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Smark Hen-XT (2/21/18): Thank You, Johnny Wrestling


F&%^ YOU CIAMPA, YOU LITTLE PIECE OF S#%@.

Okay, phew, now that that's out of my system, I have to break it to everyone: our favorite underdog, Johnny Gargano, is gone from NXT.

I have read the spoilers from a month ago and I have seen the match twice; and it's still hard for me to talk about this. But for the sake of this column, I'm going to try my hardest, dammit.

Given that this was a Johnny Gargano and Andrade "Cien" Almas match, it was expected that this was going to be really good. Not TakeOver kind of a banger, but it was a notch higher than their previous match on NXT TV. There were a lot of callbacks to their five-star barn burner in TakeOver: Philadelphia that made it a good sequel.

 

With Zelina Vega out early from the match due to a Candice LeRae beatdown after trying to interfere, the finish saw Almas accidentally knocking out the referee with his back elbow after Gargano avoided it. Gargano took advantage and applied the Gargano Escape on the champion. The crowd was rallying for Johnny Wrestling, until that snake Tommaso Ciampa appeared through the crowd and hit Gargano with his crutch. Almas escaped and applied his patented hammerlock DDT to retain his title and cost Gargano his NXT career.

Putting kayfabe aside, the entire match was great. I'm always a sucker for the little things, like Almas looking very confident as soon as he entered the ring (I mean, he beat the man thrice); Almas and Gargano attempting their own signature moves on each other (I marked out so hard at this); and Gargano failing to do the slingshot DDT and then finally applying it, which made the crowd go apeshit.

When done recklessly, interferences in the middle of an excellent match suck the energy out of the fans. But since the seeds have long been planted (even way before TakeOver: Philadelphia), we all just knew Ciampa was going to appear at some point. In this case, it was even more painful as soon as his crutch landed on Gargano, and then we all realized that this still wasn't Johnny Wrestling's time. And that his time with NXT was up.

As for Almas, he still looked like a legitimate champion, despite the finish and being in the supporting role in this feud. It always takes two to tango, and he just proved that he's worthy of being called the NXT Champion with his matches with Gargano.

The few moments leading to the end of the episode were even more emotional. Zelina Vega and Almas smirking on the ramp while they wipe their hands ticked a lot of nerves, the face of a devastated Gargano (with Candice consoling him) spoke louder than words, and the Sicilian Psychopath's last goodbye to his old buddy while he wore a weary smile.

God, I'm so angry at Ciampa right now, I love this so much. And I'm heartbroken.


*****

Rest of the show:
  • Velveteen Dream def. No Way Jose: Dream is incredibly over, you guys. To think that people were doubting the gimmick back when his vignettes were still airing.
One of the things that make the Atlanta crowd different from the Full Sail faithfuls is their dedication to boo the heels and cheer the faces (man, what a concept). In this match, they seemed a little confused. No Way Jose was the babyface here, but they love Velveteen Dream so much that they just had to cheer for him. I was expecting this to go only a couple of minutes, but No Way Jose got a lot of offense in that a teeny, tiny part of me thought that he may be turning heel.

After the match, Dream cut a promo that mocked the winners of the NXT Awards, which included other crowd favorites (and he still got cheered for it!). He said that no one cares, and that it's his name that's still on everyone's tongues (I'm all for his constant desire to be relevant). He then further basked in the cheers from the crowd.

Dream is so good, you guys (and he's only in his early 20's!), but I guess you already know that.



  • Nikki Cross def. Vanessa Borne: It bugs me that we don't see much of Nikki Cross. Objectively speaking, Nikki just had one hell of a program with Asuka before the latter left for the main roster (remember the crazy Last Woman Standing match on NXT TV, of all places?), she's over AF, and she's great in the ring. She is capable of more than a couple of minutes on TV, heck, she deserves another go for the title. But that's just me. On the other side of the ring, Borne has improved leaps and bounds since we last saw her. Her character has always been on point, and her offense (her snap suplex was lovely) is much more solid. I kind of wished this went a wee bit longer so we could see more of her.

*****

NXT General Manager William Regal also announced the return of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic (YAY!) which will feature eight teams. Brackets have been revealed, and the first round matches will start in two weeks.
Oddly, this was a recap-heavy episode to set up more important matches as we inch closer to TakeOver: New Orleans. I personally have mixed feelings in-ring wise this week, but the main event was excellent, and the closing moments of this episode took it up a notch higher. A-



Photo from WWE.com



*****
Ardelle Costuna works for a news organization somewhere along Timog Avenue whenever she's not watching wrestling. A renewed fan, she only knew of Shawn Michaels' (her wrestling first love) retirement just two years ago. She's currently drowning in a lot of shows she missed, but she's loving every minute of it. You can catch her crying over some damn good wrestling and swooning over Kenny Omega at @ardellelledra.

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