16/4/2018 – What’s on my mind: I’M BACK!!!

Well I’m back!!! And… not much has happened in the world of WWE since I released my previews for Takeover and Mania… it’s been very quiet in fact……

So since I last wrote anything on here we had NXT Takeover: New Orleans, which was… the best WWE show there has EVER been!!! It was a brilliant line up to begin with and the card was sandwiched with 2 of the best WWE matches there has ever been; the show opener was the 6 man ladder match for the new NXT North American Championship that saw EC3 vs Killian Dain vs Adam Cole vs Velveteen Dream vs Lars Sullivan vs Ricochet. It was simply incredible. All 6 men made entrances of stars, and they came out of it as MEGAstars. It would be hard to pick an MVP but I must give special praise to the performances of ‘The One and Only’ Ricochet and of course the eventual winner Adam Cole… BAY BAY!

Shayna Baszler is your new NXT Women’s Champion after dethroning Ember Moon in a great match. There was NXT Tag Team Championship/Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic winner takes all match that saw AOP vs Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne vs Kyle O’Reilly and the double duty-ing Adam Cole. The match ended in dramatic fashion with Roderick Strong turning heel and handing the win to Cole and O’Reilly as he joined the Undisputed Era. Aleister Black is the new NXT Champion after he beat Andrade Almas, despite the best efforts of Zelina Vega in what was a terrific contest. And in the match that surprisingly at the time but not in hindsight main evented the show (because how on EARTH do you follow this) Tomasso Ciampa faced Johnny Gargano in their Unsanctioned Match… Wow… expectations were high… but many are already calling it the best match in WWE history!!! So yes, Takeover: New Orleans was AMAZING!!!

AND THEN we had Wrestlemania 34.. and what a show it was! Brilliant, weird, bizarre, brutal… the adjectives you could associate with this LONGGGGGGGGG show are about as endless as the show seemed to be. But despite its time span it was possibly the most eventful event WWE has ever put on. I’ll do my best to summarize it:

– WOKEN Matt Hardy won the Andre Battle Royal. With a little help from Bray Wyatt as the 2 embraced after and so began what COULD be a WONDERFUL alliance. The match was a clusterfuck as it was always going to be (30 guys in a ring at once and all) but the finish and the spot this story was given I personally loved. The crowd going mad for it too made it all the more DELIGHTFUL!

– Cedric Alexander beat Mustafa Ali to win the vacant Cruserweight title. Decent match but they’ve done much better work on 205 Live before.

– Naomi won the Women’s Battle royal in another underwhelming clusterfuck.

And then FINALLY the main show began:

– Seth Rollins (cool blue contacts and all) became a grand slam champion as he won the Intercontinental Championship from The Miz, also bettering Finn Balor in what was a super fun Mania show opener.

– in an unsurprisingly brilliant match Charlotte BEAT Asuka to retain her Smackdown Women’s Championship. Shocking, 10 minutes too short maybe but in hindsight, in my opinion (although I was gutted at the time) the right call. Even with Charlotte losing her title 2 days later, this win at Mania only further cements her legacy. Special mention also for her incredible, spell-binding entrance. Charlotte Flair IS Women’s Wrestling.

– it was at this point in the show that John Cena (who indeed stuck to his word and watched Wrestlemania as a fan, and was shown to high hilarity throughout the show sat ringside watching on) was told by a referee something that made him immediately jump from his seat, over the barricade and then sprint to the backstage area. It was never stated what the ref actually told him but it was presumed, certainly from the huge reaction of the crowd, that Cena was being told that THE UNDERTAKER WAS HERE!!!

– next match was the 4 way for the US title; Bobby Roode vs Rusev vs Jinder Mahal vs Randy Orton. Jinder won. Meh…

– following that was the best match of the entire show… no not Aj vs Nakamura but Triple H & Stephanie McMahon vs Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey… WOW OH WOW OH WOW!!! The very definition of exceeding expectations. The match was brilliant; it had every conceivable spot you could’ve dreamed of and then some. And above all else, Ronda Rousey was SENSATIONAL! Without question the best debut of anyone in Wrestling history. With all the pressure and spotlight that was on her I was so pleased. This was fantastic start to finish. Ronda tapped out Stephanie for the finish. Great great GREAT!

– Following that was always going to be tough, so spare a thought for the Smackdown Tag title 3 way of The Usos v The New Day vs The Bludgeon Brothers. Harper and Rowan’s ever-dominant triumph was sadly still in the shadow of the amazing bout before it.

– THEN… we had John Cena come out for a match. He was then told the match wasn’t on … and then the lights went out and… THE…. no, ELIAS came out. He sang a song, wound up Cena, Cena beat him up, and then Cena’s music played as he looked heartbroken at the prospect of his dream match not being on after all. It looked as if our dreams were over… and then… lights out, Taker’s hat and gloves appeared in the ring, a lightning bolt struck them, lights out… UNDERTAKER!!! 3 minutes, an indescribable entrance, 1 Chokeslam and 1 Tombstone Piledriver later and The Undertaker SQUASHED John Cena… and it was PERFECT.

– It was at this point the crowd seemed to die a little, and what had to this point potential to be one of the all time great Manias began to dip slightly…

– next match though saw Daniel Bryan make his long awaited in-ring return. As he and Shane McMahon beat Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Match was ok, Dbryan was as good as we all remembered, Yes yes yes!

– Nia Jax won the Raw Women’s Championship from former friend Alexa Bliss. Only real result really given this awfully bad tasting storyline. Finish was a tremendous Samoan Drop from the middle rope.

– AJ Styles RETAINED the WWE Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura (whose entrance was spectacular; Alice Cooper’s guitarist and a handful of Violinists and drummers featured). This was an underwhelming (given its incredibly high expectations) but still ok match. The headlines after though were all about Nakamura’s low blow and attack on Styles after the match and his apparent show of respect gone sour. A heel turn for Nakamura was certainly not something I predicted but I’m excited at the prospect of it going forward.

– Then Braun Strowman and a 10 year old boy called Nicholas won the Raw Tag Team Championship from The Bar. As you do… (they gave them up the next night due to Nicholas’ busy schedule… in the 4th grade…).

– and finally after what felt like 3000 hours of an event, it was time for the main event. Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman defending the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns. Where to start with this one… one thing that was clear is the crowd in New Orleans had decided to absolutely shit all over this match from the beginning. There were a variety of derogatory chants, multiple beach ball appearances in the crowd… yeah this could’ve been a 5 star classic but nobody in the arena would even give it the slightest bit of chance to entertain them at all.

An absolutely brutal match saw Brock hit Roman with a plethora of German Suplexes, FIVE F5’S (including one to the announce table) to which Roman kicked out of each time. Brock then hit Roman with hard elbows to the head ala Randy Orton at Summerslam 2016. And just like Orton did so before, Reigns bled FOR REAL absolutely EVERYWHERE! It was like something from a horror film as Roman’s crimson face then showed his true fury as he went on to hit Lesnar with multiple spears! Lesnar would though then pick Reigns up for a SIXTH F5 and BROCK LESNAR WON! With seemingly everyone convinced otherwise the unthinkable had happened!

A variety of details about Lesnar’s contract and the change to the match finish have since emerged. Far too many for me to explain. but yeah it was… weird. Lets see how it goes down at the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia at the end of the month when Lesnar faces Reigns for the title in a steel cage.

This was absolutely bizarre booking to me at the time and it still is now. I’m fascinated to see how it goes for Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar going forward. For once I have absolutely no theory or no idea that I’m willing to get behind enough to believe and that I could use to try and explain why this happened. There’s plenty of possible reasons why maybe but nonetheless it was absolutely astonishing to watch.

And my main emotion upon watching it back was a personal sadness and sympathy for Roman Reigns as a man irl. Imagine turning up at the arena the day of Mania, having for months and months heard every man and his dog claim that you’re the man and this will be your moment… only to be told the plans have changed and this is what’s happening… gutted for him personally. The characters, the storyline not so much but don’t forget that none of this is Roman’s fault. The blame lies solely with the bookers.

So to follow an… eventful… Wrestlemania 34 we had a pretty great Raw. Call ups for Ember Moon, AOP and No Way Jose, returns from injury of Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe, and a huge return to WWE for BOBBY LASHLEY! Smackdown gave us Peyton Royce and Billie Kay making their way to Smackdown Live from NXT and making an immediate impact…

The IIconics attacked Charlotte Flair and left the Smackdown Women’s Champion laying and prone for a Money in the Bank cash in from Carmella and FINALLY Carmella is the new Smackdown Women’s Champion. After her official retirement just 24 hours prior PAIGE was announced as the new General Manager of Smackdown Live after Daniel Bryan had resigned from the role in order to become a full time active roster member once again. Paige’s first act as GM was to make the main event for the evening as Daniel Bryan vs AJ STYLES!!! This dream match was cut short though by an ambush from Shinsuke Nakamura on both men.

