On the final show before TakeOver: Philadelphia, Johnny Gargano puts his championship opportunity on the line against the Velveteen Dream, whilst Shayna Baszler and Ember Moon come face to face to discuss their upcoming TakeOver match…
No Way Jose
(Winner via pinfall: No Way Jose)
(Winner via pinfall: Bianca Belair)
If Gargano loses, Velveteen Dream takes his NXT Championship match at TakeOver: Philadelphia
(Winner via submission: Johnny Gargano)
Once again, NXT proved with episode #431 that it is the best WWE weekly television series. At this point, there is not even a close second.
The wrestling focus was always on Johnny Gargano and Velveteen Dream’s big main event, but the two other matches entertained as well, with No Way Jose making an impact in the opening match, and Bianca Belair using incredible physical power to dominate her opponent. Given Belair was the smaller competitor, it was even more impressive.
There would have been a third match to fill out the card under the main event, but the Authors of Pain decided to obliterate their opponents. With a title match coming up at TakeOver: Philadelphia, the Authors wanted to make a strong statement to current NXT Tag Team Champions Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, which they definitely succeeded at doing. Whilst they’re great to watch in NXT, surely the Authors of Pain’s Akam and Rezar are now ready to move up to the main roster? Perhaps Philadelphia will be their last hurrah?
Special mentions must be given to the video packages used in this episode. The TM61 video, designed to help get them over as stronger babyfaces, was well produced and generated some sympathy for the team. I do wonder if their in-ring return next week will lead to a swerve, though, with the team leaving the show as heels.
The face off between Ember Moon and Shayla Baszler was absolutely fantastic. Baszler is such a badass, and I could watch her in these kind of promos all day long. I thought the music being played in the background of the interview made it feel particularly tense too, but I love that they resisted the urge to have both women end up in a brawl. It does feel as though Baszler would have benefitted from six months of causing chaos before turning her attention to the championship, but I’d say there’s a very strong chance that Moon drops her title here, which wouldn’t be ideal for either woman but does make Baszler look like a legitimate threat to anyone and anything.
The main event, which saw Gargano put his Number 1 Contendership on the line, was everything you’d expect from a match between he and the Velvet Dream. It was athletic, competitive, and had the crowd on the edge of their seats. Gargano is a legitimate babyface star in the marking, and Velveteen Dream is getting more and more impressive each time I see him. Both these men can go in the ring, and there’s a good shout to say that this is the best WWE match of 2018, thus far.
Following Gargano’s submission victory, he found himself being taken out by Almas, as we got our final bit of build before their NXT Championship match at TakeOver. These two will tear the house down in Philadelphia, and at this point it is impossible to pick a winner.
This was a great little episode that touched on most of the big issues as we head into TakeOver. The action was good, particularly the main event, but it was the pre-taped backstage segments and video packages that stole the show. NXT does such a good job of building its feuds and characters through non in-ring material, you almost wish RAW and Smakdown‘s creative teams would sit down and study how things are done on the ‘developmental’ brand.
Match of the Night
Johnny Gargano vs. Velveteen Dream
(+0.5 for video packages and promos)