The NXT Report Card (8/2/2017): The Perfect Debut?

Seven days after KENTA made his triumphant return….I think, it’s time for another week of NXT as Johnny Gargano returns and Aleister Black is “IN ACTION.” Other than me officially jumping on the Ember Moon bandwagon, last week was a pretty uneventful TV episode from Hunter’s outlaw promotion and frankly, this week doesn't look too dissimilar. Once again though, I’ll bravely continue this harrowing journey to TakeOver: Brooklyn regardless and I promise that I still have some enthusiasm remaining in my evaporating soul.

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.

Johnny Gargano

The world’s greatest human Johnny Wrestling is back and he has a snazzy new theme and Titantron too. I have to say that this didn't feel like a big enough deal to me and honestly, I wouldn't have started the episode with Johnny’s comeback match. It felt almost impromptu even though it had been advertised last week and personally, I’d have put it on last after multiple segments building up to it throughout the night. The transition from old entrance to new was cool though. Either way, our mate Johnny was here and that evil bald man was nowhere to be found or seen.

Although I’m not sure the importance of this match was spotlighted well enough in its presentation, Johnny sold the moment’s importance admirably. Nigel did a nice job of playing up the mental doubts too. Early on there was some smooth mat wrestling and grappling exchanges and whilst this stuff isn’t usually for me, both guys are so sharp that it looked good here. Johnny really is an incredibly well-rounded wrestler and he showed that here by in an instant upping the pace with an awesome lariat. The finish, however, sucked as Mendoza went for a 450 nothing which Gargano turned into his submission for the win.

Good showing by Johnny who is obviously going to be a real player in NXT as a singles star. Likeable, already super over and an immense wrestler. It’s not exactly a hard sell.

Grade: B

Raul Mendoza

The Cruiserweight Classic alumnus wasn't the focus here but had a solid showing nonetheless. Body-wise I think it’s fair to say that Mendoza doesn't look exactly spectacular but he does have genuine charisma and really sells well with his face. This was an aspect that caught my attention in his match with Kendrick in last year’s CWC and it came through again here as he represented his desperation to shock the world brilliantly. Aside from all the smooth grappling and flashy movements, Mendoza is able to fire in some strong strikes too and that’s always cool with me. I’d like to see more of him on TV for sure.

Grade: C+

Up next we had a recap of last week’s brawl between Sanity and AOP followed by the announcement of their tag title match at TakeOver: Brooklyn. Then Paul Ellering cut a brief promo and all I can say is that whilst I love the man’s voice, I’ve found most of his promos in NXT to have been completely forgettable.

Asuka and Ember Moon Talk Shop

‘The Empress of Tomorrow’ is out now to “address the NXT Universe.” This means that she cuts one of those wacky short promos in which her delivery is super odd, because…wait for it…this isn’t her first language you absolute bullies. Her charisma, cool look and aura do get her through it though. She says that “Ember Moon isn’t ready for Asuka” and this, of course, leads to Ember herself coming out dressed like a normal human but just with red eyes. Just like last week Ember had another good showing here and spoke with a real conviction that has only become apparent in this last few weeks.

Her cadence and overall delivery still isn’t sublime in my view but her intensity is legitimately hooking me on this match. I also love the idea that deep down Asuka knows that Ember is different than the rest as that’s a fantastic, simple story to tell. Asuka was seemingly a little rattled and faked a handshake before slapping Moon in the brain. This led to Ember responding with a big forearm and an awesome brawl broke out. The champ got the upper hand before Moon nailed the damn ECLIPSE OUT OF NOWHERE. This was perfect for what it was and I can honestly say that I’ve never been more excited for an Asuka title match in my whole life.

Grade: A*

Bobby Roode, Roderick Strong and William Regal Talk Shop

The NXT Champion has a sit-down interview now in which he scoffs at the questioning of his recent actions. He then announced that he’d have an in-ring conversation with Drew McIntyre the following week. Roode is what you’d get if you merged 1992 Rick Rude with 1987 Arn Anderson and trust me, I can’t possibly give a bigger compliment that that. He’s a timeless talent and has been frankly exceptional thus far in NXT. Following Roode’s brief verbiage, Roderick Strong tried to run in but was held back and shouted at by my hero William Regal. Roddy’s delivery was a little stilted but Regal made up for it by selling his own disappointment sublimely. Strong is not in the TakeOver main event and that stings them both. Really good stuff.

Grade: B+

We now get one final Street Profits vignette which informs us of their debut next week. These things have been great and I’m genuinely looking forward to the team’s debut. I could honestly see this act being pretty successful.

