Aleister Black's journey up the NXT ladder has been one hell of a ride. Nearly a year ago, Black debuted at TakeOver: Orlando -- ironically enough, with a win over current NXT champion Andrade "Cien" Almas. From there, he picked up victories over everyone who crossed his path, including all three members of the Undisputed Era, and emerged victorious from an intense rivalry with Hideo Itami. But Black reached an entirely different level after his war with Velveteen Dream, which culminated at NXT TakeOver: War Games and earned them NXT rivalry of the year honors.
Black stood on the precipice of realizing an NXT championship opportunity Wednesday night with one final roadblock standing in his way. Killian Dain, the massive Irishman who's taken a step forward in recent weeks, has finally stepped from the shadows of SAnitY to make a title challenge of his own. He's been building toward this moment with big moments of his own, from his appearance in last year's Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal to a defining performance inside of the War Games cage in November. He has the brute strength, certainly, but also an ability to move around with a speed that's unusual for a man of his size.
But only one of them could step up as Almas' challenger for New Orleans. After Black and Dain butted heads in recent weeks, it was time for a match to settle the score once and for all.
The match illustrated the dominance that Dain brings to the table, as he took control early and never let up. Every time Black attempted any type of offense, it was shut down by Dain. But with Black, everything's only in control until he lands his sweeping Black Mass spinning heel kick, and then it's over in a flash. And that's exactly what happened; after a one-sided match, Black turned everything around in an instant -- and with a swift kick to Dain's jaw, Black punched his ticket to NXT TakeOver: New Orleans.
As things come full circle for Almas and Black, they're each at very different points in their respective careers than when they first met. From an in-ring perspective, it would be hard to imagine this match not living up to the lofty expectations it undoubtedly carries into New Orleans and NXT's biggest showcase of the year. Simply put, Black and Almas are two of the best workers in NXT, who have consistently dazzled with expectation-shattering performances over the course of the past year.
With four weeks to go, you couldn't do much better in establishing this match as the cornerstone for New Orleans.
- WWE (@WWE) March 8, 2018
Tommaso Ciampa remains silent
As he walked slowly out to the ring and held a microphone to his face, Tommaso Ciampa looked to be ready to explain his role in ousting Johnny Gargano from NXT. But it simply turned into another layer of mystery and anger that's seemingly building up to their next epic encounter. Ciampa stood in the middle of the ring, ready to speak, when a chorus of boos and chants eventually chased him from the ring. He teased another attempt, but Ciampa eventually dropped the microphone and walked away. On the way out, he grabbed a Gargano sign from a fan, ripped it in half and pummeled it with his crutch in the middle of the ring.
The eventual showdown between Gargano and Ciampa has been built to perfection, becoming more intense with every segment. As Gargano became the ultimate hero, Ciampa embraced the role of villain completely, and with intensity. Wednesday was just a small taste of what's to come.
The third Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic gets underway
The third annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic picked up right where the previous version left off, with a rematch of the finals between the Authors of Pain and TM61 kicking off the first round this time around. At TakeOver: Toronto, with their manager Paul Ellering locked in a shark cage above the ring, Rezar and Akam won the biggest match of their career to that point by defeating TM61 to win the tournament. That propelled them on to bigger and better things, including the start of a 203-day reign as NXT tag team champions that started two months later at TakeOver: San Antonio.
With a championship opportunity on the line for this year's tournament winners at TakeOver, the Authors of Pain looked to begin a repeat performance, while TM61 -- still in the early stages of re-establishing themselves after a year lost to injury -- attempted to take their careers to the next level.
After a competitive battle, the Authors of Pain came out with the win -- and as they move on, they have to be the unquestionable tournament favorites with a chance to repeat as both Dusty Classic winners, and possibly as NXT tag team champions as well.
More notes from Wednesday's action
- Bianca Belair picked up a win this week over Drew Renee.
- Following an interview with Lacey Evans in which she addressed her match with Dakota Kai next week, Shayna Baszler stepped in and once again called out NXT women's champion Ember Moon. "Normally, when a fighter gets challenged, they answer," Baszler said. "All I've gotten is silence. I guess I know my answer." I can't imagine this is the end of this story.
- After a backstage altercation in which the Undisputed Era interrupted a conversation between UK Champion Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong, Undisputed Era leader Adam Cole will get the same opportunity Strong enjoyed against Dunne -- a chance to challenge Dunne for his championship next week.
- Two more Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic first-round matches will take place next week as well, with SAnitY taking on Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss and the Street Profits stepping into the ring with Heavy Machinery.
- Finally, we don't do this often, but there's some very interesting news that came out of Wednesday's NXT tapings at Full Sail.