WWE NXT 2/28/2018 Scorecard: Life Without Johnny Wrestling
Johnny Gargano's NXT career is officially over. It's unreal to even imagine that a crowd favorite like Gargano is done with NXT. But this is wrestling; Gargano's career is far from actually over. This week marks the first week since Johnny Wrestling's final defeat at the hands of NXT Champion Andrade "Cien" Almas, ending his NXT career. With the next TakeOver just over a month away, we start to look towards the future of the NXT title and the state of the women's division. How does NXT follow up on last week's show?
Velveteen Dream def. Tyler Bate via pinfall after Purple Rainmaker. The show kicks off with two great superstars meeting for the first time ever in NXT. Bate seemingly went for some chain wrestling right off the bat, with which Dream obliges, putting himself at a disadvantage against a grappler like Bate. After laying into one another, Bate attempts a superplex, falls to the mat, and gets hit with the Purple Rainmaker for the clean 1-2-3. Not a bad match, but nothing outright amazing. Match rating: B-
Johnny Gargano signs his termination papers. He's required to finish up any appearances and commitments to NXT, but after a few weeks, it's all over for Johnny Wrestling. The referee apologizes for "making a mistake" and ending his run with NXT, and he accepts the apology with a handshake, then he signs the papers. A somber moment, but it's very likely that there's a long road ahead for Johnny Wrestling in the WWE.
Adam Cole def. Cezar Bononi via pinfall. Cole, accompanied by the rest of the Undisputed Era, starts off by delaying the match with a promo. He calls out Bononi as the Future Star of the Year, inviting him into the Undisputed Era. But before Bononi could decide what to do, Cole attacks, and the match gets under way. After a quick michinoku driver, Bononi gets hit with a superkick and a knee to the neck, putting him out. This match was over so quick that it didn't seem to do much for either superstar. As much as I love Cole's heel antics, I just felt like this match didn't help the Era or Bononi. Match rating: C
Before Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler face off, we get a package discussing their rivalry. From its roots at the Mae Young Classic, Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler have gone back and forth in and out of the ring. The pack covers the events leading up to this match, including Baszler's attack on Kairi during a challenge issued to Ember Moon, Baszler's cruelty in developmental when she cinches in a submission during a lesson, and even their most recent encounter when Kairi ran in on the last match between Baszler and Moon. Great setup for a match that was also pretty good.
Shayna Baszler def. Kairi Sane via submission with the Kirifuda Clutch. These two have a rivalry in NXT for a reason: they have chemistry. There is an excellent face vs. heel storyline here, where Baszler stays in control for a lot of the match with some dominant plays, while Sane fights back and builds herself to be the likeable hero in the rivalry. The crowd can get invested in Sane because she's being shoved around during the entire match, so you want her to get another shot when she falls to the Kirifuda Clutch after a series of elbows and a flying elbow that awards the Mae Young Classic winner a near fall, but no win (also holy cow that spinning backfist was nasty). Both of these women put on a solid match that made for a great main event and an easy continuation of their rivalry. Match rating: B
Andrade "Cien" Almas and Zelina Vega address the NXT Universe. After a scummy win with the help of Tommaso Ciampa's crutch, the cocky duo spoke out, claiming that Almas needs a title more prestigious than that of Gargano since he defeated "Johnny Wrestling" four times in a row. Before they leave, Aleister Black and Killian Dain both make appearances, with Dain emerging victorious in the sadly short spat. But this begs the question: who will be the next #1 contender for El Idolo's belt? Though all these superstars have talent, this segment wasn't the best showcase of that, and was a pretty lackluster way to close out the show.
Despite a couple of more unimpressive segments, this was overall a decent follow-up show to Almas vs. Gargano. We got a mixed bag of implications: a match to help keep the rivalry between Baszler and Sane alive, a decent first-time face-off between Dream and Bate, and a build-up of the next feud for the NXT Championship. Despite its shortcomings, NXT continues to showcase the best and brightest of the next generation of superstars, and now, we march on, with or without Johnny Wrestling.