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NXT recap & reactions (May 18, 2021): Gargano vs. Reed in a cage!

NXT returned last night (May 18) from the Capitol Wrestling Center (CWC) in Orlando, Florida. You can find the results at the live blog here.

Bronson Reed gets Johnny Gargano in a cage!

After a cowardly sneak attack by Austin Theory and Johnny Gargano on NXT last week, Bronson Reed vowed that Johnny Gargano was “a dead man” walking. I don’t think that was another Army of the Dead tie in though. Reed had already earned a North American title shot by beating Theory, so The Way were hoping he’d be too injured to take it this week. Instead they got the exact opposite as William Regal booked a steel cage match for NXT!

This match was given a lot of time and deserved every bit of it including a nice long overrun. Austin Theory tried to run interference on the outside, climbing the cage for distractions, slamming the door in Reed’s face when he’d try to escape to win, opening it wide and trying to pull Gargano to safety whenever he came near it. Seeing Theory and Reed play tug of war with Gargano is comical, but only in the best possible way.

Despite all of the chicanery, Reed’s strength and power proved to be too much for Gargano to overcome. Even with Theory scaling the fence to blatantly reach into the cage and interfere with Reed’s escape, Reed single-handedly dispatched both men and went to the top rope for a thunderous Tsunami splash, pinning Gargano right in the middle of the ring! Cue the pyro and ballyhoo for your new North American champion.

Well deserved, Reed!

Zoey Stark vs. Toni Storm

After Zoey Stark picked up a surprise win over Toni Storm at night one of Takeover: Stand & Deliver, these two women have been married at the hip in promos and deeds, talking smack to each other and interfering in each other’s business. At this point the former NXT UK (and hopefully future main roster) champ Storm either soundly defeats Stark and moves on, or we learn just how much the WWE brass things of Stark and her impressive physique. Which was it on Tuesday night? Read on to find out.

Storm’s disdain for Stark was clear at the outset as she casually walked over and slapped Stark in the face. That fired up Stark for an initial burst of offense, but eventually Storm crashed her into the ring apron and wiped her out into the steel steps. That led to a long period of Storm working her over until Stark hit an enzuigiri to break free for a commercial break. So far, so good. Both women were using their athleticism to get the upper hand and it was proving to be an enjoyable opener to the broadcast.

After the break both women were trading haymakers instead of maneuvers, and Stark got the better of it and fired up for a series of near falls. It all broke down when Storm countered a throw from Stark by landing on her feet, hitting a German suplex and Storm Zero... but Stark kicked out! If the fact you thought Stark was winning based on her kicking out of Storm’s finisher though you’d be mistaken. Storm promptly drilled Stark on her head and pinned her for three, leaving Wade Barrett perplexed as to what Storm’s new finisher is. Perhaps someone should tell the commentary team ahead of time? Seems like a good idea. Either way I was happy to see Storm pick up the win in this rematch.

“Ted DiBiase, kiss my grits!”

I’ve been of two minds about Cameron Grimes for a while now. Some weeks I think his “low rent millionaire” shtick is really funny, other weeks I think they dedicate so many segments to it during one show that I never want to see it again. In either case they’ve been building up a war between him and WWE Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase, because “The Million Dollar Man” has been out-buying and out-bidding him with the money even GameStop and dogecoin investing could never get Grimes. This week we’d finally get the pay off (pun intended) as DiBiase came to the Capitol Wrestling Center for a big confrontation.

This started with Cameron Grimes being humiliated by Ted DiBiase in proxy, as he told Jake Atlas to park his car, and Atlas responded that only DiBiase could have a valet or his own reserved parking spot. Grimes responded in typical Grimes fashion — he threatened to beat Atlas up in the ring to teach him some respect. Atlas happily accepted the match.

I don’t mind when a wrestling story is predictable. In fact I think doing a “swerved you bro” finish just to fool people is one of the worst things about the wrestling business. Therefore I’m not going to say it was bad that Ted DiBiase’s limo pulled up during the match, nor that he walked out to the entrance ramp and distracted Grimes to let Atlas roll him up for three. The only problem is that it was a weak payoff for the long build to a confrontation between Grimes and DiBiase at the Capitol Wrestling Center. All of that build just for DiBiase to do a distraction and let somebody else beat Grimes? It makes sense but it’s hardly satisfying.

