Welcome one and all to a special edition of the NXT Spotlight here at TJRWrestling. Hopefully everyone joined our fearless leader, John Canton, for his live coverage of the show. I wasn’t able to tune in live but still wanted to give my thoughts and analysis of the show. I won’t do full play by play as John should have you covered with that. What I’m going to do is give my opinions on each match, what I liked and didn’t like, and my thoughts on where certain things may be headed as we go on the Road to WrestleMania.

LOVED the opening video with Paul Heyman. It’s great to have him on the broadcast and tie everything together as the show takes place from the “land of Extreme” in Philly.

NXT Tag Title Match
Authors of Pain (w/Paul Ellering) vs. The Undisputed Era (c)

This was a surprise to start the show. Thought it was a guarantee that Ohno/TVD would start us off. The champs with a great reaction, as expected. Really like the stage setup for NXT. I’ve always loved this, and even more after seeing it live for War Games, but I love how the focus is strictly on the ring. Everything else is blacked out. A very old school approach that I appreciate. Nigel McGuinness is sick so it’s just Mauro and Percy, which sucks cause that’s gonna be way too much Percy. Weird to see Authors of Pain work as babyfaces but their offense early was good. Akam hit Fish with a wheelbarrow slam on the barricade that looked nasty. Fish then took a nasty fall to the floor as he speared Rezar through the ropes. Crowd is more quiet than I would’ve expected. Loved how Undisputed Era worked over the knee of Akam. Not just your typical wear down holds. They’re such a well oiled machine. Crowd woke up for Rezar’s hot tag offense. Fish impressed me with the exploder suplex he was able to hit on Rezar. AOP really working hard tonight and the crowd is behind him, which is impressive considering the pop Undisputed Era got coming out. Akam literally just powerbombed O’Reilly on the top turnbuckle. That was really cool. Man, what a great finish. AOP goes for the Super Collider but Akam’s leg gave out on him after the collision and O’Reilly is able to roll him up for the win. Very creative.

Winners: The Undisputed Era retains

K-Tank’s Take: That may not have been their best match, but that was AOP’s best performance. They had their working boots on and I’m sure it wasn’t easy working babyface for the first time. They did a great job, got the crowd behind them, and the finish does nothing to hurt them. As I said after this week’s TV show, I would imagine Undisputed Era moves on to TM61 and then AOP will meet War Machine. That second matchup I admit I’m selfishly hoping for.

Speaking of War Machine, they are shown at ringside and they are labeled as War Machine, and kept their names of Ray Rowe and War Beard Hanson. That is so awesome to see. If you don’t know about War Machine, get yourself familiar with them.

The Velveteen Dream vs. Kassius Ohno

TVD’s entrance was so great. Dressed as a boxer, I’m sure a Rocky or even Apollo Creed nod since we’re in Philly, and then had a mountain of a man holding a furry pillow that was holding his mouthpiece. Crowd gave him a great reaction. I’m so happy for him coming from Tough Enough and turning himself into this and making a success out of it. Kassius Ohno came out wearing Pittsburgh colors in Philly. That doesn’t make sense. The story early was that TVD had promised a 30 second knockout of Ohno in the pre-show. The crowd chanted to 30, which was funny. Dream actually did knock Ohno out, but instead of pinning him, he celebrated like he’d won the fight. That was tremendous. Ohno got up and gave TVD a massive elbow shot and the crowd booed the hell out of him. TVD is such gold. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Ohno landed some STIFF shots when he was making his comeback. Ohno almost hurt himself getting spiked on TVD’s DDT version of Sister Abigail. They followed that botch up with another of TVD supposed to catch Ohno in mid-air and transition to his cartwheel DVD. Ohno overshot the jump and his momentum took him crashing to the mat and TVD couldn’t catch him properly. Crowd let him know about it. TVD finally hit it, it was a struggle though, and then went to the top of the LED ringpost and lept for the Purple Rainmaker. He didn’t land it clean as Ohno was quite a ways away, but it still led to the win.

