(Promotion: WWE – Brand: NXT – Venue: Smoothie King Center – Location: New Orleans, Louisiana – Attendance: 13,955 – Date: April 7, 2018)
Announcers: Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness, Percy Watson
NXT North American Championship
EC3 v. Killian Dain v. Adam Cole v. Velveteen Dream v. Lars Sullivan v. Ricochet
EC3 is out first. He is bloody JACKED.
When the camera pans the audience, it catches Britt Baker (Adam Cole‘s girlfriend) cheering.
Audience: “This is awesome!”
Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain clear the ring square up to one another.
Ricochet executes a jaw-dropping Shooting Star Press within the first 120 seconds of the match.
Velveteen Dream trips Ricochet while he is launching off the top rope. He crashes hard.
EC3 hits a Stinger Splash.
Lars Sullivan BURIES Adam Cole with a pop-up power slam.
Dain soars through the air to destroy Sullivan with a suicida dive.
Sullivan annihilates opponents with a ladder. He press slams Dream onto it.
Ricochet, with the help of his opponents, powerbombs Sullivan off the ladder.
Cole and Carter form an alliance to battle Sullivan.
True to form, Cole turns on Carter. He is hella over. The audience goes berserk as he climbs the ladder.
Dream buries Cole followed by Ricochet with the Rainmaker elbow.
Dream scales the ladder and delivers the elbow to Sullivan. Brutal AF. He climbs the ladder again but is power bombed by EC3.
EC3 goes up the ladder but is stopped by Cole.
Dream executes a rolling Death Valley Driver on the ladder.
Sullivan hits the Freak Accident on EC3 on top of Dream driving them both through a ladder to the floor.
Audience: “This is awe-some!”
Audience: “Fight for-ev-er!”
Dain stops Sullivan ascent up the ladder.
All six participants are simultaneously fighting atop three ladders.
Ricochet stuns Dream with an Avalanche neckbreaker. He then knocks Sullivan off the ladder.
Cole scales the ladder and retrieves the belt to become the inaugural NXT North American Champion.
Winner and NEW NXT North American Champion: Adam Cole
Holy shit. This match was mother Fucking BONKERS.
Ladder matches are never easy to predict, so going in this was a pick ’em. (This one was the fourth in the history of NXT.) There were new faces like Carter and Ricochet, big mammoths like Dain and Sullivan, and studs with major momentum like Dream and Cole. All six men entered the ring and never let off the gas until the final bell.
The bout was both thrilling and grueling. It is a prime example of what legendary manager and humbug Jim Cornette despises, a psychology-free car crash…but, man, was this fun. I truly don’t know how the rest of the card can follow this.
And, oh yeah, I love the design of the new title. It is simultaneously both a throwback and modern. It’s very cool.
NXT Women’s Championship
Ember Moon (c) v. Shayna Baszler
Ember Moon is played to the ring by Lzzy Storm of the band Halestorm.
Ronda Rousey and Jessamyn Duke are shown in the audience cheering for Shayna Baszler. (Kinda like that time in Cleveland, huh?)
The Queen of Spades has an…ahem…”Stone Cold” look on her face as she stares down the diminutive champion.
Moon misses a dropkick and gets dropped with a vicious right from the challenger. I thought it was over right then and there but the champ regained her senses.
Baszler works the left arm. She gutwrench suplexes Moon and locks her in a bow and arrow.
Moon rallies and gets a two count. She pins Baszler’s hand to the mat and callously stops on her elbow, a favorite tactic of her opponent.
Baszler looks terrified and sells severe damage to her shoulder. She drives her shoulder into the turnbuckle attempting to pop it back into place. Yikes.
Moon hits an Eclipse outside the ring.
Baszler locks the champion in the Kirifuda Clutch.
Moon hits Baszlers shoulder in a desperate attempt to escape.
Baszler transitions to a Triangle Choke.
Moon picks her up into a powerbomb for a near-fall.
Baszler counters an Eclipse with a one-armed Kirifuda. Moon struggles but eventually passes out.
Winner and NEW NXT Women’s Champion: Shayna Baszler
This was another really fun match. Despite being a heel challenger, Baszler showed true grit with the shoulder story. She desperately wanted to end Moon with the Kirifuda…and did.
Moon showed a nice hint of a nasty streak with her cold-blooded stomp to the elbow early in the bout.
I’m stoked for Baszler’s run as champion. I’ve been following her career since she first surfaced in Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW) in Cleveland. Both vicious and believable, Baszler is the real deal.
NXT Championship/Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals
Undisputed Era (Adam Cole & Kyle O’Reilly) (c) v. Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar) w/ Paul Ellering v. Roderick Strong & Pete Dunne
Ranallo reminds fans that the victorious team is not only the winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic but also the NXT Tag Team Champions.
Dustin Rhodes and Jeff Jarrett are shown in the audience.
Mayhem breaks out at the bell.
The Authors of Pain gain the early advantage. They double-slam Adam Cole through the announce table, putting him out. Kyle O’Reilly is left on his own.
