It’s hard to get excited about this week’s NXT preview because it doesn’t really tell us much. Johnny Gargano is going open the show, but only to talk. Drew Gulak is fighting an unnamed opponent, as is Jaxson Ryker. And we have a six-woman tag, Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke, & Marina Shafir take on The Sky Pirates & Bianca Belair. I guess we’ll find out how strong a bond is forged by, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. There is literally no other reason for Belair to team with Sane and Shirai, but I’m sure it will be a fun match.
Jaxson Ryker def. Mansoor
Drew Gulak def. Eric Bugenhagen
Matt Riddle def. Drew Gulak
The Sky Pirates & Bianca Belair def. Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke, & Marina Shafir
Johnny Gargano did indeed open the show. The crowd chanted ‘Johnny Champion’ at him and he said that has a nice ring to it, and it feels great to be North American champion. For years everyone has been on this long and winding journey with him in NXT. The crowd chant changed to, ‘You deserve it’, and he said they were right, we deserve it because at NXT TakeOver Phoenix, we were validated when he won the title. He is our NXT North American champ and he is proud to say that Johnny Wrestling is back.
Ciampa wandered out to the stage and said he’s not there to take away from Gargano’s moment, he’s there to celebrate it, because at TakeOver Phoenix Gargano showed the world what Ciampa already knew, he knows how to listen. He followed the champ’s lead. And now they own the world, this is everything they used to talk about the dream they shared driving up and down the roads from city to city just trying to make it to NXT. Them standing side by side holding all the gold as the final shot of TakeOver. That proved it was their moment.
With the crowd chanting, ‘DIY’, Gargano said no, there is no their moment. The only reason he came out at the end of TakeOver was to show him face to face that Johnny Gargano will never need Tommaso Ciampa.
Velveteen Dream arrived next and said all this was cute, DIY champions once again, but tonight isn’t about Gargano or Ciampa, it’s about him. While they were putting the finishing touches on their ‘fairytale ending’, he was busy winning the Worlds Collide tournament which means he gets a title match of his choice.
Ciampa got up in his face and Velveteen Dream told him to back up because The Dream is over him. He doesn’t want Goldie. Instead, Velveteen got in the ring and told Gargano he wants him.
Gargano said while Velveteen Dream was sitting in the crowd, Gargano was in the ring putting on another match of the year. He was winning the North American Championship. And the next night he represented the NXT universe in the Royal Rumble. He’s on top of the world right now and he’s feeling a little dangerous. So if Velveteen Dream wants to use his title opportunity on him, go for it. He wins.
Velveteen Dream said, maybe he does win, but the big question was whether he’d be facing Johnny Champion or Johnny Jackass.
They argued without mics, despite both holding them, and Gargano left the ring and stood next to Ciampa. Ciampa just looked at him, shook his head, and walked away.
Johnny Gargano vs Velveteen Dream happens in two weeks.
Jaxson Ryker vs Mansoor
Ryker was accompanied by Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler, Mansoor came alone, which is a shame because he could have done with a couple of friends, he might not have been destroyed quite so fast. A couple of minutes, done deal. Jaxson Ryker appears to be a very angry man. The post-match attack was unnecessary.
Cathy Kelley was approached by Adam Cole and the rest of Undisputed ERA while she was waiting to interview Ricochet. Cole expressed his disbelief that she would want to interview Ricochet over him because everyone knows Ricochet is a one trick pony and Adam Cole is championship material. Ricochet arrived and called him on it, and Cole told him to relax, all he was saying was that Ricochet is at the back of the line for the North American Championship and the title had Adam Cole’s name all over it. Ricochet reminded him that he beat him for that title and challenged him to a match next week. After they left Ricochet told Cathy Kelly it didn’t matter who he had to go through. As soon as he sees an opportunity open, he’s coming back for his title.
Ricochet versus Adam Cole was later confirmed for next week.
Drew Gulak vs Eric Bugenhagen
Gulak was not impressed with his opponent’s 80’s style tights, air guitar, and posturing.
