The NXT Report Card (4/18/18): Long Live King Almas

 Less than two weeks ago, I brought you an NXT TakeOver Report Card live from New Orleans. It was an emotional ordeal to say the least but it’s now time to move on as NXT enters a brand new chapter. Firstly though, I must apologize. Last week I failed to bring you a Report Card as I was sadly in the sky, heading home to beautiful England with memories both good and bad in my mind. However, if we’re being honest there wasn't much to see and you all owe me one anyway, I’m an absolute warrior that brings you this nonsense consistently.

I’m rested now either way and am looking forward to starting fresh...or I was at least. As many of you will know, Report Card royalty Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Zelina Vega are tragically headed to SmackDown Live. Considering this heart-breaking, but inevitable news, I think this week is a good time for us to come together and celebrate everything those two humans have brought to this awful series. Before that though, we have to actually watch this week’s NXT, which is admittedly a slight roadblock. Nonetheless, let’s get started.

WWE Women's Tag Team Title Bout Added To WWE Fastlane

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.

Mr and Mrs Wrestling Are Very Happy

Our night starts with Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae, still overjoyed by the result at TakeOver: New Orleans. Johnny explained that he’s dreamed of this moment and that it’s good to be home. Finally, he has his life back. The crowd is very happy and as much as I hate to admit it, I am too. Things then got very emotional as Johnny detailed his love for Candice, all rightly to applause from the 70s studio crowd in attendance. LeRae then took the microphone and announced that tonight, she’s taking on Zelina Vega as they look to put an end to their conflict.

Gargano then made his intentions clear, referencing the NXT Title that he’d come oh so close to not long ago. Look, Johnny will never be Dwayne Johnson but he’s comfortable in his own skin and we love him for it. Good stuff.

Grade: B+

Killian Dain cut a promo of his own up next. He did the “I’m an intense, super dangerous guy” shtick and it was just as unremarkable as that description sounds.

Ricochet

Though he shined in that now famed TakeOver ladder match, Ricochet now has to find his place as just another wrestler on the NXT roster and he started that process here, taking on Fabian Aichner. As you’d expect, Ricochet flurried early, flooring his foe with a sharp dropkick. However, Aichner soon turned things around and maintained control until Ricochet created some space for a double-down. His comeback followed with a few big forearms, a European uppercut in the corner and then some cool stuff I don’t know the name of.

The always spectacular Standing Shooting Star Press came next and before long, the 630 splash closed the show. Ricochet then cut a brief promo, coming across like an absolute star as he explained his intention to make an impact in NXT. The content of this promo was generic babyface stuff but the confidence and charisma of this performer is glaring and if you couple that with his other assets, it makes for a quite frightening package. There’s a lot of money to be made here, Ricochet is a genuine star.

Grade: A*

Fabian Aichner

I hate to keep repeating myself in regards to big Fabian but with his booking likely to remain stagnant, it’s tough to see any real evolution. His offense remains cool, the power stuff like his gut-buster and tilt-a-whirl slam always impresses. The control segment that followed didn't have much time to develop but he was an ideal opponent for Ricochet here regardless, providing a base whilst also being dynamic enough to create a neat, explosive matchup.  

Grade: B

Up next we got a recap of The War Raiders’ debut and then a video package about EC3, both of which ruled for different reasons. A Lars promo followed and with it came more evil laughter, incredible.

The War Raiders

Well here we go, it’s the debut of NXT’s newest tag team as they take on JC and Chris. Rowe floored one of these gentleman immediately, hitting a big kick to the brain in an instant. This young man’s partner then tagged himself in but he took a big throw before Hanson came in to wipe him out. An awesome pop-up power-slam and then a big knee from Rowe followed, leading to the Fallout which gave the Raiders a dominant debut win. This was perfection, they simply couldn't have come across more badass than they did here.

Grade: A*

Up next we got Shayna Baszler at the PC and she was being very mean. She walked into the women’s locker room and rudely hijacked things, even putting the ace of spades card where Ember’s name tag previously sat. Speaking to a handful of the women that make up her own division, Baszler said that you can either get in line or get out. This led to Dakota Kai leaving as Shayna bullied her out of the door. I love the contrast of these characters and better yet, the potential payoff that comes with their each interaction. Really solid, simple stuff.

A Kona Reeves vignette followed, no comment.

On the bright side, Pete Dunne then said he’s going to rip Roderick Strong’s head off. Much better.