Sonya Deville

Oh no, its time for me to be a real meanie again. Here comes Sonya Deville for a showcase match against Jenna Van Bemel. Early on, Deville was side stepping Bemel and laughing arrogantly afterwards. I thought this was a no-nonsense destroyer gimmick? Guys, it’s fair to say that I’m really struggling with this act. She then put her hands behind her back and poorly simulated moving her head to worked punches. Percy responded to this by exclaiming that it was “A LITTLE MAYWEATHER ACTION,” thus exposing himself as someone that had never watched a Floyd Mayweather fight in his whole entire life.  

It seems that she was told to up the theatrics here and whilst they seemed somewhat forced, that’s all part of developing. On that topic, Deville herself seems to be coming along really nicely and hit a good clothesline before nailing some really strong looking strikes, both with knees and kicks. With some creativity, this gimmick could work much better for me as Deville clearly has the necessary tools to make it at least a little believable. However, I’ll say it again, the match layout just isn’t up to it. This performer certainly has potential though.

Grade: C-

Hideo Itami is doing a backstage interview next and answers in Japanese before snatching the mic and walking to the ring after sensing he’d been disrespected. “SHOW ME RESPECT” he ordered. He’s right too, they cut him off after like 10 seconds, that’s just rude. Nonetheless, Mike Rome looked very scared as Itami shouted and out came Aleister Black to save him. After a brief stare-down Black kicked Itami’s head off in a super cool moment that will likely lead to a match in Brooklyn. Sounds fun to me.

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas Match Announcement

We are now informed that next week No Way Jose will be taking on the best wrestler and best looking man walking the earth: ANDRADE ‘CIEN’ ALMAS.

Grade: A* (Mandatory)

Aleister Black vs. Kyle O’Reilly

It’s already main event time folks as Aleister Black is apparently taking on a debuting Kyle O’Reilly. TakeOver scale folks, this looks lengthy and possibly even very good. O’Reilly doesn't have much presence or charisma and his mannerisms are at times just odd but he’ll quickly make you forget those things once the bell rings. Early on the pair squared up and traded strikes which created a really cool contrast of styles as O’Reilly’s wild and unpredictable approach collided with Black’s poise and patience. Grappling exchanges soon followed with O’Reilly even briefly securing a triangle choke. McGuiness emphasized the drama of each development on the mat beautifully and helped the match dramatically from a television perspective.

Both guys obviously have immense strikes and Black also had some neat character moments after each of his minor victories, celebrating with his own controlled calmness. O’Reilly sold well in this portion before firing back with his awesome trademark strike flurry but though his work is immaculate, he does lack the Manly Man Charm that his ReDRagon partner Bobby Fish brings. Nevertheless, this was already really good and I loved Black using strikes to get out of the Achilles lock as it elevated O’Reilly as a threat immediately simply due to the cool, calm Black suddenly getting desperate. A lot of the MMA-style grappling really worked here too in my mind and that’s ironic considering the match that preceded it.

O’Reilly soon focused on Black’s left arm and this worked particularly well due to Nigel reminding us of Kyle’s grappling advantage. I’m not even a sports-style presentation guy when it comes to pro wrestling but man, I can’t stress enough how much I love it when an announcer breaks down the competitor’s tactics in a really logical, understandable and believable way. It really adds a lot. O’Reilly’s work on the arm wasn't quite violent enough for me but I’ll take what I can get and send him some Alexa and Arn tapes tomorrow. Black eventually came back and whilst his offense is perhaps a little one-dimensional, it’s unique enough and certainly works well for him.

Both guys also sold their fatigue well down the stretch, especially Kyle and after a couple of minutes of absolutely spectacular striking awesomeness, Black closed the show out of nowhere with Black Mass. This really was an excellent TV main event and accomplished everything needed and more with Black very much shining whilst also immediately establishing O’Reilly as a top contender. The result is really irrelevant and I’d argue that this was the ideal debut for a talent with Kyle’s known strengths and weaknesses. It put a spotlight on his in-ring brilliance whilst also not shining a spotlight on his flaws by doing a big push right away. This left the audience wanting more and that's perfect in my view. I do still maintain though that long-term Kyle needs Bobby as whilst he’s an undeniably great wrestler, Fish brings some much-needed personality to the act. This was a great match either way.

Grade: A

Final thoughts

Though I entered with relatively low expectations, I have to say that I really, really enjoyed this week’s episode of NXT. The opening match was fun, the main event was brilliant and Ember Moon gained some real momentum on the road to Brooklyn. With maybe one more really strong lengthy segment, this probably would have been the best NXT episode I’ve covered yet. As it stands though, it’s come up a little short and will have to take its place as only one of the best. A really strong week of TV for NXT and TakeOver is shaping up pretty well.

Grade: A

Please comment your thoughts on this week’s NXT below or just tweet me abuse on Twitter @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do. Until next time folks!

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