Overall, this is a fine episode of WWE NXT, but hardly a must-watch as nothing outside of the midcard was built upon heading into Takeover: Dallas. Speaking of no build, there’s no pretense or build as we get into NXT tonight, we go straight into the first match which is refreshing.

Johnny Gargano def. Elias Sampson

Elias Sampson’s gimmick is as boring as his schtick in the ring. The most exciting thing the guy does is throw an elbow on a rope break.

Johnny Gargano, on the other hand, is one of the most fun-to-watch wrestlers on the planet right now. He operates at such a high level, especially in comparison to Sampson, that there’s literally no way I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept Sampson winning a match against Gargano.

Of course Gargano wins the battle, but loses the war. After Gargano sneaks a quick fall on Sampson, the Drifter attacked from behind (not even with Chekhov’s Guitar (we’re gonna throw a party in this column when that thing breaks.)). Sampson, after drifting Gargano out of the ring, actually threw a pretty cool jumping knee against the ring apron. Apollo Crews ran out to make the save, planting the seed for their eventual match at Takeover: Dallas.

Finn Balor def. Rich Swann

I’m hoping we don’t get the “Lee Harvey Oswald” version of Finn Balor’s demon at Takeover: Dallas, but I can’t fully rule it out given the Jack the Ripper gimmick the NXT Champion brought to London. It might be just me, but it seems like they keep adding elements to Balor’s entrance before his music kicks in. More smoke, more intro sounds…just waiting on the gunshots.

Speaking of cool entrances, Rich Swann has the very best generic entrance in NXT. WWE created an acceptable approximation of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Corey Graves even through an “All Night Long” reference in for the indie fans. All due respect to Baron Corbin.

This was a good little match. Balor never felt fully out of control, which should be the way of it – Balor is the NXT Champion and Swann has had two matches in the territory. It’s wonderful to have guys like Swann, Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa in NXT. Those outside contractors make the roster great and honestly save many weeks of programming, but I wonder how high their ceiling will be – or how high they want it to be – without WWE-specific marketing and branding and WWE-assigned names. Rich Swann shouldn’t be beating Finn Balor, but Johnny Gargano shouldn’t be eeking out wins against the Drifter.

As for the champ, there’s an edge forming on Balor; he had the match won after hitting the Coup de Grace, but stood over Swann before the Bloody Sunday and ending the match.

I’ve. Been. Helping. Emma. With. My. Fitness. Expertise. And. Training.

Emma gets another shot at Asuka tonight. Dana Brooke says she’s been training Emma because she herself is injured. I hope Brooke gets better soon because she’s infinitely better in the ring than in on the microphone.

Nakamura Recap

Tom Phillips leads a walkthrough of Shinsuke Nakamura’s signing and (video) debut. I know Asuka is on the card tonight and I still believe I’d be pleased as punch if they just made up more Nakamura content on the spot for the final 35 minutes of the show. I can’t wait to see what happens with Nak’s WWE run, but I’d be lying if I said it was without concern.

Alexa Bliss def. Sarah Dobson

Bliss is getting the Emma treatment or the Carmella push right now. she’s clearly being build as a temporary challenger to whoever wins the NXT Women’s Championship match on April 1 in Dallas. Like Carmella, Bliss is firmly slated at the top of that second-tier of the women’s division.

Sarah Dobson looked good for being a pawn in the game of Bliss. She got some effective offense in, including a flying knee of the top rope that was probably supposed to be a crossbody, and looked to have a shot at the win before Blake pushed Bliss out of danger’s way allowing Bliss to execute the Sparkle Splash for the win.

Danny Burch vs. Bull Dempsey (No Contest)

So, this is how Bull Fit ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Bull Dempsey is attacked by Samoa Joe on his way to the ring and choked out on the ramp. Joe chokes Burch out and tells Finn Balor that he’s coming for him. The crowd chants “thank you Joe.” I didn’t really want to write about Danny Burch vs. Bull Dempsey either, so I appreciate Joe as well.

“Dash and Dawson, I just don’t think they know what they’re in for.”

A very well done, lengthy feature on the individual amateur wrestling histories (and failures) of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable sufficiently hypes the NXT Tag Team Championship match coming up in Dallas.

Not so fast, Bull Fit fans! Samoa Joe goes up against our guy Dempsey in the final NXT before Takeover, as well as Apollo Crews vs. Alex Riley, a match that we can already tell will involve the Drifter interfering.

I’ll add the video in this review if it hits YouTube, but it’s worth checking out on the WWE Network.

Asuka def. Emma

This wasn’t at the level of their initial match in London (the sheer number of times I’ve referenced Takeover: London in this column shows hoe desperately we need another Takeover), but these two could go against each other every week and it would be at-least good.

The first act of the match consisted of Asuka transitioning between submission moves and making Emma’s life a little slice of hell until Emma countered and tossed Asuka through the ropes.

Emma actually got a ton of clean offense in on Asuka between the commercial break and the final stretch. Asuka was in as rough a position as we’ve seen her in since coming to NXT. A Dana Brooke intervention seemed to wake the No. 1 contender up a little bit and led to a mini slugfest and a shift of momentum.

Emma, spoiled by her own ego, argued with the ref after getting caught with her feet on the ropes during a roll-up and eventually submitted to the Asuka lock.