A new year of NXT is upon us, and in the first hour of new broadcasts from Atlanta's Center Stage theatre, it's clear that the race to TakeOver: Philadelphia is on.
Since NXT's inception, the tag team division has always been one of its cornerstones. Early on, dominant teams like the Wyatt Family and the Ascension ruled the land, before more recently transitioning into a division defined by energetic fan favorites like American Alpha and #DIY.
In all that time, only one team in NXT history held tag team gold on more than one occasion -- The Revival, another of NXT's most iconic pairings. On Wednesday, SAnitY was looking to join the "Top Guys" on that very short list, just a few weeks after dropping the NXT tag team championships to Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly. While SAnitY was set to receive their rematch, a backstage beating at the hands of Fish, O'Reilly and Adam Cole -- the Undisputed Era -- ended that opportunity before it could start. and attempt to become two-time champs.
They walked out in front of the live crowd to brag about what they'd done, which drew the ire of an enraged Nikki Cross, who had to be restrained by referees. General Manager William Regal set things right for the live crowd and quickly found a pair of volunteers with issues of their own against the Undisputed Era -- Roderick Strong and Aleister Black, who were given a chance at the NXT tag team titles on the spot.
While the match was fun, it seemed inevitable that Fish and O'Reilly would retain their titles against the random pairing of Strong and Black, which they did. Though it was a championship match, the match wasn't about the championships. It was merely a tool to escalate the brewing rivalry between Black and Cole. Cole's distraction, which drew Black up into the crowd chasing him, cost the challengers the match. Afterwards, the trio knocked Black around culminating with Cole delivering a death valley driver to Black onto an upright steel chair.
The display prompted Regal to make the official announcement that Cole and Black would do battle at TakeOver: Philadelphia in an Extreme Rules match. After an intense staredown with NXT's GM, Cole backed off and smiled, mouthing "His blood is on your hands," as the trio made their exits.
The match has show-stealer written all over it. Cole and Black are two of the premier talents in NXT and though they didn't need the extreme rules stipulation to create magic, it certainly opens up the door for plenty of booking scenarios, and it's anyone's guess who will come out of the match on top in this battle between two guys who could very well be the next ones to step into the NXT championship picture. And that's the way it should be.
Shayna Baszler makes her NXT in-ring debut
Shayna Baszler, the runner-up in the inaugural Mae Young Classic tournament and one-fourth of Ronda Rousey's "Four Horsewomen" of MMA, exudes the potential of championship material in the WWE. She brought uncanny intensity to the Mae Young Classic tournament and carried that into her NXT debut when she snuck up behind tournament victor Kairi Sane and applied her vicious rear naked choke.
Over the last week, NXT released clips on social media that showed Baszler's assaulting various members of the NXT locker room at the WWE Performance Center. Most recently, an interview with another participant in the Mae Young Classic, Dakota Kai, was interrupted as Baszler struck again.
Baszler's fury made its way to the ring on Wednesday night as she made her NXT in-ring debut against Kai, who had helped defuse the attack. To say Baszler vs. Kai wasn't much of a match would be an understatement. In mere minutes, after putting her in all sorts of different submissions, Baszler stomped on Kai's arm as it was bent awkwardly, forcing the referee to call for the bell as Kai writhed in pain. But in that, a major statement was made, and the crowd could not have embraced her more decisively as a villain.
Baszler continued to punish Kai, as boos rained down from the Atlanta crowd, until the NXT women's champion Ember Moon rushed the ring, ending the onslaught. It appears that Baszler is being elevated right into the championship picture. Could she accomplish what took Moon a year and a half to attain and capture championship gold in her first month in NXT? Just being in the women's championship picture, leapfrogging so many other potential challengers, immediately puts Baszler on the map. Could it go so far as to have Baszler take the title off Moon as soon as Philadelphia? We'll have to wait and see.
Velveteen Dream adds an extra ingredient to the NXT championship picture
In a backstage interview, NXT champion Andrade "Cien" Almas' associate Zelina Vega addressed Almas' upcoming bout with number one contender, Johnny Gargano. When referencing Gargano's Fatal 4-way victory a couple weeks back, in which he earned his title shot, Vega said, "Johnny Gargano got lucky. Johnny Gargano is not a fighter. He's an opportunist."
In a separate interview, Gargano was set to give his thoughts, but he was almost immediately interrupted by Velveteen Dream. Gargano's inclusion in the number one contenders match in the first place was as a replacement for an injured Velveteen Dream, and after taking a few extra weeks to recover from his match against Black at TakeOver War Games, Dream was back to make one point crystal clear.
- WWE (@WWE) January 11, 2018
"You didn't earn the Dream's spot. The Dream deserves his spot."
After a breakout performance in Houston, Velveteen Dream being positioned as one of the top contenders for the NXT championship and potentially factoring into the equation for Philadelphia is a statement on just how impressive he's looked.
Coming off a loss to Lars Sullivan at TakeOver: War Games, the seemingly directionless Kassius Ohno scored a pinfall victory over Raul Mendoza, unveiling a new variation on his elbow-based finisher in the process. It's anyone's guess where Ohno goes from here.
In Lio Rush's first televised match since his tasteless tweet poking fun at Emma's WWE release last October, he was annihilated by Lars Sullivan. After showing off his speed and evasiveness for acouple of minutes, Sullivan caught him and landed a Freak Accident slam that looked devastating with the difference in size between the two men. Afterwards, Sullivan challenged Killian Dain, a man his own size who pushed Sullivan during the Fatal 4-Way number one contender's match a couple weeks ago, and sent an extra message by way of a Super Freak Accident slam on Rush from atop the turnbuckles.
It looks like SAnitY will be out of the picture for a little while, because The Street Profits will take on the Authors of Pain next week to determine the number one contenders for the NXT tag team championships in Philadelphia.