A recap episode of NXT featured a win for Kairi Sane and the arrival of the War Raiders tag team (fka War Machine). I feel both will be making a big impression on the NXT Championship scene in the upcoming months.

This Monday and Tuesday we have the annual superstar shake up that will see stars of Raw and Smackdown swapping shows, which is always good fun. Plus we are a few weeks away from the Greatest Royal Rumble event from Saudi Arabia which is looking like it should be one hell of a show! So even though Wrestlemania is behind us now the goings on and drama of the WWE looks set to continue to shock and wow us all for the foreseeable future… And I cannot wait!!!

In terms of what I will be producing as content for my blog my time off has given me time to have a rethink about what I write. So instead of doing individual reviews of Raw, Smackdown and NXT each week I will be releasing a weekly review of all things WWE each Friday. I’ll also be doing previews and reviews of every NXT Takeover and main roster Pay Per view as well as a monthly ‘ranking list’ similar to my previous blog on The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania matches. On top of all that I will also be doing a weekly post called (as is this one) ‘What’s on my Mind’ (Credit to JR on his podcast before for the name idea). This will just be a random blog based on whatever I have… well… on my mind at the time of writing about whatever is going on WWE related at that time.

I’ll also every now and then be putting out some different types of content whenever I have the time or enough interest to do so. So yeah that’s about all up to date. Once again thanks to everyone for your words and retweets and likes on all my blog posts. I hope you like what I write going forward just as much as I’m sure I’ll have fun writing it.

Josh.

NXT Takeover: New Orleans Preview & Predictions

NXT is usually really good. NXT Takeovers are always great. NXT Takeover: New Orleans has the potential to be absolutely incredible. Much like Wrestlemania this year, the WWE have really gone all out to make this card as star studded as possible. 5 brilliant match ups that I will preview and predict the outcome of as will my good friend, and fellow NXT fanboy, Stefan. Enjoy the blog, and enjoy NXT Takeover: New Orleans!!! *SPOILER ALERT*: Me and Stefan are fairly alike with our wrestling views… just bare that in mind…

Ladder Match for the NXT North American Championship: Killian Dain V Lars Sullivan V Adam Cole V Ricochet V EC3 V Velveteen Dream

Six of NXT’s very best superstars in a LADDER MATCH for a brand new championship… not much more that needs to be said is there? This will be carnage of the best form and whoever wins it will be a worthy 1st holder of the long overdue 2nd NXT title. A very tough one to call but based on what I’ve seen and who I think could do with a championship the most… I’m picking EC3 to win. The 4 established NXT stars are already very over and well known to the audience, Ricochet and EC3 are still new and whilst the extravagant and pretty extraordinary in-ring abilities of Ricochet will impress people immediately, EC3 (as good as his presentation has been) I feel could really do wonders for himself and the championship if they let him. Give him a mic and people will come.

Prediction: EC3

Stefan: EC3 – Given that Adam Cole is now needed in the tag scene, this is not the time for his first title run in the company. this title needs a star, and for me, i cannot see past EC3, others like Ricochet or Dream are great options and great names, but this needs a 1 percenter…

Unsanctioned Match: Tomasso Ciampa V Johnny Gargano (if Johnny Gargano wins he is re-hired to NXT, if he loses he is banished)

What has become one of the most personal rivalries, and engaging and emotional stories in NXT history will finally culminate at Takeover: New Orleans. And in the time Gargano has become arguably the most popular superstar in NXT, Tomasso Ciampa has via some outstanding character work become the most despised heel maybe in the whole company. Often heel can be cheered as people think they’re cool, but people hate this guy and it’s all a sign that he’s executed his material perfectly. I’ve no idea what on earth these two may pull out the bag or what they may do to one another, but I have no doubt at all it’ll be absolutely thrilling. Result wise I can see reasons for both winning, but I’m going with Ciampa as I think it’ll only increase the sympathy towards Gargano and his character, and it’ll set up Ciampa for a title chase and Gargano (as is customary in NXT) will do a job en-route to a main roster debut some time next week.

Prediction: Tomasso Ciampa

Stefan: Ciampa – My gut says Ciampa, the brand needs a major legitimate heel in the upper card, and Ciampa fits that bill. Gargano to move onto main roster business

NXT Tag Team Championship & Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic: Undisputed Era (C) V The Authors of Pain with Paul Ellering V Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong

Another multi man match with stars a plenty. I don’t think anyone before the last set of tapings will have predicted this would be the tag title match for takeover. But what an amazing line up we have here in this winner takes all showdown. I can’t even fathom the spots in the ladder match, I can’t even more imagine what the competitors in this will come up with to delight the New Orleans crowd. Adam Cole doing double duty after his stablemate Bobby Fish’s injury will surely be a factor in how this match is presented, but his brilliance as a performer will no doubt do the role justice. If I had my way NXT would be the Adam Cole show, and as good as both Strong & Dunne are and AOP also (they’re main roster bound) I feel the Undisputed era are in their element right now, and even with Bobby Fish’s injury I feel the result here will be the same.

Prediction: Undisputed Era

Stefan: Undisputed Era – by process of elimination, 3 out of the 4 opponents are main roster bound for me, and Dunne will go from strength to strength as a singles star.

NXT Women’s Championship: Ember Moon (C) V Shayna Baszler

I am convinced this match will be great. Not for the faint hearted but good to watch nonetheless, and equally so I’m in no doubt about the outcome. Ember Moon has been a terrific servant to NXT and I’m glad she has finally had her much deserved title run in the post-Asuka era. But as it was Moon’s time after Asuka, it is time for The Queen of Spades to take her crown.

Prediction: Shayna Baszler

Stefan: Shayna – Time to build another big bad heel champ, Ember Moon main roster bound (rightly so). Now the Asuka hangover has gone, its time to make some new stars

NXT Championship: Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas (C) with Zelina Vega V Aleister Black

Much in the way that I think its Baszler’s time to dethrone Ember Moon and send her to the main roster, I feel its similar circumstances here. Andrade Almas and Zelina Vega have both been absolutely sensational characters in recent months since Almas was given the title, and in-ring Almas is superb so I’ve no doubt he will be more of a star on Raw or Smackdown. But if Wrestlemania 34 will likely crown Roman Reigns as THE GUY of WWE then NXT Takeover: New Orleans where Aleister Black confirms himself as THE GUY of NXT. The wonderful symmetry that 1 year ago, at the pre-Wrestlemania NXT Takeover, Aleister Black made his NXT debut against… Andrade Almas! From the time and production that was dedicated to his entrance, you knew right there and then Black was going to be a megastar in NXT. And a year later, against the same opponent who himself has had an incredible 12 months in that he has been rejuvenated and re-invigorated alongside Vega to a point now that he is a ready-made star, I feel the result will be the same. A great match, a Black-Mass kick, and Aleister Black as your new NXT Champion.

Prediction: Aleister Black

Stefan: Black – Firmly believe this is what the build up has been for, this moment. Give him the ball and let him run. Almas will be just fine being the biggest Latino star on the main roster, dont you worry…

Josh… and Stefan.

NXT Takeover: New Orleans go-home show Review: 4/4/18

So it is almost upon us, Wrestlemania weekend! But of course before Mania on Sunday we have the shear delights of NXT Takeover: New Orleans on Saturday. And much like Mania the card for Takeover is INCREDIBLE! So let’s see what the go home episode of NXT had in store shall we…

The show began with the Final of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic; The Authors of Pain vs Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong in what should be a great match. To begin with The Bruserweight was in a fight on his own against both Akam and Rezar, and after AOP initially had the better of it, Dunne then did his signature snapping of his opponents fingers on Akam before hitting him with a series of kicks and then making the tag to his partner Roderick Strong. Strong went on an absolute tear right away on both members of the Authors of Pain, almost winning the match on a number of occasions, before Pete Dunne re-entered the fold and hit Rezar with a triangle choke hold. But he only had this in until he was lifted by the monstrous Rezar and carried across the ring before AOP hit Dunne with their double-team neckbreaker. But after this both Dunne and Roderick Strong hit a number of double team moves on both AOP members (which looked really impressive) but their brief revival only lasted until Akam and Rezar hit both their opponents with kicks. And then with all 4 participants laying exhausted in the ring Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly of the Undisputed Era came out and attacked both Strong & Dunne and AOP. As a result the match was called off. NXT GM William Regal then came out and announced that at NXT Takeover: New Orleans we will see; The Undisputed Era vs Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong vs The Authors of Pain for BOTH the NXT Tag Team Championship AND the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic!!!