The offence was 90% Gulak, but Bugenhagen had a few moments to shine. When he played air guitar using Drew Gulak’s torso, Gulak had reached his limit. A couple of suplexes later, Eric Bugenhagen was tapping in the Gu-Lock.
After Bugenhagen had been dispatched, Gulak said he wrestles around the world for 205 Live, he’s the best submission specialist in WWE, he comes to NXT and he gets that. He’s never been more disrespected in his life. He is the best submission specialist in WWE. If there’s anyone out the back who wants to come out there and step to him, they should come on out and get stretched.
Matt Riddle said ‘Bro, is that what you really think of NXT, because everyone here sets the bar day in and day out, so how about you get out of that ring and out of NXT or I’ll come down there and tap you out.’
Gulak told him to, ‘Take your little flipflops off and make my day’. He did, so we got another match.
Drew Gulak vs Matt Riddle
Now, this was a match. Unsurprisingly, it was largely submission based, shocker for two submission guys, I know. Occasionally it broke out into a strike or power move, but it was quickly back to the human origami.
I love this type of match when both guys are really good at it, and both these guys are really good at it. After all the intricacy, it looked like a powerbomb followed by a knee to the face, might do the job for Riddle, but Gulak kicked out. Instead, Riddle elbowed Gulak in the neck a few times and tapped him out with the Bromission.
Drew Gulak initiated the post-match handshake as a show of respect.
The Sky Pirates & Bianca Belair vs Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir
Bianca Belair’s ring gear was a Black History Month tribute, It was covered in significant portraits and it looked great. Sadly, there wasn’t a really decent shot of it.
It was Belair who started things off, initially against Shayna Baszler. As soon as Belair showed any sign of getting the better of Baszler, she tagged Marina Shafir in, who took one dropkick before she tagged in Jessamyn Duke. Belair put her down too and tagged in Kairi Sane.
Belair pressed Kairi Sane over her head, then let go for Sane to drop the elbow on Duke. Duke kicked out and powered Sane back into her corner so Marina Shafir could come in.
Kairi Sane had the measure of Shafir for a while, but she allowed herself to be distracted by Baszler and Shafir took control and dragged her over to her corner to bring Baszler in.
Sane was isolated and punished on Baszler and friends’ side of the ring for a long time. She got within inches of tagging in Shirai before Jessamyn Duke prevented it. Sane threw Duke out of the ring and just got to her partner before Baszler could stop it.
Io Shirai was a whirlwind of activity when she got in. She delivered double knees in the corner to Baszler and Shafir, kicked Jessamyn Duke off the apron and dropkicked Baszler to the mat before bringing Kairi Sane back in.
Kairi Sane almost pinned Shayna Baszler from an InSane Elbow, but Marina Shafir made the save.
Sane was clearly looking to tag Shirai, but Bianca Belair has a longer reach and tagged herself in. She delivered the K.O.D. to Baszler and the pin was inevitable, if Shafir and Duke hadn’t launched themselves at Belair. Io Shirai low-bridged Duke and Shafir to the outside and Kairi Sane launched herself off the top turnbuckle onto them.
Io Shirai delivered an exquisite moonsault to Baszler and got the pin.
Bianca Belair didn’t fully participate in the post-match celebrations. She looked irritated and uncomfortable, presumably because she wanted to get the pin herself.
I appreciate the storyline reasons for the main, even if teaming Belair with Sane and Shirai only makes sense in that it solidifies her new position on the face side of the roster. I do question whether, in a division where the six women in the ring are the only women on the roster with any kind of storyline, the slot could have been more productively used. I’m being picky, of course, the match was great, but NXT have a lot of unused options in their locker room. Other than the opening segment and resultant title match announcement, tonight’s episode felt like the calm before the storm. A placeholder six-woman, a straight squash, and nice little exhibition from Riddle and Gulak, but nothing that shows the course of the show for the next few weeks and months.