The NXT Report Card (2/28/18): “Johnny Jobless”

This time last week, I was putting on a brave face. ‘Johnny Fraud’ I said, “easy work” I claimed…well guys, I was lying. Believe it or not, I’m disgusted to admit that at times, even I doubted King Almas. Already at 3-0, I pondered if even ‘Cien’ was heroic enough to pull off such a feat but much to my delight, he actually did it…and all on his own too. On four occasions, our champion has pinned Gargano clean as a sheet and whilst Johnny is a known hack, that’s still incredibly impressive.

I will say though, that I don’t appreciate some of the recent discussion surrounding that wild bald man’s “interference.” From where I was sitting, the crazed fan had no impact on last week’s result and I refuse any argument otherwise. Regardless, this was an effective way for me to get through an intro without discussing the upcoming episode so with that being said, let’s get to it!

Nikki Cross Returns To WWE Raw On 5/17/21 As Sole Female Lumberjack

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.

We begin with a recap of last week’s main event, including Johnny’s “emotional” farewell. This all made me very happy and the next sight only made it better.

The Velveteen Dream

Any NXT that opens with The Dream is good with me and after some fabulous antics with Kayla Braxton, he was ready to face Tyler Bate. Grappling exchanges got us started and I loved the combination of Dream’s character work with Bate’s technique early. Those sequences highlighted Bate’s speed advantage and that was the initial in-ring story as Dream got quickly frustrated. He soon began to adjust his gameplan though and used his physicality for the cut off spot. That brought about his heat segment and the usual aggression that comes with it.

He controlled things for a period but Bate soon fired up and scored with a nice flurry of offense. Airplane spin followed but Dream fought out of it in an NXT first. Bate maintained momentum nonetheless until Dream turned things around with a beautiful spinebuster. A big strike exchange came next and a pair of headbutts left both men floored. Bate rallied first though and dropkicked Dream after he’d climbed the top rope. Nonetheless, Dream pushed him off and hit Purple Rainmaker for the win.

The Dream was back to his best here and looked great, putting in another impressive showing. A great talent for sure.

Grade: A

Tyler Bate

Though he was the inaugural UK Champion, it’s always been hard for me to see where Bate fits into NXT and WWE long term. My conclusion was always that he’d be a beatable babyface (not a slight) and that’s where he’s found himself lately. Fortunately for him though, it seems to be a part of some kind of character progression. No idea as to what potential payoff that’ll bring but that’s the deal nonetheless. In-ring, Bate continues to be a pleasure to watch either way and that was no different here.

I continue to enjoy his style as though it’s not my personal favorite genre, he’s good enough to make it genuinely compelling. He also has just enough personality to emotionally hook me along the way. His main issue really is that he finds himself standing alongside a ton of other immaculate talents. More than anything else, that’s really what limits his current role. It should be said that the talent of both these men is incredible considering their youth. This match featured a combined age of 42 and that really is impressive.

Grade: B+

Paul Ellering is now standing above me and he’s talking about the Dusty Rhodes Classic. Akam and Rezar then shouted. Tremendous.

Following that alarming sight we got a much better one, as Johnny signed his letter of termination….wonderful!

Adam Cole

The Nexus is here now and wow, Adam Cole is still super over. He’s wrestling Cezar Bononi but before the match could begin, he grabbed a microphone and mocked Cezar’s “future star” award. He then offered Bononi a spot in the The Frontline but jumped him instead and said his own name as well as “BAY BAY.” This taunting allowed Bononi to come back and wipe out all three members of The Corre. He almost pinned Cole too but was distracted by Fish & O’Reilly and turned into a Cole superkick.

A knee to the back of Bononi’s head followed and that gave him a quick win. Though brief, I think that as far as presentation, this is the best these three have come across yet. Maybe that’s just me though.

Grade: B+

Up next was a video package all about Shayna Baszler, Kairi Sane and more importantly, their history together.

Following this, The Street Profits did a wonderful skit in which they asked themselves who will win the upcoming Dusty Rhodes Classic. Happy to say that this played out just as awesome as it reads, what a fun act this is!

Kairi Sane

Main event match time now as we get a sequel to last year’s MYC final. This rematch was set up in Baszler’s NXT debut but their issue only truly escalated recently. Early on, Sane refused to wilt under Baszler’s bullying attempts and instead flurried before being out-grappled. She used her speed for odd successes and after sustaining some damage to her arm, made a comeback including her big spear.

Her patented corner offense that I’ll never know the name of came next but either way, she couldn't put Shayna away. A great spinning back fist maintained Sane’s control but Baszler halted her top rope climb and got the submission win immediately after.

Though she lost the match here, Sane’s appeal as a babyface couldn't have been clearer and the dynamic between these two is a lot of fun. Again, it’s just a matter of positioning her but regardless of what Sane is doing or where she’s doing it, this is a trusty babyface with a world of in-ring talent. Really good showing.

Grade: A

Shayna Baszler

The following isn’t meant as a damning indictment of Baszler, but instead just my own take on her current level of performance. She’s decent and for her experience level, marvelous but the more matches she has, the more limitations I personally see. I found many of her strikes here to be lacking and more than that, some of her mannerisms were rather clunky too. She was just a little off in general I thought. I reiterate though, these are the kind of flaws you’d expect from a pro wrestler just over two years into her career. She’s really only just getting started.

Moreover, Baszler’s general style when in control is refreshing and her character work is generally quite good. She has a natural feel for heel facials and such which is undeniably a major key for her in this current spot. I also liked the post-match segment in which Shayna shouted at the announcers, calling Ember a coward. It felt organic, real and just really suited her presentation overall. This was a fine showing from Baszler here, even with the aforementioned issues.

Grade: B-

THE CHAMP IS HERE

Oh yes, they are here…our heroes are finally here. Dressed smart and smiling wide, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Zelina Vega are here to speak in facts and nothing else. Speaking of such, Vega introduced Almas as the greatest champion in NXT history. FACT. She then mocked Gargano and explained that Andrade has no interest in crowd respect. Instead, he’s here to earn money and fame. ‘Cien’ began to speak next and shouted every word like the 80s world champion that he well and truly is.

It’s still tough for Andrade to cut a promo in English but calling Gargano “Johnny Jobless” was excellent nonetheless. However just as Almas was about to leave, Aleister Black emerged to make his full entrance from the Centre Stage crowd. Killian Dain arrived before he could say a word though and those two then did a wacky brawl that ended in Dain’s Divide. Solid closing segment even if a run-of-the-mill one.

Grade: B

Final Thoughts

By modern NXT standards, this week’s episode was a relatively weak one. Don’t get me wrong, with two good matches and some solid story progression, this wasn't bad by any means and in a different era would probably be quite impressive. Considering all the exceptional weeks we’ve seen recently though, it’s only right that expectations go up and I’d say that’s the case here. Overall, a decent episode that appears slightly weak by comparison of what has come in recent times.

Grade: B-

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