On 7th December, WWE aired its 277th Episode of NXT, filmed at Full Sail University in Winter Gardens, FL on 29th November. The main event of the show saw Kassius Ohno taking on Johnny Gargano for a spot in the NXT Championship Number One Contender's Fatal Four-Way. The show also featured another qualifier for the aforementioned match in the form of Trent Seven taking on SaNItY's Killian Dain & Ruby Riott taking on Sonia Deville in a No Holds Barred match. But was it any good?
We Open on an announcement from William Regal. Regal says that in light of Drew McIntyre's injuries at TakeOver: WarGames, there will be four singles matches, the winners of those will go on to compete in a Fatal Four-Way for the Number One Contendership to Andrade Almas' NXT Championship. Tonight there'll be Trent Seven vs. Killian Dain & Kassius Ohno vs. a mystery opponent after Velveteen Dream also sustained injuries at WarGames.
Andrade Almas [La Sombra]: A Championship Celebration
Almas and Zelina Vega come to the ring looking like the title has been there's this entire time, Vega says that the audience are all witnesses to the beginning of a historic reign, that we should respect the man, embrace the legend and rise for the for the NXT Champion, this provokes mostly boos but some people rising and chanting 'si' for the champ, Full Sail boos the heels, Almas takes the mic and tells us that he told us he would be champion and now he is, he then says I am the champion half a dozen times, he beat Drew and he hurt Drew, he's sorry for that, he then says a bit in Spanish before reminding that this is NXT that he and Vega are NXT and he is the champion, El Idolo.While the belt couldn't look more right on Almas' shoulders (except perhaps around his waist, when did that go out of fashion?), it seems a mistake to let Almas take the lead on this promo. He's not the worst, even considering it's his second-language but you have Vega there to act as his manager, let her manage. Still, some solid stuff here and Almas has been so good this year that even if he's a heel, he does deserve it.
Lars Sullivan is interviewed backstage by the litany of floating hands, he's asked about his qualifying match against Roderick Strong, he puts over Strong as a competitor and says that Roddy is really handsome, Lars isn't, Roddy fights for his family, Lars doesn't have a family, he only cares about winning that match and then winning the fatal four-way and winning the NXT title, when asked what winning the title would mean to him, it would prove no one can stop him and when he wins the title, everyone will see that.
NXT Championship Number One Contender's Tournament Semi-Final // Killian Dain [Damian O'Connor] def. Trent Seven // Pinfall
Trent Seven had a pre-match promo on the YouTubes where he talked about how he won a Battle Royal in order to earn his shot in this match. Killian Dain on the other hand, appears to have earned this match purely by virtue of being a big lad.
This is only the second ever match between the two former ICW Heavyweight Champions with the first, back in April 2016 at ICW Fight Club, ending in a victory for Dain. Trent runs straight in, lighting up Dain with slaps, Dain hits Seven with a forearm and a John Woo dropkick, he keeps Trent grounded with corner stomps before hitting a forearm and a body slam for a 1, locking in a grounded cravat, he keeps down Trent till he can fire back with further slaps, he goes for the Seven Stars Lariat but Dain kicks it away, Trent runs straight into a running crossbody for a 2, back on his feet and Trent gets straight in with a Seven Stars Lariat for a 2, Trent tries to pick up Dain but Dain is too damn big and gets Trent in a fireman's carry of his own, hitting a wasteland, a senton and a Vader bomb for the pin.
This was a fun, little encounter with both men bringing an intensity that you don't often get in these shorter matches. While it was obvious that Dain was going to win as the full-time talent, I don't know whether it was necessary to have Dain kick out of the Seven Stars as it didn't make Dain look significantly better but it may have devalued Seven a little. I am definitely biased as I've made it clear, I don't think you can ever have enough Trent Seven but I'll be interested to see if Dain can step up to the opportunity he's given
The Undisputed Era are backstage, Cole is talking about how he told us that he'd win, this is the episode where everyone loves to say told you so, anyway next week he has a qualifier for the NXT title against Aleister Black and he's noticed Black has been on a tear and the only reason he hasn't lost yet is because he's never faced Cole. Fish and O'Reilly also talk about how next week they want to take a shot at the NXT Tag Team Belts.
No Holds Barred: Sonya Deville [Daria Berenato] def. Ruby Riott [Heidi Lovelace] // Referee Stoppage
So they're really going all-in on this second 'T' in Riot huh? The two women sell the blood feud between them as they run straight for each other with Deville grabbing Riott into a waistlock takedown, she picks her up for a second and hits a gut wrench suplex, Riott gets a quick roll-up but Deville kicks out at 1, Riot hits a big combo throwing a roundhouse and a back kick, a back elbow and a suplex but Deville is straight back up and trapping Riott in the ankle lock, Deville takes advantage of the No Holds Barred rule as Riott crawls to the ropes but there aren't rope breaks, Riott crawls to the top rope and pulls Deville into deadly nightshade sending us to the ad-break, back from the break and Riott has Deville in a seated submission but Deville uses her free arm to gouge Riott's eyes for an escape, Deville hits grounded kicks to the ribs and forearms, Riott manages to knee her way out but from standing, Deville takes her back down with a leaping lariat for a 2, Deville locks Riott in a side triangle, twisting round her arms to keep her from escaping, eventually Riott elbows her way out again and Deville tries for another leaping lariat but Riot catches her with an STO, Riott hits strikes, a forearm, a back elbow and a knee strike, she slides over the ropes, hitting a middle shoulder barge and a slingshot side facebuster for a 2, Deville rolls out of the ring and Riott follows with a crunchy tope suicido onto the ramp, rolling Deville back in, Riott climbs in gingerly and gets caught with a vicious roundhouse and is trapped in a rope-hung triangle choke, passing out to give Deville the win.
