2017 was a great year for NXT and brought many positives. We saw Report Card favorites like Ember Moon and the great ‘Cien’ claim gold whilst other tremendous men Robert Roode and Roddy Strong also thrived. However, if there’s one thing that 2017 missed, it was The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Perhaps the traditionalist in me just loves the concept rather than its execution but either way, I’m very happy to see it back. This week, the 3rd Dusty Classic finally begins and we also get the recently built Aleister Black – Killian Dain match. With that established, let’s head to 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.
Authors of Pain
Well here we go, our Dusty Rhodes Classic opener is kicking us off here as AOP take on TM61 in a rematch of 2016’s final. In-ring, Rezar jumped on Thorne from the first bell as the heels immediately took control. A quick tag allowed the Aussies to rally though as some tandem offense turned things around. However, though flashy TM61 couldn't sustain their attack and it was soon countered as AOP began to dominant.
This felt like a more aggressive heat segment from AOP here, especially initially before they admittedly settled into a pace. After being worked over, Miller scored a counter and made the tag. Thorne then run wild but Rezar soon kicked his head off before AOP hit a dope powerbomb -neckbreaker combo. Miller broke the fall though and evened things up until Rezar launched Thorne out onto the apron whilst Akam nailed a wonderful suplex into the corner.
The Last Chapter followed and AOP had advanced to the next round. It’s nothing new but Akam and Rezar looked really good here and continue to impress. Honestly, they rarely disappoint.
Though they lost, this was a very encouraging performance from TM61. Their initial shine had good fire and Thorne’s big dive brought some nice flash along with it. I’m still not 100% sure on their general presentation but I do like the effort to give them opposing roles. I think that goes well with Miller using more standard offense too, like his counter DDT here for example. Thorne’s hot tag remains tremendous. Great energy and relatively unique content that’s delivered with enough vigor to make it stand out.
They both sold well too and generally came across like a very strong babyface team. All things considered, really good performance.
We now move to Lord Steven talking to the press but he seemed cold and quickly walked off. Pete Dunne then arrived and discussed his recent UK Title defense. The man in question: Roderick Strong emerged wearing a beanie, congratulating Dunne. The Undisputed Era then wandered in. Cole looked great, as did Fish. O’Reilly looked…yep. Either way, Cole mocked Roddy which led to Dunne informing Adam that he’d in fact won nothing since arriving in NXT. FACT.
Following this, Eric Young spoke about fists whilst Alexander Wolfe laughed. Nikki Cross then took Wolfe’s back and laughed. Dain didn't laugh though, he was very angry.
Another showcase for Bianca Belair is up next as she takes on Miss Drew Renee. Bianca is getting visibly more confident with each showing and with that is bringing a real smoothness to her presentation. She opened up with an aggressive kick here before impressively stringing together some suplexes. Her finish followed and this was another quick win for ‘THE EST OF NXT.’ I really like that due to her athleticism, Belair is being shown as a more dominant female. She’s still a bit clunky simply due to inexperience but comes across as a star nonetheless.
Staying in the women’s division, a Lacey Evans interview followed as she called Dakota Kai classless. Liar. In all seriousness, Evans is a decent talker thus far but in the midst of her promo, Shayna Baszler arrived and Lacey understandably scurried. Baszler continued her ‘Ember is scared’ gimmick and also impressed, showing solid delivery in this short segment.
Heavy Machinery = Nice Aged Beef
To mass boos, Tommaso Ciampa wandered out next. He made his way to the ring but couldn't say a word within the crowd’s chanting of “WE WANT JOHNNY” and more. He then walked away before returning only to storm off again. Basically, this crowd doesn't like Ciampa (not sure why) and he’s a very angry man that is seemingly quite unstable…very sad. He did snatch a Johnny Wrestling sign before leaving though and then smashed it into the canvas with his crutch. That was fun, very fun.
It’s a brief episode of NXT this week so that means that we’ve already reached our main event. After being immediately jumped, Black sustained some damage before rallying with a sharp strike flurry and his moonsault to the outside. After that, he was cut off and tried his best to sell for quite a few minutes. He did a pretty good job but it wasn't easy as this whole portion lacked energy (more on that later).
Eventually, he fired up with some strikes and his comeback looked great before one final Dain cut off. In the end, Aleister countered Dain’s finish and hit Black Mass out of nowhere for the win. Black was solid here and always has a tremendous aura when on offense. This in general was nothing to write home about though.
For me, this was a real mixed bag. I enjoyed Dain’s early aggression and loved the execution of his signature offense down the stretch. However, I found everything in between to be rather ponderous. In control, Dain felt aimless and it was very much a case of heat feeling like stalling until a more considered final stretch. It was just all a bit half-hearted to me and at times almost felt outdated. That’s a weird criticism for someone as capable as Dain too, as he’s far from a lumbering big man at his best.
I’m not saying Dain was bad by any means but this match solidified some of my issues with his current singles work. It just needs a middle ground for me, the start and finish are good but that control segment needs more vigor.
While probably better than last week, this episode of NXT left me with relatively similar thoughts. The opener was a lot of fun and that Ciampa segment worked too but with the bar (not that one) now so high in my mind, this episode was good but not much more. If the main event had reached a notch or two higher, I’d probably view this week’s show more positively but as it didn't, this balanced out as a somewhat forgettable 45 minutes of NXT. Nonetheless, I did enjoy that Dusty Classic rematch a lot and Heavy Machinery’s 10 seconds made me smile. Thumbs up in that sense.