The NXT Report Card (5/30/18): Sharing Spotlights

It’s only been 24 hours since Cedric Alexander and Buddy Murphy made me very emotional but after re-watching 38 times, I think I’m ready to move on. Well actually, I’m probably not but I have no choice, its NXT night which for me, means another night of Report Card mediocrity. Luckily, just like 205 Live, this week’s NXT comes with a title match as Shayna Baszler defends her NXT belt against Dakota Kai. Other than that? I have absolutely no idea but I’m already outperforming my usual standard so with that in mind, let’s head to Full Sail.

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.

Former TNA/IMPACT Wrestling Announcer Don West Diagnosed With Brain Lymphoma

We get things started with a recap of last week’s closing segment involving Ciampa, Gargano and LeRae. Mauro was narrating this which made it feel like a PPV preview from 1994 but either way, he announced that both men are banned from tonight’s episode. However, they will wrestle in a street fight at TakeOver: Chicago. This had a very old-school feel for me which means that my take is a simple one: it ruled.

The TakeOver Title Match is Set

Now inside Full Sail and the champ Ali Black is here! Remember him? Hey come on now, it’s not his fault…he’s just following a longtime NXT tradition. All babyfaces must become less fun when they win the title, that’s just the rules. Nonetheless, Full Sail still loves him so who cares what I think…never-mind, I did this joke last night too…wow my creatively is much more thinly spread nowadays. Back to rasslin, Black grabbed a microphone and said that since New Orleans, being the champ has been life-changing.

He then reminds the audience that regardless of who is his next challenger, he only needs one shot to make them “fade to black.” Lars Sullivan’s music then hit and he made his way down to the ring. The big man says that there’s no dispute regarding Black’s next challenger and that according to Lord Steven Regal, he’ll challenge the champ in Chicago. Lars feels that he’s different to the rest and that at TakeOver, he’ll take everything that Black has ever worked for. He then just throttled Black out of nowhere but Aleister punched free and threw Black Mass.

In a genuinely cool moment though, Lars caught Black’s foot and within seconds, floored him via Freak Accident. Sullivan then raised the belt above his head. Whilst the kick catch was undeniably awesome, in general this segment came across a little strange to me. It was somewhat forced in its format and quite blatantly just a rushed way of setting up the TakeOver title match. With the way Black’s promo set this up, it didn't at all feel organic which is odd for NXT.

As for Sullivan, I just personally feel that no matter how well or confidently he speaks, his voice will never be a good fit for his awesome look. I totally get the ‘intelligent monster’ angle but I like my rasslin simple and with a guy like Lars, I’d rather he just be a mute destroyer.

Grade: C+

Following this, we were welcomed back from a break by the band Fozzy. They featured a familiar lead singer, a foul-mouthed drunk that recently made a real splash in NJPW. Believe his name is Chris something, really talented guy for someone so new to the biz.  

Up next we saw a Candice LeRae tweet. She doesn't support this street fight talk. Cool?

War Raiders

Another showcase match for The War Raiders now as they take on poor George Hickson and Cody Vincent. Mr Hickson run right at Rowe, hitting him in the face to no avail. Rowe then hit Hickson’s arm with his own head and this already is great fun. Hanson came in next, flattening Hickson before throwing him in the corner and encouraging a tag. Vincent complied and walked into a big lariat before being assaulted by a massive suplex by Rowe.

The Raiders then strung together some tremendous offense in the corner and after wiping out Hickson, soon hit Fallout for the win. This was great in that their offense rules but it lacked the sheer intensity of their first squash, I personally prefer these things more rapid in approach.

Grade: A

Next we got a video package hyping up tonight’s main event, this included a recap of Kai’s conflict with Baszler thus far. Footage of EC3 arriving at Full Sail followed.

Cathy Kelley then interviewed Lacey Evans and whilst her delivery was fine, this was a reminder of this character’s lack of depth. It’s so cliche that it almost feels out of place in NXT. Then again, she’s feuding with a ‘Pirate Princess’ so I’m probably just over analyzing things. Next week is the rubber match either way and based on last week, that’ll be a lot of fun.

