The NXT Report Card (7/25/18): Champ Ciampa

We are less than a month away from TakeOver: Brooklyn IV, but yet here we are for what could quite possibly be the biggest single episode in NXT TV history. The most evil human on earth finds himself in a title match and he’s defending his belt against the defiant hero Tommaso Ciampa. Seriously though, the direction for Brooklyn will certainly become much clearer with this week’s main event and that’s always a good thing, especially when it’s quite obviously going to result in some in-ring insanity along the way. Let’s rock and roll pal.  

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.

Report: No Plans To Have NXT Title Or NXT Women's Title Defended At WWE WrestleMania

This week’s show opens with a big match video package all about the title fight main event. This was unsurprisingly well-produced and honestly, has me all kinds of fired up.

Adam Cole

The NXT North American champion is here and he’s taking on Sean Maluta in a non-title match. Big chants for Cole here as he backs Maluta into the corner before following up with some taunts. A little more arrogance followed until a brief Maluta flurry made Cole snap into motion, yanking his foe off the 2nd rope. He then went to work with some ground and pound, roughing Maluta up before super-kicking him out of the air and closing the show via Last Shot.

Post-match, Cole grabbed a microphone and said that he’s the most buzz-worthy superstar on any brand. He points out that he’s defended his title across the globe but before long, Ricochet arrived for some verbal banter. The flippy king says that he owes Cole an apology because tonight, he didn't dodge his competition. He claims that since becoming champion, Cole has been a coward but that he should prove otherwise in a match with Ricochet at TakeOver: Brooklyn.

Much to Full Sail’s chagrin, Cole refused but Ricochet again called him a coward and then did a flip thing that was quite cool. As the champ backed away, Roddy and O’Reilly arrived to help him out but as they headed to the ring, The War Raiders showed up, forcing The Era to bail. However, they then walked directly into Moustache Mountain and after taking some punches, jumped the barricade and scurried to safety.

As for Cole here, he came across like a star and unsurprisingly so considering Full Sail’s obscene love for him. The match itself was short but I always enjoy Maluta. In fact, I actually covered the man in this series’ very first edition…*shudder*…14 months ago. Now, for those of you that are new, back then I used to rate almost everyone and I’d offer genuine insight too. Considering that, allow me to just re-use my prior take, adding depth and reminding the world of my prior enthusiasm:

“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 (small Cole). 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?).”

I do remember that Joe, I really do. Anyway, Cole was good here.

Grade: B

Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal

Backstage now as William Regal conducts a contract signing between Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane. The champion says that she’s a different wrestler nowadays, one with a real killer instinct. Kairi responded by simply signing the contract, saying that they both know that she can beat Baszler. Shayna feels though, that just like Candice and Kai, Sane doesn't have what it takes. Again, Kairi responds by saying that she’ll win and whilst this was seemingly a very understandable comment, it enraged Baszler who signed the contract and after one final statement, left.

With Shayna gone, Sane again told Regal that they both know that she can beat Shayna. This wasn't the usual in-ring contract signing but served its purpose decently without leaving any real impression. Baszler handled herself well though.

Grade: C+

Elsewhere, Tommaso Ciampa is warming up and Mauro reminds us that he’s been tweeting Muhammad Ali quotes. Of all his amazing twitter content, that’s an interesting choice…

Before we head back to the ring, it’s first time for a recap of Dream deserting EC3 in London. Next week, the top 1%er will take on Kona Reeves. Fun.

Lacey Evans

Showcase match time pal as Lacey Evans takes on Tenilla Price, an apparent Lucha House Party fan that deserves pain for that reason alone. On cue, Evans bullied her into the corner, quickly launching Price across the ring and landing a bronco buster. Some wackiness followed against the ropes but Evans then went back to work, landing some strikes as well as her slingshot elbow drop. A swinging neckbreaker came next but after successfully timing a counter, Price then ran directly into the Women’s Right. That was that.

Not a whole lot to see here friends, just a quick win for Evans.

Grade: B-

Back off backstage now as Bianca Belair discusses her injury before saying that she’s still undefeated. It’s time to focus on rehabbing as when she’s back, Belair claims that she’ll get what she deserves.

Note: Belair actually said “UN-D-FE-TID” so I’m really only assuming that this was a reference to the word “undefeated”, a term typically used for those yet to suffer defeat. To be clear, I could just be misunderstood.

Shayna Baszler is back again now, talking to an interviewer when Candice LeRae emerged to ask why she keeps talking behind her back. LeRae was pulled away and her acting here was…..questionable.

