Wednesday night at 8:00pm EST still continues to be my favorite time of the week. NXT has been producing some quality matches and build-up lately as we’re on a collision course with WrestleMania weekend and arguably the biggest event in NXT history. With TakeOver: Dallas looming around the corner, we still have some loose ends to be tied up and some momentum to be built. Special thanks to Fray who stepped in last week due to me dealing with boring and annoying work issues.
I haven’t seen as much of Johnny Gargano as I would have liked lately, and putting him in the ring with Elias Samson seems like a cruel and unusual punishment for someone who’s done a great service to NXT thus far. Johnny Gargano is also sporting some new and absolutely awful entrance music. Samson comes out of the gate with a mean streak, attacking the shoulder of Gargano and slamming him square into the bottom turnbuckle. Gargano tries to get some momentum back in his favor but is floored with a vicious forearm. Gargano tries to come up with a Listo Kick, but is hit with a knee in mid-air. Samson tries to capitalize but is rolled up fast by Gargano for the three count and the victory, ruining the undefeated streak of Samson in the process. The Drifter decides that he’s none too happy with his winning streak drifting away, and floors Gargano with a neckbreaker post match and continues to attack his adversary on the outside area before Apollo Crews intervenes.
Samson finally shows a bit of personality in defeat here and seems unhinged and psychotic in his ruthless attack on Gargano. You couldn’t pay me to care about the potential of a Crews/Samson feud for TakeOver: Dallas. Samson has no traction in his current gimmick, and Crews has been stumbling around lost in the shuffle ever since coming out on the losing end of his program with Baron Corbin. Johnny Gargano didn’t really come out the better here either for the victory, which obviously wasn’t the point. The point of the match was to establish the unfortunate program of Crews/Samson.
The last time we saw Rich Swann on NXT television, he was making a huge impact against Baron Corbin. Swann proved he was able to deliver the last time he was given an opportunity, and has the same chance tonight against the second longest reigning NXT Champion in the history of the championship, Finn Balor. Balor, like Crews, has soured for me over time. While I was genuinely excited about the prospect of a Balor title reign when he initially won the championship from Owens, he hasn’t done a lot until recently when he clashed with Samoa Joe at TakeOver: London in an absolutely brilliant match-up. While we get to be treated to the follow-up in just a little over a week, what do we get to see out of Finn tonight that shows that he’s prepared for Samoa Joe? Balor locks in a wrist-lock early, refusing to let Swann get any sort of advantage. Swann tries to pull a few flashy moves out of his arsenal to loosen the pitbull-like grip of Balor to no avail. Swann eventually battles out and scores with a huge hurricanrana only for Finn to go right back into the wrist lock. Swann breaks free and hits a beautiful single-leg drop kick and connects with a superkick that dazes the champion and dazzles the crowd. Swann sends Balor to the outside, only for Balor to charge right back in with absolute ferocity and return the favor, dropkicking the agile assassin Swann back into the barricade. Finn connects with one of the more forceful corner dropkicks that I’ve seen out of him and hits the Coup De Grace. Deciding that’s not enough, and likely looking to send a message to Samoa Joe, Finn picks Swann up and plants him square on the back of his head with Bloody Sunday for the victory.
A mere minute or two ago I mentioned how I wasn’t a fan of Finn Balor because he hadn’t really showed anything different since winning the NXT Championship. I’m perfectly OK with admitting that in this match, Finn showed something I haven’t seen in a while and that was aggressiveness and a willingness to deviate from his usually stale in-ring repertoire. In short, I liked what I was from Finn Balor, and if he performs the way he did tonight with Samoa Joe in a week in a half at TakeOver: Dallas, we will be witnessing one hell of a spectacle for the NXT Championship. Following the match, we kick it backstage to Emma who is being asked what will be different from her previous encounter with Asuka, whom she is facing in the main event tonight. Emma says she’s been training and that she wants to prove that she is not down and certainly not out. In Emma’s words: Asuka may be the Empress of Tomorrow, but she’ll be lucky if she lasts past today. For those that missed it last week, we get a look at Shinsuke Nakamura, the newest signee of NXT. The King of Strong Style will be debuting at TakeOver: Dallas facing fan favorite Sami Zayn in what can only be described as a dream match-up.