EC3 

It’s time for part 3 of the EC3 in NXT tale now and his opponent here is Fabian Aichner. EC3 immediately cut him off with a knee to the gut before bullying Aichner into the corner. The Italian fired back though, landing a big chop and back elbow as well as a gutwrench suplex. Aichner’s springboard attempt was costly though as EC3 pushed him off, sending him to the floor. Bizarrely, Gargano then walked through the crowd, grabbed a microphone and announced that his TakeOver match with Ciampa is official.

Very good Johnny but my god pal, there’s a time and a place.

Understandably, this seemingly befuddled EC3. He was so stunned in fact that he walked directly into a tremendous Aichner crossbody from the top rope to the floor. EC3 quickly turned things around though, flooring Aichner and hitting his finish for the win. This was fine and served its purpose. Nothing particularly standout on EC3’s side of things but I sense that may have been somewhat by design. Speaking of such, this may have been the subtle start of an upcoming EC3/Gargano feud.

As for Aichner, he’ll go ungraded and I’ll quote myself from six weeks ago:

“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” – Joseph James Hulbert, master of the NXT Report Card.

Grade: B

Who is Bianca Belair?

If there’s one thing I love about NXT, it’s these profile videos. They are grounded and feel real whilst still being so well produced that they make the talent come across as super important. In this segment, Bianca explained that she’s always been good at everything and I of course relate to this in a big way. She then went in depth on her quite awesome family before explaining that she wants to carry on that legacy. I relate less to this but will still attempt to understand nonetheless.

Her sporting background was then profiled and Bianca explained that because she was so naturally gifted as a kid, she’d only do the bare minimum in order to avoid too much attention. Belair then went into her experience with cross-fit and how it led her to NXT. We then saw some footage of Bianca training at the PC, and this is where her heel slant came out as she happily bragged about being the best. You see, unlike when she was a kid, Belair isn’t going to avoid the attention anymore.

Excellent stuff for a very talented woman, hard to see anything but big things in Belair’s future.

Grade: A*

Ricochet

We now go from one obscene athlete to another as Ricochet is here, bad entrance theme and all. He’s taking on the debuting Chris Dijak and after evading an initial attack, released some rage-filled right hands. He then landed some big kicks, sending Dijak to the floor before attempting a big dive. Dijak caught him though and turned things around. After sustaining some big offense, Ricochet avoided Dijak’s very scary looking moonsault and landed some big strikes before an insane vertical suplex that genuinely popped the crowd. The 630 followed and in a tremendous sprint, Ricochet had got the win.

Post-match, Ricochet grabbed a microphone and I love that they are constantly having him cut in-ring promos rather than being overprotective. This serves him much better long-term. Ricochet says that though he hates to admit it, The Dream deserves the spotlight as he’s one of the most entertaining superstars in NXT history. However, Ricochet says that the spotlight has exposed Dream’s flaws and last week, it showed how much of a punk he really is.

Dream’s music then hit and he arrived looking, walking and talking only as he can. He said that last week, The Dream showed that anything Ricochet can do, The Dream can do better. Agree. Ricochet disagreed though, claiming that the only thing Dream is really showing is how much of a coward he is. He then challenged Dream to a fight (with different words that frankly, aren’t befitting of a journalist of my calibre). Dream refused this and instead said that he’ll see Ricochet in Chicago. He feels that there, he’ll prove that anything Ricochet can do, The Dream can do better.

Ricochet then somersaulted over the top rope and landed on his feet, daring a stunned Dream to show him. Look, I may be a cynical man but this is genuinely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen a human do. This was like watching a superhero enter a CGI fight scene….but in real life. The whole package just made it look so awesome, including the way Dream reacted. The crowd erupted for it and this was amazing segment for Ricochet as it perfectly captured what makes him so special. Big thumbs up.