(just an fyi; the 3rd member of the Undisputed Era, Bobby Fish, was injured at a past NXT Live event and so will be unable to compete for some time. Hence the leader of the faction Adam Cole is the one in the tag team storyline here alongside Kyle O’Reilly).

Kairi Sane (my favourite wrestler) then faced Vanessa Borne in a decent match to be fair, whereas you’d expect this to be a bit of a squash Borne got a fair amount of offence in. Sane though did win with her exceptional Spear followed by a punch and an elbow before she climbed to the top rope and came down with her Insane Elbow (which is by far the best elbow drop I’ve ever seen) for the win. Should mention that Vanessa Borne has a new theme song and a new set of lighting during her entrance, this is a good sign if you’re a fan of hers (she’s got plenty going for her for sure) as it means they care enough about her to make some changes. As for Sane? I expect her to be the first challenger to Shayna Baszler when she wins the championship. Fingers crossed.

Lacey Evans was then shown backstage, she said she won’t be able to do anything until Mr Regal “disallows societal trash from walking around NXT”, she bemoaned a “complete psycho” like Nikki Cross getting opportunities before then talking trash about Ember Moon, Dakota Kai and Kairi Sane too. Decent little promo, again it’s clear they see something in Evans as a cocksure heel so expect her to be the cannon fodder for the females baby faces before they go for the title in the time after Takeover.

William Regal was then shown leaving the arena before Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly came towards him certainly not seeming pleased. They were furious about the predicament they were in going in to NXT Takeover. Regal explained that they had 3 options: Adam Cole competes in two matches in one night on the show (he’s also in the NXT North American Championship ladder match don’t forget), Kyle O’Reilly defends their tag titles by himself or Adam Cole forfeits his place in the North American title 6-man match. This conundrum once again didn’t leave Undisputed Era pleased.

After a brief recap of her rivalry with Shayna Baszler ahead of their Takeover match, the NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon cut a promo saying she wasn’t sorry for getting into a fight, and that after Shayna Baszler disrespected a coach (she talked trash to a Performance Centre coach that was shown on a previous episode of NXT) she now deserved to be attacked. She went on to say that as Baszler walks around ‘like she owns the place’ and that’s not how you behave as a champion and although Baszler started the war, she is ‘going to end it’. This promo was fine, Moon as the fiery babyface is ok… but I’m presuming this is probably the last time we see Moon on a regular NXT show before the makes her ascension to the main roster… hopefully…

To end the show we had a real clash of the titans. As two of the 6 men in the ladder match for the NXT North American Championship faced off, with Killian Dain facing Lars Sullivan. Unsurprisingly this was a very hard hitting & physical contest, Lars was in control after launching Dain into the ring apron, latterly Killian Dain used the Belfast Blitz and then Lars put his knees up after an attempted Vader Bomb splash, they battled more on the top rope before the Beats from Belfast hit a headbutt, and this made them both fall to the ring floor. With both laid out 2 of the other ladder match participants came out to the ring as Velveteen Dream and Adam Cole came in and glared at eachother. EC3 then made his way out and joined in the staring contest, and was then followed by both Killian Dain and Lars Sullivan before finally the awesome Ricochet then came out and stared at each man individually. And that was how the show ended, with all 6 men in the ring and the match between Lars and Dain just… ended…. Not ideal… but hey at this stage who Cares? I just want this match NOW!

There were also a number of video packages during the show to promote the various Takeover matches; Gargano vs Ciampa, Almas vs Black etc. and it was announced for next week we will get Kairi Sane vs Lacey Evans (which will be filmed as the dark match before Takeover starts I imagine). Next week’s show, as post Takeover shows usually are, will have that match and then be 45 minutes or so of recaps from Takeover… just the way they do things whilst the tapings for future shows take place.

And that just about covers the go-home show of NXT ahead of Takeover: New Orleans. I’ll be doing a preview blog for Takeover (which will be out Friday or Saturday latest) so look out for that. But can we all just appreciate… IT’S NEARLY WRESLTEMANIA AND IT’S NEARLY NXT TAKEOVER!!!!!!!!!!!

Josh.

NXT 28/3/18 Review: UNSANCTIONED MATCH!

The show begins with a car pulling up outside the arena, and nearby fans instantly begin to boo as Tomasso Ciampa steps out of it. He ignores the ‘questions’ from the ‘reporters’ that were walking alongside him as Ciampa sought out NXT General Manager William Regal. He then berated him about Johnny Gargano and his recent pursuit of him that has seen Gargano attack Ciampa last week on NXT, A video emerged showing Gargano chasing Ciampa when he was in his car leaving the arena last week, and just yesterday a video was released by Tomasso Ciampa showing that Gargano was banging on his front door at his house in the early hours of the morning. Ciampa told regal that he had had enough of all of this, and asked the GM “what I gotta do”? William Regal would go on to make the match official, telling Ciampa “you versus Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: New Orleans in an UNANCTIONED MATCH, if Johnny Gargano wins he gets his job back, If you win he’s banished FOR GOOD”! NXT hasn’t even made it in to the arena yet and already we have a BLOCKBUSTER announcement, WOW OH WOW what a start!

After the show had properly begun William Regal made his way out to the ring. He then announced that at Takeover: New Orleans there would be the debut of the NXT North American Championship! Great news this, NXT has long since needed a mid-card belt to give more people on the roster something to go for, so this is a brilliant idea. Regal was about to talk some more but was interrupted by the arrival of EC3!!! For those of you unaware of who EC3 is, he was actually in the WWE a long time ago before getting his big break in TNA where he really excelled. He is a physically impeccable looking guy, with a gimmick that he things an awful lot of himself. And to be honest he has reason to because he’s really good, as you will see, and his gimmick in NXT appears that it will centre around (as his theme song suggests) EC3 being in ‘the top 1%’. He gets in the ring to a huge crowd reaction, with chants of “E-C-3” ringing around the arena. EC3 indulges this telling the crowd, who had told him that he deserves it, saying “I do deserve it; keep that chant going”. He then turns his attention to Regal ‘Mr Regal; this is too much… I come to the hottest brand in sports entertainment; NXT’. The crowd chanted ‘you deserve it’ some more, causing EC3 to respond with “that’s right, of course I deserve it!” (this made me laugh a lot). EC3 also said he had a “banger of a theme song, you guys hear that thing?… ‘Mr Regal, you created the North American Championship, and awarded it to me on the very first day?’, the crowd began to chant “NX3” which I enjoyed greatly, EC3 put himself over some more, before Regal interrupted him. He told him that ‘you are not handed anything here in NXT… at NXT Takeover: New Orleans you will be competing for the North American Championship, you versus 5 other competitors… with the brand new title suspended above the ring… in a ladder match!’. The crowd were delighted, and EC3 seemed pleased too saying “Thank-you-Regal… at NXT Takeover: New Orleans I’ll show the entire world why I am the top 1% of this industry”. He shakes Regal’s hand, his music plays, and that was it. Really enjoyed all of this, a 6 man ladder match with the best of NXT will be FANTASTIC, I just hope the names involved are such that don’t underwhelm. This was a great start for EC3 in WWE too, really good promo, he put his character over well, and he looks and feels like a big star. So pleased for him, after carrying that shithole on his back for so many years I’m glad he is in the big time at last.

Next the camera panned to outside the arena as apparently both Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and his NXT Championship challenger Aleister Black will be here tonight.

We then had an update from Charley Caruso on the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic; she recapped all of the action so far in the tournament, and reminded us that we will have both semi-final matches tonight: Roderick Strong & Pete Dunne vs ‘SAnitY’ and ‘Authors of Pain’ versus ‘Street Profits’, the latter of which is the next match up on the show.

TM61 were then shown being interviewed earlier in the day at the WWE Performance Centre. They expressed their disappointment in their exit from the Dusty Cup, and then came out with the line “we are the mighty, and the mighty don’t kneel”. The cameraman then hurried away from them and focused instead on an ensuing brawl in the PC between NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon and her challenger Shayna Baszler were involved in a pull-apart brawl. Simple and effective enough this, another good piece of build up to what will be a FIGHT at Takeover.

Almas and his business associate Zelina Vega were then shown arriving at Full Sail. They both looking like absolute megastars.

Then we had the match involving the first team to make their way to the ring; the extravagant, fun-loving ‘Street Profits’ (their gimmick is 2 guys who just seem to want to have fun and party, with an urban, rap vibe to it. I should add their both really good and athletic in the ring too, bright future if handled correctly). They were closely followed by their opponents; the monstrous Authors of Pain who were accompanied as always by their trusted leader, WWE Hall of Famer and former manager of many a successful tag team, Paul Ellering. The match lasted about 2 minutes, and unsurprisingly AOP won. A distraction by Ellering on Montez Ford of the Street Profits allowed Akam and Rezar to hit their Last Chapter finisher on Angelo Dawkins in the ring for the pinfall and the win for the Authors of Pain. Much expected result but I was really disappointed this only went 2 minutes or so, but I guess it did help build AOP up more for the upcoming final.

We were then backstage with Cathy Kelly waiting outside William Regal’s office, and when he steps outside he reveals that he has finalised the 2nd competitor in the North America Championship match; ADAM COLE! (GREAT GREAT GREAT NEWS!) He was then interrupted by the Velveteen Dream. HE goes on to say that although the North America Championship is ground-breaking, it is not truly “an experience the NXT universe can get behind, if the Velveteen Dream was in that match, that may just be the experience it needs, I mean what do you say to that Mr Regal?” Well, Mr Regal concurs the Dream, and after praising him for his work in NXT so far he then makes him the 3rd competitor in the match. Gain, another GREAT name added to it. Should be fabulous. Dream finishes by saying to William Regal that “you may have broken ground by introducing the North America Championship, but putting the Velveteen Dream in this match; you just set the stage!” The best way I can describe this segment was that the Velveteen Dream’s dialogue and delivery was as good as his fresh cornrow-like haircut and his FRESH shirt. Stylish guy.

Next match was Lars Sullivan. This guy is a big oaf, but a muscular and athletic one who much unlike some previous monsters WWE have had in the past, this guy can actually wrestle. Even from his entrance you can tell that literally this guy is a BIG deal! He won his match against a jobber, with a Military Press – Powerslam – a Diving headbutt from the top rope (yes LARS SULLIVAN flew off the top rope, it was one hell of a sight to behold), – Freak Accident – 1, 2, 3. A brilliant quote from Mauro Ranallo on commentary summed up the behemoth Lars Sullivan perfectly “Body of a Gorilla, Mind of a Professor”. GENUIS! Shortly after backstage Regal then announced that Sullivan was indeed the 4th participant in the North America Championship Ladder Match, tremendous stuff! Sullivan appeared beside him then and said “That sounds fantastic Mr Regal, I can assure you un-equivocally and categorically I will bring the destruction that only Lars Sullivan can, but this time not only by my hands but with a ladder! But that’s at Takeover; New Orleans … I WANT KILLIAN DAIN!” This led Regal to announce The Beast of Belfast as the next participant in the Ladder match, and also made Lars vs Dain for next week’s NXT. FANTASTIC, ABSOUTLEY BRILLAINT! This Ladder match is going to be incredible!

Dakota Kai then came out for what appeared to be a match for her, but instead we were quickly taken to a brawl outside the arena between Andrade Almas & Aleister Black. It was Almas who was well on top, pummelling Black all the way from the parking lot to the ring area. After the brutal attack concluded Almas and Vega stood tall over the fallen challenger as Almas held his NXT Championship aloft. Loved this, great to see whenever this side of Almas comes out. He’s a superb wrestler and a great shit-house heel, but when he’s angry as he showed in his promo last week he’s fantastic. Zelina Vega barking out orders as the attack went on too, she is also superb at her role.

It was then time for our main event; SAnitY (represented by Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe, sadly no Killian Dain or Nikki Cross accompanying them this time) against the alliance of Roderick Strong and the WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne. Strong started the match as Dunne, not afraid to use questionable tactics himself, stopped Wolfe & Young throughout trying to take any advantages they could. When in the match himself The Bruserweight targeted the arm of Eric Young with some signature holds, only for Young to counter a double wristlock into a suplex. Strong and Wolfe then each tagged in: Wolfe used a German suplex and an Attitude Adjustment-looking move on Strong, but he was able to kick out of the pin at 2, Young used his wheelbarrow suplex and went for a pin of his own only for Dunne to break it up, all 4 men brawled, Young used his diving elbow on Strong, but he kicked out of the subsequent pin attempt, and then the finish came: Strong tagged in Dunne and the two performed a double team pop-up into a flapjack to give Dunne the pin over Young. Good match, everyone looked good here (no surprise, they are all great) but it was Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne who advance the final of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic against The Authors of Pain next week. Should be great.

With the match over we were then taken to Cathy Kelly again outside of William Regal’s office as she aimed to find out the identity of the final participant for the NXT North America Championship Ladder match. Eventually William Regal did come out, and revealed the 6th participant was just inside his office, he then brings out… RICOCHET!!! One of THE BEST wrestlers on the planet (you may recall me putting him over in a previous NXT review)! WOWSERS; this Ladder match is going to be INSANE! This isn’t for a mid-card belt at all, it’s all the main eventers who aren’t in the NXT Championship match, fantastic stuff! On what will be an incredible weekend of WWE action in New Orleans, this match will take some beating!

And that was yet another terrific episode of NXT. Perfectly built up to ALL the matches on the card at Takeover, with the go home show NXT week it will be interesting to see what more they do to build up hype for an incredibly stacked show…

Key Points to Take Home

  • Ladder matches are great even with sub-standard participants, but with A+++ quality people in them they’re usually tremendous…
  • EC3 should’ve been back in WWE years ago
  • Black vs Almas should get at least half an hour… please…
  • When is an UNSANCTIONED MATCH ever not good?
  • I hope Cathy Kelly was getting paid per interview for this episode…

Conclusion

NXT is great. You should watch it. Takeover will be amazing. Lots of call-ups to Raw and Smackdown to come at/after Mania. Exciting times. Simple as.

Josh.

NXT 28/2/18 Review: Really Good

So we begin this week’s edition of the best hour of weekly wrestling content on the planet with a recap of the main event from last week; where of course the heart and soul of NXT Johnny Gargano was forced to leave the brand after his former tag team partner Tomasso Ciampa cost him his do-or-die match for the NXT Championship. We will be joined later in the episode by the victorious Champion Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and his associate Zelina Vega. They will be in full heel-gloat mode I’m sure… perhaps a new challenger for the title will emerge too…?

The first match sees the Velveteen Dream (who, if you’ve read any of my previous NXT blogs you will know I kind of like… A LOT) against former United Kingdom champion Tyler Bate (someone who is insanely talented for his age, and someone I have had the pleasure of witnessing wrestle live at a British wrestling show just months before he came to WWE. The pleasure was all mine). The crowd in Atlanta seemed to really like these two, as chants of “VEL-VE-TEEN” and “Let’s go Tyler” amongst others were prevalent throughout. The match begun with some beautiful looking tie ups and opening holds, Bate dropkicking Dream to the floor on the outside that frustrated the vainglorious one early on. More really good mat wrestling followed, then Velveteen Dream began his focus on Tyler Bate’s back with a series of vicious knee attacks. Bate was able to somehow get back into it and later delivered his signature Airplane Spin which Dream was able to elbow his way out of. Bate would respond by using the ring ropes to bounce off of as a platform for another attack to the Dream for a nearfall. Dream hit a great looking spinebuster for a nearfall, they exchanged more strikes as their tiredness began to show, Dream was on the top rope but Bate would join him, only to then be pushed back down and in doing so falling onto the ropes, leaving the Dudley-born Bate prone for the Purple Rainmaker Elbow drop form the top rope and The Velveteen Dream picked up an impressive win. These are 2 very good, very talented superstars and they showed it here. Really good stuff this one. Commentary made points of Bate’s continuing losing streak and how Velveteen Dream is continuing his own list of names he has defeated. Expect both to factor into their own storylines in the weeks and months of NXT tv to come.

So Shayna Baszler vs Kairi Sane is happening tonight also. A rematch of the Mae Young Classic final. Happy days. A Paul Ellering promo follows, he is flanked by the tag team he manages, the gigantic Akam and Rezar; The Authors of Pain. They speak about the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic and how it will lead them once again to the tag team titles and the Undisputed Era. Should point out both Akam and Rezar spoke also in a mix of broken English and their respective mother tongues… Just get these lot to Raw already PLEASE!!! We were then briefly shown some footage via WWE.com of NXT GM William Regal, along with an apologetic referee whom counted the fateful pinfall last week, as Johnny Gargano signs his NXT release forms in what was a very solemn situation… *cry*

Next match will see WWE Performance Centre standout Cezar Bononi in action against one of my favourite wrestlers in the world, Adam Cole. He is flanked by his stable mates in the Undisputed Era, the NXT Tag Team champions Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly. Seen these 3 live before too and I also own an Undisputed Era t shirt. So that tells you what I think of them. Anyway, as the match is about to start Adam Cole gets a microphone; he asks the crowd to show their appreciation for the NXT 2017 Future Star of the Year Bononi, he then says the future star only belongs in the Undisputed Era! Fish and O’Reilly on the ring apron throw Cezar an Undisputed Era T shirt but as the Brazilian is contemplating the offer he is blindsided by the faction’s leader. Cole does his “Bay Bay” chant with the crowd as he gleefully gloats his double cross on the young upstart, god Adam Cole is just so good and hilarious at what he does. But as Cole is celebrating Bononi retaliates with a big boot before fending away Fish and O’Reilly as the match is finally underway. Cezar hits a Michonoku Driver for a 2 count, but is then distracted by the NXT tag champions enough for Adam Cole to hit an impactful Superkick which was closely followed by his knee to the back of the neck to get the victory. Undisputed Era then beat down Bononi after the bell. Short stuff here but it more than served its purpose, Undisputed Era’s characters are further cemented and anytime they are on my tv screen is a good time for me. They’re great. This was great. Great stuff all round!

