The NXT Report Card (6/28/17): Wrestling Perfection

Guys, I’ve been dreading this all week. Tonight’s episode of NXT is probably going to feature the best women’s match on WWE TV all year and that makes me very worried. There’s a chance that this show provides me with very little nonsense to make fun of and if that is the case, I’ll likely be exposed as the talentless hack that most already assume I am. Hopefully Hunter protects me though and hides me weaknesses by feeding me some silliness along with the ‘Last Woman Standing’ main event. Some squash matches would be nice and a couple of bad promos ideal but I have a bad feeling that this is just going to be a really good wrestling show.

On the bright-side, I am in slightly better spirits this week due to the booking of Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks, a match also known as the biggest female MMA fight since Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate. Stand aside Brock and Joe, we’ve got a couple of real shooters on our hands. More on the illustrious Great Balls of Fire later though and for now let’s get our seatbelts on as we continue to travel down this preposterously long road to Brooklyn.

DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.

The Velveteen Dream

MAMMA MIA Mauro Ranallo is here! I’m really sorry folks but I was so busy writing about my own problems that I forgot tonight marked Ranallo’s return to WWE TV. I appreciate that his style isn’t for everyone but I’ve always been a big Mauro fan and he seems to be a great fit for the NXT product. With that out of the way let’s now discuss the world’s finest professional wrestler: The Velveteen Dream. This was a super quick squash for Dream and from my point of view, much of the same. I still didn't quite get that aggression Dream first showed in his debut but this was so short that there really wasn't much to see as far as physicality.

I’ll say this though, Dream’s entrance came across particularly awesome here and I’m not really sure why. As an investigative journalist I should really re-watch his other entrances for comparison but in my defense I wrote a 2000 word article about Impact Wrestling this week so I probably deserve a break. Was that whole sentence just a cheap plug for my Impact article? Yes, yes it was. Seriously though, Dream is just 21 and that makes his incredible commitment to this character all the more impressive and admirable. Really looking forward to seeing this performer and character develop. Thanks to Hunter for throwing me a bone too!

I’m not going to grade or talk about Ho Ho Lun as quite frankly, I just don’t want to.

Grade: B

We now go to an Asuka interview but it’s interrupted by Nikki Cross jumping on the hood of the car she’s in and then slamming the door wildly. I’m sorry but I found this to be a preposterously bad skit and unintentionally (I assume) funny in a variety of ways. I don't think this furthered the whole ‘they want to fight’ gimmick but instead just made Nikki look really goofy. It was super weird and did nothing for me but then again I’m a very miserable person. Perhaps if Nikki had slammed Asuka’s arm in the car door I’d be more invested as honestly, if it involves a car and doesn't remind me of Arn Anderson, it sucks.

Things quickly improved though as we next went to a segment in which William Regal announced that Heavy Machinery will challenge the Authors of Pain. Long-time readers of this series that has lasted a whole seven weeks will know that I love William Regal but I’ve got a confession to make: I was so focused on Otis Dozovic’s insane wackiness that I really didn't even pay attention to anything or anyone else. This man is a treasure and arguably, the greatest professional wrestler walking our earth right now.

Hideo Itami vs. Oney Lorcan

So let me paint the picture for you all. It’s around 2am and I decide that I need a quick snack to keep my energy levels high enough to continue churning out great content like this. Being a reasonable wrestling fan I saw this as the perfect time. ‘Oney and Hideo should be pretty long and I doubt I’ll have to make any notes considering the guys involved,’ I thought to myself arrogantly. Well, Oney soon spoiled my plans by sprinting at Hideo full speed and absolutely smashing him in the face with a European uppercut. This drew blood from Itami and the match was quickly stopped.

Thanks a lot Oney, so much for my snack break huh? In all seriousness though, I’m not going to criticize Lorcan’s style because I love violence and more than that, I know absolutely zero about being a pro wrestler. God bless lunatics like these two that seem to enjoy battering each other for my entertainment. I don’t recommend it but I certainly do appreciate it. This was obviously ungradeable. 

Bobby Roode/Roderick Strong Video Package

We now got a video package retelling the story of Roode and Roddy’s feud thus far. The famed “Who is Roderick Strong?” pieces were quickly recapped as was their promo segment opposite each other from a couple of weeks ago. We then got some new stuff of both guys talking too and overall, this was absolutely perfect. This is a simple story of the underdog every-man contender fighting the wealthy, arrogant champion and that story was captured beautifully here with visually and verbally. Great stuff to build anticipation for next week's main event.

Grade: A

Hideo Itami

Oh for goodness sake Hideo is back out here. He seems in a very bad way which is making him look even cooler but he’s calling out Oney and it seems this match is happening after all. I can’t believe I wrote that whole section about their first ‘match’ and now these selfish fools are back out here again. What more do they want from me?! I wrote about Impact this week and everything. Actually ignore my complaints because as I type Hideo is literally murdering Oney in very violent fashion. This is incredible. The crowd is roaring “Hideo! Hideo! Hideo!” This is pretty crazy guys.