Grade: A*

Chris Dijak

It’s at this point that I should probably come clean. For all of his immense athletic tools, Dijak was never a guy I connected with before signing to WWE but I hope that’ll change in NXT. The issue for me is that as a fan of the little things so to speak, Dijak’s general body language and mannerisms always felt off to me. On the bright side, his offense is nothing short of obscene for a man of his frame. There was still some power stuff in here too, with Dijak catching Ricochet for his cut off and choke-slamming him onto the apron.

That contrasted perfectly with the follow-up springboard elbow drop also, a move that really showed off Dijak’s offensive range. The moonsault is genuinely frightening to watch but again, highlights Dijak’s flashy skill-set. Whilst he lost a short match here, I love the idea that he tried it all in his NXT debut as that feels realistic. Considering the circumstances, Dijak did a great job here.

Grade: B+

Before we head to the main event, we are told that next week we’ll see Danny Burch vs. Roderick Strong….MY GOD.

Dakota Kai

Well here we go, it’s Dakota Kai vs. Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Title. After being bullied early, Kai defiantly pulled Baszler around but was gut-punched before Shayna began to focus on her leg. Kai sold just as well as you’d expect, making the most of Baszler’s limb work and furthering the match’s emotional pull. After being put in an ankle lock, Kai eventually made it to the ropes but was dragged back to the middle regardless.

After getting the people even more on her side, Kai kicked free with an enziguri which had Baszler staggering (more on that later) and she followed up by dropping Shayna with a bicycle kick. Dakota then hit her big kicks in the corner but as she went for her finish, Baszler pushed her off and caught the choke for a submission win. This wasn't a match intended to be some kind of classic but it told a good story and neatly continued this conflict without weakening its core story.

Kai remains a great babyface, that’s the only real takeaway on her side of things.

Grade: B+

Shayna Baszler

Aside from all the details, Shayna’s real job here was to be a believable bully and it’s undeniable that she did all of that aspect brilliantly. I loved the way she swept Kai’s leg out early as well as the almost child-like rough house tactics in the corner. Speaking of such, the peak of this match came when Baszler just punched Kai in the stomach. That ruled. Equally excellent was Shayna violently stomping Dakota’s leg into the mat.

Baszler then focused on the ankle and that made sense considering Kai’s kick-heavy offense. Shayna’s limb work here was genuinely brutal and she was taunting throughout too, getting increasingly aggressive with strikes before applying an ankle lock. When Kai made it to the ropes, Baszler kicked Dakota’s arm off, dragging her to the middle and reapplying the hold. Now back to Kai’s comeback and more importantly, Shayna’s selling of it.

That wacky stagger sell has me very torn. A part of me kind of appreciates the thought behind it but man, the execution was just a little rough. That style of sell can look bad coming from even the best of worker so with someone still relatively new, I totally appreciate that it’s not the easiest element to nail. Overall though, Baszler showed why she’s a very good heel and did a great job with the aspects most pivotal for her own character. The bullying shtick really was great here.

Grade: B+

After the match, Baszler reapplied the choke which brought out Nikki Cross who was going insane. A face-off followed but Shayna opted to leave instead. Cross didn't care though and chased Shayna up the ramp, snatching the title and going insane with it in the ring. She then put the belt between them and dared Baszler to retrieve it. As Shayna attempted to do just that though, Cross grabbed it and from what I could understand, asked for a title match with Dakota as the referee.

Kai sold this request magnificently and raised the belt with caution, almost like she was Ole Anderson in 1992. Baszler then confronted the official (Kai) which left her vulnerable and Cross seized, hitting her finish and getting a “pin.” Celebrating as though she’d actually won the NXT Women’s Title, Cross celebrated in the crowd and went crazy. This was fun and most importantly, felt like a fresh way to build to a TakeOver title match.

Final Thoughts

It was always going to be tough for the booking office to top last week’s triumph but overall, I’d say this was a pretty strong episode of NXT TV. The main event was good and with Cross’ wackiness, this show closed in relatively hot fashion. The real highlight of this show though came in the Ricochet/Dijak match as well as the tremendous post-match interaction with Dream. That was incredibly well done and then with some Lars, War Raiders and Bianca sprinkled in, this was an episode not short on worthwhile wrestling content.

Grade: B+

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