Roderick Strong attacks Akam with a running knee strike. He rocks O’Reilly with a half-nelson backbreaker.
O’Reilly captures Strong in a triangle choke.
Pete Dunne is powerbombed on top of O’Reilly by one of the members of the AOP.
Cole is shown writhing on the ground at ringside.
The AOP work over Strong.
Dunne DDTs Rezar for a near-fall. The UK champ is the least beat up of the six at this point in the bout. He and O’Reilly trade punches.
The AOP hit the Super Collider on O’Reilly and Dunne. They hit the Last Chapter, but Strong makes the save.
Strong executes an Olympic Slam on Rezar.
Donne gets a two on Rezar.
Shockingly, Strong turns on Dunne when he has O’Reilly compromised for the pinfall after a Bitter End. Whattt???
O’Reilly pins Dunne, allowing the Undisputed Era to retain their championship.
Cole rolls in the ring and tosses a UE armband to Strong, who puts it on. Strong has joined the group. Strong steps on Pete Dunne’s chest as the trio celebrates their victory.
Winners: Undisputed Era
I love a good surprise in wrestling. Among other things, it’s one of the advantages it has over traditional sports. But I always find the “turn after an intense battle with bitter enemy” angles to be so challenging to basic logic. He was just whooping the shit out of these guys and now they are best buds? However, like I mentioned in a Facebook group chat earlier, I trust the NXT creative department to come up with a sound reason why I should buy into this. I’ll wait for TV until I judge. That being said, I gotta say that Strong is a perfect fit in the unit. And with Cole as a newly minted singles champ and Bobby Fish on the shelf with injury, Strong can fill in seamlessly as O’Reilly’s tag partner. They are like a far-more-polished version of Generation Next from Ring of Honor. (However, I’m sure that Dunne is going to be chomping at the bit for revenge against the villainous faction.)
Speaking of Dunne, there is something so primal and dog-like about the way that he carries the WWE United Kingdom Championship belt in his teeth. It’s small things like that that enrich a wrestler’s character so much.
And I must say, for a brief second when I saw Rhodes and Jarrett in the audience, I thought they might somehow get involved in the match. Mostly just because of the Dusty Rhodes connection. LOL, right?
Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) w/ Zelina Vega v. Aleister Black
At the ring of the bell, Aleister Black begins to pummel Andrade Almas. He locks the champion in a modified Octopus.
Zelina Vega executes a hurricanrana on Black, launching him into the ring steps.
Almas stuns the challenger with a draping armbar DDT.
Black sweeps the legs. He follows up with a Quebrada.
Almas: snap German suplex followed by a Kota-Ibushi-inspired double-flip moonsault for a nearfall.
Black fires off knee strikes.
After simultaneous kicks, both men are down.
Almas hiptosses Black into the turnbuckle.
Vega gets the belt and hands it to Almas. She spike ‘ranas Black. Almas gets a two on him.
The Amsterdam native blocks the Hammerlock DDT. He hits the NXT Champion with the Black Mass but Vega puts her charges foot on the bottom rope to stop the fall.
Almas with a double-stomp and running knees. Almas out at two. He hits the double knees again while Black is against a turnbuckle post.
The tension in the match has been ratcheted way up.
Black: Tope con Hilo.
Black eats a hammerlock DDT. It’s over!!! But Black baaaarely gets out at two.
The crowd is going ballistic!
Vega dives toward Black who moves out of the way. Almas catches her. Before he can put her down, Black hits the Black Mass. 1-2-3…NEW NXT CHAMPION!
The audience erupts at this point. Almas is distraught. Black looks a bit in shock.
Winner and NEW NXT CHAMPION: Aleister Black
Another excellent match in the 4-star range.
This contest as well-constructed and kicked in hard in the third act. Almas stayed a step ahead of the challenger for nearly the entire match until fate caught up with him. What’s next for Almas? A high-profile rematch and then off to the main roster? Seems likely.
And I’m frothing at the mouth to witness Black’s title reign. He made his debut just one year ago against Almas at last year’s Mania weekend TakeOver. And now he is the man. His rise has been meteoric. His time as champion will undoubtedly be stellar. The roster is fully stocked with a variety of worthy contenders. This is gonna be another huge year for the company.
*If Johnny Gargano wins, he is reinstated in NXT
Tomaso Ciampa v. Johnny Gargano
Tomaso Ciampa enters to no music. He has an ice-cold expression on his face. The audience chants “asshole” at him.
Audience: “You suck!”
The live audience is awash with the Gargano “emoji” signs. Homie is over.
Audience: “Fuck you, Ciampa/Johnny Wrestling!”
Ciampa: “This is MY MOMENT!”
Audience: “Fuck you, Ciampa!”
The crowd explodes when Johnny Gargano‘s music hits.
Gargano enters with a deadly serious glare.
Former Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) Champion Drake Younger is the official for the bout.
Audience: “Fuck ’em up, Johnny, fuck ’em up!”
