Throughout the years, wrestling fans have asked for many things. Undertaker vs. Sting, a John Cena heel turn, a Cesaro title run and of course, a Joe Hulbert weekly feature on Fightful.com. Well after the multiple social media campaigns, I’ve decided to finally give in and from this week forward will be attempting to cover NXT weekly. The plan is that each week I’ll be providing a report card of sorts, grading every performer to appear on that particular episode. The grades won’t be just on the performer’s individual showing but their overall presentation and characterization. What makes NXT unique is the range of experience and skill on the roster so hopefully, this will make for some mildly entertaining content. If not, I apologize profusely.
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.
After a brief shot of Bobby Roode entering Full Sail and the usual opening video, the show began with a Drew McIntyre showcase match against Sean Maluta. I still personally find McIntyre’s mannerisms to be that of a heel but I suppose it’s not worth going against the grain when he’s only just returned. Either way, his intensity was there as always and an eye injury only heightened the effectiveness of his aggression. I maintain that at times this didn’t feel like much of a babyface character but that’s likely more indicative of me still internally pretending that it’s 1985.
McIntyre of course won and next cut a short post-match promo. I personally find McIntyre’s babyface promos rather one note but this was fine and served its purpose. Sidenote: when did gaining Wesley Blake’s attention become a big deal? Either way, I for one absolutely can not wait for the former NXT tag team champion to shock the world next week.
Since his Cruiserweight Classic match with Kota Ibushi, I’ve always enjoyed Sean Maluta when featured. I think he has a pretty good look and already seems very comfortable in front of the camera. He also always brings a physicality that allows you to easily ignore his relative lack of height and that’s a neat skill to have when opposite an opponent like the massive McIntyre. I thought Maluta did his job rather well here and my only criticism frankly is that I was expecting the incomparable ‘Beautiful Blake’ (remember that?).
After last week’s angle I expected the match between McIntryre and Blake this episode but I was unaware that we were taking a slow build approach with this mega-match. Makes sense though considering 'Blake’s recent momentum on TV……
Next we got a recap from last week of Sanity’s post-match attack on Roderick Strong. We then saw a clip of Strong saying that he wants revenge. This led to an Eric Young promo in response. I’m not the biggest fan of the Sanity act but Young is a good talker and this was a particularly strong promo I felt, even if admittedly short. Young spoke with conviction and confidence whilst agreeing to a TakeOver match with Strong. He also referenced his opponent’s family in a dark fashion befitting of the character. Though brief this was a very good showing from the always versatile ‘E.Y’.
Next we got the first of multiple short videos spotlighting some of Hideo Itami’s NXT moments thus far. Unless it’s something as pivotal as the ‘Who is Roderick Strong’ pieces, segments like this will go unrated. These were good though and reminded the audience of Itami’s tumultuous NXT run thus far which in turn made him a more relatable figure.
We followed this with a video package promoting Saturday’s UK Championship match between Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne. It retold the story of their impeccable first match and did a nice job building anticipation for the rematch. I left this wanting Dunne to absolutely ravage Bate which provides a decent insight into how awful of a person I truly am. In all seriousness though, I’m sure this will be an excellent match just like last time.
We had another ‘Velveteen Dream’ vignette next. “Captivating, Dominating and Intoxicating” were the descriptors used here but time will tell on that. These vignettes are rather run of the mill for me but I’m still intrigued to see the eventual re-debut.
Now we moved on to the ‘Exclusive Interview with Asuka’. I don’t always connect with Asuka’s aura of invincibility like many others do but she came across straight up badass right here. Her absolute disgust at the questions being asked was great and I enjoyed the two-faced characterisation they showed as far as her interactions with fans. I still do slightly chuckle at Asuka’s pronunciation which is particularly telling considering that I’m still personally struggling with English, let alone delving into Japanese. Also, I did expect Nikki Cross to jump Asuka when she left the car but that’s simply because I think everything is in some way an homage to Arn Anderson (it is).
I was looking forward to this next match as it featured two somewhat highly touted female prospects that we haven’t really seen much of. First let’s start with Evans. Speaking of such, what a lazy name choice for someone called Macey Estrella. Surely they can do better than that right? Regardless, Evans look is obviously great and her background as a Marine makes her immediately unique. I found myself slightly confused by her characterization but that may say more about me than the actual gimmick itself. From bell to bell I was impressed with Evans. She’s obviously new but moved with grace and poise admirable for her experience level. Most of her offense looked decent too so from my vantage point, this was a good showing for the female prospect.
