The NXT Report Card (2/21/18): Title vs. Career

Ladies and gentleman, it’s finally time. After years of fraudulent behavior, Johnny Gargano’s swansong is finally here. Yes that’s right, he’s fooled the people for long enough and tonight it ends at the hands of Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas. Some optimists are probably reading this with their fists clenched, actually believing that ‘Johnny Wrestling’ could really win the NXT title tonight. Embarrassing really. They’ll soon meet reality though when King Almas reigns supreme once again, the greatest champion in all of sport today.

In all seriousness friends, this is a moment to celebrate as wrestling fans. Tonight is the 4th part of a truly wonderful rivalry that hopefully, will one day be remembered very fondly. With that being said, no pressure lads, let’s get to it!

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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.

Celebrating King Almas

I had a good feeling about tonight’s show beforehand but tears are now streaming down my face. Believe it or not, the first thing seen on this week’s show was all about ‘Cien’s emotional rise to greatness. His journey from midcard babyface to premier heel, summed up in just a couple of minutes. This then transitioned to Almas’ rivalry with Gargano and overall, laid the groundwork perfectly for tonight’s main event. Mr Helmsley, thank you very much.

Grade: A*

The Velveteen Dream

Goodness gracious, if there was any doubt beforehand this proves what I’ve been saying all along: NXT really is just booked for my approval at this juncture. Starting with an Almas video package and going straight into The Dream, fabulous. My lord he’s wrestling No Way Jose too, Joe Hulbert Promotions is in full effect. Some hip gyration shenanigans quickly commenced as Dream took control before taunting himself into trouble. The Dream then sold for a period before countering Jose’s big punch with an awesome dropkick to turn things around.

He then hit his dope Death Valley Driver and Purple Rainmaker for the win. Following his victory, Dream cut a promo about winning awards that he didn't actually win. Tremendous. Fun match here but not Dream’s most crisp showing in all honestly. Still great entertainment nonetheless and Dream’s overness continues to amaze me.

Grade: B+

No Way Jose

A hero to all humans on our earth, No Way Jose is a wonderful man that I enjoy greatly. However, as I said months ago, Jose needs a change or at the very least, a new direction if he’s staying in NXT. Personally, I like this act as it is but if the powers that be feel the same way, he should clearly be on the main roster by now. No Way Jose can be a fun addition to either RAW or SmackDown, even if only as a preliminary act and currently, he’s completely stagnant in a constantly evolving NXT.

Nonetheless, he performed well here and looked good, bringing nice babyface energy as always. Not much else to say honestly, it is what it is.

Grade: B-

Up next, Lord Steven Regal announced the Dusty Rhodes Classic’s return, as well as the fact that its winner will get a tag title shot at TakeOver: New Orleans. Wonderful.

Nikki Cross

Another showcase match for Nikki Cross followed, as she took on Vanessa Borne. Cross exploded with strikes at the first bell and went crazy until being halted with a slam. After sustaining a brief control segment, Cross eventually fired up and made her comeback, hitting a diving cross-body and her finish for the win. Brief match that gave me little to add as far as Cross goes, she’s very over and very good.

Grade: A

Just before we got to our main event, a brief recap of last week’s segment between Aleister Black and Killian Dain followed. This is really all just delaying the inevitable though honestly as there’s only one thing that makes this episode worth watching and its coming up next.

NXT Title

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas (C) vs. Johnny Gargano

​​​​​​It’s time, it’s actually time. Our main event is here and so is King Almas with it. For obvious reasons, we are grading this one TakeOver style so let’s get started. In the very first grappling exchange, Almas rolled Gargano up which was a lovely example of this match’s drastic consequences. That trend continued too with more pin attempts coming quickly for the champ as Gargano was forced to scurry to the outside for a moment of regrouping.  He soon made a comeback though and sent Almas to the floor before Vega halted his attempt at a dive.

Candice LeRae then quickly inserted herself and hit a tope of her own on Zelina, running her off and leaving both men alone in center ring. Almas soon turned momentum around regardless, countering an attempted slingshot DDT to score some offense on the apron (THE HARDEST PART OF THE RING). Almas continued to control things, applying his rope-assisted armbar before getting aggressive with some ground and pound. Gargano made his comeback before long though and scored a flying headscissors as well as the slingshot spear for 2.

Gargano’s superkick attempt missed though, and Almas elevated him up for a tremendous buckle bomb that he followed up on with the double knees. Johnny kicked out as Mauro panicked and then somehow managed to counter the Hammerlock DDT too, even if he still got sent into the ring-post for his troubles. He fought back again but another slingshot spear attempt left him in a submission on his damaged arm. Both men then went for the other’s finisher and began to trade violent strikes. Almas came out on top and violently hit double knees to the back of Johnny’s head for another 2.

In a flashback to their Philadelphia classic, Almas then looked set to hit the double foot-stomp from the top but Gargano countered and launched Almas to the floor. This time he capitalized too, scoring a tornado DDT outside the ring. Incredible “JOHNNY” chants followed as Gargano hit the slingshot DDT but Almas kicked out and this match suddenly reached a whole new level. An exchange of tired strikes followed and it resulted in Almas flooring the referee with his rapid spinning back elbow. With the referee now floored, Johnny applied the Gargano Escape.

Then out of nowhere, Tommaso Ciampa appeared to assault Johnny with one fatal crutch shot to the spine. Almas then returned to hit feet and hit the Hammerlock DDT for a fourth win over Johnny, ending his NXT career. Clean as a sheet, KING ALMAS does it again…all whilst Percy Watson cried his little eyes out. Gargano now had to bid farewell and whilst he’s a known fraud, he does have quite good wrestling matches so I wish him the best in his future endeavours. As he walked off screen, the camera panned to Ciampa, who grinned nastily whilst waving goodbye. Fabulous.

Another excellent match between these two masterful performers and this is a series of matches I’ll forever cherish. Gargano is the quintessential babyface and in this feud Almas has cemented himself as one of the finest villains in wrestling today. It’s just a magnificent pairing and along with their unmatched chemistry, it has led to simply beautiful pro wrestling. I do wonder if there’s one more chapter left in this story though…

Grade: A*

Final Thoughts

This show was built on one match by design and unsurprisingly, that match delivered in a big way. There’s really not much else for me to say, this episode featured a sublime main event that neatly encapsulated what makes both Gargano and Almas so exceptional. As for the first half of the show, Dream and Cross got nice wins and that was about it…which is fine because with a one hour format, a single match of the main event’s quality is more than enough. On their own, ‘Cien’ and Johnny made this a very worthwhile episode of NXT TV.

Grade: A

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