NXT Championship

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Aleister Black (C)

Main event time pal and more importantly, TAKEOVER GRADING time too. Ciampa is out to vociferous boos and Black arrived to a triumphant cheer, this is almost too good to be true. Some posturing from Ciampa early had Black all fired up and an intense lock-up got us started. The challenger immediately went to work too, grabbing an arm as some grappling exchanges commenced. Tommaso was a step ahead here, coming close to snatching a quick pin as he countered the champion early. He made sure Black knew about it too, pointing out just how close he was to the title win.

Aleister responded with some roll-ups of his own though, briefly taking control. I love when title matches start with this kind of caution, it really adds some importance to the whole thing. Back to the action now as Black attempted his first strike in anger after some more baiting from Ciampa. It was avoided by Tommaso though, and he bailed before almost hitting his rope hung DDT after Black naively gave chase. Aleister himself evaded though, dropping Ciampa with a big kick on the outside.

The challenger quickly cut him off in response, going to work with some strikes in the corner before eating another couple of big kicks. Some showmanship followed, with Black giving the sadistic “Ciampa wave” as a stare-down commenced. Tommaso was suddenly hesitant but soon re-entered, landing a body punch and after taking a couple more kicks, sending Black heavily to the floor. He immediately seized too, throwing Black around and smugly sitting cross-legged on the steel steps. He then went to work in center ring, talking trash and grabbing a hold.

A backbreaker came next as Ciampa began to really target that area, wearing Black down with a range of offense. Black’s now damaged back would cost him too, preventing a comeback attempt as Ciampa maintained control, smartly applying a cloverleaf. Eventually, Black would make it to the bottom rope, quickly leading to a big strike exchange on the apron. The champion unsurprisingly came out on top, unleashing a salvo of kicks before targeting Ciampa’s bad knee. Both men soon found themselves floored though, with a clash of shoulder tackles doing the damage.

They’d soon fight to their feet but Black quickly made his comeback, hitting all the usual awesome offense and avoiding Ciampa’s rope hung DDT too. Tommaso just couldn't match Black in a striking battle here but stayed in the match, surviving just in the nick of time on more than one occasion. Ciampa begged off but Black continued to unleash big kicks nonetheless, battering the challenger and even looking for the aforementioned DDT himself. Tommaso escaped though and cut Black off on the apron, next heading up top to land a bizarre looking DDT for 2.

The follow-up knee attempt was blocked but that didn't stop Ciampa either, emphatically flooring Black with a massive lariat regardless, and exposing his knee. Aleister fired back though, landing a knee of his own for another dramatic near-fall. This match has been fabulous thus far and is really kicking into overdrive here down the stretch. Speaking of such, as Black looked for Black Mass, Ciampa almost caught a quick roll-up but the champion kicked out, unleashing a massive sequence of awesomeness in response.

Full Sail was well and truly rocking at this point with Ciampa kicking out and avoiding Black’s big moon-sault, driving the champion into an innocent cameraman. This inexplicably distracted the referee and in the meantime, Tommaso hit Black with the crutch but Aleister somehow kicked out again. He then avoided Ciampa’s DDT and hit a big dive before walking right into the very DDT that he’d just escaped. Black still kicked out though and in a match of this importance, that felt like a worthwhile false finish.

Now desperate, Tommaso exposed the concrete floor and looked for a DDT on the outside but the referee discouraged him before being inadvertently bumped off the apron. With the referee down, Aleister hit Black Mass which meant for a visual count but nothing more. Black was obviously irate at this point but as he looked to finally close the show, Ciampa gouged his eye and grabbed the NXT title. This brought out Johnny Gargano who landed a superkick but in taking back the belt, he accidently hit Black with it.

Ciampa then removed Johnny and with Black stunned, hit some kind of wrestling maneuver to get the title win. The drama of this finish gave me actual chills. Now granted, that could be due to the intensity of the fan that was blasting me in the face at 5 am, but there’s also a good chance that it was legitimately due to the immense execution seen here. We then got multiple shots of upset fans, and I simply couldn't have been happier with all this. Ciampa raised the belt high and we go off the air with him proudly soaking up the hate.

This was a tremendous main event that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Ciampa winning was nice change of pace creatively too. Also, they still protected Black in a big way and rightly so, as he can’t just be an afterthought in the Johnny/Tommaso drama. As a match though, this was a reminder to me of what Ciampa can achieve in a straight wrestling contest. I really thought that he was just remarkable here. Whilst not quite Moustache Mountain/Undisputed Era levels of great, this is certainly one of the finest matches that I’ve covered on NXT TV thus far.

Grade: A

Final Thoughts

When you have a world title match of this stature featured, there’s no real reason to waste any other big matches. That was indeed the case here too, with only a couple showcase matches to accompany the main event. Fortunately, the title match delivered in a big way and made this a memorable episode of NXT in doing so. This was a standout moment for sure, and that historical element combined with the actual match’s quality created an hour that’s very much worth watching.

Grade: A

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