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WWE NXT recap, reactions, video highlights (July 25, 2018): To feel so desperately you’re right, yet fail all the same

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

Adam Cole def. Sean Maluta via pinfall following Last Shot. Ricochet appear to challenge Cole to a North American Championship match at TakeOver: Brooklyn 4, but the champ blows him off. As Undisputed ERA tries to look strong on the ramp, War Raiders show up behind them. When Cole, Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly try to hightail it out another way, Moustache Mountain appear there. After a quick brawl with Trent Seven and Tyler Bate, the heels escape.

You know, I really liked Maluta coming out of the Cruiserweight Classic and figured between some skill and that Anoa’i bloodline he’d be a big(ger) thing. But as Elihu Smails said, the world needs ditchdiggers, too... so he’s doing alright for himself as occassional NXT enhancement talent. He took his perfectly adequate, quick beating from The Panama City Playboy tonight, then we transitioned right into the stuff that mattered.

Cole’s vision of himself as a fighting champion is pretty great, and not completely full of crap. The man fought WALTER and Yuji Nagata for crying out loud. It’s a great heel brag, which would come off a lot better if Full Sail wasn’t so in love with him (full disclosure, so am I). Ricochet’s retorts had some swagger to them, but still weren’t home runs. His best trick remains the rebound superhero landing. That’s one of the coolest things in the world, though, so he can coast on it while the rest of his microphone and character skills catch up.

The back-to-back physical comedy bits of Hanson and Rowe, then Seven and Bate appearing behind Undisputed ERA were flat out brilliant. A quick, unique way to remind us these guys have made a ton of enemies, and those enemies are real threats to their crowns. It sets up the next couple months worth of storylines for the tag titles (and maybe shows us a path to War Games?)... plus, it let O’Reilly make some cartoonish facial expressions. Any opportunity for that is okay by me.

General Manager William Regal oversees a contract signing for the Women’s Title match in Brooklyn. Shayna Baszler insists she’s much more dangerous than when she and Kairi Sane met in last year’s Mae Young Classic finals. Sane tries to convince Baszler and Regal she can defeat The Queen of Spades. Lacey Evans def. Tenilla Price with Women’s Right. Bianca Belair is interviewed and reminds us she’s undefeated and will take what’s hers when she returns from “injury”. Candice LeRae confronts Shayna for disrespecting her again during the contract signing.

- Gonna just put it out there since it’s been on my mind, and it came up in the Cageside Offices... man, I hope Mr. Regal is doing okay. Hopefully it was just my imagination going to catastrophizing places about one of my all-time favorite wrestling figures, but he looked very tired, a couple years older than when last we saw him and didn’t say a word.

- That aside, liked both Baszler continuing the recent theme of dismissing all of her potential challengers every chance she gets, and what seemed to me to be signs the champ has gotten into Kairi’s head. Sane seemed to be trying to convince herself as much as anyone else with her repeated declarations that “I know it and you know it”. Let’s get her to be less of a children’s cartoon sailor and more of a high seas mercenary. And if it takes a high profile loss to Shayna to speed it along, so be it.

- Interesting, especially since this brand’s spent the last month emphasizing the depth of their women’s roster, that there was very little talk of Evolution tonight. It was taped before the announcement, of course, but WWE usually turns to post-production to ensure references to major developments like that are there when they want them to be. Very curious to see if/how the women-only pay-per-view (PPV) gets integrated into the build to TakeOver over the coming weeks.

- Much like their repeated inclusions of Belair despite her hiatus indicates how important she is to WWE’s futures plans, Evans getting an immediate series of rebound wins after losing her feud to Sane tells us how high management is on The First Lady. The NXT Women’s division will belong to them soon... if they’re not fast tracked to the red or blue brands before they win gold here.

Tommaso Ciampa def. Aleister Black via pinfall following a sitout psdigree to become the new NXT Champion. Johnny Gargano’s attempt to prevent Ciampa from using the belt as a weapon following a ref bump backfired, and he ended up hitting Black with the belt, setting up the finish.

Hooo, brothers, sisters and my wrestling siblings of all gender identities. This was a good. Like bonus TakeOver good. That it certainly sets up not only a NXT Title match in Brooklyn next month but also a fascinating three weeks of shows en route to Barclays Center on Aug. 18 makes it even better.

This episode opened with a version of the killer recap package which debuted last Wednesday on Ciampa and Black’s issues. It probably wasn’t necessary to replay it, but it was cool, and added to the PPV-like feel of the main event. This feud hasn’t been going on that long, at least not compared to #DIY’s story or even a typical NXT Championship program, but those touches helped make it feel epic. The anger with which Aleister started the match definitely helped elevate this beyond a filler match or side quest and into a story with heat all its own. Ciampa invading Black’s personal space while he tried to sit cross-legged before the bell, which led directly to one of the more violent lock-ups I’ve seen in recent memory, set the tone.

And that tone didn’t let up. It was an extremely energetically worked 20 - 25 minutes. Even the stretches where Ciampa worked over Aleister’s lower back were performed with gusto by both men. You could know/guess the outcome (especially since WWE spoiled it themselves last Wednesday when this was taped) and still get breathlessly drawn into the action.

There was a ref bump, and some twists and turns fans would make “LOLTNA” or “thanks Russo” jokes about if either of those insults were still relevant now that Impact’s kicking ass and Vinnie R’s exiled to podcast land. But they worked here, because they fit the existing story even in small ways (for example, Ciampa’s exposing the concrete in a callback to New Orleans) and because they create interesting possibilities for next steps. Does Johnny Gargano blame himself, or Ciampa? Both? Black will certainly have issues with Johnny, considering he just told him to to mind his own business two weeks ago, and had Blackheart down for like a 12 count after hitting Black Mass while Drake Wuertz was out.

No fantasy booking for me, since I read and reported on the full taping results. But I like the way they’re going, and the twists and turns they could make on the way there - and probably will continue to make beyond SummerSlam weekend.

Throw in that we got what was one of if not the best Aleister Black WWE match as part of the deal, and this was a hell of night.

The past couple weeks have tried to be more equitable with their time, using it for a bunch of angles, divisions and characters. NXT didn’t abandon anything this week, with big reminders about the Women’s and North American Title feuds, a tease of potential Tag Team Championship matches and a much needed reminder that Velveteen Dream and EC3 have issues.

But it dedicated half its runtime to the most important story on the brand currently, and one of the most important stories in the brand’s history. And it nailed it.

Grade: A

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