Taya Valk... I mean Franky Monet debuts (again)

Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Franky Monet already debut on the April 13th episode of WWE NXT? Apparently you can debut twice though. Maybe the first appearance doesn’t count because she didn’t actually have a match in the ring. If that’s the case then this debut needed to be something special to show us what La Guera Loca is all about.

I’m not going to mince words here. I thought it was pointless to have Monet debut again, and apparently the director thought so too, because she came out to make her presence felt (and her little dog too) immediately after Storm picked up the win over Stark. It seemed like this would have been the perfect moment to have Monet pick a fight with Storm, but instead it was “to the back” like a vintage TNA Impact segment for a backstage interview. What? Why? Why send Monet out at all then? What was the freaking point of it?

Pete Dunne wants Arash Markazi to prove him wrong

He’s run his mouth nearly every week on NXT. Last week he even insinuated that Karrion Kross was ducking him because he was the toughest man on the whole damn brand. If you thought “Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne was finished talking trash though, you’ve got another thing coming. This week he had a whole interview segment announced ahead of time for the show, giving the opinionated Dunne even more time to make his case for a title shot.

I have to say it was a fairly standard interview. Not great, not bad, just “there.” I managed to catch about 95% of the verbiage so if you want it please check the live blog for quotes. What actually matters is that Bobby Fish had an unannounced interview of his own with McKenzie Mitchell, where he said he found it funny that Pete Dunne runs his mouth about how he’s a match nobody in NXT wants. Fish said that’s the only match that he wants, so Dunne had better show up next week to answer his challenge!

A night full of unexpected matches

I’m going to rank them in order from the worst to the best. Alexander Wolfe vs. Killian Dain was barely a minute if that. Dain hit a crossbody after Wolfe refused to accept a steel chair from Marcel Barthel and quickly got the pin. Imperium gave Wolfe a two-on-one beatdown afterward so the angle was more important than the match. Sarray vs. Aliyah was only slightly better. Sarray won — as she should have — but seeing Aliyah be on her level for even 30 seconds just wasn’t believable, and Jessi Kamea had to interfere just to make that possible. Hit Row (represented by Ashante “The Adonis” and “Top Dolla” AJ Francis) vs. Ariya Daivari & Tony Nese was a much better squash, if only because the 205 Live superstars got in virtually no offense. Daivari fired up one time and immediately got put down by a dropkick. If you want to make a new faction look good, this is how you do it.

By far the best of the bunch though was Timothy Thatcher & Tommaso Ciampa vs. Legado del Fantasma. This was set up by a backstage interview where Legado were declaring their desire to face MSK, only for Ciampa and Thatcher to interrupt and say you can’t get a title shot without going through us. Logical. I always like a logical reason to have a match.

It was a cluster in the best possible way, with both teams repeatedly interfering in near falls, the ref losing complete control, and Ciampa and Thatcher taking advantage of the chaos to commit violence at will. There are few things I enjoy more than seeing The Sicilian Psychopath go on a murderous rampage. They seemed to have things well in hand until the Grizzled Young Veterans arrived to take Ciampa out. Mendoza and Wilde shamelessly took advantage of the weakened Ciampa and hit the double team assisted kick to the head to get the pinfall. William Regal declared himself disgusted with what occurred but nevertheless granted that Legado del Fantasma would get a title shot in two weeks. That’s not all that was announced though!

So yes, Franky Monet will make her third debut on the brand. God only knows why she needed three of them.

Grade: B

I was tempted to be more harsh as there was a lot of “throw it at the wall to see what sticks” to this week’s edition of NXT, but three things absolutely saved the show for me. First and foremost I have to admit the steel cage match for the North American title was really good. If you’re going to make a big deal out of Bronson Reed, you have him overcome the odds in a stipulation match for a title belt, dealing with Gargano on the inside and Theory on the outside at the same time. That’s the kind of A+ storytelling that raises the average overall. Secondly I enjoyed every moment of Thatcher & Ciampa vs. Legado del Fantasma, and even the Grizzled Young Veterans lending the assist to The Legacy didn’t bring it down. Last but not least I’m thrilled to see Toni Storm finally get the best of Zoey Stark. I hope it’s the beginning of a run for her leading all the way to Raquel González, but that may be asking for too much. Even the bad stuff wasn’t so bad really. Imperium beating up Alexander Wolfe made sense. Atlas beating Grimes made sense. Sarray and Hit Row winning made sense. It’s just hard for me to grade a show higher than B with so many squashes and so little thought put into it ahead of time. At least they set things up for next week and the week after.

Get up from your cageside seats and sound off below. See you in seven days!

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