WWE NXT Review: Episode 491

February 6, 2019 – Winter Park, Florida

The opening video now ends with the shot of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa posing with their title belts and the end of Takeover: Phoenix, which is pretty telling of where they want us to feel the storyline is at now. Gargano kicks off the show with an in-ring promo. The crowd duels with chants of Johnny Champion and Johnny sucks. Gargano ignores the negative chants and says he likes the sound of Johnny Champion. He can only soak in the selective adulation for so long before Tommaso Ciampa comes out. He wants to celebrate Gargano’s championship win and take some credit for inspiring it. Gargano says he’s not on Ciampa’s side, and the only reason he came out at the end of Takeover was to show Ciampa that he doesn’t need him. Velveteen Dream interrupts Gargano’s delusion and says that by simply appearing in the crowd in Phoenix, he stole the show. He reminds everyone that he won the Worlds Collide tournament, and thus gets a championship opportunity. Ciampa thinks he wants the NXT Championship, but Dream is over Ciampa and he wants to fight Gargano. Gargano is feeling confident and accepts the challenge. Dream wants to know which of Gargano’s split personalities will be fighting him for the title. Gargano leaves the ring and gives Ciampa another romantic look.

There was a lot to unpack in that segment, but the most important touch was giving us a logical reason for Dream to challenge Gargano instead of Ciampa. By snubbing an expecting Ciampa, he gets under both former DIY’ers skins. This is great because it gives us a fresher match (Dream has faced Gargano twice before in great matches, but it’s been longer since those than since Dream’s November match against Ciampa), and one that’s almost a sure thing to deliver.

Jaxson Ryker def. Mansoor
Ryker won in 1:30 with a sit-out chokeslam. I don’t review squashes, and I have no real interest in the Forgotten Sons. However, it’s good to see Mansoor get moved to TV from the Performance Center, even if he loses his last name because WWE doesn’t have faith in its fans to embrace someone with an Arab hyphen. I’m kind of surprised at that given WWE’s relationship with the Saudis. Ryker continues to beat up Mansoor after the match. N/A

The Undisputed Era preempts a Ricochet interview because Adam Cole thinks he’s a one-trick pony. Ricochet takes offense. Both guys want a shot at the North American Championship. They’re really giving a lot of shine to the secondary title and nobody seems to want a shot at the top prize. That’s pretty weird. Cole and Ricochet will fight next week. Then it’s announced that Dream v. Gargano will happen in two weeks.

Drew Gulak def. Eric Bugenhagen
Gulak wins in 2:34 with the GuLock. The parade of TV debuts continue. Bugenhagen’s air guitar gimmick is fun, he has a great look, and he immediately gets over with the crowd. If he can go in the ring he’s probably got a bright future. Of course we don’t get much of a sense of it here because Gulak steamrolls him, though the air guitar abdominal stretch was a nice moment for him. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this dude, and hearing more of Nigel McGuinness hating his shtick. After the match, Gulak gets on the microphone and says he’s furious that he had to wrestle a goofball in his NXT debut. He wants a real challenge. The King of Bros answers the call. N/A

Matt Riddle def. Drew Gulak
Riddle tapped out Gulak in 9:25 with the Bro-Mission. This was dope as hell. They did a ton of engaging chain wrestling, found interesting ways to sneak in gnarly strikes, and then Riddle breakout out the freakish strength to powerbomb Gulak into the final stretch was beautiful. I want to see a TV main event or Takeover rematch very much. Gulak shows Riddle respect after the match and shakes his hand. ***½

Bianca Belair, Io Shirai & Kairi Sane def. Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke & Marina Shafir
Our heroes won in 9:24 when Shirai hit Baszler with the moonsault. A very vocal portion of the crowd at Full Sail has completely turned on Duke & Shafir, begging them to tag Baszler when they’re in the ring and begging Baszler not to tag out. There’s been some improvement from those two, but it’s hard for me to argue with those fans. That said, while the heels here don’t bring a ton to the table, the babyface team showed off some fun co-op maneuvers. I also want to hand it to the larger portion of fans that loudly cheered the babyfaces rather than chanting mean-spirited things at the heels (as opposed to general booing or chants that aren’t so cruel). Belair is bummed that it was Shirai that got the winning pin over the champion, and it shows. So now we’ve got some nice direction in this division. **¾

This was a hell of an episode, setting up a wonderful direction for the North American and Women’s divisions, giving us a great match in a unique style in Gulak vs. Riddle, and a couple of TV debuts to freshen things up a bit.

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