Thursday, 25 January 2018

WWE NXT Review // 24th January 2018 // Johnny Gargano vs. Velveteen Dream

On 25th January 2018, NXT aired its 284th episode of NXT, taped at Center Stage, Atlanta, GA on 4th January. Our main event had NXT Championship implications as Johnny Gargano put his spot in the main event of TakeOver: Philidelphia against Andrade Almas on the line against Velveteen Dream, the man who should have had his spot in the Number One Contender's Tournament if not for 'injury'. The show also featured Authors of Pain taking on the team of Damien Smith & Chase Brown, Bianca BelAir taking on Indie stalwart Latoya Allsopp (or Luscious Latasha as she's better known) & a returning No Way Jose taking on Cezar Bononi. With only days till TakeOver, there was a lot riding on this episode's success as a go-home show, but was it any good?

We get a cold open as Velveteen Dream discovers The Performance Centre has hooked up it's lighting to clicker switches and its music and smoke machines to Alexa. He talks about how everyone has a dream and everyone here dreams of being champion and everyone's path is different, especially his and Johnny's, but Johnny's path while it may one day lead to the championship, it's not happening today, one dream will be over. I like these stylised approaches to opening promos, it makes NXT feel different to any other in-ring product the WWE has, also, the Dream manages to find a good blend here of weirdness to actual content. Fun stuff.

No Way Jose def. Cezar Bononi // Pinfall

Quick squash m8. This was pretty much what you'd expect from this kind of match as Jose dominated early on till Bononi cut him off with a Judo throw and a dropkick, managing a pumphandle powerslam for a 2, after he threw Jose to the ropes, Jose would return with a swinging neckbreaker, a sequence of strikes and the pop-up forearm gets Jose the pin. Jose was his normal energetic self and did manage to get the crowd going but the action itself was clumsy and Bononi's selling seems odd and laboured. It did what it had to do but it didn't exactly make for an entertaining ride there.

We get another video package for Adam Cole v Aleister Black II. Much like last week's, it was well-made and a good way of telling the story if you hadn't seen their previous three interactions but as a part of the go-home NXT, it did feel a little like padding.

Bianca BelAir def. Latoya Allsopp // Pinfall

Another quick quash m8. Allsopp, under her better-known name of Luscious Latasha is a thirteen year veteran of the scene having worked predominantly in SHINE wrestling and Woman's Superstars Uncensored, a company we've discussed before around these parts. While she gets very little in the way of offence here, she works hard to make BelAir look good, a deed that's not exactly difficult as BelAir is a very fun performer. Not really much to say about this match as it was mostly just re-establishing BelAir as someone to watch, something very much achieved by a moment where Allsopp went for a diving axe handle and BelAir ponytail-whipped her in the air. Eventually, BelAir would get the pin off a Reverse Powerbomb-Alley Oop Thing. Decent stuff but hardly thrilling.

Percy Watson sits down with Ember Moon, Shayna Baszler & an ominous non-copyright backing track for the Table for 3 you never knew you didn't want. He asks Ember about why she called out Baszler and Moon reiterates last week's point about Baszler being a bully and thinking she can come in, take shortcuts and try and injure people, Ember questions if she's trying to over-compensate because she doesn't think she can hang with such heavyweight talents as Aliyah, Baszler responds by stating that she knows what she's doing but you have to stir the waters to catch a fish and Moon is the big fish at the moment, Moon reiterates that she is the big fish and this is her division and her division has a code that they follow and as champion she has a responsibility to make sure people are following that, come Saturday, Baszler is going to see how far away from ever being in Moon's position she is. Baszler, smirking her way through the interview tells us that she doesn't care what people think about the route she's taken to get here, when she walks away with the title, they'll have to get used to it. This didn't exactly raise my excitement for the match but it didn't diminish it either which is something.


We carry on from last time, covering the fact that they share a name with a missile as well as the item used to teach Will O' Wisp in Pokemon. We then go to the story of how Shane Thorne injured his leg, hitting a double stomp on Roderick Strong back in the second round of the last Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic and then went on to perform on it for a few months after, only leading to further injury. What's interesting is that it really doesn't seek to dive too deep into either man as an individual but more seems to sell them as a unit, it's important and refreshing to see them being sold as two people genuinely interested in tag-team performance and not just using it as a leaping pad to singles stardom. Also this week we get some more premium-strength Harley Race, it's always a delight to see the first ever United States Champion back on our screens. Next week, TM61 are back in action for the post-takeover NXT. It would have been a nice surprise to have them back without all the build-up but as far as build-up goes, this has been really enjoyable. Plus we got to watch them fuck up promos which is always fun.

Authors of Pain vs. Smith & Evans never gets started as the pair of tiny men get killed with big boots and corner valley drivers, on the mics, Akam & Rezar tell Undisputed Era to look at this as on Saturday it's their turn, they then pick them up for the Supercollider double powerbomb, as they leave the ring, Rezar nearly trips on a tiny man which is my new favourite thing. 

Next Week: Nikki Cross vs Lacey Evans

NXT Championship Number One Contender's // Johnny Gargano def. Velveteen Dream // Submission

Now, this is more like it, a match with stakes, energy and most importantly, the time to actually build drama. The two men went back and forth over a match given two ad-breaks worth of content, it started off strong as Dream came to the ring in a tassled crop-top made of a Johnny Gargano shirt, not as strong a look as his Aleister Black leggings from the last TakeOver but still, a strong look. They worked a good opening section as the two men worked a technical back-and-forth with Dream coming out on top but making the mistake of taunting Johnny leaving him with an opening to lock in a GargaNo Escape immediately but Dream was able to break on the ropes. The meat of the encounter was a simple tale of Gargano targetting the right arm to weaken the effects of the Purple Rainmaker while Dream tried to follow up on Gargano's neck that he injured off a draped swinging neckbreaker. While there were some strong sequences outside as Gargano dropkicked Dream onto the announce table and followed it with an apron cannonball, the best work happened in the centre of the ring with both men throwing everything they could at each other but neither seemingly able to get enough of an advantage early on including a second-rope tornado flatliner from Gargano and a beautiful twisting DDT from Dream earning some convincing near falls.The finish came as Dream hit a top-rope death valley driver but Gargano was able to kick out, Dream would go back up to attempt a Purple Rainmaker diving elbow drop but having taken armwork from Gargano, had to use his left instead of his right giving Gargano a chance to dodge, hit a low SUPERKICK and lock in the GargaNo Escape for the tapout. On a pure in-ring level, this was up there with some of the best TV encounters of recent years with Gargano earning a strong win but Dream hardly looking less than legitimate in defeat. If there's an issue with Dream's work so far it's that by running at Gargano's pace, he made for an exciting opponent but almost too exciting as if you didn't know, you might think this was a face v face encounter. Still, I'm sure that if they are as committed to Dream as they should be based on his performances in the last few months, they'll find a way to make the crowd boo him. As it stands, this was still a highly engaging match that really cements Gargano's position as the best male babyface in WWE since Sami Zayn.

Post-match, Andrade Almas and Zelina Vega come down to the ring and taunt Gargano with the title, as Almas hands the title to Vega he goes for a sucker punch but Gargano has worked him out and fights back immediately but Almas takes him out with some stiff strikes, posing in the ring with the title, Gargano climbs back to the ropes and hits an enziguri and a slingshot DDT on Almas, posing with the title to close out the show.

On The YouTubes

Almas is pissed that Gargano got one over on him, Vega says that at TakeOver, Gargano is done for.

Kassius Ohno mocks Dream in a corridor for losing, Dream tells him that at least he looks good doing it so Ohno pushes him into a wall. Well, I guess we have our fifth match for TakeOver then.

You know that one cocky promo Undisputed Era have been doing for a few weeks now? Yeah, they did it again. This tie for a mild change, there's an actual target for their threats in the form of Authors of Pain instead of just being generally antagonistic.


Not exactly the home-run it should have or indeed needed to be but still a show with a lot of good points to it. Gargano V Dream was the obvious highlight, with only that and the second part of Who Are TM61? feeling entirely necessary, but nothing felt outright bad, not even the first match. The other positive is there's a lot of newer talent being given a spotlight here which can only be a good thing in the long run.

Article By Jozef Raczka (@NotJoeRaczka)

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