This wasn’t a long match but I’d argue that it’s the sharpest Hideo’s offense has looked in years. There was a real aggression and intensity to everything he did here. The finish came when Lorcan’s leg was hurt and Hideo took advantage by kneeing his brain out of his head for the win. At this point Percy scoffed at the showing, “so much for sportsmanship,” he said. I don’t know if Percy was watching but earlier tonight Oney sprinted across the ring and took years from poor Hideo’s life, I think he owed him this one.

Grade: A*

Oney Lorcan

Any concerns that the incident earlier would hinder Oney’s penchant for violence were quickly dispelled here as he battered Hideo with strikes every time he was on offense. He hardly actually had any offense but everything he did was wonderfully brutal. This was awesome!

Grade: A*

MAJOR SIDE NOTE: at one point in this match we were shown another delightful GREAT BALLS OF FIRE ad and that brings me to a humongous announcement. If you’re reading this you probably tuned in to the official press conference live stream but for those of you who didn't, I’m thrilled to announce that next week I’ll be bringing you all a report card for the immaculately named GREAT BALLS OF FIRE PPV event. It’s a show featuring not one but two confirmed shoot fights so get your Pepsi Max ready folks! Hang on, I think they just aired the video for Braun vs. Roman but with the audio of Brock vs. Joe. This really is going to be a special show kids.

Alexander Wolfe

After the match Hideo called out Kassius Ohno but before they could become best friends Sanity arrived and beat them up. Eric Young is absent which led to Alexander Wolfe taking the mic to explain something about them wanting to “end the lies”. I absolutely loved Wolfe’s delivery here, he’s a wacky character but there was enough edge in this promo to maintain a sense of actual danger surrounding him. I felt he did a very good job and I liked the way this transitioned straight into Cross waiting for Asuka and the main event.

Grade: B+

NXT Women’s Championship

Last Woman Standing

Nikki Cross vs. Asuka

I think that for obvious reasons it would be silly to grade these two as individuals so I’m instead going to use the TakeOver approach and simply grade this match as a whole. Firstly, I love when there’s a ‘feeling out process’ and it doesn't feel mundane or half hearted. Both women were moving with a purpose and that made every step they took seem pivotal and important. Asuka’s strikes are always great but they looked absolutely exceptional here, especially early. There was a crispness that you just don’t often see in the female matches. Cross’ strikes were no different and I particularly love how unique hers are. If you were to silhouette the motion of Cross’ forearm it’s immediately recognizable and that’s a pretty cool thing in my opinion.

We quickly got some weapons involved as the usage of a trash can drew some tragic “ECW” chants until Asuka placed the can on Nikki’s head and began to viciously kick it. This was fun. Early on I did think that Cross took a little more offense than I would’ve expected but every time there was a shift Cross maximized every moment she had which kept the intensity high. The biggest compliment I can give these women is that they looked as though they absolutely belonged in this type of match. I enjoyed both female Money in the Bank matches but it’s undeniable that they looked and felt different to their male counterparts. That wasn't the case here though and this felt like a wild match regardless of gender.

The bumps both these women took were incredible, including a brutal looking power-bomb onto steel chairs that seemed to end in Asuka’s head snapping violently. They fought frantically, constantly trying to win. That’s why this match worked for me where other weapon heavy matches don’t. At times these type of matches feel too reliant on the big spots being set up but this all seemed very much organic. As a fan that likes a clear babyface-heel split, Asuka’s current shades of grey disposition limits her character work for me slightly but Nikki makes up for that in a big way. I loved her responses to Asuka continually getting up especially when she got the belt and then tried to use it as a weapon once she realized the match wasn't yet done.

Either way, Asuka did indeed get up and then won the match with an incredible superplex from a ladder through the announce table. This match was incredible but I do have to say this, I really hope that Ember doesn't beat Asuka after everything she went through to win this match. I don’t know if the Mae Young Classic will create the perfect person to end the streak but I do know that as of right now, Moon isn’t the right choice in my mind, especially after Cross has now lost. Both Ember and Nikki are great bell to bell but Cross is the one with a real character that’s connecting and I hope that isn’t lost on those in charge. I fear that the NXT crowd will turn on Moon if she breaks the streak now, it feels anticlimactic after everything that’s happened.

Finally, though I’m using the TakeOver grading style I simply can’t grade this match the same way as I would a TakeOver match. This obviously wasn't live and was worked in front of a very tired crowd but more than that, TV matches are just different. Regardless of all of that though, this was a TakeOver quality match and as far as NXT TV main events go, the absolute cream of the crop. I’m not sure if many episode main events ever have reached this level and that says a lot about its quality.

Grade: A*

Final thoughts

I mess around a lot but this really was an excellent episode of NXT TV. We got a Velveteen Dream squash win, Itami and Lorcan violence and a spectacular main event. To translate, this was wrestling perfection. I feel it would be obscene for me to grade this as anything lower than the maximum because I don’t see it being topped for quite some time. Great job from all involved and a big thumbs up from me. I know what you’re thinking, but Joe, where’s the ‘Cien’ joke? Simple, this episode was so strong that on this one occasion I’m willing to accept Almas’ absence, just this once though. Basically what I’m saying is I love Hunter Hearst Helmsley and I don’t care how many times people call him Paul, he’ll always be Hunter to me. Thanks Hunter!

Grade: A*

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