Ladies and gentleman, tonight is a night for celebration! Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘oh no, Joe’s about to make a big deal out of doing 10 report cards,’ you’d be wrong though. Whilst I concede that 10 NXT Report Cards is a magnificent achievement by me, I try not to bring too much attention to myself and my own immaculate talent. It’s for that reason I’m actually talking about tonight marking the 400th episode in NXT history. In all seriousness, it’s pretty insane to think that there have been so many episodes of NXT, even if 120 of them have been destroyed and hidden from public access. (Before you comment below, I’m fully aware that many of these episodes can still be found on WWE’s YouTube channel, I just don’t care)
Regardless, throughout this very Report Card, I’ll be counting down my top 10 favorite NXT moments ever in order to celebrate this occasion properly. In fact, let’s start that now:
10th Favorite NXT Moment Ever: Jushin "Thunder" Liger turning up in Brooklyn and pinning Tyler Breeze for no apparent reason.
Now onto this episode though, it must be said that wrestling fans look sure to be in for a treat tonight. I’m sure many of you can’t wait for Bobby Roode and Roderick Strong to wrestle each other for 25 hard minutes. Me? I’m sweating bullets and praying that Hunter gives me a Velveteen Dream appearance like he did last week. Otherwise, this will probably be a painful experience for both of us. With that disclaimer out of the way (no not that one) let’s get on with this awfulness.
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.
9th Favorite NXT Moment Ever: Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas murdering Oney Lorcan on more than one occasion.
Kassius Ohno and Hideo Itami
Ohno? Oh ye…..hang on, I’ve already done that joke haven’t I? Wow, these things are really getting bad. Either way, our show stars with Kassius and his best mate Hideo teaming up as they take on Sanity. Early on, these two gentlemen murdered Alexander Wolfe with some awesome strikes and that was pretty fun. Hideo’s offense, in particular, looked consistently good on these tapings, it seems he’s very much shaken any remaining rust and I’m looking forward to him being in more major singles matches down the line.
NXT Pop Quiz Question: Why does Percy Watson call Kassius Ohno ‘MONEY’?
Answer: “Because that rolling elbow is MONEY.”
The story told here was basic but still solid as Ohno was out of position for a tag and Hideo then understandably neglected him afterwards. This cost the babyfaces the match but they had a nice showing regardless.
8th Favorite NXT Moment Ever: Bobby Roode calling the Full Sail fans fat losers (paraphrasing).
Sanity (Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain)
I don’t really have much new to say about either party here as this was a TV tag match very much within the standard WWE formula. The heels heat segment was fine and they played their parts in making the babyfaces look good both afterwards and before it. Both men certainly had some shining moments in there too. Decent showing for a solid heel duo, even if a little forgettable.
Up next we had an interesting little segment involving Ember Moon and Ruby Riot as the pair debated who should next face Asuka. I’m not going to grade this as there was very little to it but I do want to commend them for mixing up the format, both in general and for Moon in particular. I personally felt that Ember came across much more confident here and the serious athlete vibe worked for me. It kind of contrasts with her original characterization but at least she came across natural. Ruby did a good job too.
7th Favorite NXT Moment Ever: Elias Samson being the man behind ‘The Return’.
Now we had a recap of last week’s incredible main event. I wrote a lot about the Asuka - Nikki Cross match so if you haven’t read that, check it out here.
Next up was a McIntyre promo in which he made his intentions clear regarding the NXT title. As a wrestling fan, I like Drew as I think he’s an excellent wrestler. However, I find that as a babyface there’s nothing outwardly likable about him that would make a casual viewer cheer. I guess it could be his ability to just murder people like a badass but I feel that he’s lacking some charm to go with it. I don’t know exactly what I’m saying here but it’s all just rather flat for me. That’s all.
6th Favorite NXT Moment Ever: Kevin Owens burying the Full Sail audience.
We are now told that Johnny Gargano is back next week. This is fantastic news for earth.
The Iconic Duo was now interviewed but I spotted Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas after ten seconds and stopped listening to them. It sounded good.
Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas
In the background appeared the famed Mexican man and he was arguing with a woman before she walked away. Kayla Braxton then approached him to ask questions but he walked away. I obviously shouldn't grade this but in the first ever edition of the illustrious Report Card I made a promise to you all:
“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, 2017.
Never has that promise been more relevant than it is right now. Great job ‘Cien,’ now please return my calls!
5th Favorite NXT Moment Ever: BULL-FIT. That is all.
In the lead up to our main event, we got a replay of last week’s excellent Roddy and Roode video package. It’s still great.
NXT Pop Quiz Question: Before the biggest match of his career, what’s on Roderick Strong’s mind?
Bobby Roode then did a short little interview in which he ended on the word ‘glorious’ but let his own theme music say it for him. More evidence that he’s the best wrestler ever.
4th Favorite NXT Moment: ‘Beautiful’ Blake appearing on TV.
Bobby Roode vs. Roderick Strong
As was the case last week, I’ll be grading this match on the ‘TakeOver scale’. Let’s get started. As you can probably tell by the wrestlers I regularly endorse, I’m a big believer in the ideology that if you want to be a star, act like one. I believe William Regal once said that most people make their minds up on a wrestler within moments of first seeing them, I couldn't agree more and that’s why carrying yourself like a star is so important. Bobby Roode is a great example of that, just his presence elevates a match’s importance and that showed early here.