Winner: The Velveteen Dream

K-Tank’s Take: Those last few minutes weren’t pretty at all. Dunno if they were just working too fast or Ohno not accustomed to TVD’s offense, but it did not look good in multiple spots. This was definitely a showcase for TVD more than anything, so maybe Ohno wasn’t thrilled about that. Probably not fair to say, but just a thought. Great to see how much the crowd loved TVD. I would love to see him have a high profile match at Takeover: New Orleans, but it won’t be easy with the amount of talent NXT has now.

NXT Women’s Title Match
Shayna Baszler vs. Ember Moon (c)

Nice touch on Baszler’s entrance, giving her the MMA/Goldberg entrance where the camera follows her walk from backstage into the arena. Mike Rome made the mistake of announcing Ember Moon from Dallas, Texas, which got her booed by default. That actually made me laugh. Nice trio of kicks by Ember early on, to the temple of Baszler. She followed that with a low bridge suicide dive that got some serious air. Baszler landed the same kick to Ember’s arm that injured Dakota Kai. That move looks really good. Baszler did a good job working over that arm and Ember did a good job making a comeback while selling the arm. Great spot where Ember was able to hit the Eclipse but sold the arm injury to the point where not only was she not able to make a pin, the ref called for trainers. The crowd didn’t like that, but I thought was a creative spot. Great struggle between the two women as Baszler worked hard to lock on the Fujiwara armbar. That led to a surprise finish as Ember fought hard enough to double over Baszler and get a pinfall out of it.

Winner: Ember Moon retains

Post match, Baszler attacked Ember on the floor and choked her out.

K-Tank’s Take: I said in my preview piece I thought Ember would retain, but they would do something to make Baszler look strong, as I don’t think she’s long for NXT. That’s exactly what they did, but also in the process did a great job of making Ember look like a babyface that would never quit. This match wasn’t great and it wasn’t that long, but they still accomplished what they’d want to with both women. Even with the post match antics, I still don’t see Baszler sticking around. Perhaps they do a rematch in a couple weeks, but I would expect Baszler in the women’s Royal Rumble and to see her involved in whatever Ronda Rousey does. I don’t mind two roll-up finishes on the card because both were differently executed and both told a good story.

Ricochet was shown in the crowd and got a massive reaction. He was listed as Trevor “Ricochet” Mann. I would be okay with that.

Extreme Rules Match
Adam Cole vs. Aleister Black

Black won the Breakout and Male Competitor of the Year, which shows how much of a rockstar he is right now in NXT. As I’ve said before, he’s the persona NXT has been missing since Finn Balor left. His entrance is one of the best in the business. I honestly think I would’ve closed with this match, but I’m sure there’s something big planned for the title match so it’s not a big deal. I just think these are the two biggest stars on the brand. Camera fail on the “Adam Cole BAY BAY”. Not cool. One of Black’s best character traits is no selling everything that is verbally sent his way. Cole did so much trash talking early, and Black just sat there Indian style with that stoic face. Two things that I see that seem like dead giveaways, Cole went under the ring and there was a TV monitor on, clear as day. So someone is under the ring. There’s also a large anvil case set up next to the announce table, which you never see, so that’s obviously going to come into use. Maybe some people don’t/won’t notice that, but those seem like pretty big camera fails to capture those things. Great story early about how Black didn’t feel he needed to use weapons and Cole kept going for them. Great spot of Cole hitting Black in mid-air with the kendo stick as Black went for a Lionsault. Crowd has come alive for this match, that’s for sure. It looked like Cole sliced his hand somehow as it was covered in blood. Black introduced a ladder and then got Cole in an electric chair and threw him into the ladder set up in the turnbuckle. There’s no easy way to take that fall.