This was another excellent match from the two of them and seemingly, their actual farewell match. While it was well-laid out with Deville once again taking advantage of Riott's injured ankle as well as the less restrictive rules of the match stipulation and Riott once again playing the superb fighting-from-underneath babyface, it would be a satisfying next chapter in these two's feud if they were just in NXT but with Deville positioned as one-third of the heel trio up on RAW and Riott as the leader of Smackdown's trio, it seems an odd choice in terms of continuity to have the leader of one beaten by another's underling. It's not even like they have the excuse of having filmed this match before both women were called up as this takes place after. If this is the last we see of these two between the yellow ropes, I wish them both luck up in the big rooms and if they continue to perform like this, I'm sure they'll be great.
Ember Moon is backstage being interviewed about her title win, she says that it is a dream come true and that she wants to take this momentum and be the greatest NXT Women's Champion of all time, up come Peyton Royce and Billie Kay of The Iconic Times to ask her who she actually pinned to win her title, reminding her it was in fact Nikki Cross, Ember can't be bothered to deal with their shit so she asks them which one of them wants a match next week, ignoring the fact that in NXT continuity, Moon pinned Cross but Sane pinned Royce so Sane should have a match first. Anyway, they eventually agree Royce can have a go first.
In two weeks: Tyler Bate gets his WWE UK Championship rematch, just a mere seven months after he lost his title. We see a recap of the WWE UK Championship Tournament Final because even a good episode of NXT needs some padding.
We get a mysterious promo for someone coming 'SOON'. The O's in 'SOON' were stylised like spades so I'm assuming it's Queen of Spades and Mae Young Classic Finalist, Shayna Bazsler.
William Regal meets with Kassius Ohno, presumably to explain to him the updated rules for the War Games match. Everyone must know!
Next Week: Adam Cole v Aleister Black & Ember Moon v Peyton Royce.
NXT Championship Number Contender's Tournament Semi-Final // Johnny Gargano def. Kassius Ohno [Chris Hero] // Submission
Surprisingly, considering how much both men have worked for the same companies, this is only a third-ever time match, having had contests in AAW and Dragon Gate USA with Gargano coming out on top in both prior match-ups. This is one of those matches where the atmosphere is already there before both men have even shook hands, which they do to start us off, they go in for a lock-up but Ohno just throws aside Gargano, they lock-up again and Gargano reminds us once again why he earnt the last name 'wrestling' by transitioning to a hammerlock with Ohno trying to power into a rear headlock but as soon as he can, Gargano is back on the hammerlock, Ohno breaks and the two men run the ropes, flipping over each other and generally being a good pair of wrestle boys, Gargano goes to the ropes and tries to hit an early slingshot spear but Ohno catches him, ties him up in the ropes and slaps his chest tae fuck sending us to the ad-break, back from the break and Ohno is kicking Gargano in the corner, he picks up the former NXT Tag Team Champion into a thunder slap before cravat rolling him into a pair of knee drops, Gargano tries to elbow his way into control but this only serves to make Ohno angrier who nearly kicks his head off for a 2, Ohno goes for a senton but Gargano gets his knees up, the two trade strikes, Ohno goes for a suplex but Gargano escapes, further strikes, Ohno goes for a running boot but can Gargano rana? Yes, Garganocanrana sending ohno out of the ring, Gargano goes to follow but Ohno rolls back in and runs at the ropes straight into a slingshot spear for a 2.9, Gargano tries to keep down the larger Ohno with kicks but Ohno just laughs them off, going for the rolling kick, Ohno ducks the leg, stands up and gets the senton for a 2, giving time for Gargano to get to his feet, Ohno considers showing mercy before hitting a big fucking boot to Gargano's jaw sending him out, Ohno goes to follow, flipping over the ropes, but Gargano slides back in and hits a tope con DDT on the ramp, back in the ring and Gargano hits a step-up enziguri but Ohno immediately responds with a cyclone kick for another 2.9, in the corner, Ohno hits yet more elbows before picking up Gargano into the electric chair, Gargano lays into Ohno's head before victory rolling for a 2.5, to his feet and Gargano rests on the ropes, big mistake as he takes a bicycle kick and a northern lariat for a 2.99, my fucking god, Ohno means business as shown by pulling down his sleeves, Ohno goes for Death By Elbow but Gargano hits him with a SUPERKICK, and another, and a third SUPERKICK PARTY, he runs at Ohno getting a headscissor takedown into the GargaNo Escape and there is indeed no escape for Ohno who taps out, giving Gargano his first televised victory since August.
This was bloody marvellous, when I say this is the best non-TakeOver NXT match of the year, I say so without even a hint of hyperbole. This wasn't a Kassius Ohno match, this was a true Chris Hero match with the big man using his power and striking acumen to bully the smaller man, playing something of a subtle heel in this David vs. Goliath encounter. The layout of the match was simple but like a lot of the best matches this year, it has shown that the simplest and often most effective storytelling that wrestling can employ is that these two men both have the same goal and will come as close to killing each other as needs must in order to get it. While this was a great performance from both men, I do wonder where does this leave Ohno now with two consecutive big losses. Hopefully, the knockout artist's time will come. For now, let's just enjoy this match for what it is, true violent art.
On The YouTubes
The Street Profits have a talk show now. Yup. It is what it is.
Sonia Deville tells Christy St. Cloud that the best part of being on RAW is not having to deal with her. Bit harsh.
NXT has been on a hot streak for a while with a must-see main event match seemingly every week and this edition was no different with all involved delivering, even Killian Dain, a performer I have been traditionally underwhelmed by. While there was some questionable booking to the ending stretches of the first two matches, there's nothing less than enjoyable here and that final match, that fucking final match. Just, if you are reading this and haven't seen it, go watch it, now. What are you waiting for?