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– Here’s a link to this week’s show on Hulu Plus. If you don’t watch this episode, you are ridiculous.
– GIFs via Chinston Wurchill at Punchsport Pagoda.
– This is the final episode from the set of tapings I attended live. I’m already going through NXT taping withdrawals, because the next set tapes tonight and I’m several states away. NXT types, if you wanna fly me down to do some more live coverage I … you know, I wouldn’t tell you no.
Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for August 21, 2013.
Best: AJ Lee Returns To NXT, Gets To Be Smart Again
A rumination on the effectiveness of AJ, from this year’s Best and Worst of Money in the Bank column:
I watched the show with former Cleveland-area pro wrestler Crew Spence, and he pointed out that while small wrestlers are a valuable part of the pro wrestling scene (he’s one himself, after all), AJ is SO little that it’s hard for him to take her seriously. I didn’t agree with him until he pointed out that when she bumps it doesn’t make noise, and now that’s all I can see. Seriously, pay attention to it … when she lands, the ring doesn’t move and it doesn’t make a sound. She’s legitimately what, 60 pounds? She bumps her ass off, but the normal human weight necessary to make wrestling sounds happen just isn’t there. When Kaitlyn jumps and land, shit moves.
Of course, that’s not really AJ’s fault or anything, but it’s crazy distracting. Objectively, Kaitlyn should be able to wreck her in a heartbeat, but since AJ’s the heel now she’s got to control the match and win almost all of it, so you’ve got this tiny baby-sized person who couldn’t shake the ring if she dove into it headfirst from the top rope beating the mess out of a 160-pound shoot bodybuilder. Imagine a Daniel Bryan match where Bryan puts Mark Henry in a bunch of standing hammerlocks and Henry can’t do anything about, and just lies around helplessly. It’d be pretty cool, probably, but you get what I’m saying.
This is the difference between NXT and the main roster. On Raw, or on pay-per-view, AJ is forced to fit her square character peg in a circular hole and be the “bitch Diva,” confined to a moveset of clubbing forearms, hairmares and chinlocks. Unable to do anything that would “show up the boys” or make one of the Bella Twins furrow their brows. On NXT, AJ Lee gets to be AJ Lee, a fully-formed wrestling character who is able to overcome her obvious flaws (her size and strength) by using her greatest asset: her mind.
The match was Bayley was fun, because it made so much sense. In the beginning, AJ underestimated Bayley because she’s The Chris Farley Show The Wrestler. That allowed Bayley to sneak in some offense and eventually go on a tear, putting AJ down with some power moves like a big knee drop and bearhugs in the corner. Realizing her mistake, AJ adapted … she took advantage of Bayley’s innocence and gullibility by playing hurt. Bayley’s all, “OH GOD I HURT A PERSON I LIKE” without stopping to think “I dropped a big f**kin’ knee with the INTENTION of hurting her, because I’m a wrestler and hurting other wrestlers is in my job description,” so AJ takes her out, knees her in the face and gets the win.
What results is a quick but not-especially-easy victory for the Divas Champion. It makes Bayley look good because she could, in theory, bludgeon the little champ to death if she got serious and wanted to. It was two independently-established characters coming together and having the match they logically should have, and it was a beautiful little thing.
Also, Bayley, girl, you need to call me.
Best: RUINING MY ENTIRE LIFE
The only backstage segment the live crowd got to see during the entire show was Tyler Breeze’s first backstage interview with Renee, so the upside of going back and rewatching the edited-together episodes on Hulu is seeing all the pieces we missed. For example, Tyler Breeze asks Random Developmental Diva if she wants to take a picture, she says “sure,” and he tells her that no, he wants her to take a picture of HIM. When he rudely shoos her away, he finds out that he’s been photobombed and reacts in the best way imaginable. The exact quote:
“Are you serious?? Who photobombed my PICTURE?? They’re ruinING … my entire liiIIFEE!!”
