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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (April 18, 2018): Finish strong

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

After a silent memorial graphic for Bruno Sammartino, Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae receive a hero’s welcome from Full Sail. Gargano thanks the fans for having his back while he won his war with Tommaso Ciampa. Now that’s he’s free of that, he declares his intention to go after the NXT Title - after finishing one more piece of business. LeRae will handle that when she faces Andrade Almas’ business associate Zelina Vega later. Killian Dain cuts a promo from backstage, vowing to take everything from Lars Sullivan in their match tonight.

Fitting opening moments all the way around, from the quickly added tribute to The Italian Superman to starting the first show after TakeOver: New Orleans with the guy who kayfabe saved his career, and possibly his marriage, at that show.

Personally, Gargano’s babyface schtick is wearing on me a bit. Even Daniel Bryan has that edge that made him a great heel. After getting to spend the last year against Almas and Ciampa, it will be interesting to see how Johnny Wrestling does working opposite someone most of us don’t love to hate. LeRae still needs to work on her non-verbal reactions, which have at times been flat or out of place in what is admittedly a challenging role.

But that’s all just nitpicking. This was a great moment that both the performers and the fans deserved after the journey we’ve all been on since last summer in Chicago.

Ricochet def. Fabian Aichner via pinfall following a 630 senton, then tells Kayla Braxton in a ringside interview he’s excited to be in NXT so he can show the world he’s “The One and Only”. EC3 gets a hype video, and Lars Sullivan gets mic time promising to show Dain and the world he’s a real freak of nature.

Mauro Ranallo mentions that Aichner aspires to be like another wrestler who came to the States from Italy in Sammartino - a reference that sounds like it was recorded before today’s sad news. On the one hand, it shouldn’t be surprising considering Mauro’s love of references and the prominence of Italian immigrants and their descendents on this show. On the other, I may just have Bruno in my heart and on my mind.

Nice television debut for Ricochet. It didn’t fall into the trap NXT sometimes does of giving too much offense to the enhancement talent, and Fabian’s impressed enough against big name opponents (including a win over Gargano the announcers should probably mention more) that what he got in didn’t make it look like the high flier was being exposed or anything.

Swagger’s always been a part of Ricochet’s character, but I like that he seems to be really channeling his inner Dwayne Johnson now that he’s on WWE television. His interview with Braxton was short and to the point. Promos crafted that way, and a heavy dose of that attitude, will help him through his learning curve on the microphone en route to Raw or SmackDown.

- The vignette for EC3 was good stuff, with a great one liner about him being 97% charisma and only 3% body fat, and an explanation of his name now that he’s no longer a Carter (it’s the formula for his success).

War Raiders def. Chris and J.C. Metro via pinfall following Fallout. Women’s champ Shayna Baszler crashes a meeting at The Performance Center to tell the rest of the roster to “get in line or get run over”, a message Dakota Kai doesn’t want to hear. A video for Kona Reeves reveals he’ll be back in two weeks with a new gimmick as “The Finest”.

- More of what we got last week from Hanson and Rowe, just in the structure of an actual squash match. The name still doesn’t make any sense, but they look great. NXT is rolling them out how a monster tag team should be introduced, and how I really wish Raw was treating Authors of Pain (but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion).

- Baszler’s playing the wrestling equivalent of Johnny Lawrence from The Karate Kid (which... have you seen the Cobra Kai trailer? Wild, huh? But I digress...) and doing it well. She keeps having run-ins with Coach Serena Deeb. Hmmm. This continues her issues with Dakota, but I wish Kai showed a little more fire, or at least passive aggressive rebellion, against Shayna’s direction. Just ignore her instead of meekly saying you need water! Are they playing it like the new Women’s Champ traumatized Dakota in their previous encounters?

- Best of luck to Reeves, who’s been toiling at The P.C. for several years now. Not sure growing your hair out and doing “dumb Velveteen Dream” is the ticket, especially in a world that already has “intelligent Velveteen Dream”. But vanity gimmicks are a safe bet, so it’s worth a shot. He sure seemed punchable enough in this teaser.

Pete Dunne tells an interviewer he’ll be back in a few weeks to rip Roderick Strong’s head off for betraying him at TakeOver: New Orleans. Lars Sullivan def. Killian Dain in a No Disqualification match via pinfall following a Freak Accident onto two chairs.

Fun stuff from the big boys. This is pretty much exactly what I wanted out of them in their aborted first one-on-one. It wasn’t super-clean, with Sullivan especially still not looking supremely confident on spots with more than one moving part - but it’s a No DQ hoss fight. Smooth and clean aren’t what we expect or even want.

More than precision, I’d lobby for Lars to ditch the flying headbutt (a move I don’t have interest in seeing anyone do any more) and work on his finisher. The Freak Accident sometimes looks impressive. Other times it looks like the side slam it is.

Dain getting color really helped this match. I was bummed we didn’t get the teased Coast-to-Coast from The Beast of Belfast, but the table bump worked well, even if it didn’t lead to his winning. He’s off to SmackDown with his male stablemates, though - an announcement of which which wasn’t edited into the show after this week’s Shakeup, for SAnitY or Almas and Vega - so The Leviathan Logophile winning was the right call.

The Beast of Belfast could do big things on the main roster, if they figure out his character. Barring that, he might find himself in the same boat with Luke Harper.

Undisputed ERA celebrate their title wins at a photo shoot, and we learn they’ll be on the show next week, where Adam Cole will also defend his North American Title against Oney Lorcan. Candice LeRae def. Zelina Vega via submission with Garga-No Escape (which her husband also applied to Almas when he tried to save his business associate). Gargano calls out Aleister Black afterwards, and the new NXT Champ arrives to tell Johnny he’ll get his title shot next Wednesday.

- My word are Undisputed ERA the most delightfully contemptible $#!+heads. Looking forward to Strong’s explanation next Wednesday, but that he’s carrying one of the tag belts is probably all we’re gonna get. Roddy also appears a little uncomfortable while his new pals are being asses, which could just be because that kind of stuff isn’t his strong suit, or it could be an interesting wrinkle to the story. Worth keeping an eye on...

- Our main event was brief, and far from perfect, but I adored every second of it.

NXT just blew off one of the best men’s feuds - certainly of the past year, arguably in the brand’s history - with a women’s main event. And it was not only the right call... it seemed like no big deal! As many people have pointed out in the past, it’s when we don’t have to be told history’s been made that we know history’s been made.

The ladies were here as avatars of their male partners, and Zelina was literally using Almas’ music, moves, etc. But Candice’s interaction with Vega at the start of his feud with Black put their rivalry on its own footing. Johnny didn’t do much until the very end, either, while Andrade switched positions with Zelina, assuming his business associate’s role running interference.

Like I said, this just worked for me. The wrestling was okay, but as Gargano said at the open, this was about The Wrestling’s closing the book on their last story, and El Ídolo and La Muñeca’s time in NXT. In those regards, it felt right. And with a program based so deeply in emotion, feeling right was more important than being perfect.

- There are concerns I have about a Gargano/Black feud, and Aleister as Champ in general, that weren’t at all dispelled by the champ’s show-closing lines tonight. But that they’re going to a match so soon leads me to believe this isn’t either man’s final direction for the return to Chicago in June, so...

A real “kitchen sink” type episode - the kind we often get to start tapings, especially right after a big TakeOver followed by a rash of talent promotions. Everything they threw at us was enjoyable. We didn’t get much in the way of clues about where things are going, but what we were shown was a step forward into something fresh.

That’s what we keep coming back for, NXT. Keep it up.

Grade: B+

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