Early on there was a neat trend of Roode’s arrogance almost costing him as Roddy scored some offense before the champion even really got started. This worked particularly well for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Strong is great at sharp and crisp offense and that really captured the subtle story. Opposite him, Roode sold it perfectly just with his face, let alone with his constant attempts at scurrying. Much of Strong’s early success was aimed at Roode’s back and that was a great layer in the first portion of this match. It’s rare nowadays that you see babyfaces focus on a single body-part and in my opinion, that’s dumb. Babyfaces can still be smart wrestlers and I loved that we got some of that here.
It should be noted that this work on the back was helped by Roode’s selling. One moment, in particular, was Roode selling his own back after hitting a blockbuster. Just that one second Roode took to sell made everything that had already happened worthwhile. Perfect. I enjoyed that Strong had a veteran poise to his desperation early but in the end got too anxious and injured his leg on the steps. In kayfabe as well as reality, Roode is a legitimately brilliant wrestler and for that reason, he immediately focused on the leg and took advantage of the opportunity. As always Bobby’s limb work was strong. Very focused, all believable and adequately aggressive.
3rd Favorite NXT Moment Ever: Alexa Bliss making a gimmick out of slapping The Vaudevillians every single week for around a month.
There was a time in my life that I’d slightly ponder why limb work and selling mattered so much. To explain my position on it now, I have to tell you a brief story first. It was September last year and I was sat in the O2 Arena, watching Charlotte vs. Sasha part 396. From my vantage point, Charlotte was working a rest hold so I began to check my phone. The kids behind me though were very much invested. As Charlotte drove her knee into Banks’ spine, the young boy said to his friend “oh no, she’s targeting her back, that’s Sasha’s weak spot!” These kids were enthralled and hooked by what I personally took for granted as ‘the heat segment.’
Why? Because I’ve watched so much that I take the little things for granted and don’t properly register them in my mind. That doesn't mean the casual viewer does the same though. Now was that the only time that those kids reacted? Absolutely not but it was one of their strongest reactions and it was all due to something that was completely safe for the two wrestlers performing. Selling allows you to do a lot with a little and connect emotionally without even taking a physical risk. Selling is sympathy. That’s emotion and if you ask me, pro wrestling is all about emotion.
But I digress. As Roode gained a sustained advantage he quickly became arrogant and that cost him briefly as Strong made a short comeback. Great stuff for both as characters. It should be said that Roode’s focus on the limb worked even better here as the audience in attendance genuinely seemed to want Strong to win. That’s obviously key. Strong sold well enough on his eventual comeback too, even if it wasn’t quite dramatic enough for my disturbed mind. Personally, I like someone to sell in a fashion that makes me physically uncomfortable and it never quite reached that level here. Strong did sell well though nonetheless.
Roode then cut Strong off again, this time with a chop-block before landing a Glorious DDT for what seemed certain to be the win. Strong kicked out though and the gravity of the moment translated perfectly through Roode’s stunned expression. That scored a 9.3 on The William Regal/Alexa Bliss Facial Expression Scale by the way. The crowd’s reaction to the kick-out was strong but I feel it would’ve been more impactful on a TakeOver as I sensed many simply refused to believe Strong was winning the title on a TV Taping. Either way, Roddy came back and hit his own finish. The referee counted the three but Roode’s leg was under the rope. We had a Dusty finish on our hands, folks.
2nd Favorite NXT Moment Ever: Titus O’Neil trips and falls during the NXT Keg Carry Challenge.
Roddy was celebrating but the referee told him that the match would continue. Before he could roll back in though, Roode cut him off and hit a Glorious DDT on the floor, all right in front of Strong’s family. He then closed the show, hitting his finish in the ring and pinning Strong whilst staring directly at them. This solidified a darker edge to the champion. Behind all the flash and cockiness, Roode is a nasty man willing to do anything to keep a grip on his NXT title. More than that though, this match elevated Strong immensely and got him over big in the process. You can’t get better than that.
Pro wrestling is built on memorable visuals and Roode blowing a kiss at Roddy’s family just moments before Strong himself embraced them was a standout moment in my mind. I have to say that this was one of my favorite matches of the year and honestly, in the whole history of NXT. The work was brilliant and we had a genuine heel/babyface split with two clear and understandable characters. I kid a lot but when pro wrestling is like this, it really is a beautiful thing.
For two weeks in a row now NXT has delivered an incredible main event that I’ll remember for quite some time. I really appreciate how different the two matches were too and I love the variety, something that I don’t think NXT has always had. I wouldn't say this week was quite as good as last week overall as it had less much-watch material elsewhere. It was still sublime though and we even got an Almas spotting.
It’s now time for me to focus on Sunday’s Great Balls of Fire event as I prepare for the first ever main roster PPV Report Card. This could be the first of many or the end of me as both a man and a writer. Time will tell. Here’s what I do know though: When I was a child my mother would often look at me and say “son, one day you’ll make it to the top. One day you’ll be covering an event titled Great Balls of Fire and guess what? You’ll be excited and emotional about it.” At the time I laughed at her but look at how right she was! Speaking of such I need to go and get some sleep in. Otherwise, my chances of getting through Sunday’s Ironman Tag match will decrease even more. See you then folks!
Before I leave you all though, we first need to find out my favorite moment in NXT history. Drum roll, please…….
Buddy Murphy returning home to Melbourne, Australia, and Corey Graves commenting “this may be the last time we ever see Buddy Murphy.” Buddy legitimately hasn't been seen since.
Please comment any thoughts below or even share your own personal favorite NXT moments! Or just tweet me abuse on Twitter like many others already do. @JoeHulbert5 on Twitter in case you were wondering by the way, guys. I’m off for some sleep.