The Road to Wrestlemania begins at the Royal Rumble, but it is the night before that NXT takes over Philadelphia. Andrade Almas, fresh off his shocking defeat of Drew McIntyre at the War Games event, will defend the NXT Championship against the plucky underdog Johnny Gargano in the main event, and with Almas’ manager Zelina Vega in the champion’s corner, it’s an uphill battle for “Johnny Wrestling”. The NXT Tag Team Championships are also on the line as new champions, two thirds of The Undisputed Era in Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly must face off against the Authors of Pain, and the brutish challengers are set to come out swinging. The final member of the Undisputed Era, Adam Cole (bay bay!), is also in action in a match the fans in Philadelphia know very well, as he takes on Aleister Black in an Extreme Rules match. Ember Moon defends her Women’s title against newcomer Shayna Baszler and the Velveteen Dream promises to knockout Kassius Ohno to round out the card.
+ Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) (w/ Zelina Vega) vs Johnny Gargano (NXT Championship): whilst much like the Black/Cole match before it this was very predictable, it was still to flawlessly executed that you’ll forgive it all. These two man had such incredible chemistry that I could have watched this for hours and never gotten bored. Thismay be an early match of the year contender. I can’t overstate how damn good this was, and almost makes the whole show worth watching itself
+ Aleister Black vs Adam Cole (Extreme Rules Match): after the first three matches, this one HAD to be great, and it exceeded all my expectations. Both men tore each other to pieces, and finished the match with numerous cuts and abrasions all over their bodies, including a pretty nasty cut on Cole’s lower back. Put simply, this was just really damn good
+ Ember Moon (c) vs Shayna Baszler (NXT Women’s Championship): it was a sight to see to see a real life MMA practitioner in Baszler putting on fake submission holds. This was a predictable match, but predictable is not always bad, especially with a standard-but-exciting story that this match told
– The Velveteen Dream vs Kassius Ohno: Dream promised a KO win in 30 seconds or less, and whether that happened or not, this was a really sloppy fight. The two recovered well enough, after a handful of obvious mistakes, but not enough to put this even close to the incredible Dream/Black match from War Games
– The Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) vs The Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar) (W/ Paul Ellering) (NXT Tag Team Championship): I don’t know how I feel about the AoP being the good guys in any match, and this never felt like a heel vs heel match. I spent the whole match waiting for it to kick into a higher gear, but it never happened, which left it all a bit lackluster
– I’m not sure if perhaps Kevin Dunn had a more hands on approach to this show compared to usual, but there were so many camera cuts it was difficult to focus on anything. This was especially noticeable in the opening tag title contest, but key moments were missed during almost every single match
> The obligatory “new signees in the crowd” were exactly as you’d expect, as War Machine, Ricochet and EC3 were all shown in the crowd throughout the night. I’m hyped for War Machine, but I don’t know about the others
Should you watch this event: After the move to the main roster from Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Asuka, Finn Balor and especially Shinsuke Nakamura, NXT really needed a shot in the arm, and they have received that with the likes of Aleister Black, Johnny Gargano (as a singles wrestler) and even Velveteen Dream. This was a show of ups and downs, but all the new stars being created every live event really makes this the start of a new boom period for the brand. Black/Cole and Almas/Gargano were both fantastic, and as the top two matches they should be, and the rest may tickle your fancy even if they didn’t mine.