Those of you that have read these silly articles long enough will know that historically, this episode of NXT has always been a dramatic one for me. It’s the week after TakeOver which means that nothing of real importance will happen as we are instead served up matches that were taped minutes before TakeOver went live on the Network. Luckily, this week doesn't have just any old match but instead a UK Championship bout between Pete Dunne and Johnny Gargano. This means that unlike last time I won’t have to turn to Tiramisu talk or even worse, Wesley Blake Appreciation Night as I did the time before that. Nonetheless, that’s enough stalling and for the third time in a row, let’s head to Houston.
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.
Well then, it was just three days ago that I last produced a Report Card but somehow so much has changed since that this match is now a complete outlier. Our opener tonight is the recently set-up battle between now SmackDown Live superstar Ruby Riot and now RAW superstar Sonya Deville. Oh well, at least they didn't debut in the exact same angl…never-mind. This is all shown to us via video recaps of both women’s debuts but regardless, let’s get to this match. After some fun back and forth grappling exchanges, Riot established control with some lovely Steamboat arm-drags and a few neat strikes.
Sonya soon cut her off with a strike to the ankle though and Ruby sold for much of the remainder of this match. She did an excellent job of it too, really bringing the audience in nicely and allowing them to connect with the story being told. That aspect was helped by the fact that this crowd was seemingly already invested in Ruby and she really is a great babyface…shame about the whole heel invasion gimmick I guess. I loved all of Riot’s fighting back whilst selling and the wacky face-buster that turned the tide was tremendous also.
Ruby then fired up with chops and made her comeback. She sold pretty much the whole time too, even to the point of doing an awesome one-legged springboard. She was then caught in an ankle lock though and sold it really nicely, hooking the people effectively and making the most of the rope break spot. After being distracted by her own argument with the referee, Sonya turned into Riot’s finish which gave Ruby the win. I haven’t always loved Ruby Riot in NXT but her talent has steadily become undeniable and to be frank, I felt she was absolutely exceptional here in every way.
I wish Ruby was going up to SmackDown Live as a babyface but either way, this was a brilliant performance to wrap up her NXT run and I hope she thrives on the main roster.
I will forever maintain that Sonya shouldn't ever just lock-up at the start of her matches but I did enjoy the swift grappling exchanges that followed. Deville’s ankle attack to cut Riot off was excellent too and her strikes in general looked very good which has consistently been a strong suit for her. Her work on Riot’s ankle was super solid physically but I’d like for her to add a little pomp and personality to things. I understand that there’s a good chance that she performs sternly by design and due to instruction but this is still pro wrestling so regardless of gimmick, the entertainment value always needs to be considered.
I also didn't enjoy the way she gave up full mount so easily in the middle of the match only to stand up. On the other hand, her spinebuster looked nice and I absolutely loved the way she transitioned from strikes to submissions at the end, especially the final triangle armbar to ankle lock move. I fear for Sonya in a big way on the main roster as I think she lacks the personality and poise to be anything more than a hench-woman but I guess that’s what she’s supposed to be on RAW right now so I wish her all the best.
Time for the traditional flurry of TakeOver recaps now as we begin that process with a video package covering The Velveteen Dream’s star-making performance opposite Aleister Black.
Lars Sullivan vs. Kassius Ohno was up next and we also got Sullivan’s very scary post-match YouTube promo. Personally, I’d rather he not talk honestly. It’s not that he’s bad, I just like the aura of a silent destroyer and I think it’d work with his look.
The NXT Women’s Title match recap followed as well as Ember Moon’s backstage promo afterwards. Ember is incredibly likeable when she’s not worrying about being a mythical character. More of this please.
Footage of the greatest moment in wrestling history next as we once again see ‘Cien’ win the NXT title. The more I watch it the clearer its importance becomes. For me it’s Hogan slamming Andre, Austin stunning Vince and Andrade DDT’ing Drew for championship gold. McIntyre’s interview about his title loss and injury was also shown.
To break up the recap onslaught we now saw Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss spoiling The Street Profits post-match celebration. Unsurprisingly fun silliness.
These two teams will rematch next week and also, Kairi Sane will face Peyton Royce in what seems certain to be a very strong match.
A War Games recap closes our video package marathon and this one had Dustin Rhodes and Arn Anderson sightings which massively won me over of course. It also featured a very drunk man that loved him some war games. Cool.
Johnny Gargano vs. Pete Dunne (c)
Okay guys, here’s the deal: we all know that these two men are very good at the wrestling and for that very reason, it only makes sense to grade this one TakeOver style. Seat belts on and Pepsi Max’s at the ready folks as this one should be GOOD. Hot crowd here and we quickly got things going with some sharp grappling exchanges. As I was about to complain about the overdone respectful stare-down nonsense, Dunne forearmed Johnny in the face like a young Nikki Bella and made me sing God Save the Queen prouder than ever before.
Johnny soon fired up with his own offense though, even doing that wild apron dive to the floor thingy that he always does. However, his attempt at a tornado DDT on the outside was countered into an X-Plex on the apron (the hardest part of the ring). Dunne then focused on his foe’s fingers like usual and Mauro pointed out how this would directly affect the Gargano Escape which I felt was a nice touch. Pete added the body-scissors but Gargano countered by suplexing Dunne into the ropes in a really neat spot to create some distance.
Sensing an opening, Johnny threw a punch with his now damaged left hand and sold it after-wards before smartly turning to chops. Gargano was now a step ahead and caught Dunne with the slingshot spear for 2 before chasing the champ and hitting a dive through the ropes into a DDT on the floor. His attempt at a slingshot DDT was caught though and countered into an X-Plex for a false finish. Dunne then went for his finish but Gargano turned it into a sharp DDT and moments later put on the Gargano Escape. To defend himself Dunne spat his mouthpiece out and began to bite Johnny’s already injured fingers, creating a wonderful wrestling visual in the process.
By the way, on multiple occasions during this match Dunne shattered The William Regal/Alexa Bliss Facial Expression Scale and at one point unofficially clocked in at 11.8 on the illustrious radar. That says a lot about this man’s talent. Back to the action anyway and Dunne’s Bitter End attempt was countered into a roll-up for two before a big strike exchange broke out that culminated with Gargano scoring a huge lariat to floor the champion. He stalled briefly though as he was seemingly shaken by Dunne’s fallen mouthpiece but it was all a ruse…I guess, as Johnny smiled and super-kicked Dunne in the mouth for a huge two count.
Johnny was still all over him regardless, this time with strikes but his slingshot spear attempt was halted by a brutal forearm that allowed Dunne to end things with the Bitter End. Tremendous match between two great performers and an elite TV main event by anyone’s standards.
These post TakeOver shows are always a little wacky but as far this format goes, it doesn't get much better than this. The opening match was solid and nicely engaged the crowd and the main event absolutely rocked it and likely left a lasting impression as a stand-out NXT TV main event. As the only two new pieces of content we got this week, both those matches were great fun but sadly, the lack of other worthwhile segments in this 50 minute episode limits it slightly in the grand scheme. Unfortunately, the twenty straight minutes of recap videos hinders how I can grade this but considering what these episodes have historically been, this one likely stands above as it was headlined by a TakeOver worthy match. Seek Dunne vs. Gargano out if nothing else.
Please comment your thoughts below or just tweet me abuse @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do. See you at Full Sail next week.