A return balanced out a farewell again as WWE NXT's landscape shifted once more.
Hideo Itami stepped back into the spotlight as Tye Dillinger officially departed the developmental brand on Wednesday's NXT. A healthy Itami back in the fold rearranges the championship picture. The Perfect 10's exit leaves a space open for another rising prospect.
Andrade "Cien" Almas is clearly ready to snatch up that spot and likely a higher one soon after. He continues to thrive, be it during defeats or in glorified squash matches.
Liv Morgan can't say the same thing.
The New Jersey native didn't impress in her latest showing at Full Sail University. Her evolution is crawling along.
The following is a look at how Morgan, Almas and others stack up to their peers as WWE prospects. The wrestlers' look, gimmick, charisma, mic skills and ring work determined the rankings.
|NXT Male Prospect Rankings (Top 20)|
|1.||Drew McIntyre||6'5", 254 lbs||Hard-hitting offense, strong presence, great intensity, improved physique.|
|2.||Johnny Gargano||5'10", 199 lbs||Fast, fluid offense, strong babyface work, excellent seller.|
|3.||Andrade "Cien" Almas||5'9", 210 lbs||Finding groove character-wise, strong striker, good presence.|
|4.||Aleister Black||5'11", 205 lbs||Magnetic aura, unique look, great striker.|
|5.||Bobby Roode||6'0", 235 lbs||Quality promos, dependable all-around performer, not as electric as NXT's best.|
|6.||Hideo Itami||5'9", 182 lbs||Excellent athlete, skilled striker, presence helps overcome language barrier.|
|7.||Kassius Ohno||6'4", 270 lbs||Works well against a variety of foes, excellent in the ring, likable on the mic.|
|8.||Eric Young||6'0", 224 lbs||Skilled storyteller, great seller, dramatic strikes, solid on the mic.|
|9.||Tommaso Ciampa||5'11", 201 lbs||Strong striker, intense, average mic work.|
|10.||Roderick Strong||5'10", 200 lbs||Beautiful ring work, varied move set, charisma remains issue.|
|11.||Shane Thorne||6'1", 220 lbs||Injury will stall momentum, athletic, good presence, marketable look, not yet an elite babyface.|
|12.||Oney Lorcan||6'1", 190 lbs||Thrives in slugfests, strong ring work, underwhelming talker.|
|13.||No Way Jose||6'3", 245 lbs||Goofy gimmick holding him back, inconsistent striker, gifted athlete, high ceiling.|
|14.||Tucker Knight||6'2", 320 lbs||Good acceleration, impressive power, fun energy.|
|15.||Killian Dain||6'4", 322 lbs||Impressive movement for his size, intimidating, big potential.|
|16.||Rezar||6'4", 330 lbs||Strong intensity, impressive power, solid presence.|
|17.||Dylan Miley||6'3", 284 lbs||Great power, intimidating, monstrous aura.|
|18.||Alexander Wolfe||6'2", 244 lbs||Good bruiser, solid striking, Sanity gimmick working well.|
|19.||Akam||6'3", 290 lbs||Plenty of power, solid presence, improved selling, still green overall.|
|20.||Otis Dozovic||5'10", 330 lbs||Great power, solid agility for size, good intensity.|
Prospects just outside the top 20: Nick Miller, Buddy Murphy, Wesley Blake
Almas Does It Again
His match against Danny Burch on Wednesday was no classic, but Almas elevated his stock with his performance nonetheless.
The former La Sombra has been on a tear of late. He has regularly been one of NXT's highlights each week.
Against Burch, Almas was smooth. His offense looked effortless. And he blended in plenty of viciousness.
John Moore of ProWrestling.net wrote after the bout: "Andrade Almas is showing signs that he might be NXT's best in-ring worker."
That's definitely a discussion worth having. Almas is equal parts slugfest artist and technical ace.
And as he showed in a brief backstage altercation with Drew McIntyre, he's found his footing as a character.
He came off too much like a cheap Chippendale's rip-off early on but has since become something more befitting. He's essentially the arrogant, belligerent guy at the bar everyone wants to punch but is too intimidating for anyone to try something.
EY the Storyteller
Eric Young may remain at the NXT level due to his age (37), but Raw and SmackDown will be missing out on a strong all-around performer.
He was excellent when he collided with Dillinger inside a steel cage for The Perfect 10's final NXT match. This was a send-off for Dillinger but a showcase for Young.
Young delivered big, dramatic punches. He flung his foe into the steel. He led the way in a match that elevated Dillinger in a big way.
Emotion shone from his face and body language. Whether he was a laughing sadist enjoying Dillinger's pain or a writhing victim, Young put on a show.
One can't blame WWE for wanting to keep Young at NXT, even so. He demonstrated on Wednesday night how much the brand's up-and-comers can learn from him.
|NXT Female Prospect Rankings (Top 10)|
|1.||Asuka||5'3"||Elite in-ring performer, great presence, top-notch striker, limited English-language skills.|
|2.||Ember Moon||5'2"||Great all-around athlete, excellent showmanship, good presence, character still in progress.|
|3.||Nikki Cross||5'0"||Skilled brawler, great energy, standing out in Sanity faction.|
|4.||Peyton Royce||5'7"||Continues to blossom as heel, solid in the ring, good showmanship.|
|5.||Ruby Riot||5'4"||Good seller, fluid ring work, quality brawler.|
|6.||Billie Kay||5'8"||Plays a heel well, flamboyant, good energy, sometimes awkward in the ring.|
|7.||Kimberly Frankele||5'3"||Powerful, good striker, lots of experience on the indies.|
|8.||Mandy Rose||5'4"||Has progressed to a degree in the ring, strong presence, star quality.|
|9.||Aliyah||5'3"||Lots of potential, regressing in the ring of late, good energy.|
|10.||Daria Berenato||5'7"||Solid striker, works MMA gimmick well, OK presence.|
Morgan Moving Along Slowly
Morgan and Aliyah's win was a reminder of just how far both women have to go. Neither prospect had much to celebrate after their performance against Peyton Royce and Billie Kay on Wednesday.
Fight Booth's Shawn Mareane wrote of the tag match: "That was just bad. Aliyah has managed to take another step backward and she's dragging Morgan down with her."
While the bout showed off how flexible and athletic Morgan is, she doesn't look decidedly better than she did in her debut.
She looked wooden too often. Her roll move on Kay was awkward. Her execution overall wasn't crisp.
It's not surprising how silent the crowd was during the action.
She and her tag team partner have major work ahead of them. The women's division is getting deeper; the level of competition is increasing. Morgan isn't keeping up.
Itami made a clear statement just moments into his return from shoulder surgery when he knocked NXT titleholder Bobby Roode out cold. He's charging toward the championship.
After being twice derailed by injury, Itami will have the best stretch of his NXT career.
He's bound to be extra motivated. And his drive will carry him to new heights.
Jack Gallagher vs. Tyler Bate for the United Kingdom Championship is set for next week's show as announced on Wednesday. We're going to see more and more of the UK stars on NXT in the months ahead.
While WWE figures out the logistics of creating a UK show, Full Sail will serve as a temporary home, and the Brits will help make NXT must-watch again.