Aside from about half of the main events, NXT has been a little underwhelming this year when compared against its usual high standards. However, with the number one contender’s match between Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn plus an eight-man tag team bout to kick the show off, I’m expecting it to start getting back on track tonight. Hosts are Tom Phillips and Corey Graves. When Rich Brennan was at the announce desk, I actually felt uncomfortable at times with the way Graves bullied him. But Graves is starting to grow on me now. His partnership with Phillips works well and he is an ardent defender of the English language, or more precisely, its correct usage, so that’s alright by me.
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady & American Alpha vs. Blake & Murphy & Dash & Dawson
American Alpha are sporting new singlets with a design that makes them look like the Steiner Brothers from the early- to mid-nineties. They’re almost as awesome as the tag team wearing them. Speaking of new gear, Blake & Murphy are now rocking the Nightmare on Elm Street look. I like it, or more accurately, I like how it looks on Alexa Bliss. I think I’d be OK with her infiltrating my dreams and bludgeoning me to death; then again, I’m not sure that I could live with myself being killed. There’s too many “&” tag teams in this match. Given their new gear, perhaps Blake & Murphy should rename themselves after one of the Freddy Kruger franchise films. The Dream Warriors or The New Nightmares, something like that.
The uber-brilliant Chad Gable starts the match for the face team. I really believe that he could be the next Kurt Angle if WWE allow him to be. As the smaller guy on his team, though, he ends up taking the heat, which is fine, but it does mean we get to see less of his amazing arsenal of suplexes and submissions. Dash & Dawson, a real throwback to the tag teams of the eighties, do most of the donkey work here. I’m hoping to see American Alphas dethrone them and going on to battle my other favourite tag team, The Vaudevillains; however, I suspect Enzo & Cass might be getting a run with the straps. Jason Jordan, who has really come into his own since teaming with Gable, gets the hot tags and cleans house. Jason definitely got the better of two Freddys in this exchange. Alpha look to have Dawson beat with Grand Amplitude, only for Dash to make the save. Enzo & Cass finish Dawson off instead with the Rocket Launcher. Bliss is seething with disdain after the match.
Final Rating: **3/4
Backstage, Rich Brennan gets a word with Deanna Purrazzo. He wants to know how she’s feeling about going into a match with Asuka later tonight, especially after Asuka knocked her out the last time they met. She cuts a really bland promo before being interrupted by Emma and Dana Brook. My word, they are orange! They look like Rodney Trotter after Del turns up the timer on the solarium in the Tea for Three episode. Yak yak, blather blather. I can’t really understand (or care) what they are saying, as they are simply too orange.
Deanna Purrazzo vs. Asuka
Asuka should win this in two to four moves, like a fool’s mate in chess. However, Asuka’s last jobber match was quite disappointing. She let the female Tito Santana (or whatever the jobber’s name was) have far too much offence. This time, Asuka takes her opponent to school with kicks and submission holds. The only offence Deanna gets is pretty much what Asuka allows her. And then we get the smile, beautiful and deadly in equal measure. Purrazzo knows the game is up now. Three spinning back fists and a roundhouse kick seals it. Asuka put on a good clinic tonight, even if it wasn’t really much more than a squash match.
Final Rating: **1/4
Phillips and Graves recap last week’s events in the aftermath of the Women’s Championship match. I get chills watching how Asuka serves Bayley notice of her intentions on the title. The highlights segue into a pre-recorded promo from Nia Jax and Eva Marie. Jax’s whiny voice and constant high-rising intonations negate any aura that her physical presence might have. Not everything is a question, Nia. She needs to become a silent assassin quickly or damage all future credibility.
