In a complete turnaround from last week, NXT was absolutely fantastic this week, reminding me of just how much I love this program and why it has been voted the best wrestling program in the world for multiple years by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers. The show contained two great back-and-forth matches and two great showcase matches, equally great backstage segments and interviews, and overall destroyed both RAW and Smackdown. Here’s my rundown of the night’s events.
Match 1: TM61 vs. Tony Nese and Ariya Daivari
We start off the show right away with action rather than talking, which is refreshing as always after watching RAW and especially Smackdown this week. The crowd popped for Tony Nese, who was a standout in the Cruiserweight Classic before getting eliminated by Brian Kendrick in Round 2 in one of the best matches of the entire tournament thus far. This is one of the reasons why NXT is so excellent; it harkens back to the old territory days when you never knew who was going to show up on the show that week. During this fast-paced, high-flying match, Corey Graves pushed the RAW Cruiserweight division. I hope that means they signed Tony Nese (and Daivari wouldn’t be a bad signee, either), because he is a great talent, and absolutely outshone the also-impressive TM61,who had their best match on NXT to date here. This could compete with anything on RAW and was miles ahead of anything we saw on Smackdown.
My Rating: ***1/2
Tom Phillips interviewed Asuka, who delivered her most gripping behind-the-mic segment yet. In her charismatic broken English, she talked about laying waste to the entire Women’s division of NXT and delivered some great lines. My favorite was when she said the recent NXT call-ups to the main roster “got saved” because they didn’t have to worry about Asuka anymore. Awesome. This woman is a badass and is easily the greatest all-around female performer I’ve ever seen with Bayley coming in second place.
Ember Moon is shown standing outside in the dark before her squash match. She is also cool and I’m sure she will be the one who finally dethrones Asuka because there is literally nobody else on the roster who could ever hope to do so.
We also had a backstage interview with Steve Cutler who said Nakamura knew nothing about sacrifice before noting that, in fact, Nakamura had sacrificed quite a lot when he left his native country in order to come to WWE. Fuck this guy.
Match 2: Leah Von vs. Ember Moon
Ember Moon’s entrance is awesome and has given me goosebumps every time I have seen it. Never seen Leah Von before. Ember was impressive; she’s a hell of an athlete in the vein of Naomi, but Ember is so much better than Naomi as a worker that you can’t even really compare them. Booker T, who trained Ember, must be proud. She destroyed Leah with her off-the-top Stunner that looks so impressive.
Winner: Ember Moon
My Rating: 1/2*
No Way Jose interview. Not a bad promo from Jose, but he is obviously outclassed by his apparent rival, Bobby Roode, who he will face next week.
We also had an awkward backstage discussion between Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. The slow-burn build to Ciampa’s betrayal of Gargano continues, and every time they’re on screen it’s a showstopper. They’re apparently going to have a tag team match of some sort on the finale of the Cruiserweight Classic next week. Sounds great.
Match of the Night: Match 3: Andrade Cien Almas vs. Austin Aries
Andrade did not wear his usual suspenders and fedora. This is good. This match was even better than the opener, and I would argue, better than anything we saw on RAW including Chris Jericho vs. Seth Rollins and Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens. Austin Aries is a total star; everything he does looks great from his crisp, lightning quick movements, to his facials. Andrade is still a work in progress (he just isn’t connecting with the crowd right now), but he is a great worker also and had his best match since coming to NXT. The finish, with Aries turning an attempted Cross Body from Andrade into a powerbomb and then following it up with the Last Chancery for the submission victory, was awesome.
Winner: Austin Aries
My Rating: ***1/2
Main Event: Match 4: Steve Cutler vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Samoa Joe was on commentary for this match, and he was fantastic. He was very subdued and complimentary of Nakamura, but when the champ made his entrance, Joe looked like he was having an aneurysm. Great. The match was, obviously, a squash, but it was an entertaining one, especially with Joe on commentary. Everything Nakamura did, as usual, was effortless.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
My Rating: *
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic show, probably the best episode of NXT I’ve seen a long while.