On 28th March 2018, WWE aired its 293rd episode of NXT, filmed at Center Stage, Atlanta, GA on 7th March. Our main event was a Dusty Classic semi-final as the newly formed team of Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne took on former NXT Tag Team Champions, SaNitY. The show also featured another Dusty Classic Semi in the form of Authors of Pain vs Street Profits as well as action from Lars Sullivan, Dakota Kai, Andrade Almas & Aleister Black. As always, I do ask you, dear audience, was it any good?
On his way to the arena, Tommaso Ciampa is hounded by fans and the press, he complains to William Regal that Gargano has been attacking him in the ring, stalking him at his physiotherapy sessions and at his house. Regal tells him it is becoming a spot of bother and books a match for TakeOver: New Orleans, but as Gargano doesn't work here anymore, it has to be an Unsanctioned Match. If Gargano wins, he gets his job back, if not, he's gone forever.
William Regal Has An Announcement
William Regal welcomes everyone to the arena and then announces that the announcement he announced last week was that NXT is introducing a new secondary men's championship, something to determine who is the best competitor in North America, the NXT North American Championship. As he's talking about this, up turns the man who's won practically everything there is to win in Impact and is now here in NXT, EC3. He talks about how good it is to be here and how he looks forward to making a shit-ton of money for the company and how he has a banger of a theme (he does). He then thanks William Regal for knowing that the best in North America was coming so making a title just for him. Regal tells him that while he has a chance at the title off the bat, he doesn't get anything without earning it, so he'll be competing in a Ladder Match at TakeOver to crown the first champion. EC3 responds it doesn't matter how many men you put in his way, he's still leaving with that champion. This was a really good opening, already cementing EC3 as someone who is going to be important in the yellow brand going forward as well as making another big match for TakeOver.
Charly Caruso is in the NXT Control Centre, giving us a recap of what we've missed so far in the Dusty Classic.
TM-61 are being interviewed back at the Performance Centre about their loss in the first round and how they need to change their attitude as this has halted their returning momentum but they're not down and out because they're the Mighty and the Mighty... get interrupted by a fight breaking out behind them between Shayna Baszler & Ember Moon because Baszler was bullying someone or just generally standing around waiting for Moon to punch her. This was more fun than I've made it sound.
Dusty Classic Semi-Final // Authors of Pain def. Street Profits // Pinfall
Quick squash m8. Ford came in first but quickly bailed when he felt a slap to the face from an Author, Dawkins actually fared a little better, out-striking his opponent and clearing house with a spinebuster to the other, sadly the loss for the team came when Ford, on the outside, got distracted offering his solo cup to Ellering who slapped it away, causing Ford to stalk him up the entrance ramp, opening up a distracted Dawkins to be hit with The Last Chapter legsweep-clotheslin combo. I don't know what they were going for but if the plan was to make Street Profits look like fucking idiots, they achieved it.
We go back to Charly in the Control Centre for an update. Thank you, Charly.
Cathy Kelly is interviewing William Regal about whether any other competitors are officially announced for the North American Title Ladder Match, he confirms Adam Cole will be in it. Velveteen Dream turns up and demands a spot, Regal agrees. This is shaping up nicely, isn't it?
Lars Sullivan def. John Silver // Pinfall
Quicker squash m8. In the battle of Long vs John SIlver, Long won, I think the closest Silver got to any offence was successfully locking-up with Sullivan at the beginning before he realised he had no reversals and Sullivan repeatedly hit murder. Lars eating tiny men is always fun and this did exactly what it had to. Sullivan won with a big diving headbutt and the Freak Accident modified side slam for the pin.
Cathy Kelly is interviewing Regal again when Sullivan walks by, just in time for Regal to offer him a spot in the NXT North American Championship Ladder Match. Lars looks forward to this but before he gets there, he wants Killian Dain . Regal tells him Dain is in the Ladder Match as well but because Regal likes booking matches, Sullivan goes tete-a-tete with Dain next week.
Dakota Kai def...Hey What's That Going On Over There?
Dakota Kai made her way to the ring but before a match could start the cameras cuts to Andrade Almas and Zelina Vega attacking Aleister Black in the car park. Almas battered Black through the arena, nearly drowning him at one point and beating him all the way to the ring, walking away, hoisting his title having got his own back on the Dutch shitkicker for what he said about him at the Contract Signing he never turned up to. This was a great, little segment to build to the TakeOver main event but I have to say, my favourite thing was watching Kai try and sneak away unnoticed in the back of the shot.
Dusty Classic Semi-Final: Strong X Bitter def. SaNitY // Pinfall
In a move that will surprise no one, this was a really good main event. What was clever was how it played off Strong's past, having feuded along with Tye Dillinger, Kassius Ohno, No Way Jose and Ruby Riott with SaNitY, to build an intensity and animosity as well as a desperation from both teams to succeed, this helped frame the face v face action with some stakes and storytelling to stop it being just a split-support from the crowd. They worked a good, exciting finale to the episode, with all four men looking good and getting in a lot of their signature stuff with Alexander Wolfe getting in another reminder of how overlooked he is considering his incredibly fun performances. It wasn't a match without its problems though, as it lacked a certain sense of drama down the home-stretch that could have done perhaps with a little more in the way of tag work as it felt far more like four singles competitors than two teams though that does play well into the fragile truce between Strong and Dunne, this also felt more like the exhibition 'spotfest' style of tag match at times which while entertaining, did feel a little unnecessary. The finish came as Strong hit End of Heartache on Young before Dunne tagged in and they hit a double team Bitter End. Fun stuff, but still not quite essential. Much like the rest of this Dusty Classic so far, it's had good moments but it's all felt a little too rushed to seem, well, classic.
Cathy Kelly is backstage hoping to hear from William Regal who the sixth competitor is for the ladder match. Regal says she's in luck and he goes to fetch him. Trevor 'Ricochet' Mann would emerge from Regal's office to canned applause, looking like he was buttoning up his suit so what he had to do to get that spot, I don't know. The pre-recorded crowd chant his nickname to end the show.
Considering the amount of heavy-lifting this show had to do with setting up the North American Title, the Ladder Match for it, Gargano vs Ciampa, continuing to build to the Tag Title match and also continuing the builds for Black v Almas and Baszler v Moon, it's impressive that the show managed to do all of it without collapsing under its own weight. The problem of this is that so much of it ended up being enjoyable but passable as beyond the opening segment, nothing felt like it got quite enough time to properly build. That said, with four very good sounding matches confirmed and two very good teams in the Dusty Classic final, we could be set for an all-time great TakeOver special.
Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka