The NXT Report Card (2/14/18): Two Title Tilts

Many readers may suspect that I’m a fool but one thing is for sure, I never make the same mistake twice. Considering that, after last week’s debacle I’ve opted to do absolutely zero research for this upcoming episode of NXT. My fading memory suggests that this week features two title matches though, including the very promising matchup between Pete Dunne and T.V.M.B.C (TV Match Banger Clan) leader Roderick Strong. Basically, from what I can tell things look relatively positive so with that being said, let’s head to Full Sai…Centre Stage.

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.

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WWE UK Championship

Pete Dunne (C) vs. Roderick Strong

Goodness gracious we are actually starting like this?! Consider me fired up, very fired up. By the way, before a move was made here Nigel McGuinness did a nice job of adding extra gravity as he pointed out that though Roddy is one of his best friends, he’s been unable to win “the big one”. Speaking of McGuinness, he also did a great job explaining the differences between these two early as they went back and forth in some neat grappling exchanges.

Things quickly transitioned into some control for Dunne as he focused on Strong’s arm, even stomping down after forcing it onto the steel steps. However, Dunne’s attempt to do this again got him caught as Strong then violently flung the champion onto the steps. On the cool scale, this spot ruled but it was made infinitely better by Strong selling his arm immediately after. Roddy had ramped up the aggression now though and was going after Dunne with some offense, almost fired up by Dunne’s focus on his arm and hand.

A strike exchange followed and Strong came out with the advantage again, dominating Dunne with his rapid offense. His momentum would soon be halted though as Dunne went after the hand to cut him off briefly before being brutally slammed onto the apron by the rampant Strong. McGuinness’ early analysis that Dunne had to slow Roddy down was now looking incredibly accurate but nonetheless, the champion soon scored with a quick flurry of his own before again focusing on the hand.

Strong quickly came back though and floored Dunne with a magnificent dropkick. A huge backbreaker followed for 2 as the action continued to swing back and forth. This even included Strong powering out of a triangle choke by elevating Dunne before whip-lashing him into the top rope. He then hit an avalanche Olympic slam for another false finish. Strong was still in the supremacy anyway and run wild with an onslaught of brutal strikes that still didn't put Dunne away.

One final huge strike exchange maintained Strong the advantage but his Liontamer attempt was stopped by the prior damage to his hand and Dunne then closed the show with Bitter End. There’s no better way to maximize a heel like Dunne than to have his focused attack win him matches in the end, it just makes him look like a smart champion. Fabulous match here from two extraordinary performers.

Grade: A

We then got a video package detailing Johnny Fraud’s journey to losing his career in next week’s TakeOver rematch. This was unsurprisingly well-done and I’m sure this upcoming match will be excellent just like all its predecessors have been.

The Velveteen Dream then spoke to the media and dissed Tyler Bate. Why? Because he’s very good at the wrestling.

Title Ambitions

Aleister Black is here and looks very smart as he briefly recapped his NXT run thus far. He then went on to say that he now has a devil on his back in the form of the NXT Title. This brought out Killian Dain who made his own title ambitions clear before stating that chaos would be in Black’s path. He then left after Black told him that he’d now have to “Fade to Black.” This was fine, even though the crowd’s response to it felt somewhat muted and understandably so as nothing really happened.

Dain was fine but my real takeaway here was Black’s delivery. I may be in a minority but I actually really liked it. As I’ve said before, he has a genuine aura and that gives his words more power naturally, there’s no need to force it and I’m glad he isn’t trying to.

Grade: B-

TM61

Up next is another showcase match for the recently returned TM61 as they take on John Skyler and Andrew Duckworth. Miller got them started with some big chops before Thorne came in and run wild on both. Skyler went after his knee though and the heels isolated him briefly before Miller returned and took out both to set up their tandem finish for the win. Another good showing but I think it’s pretty obvious that this team will shine much more when in competitive matches and feuds.

Grade: B

Shayna Baszler

Main event time now folks as Shayna Baszler looks to take the NXT title from Ember Moon.

We got some nice intensity from both before the first bell and Shayna was immediately dropped before looking for submissions off her back. Moon continued to run wild with strikes though and Baszler was rocked. Baszler then rolled to the outside to avoid The Eclipse which led to Ember hitting an insane dive to the outside and directly onto the announce table. Moon had re-injured her arm in doing so though and Baszler quickly focused on it just like at TakeOver.

In fact, Ember almost got the pin-fall the same way as she did last time but Baszler kicked out on this occasion and forced Moon to get her foot to the ropes.  Baszler couldn't get a tap and instead used the barricade to batter Ember’s arm until Kairi Sane made the save and run Shayna off. Baszler is limited but they’ve focused on the right aspects of her skill-set thus far and it’s led to mostly good stuff. There are certainly some rough aspects to her performance but they’ll likely improve over time.

Grade: C+

Ember Moon

This wasn't a particularly long match and I’ve obviously already recapped much of the actual action but I just need to stress again that wow, Ember is great. It can’t be overstated enough how much she’s done for Shayna in this feud thus far and it’s been quite incredible to watch. Firstly, her fire in that early onslaught was tremendous and immediately brought a ton of emotion and energy to the whole thing. Her execution looked sharp as usual too and as soon as it was time to sell, she did just that…to an immaculate degree.

Few talents on the whole roster sell as well as Ember and that skill has been really pivotal to establishing Shayna as this division’s top heel. Excellent work from her as always.

Grade: A*

Final Thoughts

This week’s episode of NXT featured a genuinely brilliant match but once that had opened the show, it was always going to be hard for the rest to keep up its level of quality. That showed too as the show certainly dropped off after that lengthy opener which is understandable considering how good it really was. The main event was a fun sprint though and served its purpose so no issue there. Overall, a good episode of NXT that was unsurprisingly carried by its first 20 minutes as Dunne and Strong put on something quite exceptional.

Grade: B+

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