The NXT Report Card (12/13/17): The Power of 'The Sprint Match'

Unless you’ve unfollowed Triple H on Twitter you’ll know that this is no ordinary week in NXT history. Airing on the USA Network for the first time ever, NXT has the chance to show off its product to a whole other universe of potential viewers and for many reasons, that’s obviously a very exciting thing. However, if you’re me this means absolutely nothing as I’m not in the USA and therefore am unable to watch the national broadcast edition of this episode. What this means is there’s absolutely nothing unique about the report card this week and in reality, I’ve just used a topic to fill up my intro. Basically, I’m grizzled young report card vet if nothing else.

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.

New WWE SmackDown Women's Champion Crowned In Historical WrestleMania 37 Main Event

We begin our evening with a recap of recent events including last week’s amazing main event match between Johnny Gargano and Kassius Ohno. After reliving that magic, we then head into the illustrious Full Sail Arena.

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas

Our first real sight at arrival? The King of wrestling, our lord and saviour and the current NXT champion Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas. Yes he’s actually here and thankfully, he looks incredible as always….Zelina looks ok too I guess. Almas is taking on Fabian Aichner here and immediately jumps the Italian with an explosive dropkick before being caught by a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker after failing to capitalize. He then took a flurry of obscene offense that he could only somewhat halt with a big chop and even then he was still being overwhelmed by the huge high flying man. ‘Cien’s selling throughout this period was unsurprisingly great as he perfectly spotlighted his opponent like any genuine world champion should.

Either way, Vega soon distracted Aichner and Almas took advantage, sending Fabian to the floor, throwing him into the steel steps and then pinning him with the Hammerlock DDT in the middle of the ring. This was an exceptional match of the sprint variety and further solidified Aichner even though he actually lost in a few minutes. I absolutely love the idea that Almas’ prior overconfidence is threatening to return now too as that makes perfect sense for this character. Great little match between two exceptional performers.

Grade: A* (mandatory and well deserved)

Fabian Aichner

Just in case it’s not already clear from my write-up on Almas, this was another incredible showing for Aichner. All of his offense was superb, stunning and at times simply astonishing as he busted out a variety of moves that included a springboard dive to the floor, a springboard tornado DDT as well as a sit-out power-bomb. It takes a lot to impress with just moves nowadays but Aichner manages it and that isn’t only due to his size. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that the CWC alumnus is so built does makes his athleticism more impressive but even without that, his execution is so phenomenal that he’d be awe-inspiring even if he had a more traditional ‘cruiserweight physique’.

Aichner is on the precipice of becoming a breakout star with the NXT crowd here and he’s done that with nothing but his in-ring exploits. Considering that, I think it’s now time for the powers that be to put a little time into who Aichner is as a character as if he can tick that box, he could very well be a major player. For all of his physical brilliance, Aichner is still a flat personality and very much forgettable until the bell rings. That’s fine and almost perfect for the role he’s currently filling but long term, some kind of character or even just backstory will be necessary. Amazing showing nonetheless. 

Grade: A*

Up next Sanity (Eric Young) discussed the beauty of WarGames and sent a warning to O’Reilly and Fish before their tag title match next week. Standard Sanity stuff.

Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch

Tag team action up now as everyone’s favorite pair of bald blokes’ team up to take on the two scary men led by another bald bloke. Oney and Danny immediately went insane with strikes here, stunning Rezar and Akam badly with sheer violence. They were both then completely destroyed and pinned with the Last Chapter just moments later. I can’t stress enough how great this was. So exciting and crazy for the whole minute or so it lasted and best of all it felt organic in continuing AOP’s dominance all whilst allowing Burch and Lorcan to do their thing, even if only briefly. Another awesome sprint.

Grade: A*

Authors of Pain

Unfortunately, there’s only so much I can say about a match that’s under two minutes long but I do feel the need to stress the sheer awesomeness of AOP’s offense to end this match. The clothesline, the Death Valley Driver into the turnbuckle, the stereo power-bombs and then of course the finishing Last Chapter. I have no clue as to whether AOP are faces or heels but whatever they are, it’s awesome and should continue the way it is. Loved it.

Grade: A*

Ember Moon

Those of you insane enough to read these things regularly will know that I’m a big Ember Moon fan but even I have to concede that none of this feels the way I hoped it would. On paper the story they told was a logical one but I can’t but feel that it wasn't properly tapped into and that issue coupled with her inability to beat Asuka makes this whole reign feel immediately weakened. Luckily Ember is excellent and more than capable of making things work in a big way once the bell rings. She showed that in glimpses here too.

After taking some strikes and selling them with all the vigor she could muster, Moon sent Royce to the outside with a head scissors and then took out both members of The Iconic Duo with a “dive” (being generous here) from the top rope. Kay distracted Ember though and Royce cut her off with that rope submission thingy. Moon then sold briefly before firing back big with a few unsurprisingly explosive strikes. Some nice sequence stuff followed and left Moon floored for a false finish. She then blocked Royce’s attempt to hit the *checks notes* Venus Fly Trap and turned things around quickly.

Moments later and Ember closed the show with the always awesome Eclipse for the win. Following the match Billie dropped Moon with the Shades of Kay and the duo laid Ember out together before Nikki Cross made a big save. Cross successfully did just that and then scurried away almost immediately to the confusion of Mauro and co. Very good showing for Ember and a fun match.

Grade: A

Peyton Royce

I feel redundant in my write-ups on Royce’s work at this point and that’s never my intention but nonetheless, I thought Peyton was good as usual here. Her character work is great and has been for about a year now, her selling was strong too and has been for about a year now. This character has gotten over and that’s allowed Peyton to make strides forward in 2017 and she very much deserves the success she’s gotten as she’s been fun to watch. However, I still have the same criticisms that I’ve had since I started writing these articles.

Royce’s offense is fun and all very pretty but for me it lacks the grit and aggression that I’d like it to have. To me it’s all very wishy-washy and that hinders her ability to really get the heat on whatever babyface she’s working. Ember bumps with such velocity that she did help this aspect at times though. I don’t see any of this as being pivotal to Peyton’s potential success by the way folks, she’s very talented and would immediately be one of the best female heels on the main roster and is absolutely more entertaining than 90% of SmackDown Live’s current female crew.

My critique is something that I personally believe in but that’s only due to my own taste and I completely get why none of this matters to some of you reading. Regardless, Royce is undeniably good and did a solid job here as usual.

Grade: B

Prior to tonight’s main event we then get a video package detailing Adam Cole’s…interesting time in NXT so far.

Oh and remember that person that was coming soon last week? It’s Shayna Baszler. So yeah, there’s that.

Adam Cole

Main event time now as we get what I believe Mauro Ranallo questionably referred to as a “dream match” between Adam Cole (Bay Bay) and the still undefeated Aleister Black. We got some grappling exchanges immediately, all of which Cole followed up on with some “showmanship” and shouts of “ADAM COLE BAY BAY.” Black’s sudden flurry of strikes in response sent Cole to the floor though and allowed him to return the “showmanship” favor by sitting cross-legged in center ring like always. Cole was soon back in control though, putting Black in a cross-face and having continued success until taunting got him in trouble as Black fired up and ran wild.

Cole avoided the punctuating Black Mass regardless and headed to the top rope but he was caught out of the air with a big headkick. Another attempt at Black Mass was then thwarted by Cole as he hit an enzuigiri and a backstabber for a two count. A strike exchange broke out and Cole got the better of this, staying in control in what felt like an odd psychological choice considering the way these two wrestlers were supposed to match up. Cole being able to hang in that area kind of made the whole clash of styles approach a little pointless but either way, the match was picking up nicely at this juncture.

Unable to put Black away, Cole became frustrated and showed it pretty effectively before his superkick attempt was blocked. Black then spun him around, dropped him with a knee and ended the match by hitting Black Mass on the defiant Cole. This was a good match even if not exceptional and in many ways that’s how I’d describe Cole in NXT for me so far. In my mind he’s just not completely clicked as of yet but he’s doing a fine job nonetheless and that was absolutely the case in this match.

Grade: B

Aleister Black

The more Black performs in these ‘big’ NXT matches the better he gets at portraying their importance. I thought his mannerisms early here really accentuated the match’s overall scale in the grand scheme of things. Transitioning this character into regular wrestling matches still isn’t making for a perfect formula though and for me, that showed here in the middle portion. Black’s selling in the cross-face was fine but it all felt handcuffed by the fact that the audience didn't seem to buy him in that vulnerable scenario.

Pro wrestling can be quite complex but if you really break things down, all babyfaces pretty much fall into two categories. You have those that fans cheer because they feel the wrestler needs their help and then you have the opposing category: ass-kickers so cool that you have no choice but to love them. Clearly Black is part of the latter in the broad strokes sense but at times in NXT, they handle him like he falls into the first category instead. What this means is they’ll have him sell and fight from underneath even though the audience doesn't actually believe that he really needs their help and support.

Thankfully, this match wasn't long enough to make that too damaging as Black soon made his comeback which I didn't think looked quite as dynamic as usual….then again that may have just been subtle selling. Overall, this match was rock solid and Black winning clean says a lot about his future on this brand. A good main event.  

Grade: B

Final Thoughts

NXT often claims that it is in fact the future. Well if that’s the case they would’ve learnt something very valuable this week and that’s the startling news that ‘The Sprint Match’ is the future of the professional wrestling business. Quick matches with insanity packed within their short run times are the only way for us to combat the world’s reliance on social media and other modern distraction tools. Now I know what you’re all thinking: ‘Joe you lazy fraud, you only like short matches because they make the report card easier for you to write.’

Well if you did think that, you’d be absolutely correct but nonetheless, I stand by all my prior comments also.

In all seriousness, the first two matches of this show were a lot of fun and the longer bouts that followed it were solid too, even if far inferior to their rapid counterparts. The main event was good but I doubt it’ll be particularly memorable for me in the long run so that combined with the lack of meaningful angles means that whilst I liked this week’s NXT, I didn't see it as one of the elite episodes of the past few tremendous months. The delightful sprints did make it fun viewing nonetheless.

Grade: B

Please comment your thoughts below or just tweet me abuse @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do. I'll see you all at Full Sail next week unless there's some kind of SmackDown PPV taking place this Sunday...

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