Another great video package then plays, this time showing the WWE careers so far of both Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler and their ongoing rivalry. Then was a pre filmed promo from tag team the Street Profits, followed by the reveal of the bracket for the Dusty Rhodes Classic that was as follows;

Street Profits vs Heavy Machinery

Tino Sabatelli & Riddick Moss vs Sanity

TM61 vs Authors of Pain

Oney Lorcan & Danny Birch vs Moustache Mountain

TM61 VS AOP will be happening next week by the way. A repeat of the final of last edition of the tournament.

So Kairi Sane is on her way to the ring next for her match. She just fills me with so much joy and happiness every time I see her. Shayna Baszler follows. And the match itself begins with Baszler disrespecting the Pirate Princess, whose fightback is stopped ferociously by the Queen of Spades. Baszler is on top for the early going culminating in a series of hard kicks and a particularly hard knee to Sane on the floor for a 2 count nearfall. Shayna stays in control until Sane rolls her up out of a double wristlock for a nearfall. Baszler delivers another hard kick before Sane responds with some offensive strikes of her own, before hitting Baszler with a Spear to bide herself some recuperation time. Sane now is defiant in her approach and follows a sliding attack to a prone Baszler in the corner with a flying Kabuki Elbow that gets her a 2 count. Sane then hits a spinning backfist hard to Shayna, and makes her way to the top rope possible looking for her Insane Elbow finisher but Baszler quickly goes on the attack and hits a Kirifuda driver (a vertical suplex type move followed by her rear-naked choke submission) on Sane for the win. Kairi tapped out fairly quickly after Baszler got the submission in, something I really don’t mind as it makes the move more realistic as in MMA when a submission is locked in like that fully, it often finishes the contest in seconds. Particularly for former MMA fighter Baszler, this helps her character greatly. After the match Baszler approached the commentary table and called out once again the NXT Women’s champion Ember Moon. Decent stuff this from 2 of the best women in WWE. Sane got her stuff in and isn’t weakened by this loss at all, and Baszler can now push on to another title opportunity against the champion after avenging her loss in the Mae Young Classic final to Sane.

And to end the show Andrade Almas and Zelina Vega make their way to the ring, as you’d expect looking pleased with themselves. Vega is on the mic and tells everyone to welcome the greatest NXT champion in history, or as she likes to call him “Mr 4-0”. She goes on to tell the NXT crowd that “you all thought Johnny was gonna win, Johnny thought he was gonna win” before reminding us all that he allowed his family to see him lose not once but four times. She says that as Johnny ‘goes on about earning their (the fans) respect, but “who cares about their respect?”, she says Andrade earns money, fame and power and unlike most women she doesn’t feed off her man’s success, she creates it. This was, as always, really good heel stuff from Zelina Vega, whose fast becoming one of the best and most convincing promos in the company.

Andrade gets the mic and gloats about how Johnny faced him again and again and again and again, and lost. He says that “Johnny talks about being ‘Johnny Wrestling’ again, so I make him Johnny ‘jobless’” before laughing further to himself (I thought this line was pretty good). Some people may critique the fact Almas’ English was broken but I actually think his delivery is such that it’s really effective for his heel character, so props to him for that. Zelina Vega then says “so if they call him Johnny Wrestling, what do they call you [Andrade]?” Almas responds by saying they call me “THE NXT CHAMPION” as El Idolo happily raises his championship with Vega smiling approvingly. Vega and Almas then gloat some more on the rampway before the entrance music of ALEISTER BLACK plays!!! The confused pair look on as Black makes his way to the ring from the other side of the arena. With the lights dimmed as is customary for his entrance, Black simply stands in the ring and stares across at Vega and the NXT Champion, and as chants of “AL-EI-STER” ring around the arena Black goes to speak before the music of the Beast from Belfast KILLIAN DAIN plays!!! A confused Black and Vega/Almas look on as Dain comes through the crowd, gets in the ring and brawls with Black. It ends with Dain hitting his running crossbody move to down the Dutchman, and as Vega and Almas make their exit Dain stands tall over Black, so a future Number 1 Contenders match that I called last week looks a certainty now then…. YES YES YES YES YES!!!!!!!!

And that was yet another very good and fun to watch edition of NXT. It really never fails to entertain me.

Key Points to take home:

  • Velveteen Dream and Tyler Bate are really good
  • The Undisputed Era, collectively and individually, are really good
  • Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler are really good
  • Zelina Vega has quickly become one of the best all-round performers in the entire WWE
  • I want to see Aleister Black AND Killian Dain face Almas for the title, I WANT THEM BOTH!

Conclusion

As is the same with NXT each week, it seems an abundance of talent doesn’t make it on tv everytime, but that is only to the strength of the roster. In recent weeks Smackdown has struggled to find a good balance, but NXT does it expertly despite being half as long. So let’s focus on those who were on the episode this week; the potential of the Velveteen Dream really is the sky. I pray and hope it will not flounder like so many successful NXT gimmicks have when he eventually makes his way to the main roster. In a year or so time I expect The Undisputed Era to have recruited a female to join their ranks and to eventually hold all of the championships in NXT. Adam Cole for one could well be an outside bet to have a record long reign as champion, a big call that I know but he really is that good. Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler are just the perfect opponents for each other, in-ring and character wise they mix so well. I would expect to see them in a future encounter for the NXT Women’s Championship later down the line, and I’d be absolutely delighted with that because they are both fantastic talents; Kairi Sane may well be one of my favourite wrestlers in the world and as for Shayna, the quickness that she has shown in adapting so smoothly into becoming a top class pro-wrestler has been stunning. I wouldn’t be too upset if she indeed does take Ember Moon’s title from her in New Orleans.

And finally… well… what more can I say about the NXT Champion Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, his business associate Zelina Vega and the two potential contenders for the title Aleister Black and the monstrous Killian Dain? I will just say then that there is a reason these ended this episode, and an abundance more as to why they are in the top championship contention on the best wrestling show in the world, because they are all… really good!!!

Josh.

NXT 21/2/2018 Review: THANK YOU JOHNNY

NXT tonight begins with a great video package on the evolution of the NXT career of the current NXT Champion, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas. This is, of course, ahead of his championship vs NXT career match against Johnny Gargano later in this episode. We certainly have an absolute BLOCKBUSTER NXT ahead of us…

We begin with The Velveteen Dream (you may well be aware but I quite like The Velveteen Dream… A LOT) as he makes his usual provocative, flamboyant entrance, he’s followed by his opponent, another showman, NXT veteran No Way Jose. Should be fun indeed this one. “VEL-VE-TEEN” chants from the crowd as the match begins with The Dream starting with some real hard hitting attacks, he does a dance move where he shakes his hips to mock the moves that No Way Jose usually exhibits. No Way Jose responds with an attack before sending Velveteen over the top rope before flying over to topple his opponent and reclaim control of the match.

Both men are then back in the ring now and Dream hangs Jose on the ropes, hits a neckbreaker and then after going to the top rope he then only runs into a raised foot from his opponent and then a small package that got a 2 count. Dream is hit by multiple shots, he’s slammed down, hit in the corner, slammed down again, tossed into a turnbuckle before he finally comes back with a missile dropkick followed by a rolling Death Valley driver from the Velveteen Dream. He then goes to the top and hits his Purple Rainmaker elbow drop and the Velveteen Dream claims the win. Good little match this, Velveteen’s development continues, he is THE future of NXT and WWE, mark my words! After the match he cuts a promo and (with more “VEL-VE-TEEN” chants from the adoring Atlanta crowd) explains that with all the awards he won at the NXT awards for 2017 that nobody cares about fellow award winners Aleister Black, Asuka or Tyler Bate. And that, acknowledging the crowd chants, that his name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue here tonight and if you can’t see that “I just don’t have time for you”… Velveteen Dream is great. Simple as.