Gargano explodes on Ciampa. He levels him with a slingshot spear. He recklessly stomps him. He staggers him with a suicide dive.
After incapacitating Gargano with a gutwrench backbreaker, Ciampa pulls up a section of the mat, exposing the concrete below.
Gargano dumps Ciampa onto the announce table.
Audience: “Mama Mia!!”
The former partners are battling it out on top of the commentator’s table. Ciampa suplexes his enemy to the floor. It looked nasty.
Audience: “Fuck you, Ciampa!”
Ciampa: belly-to-back suplex and a Texas Cloverleaf. He stomps Gargano on the apron.
Audience: “You’re a wanker!”
There is a fan on crutches at ringside. He is wearing a Johnny Gargano t-shirt. Ciampa steals his crutches and brings them into the ring. He swings wildly at Johnny Wrestling.
Gargano powerbombs him from the apron onto the exposed concrete floor.
Audience: “You deserve it!”
Both combatants crawl slowly toward the crutch. A tug of war erupts for control of it. He fires a shot into Ciampa’s abdomen. He tees off on his back and legs.
Ciampa dumps him over the top rope.
Gargano wallops him over the head with the crutch. He hits a slingshot DDT for a nearfall. He exposes a turnbuckle and slingshots Ciampa into a chair.
The Black Hear gets a two. He rampages into the back of Gargano’s head with a knee for another two.
There is a brief respite as both men are on the mat.
Gargano: clotheslines, slaps and a reverse ‘rana. He locks on the GargaNO Escape!!
Ciampa struggles to the rope but since the bout isn’t sanctioned, that won’t break the hold. He digs into Gargano’s eyes causing him to release his grip. Ciampa then undoes his black wrist tape. He goes to choke Gargano with it but somehow the two become locked by it at the wrist. They begin to trade sadistic punches.
Gargano gains momentum.
Ciampa breaks it with a low blow and shot from the crutch. He gets Gargano with the “Project Ciampa” (Powerbomb/lung blower).
Gargano kicks out.
Ciampa looks exhausted. He is on his knees. Gargano crawls towards him.
Gargano: Superkick. Clothesline. Lawn dart to exposed buckle. Superkick. Two count.
Ciampa hits a powerbomb off the second rope for two. He takes off his knee brace and pulls down the pad, exposing the bare joint. He goes for a knee strike, but Gargano counters by smashing the limb with the knee brace.
Gargano gets the crutch and snaps it. He looms over Ciampa, ready to pummel his foes with the mangled crutch…but he stops for a beat. The wheels are turning in his head. He doesn’t want to compromise himself by sinking to Ciampa’s level. He doesn’t want to compromise himself. He drops the crutch.
Ciampa, however, swings at him with the mangled knee brace. Nice guy or not, Johnny snaps. He locks on the GargaNO Escape, hooking Ciampa’s face with the knee brace. It is nothing less than vicious. Ciampa has no choice but to immediately submit. Gargano has slain his foe and is back in NXT.
Candice LeRae makes her way to the ring to celebrate with her battered and exhausted husband.
Winner: Johnny Gargano
I generally don’t *grade* match, but I would consider this to be a 5-star bout. This match was a magnificent piece of storytelling. The brief moment that Gargano took to consider the crutch was played to perfection. It unfolded in slow motion, even in real time. In that brief flash, the viewer learned everything they needed to know about who he is as a man. The physicality, narrative, emotion and raw violence were in the proper ratio to create a bit of magic. And to consider what this match had to follow, well that was one helluva tall order.
It is very difficult to *intentionally* be hated in the pro wrestling business in 2018. Smarky Internet fans have all but neutered Kayfabe. The more dickish a performer tries to be, the more they are cheered. But not Tomaso Ciampa. People don’t just dislike him. They hate his guts. His vile acts against their beloved hero won’t be forgotten and absolutely won’t be forgiven. He is a talented, cold-blooded performer who raises bile in the throats of any self-respecting wrestling fan. He has the ability and momentum to sneak in the back door and become a major star. The match was crafted around the idea of each man getting his “moment.” Ciampa was denied his. There will be hell to pay.
And our hero Johnny Gargano is at the apex of his career…at least to date. Shoot, honestly, he has barely entered his prime. His connection with the fans is unquestionable and his talent is seemingly limitless. Now that he has returned home to NXT what does the future hold? He will certainly spend the next several months battling Tomaso Ciampa— but after that? Does he go for the NXT Championship? Is the main roster beckoning him? Johnny Gargano is a legend-in-the-making. Sit back and buckle up because this is going to be one wild ride.
This one was one terrific night of professional wrestling. At least three of the matches would easily earn 4+ stars, as one simply topped the next. Two new champions were crowned. Ciampa was cemented as a main event villain. Most importantly, however, is that I’m excited to see what happens next. Is Moon done with the brand? Who will be Black’s first challenger? How does Ciampa react to not only losing, but submitting?
If this is any indication, it is going to be a long summer…
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