Good evening NXT fans! I wanted to love this episode of NXT and I did! Let’s get to it!

NXT got a cold open this week when CJ Parker and Tyler Breeze both asked Brad Maddox backstage if they could be in tonight’s tag team gauntlet for the #1 contendership. Maddox ended up putting them in a team together, to their mutual disapproval. Once the show properly started it went right into the tag gauntlet, which was won by the Ascension. After that match Sasha Banks beat Bayley and the accompanying Summer Rae announced that Fandango would be coming to NXT next week. Emma then came out and chased the ladies off. Aiden English then beat jobber. Renee Young got a word with Summer Rae backstage, who reiterated most of what she already said in her live promo, but also challenged Emma to a mixed tag match.

Sami Zayn defeated El Local pretty easily, summoning Bo Dallas to make announcements and smile awkwardly. Dallas basically set up a “Bo Dallas” invitation, but specifically allowed everyone but Sami Zayn to enter.

Brad Maddox, in his office, was on the phone when HOLY S**T ITS KASSIUS OHNO! KASSIUS OHNO IS BACK, CALL YOUR KIDS, CALL YOUR WIFE, SLAP YO MOMMA! KASSIUS OHNO IS BACK!

…woah. Sorry about that. Kassius Ohno showed up and, after an excellent segment with Maddox, was promised a match with a single member of the Wyatt family on next week’s show.

In the main event promo, Triple H came out and put over NXT, but also addressed the McMahon/Rhodes situation and announced that he had given Dusty some time off, replacing him in his NXT GM position with JBL.

Got all that? It was a pretty full show. Let’s discuss.

Immediate Gold Star!

I f**king loved the tag team gauntlet. Loved it, loved it. I thought it was the best Enzo Amore and Colin Cassidy have ever looked as a team, I thought it progressed all its participants forward in their storylines and feuds and it was just plain fun to boot. This is a perfect example of a wrestling match working on all levels. It provided short term enjoyment through fancy moves and silly characters, it promoted long-term storytelling by giving two different sets of characters more reasons to hate each other and it checked the rigid box of “must set up the next tag-title match”. It also did all these things with wrestlers nobody would consider main eventers. Wrestling works, people. You don’t need mega stars or chair shots or blood or anything cheap, just a little storytelling effort and some wrestlers ready to entertain.

A shake up at commentary:

Tonight’s episode is the first of the new taping and, along with renewed energy from crowd and creative staff, it also brings with it some changes to the commentary team. Tony Dawson is gone, fired, released. I won’t miss him. I’m sure he was a fine person, but being a wrestling commentator wasn’t the job for him. Todd Phillips is now Mr. Dawson’s replacement in the seat next to William Regal and Regal was definitely testing him tonight. From pretending (or maybe not pretending) that he couldn’t tell the difference between him and the fired Dawson and berating the guy while Renee Young joined them on commentary, Regal was certainly pushing to see if Phillips would break. Overall I think Todd did a pretty good job. He was always my favorite of the two vanilla play by play guys on NXT and I hope he’ll mesh with and win over Regal with time.

As I previously mentioned Renee Young also showed up at the commentary desk, but only for the Diva’s match. While I think it’s a little….weird/odd/possibly/probably sexist that Renee would comment only when the girls were fighting, she did a bang up job of it. Maybe she’ll get to do a bang up job of it on diva’s matches enough times that they’ll just stick her on full-time commentary somewhere and she’ll become the first lady commentator.

It’s a weird thing to shoot for, but why not?

Second Gold Star!

Hey, remember when I said I really liked the opening match because it did so many things at once? Yeah, the diva’s match was awesome tonight for the same reason.

Bayley and Sasha had a good match at face value, but in wrestling they also showcased how well each is developing their characters. Sasha came out as a definite mean girl, with Queen of the Mean Summer Rae, some lipstick and a pair of booty shorts in tow, and proceeded to slap and strike Bayley enough to pull off the victory. All that definitely works. Her random face agility move, maybe not so much.

Bayley, meanwhile, is connecting with the audience to the degree that she’s getting some Emma style support and cementing signature moves along the way. Her hug into a belly-to-belly suplex? Awesome. Her ability to sell her smaller opponent’s offense consistently and effectively? Not quite as cool, but arguably more important. She was just the person to lose to Sasha here to build her up for later against Paige, but even in performing that role she stood out as a damn fine wrestler.

I think I’ve figured out that Aiden English bothers me:

In the interest of saving time and preventing boredom I’ll skip most of my personal history and hit the bullet points. I did theatre. Some people who do theatre definitely fit the theatre caricature that Aiden English is trying to fulfill. They’re annoying. Therefore Aiden is annoying. English’s existence also allows the commentary team to make theatre joke/references that make no sense.

So yeah…..the heel annoys me. I guess mission accomplished?

NXT goes meta:

NXT got a shot of the “shoot” this week, which isn’t all that surprising considering Triple H showed up to end the episode. Now Trips and I have a weird relationship at the moment. I don’t really like him as a wrestler and would prefer if he appeared on TV much less than he does, but I really like what he’s done for NXT and the greater developmental system of the WWE. So I was pleasantly surprised when he came out in full bad guy mode but still managed to put over how amazing NXT has turned out and how great its wrestlers are. Keep in mind this was the dude that once called his Wrestlemania opponent “not very good.”

Also drawing a bit from reality (or at least the rumors of what reality is) was the segment involving Kassius freaking Ohno, returning back from the dead with an amazing cinematic trick that made me question who the man standing next to Brad Maddox was right before it was revealed to be Ohno. During their conversation Maddox and Ohno both referenced certain people keeping Kassius away from the ring for reasons beyond an injury suffered at the hands of the Wyatt family. The subject matter was great, the interactions between Ohno and Maddox were awesome, just a great overall segment that made Maddox’s random power over NXT worth it.

JBL is the new NXT GM:

I can’t wait to see Sami Zayn Yakuza kick his face off.

And that was the show! Pretty darn good episode this week, a return to form.

Twitter.com/LonestarTJR