Next Andrade Almas and his associate Zelina Vega are shown in the locker room with Vega giving him a motivational talk. After this NXT GM William Regal announces the return of the ‘Dusty Rhodes Classic’ tag team tournament. This was set up in honour of the NXT founding father that it is named after, and has run twice previously in 2015 and 2016. Regal announces that the winners of the tournament will receive an NXT Tag Team title opportunity at NXT Takeover: New Orleans. I must admit I am surprised they are having the tournament over and done with this quickly BEFORE Takeover, especially given the team I believe will win the Classic have only just arrived in WWE, and therefore I’d be surprised if they got the title opportunity immediately, but saying that I would be PLEASANTLY surprised if that were to be the case.

Random point but I must just comment on how absolutely excellent the NXT commentary team are. Mauro Ranallo may be the best lead announcer in the game, Nigel McGuinness the best colour commentator and Percy Watson has really come into his own in the past few months. Just another reason to watch NXT every week. Anyway on with the rest of the show… Up next is Sanity’s Nikki Cross vs Vanessa Borne (I’ve a feeling I might like this one…). The Mae Young Classic competitor out first followed by one of my absolute favourites, to a big crowd pop; the Glaswegian, twisted sister Nikki Cross. One of the best characters in NXT right now and her commitment to the role is first class, basically she is a psychopath. And her in ring work is sound to say the least (I’d advise watching her last woman standing match with Asuka when you can), and I absolutely love her.

Nikki Cross immediately charges Vanessa Borne and unleashes on her in the corner. The unhinged Cross then climbs the back of Borne before a 360 slam from the former dancer gets her a 2 count. Vanessa hits a strong forearm for another 2 count. She then stomps repeatedly upon Nikki before burying her shin in Cross’ neck following up with a great suplex for another nearfall. Cross tries to get out of a rest hold but Vanessa slams her down to the canvas for yet another 2 count. Nikki Cross, with her signature sadistic smile, is hit repeatedly by Borne, a banshee type scream from Sanity’s leading lady is followed up with a crossbody and a series of forearms from Cross. Cross then finds herself on the top rope and delivers a diving crossbody followed by a swinging neck breaker to give her the win. A typical NXT structure to this match, but it was still good. Nikki got all her stuff in and Vanessa looked good in what she did too. With apologies to Drew McIntyre, Miss Hooley and Amy Macdonald it could well be Nikki Cross who is my favourite person from the Scottish isles. She is really, really, REALLY great!

There’s then a brief recap of the Aleister Black – Killian Dain confrontation from last week. I’m all for everything to do with this. Johnny Gargano is then shown with Candice LeRae backstage looking very focussed ahead of his big match tonight. They’re my favourite wresting couple, so much love for them both. A tweet from TM61’s Shane Thorne is then shown in relation to the Dusty Rhodes Classic. TM61 actually got to the final of the last rendition, and it was after that match TM61 were off TV for over a year due to injury. Another brief recap then shows the Ember Moon – Shayna Baszler match from last week and the intervention of Kairi Sane. It’s announced following this that the Queen of Spades will next week go one on one with The Pirate Princess as Baszler will face Sane in a rematch of the Mae Young Classic final (YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!!).

Well here we go then; out comes the NXT champion Andrade Almas with Zelina Vega by his side (these two just ooze star power). They are then followed out by Mr AND Mrs Wrestling as Candice LeRae accompanies her husband Johnny Gargano to the ring, Candice sporting a ‘Mrs Johnny Wrestling’ t shirt (this was too many levels of adorable). The match begins with Almas trying to win quickly and failing. Almas then kneeing Gargano, before Gargano hits a step-up inziguiri in the corner, a lariat and a clothesline then sends Almas to the outside, Johnny then goes to perform his signature Tope Suiceda move but instead it is Vega who is stood in Almas’ previous position which causes Gargano to pause. In frustration Candice then chases after Vega to the back of the arena. Finally Almas doesn’t have his trusted aide by his side.

Johnny hits a flurry of punches to Andrade on the outside, he throws him back in the ring but Almas eventually slams him down on the ring apron. Back in the ring and ‘El Idolo’ gets a 2 count. He then delivers a brutal-looking armbar using the ring ropes for leverage, followed up with another flurry of punches. Almas then shows some good foresight with a hammerlock submission move and then driving Gargano’s shoulder into the turnbuckle, the commentary team noting this damage to his shoulder will make it more difficult for Gargano to lock in his Gargano Escape submission later in the match. Another Almas nearfall is greeted with a chorus of “JOHHNY WRESTLING” chants from the crowd, much to the champion’s annoyance although he is well in control now.

Almas then has an armlock locked in, but Gargano counters with knees to Almas’ mid-section, a suplex and a kick from Gargano, he chops away at Almas in the corner, then the same in another corner, a hurricanrana and then a beautiful Slingshot Spear, all of which ONLY gets Gargano a 2 count. Both men exchange strikes, Johnny goes for a superkick but it is countered as Almas powers up and hits a Bucklebomb followed up with his running knees in the corner but Mr Wrestling is somehow able to kick out of the pin attempt (all terrific stuff from Almas whilst on offence here). Almas goes for his finisher but Gargano drives Andrade into the corner, only for that to be reversed and Gargano’s shoulder again taking more damage. With both men on the ring apron they exchange strikes before Gargano, having put Almas back into the ring, attempts a slingshot DDT that is caught and turned into a wonderful-looking Fujiwara armbar from Almas. Gargano only escapes this by rolling Andrade up for a nearfall pin attempt.

Johnny Wrestling himself then goes for a hammerlock ddt of his own that is turned into a small package from Almas, Gargano then does one of his own with both getting 2 counts. Almas then does his double knees in the corner move again for another nearfall. Unsuccessful with this, Andrade then places Gargano on the top ropes, but Gargano responds with headbutts to knock Almas down, Gargano then performs an exquisite Tope Suiceda into a tornado DDT followed by a slingshot DDT on Almas in the ring, but this still only gets a 2 count.

With both men on their knees inside the ring exchanging strikes, this continues when both men return to their feet. Gargano then finds himself on Almas shoulders but escapes, and as Almas charges at him to retaliate he instead charges and knocks down the referee. With the authority figure in the match down Gargano locks in the Gargano Escape looking on the verge of the NXT Championship… but then…

TOMASSO CIAMPA (Gargano’s former tag team partner, see my Johnny Gargano blog for the back story here) is in the ring. He hits Gargano with a crutch before escaping through the crowd. Almas then hits a Hammerlock DDT and with the ref back up, much to the verbal horror of Mauro Ranallo on commentary, Almas wins the match. Johnny Gargano’s NXT career is OVER!

It seems secondary given the quality of the story being told but the match itself was really good. Almas and Vega go to the back as they celebrate, as Candice LeRae returns to the ring to console her despondent husband. Crowd seems in shock. Standing ovation for maybe the finest wrestler we have ever had in NXT. “NO NO NO” chants the crowd as the ring announcer proclaims, per the match stipulation, that Gargano must indeed leave NXT. “THANK YOU JOHNNY” they chant as Gargano and LeRae make their exit. The final shot of the show is of a content looking Ciampa waving his former friend goodbye. What this all means and where it all goes remains to be seen, but this storytelling has been first class.

And that was yet another fantastic episode of NXT.

Key points to take home:

– Velveteen is a Dream

– Nikki Cross would be fine on her own if it came to it, she’s that good

– War Machine… that is all

– What now for Gargano?

– What now for Ciampa?

Conclusion

The people who run and write Smackdown should watch NXT. That’s how you tell compelling stories utilising all your top talents whilst not even having to have them appear on TV every week. NXT does this beautifully. It really does fill me with joy every time I watch it. I’ll always be grateful for you NXT, you’re the best!

Josh.

NXT 14/2/18 Review: All so bright as we fade to Black

The best hour of wrestling every single week should be particularly good this week; Ember Moon vs Shayna Baszler AND Pete Dunne vs Roderick Strong! My one true love giving me the perfect Valentine’s Day gifts!

Pete Dunne comes out first to a big pop from the crowd (did I ever mention I was there when he made his main roster WWE TV debut in November? … Did I mention I squealed like a little girl when he came out too? … ), the challenger in this UK Championship match Roderick Strong follows. These 2 are amongst the very best wrestlers in NXT, WWE and the entire world so this should be a fantastic match.

Collar and elbow tie up to begin with, the animosity between the 2 is clear to see, it was a real chess match to begin with. They have a wondeful series of exchanges of moves, Pete Dunne then attacking the left arm of Strong with a hard kick, he bends his fingers back and stomps on them onto the steps on the outisde. The joint manipulation continues as The Bruserweight continues his typically methodical attack, Strong then comes back with a back drop onto the steps. That’s followed up by kicks to Dunne’s face, a pumphandle back breaker then earning a 2 count as the Messiah of the backbreaker zones in on the Bruserweight’s back.