And then he storms away. I love you, Tyler Breeze. I don’t care if your PWI 500 ranking made less than zero sense.
Best: Suggested Jobber Team Name: “Hacki-Zak”
The Ascension match was what you’d expect it to be (The Road Warriors coming out to Castlevania music and mutilating jobbers) (okay, one Road Warrior and one Gut Check contestant), but I’m giving it a Best because of NXT’s colorful, interchangeable jobbers. Ron Hicks! It’s like somebody ran Lucky Cannon through a car wash! Michael Zaki! Love little fat-bodied, hairless bald guys? Tired of the 20,000 trying to make it on the indies right now? Here’s another one!
Worst: CJ Parker Is Horrible, But At Least Renee Is Here
I applaud NXT for trying out something new with CJ Parker — updating his character from “gay Carlito” to “hippie” — but he just doesn’t have it. He’s nothing special in the ring, his gimmick only works when it plays against better or more interesting characters and his name is still a Baywatch character.
The good news is that Renee Young is here to ask the important questions:
1. who are you
2. why are you being such a weird asshole to people backstage
Best: Tyler Breeze Is Legitimately Hurt By The Photobombing
Tyler Breeze interrupts them by doing the angry version of his entrance, where he brings up the photo that is making him mad on his phone and glares at it angrily as he stomps down to the ring. Glorious. Then he goes into FULL ERIC CARTMAN and uses the funniest, weirdest voice to express his sincere confusion and anger at CJ Parker’s photobombing obsession. He gets a little too handsy and Parker pretends like he’s gonna punch him, and Breeze flinches so hard he actually flies out of the ring. I will take a hundred CJ Parker matches if they end with Tyler Breeze. Renee corpsing at Parker’s “CHILLAX, HOT BOI” is also great.
Biggest-ever Worst to the one bad apple in the NXT crowd who yells FAGGOTTT at the 21:38 mark. I wish I’d heard that and kicked the guy’s ass in the Full Sail parking lot.
Best: Dolph Ziggler Enters The Kumite
One of the most surprising parts of the show for me was the sudden awesomeness of Alexander Rusev, a SHOOT BULGARIAN~ who hasn’t really shown up (besides a random loss to Bo Dallas back in May) since the FCW days.
If you haven’t seen him, Rusev looks a lot like the sumo guy from Bloodsport, has a Muay Thai background (which is code for “walks around the ring with his hands in the air and sometimes throws kicks” in WWE Speak), brings a board with his opponent’s name on it to the ring and BREAKS it when he’s ready to break them. When you attend the live show and they’re all SPECIAL GUEST DOLPH ZIGGLER, SPECIAL GUEST DOLPH ZIGGLER EVERYONE, DOLPH ZIGGLER’S COMIN’ UP LATER STICK AROUND and he’s facing a guy who is barely ever on television, you think it’s gonna be a quick squash and that’s gonna be that.
What we got was the OPPOSITE of that, and I loved it. Rusev is a MONSTER. If wrestling needs anything, it needs a bad-ass fat martial arts guy. His offense is wonderful, from that fallaway slam where he holds you against the ropes and knees your ribs to shit (and its finish, which is “dump that motherf**ker over the top to the floor”) to his attempt at a top-rope splash (!!), Rusev won me over more than any new NXT guy NOT accompanied by a streaming video gimmick. I want to see more of him. NXT needs a new Big E Langston, and I’m down for it being Bul E Garian.
I’m also really happy to see Ziggler wrestling the kind of babyface match we never get to see him wrestle on Raw. This is what he should be doing. Showing off, getting caught doing it, showing resilience and coming back with his quickness and smarts. And lots of dropkicks. This helped me remember why I liked Ziggler in the first place. Distraction losses and ratchet title runs do not.
Best: And Now, Your WWE Match Of The Year
I can’t say enough about the Antonio Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn 2-out-of-3 falls match. I can’t. I’ve been talking it up for a month on social media, and I hope you take the time to watch it yourself, and not just rely on that awkward 3-minute Hulu Plus clip and word of mouth.
