Johnny Gargano seems still intent in being Full Sail’s hero entering the ring as he reflects on 2018. He proclaims, “Success is measured by wins and champions,” and that he will become “A” champion, not initially being decisive. He addressed Ciampa and tried to quiet “DIY” chants, saying his interference against Aleister Black in his cage match meant nothing to him. Gargano finally addressed Ricochet for his North American belt, and claimed he can take the belt without asking first. Ricochet came out, going the Hideo Itami route with a suit and no socks. He accepts Gargano’s challenge, brings up how Gargano attacked Black from behind, not face to face. At this point, Ciampa joins the fray, and seconds Gargano’s “wins and champions” claim. Not to be outdone, Black joins the party, via screen. He calls Gargano merely Ciampa’s dog. The lights went out, and Black attacked Ciampa on the ramp as Ciampa trembled at the screen. As they brawled, Gargano superkicks Ricochet as he was watching Black and Ciampa and leaves him dazed.
A bit underwhelming on the promo front, but it does give direction to TakeOver: Phoenix. I hoped Black would follow Velveteen Dream to the main roster (whenever THAT happens), because their feud garnered much more excitement than Ciampa/Black. As of right now, Adam Cole is more likely to take the belt off of Ciampa, and that’s a distant feud.
A promo airs to announce that Undisputed Era’s O’Reilly and Strong will defend the Tag Team belts against War Raiders.
Bianca Belair vs Nikki Cross:
For whatever reason, Belair seems to be trying to elicit a face response, when her entrance music still states, “I never needed you at all!” This is not going to happen in Cross’ final NXT appearance. On commentary, Mauro Ranallo and Nigel McGuiness try to guess where the erratic Cross will end up (Remember when Cross answered an open challenge from Becky Lynch? Pepperidge Farm remembers. . .). Belair paintbrushes Cross, then tries to hairwhip Cross. Belair moonsaults out of a Cross schoolgirl, and connects with dropkick. Cross traps Belair in ring apron in a vintage spot of hers. Belair picks Cross off of top rope and hits gorilla press into an impressive standing moonsault. Cross counters a delayed suplex into DDT for a 2-count. Cross with a running bulldog followed by a Slop Drop for 2. Belair recovers with a spear for a close 3. Cross hits her fisherman neckbreaker finisher, but Belair rolls out of the ring. Cross jumps a retreating Belair, but gets backdropped onto the ramp. Both nearly get counted out, both dive back in simultaneously. Belair crashes into the post, but another Cross schoolgirl can’t put her away. Cross misses a top-rope crossbody, allowing Belair to hit Kiss Of Death for the win.
She has great athleticism and a powerful finisher, but I just don’t buy into Belair toppling Shayna Baszler for the Women’s belt. Unless the button to have Baszler feud with Ronda Rousey in a match between MMA stalwarts is pressed, Baszler should keep the belt.
Live from the milk carton printing factory, we have a Street Profits promo. Dawkins is beatboxing (thankfully not dancing), and Ford is running down the dwindling tag scene (Godspeed, Nick MIller, you deserved so much better booking in America). Speaking of the tag team scene…
Fabian Aichner/Marcel Barthel vs Hector Kunsman/Stanley Watts:
Kunsman and Watts are in jobber mode (already in ring) this evening. Barthel still looks a bit Nazi-esque, and teaming him up with an Italian in Aichner does not exactly help this perception. Kunsman gets in some armdrags, and tags in “not related to Cowboy Bill” Watts (thanks for the Ancestry check, Mauro!). Aichner tags in and blasts Kunsman with a spinebuster into a Penalty Kick from Barthel. Kunsman manages to tag in Watts, and Watts surprisingly gets some kicks in. Aichner tosses Watts into a german suplex from Barthel for the win. For a new tag team, that’s a fresh combo finisher.
Would Vince be so crude as to name these guys The Axis? Yes, yes he would.
In the parking lot, Ricochet claims Gargano just superkicked any respect he had for him. And with that line, I just realized why Ricochet is not on the main roster yet.
A replay airs of Kassius Ohno going full heel on Matt Riddle after tapping out last week, and cementing himself as the Dolph Ziggler gatekeeper of NXT.
Keith Lee responds to the Ohno attack via backstage promo, and invites Ohno to a lesson in respect next week. I wish they could have held this off until TakeOver, but weekly episodes must be prepared.
Adam Cole vs EC3:
EC3 has new NXT merch in his curtain call, which left me scratching my scalp. According to McGuiness, Cole makes men envious and women swoon. Hey, we have something in common! The match begins with tie-ups, corner brake-ups, and poses. Cole takes over with an enziguri from outside floor to EC3 in the ring, and proceeds to throw him into the ring steps. Cole grounds EC3, and works on an injured left arm. Cole tries to suplex EC3 out of ring, only to be countered by EC3’s suplex into the ring. EC3 mocks Cole’s “BAY BAY” and hits a jumping elbow. A pump kick from Cole returning to ring floors EC3. A Backstabber to EC3, but Cole gets only 2. Cole misses Last Call, and EC3 hits a nice German suplex. Shoulderbreaker from Cole, and he tries a cross-armbreaker. It’s believably countered by powerbomb from EC3. UE runs interference, Cole hits a superkick and Last Call for the win. UE gang on EC3, but War Raiders hit the ring to make the save. Hanson cartwheels out of Chasing the Dragon, and stacks Fish onto Strong for an awkward double powerbomb from Rowe. Hanson hits his patented diving legdrop onto O’Reilly from over halfway across the ring. UE retreats as the credits roll.
UE did the best they could to build up War Raiders as potential victors at TakeOver. I don’t understand why I’m not more behind Rowe and Hanson at this point, especially after their work at War Games. They’re a great team, but future jobbers Heavy Machinery got the call-up instead. Given the current state of tag wrestling on the main rosters, this may be a blessing to War Raiders. The problem is, the heel conglomerate of Undisputed Era is the hottest entity of NXT not named Velveteen Dream (still unbooked at TakeOver), and I don’t see them losing the belts just yet. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch are still deserving of one more match against UE (although Ford failed to diss them in the Profits promo), and this TakeOver should have been their time to steal the show once again. Even so, this feud is far from a letdown, as the teams work well together.
Scheduled for next week’s episode:
Street Profits return to action.
Keith Lee vs Kassius Ohno.
An exquisite review from the Jobber Knocker