Last week’s episode was all about getting us fired up for this week’s main event: a Triple Threat match between Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, and Baron Corbin to determine the #1 contender to the NXT Championship. But first, we are eventually going to need #1 contenders to the NXT Tag Team titles as well.

American Alpha (Jason Jordan & Chad Gable) vs. Blake & Murphy

I love Jordan and Gable but I hate this name. Let’s ignore, for now, how dumb the “alpha male” discussion is on its own. This is a babyface team whose gimmick has never revolved around being physically dominant. Their advantage is that they’re better wrestlers than the other teams. It’s also nonsensical grammatically. The name is an anchor that they are good enough to carry without drowning but I don’t see the name following Jordan and Gable to WWE.

The match starts with a long Blake & Murphy control segment. It is easily the most boring Gable has ever been in an NXT ring. Even his greatness can’t overcome the mediocrity of the Dubstep Cowboys. Murphy does earn some points by being creative with a cliché fake injury spot, as he goes down off a simple leap frog and sells till Blake and he sneak attack Gable.

Jordan finally comes in off the hot tag and, as usual, is great in that role. From there, the pace picks up bizarrely quickly and Jordan and Gable earn the pinfall victory in a flash. This may have been an attempt to do a slight variation on the southern tag but the traditional southern layout is what plays best to Jordan and Gable’s strengths. Tom Phillips notes that this is the third former tag team champion duo that Jordan & Gable have beaten. They are obviously on their way to a title shot. **1/2 

Dana Brooke and Emma are backstage to talk about their tag match last week against Bayley and Carmella, in which they were on the losing end. Their response is basically, “yeah, we lost but only because Bayley is better than we are! It certainly had nothing to do with Carmella!” Rovert apparently wrote this segment as Emma gets in a little dig noting that Carmella lost to Blue Pants: “Does Blue Pants even work here?” Emma performed very strongly here. She has gotten better and better since reappearing in NXT.

Liv Morgan vs. Nia Jax

Eva Marie accompanies Nia Jax to the ring. Liv Morgan is already there waiting. She must’ve read my tweets about her cringe-inducing characterizations during her debut as she is very toned down here. This is a short squash match. Near the finish, Liv seemed to jump the wrong way into Nia’s arms and Nia had to completely switch Liv’s body around to get her into a sidewalk slam. Nia’s leg drop was enough to finish off Morgan. **

Carmella is with Enzo and Cass to respond to Emma and Dana Brooke. She heard what they said so she’s ready to prove herself next week in a match against Emma. Cass uses this opportunity to respond to Dash & Dawson’s comments about Enzo & Cass from last week. But it just turns into Cass calling them fat. Enzo, though, is the star in this segment. Unlike Cass, he cuts a very serious, angry promo on The Mechanics. He has proven beyond all doubt that he can do much more than comedy. He is a star. Put him on USA Network and make some money.

Bull Dempsey vs. Alex Riley

U honestly have to be kidding me?’?! Yes, AJ Styles may have debuted in the Royal Rumble and gotten a two-segment match on RAW with Chris Jericho but Alex Riley is back! Riley pushes Bull into the corner and asks, “this is what NXT has come to, huh?” Yes, Alex, unfortunately it has. Bull gets a little more offense than Liv Morgan did but not much. This was essentially a squash, which Riley finished with a knee strike. Commentary tries to put Riley over as being “out of his mind” because Riley is being slightly aggressive. The crowd does not care. *

But that isn’t all from Alex Riley! He’s backstage after his victory and he has something to say! But then a funny thing happens… Alex Riley cuts one hell of a promo. Riley updated Stamford at every turn of his rehab about his progress but he got no responses. Yet, he watches NXT and sees constant updates on Sami Zayn. Hell, he knows what Apollo Crews had for breakfast three days ago. He’s pissed.

This Riley promo is a much better version of what NXT has been trying to do with Baron Corbin, perhaps because Alex Riley is more talented. After being surprised by how much I enjoyed the Riley/Owens feud, I could be convinced that we should all just pretend Baron Corbin never existed and throw Riley into his spot.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson vs. John Skyler

I have not at all gotten on the Corey Graves train the way everyone has. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the hardcore music scene and knew many people like Corey Graves. Regardless, he nailed The Drifter in just one line: “The more I see him, the less I like him.” Yep. This was another squash match but it was easily the worst of the three on the episode. Samson’s matches are completely nonsensical. He doesn’t seem to have any idea of how to put a match together so that one move flows into the next and it tells any kind of story. He wins with a neckbreaker like it’s 1985. Amazingly, the crowd cares less than they did about Riley. DUD

The Hype Bros show up backstage to wake us from our slumber. They basically spend a couple minutes having every frat boy conversation ever. And then… Mojo tells Ryder that he watches Ryder sleep. Ryder seems as confused as I am. Anyway, they’re facing The Vaudevillains next week, who apparently are undergoing some sort of change.

There’s a quick video package that reminds us of the first Apollo Crews versus Finn Balor match, which ended in a disqualification when Samoa Joe intervened. Next week, Crews gets a non-title match with Balor.

Baron Corbin vs. Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn

This is not the creative, interesting Triple Threat you were hoping for. Nor is it the multi-person match you would expect from one involving Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin. Two guys fight while one sells on the outside. Poor Sami Zayn hardly ever gets to be the guy selling outside and mostly plays the babyface-in-peril throughout.

The match starts to have some juice when Corbin hits End of Days on Joe but Sami breaks it up just before the three count. That leads to perhaps the most interesting Corbin has ever been as he goes nearly insane and attacks Sami, punishing him for costing Corbin a title shot. This would have only been better if it had been more brutal. Staying with the same theme, Sami hits a Blue Thunder Bomb on Corbin and follows it up with a Helluva Kick. Predictably, Joe breaks up that pin.

Last week, all three competitors in this match had their final tune-up matches for this showdown. Sami finished his match with a Koji Clutch. Joe finished his match with the Coquina Clutch. I wondered then if submissions would play a part in the finish to this match. After another short segment, Sami and Corbin end up alone in the ring and Sami gets Corbin in the Sharpshooter! Joe, of course, shakes off whatever has left him ailing and comes in to make sure Sami doesn’t get the title shot. However, instead of knocking Sami off of Corbin, Joe places Corbin in a LeBell Lock. Corbin taps out while locked in both moves.

William Regal is out to discuss with the referee who is the winner of the match. Sami and Joe both make their case. Sami: I never let go of the Sharpshooter and he tapped. Joe: he didn’t tap until I put on the LeBell Lock. Both good points, gentlemen, but Commissioner Regal will have to review the tape to determine a winner.

A big yikes at all the tropes in this match from the layout of it to the finish but the closing stretch was entertaining. Perhaps I should have foreseen this kind of finish based on the match listing for the Orlando television tapings. It also feeds into my concerns last week that if they were building to Zayn vs. Balor for Takeover: Dallas (which we now definitively know they are not), making Zayn #1 contender now would make for quite the extended build. But now we know why it seemed they were naming a #1 contender awfully early. They plan to stretch it out for several weeks before they actually get there. ***

Final Thoughts: There was nothing great here and, honestly, I disliked most of the matches. Still, there’s something about NXT that makes the whole enjoyable even when I wasn’t crazy about the parts. They’ve built up enough goodwill with me that I know the stories will get to a logical, mostly satisfying place. I also appreciate that they are working toward a card that’s over two months away. Nothing here is a must see but I would encourage you to check out the Alex Riley promo. No, I am honestly not kidding you.