Trainers ended up taping up the thumb of Cole, so that’s apparently what he cut. Good thing that was a quick and easy clean up. Crazy spot where Cole superkicked a chair in Black’s face while he was climbing the turnbuckles and Black ended up falling backwards into two tables that had been set up. Black now bleeding from the small of his back after that fall. At least he took it better than Alexander Wolfe did with a similar spot at War Games. Cole set up two chairs back to back to punish Black, but ended up getting a Death Valley Driver by Black onto those chairs. That looked so painful. The crowd chanted “You deserve it” which is messed up but also accurate. As you can expect, O’Reilly and Fish made their presence known and took out Black just as it looked like he was gonna beat Cole. Both guys had arms taped up, so not sure if they were injured somehow during their match. They dragged Black to that anvil case I mentioned earlier but Sanity came out to even the sides. Killian Dain did a massive suicide dive through the ropes that took out his own teammates along with Fish and O’Reilly. Cole went over to the anvil but Black manages to kick him off and then jumped off and landed a huge double knee attack that drove Cole through the announce table. What a cool spot. This match is as advertised! They got back in the ring and Cole said he was gonna finish Black but Black hit Black Mass out of nowhere, flush under the arm and catching Cole in the ear/back of the head as he was going for a chair swing and Black has pinned Cole yet again!

Winner: Aleister Black

K-Tank’s Take: That match is the leader in the clubhouse for Match of the Year. It’s only January, but will anything top it? It’s going to be tough. What a battle! John’s report said it went about 21 minutes and honestly felt longer than that. I have zero problem with Black winning, I just predicted Cole to win because I thought they would protect him a bit in not having two pinfall losses that soon. But that type of loss doesn’t hurt Cole at all and really just reinforced what a top star he is. Aleister Black looks destinted for a NXT Title match in New Orleans, which with the vibe of that city and his character, is about as perfect a match as you can get. Go watch this match!

EC 3 was shown in the crowd, labeled as such. He got a massive reaction as well and that’s got to feel so great for him. The last time he was in WWE, he was floundering as Derrick Bateman, but worked his ass off in Impact Wrestling and now comes into NXT (Mauro said he was a new signing for NXT) as a huge star. I thought maybe we’d see him in the Rumble, but he is now added to what I truly believe is the most stacked male roster in NXT history. I know that’s saying a lot, but I truly believe it.

NXT Title Match
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) (w/Zelina Vega)

The video package before this match was simply outstanding. Really told the story of Gargano perfectly. The champ actually came out first, which was definitely a surprise to the crowd. Almas got a special entrance with a Mariachi band wearing luchador masks. Almas came out in a Mexico colored and themed attire, also wearing a luchador mask. Not sure if it was the same style mask he used to wear when he wrestled in Mexico. The crowd facing the camera was flooded with paper signs of Gargano’s logo. That’s a cool visual. I thought since Candice LaRae wasn’t shown at ringside yet, like her fellow classmates of War Machine and Ricochet, that she would come out with Gargano to even the sides. That did not happen though. Gargano looks in the best shape of his career. Tremendous chain wrestling to start. LaRae was shown in the crowd with Gargano’s family, so she’s at least nearby. These guys are so incredibly fluid with one another. They’ve had two awesome matches against each other and look well on their way to a third. Gargano wiped out hard in front of his wife when he attempted a cannonball splash off the apron. Loved the spot where Gargano avoided the Tree of Woe double foot stomp. When that move is hit, like when Del Rio used it a lot as a finisher, it’s the move that annoys me the most in wrestling. Why would an opponent hold himself up for you to come crashing down like that? It makes no sense. Yes, I know it’s pro wrestling, but that move makes less sense than any other.

