News Rhea Ripley gives the NXT women’s division a much needed jolt

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NXT returns to us tonight (Sept. 11) with its last pre-taped one hour episode before the move to USA (kind of) next week for a 2-hour live show.

Advertised for tonight:

  • Rhea Ripley vs. Shayna Baszler
  • What’s next for Johnny Gargano?
  • Pete Dunne vs. Angel Garza
  • Cameron Grimes vs. Raul Mendoza
  • Will Candice LeRae seek retribution against Io Shirai?

As per usual, here are our five questions about NXT tonight:

1) Is Rhea just visiting?

Rhea Ripley’s surprise appearance weeks back gave the NXT women’s division a jolt. Shayna Baszler has pretty much run through everyone on the roster. So bringing someone over from NXT UK, and someone the caliber of former UK Women’s champ Rhea Ripley, was exciting.

The segment was gold too. An epic mic snatch. A quick reminder the champ hasn’t defeated her. And Shayna selling Ripley as a big deal.

The assumption was she’d be next in line for Baszler’s Women’s title. But next week, there’s a number one contenders match between Mia Yim, Io Shirai, and Bianca Belair. Meaning tonight’s non-title match against Ripley may be a one off.

In a way that makes sense. Over on NXT UK, Rhea is currently locked in a feud with Piper Niven, both picking up a win over the other and yet to have the deciding match. But at the same time, Rhea is a more exciting choice than any of the women in next week’s triple threat given all those three women have already lost to Shayna Baszler in title opportunities. Io Shirai has a different persona now so she makes the most sense, but we’re not that far removed from her failing against Baszler at TakeOver: XXV. (Plus, my guess for Candice’s real retribution for Io’s attack comes during that match.) Ripley, on the other hand, is a fresh opponent that Shayna hasn’t beaten.

If Shayna wins tonight, there’s our answer. Thanks for stopping by, Rhea. But if Ripley wins, she’ll need to get the title match that should earn her.

2) Does this match have a clean finish?

The peculiar situation with this match opens up the possibility of a dirty finish or a non-finish.

There’s really no reason to bring a hot act from NXT UK over and sacrifice them to Baszler clean. Shayna doesn’t need it and it certainly wouldn’t do Ripley, again who is a former champion, any favors.

They could have Ripley win clean, but not if she’s not in the title plans going forward. That would leave either Shayna winning a dirty match that protects Rhea (and maybe leaves the door open for later) or a complete non-finish with the women in next week’s match getting involved and allowing Rhea to have a moment after the match is over.

3) So what is next for Johnny Gargano?

Johnny Wrestling has been absent since TakeOver: Toronto. (Absent from NXT, not from FirstEnergy Stadium where he watched the Browns tamper those sudden Super Bowl hopes.)

But now we should finally learn what’s next for him.

NXT is in a tough position with someone like Johnny, who only recently just completed a long, twisting journey. And in a smaller promotion, it feels like there isn’t really anything left for him.

Booking someone who’s made it to the top and then eventually lost has to be difficult for creative. When the journey is over, what’s next? NXT usually has the luxury of avoiding this problem as people who finish that path head to the main roster. And word is, that will still happen for certain performers. But Johnny Gargano likely isn’t leaving the promotion just as they transition to their live shows.

If Tommaso Ciampa is close to returning, that could help Johnny find some direction for a further run in the promotion. Otherwise, they’re going to have to create something new that seems worthy of Johnny’s stature.

4) Will this feel like a go home show?

Next week is a big deal for the promotion. For the first time in their history, they are moving to a live weekly format and they will be airing on a cable channel instead of the WWE Network. This is a couple weeks before they’re meant to serve as competition for AEW’s Wednesday night premiere.

So of course they stacked next week’s episode. There’s the above mentioned triple threat #1 contenders match. Roderick Strong will be challenging Velveteen Dream for the North American title. And Killian Dain and Matt Riddle will have themselves a street fight.

Normally, those things would anchor individual episodes. But instead they’re loading their first USA show. So do they treat this show as a go-home show, trying to get fans as jazzed as possible for next week?

Usually, the answer would be yes, but we don’t know which of these matches next week were planned for a month ago. So they may not have in ring segments taped to set them up like they normally would.

5) Keith Lee is turning heel, right?

Keith Lee is on a losing streak and doesn’t like how the first year in NXT has gone.

Meanwhile, Jordan Myles burst on the scene by winning the Breakout Tournament and challenging Adam Cole for the NXT title, despite coming up short. Keith Lee seemed happy for his friend prior, but it didn’t seem sincere. Maybe I’m reading into it because I’m predicting the heel turn. But the way Keith pointed out that Jordan already got an opportunity felt like it had some resentment that he never had such chance.

Myles’ loss to Cole leaves him without his title shot, but Lee turning on him and feuding those two would be a good move for both men.

We’ll see if we get answers to any of these questions to night at 8 ET on the WWE Network.

NOTE: Spoilers are out there for these pre-taped broadcasts (including here), but many Cagesiders don’t partake. If you are going to post or discuss spoilers for this show before they happen, or results of future shows, please use the spoiler bar in your comment.
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