. Here’s hoping these teams get good enough to have an Usos/New Day-like respectful rivalry for the belts someday.

Pete Dunne def. Adam Cole via disqualification when Undisputed ERA’s Bobby Fish attacks the United Kingdom Champ. Roderick Strong stands with Dunne against Undisputed ERA, and they share a tentative but respectful acknowledgement of one another before the Bruiserweight exits.

- Even with the predictable finish, this ten minute affair was probably my favorite non-gimmick match of Cole’s WWE career. Sure, facing Dunne helps. The Birmingham lad is up there with Gargano and Almas in the “incapable of having a bad match right now” rankings, but still, give the Panama City Playboy some props. We could definitely use some variation in Undisputed’s match layouts; this one basically combined the two elements we usually get one or the other of - Cole’s arrogance costing him the match or interference leading to DQ. But if the ERA are a 21st century riff on nWo (or to use a similar-but-different analogy, to NXT what Bullet Club is to New Japan) being the one act that makes the same mistake and gives us non-finishes all the time fits.

- Our big takeaway here, however, is that Dunne didn’t leave Roddy completely high and dry when he offered his hand. While I doubt we’re getting a traditional face turn from the UK champ, an alliance with Strong based on each man’s appreciation of the other’s skills would at least lean into how much crowds want to cheer the Bruiserweight.

- Oh, and speaking of “incapable of having a bad match right now”, two straight nights of watching the Messiah of the Backbreaker have me wondering if Roddy is the current in-ring MVP of WWE. Discuss.

General Manager William Regal holds a contract signing for the NXT title match in New Orleans. Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas is not there, sending his business associate Zelina Vega in his stead. She trades verbal jabs with Aleister Black as they sign the paperwork, then Black reveals he brought Johnny Gargano’s wife Candice LeRae with him. LeRae takes out Vega to end the episode.

So, I understand it was all to set-up the Mrs. Wrestling reveal, and I enjoyed Candice’s run-in and the much deserved ass-kicking she handed Zelina as much as anyone. But I am not sure how to feel about “Aleister Black: Jokester”.

Loved his bewildered pacing around the table when he realized the champ wasn’t coming out with his associate, and moving said table to strike his signature cross-legged pose. But a flurry of height disses? No man is ever truly good or evil, but I’m not sure this one is funny, either.

It’s not a big problem or anything, and it worked well to show Aleister learned from watching how Zelina got inside the heads of Drew McIntyre and Gargano during Almas’ last two feuds. He outflanked her here, psychologically by getting under her skin with the insults and physically (and psychologically, again) by partnering up with Candice.

Good stuff, but let’s keep the one-liners from the black magickian to a minimum. NXT can make it up to me by booking Vega/LeRae for TakeOver: Chicago.

Funny thing about this episode. While it had some of the same issues as last week, I actually appreciate it and the Mar. 7 edition after having seen both. Each advanced a lot of things with little moments, yet mixed up the ways they moved things forward, both in terms of interviews vs. matches, but various elements of those tools (e.g. last week’s promos were backstage or pre-taped; this week’s were in-ring).

Never a dull moment with the black-and-yellow brand, and that’s a very good thing.

Grade: B+

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