Andrade "Cien" Almas' NXT championship reign has flown under the radar at times, but by most measures, it has been highly successful. After a spectacular match against Drew McIntyre to claim the title at TakeOver: War Games late last year, Almas entered a rivalry that will likely come to define his title reign, against Johnny Gargano.
Building upon a pair of previous matches they'd had, the two Almas vs. Gargano NXT championship clashes will each stand as match of the year candidates for the brand when 2018 is said and done. With Gargano now in his rear-view mirror, though, another familiar face for Almas in Aleister Black has stepped up on the way to NXT TakeOver: New Orleans.
While there's little doubt in what the quality of the match to come in a few weeks will be, there's still work to be done in terms of building up the stakes and the heat of the match -- and that was done without Almas even having to enter the arena on Wednesday night's edition of NXT.
Enter Zelina Vega. In her role as Almas' business associate, Vega has done a great deal of good in making Almas a well-rounded character and champion. She adds an intensity factor to the otherwise cool, calm and collected NXT champion, and that intensity shined this week as she stood face to face with Black in Almas' stead.
Black, who earned his championship opportunity with a big win over Killian Dain last week, was the perfect counter to Vega's fieriness. Black showed up expecting to meet Almas face-to-face, only Vega showed up alone to do Almas' bidding. As Black is not one to show his frustrations, he cleared out the table in the middle of the ring and did his signature cross-legged sit-down to get "on the same level," as the barely 5-foot Vega.
"Andrade is going to destroy you, he's going to humiliate you, he's going to make you wish you were never here," Vega exclaimed. "You are going to reap what you sow, Aleister."
Black responded comically, "Humiliate me? That's why he's not here tonight? Or is it because in New Orleans, you're afraid that much like yourself, he's going to come up a little short?"
That earned him a slap across the face from the right hand of Vega, which prompted Black to sign the contract. Black had a way to strike back by proxy as Vega, without her client as backup, was vulnerable to a little bit of revenge. While Gargano is officially gone from the NXT roster, his recently-signed wife Candice LaRae is still around to get a little revenge of her own. After previous clashes during each of the two previous Almas-Gargano matches, LeRae continued hostilities and laid out Vega in the middle of the ring -- likely setting the stage for more in the future.
With three editions of NXT TV to go, there are still a lot of questions to be answered ahead of TakeOver: new Orleans. But the centerpiece is in place, and the tensions should rise In a hurry.
Pete Dunne retains the U.K. Championship
Imagine the quality of builds and matches you could have if the WWE United Kingdom Championship and its superstars were regularly showcased on WWE television. Superstars like Tyler Bate, Trent Seven and U.K. Champion Pete Dunne are sparingly used, but when they are, the results are brilliant every time, without fail. Unfortunately, a traditional path to the championship is nonexistent as the fate of a future U.K. show remains unclear.
As a result, even when the U.K. championship is featured, it's only in one-off, poorly built matches that do tend to be great in-ring contests -- and that was once again the case Wednesday night. After a backstage spat last week, Adam Cole got the nod to face Dunne with the U.K. title on the line.
With stiff strikes, well-timed reversals and innovative sequences throughout, the match itself did not disappoint. It also didn't provide a clear resolution. As Dunne set Cole up for his Bitter End finisher, Cole's comrades Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly got physically involved, leading to a DQ finish. In reality, this was a smart spot for a DQ, as it kept the title on Dunne, who's nearing 300 days with the tile, and prevented Cole from having to take the fall.
- WWE (@WWE) March 15, 2018
After the match, the Undisputed Era continued to beat Dunne down until Strong, the man Dunne defeated to retain the U.K. title last month, stormed the ring to make the save. Together, they cleared the ring, and seemed to set the unlikely pairing of Dunne and Strong up as the next foils for Cole, O'Reilly and Fish. As history shows, unlikely pairings sometimes create the most successful tag teams --look no further than the current Raw tag team champions, Sheamus and Cesaro, who now have four title reigns together.
More notes from Wednesday's action
- In a glimpse of what the future of the NXT women's division could look like, Dakota Kai scored a quick pinfall victory over the talented Lacey Evans. The post-match fallout was most interesting, however, as Shayna Baszler came out to intimidate Kai after the latter's first match back from an arm injury that Baszler had dished out. This time, however, Ember Moon came out for the save and ultimately agreed to defend her NXT women's championship against Baszler once more in New Orleans. Through a chain of back and forth moments, Kai ultimately saved Moon from an attack with a swift kick to Baszler's head, allowing Moon to hit the Eclipse on Baszler for the first time.
- For the second straight week, Tommaso Ciampa came out to the ring to a sea of boos and Johnny Gargano chants, teased speaking, but ultimately dropped the microphone and left without saying a word. This time, an entire section of the crowd held up paper signs with Gargano's logo on them. The slow build continues.
- The third annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic got underway last week with a rematch of last year's finals as The Authors of Pain began their quest to win two straight tournaments with a win over TM-61. This week, we got two more matches. In a battle of up-and-coming teams, the Street Profits came away with a win over the much larger Heavy Machinery. SAnitY also advanced by disposing of Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss.