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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (April 25, 2018): unSAne

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

Undisputed ERA arrive with their Tag Titles and North American Championship. In addition to their usual bragging, Roderick Strong explains he joined the group because Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish have one another’s backs, and he knew Pete Dunne only cared about his United Kingdom Title and would turn on him eventually. Cole says he’ll defend the NA belt alone against Oney Lorcan, but uses an O’Reilly manufactured distraction to allow Strong to attack Lorcan so he can pin him following Last Shot. O’Reilly and Strong beat down Lorcan after the bell, and despite an effort to even the odds from Danny Burch, Undisputed stands tall. Shayna Baszler and Bianca Belair get promo videos, and it’s announced Belair will face Candice LeRae next week.

It took a little while, and all that gold definitely helps - as does the exit of two big teams/factions which were established before they showed up and another vainglorious solo star - but UE has established themselves as the power group on the black-and-yellow brand. It’s not so much that they pretty much clowned The BritAm Brawlers as it is that all four members of the faction confidently controlled the opening talking segment. They even succeeded in getting jeers out of a crowd who really wanted to celebrate them as cool heels.

Most importantly, for this writer anyway, is that Roddy’s explanation made sense. Choosing to win the Tag belts with Undisputed instead of with The Bruiserweight struck me as weird, considering all the other chances Strong had to throw in with The ERA. While saying he thinks they’re less likely to betray him isn’t foolproof logic, it’s a good villain rationalization. It also reinforces Dunne’s standing as a tweener. Should be interesting to see if or how they try to keep him from becoming a full on good guy when he returns next week, and when he teams up with Moustache Mountain on this summer’s UK shows.

- While the video on the Women’s champ was nothing new, this was a bigger spotlight on Belair as anything more than an in-ring performer than we’ve seen in the past. Nothing much stood out, other than their choosing to explicitly acknowledge her hair as a weapon. That could be used to establish the whip as a move which is only legal in matches with No DQ stips... we shall see. Otherwise, even though it wasn’t a home run, this was an important step forward for The -EST just by getting some on-camera talking experience and not screwing it up.

Heavy Machinery def. Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss via pinfall following Compactor. Sabatelli walked out on Moss after Otis Dozovic dodged a move which resulted in the pair hitting one another. Dozovic and Tucker Knight call out War Raiders after getting their hands raised. A pair of video packages highlighting potential challengers for Baszler’s Women’s title are shown. These bookend an interview with a “traumatized” Dakota Kai who can’t even look at Shayna when she interrupts.

Ready to move on from the slow-developing, start/stop break-up of Tino and Riddick; partly because it’s been going on for so long without doing anything new or interesting, but also because it’s clear who should be getting the push coming out of it. Sabatelli might not be great in the ring, but he’s a lot of fun to hate. I’m not comparing them (yet), but that’s pretty much what The Miz started out with, and look how that turned out.

As far as Heavy Machinery goes, Dozer’s fun and Hanson & Rowe are gonna kill him and Tucky.

- In the past, I’ve both praised NXT for finding different ways to do things and criticized them for not getting more of the mid-card on our minds, especially in the women’s scene where we’ve typically had a Championship program and not much else for a growing roster of ladies. These pair of vignettes were an innovation which addressed that criticism, giving us a reminder/teaser about who Nikki Cross, Aliyah, Kairi Sane, Lacey Evans, Vanessa Borne and Candice Wrestling are and why they believe they deserve a title shot.

- After being skeptical of where they were going with Kai’s story last week, I’m officially on board now that they’ve made it explicit she was essentially dealing with PTSD from Baszler breaking her arm and bullying her at the Performance Center. While I’m not concern-free... this is a life or death issue for many, and a kayfabe version of it may over-simplify the matter... I’m willing to give them some leeway. Dakota is worthy of a big push, and a long storyline where she overcomes her fear and the source of it (maybe by accepting help from a supportive friend who just returned to action after a knee injury?) could be major - for her, NXT and wrestling overall.

We learn “The Finest” Kona Reeves (re)debuts next week, and TM61 faces Street Profits while Dunne will battle Strong. The scheduled NXT Championship match between Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black never starts because Tommaso Ciampa attacks Gargano during his entrance. Their brawl ends when Ciampa hits his version of White Noise off the stage through a table. Johnny is stretchered off, and after the ambulance drives away, we see Blackheart waving goodbye from atop a trailer. An incensed Black heads to the ring and begins to call Ciampa out, but is cut-off by the male members of SAnitY. That leads to a match with Eric Young won by the NXT Champ, who ends up hitting EY, Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain with Black Mass to close the show.

What an exciting, confounding 25 minutes of wrestling television this was. In total, I get what they were trying to do, and believe they accomplished...

  • Further establishing Ciampa as a legitimately dangerous psychopath who is far from done with Gargano? Check.

Also... Tommaso’s kinesio tape eye “patch”? Dooooope

  • Delaying future big matches between Black and Johnny or Tommaso? Done.
  • Use the departing SAnitY to make the new champ look like a bad, bad man? Mission accomplished.

In the process, while I’m not sure it was intentional, they even addressed my minor concerns about Johnny Wrestling and The Stoic Satanist. This shifted Gargano back into pure underdog mode, allowing him to sell death (something he does better than anyone except maybe, maybe Sami Zayn) rather than deliver “aw shucks” excitement. And it moved Black toward being a fighting champion forcing himself into balance through violence instead of playing the trickster.

That said, the decision to structure it this way - while admirable in the “NXT tries different things” sense - was a frustrating watch. I wasn’t really in the mood to see anything other than Ciampa getting his ass kicked after Johnny and Candice got in the ambulance. I certainly didn’t know how to react to SAnitY (now also without Cross, even on this show!), a group who were babyfaces the last time we saw them. Also weird that while the audience at home knew they’ve been promoted to SmackDown, Full Sail didn’t, and Mauro Ranallo and Percy Watson didn’t mention it on commentary.

Young and Black’s exchange of words was pretty great, and the match turned out to be a lot of fun - and also demonstrated EY’s worth as a solid veteran hand who can make pretty much anyone look good. But I didn’t even realize either of those things until it was almost over, as I was still processing what we’d seen with Gargano, and trying to wrap my head around why there was what was essentially a house show match on my screen after it. Even when I pulled my brain into the moment, I had Mauro in my ears telling me Tommy Entertainment had just committed one of the most heinous acts in NXT history. And I was still wondering why, if Aleister was so pissed the match he booked for himself had been ruined, he hadn’t hustled into the arena to stop Ciampa until the ten minute beatdown and stretcher job was over?

Good stuff, that I’m not entirely sure worked as well as it might have if it was laid out differently.

There was a lot of worthwhile, forward thinking stuff this week. But with some of that stuff being experiments I wouldn’t completely declare successes and the lack of a really good match, I’m grading it a notch below their recent standards.

But while I didn’t love the episode, it did leave me more excited for the next several weeks. As I said, a weird one.

Grade: B

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