Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: I spent the day (and a few after it) in the hospital, so the wonderful Bill Hanstock filled in and got an episode with a suuuuuuper-enjoyable vignette for TM-61, a suuuuuuper-sketchy promo from Lacey Evans, and a suuuuuuper-badass appearance from Shana Ba(e)szler. This week, we get two of those things again!
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for January 24, 2018. Open the curtains.
Best/Worst: The Scope Of All Of This Rebuilding
Technically, this episode of NXT was the go-home show for TakeOver: Philadelphia, but a good chunk of the episode was used to build (or rebuild) wrestlers for the home audience through a series of three squash matches.
First (and Worst), we had No Way Jose vs. Cezar Bononi, which was so meh it led the audience to deliver a “CM PUNK!” chant (which was quickly booed down, but still). No Way Jose ca. 2018 is literally no different than he was at any point in 2017, so why was he off TV? Nothing has changed in his moveset or character. As for Bononi, he still moves like molasses inside the ropes, as evidenced by the world’s most telegraphed swinging neckbreaker ever. Can we just put Jose on Main Event already as the newest member of Titus Worldwide or something so he can stop clogging up developmental? He’s as developed as he’s gonna get, and he’s destined to be at the bottom of the card anyway, so let’s just get on with it.
However, a Best goes out to Bianca Belair’s squash match against indie wrestler (and former Tough Enough contestant) Latoya “Luscious Latasha” Allsopp. Of course, the outcome was a foregone conclusion, as Belair has star written all over her (as well as “EST” written in her braid, which extra-dope), but it was a quick, effective way to remind everyone that, hey, this woman is badass. She spent the month of December wrestling Ember Moon in title matches at house shows, so if that’s not a vote of confidence from the back, I don’t know what is.
The last squash of the evening never even happened, as the Authors Of Pain demolished two randos who never even got the dignity of an introduction before the bell could ring. I give this a Best, too, only because I was frustrated with how long it took AOP to murder Street Profits last week, and this was a nice reminder of how dangerous this tag team actually is — and, win or lose, how sore Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly will likely be after Saturday.
Best: Discomfort Revisited
I have written at length about how wooden Ember Moon is when it comes to speaking on camera. (I have also written at length how generally insufferable Percy Watson is when it comes to doing anything.) But let me tell you something: This segment deserves a half-dozen fire emojis. Shayna Baszler looks like the goddamn Terminator or something, and just sloughs off every catty remark Ember throws her way, looking 100 times more intimidating just by having a little smirk on her face.
This feels a bit like when Brock Lesnar returned and murked John Cena at Extreme Rules, and I think something similar may happen this Saturday: Shayna might not leave with the title, but I think their match will cause the crowd to start murmuring and questioning whether or not everything else they’re seeing was fake, but this is real. In short: You’re f*cked, Ember.
Best: Goodness, Pt. 2
It’s not like we need a reminder about how good WWE’s video production team is, but the second part of TM-61’s reintroduction package was just as stellar as part one, taking a previously personality-free tag team and giving them a surprising amount of depth via a relatively simple backstory.
No disrespect to Nick Miller, but Shane Thorne’s gonna f*ck around and become the biggest singles star ever – dude has the look of a champion. But until then, look for TM-61 to be the team to dethrone the Undisputed Era for the tag straps, maybe even as soon as TakeOver: New Orleans.
Best: Two Deliverances
Really, this whole show was built around one match: Johnny Gargano defending his newly won No. 1 Contendership against the man whose spot in the No. 1 Contender’s Tournament he took, Velveteen Dream. The episode opened with a spectacular promo from Dream, and when he made his entrance (his first time in front of a TV audience since TakeOver: WarGames in November!) in a cut-up Johnny Wrestling tee, I practically turned into a Tex Avery wolf.
Dream/Gargano was as good as we probably thought it would be (it’s still mind-blowing that Dream is only 22 and has figured this much out this quickly), and the crowd’s nonstop dual chants of both competitors’ names for two straight minutes at the start of the match made this main event feel like a real main event.
Highlights included Gargano’s slingshot spear once again getting countered (that happens literally every match now, but I still hold out hope he’ll connect, like Ric Flair coming off the top turnbuckle), and Dream’s epic top-rope misfortunes throughout the match, from deliberately teasing a high-risk spot to get the audience to boo him to actually trying a high-risk spot a few minutes later only to get caught by Gargano, then finally actually connecting with a high-risk spot on Gargano a few minutes after that with an avalanche Death Valley Driver, which should have put anyone down for three but resulted in only a two-count, making Johnny Wrestling look nigh-invincible.
The ending was exquisite, too: The entire sequence of Gargano connecting with a superkick, then dropping to his knees to look directly in Dream’s eyes, then slowly applying the Gargano Escape? A-f*cking-plus, man. I can’t wait for Tommaso Ciampa to screw you this Saturday.
I personally could’ve done without the post-match stuff with Andrade Almas, and I wish Gargano wouldn’t have touched the NXT Championship at the very end, but that’s a minor quibble with an otherwise-incredible 20 minutes of NXT.
Next Week: We’ll get the TakeOver: Philadelphia pre-show, which will feature TM61 returning to action, as well as Nikki Cross vs. Lacey Evans. But before that, we’ll get TakeOver: Philadelphia on Saturday, so be back for the Best and Worst of that this weekend!