Lars Sullivan

NXT’s two big blokes are here for a rematch of their bout from a couple weeks prior now and thankfully, the level of intensity was immediately higher than before. Dain got an advantage early but Sullivan caught his TOPE SUICIDA and sent him into the post before suplexing him on the floor. He then kept on top with some huge punches and even hit a German suplex, sending Dain to ringside for some reprieve. This encouraged Sullivan to head up top for an insane clothesline to the floor because of course it did.

He then hit his diving headbutt for 2 before retrieving a collection of steel chairs, ramming one into Dain’s throat in the corner. Killian fired back though, rallying big until his Divide attempt was caught just like at TakeOver. Sullivan hit a big slam as his counter but Dain kicked out at 1 and regained control immediately. In the end though, the combination of Lars Sullivan and steel folding chairs was too much as he turned the match around and got the win with the Freak Accident onto a chair.

This was tremendous fun and had all the aggression and fire that it needed from the start. Lars is awesome, amazing look and constantly improving skill-set.

Grade: A

Killian Dain

I’ve been slightly critical of Dain in the past but in what’s likely one of his final NXT appearances, he was excellent here. His fire was good and the crowd responded to him stronger than they ever have before in a singles match. The strike exchanges had nice physicality and Dain was a huge part of that, as was shown by his initial big headbutt that set the tone. His cool offense continues to be…cool. I appreciated that his actions felt organic when setting up spots too, he’d position the table but only whilst beating Lars up with a chair.

The kick-out at 1 spot deserved more also and his immediate follow-up of The Divide through the table made for a nice sequence. Overall, Dain looked great here and made me wonder if perhaps he’s just better off as the babyface in regards to match layout. SmackDown Live has a stacked roster so who knows where Dain will fit in but either way, this is a talented big man capable of being quite extraordinary. That much is clear.

Grade: A*

Before tonight’s main event, we got a video recap of the history between Queen Zelina and Candice. After that we saw some footage of The Undisputed Era doing a photo-shoot. I’ve got to say guys, I’m a big fan of Bobby Fish as the Ole Anderson of this group. That’s a grizzled brother right there.

Candice LeRae vs. Zelina Vega

Okay look, I’m not rating this match. I refuse to give this match some arbitrary grade and will instead just say that it was tremendous fun from start to finish. Queen Zelina looked fabulous here and pushed Candice immediately before LeRae gained control and headed up top. This brought the arrival of Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas who….hang on, hang on just one second. I now have to grade this match, I promised as much on that fateful day so long ago.

“From this point forward whether he is wrestling a classic, cutting a promo in Spanish or in the background of a pre-tape, Almas will always be graded A*" – Joe Hulbert, May 2017.

Sorry guys, forget that stuff about no “arbitrary grades”, this match will indeed have a grade after all, and rightly so. Either way, Almas distracted Candice here, allowing Zelina to get an advantage all whilst looking incredibly cool in the process. This brought out Johnny but Queen Zelina was unmoved, putting a dragon sleeper on Candice and nailing her with a big kick. What a ring general this wonderful woman really is. She even paid homage to King Almas next, hitting the big double knees as she continued to dominate.

She then went for the Hammerlock DDT but LeRae countered, firing back with some strikes including a huge missile dropkick off the top rope. By the way, Gargano and Almas being on opposite sides of the ring for all of this absolutely ruled. Speaking of such, Candice soon got the Gargano Escape and as Almas tried to interfere, Gargano applied the hold on him too. Zelina submitted and whilst I wanted this feud to end with Johnny dethroning ‘Cien’ for the NXT crown, this was a fun little payoff to a simply fabulous period of NXT.

Whilst I’ll miss them tremendously, it’s undeniably time for Andrade and Vega to head on up. They are brilliant, an elite worker with an almost throwback valet that brings a level of personality that impresses with each and every appearance. It’s been a fun ride to watch Almas climb the NXT ladder and better yet, prove me right with each astonishing performance. He’s certainly come a long way from partying with me in Brighton and that’s quite the feat considering those lofty and frankly luxurious heights.

Grade: A* (mandatory)

Following the match, Johnny grabbed a microphone and restated his title aspirations, officially challenging Aleister Black. The new champ came out immediately, looking slick with the shiny title over his shoulder. He accepted Gargano’s challenge and gave him a title match for next week. Well, that should be fun.

Final Thoughts

Well, this was a rather enjoyable hour of NXT. This was an episode that really felt jam-packed and that was honestly quite refreshing. We got an exciting Ricochet showcase, a sublime War Raiders squash, a fun main event and an enthralling big bloke brawl. Add in some neat promo segments and you have a very good episode of NXT. Don’t get me wrong, nothing on this show will stick with me for a long period of time but it was a super easy watch and that’s all you can really ask for in the grand scheme of things.

Grade: B+

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