Tom Phillips makes a great point that I was thinking the minute I saw Alexa Bliss show up. The landscape of the NXT Women’s Division is incredibly crowded and burgeoning with talent. It’s important for newcomers, like Sarah Dobson, and veterans like Alexa Bliss to establish why they are superior athletes and that they possess the “It” factor that will elevate them to the top of the division. With Bayley, Asuka, and Emma currently at the top of said division, that’s a tall order to fulfill. Nonetheless, Alexa Bliss, much like Finn Balor, is on the attack with unbridled rage, humiliating and demoralizing her opponent with efficiency. Dobson hits a big boot to Bliss and then follows it up with what appeared to be an attempted cross body but ended up connecting square in her face with her knee. Murphy moves Alexa out of harms way, which opens up the window of opportunity for her to connect with the Sparkle Splash and the three count.
Nothing particularly impressive in this match, honestly. Bliss needs to work some more evenly sided matches and be able to look impressive in those before she’ll move up in my books. It’s nothing against her, but squashing and or dominating opponents for most of the match and then winning due to interference on almost every occasion just doesn’t look too impressive. Samoa Joe is being asked backstage about his feelings on Finn Balor, but walks out of the interview saying absolutely nothing. Man, everyone in NXT has some anger issues tonight…
Samoa Joe attacks Dempsey as he makes his entrance and locks him into the Coquina Clutch, then does the same thing to Danny Burke. After his ruthless assault on Dempsey and Burke, Joe looks square into the camera and makes it perfectly clear to Finn Balor: he will not survive TakeOver: Dallas. We get a look at the newly christened challenger’s for The Revival’s NXT Tag Team Championship, looking at the impeccable amateur background of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable. American Alpha gets better and better every single time they step into the ring, and they absolutely are Ready, Willing, and Gable to take home the NXT Tag Team Championship. Announced for next week after a very odd vignette, we’ll be getting Samoa Joe vs. Bull Dempsey and Alex Riley vs. Apollo Crews
Have I mentioned how much I love when Emma and Asuka lock up in the ring? Aside from, admittedly, being the biggest Emma supporter out of anyone on the Wrestling With Words staff, the talent that fills that ring when these two ladies clash is second to none. Asuka is also that once in a lifetime performer who has this innate charisma that radiates from her no matter what, much like her fellow Japanese signee Shinsuke Nakamura. Asuka and Emma lock up immediately, going fast and furious into the corner and forcing a break between the two. Emma controls the Empress of Tomorrow in the early going, flooring Asuka with strong strikes and headlocks. Asuka returns the favor, slapping a headlock of her own onto the Australian beauty. Asuka taunts Emma, who falls into the grasps of Asuka with a jumping armbar. Asuka then launches her long-time rival off the ring apron and onto the floor with a running hip attack. As we return from a short commercial break, Asuka looks to attack Emma from every angle, utilizing armbars and even and ankle lock. Emma trips up Asuka and regains her composure, attacking the small of the back and ripping the hair out of Asuka. A submission specialist in her own right, Emma gives Asuka a taste of her own medicine and looks to weaken her adversary. Asuka fights back in a beautiful sequence with Emma who slams her to the ground and goes right back to attacking the back. The pure look of agony on the face of Asuka right now shows you just how vicious Emma really is in the ring. It also shows something that hasn’t been portrayed since Asuka’s debut in NXT: she has an equal in Emma. Asuka has been absolutely brutalized and is in a weakened and defenseless state. This doesn’t last too long, however, as Asuka rallies back with a flying hip attack and vicious forearms and kicks, following with a spinning back fist. Emma returns the favor, launching a spinning back fist of her own, only to have Asuka retaliate with another hip attack. Asuka plants Emma with a german suplex, following with a single-leg dropkick and locking in the Asuka Lock, marking the end of the main event.
I’m fully prepared for someone to call me crazy for rating this as a four star match, but allow me to explain myself if you will. Asuka showed something we haven’t seen out of her since her debut: weakness and vulnerability. For a single moment, you were almost left wondering if there’s a chance she could finally be upset by Emma going into her huge match with Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship at TakeOver: Dallas. We saw two sides of Asuka tonight: vulnerable and vicious, which is something we yet to see out of her up to this point. It’s a great way to establish the type of match people should be expecting when Bayley and Asuka lock up at TakeOver: Dallas. Secondly, how often are you able to say that a competitor looked just as good in defeat as the one who did in victory? Emma accomplished that here, as she tends to do so very often with Asuka, and looked excellent and graceful in being beaten. It’s a shame that Emma has recently started appearing on the main roster as part of that garbage, half-baked feud involving Lana and Brie Bella, but it wouldn’t be WWE if they didn’t under-utilize the wealth of talent they have. With that, this week’s NXT is on the books as we have one more episode between us and TakeOver: Dallas.