Good near fall with Gargano landing his spear through the ropes. Just wish Almas would have waited a split second longer to kick out. Almas landed a hell of a double moonsault on Gargano. Landed on his feet and in one motion jumped again to land it after Gargano had moved out of the way. The back and forth action is so good between these two. Gargano looked legit rocked by a back elbow from Almas out of the corner. Crowd came unglued after an incredible near fall on Gargano where he kicked out of a tornado reverse DDT. Gargano landed a slingshot DDT over the top rope onto the apron! The margin of error is so slim with that limited of space. Wow. I said that I didn’t know if anything this year would top Black and Cole and yet here we are a half hour or so later and these two are possibly already doing it. So much for my rant on the double foot stomp out of the tree of woe, as Almas landed it, but this time with Gargano facing outside and landing on the apron.

The near falls on Gargano are a thing of beauty. Gargano came so close to getting Almas to tap out but Vega grabbed him and got him to the ropes. I don’t understand why LaRae doesn’t get involved! Vega then hurricanranas Gargano into the steel stairs and still nothing. That annoys me to no end. Almas lands the Hammerlock DDT and that could be the greatest near fall of all time!! I thought that was it for sure. WOW!! The crowd has gone ballistic. FINALLY LARAE GETS INVOLVED!! Vega went to attack Gargano again after that nearfall and LaRae took her out and then chased her out of the ringside area. This match is f’ing epic. There’s just nothing else to say. I cannot under-exaggerate the emotional roller coaster this match is taking us on. Almas escaped the Gargano Escape again and I lost my mind. Everyone wants Gargano to win this so badly. Holy Shit, Gargano just took the running double knees pinned up against the LED ringpost! Almas hit the Hammerlock DDT with Gargano draped over the top rope and by God, this is over finally. Un-freaking-believable. The crowd is absolutely crushed, I’m crushed, but dammit what a story, battle, war, that was just told.

Winner: Andrade “Cien” Almas retains

After the match, Gargano made his way up the ramp with his wife and sure enough, from behind comes Tommaso Ciampa, who wraps his crutch around the back of Gargano. Ciampa stares at what he’s done and then finally walks away as the show ends with Gargano in agony.

K-Tank’s Take: Man, I’m not afraid to say it, but I legitimately got choked up when Gargano lost that match. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been that emotionally invested into a match. That was over a half hour of just absolute greatness. John ranked this match quite a bit higher than Cole/Black and I can’t disagree. If you can have a perfect match, Almas and Gargano just had it. The only SMALL nitpick I would have is Almas just needs to be coached up on his kickouts. He’s kicking out at 2 4/10, while Gargano was always kicking out at 2 9/10. You can’t do it any better than Gargano did it. It’s  a very small thing, but when you watch this match, you’ll notice it. I say this quite a bit but I’ve never meant it more than right now, GO WATCH THIS MATCH. EVERYONE wanted Gargano to win that match, but it’s just not meant to be. The babyface chasing the holy grail is a story that’s stood the test of time and not many have done it better than Gargano. I honestly would expect some second guessing about how much the crowd wanted Gargano to win and so they should’ve pulled the trigger on a title change, but I don’t have a problem with it, even with as much as I wanted it personally. Gargano’s ultimate redemption will be when/if he can defeat his demon of Ciampa.

As I look towards Takeover: New Orleans now, I think your top matches are clearly Black vs. Almas for the title and Gargano vs. Ciampa in the ultimate grudge match. I’d like to see TM61 vs. The Undisputed Era and War Machine vs. AOP as I discussed earlier. I’m not sure who Ember Moon’s challenger will be yet, but I think if healthy, the front runner would be Kairi Sane. With the likes of Ricochet and EC 3 now on the brand as well, there’s a ton of star power that may be left off the show. The next couple of months should be nothing short of incredible and a lot of fun to follow.

I just have one final question… why the hell was there a TV monitor on under the ring if no one was there?!

Thank you all for indulging me in my thoughts for this incredible show. Once again, NXT sets the bar for the weekend and the main roster will have a hell of a time following it. This brand is red hot and I’m super excited to be covering it for you guys. Until next time, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, but if you do… name it after me!