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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Mar. 28, 2018): Playing percentages

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

Footage from “earlier today” shows Tommaso Ciampa confronting General Manager William Regal outside Full Sail Live about his Johnny Gargano problem. Regal books an unsanctioned match for TakeOver: New Orleans with Garano’s job again on the line. The GM then enters the arena and announces the new North American Championship. EC3 follows and tries to thank Regal for creating a belt for him, but learns he’ll have to earn it by beating five other men in a ladder match.

- This was a super news-heavy edition of NXT, and the first quarter of the show being wrestling-free but featuring two BIG TakeOver: New Orleans announcements set the tone for what followed.

- Neither was a terribly shocking development, whether or not you partake of spoilers, but both were welcome. As anyone who’s watched this brand over the last year can tell you, we NEED to see Tommaso and Johnny try to kill each other. Putting Gargano’s career on the line again so soon after his last match with Andrade Almas for the NXT title is the kind of thing I’d normally roll my eyes at, but this feud has been such a great combination of fun and emotional I can’t even muster any snark. Even this reveal was perfectly built to with the stuff WWE and the two performers put online since last Wednesday. Let them fight, and we’ll worry about the ramifications of the stipulation later.

- On the subject of stipulations, think I’m almost as excited for the rare NXT ladder match as I am for the line-up of said match, or the new title that will be hung above the ring in Smoothie King Center on April 7. Should make for a nice next step in the “Crazy TakeOver match” lineage we’ve had with WarGames and Cole/Black in Philly.

- Didn’t love his entrance music the way the man himself and EC3 enthusiast Kyle Decker did, but this was a very good showcase of what the Artist Formerly Known as Carter (and Bateman) brings to the table. His ability to work crowd response into his promos is on par with the guys like Jericho and Owens, and his charismatic overconfidence is easy to love or hate, depending on how he plays it. He admitted to basking in the adulation tonight, and everyone involved had to know he’d be cheered upon arrival, so I won’t read too much into his alignment yet. Hopefully they can get the NXT Universe to go along with what they have planned and aren’t forced to change things up. I have faith in The One-Percenter’s ability to get fans to go with him either way.

An interview with TM61 at the Performance Center where Nick Miller and Shane Thorne talk about needing a new attitude ends up being cut-off for a pull-apart brawl between Women’s Champ Ember Moon and her TakeOver challenger Shayna Baszler in the gym. Charly Caruso recaps how the first round of The Dusty Rhodes Classic set-up this episode’s semi-finals. Authors of Pain def. Street Profits via pinfall following Last Chapter to advance to the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Paul Ellering’s ringside confrontation with Montez Ford and his Solo cup distracted Angelo Dawkins to set-up a quick finish. Cathy Kelley interviews Mr. Regal to learn Adam Cole will be in the N.A. Title ladder match. Velveteen Dream approaches and suggests he should be in the match, and The GM agrees.

- Cool little way to keep the Women’s title feud on our minds (and hi Serena Deeb!) even if it didn’t do Miller and Thorne any favors. Honestly think having TM61 deliver the same empty promises was much worse for them than getting upstaged by a fight, too.

- The Aussies didn’t fare as poorly as Street Profits, though. They’ve been doing the bit where Ford excessively celebrates Dawkins’ early offense for a while, and it makes sense the defending Dusty Cup winners and former tag champs would be the wrong ones to pull it on. But coming off their own series of speeches about getting serious and making 2018 their year, this was a really bad look for Montez and Angelo. Definitely not the over/mis-used ‘B’ word or anything, as it can easily be used to refocus them for a later run at the top. But not going into their match against AoP knowing they couldn’t play games really makes them look not-ready-for-prime-time.

- Love the way the ladder match participants were unveiled throughout the episode, partially because the more Regal we get the better (and his answering “I know” when Dream told him he was looking well made my whole week). Anxious to see Velveteen get back in the ring, because we know a lot of the crowd wants to cheer him, and he seems to be playing these interviews a little more babyface-ish. But his online presence is still pretty heel-y... I just want to experience The Experience again, damnit!

Lars Sullivan demolishes John Silver. Kelley is speaking with Regal again when Lars walks backstage. The GM informs Sullivan he will be in the ladder match, along with Killian Dain. As Lars has been waiting to get his hands on The Beast of Belfast, they’ll go one-on-one next Wednesday. Dakota Kai heads to the ring for a match, but commentary throws it outside, where NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas is beating down #1 contender Aleister Black while his business associate Zelina Vega cheers him on. The assault continues into the arena, where Almas blasts Black with a steel chair before leaving him laying.

- Very impressive squash which reminded us what Sullivan can do in the ring. Having him throw words like unequivocably into his interviews is still coming across more “muscle head who’s trying too hard” than “super-intelligent”, but I’m willing to give them plenty of leeway as they try to roll out a different type of monster character.

- Not sure the champ needed to get this much heat back, but I’m almost as big a sucker for one of these beat-someone-through-the-building scenes as I am for Mr. Regal, so this worked for me. I’m also loving how much Black was able to rattle Almas and Vega just by “winning” the contract signing. Another NXT story that’s showing much depth without needing a lot of words or time to do it.

Roderick Strong and UK Champ Pete Dunne def. SAnitY (Alexander Wolfe and Eric Young) via pinfall with a tandem Bitter End on EY to advance to the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Kelley knocks on The GM’s door one last time, and meets the final entrant in the ladder match - Ricochet.

- The main event was the only real back-and-forth in-ring action we got this week, and it was pretty darn good. SAnitY may be what I’m afraid Street Profits will turn into, but I still enjoy it whenever they get a chance to wrestle. Wolfe is a particular fave, and even with his schtick toned down sans Nikki Cross, he impressed with sequences like the German Suplex/DVD combo. EY knows his role and plays it really well. Not sure where they go from here (and feel like I’ve been saying that about them for a while), but...

- Strong and Dunne continue to impress, both by quickly adding some tandem maneuvers to their arsenal and by demonstrating how their mutual respect is helping them succeed as a team, even if they don’t particularly like or trust one another. And the UK Champion’s lone wolf character has been so well established over the past year-plus, I’m just waiting to see how he reacts whenever this partnership doesn’t deliver a win, or even when a victory seems out of reach in a match. The Dusty’s love of makeshift teams is frustrating, especially when there are so many duos who aren’t doing much (cough SAnitY cough TM61 cough Heavy Machinery cou... give me a lozenge, you get the point), but Roddy and The Bruiserweight is one of the more interesting pairs NXT’s offered.

- One last trip to The GM’s office, where the old villain saved his biggest reveal for last. Well played, Mr. Regal, sir.

- Next week promises to be more than a TakeOver ‘go home’ clip show, with The Dusty finals between the Authors and Dunne/Strong (and probably some news on how Undisputed ERA will handle Bobby Fish’s injury in the title match planned for April 7) and the Dain/Sullivan slobberknocker that totally won’t turn into a six-way slugfest or anything...

Really, this was probably equal in quality to what we’ve been getting over the past couple months, but the Street Profits booking makes me mad-online enough to lower it one notch below what I’ve become accustomed to handing out on the road to New Orleans.

Grade: B

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