By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Johnny Gargano interviewed by Mauro Ranallo: Gargano delivered a fantastic performance and Ranallo made for a good sympathetic figure. Gargano showed excellent intensity while maintaining total believability. The “you know why” explanation works for fans who have followed his long saga with Tommaso Ciampa, but there are surely some USA Network era newcomers who need more specifics. But strictly from a performance standpoint, Gargano knocked one out of the park.
Tegan Nox vs. Dakota Kai in a cage match: A very good match and a good continuation of one of NXT’s best current feuds. Kai has shined since turning heel and Raquel Gonzalez is a strong addition to her act. The finish with Gonzalez trapping Nox between the cage and the cage door was clever and extends the feud. As much as I wish the cage match was booked to be a feud ending match, that just hasn’t been the case in WWE for many years, so the outside interference didn’t bother me, though the match did benefit from being the first of the two cage matches to air. Nox is a strong and likable babyface, but we simply need to hear more from her. She has the ongoing sympathy of NXT regulars who know the story of her ACL injuries, but I don’t feel like we’ve heard enough from her on television lately.
Isaiah Scott vs. Austin Theory: A very good match between two of NXT’s rising stars. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these two feuding over the NXT Championship somewhere down the road. Scott strikes me as being more confident these days. Theory continues to stand out as a future star.
Rhea Ripley video: A good character profile piece with Ripley speaking from an empty Raymond James Stadium, which is scheduled to host her match with Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania. She did a nice job of putting over the size stadium, the importance of the match, and provided some endearing nuggets regarding her background.
Chelsea Green vs. Shotzi Blackheart: I still have no idea why Green lost her first televised match to Kayden Carter, but it seems like she’s on the right track now that she avenged that loss and won again here. Green has a star look and I was really impressed by Robert Stone’s work at ringside at a recent house show. Blackheart has upside and should eventually become a player in the division, but Green needed the win more and should be fast tracked into a prominent position.
Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly vs. Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan: Burch and Lorcan play their scrappy underdog roles nicely and I’d like to see them get a big upset win one of these days, but this wasn’t the right time. Fish and O’Reilly needed the bounce back win after dropping their tag titles and especially given that they are getting a rematch next week. The finish was cool with Lorcan seeming to be in the midst of a flurry only to be taken out by Total Elimination. The post match exchange with Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne being attacked by Zack Gibson and James Drake was a surprise and must have been necessary from a storytelling standpoint for something they are doing next week involving the NXT Tag Title match.
Keith Lee and Cameron Grimes: A minor Miss for Grimes coming off like he’s playing a character rather than feeling real during his promo. The live crowd was all over him and that’s encouraging, but the over the top bravado felt phony. I also wasn’t a fan of Lee knocking Grimes out of the ring. This felt like a spot to put some heat on Grimes so that Lee had something to avenge. Instead, Grimes comes off like a speed bump more than a credible threat to win the North American Title next week.
Velveteen Dream vs. Roderick Strong in a cage match: A good match, but I didn’t care for the way Dream took the loss to get Adam Cole alone in the cage. Dream shifting his focus to Cole is an interesting development, but it felt like a letdown and added to the feeling that it was counter productive to have both cage matches feature outside interference. The Dream vs. Strong feud never completely clicked. Maybe it’s because the stakes weren’t high without a title belt involved. Or maybe it’s because the injury angle used months ago to explain Dream’s absence wasn’t visually strong or memorable. With Dream moving into NXT Title contention, NXT creative has to hope that the Dream vs. Strong feud feeling underwhelming isn’t because Dream’s popularity is cooling off.