As most of you will know, NXT celebrated its best of 2017 last week and for that reason, there was no Report Card. I’ll assume that all of you took the time to enjoy some of this series’ greatest moments in my absence, but let’s not dwell too much on my personal brilliance as we instead shift our attention to a brand new year of NXT. This week’s episode emanates from Centre Stage, the home of oh so many tremendous Arn Anderson matches that get zero acclaim simply because the world isn’t fair. Knowing this I bring you a brand new NXT Report Card to get 2018 rolling so with that in mind, let’s head to WCW’s old home for some hot wrestling action.
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.
Before we arrive in the arena though, we are first greeted by The Undisputed Era who are looking at the camera and explaining that this will in fact be their year. Cool.
Our first match of the night comes in the form of Shayna Baszler’s NXT in-ring debut. Her confidence, relatively speaking, is always quite impressive to me and I like the way she carries herself. Before the match we are shown footage of Baszler bullying some young lion in the Performance Centre and choking her unconscious. This was quite fabulous. Featured in that video was Shayna’s opponent for tonight too: Dakota Kai. As will soon become clear, Kai wasn't the focus here but she brought great babyface energy in her entrance and as usual, was naturally likable.
Now to the match and Bazler roughed Kai up early before kicking her foot out arrogantly. The Kiwi fought back but Baszler snatched her arm and quickly mutilated it. She’s doing a very nice job with this bullying gimmick and after just a minute, this match is over after a violent stomp to Kai’s damaged arm closed the show. After already having her arm raised, Baszler choked Kai unconscious which brought out Ember Moon who made the babyface save, staring down Shayna whilst she left.
I can’t believe I’m writing these words but Baszler may in fact be the perfect heel to help get Moon’s babyface personality over. Speaking of such, this week I produced a lengthy feature all about Ember and I’d very much appreciate it if you give it a read. Thanks.
We now move to the Authors of Pain and their small bald friend Paul. They say that they want their tag titles back and I very much understand why, they are indeed good at the wrestling.
Up next we look set for an interview with Shayna Baszler before Lord Steven Regal interrupted to explain that her antics wouldn't earn her an NXT Women’s Title match. She’s unmoved by this and walks off nonchalantly.
Everyone’s favorite big lad is here now as Kassius Ohno takes on Raul Mendoza in a random WCW-style Centre Stage banger. Firstly, I must say that I love Kassius’ gimmick of shouting his own name loudly and it furthers the case that he’s in fact the greatest wrestler in the history of earth. A sporting handshake got us started and the pair went straight into grappling exchanges in which the contrast of size and speed was immediately highlighted. Ohno’s attempts to overpower Mendoza were unsuccessful for that very reason but eventually he gained control, flooring his opponent with a big boot.
He then went to work in the corner but couldn't quite put Mendoza away yet even if he continued to dominate. After taking a brief comeback flurry, Ohno cut Mendoza off again and closed the show with the always cool looking High Tension Elbow Strike. Nice match and another good showing for the knockout artist that’s hard to hit.
I have no clue as to where this young talent fits into the wider NXT landscape but as far as filling his current role, Mendoza is already a master of losing random 5 minute matches that end up extremely entertaining. He showed some nice underdog offense here and I really enjoyed his facials throughout as well. His selling is quite strong in general, and whilst I’m not a fan of him hitting arm drags on a man of Ohno’s size, his offense is generally good and that springboard kick looked particularly nice here.
Interested to see where Mendoza goes but even if he stays in this very spot that’s fine with me as frankly, he does it damn well.
Following this, Zelina Vega spoke to the media and explained King Almas’ greatness. She also illustrated why Johnny Gargano was lucky and honestly, I agree with her because I simply have to agree with everything she says….it’s my job.
The Dream Deserves His Spot
Speaking of that fraud Johnny Gargano, he spoke next and said that words couldn't describe where he was at. Luckily, he wouldn't have to prove this as suddenly THE VELVETEEN DREAM appeared to demand a THANK YOU. He cuts a magnificent promo explaining why Johnny is genuinely lucky and now I’m convinced. This character is incredible and the performer behind it is on a level quite frightening considering his experience level. Great stuff.
Regal Really Likes The Street Profits’ Camera
The Street Profits are filming themselves again and I’m very excited about it. They decide to go and talk with Lord Steven Regal but they knock first of course as they are gentleman. Regal is very intrigued by the duo’s personal camera and agrees to give them a number one contender’s match. Their opponents: The Authors of Pain. Greatness follows as Regal seems genuinely delighted by the Profits’ presence. Simply wonderful content here.
Look, I don’t know who NXT’s official matchmaker is, but frankly he should be ashamed of himself. Here stands 4’7 Lio Rush and the poor man has been matched with top territory heel and man mountain Lars Sullivan. Disgraceful.