I want to preface all of this by saying that my intention isn’t to be unnecessarily critical. 90% of my problems with Deville here had absolutely nothing to do with her actual performance but instead this gimmick and its current usage. First thing I’d say is that I like the MMA look with the braided hair but I’d refrain from too much makeup if that’s the direction. It sends mixed messages in my mind. Also, whilst I’m certain that Deville would absolutely massacre me in any kind of physical confrontation, I’m not sure her shadow boxing really encapsulated the imposing figure they hoped for on this occasion. This is nit-picking of course though.
I thought that Deville’s actual strikes looked pretty damn good here though and a lot better than the last time I saw her so props for that. Now I have to critique the match layout though. Firstly, Deville completed a double leg takedown but instead of using it to dominate Evans on the mat, she sat up and waited before going for a pin. Next she took Evans’ back and secured the body scissors. As Nigel McGuinness pointed out, Evans wasn’t protecting her neck but Deville didn’t once look for the Rear Naked Choke, instead just holding the position like everyone else ever.
The way she acted on both occasions was absolutely fine for a normal professional wrestler but if we’re doing the MMA gimmick, she needs to act unique in some way or it’s completely pointless. Also, the whole ‘taking off the gloves’ aspect is a rather daft. The only logical reason for Deville to wear the gloves at all is to protect her hands like any smart fighter would. Considering that why would she remove them? How does that benefit her? If this spot is imperative then at the very least save it for the desperation spot in a major match, then it might mean something.
Having Deville floored by a right hand was a bizarre choice too and though it looked fine, the step-up kick seemed an odd fit as a finish. I’d personally suggest a strike more regularly seen in MMA fights but nonetheless, that’s not a big deal. I want to be clear that I thought Deville herself actually performed well and that the grade is more indicative of the characterization than it is her own ability. I’m only being negative because I feel both the performer and the gimmick have potential but they need to be creative with the match layout as it’s all very disjointed right now. The win for Deville suggests that she’ll be featured more soon so I hope some alterations are made.
Next up was the clear highlight of the show for me. Kassius Ohno and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas went back and forth in a very good match that Ohno eventually won. Say what you will about Ohno’s look but his work is undeniably impeccable. His strikes are basically unmatched in their sharpness and always look great, this week was absolutely no different. Not only is Ohno’s offense great though, he can sell too and showed that nicely here when necessary. For a man of his size Ohno moves incredibly well and even busted out a moonsault here. I’m glad for Ohno that he came out the victor as I honestly feared he’d get lost in the shuffle slightly.
Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas
It’s at this point I should probably come clean. 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*. I have absolutely no shame in conceding that I may be slightly in love with the man and frankly, I’m uncertain as to why you’re not. Seriously though, Almas is criminally underrated. He looks and acts like a star and his work is incredibly well-rounded. He’s aggressive and nasty but also has a ton of flash. More than that though, absolutely everything he does has clear polish and class. Sidenote: it was interesting to see Thea Trinidad at ringside and a little bizarre that they didn't mention or spotlight her at all.
Almas lost again here and though it’s all clearly part of an intriguing story, I refuse to relent. ‘El Idolo’ should win every time and the fact that he’s not WWE champion outrages me. It’s at this point that I’d like to formally propose a campaign for change. Just like the thousands of campaigns that convinced me to regretfully dive into this project, I think we should take to our Twitter accounts and proudly tweet in protest. It’s a well-known fact that hashtags are the absolute best way to change WWE’s plans so I suggest:
Let’s get this very important movement started folks.
Grade: A* (Mandatory)
Finally, the show closed out with a segment building up to Saturday’s main event. Bobby Roode came out to cut a promo and I know this has been said a lot but damn does that new title resemble the TNA X-Division belt. Whether that’s a good thing or not is for you to decide but it’s unavoidable regardless. I appreciate that Roode has his detractors but I’m definitely not one of them. I see Roode as a great fit for champion and regardless of how cool his theme music is, he carries himself like an absolute star. This was a pretty good promo too and soon led to Itami’s arrival.
I’m not going to grade Itami but he looked kind of cool nonetheless and eventually laid Roode out with the GTS. I’m sure this will be a strong match and the Chicago crowd’s response to the GTS will be a fun extra aspect.
NXT has been rather good as of late and this week was no different. Some focus on the tag title match would’ve been nice and they could have done more with the main women but overall, this ticked most of the boxes as far as promoting TakeOver: Chicago. As far as this report card I hope it was mildly insightful and if not at least somewhat entertaining. Next I’ll be tackling Saturday night’s event in this same format as I try to mourn the TakeOver absence of Andrade Almas. That should be fun and as far as this week I can really only give it a big thumbs up.