Tye Dillinger vs. Alex Riley
In this world we haven’t got the time for the likes of Riley. The smug git needs to blast right out of my stratosphere. Graves comes out with a corker of a line regarding Riley’s new look. “He looks like he’s been hanging out with Leonardo Di Caprio, getting attacked by bears,” he quips. Riley is a revenant of the time when NXT was a cringe-inducing reality TV show. Even before A-Ry became a Miz clone, I was alerted to what a twat he is when he did that fake sneeze – “I think I’m allergic to you” – line with Michael Cole. When you’re inferior to Miz and Michael Cole looks upon you with contempt, it’s time to get your arse down the road a little. I’m not particularly fond of Dillinger as a talent, but I am quite glad that he beats Riley with a roll up. Hardies, A-Ry. Future endeavors for Mr. Riley, please.
Final Rating: *1/4
Alex Reyes gets a word with the NXT Champion, Finn Bálor. He puts over Apollo Crews from last week and says that both Joe and Zayn are credible challengers for his title, though he intends on retaining it. Fairly bland stuff. I’d much prefer to watch him wrestle.
Backstage, Baron Corbin bursts in to William Regal’s office. He still thinks that he should be included in the number one contender’s match tonight, which is a frankly ludicrous suggestion. It’s a no from Regal, so Corbin makes some vague threat involving an eye for an eye. Corbin could be of much greater use to the general manager if he would just say which of the submission holds he tapped out to a couple of weeks ago.
Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe
Let me start by getting a potentially controversial statement out of the way. Sami Zayn is a heel. That is, the character’s persona, promos, general attitude/demeanor (and his flat cap) come across as a little too cocksure of himself, a little conceited. He gives off an air of arrogance about how good he is (he is good) and believes with a little too much John Cena-style fervor that he should always be in and around the main event because he’s reached that level, and even when he acknowledges others, it’s always a little bit passive-aggressive. Obviously the rapport that he has with the NXT crowds sort of urinates all other my Sami Zayn-as-heel chips, but there it is. As an in-ring talent he is brilliant, though, regardless of whether he’s heel or face.
The match starts off tentatively, with both men feeling each other out. It’s like containment strategy in chess, with neither man willing to risk a gambit. Sami gains the first slight advantage, low-bridging Joe out of the ring. Joe knows that a dive is coming, so promptly gets out of the way. At this point, we cut to a break so the Network can plug the soon-to-debut Edge & Christian Show. It looks like it reeks of awesomeness, and I will definitely be tuning in. Back to the action and Joe lays a trap for Sami, catching him in the corner with a side slam. He then proceeds to slow down the pace and keeps him in either a central position in the ring or hemmed in against the ropes. It’s smart because if he starts opening up space through Irish whips or running the ropes himself, he moves into Sami’s realm. Sami looks to have regained the advantage with the Blue Thunder Bomb, but Joe counters the Koji Clutch into a powerslam.
The match then moves away from chess and into a boxing match (though Chess Boxing is actually a thing). Sami is playing the part of Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed (or Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago) by staying in the match, despite looking punch-drunk and having taken a merciless beating, on his instincts and determination alone. A Helluva kick out of nowhere seems to have got the three count for Zayn, but the referee declares that both men’s shoulders were down – even though Joe’s right shoulder is clearly an inch or two off the ground. The ref intends to call it a draw, so Regal comes down to ringside. Once again, he dithers like Hugh Grant in any Hugh Grant film instead of making a decision, so we go off air with a stalemate. I hope this is heading to a triple-threat match at the next Takeover event before Zayn vs. Bálor at a later date. I think that would be something special to behold.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: I’ll be as indecisive as Regal and say that Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn will have to share this one.
Least Entertaining: This is certain: Alex Riley.
Match of the Night: Joe vs. Zayn
Summary: This show was definitely more like it. The three major championship divisions of NXT all had a good showing tonight. The four teams in the opener demonstrated what a strong tag division NXT has, and that was without The Vaudevillains even making an appearance – I’m deliberately excluding the awful Hype Bros. from this conversation, by the way – while Asuka is looking a strong contender for Bayley’s Women’s Championship once all the crap has been disposed of in the run in. As for the title scene, it may seem a little inconclusive at the moment, but if it’s heading to a triple-threat match with Joe, Zayn, and Bálor, then I’m all for the booking as a means to a fantastic end. The only blot on the copybook tonight was Alex Riley. Overall, though, a definite recommendation.