More targeted attacks follows, Strong stomps Dunne in the corner before taking him to the other corner on the top rope before Dunne smacks Roderick Strong off and to the floor on the outside of the ring. That’s followed up by a stomp from the top onto Strong’s arm that was laying prone on the ring apron. Strong comes back with an enziguri to Dunne on the apron before slamming him down on the “hardest part of the ring” …

A wondeful enziguri from Dunne to Strong back in the ring which was returned with a big elbow. Dunne hits a step up enziguri after a wonderful leap frog-back flip over Strong in the corner which eventually leads to an armbar that transitions into a hammerlock submission, which is only stopped by a ruthless slam from Strong to put Dunne down as the ‘Bruserweight’ chants from the crowd echo the arena. Dunne hits a sit out powerbomb for a nearfall as the crowd chants for both men continue, Strong then misses a flying knee in the corner and falls into a German suplex from Dunne. The maniacal Dunne then flies off the top rope only to eat a dropkick from Strong for a 2 count. Quick pin attempts are exchanged before Dunne locks in a triangle hold that is powered out of as he is slammed onto the ring ropes.

Both men on the top rope ends with Strong delivering an avalanche Olympic slam but only gets a 2 count. 2 wondeful knees and a slam earns Strong, whom is well on top now, another 2 count. Dunne counters another move by attempting a Bitter End which is in turn countered by more vicious strikes from Roderick Strong and another high knee gets another 2 count. The former ROH star attempts to lock in his Strong Hold submission (aka a harsher walls of Jericho) but Dunne snaps Strong’s fingers again to escape before then hitting his Bitter End finishing move to claim to victory and retain his United Kingdom Championship.

Simply put this match was… FANTASTIC!

It’s then announced Johhny Gargano vs the NXT Champion Andrade Almas will take place NEXT WEEK (see my NXT review of last week) … the hype is soooooo real!!!

We’re then shown an “earlier today” backstage interview/press conference segment with the Velveteen Dream. He’s asked for his thoughts on his match against No Way Jose next week and says whilst he will bring the fiesta the Velveteen Dream will bring an experience. Dream then kind of calls out TYLER BATE! Those two in a feud?!?!?! YES YES YES!!! (The Velveteen Dream is THE future of NXT and WWE btw mark my words, potential future blog subject for sure).

Next out in the ring comes Aleister Black. Aleister Black, if Velveteen Dream is the future, is the PRESENT star of NXT. Gargano is the best wrestler, Black is the most brilliant character as the dark mysterious guy that has an incredible offence based around his ferocious kicks. In short: he’s great.

He comes to the ring in a FRESH all dark suit, and cuts a promo explaining his current and recent path in NXT (in which he has gone through Andrade Almas, Hideo Itami, Velveteen Dream and Adam Cole in the Undisputed Era) and that now the devil on his back that drives him is the NXT Championship. He’s the cut off by KILLIAN DAIN (Big Damo)!!!

The Beast of Belfast then explains to Black that ‘the devil isn’t on his back, I am the devil!’ And that he wont stop until the NXT title is around his waist. Dain goes on saying that if Black has a problem with that then he warns him that “your path will be stopped by CHAOS” before making his exit from the ring. Before he can step off the ring apron Black tells Dain that now he has crossed him he must now “fade to Black”. Dain then makes his exit. So… we have a Killian Dain vs Aleister Black number 1 contenders match on the way then… YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!! TAKE ALL MY MONEY NXT YOU ARE WAY TOO GOOD TO ME!

Following this TM61 were in tag action. Decent showing from them. They’re good wrestlers and are slowly building their characters. They got all their stuff in en route to an easy win. Definitely a team to keep eyes on in NXT. Perhaps 1 big showing on a big stage will be all they need to begin their march to NXT glory. Their last big match before their long injury caused absence was against the Authors of Pain on a big Takeover show and they looked great. They’re more than capable of getting to that level again.

Shayna Baszler vs Ember Moon now in our main event for the NXT Women’s Championship. The futures and potential in WWE for these 2 women are absolutely limitless so this should be good if they’re previous encounters are anything to go by. The champion Moon shows very heavy tape support to sell her arm injury suffered at Baszler’s hands at Takeover: Philly. Plenty of smack talk exchanged during the introductions between these 2, should be a real “Slobberknocker” (J.Ross,199something).

Ember Moon immediately takes the fight to Baszler with a LOT of hard strikes to her opponent. Baszler attempts an armbar a few times during the onslaught from Moon but is unable to connect. Ember then hits a superb enziguri to continue her super aggressive start. She then goes to the top rope to perhaps set up her Eclipse finisher (a stunner from the top rope to the dazed opponent standing in the ring) but Baszler smartly rolls to the outside. She only then is flattened by a tope suicida.

Moon hurts her arm further in the process before Baszler drags her opponent into the ring and locks in a set of double wristlocks and does her gruesome kick/stomp on the arm move too. The champion is then able to roll The queen of spades through for a 2 count in an attempt to mimic her winning maneuver from their Takeover match. Baszler continues the assault on Ember Moon’s prone arm by wrenching on it more until a ropebreak gives the NXT Women’s Champion mercy.

A Moon roll up for 2 is followed by an outer ring attack as Shayna throws her opponent’s weakened arm into a steel ring post. Baszler’s sadistic nature is shown in full as she takes the cover off the guardrails that keeps the spectators back, she traps Moon’s arm in between the railings and goes to work; plenty of kicks and wrenching on the arm. It looks as if some serious damage could be done to Ember’s arm here UNTIL…. MY GIRL KAIRI SANE COMES OUT TO MAKE THE SAVE!!! Fyi Kairi Sane beat Shayna Baszler in the final of the Mae Young Classic last year, Baszler made her NXT tv debut by attacking Sane so these 2 have plenty of recent history (I should also be honest and say I absolutely adore Kairi Sane; male or female, WWE or anywhere else in the wrestling world she is one of my favourite wrestlers).

The Pirate Princess Sane launches her attack on Baszler which ends with Sane in the ring countering a potential Baszler reaction with an absolutely breathtaking spear to send Baszler packing. Baszler stood on the ramp, Sane stood in the ring as the two stared down. Ember Moon still hurting outside the ring was helped up by Sane as the show closed (this was sensationally well done to summarise).

And that was this weeks NXT. And it was SUPERB! Not enjoyed an hour of wrestling that much for a long long time!

Key points to take home:

– Pete Dunne needs to be on the main roster NOW

– NXT is fading to Black. And he needs to be champion for a LONG time

– Moon – Baszler – Sane. YES, YES, YES!

– NXT is the best

– NXT is the best

Conclusion:

When you consider on this week’s NXT there was no Undisputed Era, no Johhny Gargano and Candice LeRae, no Almas and Vega, no Nikki Cross etc. Etc. The strength in depth of NXT’s roster is amazing. It’s continuously such an excellent show all round, and Raw and Smackdown could learn a lot from this weekly hour of excellence. And as I’ve said NXT is continuing to fade to Black, and I could not be happier.

Josh.

NXT 7/2/18 Review: the WRESTLING show.

So here’s my first review of my favourite wrestling show in the world. Best roster. Best overall product. So let’s get into this weeks episode of NXT shall we?

We start off (once again emanating from Atlanta, Georgia which is a nice change from Full Sail) with The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole ‘Bay Bay!’ & the NXT Tag Team Champions Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) entering the ring for what should be them defending their titles, instead they are jumped from behind by the monsters of Sanity (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain). The ensuing brawl leads to NXT General Manager William Regal coming out to try and put an end to the chaos. He announces the rivalry will resume in tonight’s main event, a tornado 6 man tag pitting the entire Undisputed Era vs Sanity. Should be carnage, which means it will be fun to watch!

So our first match of the show will instead be the team of Heavy Machinery (Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight) vs Tino Sabatelli and Riddick Moss. Now… I wont lie but I care little about these 4 guys. Having seen them on NXT for a little while now they’ve still done nothing to draw me into them as characters. So to summarise: Heavy Machinery are the big, powerful face team and their opposition are playing the brash, high rollers act. The match itself was ok but the only thing anyone cared about in the crowd was the “Tino sucks” chants. It was fairly short with Heavy Machinery picking up the win, afterwards Riddick Moss turned down the cry for help from his partner so maybe this lacklustre team is coming to an end? So only Sabatelli got any sort of real reaction in this match, it was minor heat but I’ve always thought any reaction big or small, good or bad is better than no reaction at all. It means people care.

