Since his arrival at NXT in October of last year, Roderick Strong's in-ring prowess has been his character's focal point.
Strong is a tremendous worker and someone who can be counted on for a great match, but fans became more engaged with his efforts after a two-part "Who is Roderick Strong?" video package illustrated where he came from, his tough upbringing and his journey into the world of professional wrestling. Well produced, the video series did wonders for Strong's character development.
Despite a loss to Hideo Itami in a match that determined the No. 1 contender in the NXT Championship last month, Strong found another avenue for progression at TakeOver: Chicago. At the event, he became the first superstar to get the best of Eric Young and SAnitY on the TakeOver stage. He and Kassius Ohno then doubled up on that success last week, defeating Young and Alexander Wolfe in a tag match.
Strong addressed the NXT universe this week regarding his next challenge.
"My life has never been better," he said. "I've never been more thankful for the things I have. But there's one thing I want. There's one thing I need. And that's the NXT Championship."
NXT Champion Bobby Roode approached the stage and delivered an excellent insulting, sarcastic promo directed at Strong and closed by offering him a piece of advice: "Do yourself a favor and don't play the Bobby Roode lottery. Because at the end of the day, you're not man enough to win."
While it would be a surprise to see Strong snag the NXT Championship from Roode, I'm all in on this rivalry despite the overall outcome's predictability. Pairing the aforementioned "Who is Roderick Strong?" video series with his rise within the brand was a wise way to orchestrate this potential program that would undoubtedly feature fantastic in-ring productions.
Hideo Itami shifts to the dark side
Following a couple of extended injury absences, Itami made his NXT return a few months back with his sights set on the brand's top prize: the NXT Championship. In the weeks leading up to TakeOver: Chicago, Itami made some serious statements, getting the better of the champ, Roode, on multiple occasions. However, he suffered defeat at the hands of the Glorious One at TakeOver, and since then, the direction of his character has been slowly twisting.
We got a glimpse of that transition via a WWE.com exclusive showing Itami's frustration following the loss and Kassius Ohno's attempt to calm down the former GHC Heavyweight Champion. That temperament was amplified this week.
With his fuse gradually shortening, Itami's encounter with Oney Lorcan on Wednesday night turned into a display of disgruntled emotion. After a promising strike-filled start, Itami nailed a series of Go To Sleep knee strikes on Lorcan but refused to cover him.
After a third Go To Sleep, Ohno confronted Itami, and the two traded a couple of shoves before Itami retreated.
Itami's heel transformation is a welcomed endeavor. Though injuries have stunted his growth in NXT, he hasn't connected with audiences at the elite level initially expected. A revision of his character could be just what the doctor ordered, mending the situation before it's too late.
No Way Jose returns to in-ring action but runs into a wall
After a multiple-month absence as a result of an ambush by SAnitY during WrestleMania week, Jose made his surprising return last week. He caused enough of a distraction to allow Strong and Ohno to pick up a victory over Young and Alexander. However, this week, he was faced with a taller task.
Jose squared off with SAnitY's mountain of a man, Killian Dain. The bout was more of a showcase for Dain's continued elevation in NXT than a triumphant in-ring return for Jose.
Jose got a decent amount of offense in, but Dain took over with a slew of power moves, closing it out with his Ulster Plantation finishing maneuver.
Where does SAnitY go from here? Their recent foes have relocated, as Strong appears to be main-event bound and Ohno's dispute with Itami is just getting started. Perhaps they'll make some waves in the tag team division, but my vote would see them tangle with a superstar just as dark as they are: Aleister Black, someone in need of a premier matchup. What an intriguing route that would be. Sign me up.
Peyton Royce battles Sarah Logan
Finally, the captivating Sarah Logan -- formerly known as Sarah Bridges in NXT and Crazy Mary Dobson in a multitude of other promotions -- has emerged. She didn't score a win this week against her opponent, Peyton Royce, but Logan is a superstar to keep an eye on as an impending player within the division. She is incredibly talented and possesses the ability to create a fascinating character.
Royce prevailed over Logan using a fisherman's duplex in a well-worked match.
Heavy Machinery continue to roll while Lars Sullivan establishes himself
While Tucker Knight and Otis Dozovic appear prepared to advance into the upper echelon of the NXT tag team division, the imposing Lars Sullivan -- formerly known as Dylan Miley -- is just scratching the surface of his NXT career. His appearances thus far have been in the form of tag team matches in which he destroys his much smaller partners after they take the loss for their team.
This week's version came when Heavy Machinery scored a pinfall victory over Sullivan's partner, Victor Andrews, using their powerslam/splash combination finisher. Sullivan then proceeded to make an example out of Andrews with clubbing forearms, a modified side slam and a torture rack-type of submission.
Where Sullivan goes from here remains to be seen, but his direction is intriguing to say the least.
This week's bests
Match: Killian Dain vs. No Way Jose
Move: Modified side slam by Lars Sullivan
Moment: Roode's promo