In all seriousness, Rush made for a fun opponent here due to his famed speed and he avoided Sullivan’s early attacks but this only enraged Lars and he quickly cut Lio off, violently launching him into the corner. By the way, Sullivan’s presentation here was better than ever and his entrance is worth a watch if nothing else. It was really well done.
Either way, Rush continued to evade for a while longer but he was eventually floored by a huge lariat and then quickly pinned by The Freak Accident. Following the win, Lars discussed his fallen victims in a post-match promo before calling Killian Dain a force that he’d never felt before. He then explained that he in fact wants to destroy that force. This is very exciting for the big bloke fight league and it only got better when Lars decided to hit a SUPER FREAK ACCIDENT on poor little Lio.
Sullivan came across pretty well as a monster here even if not quite as undeniably as he has in prior showings. Good outing nonetheless.
We now move to backstage footage of The Undisputed Era beating up Sanity and shouting their stable name at them. Bobby Fish then punctuated this with a quite remarkable statement:
“WE MAKE THE RULES AND YOU FOLLOW THE RULES”
If you say so Bobby, if you say so.
The Undisputed Era
Our scheduled main eventers are here and they’re very smug about their handiwork. Kyle’s promo work is clearly a level below that of his peers. We all know this, and I don’t understand why we have to pretend otherwise by continuing to have him talk in these group segments. A wild Nikki Cross suddenly appeared and had to be dragged off by referees as she looked for revenge. Lord Steven then arrived and sadly, he was now very angry. Roderick Strong followed and explained that he’ll fight these guys but before he can finish saying that he’ll be finding a partner, Aleister Black’s music hit and his partner was apparently now here.
They hit the ring and were seemingly now challenging for the tag titles. I wish Regal would’ve gave us some kind of formal announcement but here we go I guess. Black beat up both heels with strikes early and Roddy Strong soon joined in too. I really liked Nigel McGuinness comparing this duo to Jason Jordan and Seth Rollins as it was nice to hear a modern wrestling reference, especially considering how much sense it made. Regardless, the babyfaces continued to comfortably control O’Reilly until Fish would help out, kicking Black’s leg away as he stood on the apron.
The heat was now on as the heels isolated Black and this was an interesting choice considering that Strong would seem to be the obvious candidate for this role with Black feeling more suited to making the hot tag. The work in the heat was decent here nonetheless, especially when Fish entered as he always brings such a refreshing urgency to his offense. In the end Black used his strikes to create some distance and he then tagged in Strong who ran wild. The heels survived though and Strong was soon cut off by the Axe part of O’Reilly’s Axe and Smash.
Black initially went after Fish in the meantime until Cole interjected and the Dutchman then chased him into the crowd. This left Strong vulnerable though of course and he was taken out by Total Elimination as Fish and O’Reilly retained their titles. Enraged, Black returned to beat up the heels but the numbers game was too much and they left him laying, even using a steel chair for good measure. The trio then did their silly hand signal which led to Regal announcing that at TakeOver: Philadelphia, Cole’s match with Black will be an Extreme Rules bout. History tells us that this is good for Cole as far as match quality but its impact on Black is unclear as of now.
A good main event in which the heels did their job nicely. Nothing remarkable but highly enjoyable nonetheless.
Roderick Strong & Aleister Black
From a personality point of view, this team is kind of odd but I did really like the idea of Black taking any chance at revenge and Strong continues to do the right thing for little reward, a story worth following. In-ring, there was a lot to like about this pairing either way as both are super intense and sharp when on offense. Roddy in particular is startlingly crisp and consistently brings matches up just by doing everything he does with purpose and impact.
I’ve discussed Black’s selling before in these articles but I reiterate, it is solid even if the crowds don’t seem to connect with it. Not every hero needs to be the sympathetic underdog and Black is a good example of that. Considering this, having him play babyface in peril here felt rather naive. I’ll say it again though, his selling was objectively fine even if it’ll likely never be his strong-suit for the reasons already mentioned.
One last thing about this babyface duo, Strong’s hot tag was unsurprisingly spectacular as he lit up both his opponents with an absolute array of sublime offense, all of which looked great. I enjoyed this makeshift team but I have to say, Strong individually shined as usual for me and in my mind, continued to show his brilliance.
This was a packed hour of NXT and it felt like an absolute breeze to watch. Almost everything felt like it had a direction and the stuff that didn't was more than entertaining enough to make you forget it. The main event match was good if not astounding and the surrounding bouts were fun too. The show’s strong-point arguably came in some of its backstage skits though, a couple of which were simply brilliant for a wide range of reasons. NXT is just generally very good right now and this week was no different. A great way to start the brand’s 2018.
Please comment your thoughts below or just tweet me abuse @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do. See you all next week.