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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (Mar. 7, 2018): Crisis actors

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

Busy night for the black-and-yellow brand, so hopefully I don’t accidentally start talking about the tapings. Just kidding (I think). It’s gonna be tricky, though, because a lot of my reactions to this episode have to do with overall booking - and that includes the opener.

Authors of Pain def. TM61 via pinfall following Last Chapter on Nick Miller to advance to the second round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. A hectic scene with reporters interviewing General Manager William Regal and United Kingdom champion Pete Dunne includes a show of respect between Dunne and Roderick Strong and a tense moment between those two and Undisputed ERA.

- Will trust and believe NXT is heading somewhere with Shane Thorne and Nick Miller out of this. The investment of time into reintroducing them with weeks of videos, squash matches showing off a more aggressive side of their natures and their promos pointing out they’d turned over a new leaf while emphasizing their old team name... it’s all too much to have a first round loss only be a first round loss. If this isn’t part of a story about the breaking of TM61 and the emergence of the WWE version of TMDK, well, then I really don’t know what to make of it.

It was a really fun match! It’s remarkable how far Akam and Rezar have come since these teams faced off in the finals of the 2016 tournament. There’s no need to put Paul Ellering in a shark cage; the Authors don’t need him to cover for their weaknesses, in reality or kayfabe. As much as the decision to have this match at this time is a head scratcher, AoP are almost as good at selling as they are on offense now, and they made the Aussies look phenomenal when they were in control.

But, that powerbomb Rezar hit which sent Thorne off the apron and into a heap at ringside was too much, and put a great exclamation point on the end of this one. We know where the Authors go from here. The question is, what’s next for TM61?

- The creative decisions which brought us to Roddy and Dunne forming a mutual admiration society and Adam Cole deciding to poke the bear by mouthing off to the Bruiserweight are... interesting. Later in the show they announce Cole will get a UK title shot next week, which seems like an example of failing upwards for Undisputed’s leader, but I can’t even begin to decipher the status of WWE’s United Kingdom division in light of the new title coming in soon.

NXT’s innovation in presenting the segments that unveil those decisions continues to be superb, though.

SAnitY cut a promo promising to unleash chaos and purge in The Dusty Classic, and Killian Dain vows to defeat Aleister Black tonight. Bianca Belair squashes Drew Renee. An interview with Lacey Evans at a house show sets up her match against Dakota Kai for next Wednesday, and gets interrupted by Shayna Baszler’s latest taunts toward Women’s champ Ember Moon.

- Seeing Nikki Cross back with her crew, cackling and jumping on Alexander Wolfe’s back... just makes me so happy. I don’t think they’ll go too far in the tournament, and have little faith there’s much of a plan for the non-Dain portions of the gang. But I’ll take what I can get. This might be the same basement stairwell Ellering and AoP shot their Dusty promo in last week, but production made it look like a whole different set. Either way, props again. The real stars of this episode were the folks involved in putting together the segments outside the ring.

- Bianca’s a (sorry Sasha) boss, and it comes across clear as day in these quick segments. More in how she carries herself than the action in the match itself. Her finisher looked a lot more impressive than last time we saw it, but given how awe inspiring some of her other moves can be, I still they should change to something other than the Alley Oop. Belair’s legend continues to grow, but it’s starting to outgrow these kinds of squashes.

- Not much new to report out of tonight’s second interview segment. Evans dislikes everyone who isn’t “a lady” like her, meaning she dislikes everyone. The Queen of Spades thinks the champ is ducking her. What was great here, like in the scene setting up the UK title match for next week, was how NXT showed us that all of their roster exists in the same story. Even if Roddy and Dunne weren’t opponents a short time ago, or Lacey hadn’t scurried away from Shayna in the past, it would be cool to be reminded they’re not in parallel universes. That there is that history also reminds us of angles or motivations the show can return to down the line. It’s an extra layer we don’t normally get from other WWE products.

Heavy Machinery cut a workout promo about how their opponents in The Dusty won’t be ready for them. Tommaso Ciampa makes his first appearance since costing Johnny Gargano his NXT Title match and career. The crowd jeers him to the point he can’t even start to talk, so he throws a fit, ripping up and assaulting a pro-Gargano sign before soaking in the boos and leaving.

- Tuckey and Dozer are wearing me down. Still not looking forward to seeing Otis Dozovic do the worm next Wednesday, but they worked me with the veal-into-beef metaphor and Kool-Aid Man “OH YEAH”s tonight.

- Douchebag Blackheart melting down because the fans won’t stop chanting for his old partner was really entertaining. It’s also a smart “other side of the coin” character beat for the #DIY story after the spectre of Ciampa loomed over Gargano for the latter half of 2017. Like Johnny, Tommaso can do a lot without saying a word, and that skill was on display here.

The criticism I have for this segment is either aimed at the fans in Atlanta, the acoustics at Center Stage, or both. I couldn’t help but imagine how loud a TakeOver crowd or Full Sail would have been for this. (Was this your plan, Hunter!?!? To make us miss Full Sail!?!?) Once their role became clear, and the Sicilian Psychopath got really psycho, everyone played along. But for much of it they seemed to rely on a couple vocal audience members, maybe even planted ones, to figure out they were supposed to get and stay raucous.

Maybe two nights of taping is too much for a smaller crowd, because their lack of engagement didn’t help the main event, either.

Three more matches are announced for next week’s episode (Dunne vs. Cole for the UK title and first round matches from The Dusty between Heavy Machinery and Street Profits, and Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss vs. SAnitY). Aleister Black def. Killian Dain via pinfall following a Black Mass OUT OF NOWHERE.

Great start with the Beast of Belfast blasting Black with a drop kick at the bell, and smart psychology aided by Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness and Percy Watson explaining why Dain’s focus on the Dutchman’s mid-section would rob his kicks of power.

But I can empathize a bit with the unenthusiastic crowd - this wasn’t as brutal as some of the “NXT Strong Style”-type main events we’ve been getting over the past several months. Maybe I was hoping for a bit more of the old ultraviolence from these two and didn’t adjust my expectations for the more methodical pace.

There’s also nagging booking questions for me on both men. Aleister is headed for a title match as a result of his win, but it’s hard to not feel like he plateaued with the Velveteen Dream feud. Which is understandable to some extent, because that was epic, but it’s a rough spot from which to be in heading into their first big championship opportunity for a character and performer. While I’m guessing he could take the strap from Andrade “Cien” Almas on April 7 so the star of Royal Rumble weekend can move up, he doesn’t feel like a big enough deal for that spot - even though he did just a few months ago in Houston.

Dain is someone WWE presents as a major player, but when I see him in big matches by himself like this one, I enjoy what he brings to the table... but I’m not anxious to see more. That he appears to be settling in as an upper midcard gatekeeper makes me think others have the same evaluation.

All those strands in this duder’s head left me liking but not loving this match.

This was a very interesting episode, with a lot of different people getting on screen and stories being presented different ways. At the same time, though, almost all of them seemed to leave the hour with the same questions and challenges they came in with - which left it feeling like we’d jogged in place rather than made some headway on the road to New Orleans.

Grade: B

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