William Regal is in the cold open this week, running down the card for this week. Let’s face it; we’re all just here for Shinsuke Nakamura this week, right? Side note: how long has Regal been general manager of NXT? It’s been quite a while, he’s surely in the running for longest running authority gimmick.
Austin Aries is out to start the show this week, emanating from WrestleMania Axxess. His opponent is Angelo Dawkins, who’s new nickname is “The Curse of Greatness”. Wait, what? What does that even mean? As Dawkins & Aries tie up, it’s clear to see just how much “The Curse” absolutely dwarfs A Double. I hate to be *that* guy, but if anything keeps Aries in NXT and away from the main roster, it’s unfortunately going to be his stature. Not much to this match (which will be a running theme tonight) but it wasn’t a bad little 5 minute affair. Aries hit the usual spots; neck breaker through the ropes, corner dropkick. Dawkins does control a small portion of the match, welcoming us to DAWKINS ISLAND. Aries pulls out a swank roaring elbow for the win; not a bad idea to give him this as a finisher, or at the very least a secondary one. He can hit that on anyone, no matter how big or small.
WINNER: Austin Aries via pinfall
Samoa Joe is backstage, making sure we know that his mission is still the same despite losing in his quest to wrest the NXT title away from Finn Bálor at Takeover. Next week, he vows to take out Apollo Crews.
Alexa Bliss is out for the next match, and she gets all the heart and flame emojis. My goodness. Her opponent this week is Lisa Marie Varon’s favorite female competitor, the debuting Tessa Blanchard. I haven’t seen much of her stuff; she looks like her daddy so let’s hope she can work like him too. Nothing to write home about in this match, but certainly too short to be offensive. Tessa didn’t look bad at all here and I suspect she’ll get at least a few more shots in NXT before they decide if they want her or not. Some of the selling was a bit much (see the spot where she punches out of a side headlock, for example) but it didn’t take too much away from this. Alexa picks up the win with her backflip knee drop.
WINNER: Alexa Bliss via pinfall
Finn Bálor is backstage and says he’ll be here tonight to watch Shinsuke Nakamura’s match and says that when Shinsuke is ready, he’ll defend the title against him. So, when is that WWE live network special in Japan again?
Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa are out next to take on SmackDown’s newest tag team, The Vaudevillains. Gotch & English are here to put these two over on the way out in what I presume is their NXT swan song. Solid tag match here which, again, got very limited time due to the restraints of the location they were taping at. Ciampa gets Gotch to tap with the modified Fujiwara, ending The Vaudevillains’ run in NXT. Best of luck to them on the main roster, but I’ve got some real reservations about their potential for success. They weren’t even really that over in NXT and they garnered almost zero reaction in their initial SmackDown appearance. I just don’t think the gimmick has a lot of legs and even pondered to myself during this if a name change wouldn’t have made a difference. Gargano & Ciampa have looked pretty good in NXT as a team but I’m hoping we get a feud between the two sometime down the line. They could have a hell of a mid-card feud on NXT and the matches would be phenomenal. Wouldn’t take much to get us there; have Ciampa turn on Gargano, saying he’s here for singles glory or something. Just a thought…
WINNERS: Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa via submission
Tye Dillinger predicts victory over Shinsuke Nakamura in tonight’s main event.
Tucker Knight hits the ring and with that music & jacket, he reminded me of a WCW Saturday Night enhancement talent. He was certainly treated like one here, as he went one-on-one with Baron Corbin. This was taped the day before WrestleMania and in a nice bit of editing, Corey Graves admonishes the ring announcer for failing to mention Baron’s big win in the Andre the Giant battle royal. Fair play to you, Mr. Graves. This was over in pretty short order following the End of Days, despite Tucker getting the briefest of offensive flurries. The conclusion was never in doubt and I hope we get to Nakamura soon; this episode has been dreadful.
WINNER: Baron Corbin via pinfall
American Alpha celebrate their biggest win to date by revisiting the site where they captured the NXT tag titles. Enzo Amoré & Big Cass show up to congratulate them before making a challenge to face them next week. Jordan & Gable accept and it looks like we’re getting another farewell match on next week’s show.
We are now on match NUMBER 5, as Bayley takes on Liv Morgan. Liv’s pants have me reminiscing of PN News, even more so when combined with the constant “YO” in her theme song. Liv gets in more offensive than I expected but Bayley wins another quick match following the Bayley to Belly. It would’ve been even more interesting to see Bayley come out and just absolutely squash Liv in about a minute before cutting that post-match promo, vowing to regain the title. Instead, we got the same Bayley, smiles and all. This show continues to drag along…
WINNER: Bayley via pinfall
The Axxess crowd has certainly come to life now that Nakamura has arrived!
As far as squashes go, this was pretty fun and that is in large part due to one man. There’s still a bit of surrealism seeing Shinsuke on the WWE Network, much less performing at Axxess. He hits all the regular spots but he also gave Tye some offense here. Kinshasa finishes Dillinger off after about 5 minutes, and while seeing Nak was fun, this week’s episode is mercifully over.
WINNER: Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall
The next few weeks of NXT are going to be tough to sit through if this is any indicator. As someone who took in NXT during Axxess at WrestleMania 31, I can tell you that this type of environment isn’t conducive to producing compelling TV. I’m questioning the idea of taping THREE WEEKS worth of TV there, as the energy is no where near what they get from the Full Sail crowd. Plus, they crammed in SIX meaningless matches that got anywhere from 2-5 minutes each. Hopefully, next week’s show is an improvement; most will watch this episode for Nakamura’s TV debut. I suggest you skip ahead and not even bother with the rest.