Well folks, we’ve almost made it. Philadelphia is just days away and we have one final Centre Stage stop to make. I’ve really enjoyed this whole set of tapings and I have a feeling that tonight’s main event will be the perfect cap off to that. That main event of course, is Johnny Gargano putting his TakeOver title shot on the line against The Velveteen Dream. Other than that? I’m not really too sure but who cares because we are getting to see The Dream regardless. It’s the last TV before TakeOver and let’s get to it!
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.
This show begins with a special Velveteen Dream opening and I’m already very excited. He cuts a promo on Gargano and I appreciated that he gave Johnny some credit before dismissing his whole existence. Love this character and enjoyed the change up in format.
No Way Jose
HE’S BACK! The finest in-ring technician of his time No Way Jose has returned to NXT! He’s taking on Cezar Bononi and I’m almost certain I’ve reviewed this exact matchup before but who knows, or cares, at this point. There’s a little belly on good brother Jose here and I’m a big fan of that. Percy Watson’s commentary on the other hand? I’m not so sure. His analysis here was that Jose needs to “get Bononi down, not let him utilize those strikes or that jiu-jitsu.” Hmmm.
Either way Jose ran wild early and gained control. This portion then ended as they got themselves in a mess until Bononi did the diva botch escape hair pull. The Brazilian was now on top but Jose soon turned things around, even if only with an insanely slow looking neck-breaker. He made his comeback regardless and hit the big punch in quite clunky looking fashion. Jose is charismatic but this wasn't too good and that’s not just on Bononi. Mr No Way just looked a little out of sorts for whatever reason.
Up next is a video package recapping Aleister Black’s recent conflict with Adam Cole. This was decent stuff and the feud has been too, even if a little cookie cutter.
Women’s division action follows as Bianca Belair takes on Latoya. I quite like Belair’s presentation even if you can tell that it’s not quite complete yet. She has a certain star power that shines through either way honestly. Bianca overpowered Latoya early and even hit an awesome looking backbreaker. This may sound odd but though I really like both aspects individually, I’m not sure I love how her in-ring style correlates with her characterization. It absolutely feels powerful, rough and tough but I’m not sure that’s what I want from a personality that carries herself like Bianca does. Maybe that’s just me though. She throws a great forearm regardless.
After being briefly halted, Bianca hit Latoya with her own hair and then her finish for the win. Good showing and it’s clear that Belair is very much a rough diamond with a lot of star tools. It’ll now just be a matter of evolving and making the most of her natural ability.
Ember Moon & Shayna Baszler FACE OFF
Before I get to the important stuff here, I want to credit Percy Watson for a moment. I have fun at his expense sometimes but for whatever reason, he felt like an absolutely perfect fit for this kind of segment. Okay, now to the aspect I’ve been trying to avoid: Ember wasn't good here, at all. Her delivery wasn't particularly strong but more than that, she felt really out of place. This wasn't the place for so much anger and the people producing the segment should’ve realized that.
Finn Balor handled this better in a similar segment with Samoa Joe about 18 months ago. It’s one thing to speak with passion but you’ve got to also act like a legitimate athlete/competitor as this is a much more sport style presentation. There’s a time and a place for the approach Moon took here but it simply didn't work in this environment and made her come across more strange than likable. On the other hand, Baszler did a pretty good job. She spoke with confidence and carried herself nice and smug, enjoyable stuff.
Eventually they went face to face and overall this just disappointed me. Aside from the performers, this also felt misdirected in production. The dramatic music really didn't combine well with Ember’s overacting and this whole package created a segment that let down all of the segments that preceded it.
Who are TM61? – Part 2
The Australian lads are back again and this week they are talking about Pokemon as well as The Dusty Rhodes Classic. Thorne went into their journey and explained that he actually wrestled the tournament’s final with an injured knee. They then discussed trying to be something that they aren't and this is tremendous because the guys are absolutely right, their promos really were horrific. I’m glad that they understood this too. In all seriousness, this was another great video package and I’m looking forward to their in-ring return next week.
Authors of Pain
Young Chase Brown and Damien Smith are waiting in the ring for the former champs but AOP jumped them before the bell could ring and immediately left them laying. They then cut a brief angry promo and hit the Super Collider to punctuate their statement. As I said last week, there’s been a point made of re-establishing AOP as pure destroyers and that’s a smart move with Philadelphia just days away. This served that purpose but on the other hand, didn't help the TakeOver match’s already minimal build.
Johnny Gargano vs. The Velveteen Dream
Main event time now friends and I have very high hopes for this one so for that reason, let’s grade this one TakeOver style. My excitement is only strengthened by Dream wearing a ‘Johnny Wrestling’ shirt and the dueling chants early here have me very excited. Some grappling exchanges got us going and I’m immediately reminded of Dream’s immaculate ability to stay in character in moments like this. This crowd is absolutely red hot by the way, great stuff. After finally gaining an advantage, Dream taunted and that got him caught in the Gargano Escape but he scurried to the ropes and escaped.
Dream’s penchant for showing off was costing him a ton early and Gargano was running wild, even hitting his big cannonball senton off the apron. However, his attempt at the slingshot spear was caught and Dream now took over, quickly bringing out his tremendous mean-streak. I always like how Dream interacts with the referee during his heat segments too, it’s a little detail that really rounds out his character. Speaking of great character work, at one point Dream headed up to the top rope before opting against the risky move, garnering great heat in the process. Love it!
He opted for more traditional heelish attacks like punches and kicks. Why? Because he’s the greatest wrestler on our earth. Gargano is now firing up with big strikes and scoring all his signature offense but he can’t quite put Dream away. They traded quick pin attempts as well as huge strikes that led to a double down which rightly earned applause from this Centre Stage crowd. A fabulous exchange followed and it culminated in that awesome wacky DDT Dream does. Gargano still kicked out and this is just wonderful. He cuts off his top rope climb too, sent him to the outside and hit a big dive to stun The Dream.
He couldn't capitalize though and Dream cut him off to hit a huge Death Valley Driver off the top rope. Gargano kicked out once again and this has now reached an enthralling level of great. Dream headed up top one more time but Johnny blocked The Purple Rainmaker and closed the show with a super-kick and The Gargano Escape. Johnny really snapped into motion in order to win this match which was a nice way of representing the title match’s importance to him. This was a wonderful main event and one that further solidified my views on both men.
Gargano’s greatness is well established but my main takeaway here was The Dream and I don’t mean that as a slight on Johnny at all. The amount of talent that The Velveteen Dream has shown in such little time is genuinely quite astonishing and his chances of super-stardom only look to be growing with each performance. This is a special talent, a very special talent.
Before Gargano could celebrate too much though, ANDRADE ‘CIEN’ ALMAS arrived and he was looking very confident (understandably so). He then floored Johnny a violent flurry of strikes and threw him out of the ring. Gargano eventually fought up to the apron though and nailed ‘Cien’ with an astonishingly great looking slingshot DDT. Zelina is going crazy and this absolutely rules. He then held the NXT title high above his head and I couldn't possibly be more excited for Saturday.
What makes this build-up work so well is that if you’ve watched the whole journey, you really understand each character’s mentality. Almas is delusional and though Vega has better channeled his skillset, his arrogance is still his greatest weakness. Zelina is smarter than that and is trying to get in Gargano’s head but deep down she realizes Gargano’s threat. Why? Because she played a major part in Almas’ prior two wins over him, she had to get involved to stop Johnny from winning.
Gargano’s story is obviously the most blatant of them all and it’s a tried and true one. After some very real roadblocks, Johnny is in the midst of a career best run and now looks to win the big one. It’s all just great and best of all, the match has a very real chance to be the greatest in NXT history. For real.
This wasn't the best NXT episode as far as depth and frankly, before the main event I didn't really like much of it at all. Bianca Belair looked good and the TM61 video package was strong but the rest, main event excluded, didn't make much of an impression. Luckily, the main event was quite extraordinary and that alone made this show worthwhile. I’m not sure NXT has ever really been great at go-home shows but at least this one featured a brilliant match and for that reason, it gets a thumbs up from me.
Please comment your thoughts below or just tweet me abuse @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do. See you all at TakeOver.