Tonight’s NXT is a two-hour special look back over the past year. It should be excellent, 2017 was a strong year for NXT. The preview says there are some treats in store as well, including some footage from Drew McIntyre’s match against Adam Cole, where Shawn Michaels was the special guest referee. We’re also promised sit-down interviews with Johnny Gargano and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, ahead of their TakeOver match on January 27, an in-depth look at women’s champion Ember Moon, and an announcement regarding the NXT end of year awards. No new matches on the show, the only one we won’t have seen before is the McIntyre vs Cole match, and that took place,
William Regal opened the show to explain the format, a retrospective combined with some never before seen footage, and interviews.
Kayla Braxton and Mike Rome hosted the show. The first piece of information they gave us, was that the results of the NXT year end awards will be revealed at NXT TakeOver Philadelphia.
The first segment looked at Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura’s rivalry, starting with Roode taking the title from Nakamura in January ’17, and following Nakamura’ narrative up to his eventual call up to SmackDown Live. The arrival of Drew McIntyre was also featured, from his appearance at ringside at TakeOver Orlando, through his first few appearances, with the promise to finish the story later in the show.
Happily, we’re apparently getting to see highlights of some of the best matches from 2017 in this episode as well. First up, #DIY vs Authors of Pain, from NXT TakeOver San Antonio.
Big jump forward for the next match shown, Bobby Roode vs Drew McIntyre, from TakeOver Brooklyn III in August. I’m assuming there must be some method in their madness, but I thought a review of the year show would have had some kind of chronology to it. Anyway, McIntyre being attacked at the end of the match, by Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly, set up the match between McIntyre and Cole, which we’ll see later.
Braxton and Rome introduced a look at Adam Cole, and the Undisputed Era, leading into a recap of Fish and O’Reilly winning the tag titles a couple of weeks ago.
A nice look at the state of the NXT tag team division next, just to show the ones to watch for the coming year. Undisputed Era, Street Profits, Riddick Moss and Tino Sabbatelli, Heavy Machinery, and TM61 were featured. There will be an in-depth look at TM61 in two weeks, as they prepare for their return following Shane Thorne’s injury. Interesting that there was no mention of SAnitY or Authors of Pain in the ones to watch – is it because they’re already too well established (in which case why include the current champs), or is it that they will be heading elsewhere in the coming months?
Next recap was the feud between Velveteen Dream and Aleister Black. To my mind, one of the best things NXT did in the whole of 2017. If Aleister Black doesn’t pick up the NXT championship before the end of 2018 I will be amazed (and mightily annoyed). They showed most of the exceptional TakeOver match at WarGames, and the payoff for Velveteen Dream at the end of the match.
Back to Drew McIntyre again, this time the lead up to his match against Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, used as an intro to the Adam Cole match, which took place the day before the Almas match.
Drew McIntyre vs Adam Cole – special guest referee, Shawn Michaels.
Within a few minutes of the match starting, Shawn Michaels sent Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly backstage for grabbing Drew McIntyre’s legs, then conducted the crowd singing them out. That was amusing. As was the crowd chanting for Michaels to deliver Sweet Chin Music to Adam Cole, then a little later, to Drew McIntyre. Long match, but as it was the only unseen thing on the show, that’s fair enough.
Cole spent time berating Michaels on a couple of occasions, then mimicked him by doing the wind up to Sweet Chin Music. Drew McIntyre exploited the inherent weakness with a move that has its own intro, and took him down with a Futureshock DDT. Cole also superkicked Michaels, and Undisputed Era came back to ringside to pull him out of the ring before he could count the pin on Cole.
Finally, the point of the match, Shawn Michaels delivered a Sweet Chin Music to Kyle O’Reilly, who shouldn’t have been there anyway.
As soon as that was done, Drew McIntyre won the match with a Claymore kick, but we knew that, or the Almas match couldn’t have happened. A good match, not a great match. Like most of the special guest ref stipulation matches, it was more about the action around the match than the action in the ring.
Brief recap of the Almas match, and a highlighting of McIntyre’s subsequent injury.
Zelina Vega and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas interview was up next. Obviously, Vega did most of the talking. Almas’ contribution summed up the gist of what they were both saying though. He said, ‘Johnny’s nothing, I am preparing to win. I am the champion, I’m preparing for my future’.
Attention turned to the women’s division next. NXT have, arguably, the best women’s division in WWE, and it took them an hour and twenty minutes into a two hour show to mention them. They started off with a recap of Asuka’s NXT career, and departure, then ran through a list of some of the women on the roster with just a small amount of detail for each. Like the tag division, it’s interesting to see who they chose to highlight. Ember Moon, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay, Lacey Evans, Kairi Sane, Bianca Belair, Vanessa Bourne, Shayna Baszler, and Nikki Cross all featured. The segment finished with Shayna Baszler choking out Kairi Sane while she was challenging Ember Moon last week, and the announcement that Baszler will make her in-ring debut next week.
Quick recap of the WarGames match next. Definitely one of the more fun things NXT did last year. It’s one of those matches which is part hype, and part nostalgia, and could easily have fallen flat. Thanks to the hard work, and a lack of respect for their own personal safety, from the three teams involved it worked.
Onto Johnny Gargano’s storyline, and what a storyline he’s had over the last year. Starting the year as tag champs with Tommaso Ciampa, losing the titles, failing to get them back, having Ciampa turn on him, and the redemption storyline put in place to keep him relevant while Ciampa went off to have surgery to fix some injuries. Footage from the number one contender’s match which put Gargano through to face Almas in Philadelphia closed out the package, and led into the interview.
Johnny Gargano talked about everything crashing down when Ciampa turned on him, and resolving to move forward on his own, to become Johnny Wrestling again. Gargano is very expressive, and conveyed the emotion of hitting rock bottom, only to climb back up, perfectly. There is just something inherently likeable about him, you automatically want him to be successful. A lot of skill goes into that. He finished by saying 2018 is going to be his year.
Just before the Gargano interview, it was announced the Aleister Black will take on Adam Cole, again, at TakeOver.
The announcement about the NXT end of year awards was the categories. They are:
- TakeOver of the Year
- Female Competitor of the Year
- Male Competitor of the Year
- Overall Competitor of the Year
- Tag Team of the Year
- Match of the Year
- Breakout Star of the Year
- Future Star of NXT
- Rivalry of the Year
Voting is done via twitter, and full details can be found here.
The promised in-depth look at Ember Moon was the last thing on the agenda. One of WWE’s excellent packages telling a superstar’s story, reminiscent of the Roderick Strong one from a few months ago. My only question is why they’ve waited until now to show it. She explained that her hand gesture represents skill, honour, and heart, the three things that drive her. The package showed how she started watching wrestling with her grandfather, and followed her journey from starting out through to becoming NXT Women’s Champion. Even the package made it look like Moon was set up to be the one to beat Asuka. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but she feels that their rivalry earned her the respect of the WWE universe. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’s still the one to take Asuka’s undefeated streak, but on the main roster, just because of the way their relationship was framed.
The show closed out with footage of Moon’s championship victory and her holding the belt over her head after Asuka handed it to her.
Two hours was barely enough time to scratch the surface of the amazing year that NXT had. A linear format, chronicling the year from beginning to end, might have allowed them to get more in, but it would have been dry. This format focused on the most important feuds, and signposted some of the stuff to look out for in 2018. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
There is an enormous amount of talent within the NXT roster, and I can’t see them having anything short of another spectacular year. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is some change to the format of NXT before the end of this year. I firmly believe that the brand has grown to such an extent that it’s current hourly, batch-taped, format will be inadequate going forward. I can’t wait to see what 2018 holds.