So next out is Johnny Gargano. I’ll be going into more detail in a seperate blog about him in the near future but I’ll summarise by saying he is the 2nd best in between the ropes in the entire WWE, the only man better just so happens to be the best wrestler on the planet. And he’s Phenomenal! … Anyhow he comes out to a standing ovation from the adoring crowd. He talks about how he knew he was going to win the NXT Championship in Phildelphia at Takeover 2 Sundays ago, but that just didn’t happen. He was consoled by the reaction he received afterwards despite a losing effort (fyi it was the best match in WWE for years, the best in NXT history, you really should check it out).

Mr Wrestling goes on to say he will never forget NXT Takeover: Phildelphia, OR (here we go…) he won’t forget being hit in the back with a crutch by his former tag team partner Tommaso Ciampa following the match. He says he’s bitten his tongue since Takeover: Chicago when his ex partner first turned on him but almost 9 months later he finally calls him out!

The call is instead answered by the NXT Champion ‘El Idolo’ Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and his associate Zelina Vega. It takes two to Tango and although Gargano was the star, Almas more than played his part in an absolutely classic match. He’s a superbly arrogant heel and his character renaissance has run parallel with the arrival of Zelina Vega by his side. She has been as important to his success in NXT in recent months as a character as his legs,arms and body have been to his sensational lucha lubre yet technical and hard hitting, Mexican wrestling style he exhibits. Vega acts as his spokesperson and occasional accomplice in matches too (she’s been known to deliver the odd hurricanrana to Almas’ opponents).

Almas and Vega make their slow, methodical way to the ring as Almas holds his title aloft with a determined Gargano looking on. Zelina then cuts a promo, which is typically great, stating that Gargano is not Johnny Wrestling but Johnny “Loser”. As Gargano prepares to respond the crowd begin the “We want Candice” chants (his real life Wife). Gargano tells Vega that after the crowd reaction he got his next favourite part of Takeover was when Candice LeRae jumped over the barricade and took out her frustrations on Vega’s interference by launching an assault and chasing Zelina around the arena, much to the Philly crowd’s delight (fyi Candice LeRae has recently signed a full time contract with WWE and was previously one of the hottest commodities in independent wrestling Male or Female).

And of course out came Mrs Wrestling herself, and after a nod of approval from her husband she pushes her rival out of the ring. Gargano does the same to Almas and as the 2 heels retreat to the entrance ramp a frustrated Vega questions ‘what it will take for them to be rid of them both once and for all’? Gargano requests 1 more title shot, which Vega agrees with on the condition that if he loses again he must go away. Gargano concurs saying if he cannot beat Almas for the title he will LEAVE NXT! The crowd, his wife and indeed the commentators all seem perplexed by this drastic action.

The implications of this are massive, maybe he will finally win the title? Maybe he will actually leave NXT and go to Raw or Smackdown? Either way I expect the man of the moment wont be out of the headlines anytime soon…

Next up is a classic-NXT-make shift press conference/interview with NXT Women’s Championship top contender Shayna Baszler. If I tell you she’s got a famous mate called Ronda you can probably guess Baszler isn’t to be messed with. Baszler tells the “reporters” that she’s the most feared woman in NXT and that the champion Ember Moon is scared (Moon got the roll up win in their last encounter). This was solid heel stuff from Baszler. Their next match is going to be great fun to watch that’s for sure!

It’s then announced next week that Pete Dunne will defend his United Kingdom Championship against Roderick Strong. 2 superb wrestlers with simple but very very effective characters. Should be absolutely fantastic.

The man who lost the number 1 contenders match to Strong last week Tyler Bate is talking next. He says he’ll be watching the UK title match very closely and also speaks of his delight at collecting his recent award for 2017 NXT match of the year for his match vs Pete Dunne in which he dropped the UK title at NXT Takeover: Chicago (another one you all MUST check out). Bate says he wants to have more match of the year candidates against the very best NXT has to offer; Adam Cole, Aleister Black, Velveteen Dream etc. I must point out that Tyler Bate isn’t 21 until next month… my fucking word… his potential is incredible!!!

Next is a match between Mae Young Classic participant Bianca Belair and a jobber. For someone whose main gimmick is they use their long ponytail as a weapon she is very much an athletic powerhouse and demonstrates as much here. Less than 1 minute later and Belair is your winner. Not quite sure if she’s a face or a heel at this point but usually in NXT if someone is getting fed jobbers the their being built up, and in NXT it tends to be for a big reason.

A video package then plays highlighting the Royal Rumble entry and skills in general of the Pirate Princess and Mae Young Classic winner, one of my favourite wrestlers in the world; Kairi Sane. She’s great. Very much a potential blog subject for me in the future.

It’s then announced that next week Ember Moon will defend her NXT Women’s Championship (after responding to her remarks earlier in the show on twitter) against Shayna Baszler. I’m surprised they’re doing the rematch this soon after the first but fascinated to see where this goes. Expect a screwy finish of some form setting up a bigger match down the line.

Finally the show ends with the anticipated main event. This promises to be a bit of a free for all, but who doesn’t like wrestling when it’s just complete and utter chaos? Out comes Sanity first (minus Nikki Cross sadly, my favourite Scottish female since Miss Hooley or maybe Amy Macdonald, depending on what you’re in to) followed by Undisputed Era. Immediately after the bell rings, in fact as the bell is rung, all 6 participants are fighting all over the outside of the ring. No DQ’s in this one btw as the 3 1v1 battles go on, a particularly nice spot saw Alexander Wolfe positioned sat groggy on a chair before Kyle O’Reilly flew at him with a double flying knee move off the apron. Killian Dain (or Big Damo to me, his name when he wrestled in the UK, he will always be Damo to me) has a period in ring crushing his opponents, something I’d happily watch all the time. He focuses on Bobby Fish as the other 4 in the match take their brawl to the inner bowels of the arena.

Fish hits a great looking moonsault on Dain for a 2 count, the other 4 comeback, Fish goes to hit Dain with a kendo stick, Dain catches it and throws it away, Fish runs away, Dain chases him to the entance ramp before picking him up and launching him to the floor below and onto the rest of the people in the match. The beast from Belfast looking like a monster, which is exactly how it should be. Always.

After a brief ad break they come back to Killian Dain and Adam Cole in ring who hits an enziguri, Alexander Wolfe hits a powerbomb for 2 as O’Reilly breaks that up, Fish and O’Reilly hit a double team on Wolfe that is broken up by Dain, Dain then hits a michinoku driver (he picks him up over his shoulders and slams him basically) on O’Reilly on to Fish on the ring floor which was awesome. Adam Cole used a kendo stick to stop what would’ve been a worthy end to a fun match. Eric Young then entered the ring, eventually landing an elbow drop on Cole for another nearfall, everyone is down at this point.

Next was a whole serious of various offences: Young hit Cole with the kendo stick, O’Reilly on Young, Wolfe on O’Reilly, Fish on Wolfe, Dain on Fish. Dain then goes outside the ring, He goes to do a Cannonball on Adam Cole but as The Panama Playboy moves out the way Dain goes through a conveniently placed table. With this Alexander Wolfe is left in the ring to suffer the attack of the 3 Undisputed Era members, Wolfe begins his comeback which is ended with a superkick from Cole and followed up with the tag team finisher from Fish and O’Reilly. Young breaks this up with a kendo shot, he hits Fish then O’Reilly but then eats another Adam Cole superkick.

Undisputed Era then hit a series of big moves but can’t put Eric Young away. The heels can’t believe it, and are then greeted with the monstrous sight of Killian Dain returning to his feet and staring them down. He overpowers all 3 of them, he clears them all out, before he finally hits his Ulster Plantation (putting his opponent on his shoulders before throwing them down on the mat) on Bobby Fish to give Sanity the win. This was really fun, hardly a suprise given the extremely high quality of participants but I am a tad suprised Sanity got the win. A way to extend the fued with Sanity still due their NXT Tag team title rematch. And Dain ends the show with his two teammates, battered but victorious, barely standing but beside him. Big Damo standing tall. As it should be. Always.

And that was NXT. An action packed hour as always with plenty of interesting twists that’ll make the next few weeks of NXT tv exciting and entertaining both in and out of the ring.

Key points to take home:

– NXT’s ‘filler’ is at least half entertaining, Raw’s and Smackdown’s are terrible.

– Gargano and Almas should feud forever. Sadly they wont. But Gargano vs Ciampa will eventually more than make up for it

– I’m ALL IN on a Zelina Vega vs Candice LeRae match. TAKE ALL MY MONEY NOW!

– Shayna Bazler is gonna be a megastar

– Killian Dain is gonna be a megastar

Conclusion

Even when there are nearly 2 months til their big show and no secondary ones in between NXT has this week shown the main roster how to sustain interest in all it’s main angles to a high level without a feeling of time wasting and dragging stuff out for the sake of it. It’s one of the many, many reasons I maintain NXT is the best show in wrestling today. And it’s only an hour long. You should watch it if you don’t already. It’s really good. Always.

Josh.