Watching it live was special. The feeling in the crowd was electric. Not that “THIS IS E-LECTRIC” Michael Cole kind of electric. Actual electricity. Hairs standing up on our arms. We knew it was going to be a great match, because shit, why wouldn’t it be, but what we got was so far beyond our expectations we couldn’t handle it. Listen to the crowd during the last 8 minutes of the match. Listen to those “match of the year” chants. Those are sincere. I’m one of those voices, and while I can’t speak for everyone yelling it, I was screaming MATCH OF THE YEAR as loud as I could so Cesaro, Zayn, and anyone who signs their paychecks would hear it and know it.
The opening video package adds to the feeling. We didn’t get that, obviously. The first 30 seconds of the match are more exciting than things you see on pay-per-views, and on top of that, it all made sense. Zayn knows he’s physically outmatched but STILL underestimated, so he goes for the gold immediately, taking out Cesaro with the most powerful bombs he can throw and getting a flash pin. He tries to keep that going, but as soon as Cesaro takes control, he TAKES CONTROL. By this point, we’re hopping up and down on our seats, popping for chinlocks because the wrestlers have made them MATTER. By the time Cesaro’s swinging Zayn around by his neck and squatting over him trying to twist his head off, we’re like, “shit, that’s gotta be it.” And it is.
That leads to a finale as good as any I’ve seen. It’s got a nice mixture of callbacks to their previous matches (the Yoshi Tonic counter) and things WWE audiences have never seen. The tornado DDT through the ring ropes is the big one. El Generico used to do that all the time, but Zayn’s never pulled it out, and it was one of those things you thought WWE would just quietly remove from his matches, like the top rope brainbuster. When Cesaro rolled to the outside and Zayn rolled out diagonally, my brain started subconsciously screaming DUDE, DUDE, and by the time Cesaro started standing up I started violently nudging my friend Ariana, yelling HE’S GONNA DO THE DDT, OH MY GOD HE’S GONNA DO THE DDT. And then BOOM. WWE audiences have seen a move that makes me go “how the f**king f**k did he do that” every single time he does it.
It all builds to the finish, and what a finish it was.
Worst: Alex Riley Should Really Stop Namedropping The Miz
Oh, before we write up the finish, yo Alex Riley, I know the only thing you’ve ever done is “know the Miz,” but nobody gives a shit about you and the Miz. Stop trying to work that into every conversation.
“Cesaro with a chinlock! This could be it!”
“That reminds me of the time I broke away from the Miz and locked chins with him! So I know about chinlocks!”
“OH MY GOD WHAT AN AMAZING TORNADO DDT”
“ONE TIME MIZ TOLD ME NOT TO DO A TORNADO DDT AND I WAS LIKE SCREW YOU DUDE BUT NO HE WAS RIGHT I SHOULD NOT DO TORNADO DDTS”
Bring back William Regal. Or Maddox. Or anybody.
Best: A Finish I Will Never Forget
The power of the match for me is that I’ve seen El Generico and Claudio Castagnoli have great matches before, and what they did here trumped all of it. The tornado DDT through the ropes is a great example, because as cool as it is in an armory, it becomes LEGENDARY when WWE fans can see it, tell their friends about it and build folk stories about how great this guy is as he rises to the top. That’s what’s happening with Bray Wyatt on Raw right now. He hasn’t been great off a microphone, but he’s got so much good will and NO NO NO WE SWEAR HE’S AMAZING built up he can coast on shitty R-Truth squashes for another six months without fail.
Another example is the finish, where Cesaro stops a Zayn DDT and counters it in Swiss Death. I’ve seen them do that in Ring of Honor before, right? But here, two things make it more important:
1. The tornado DDT out of the corner is Zayn’s finish, not just a move he does. So when we’re 20 minutes into a 2-out-of-3 falls match and Zayn goes for it, he’s going for his last big move of the night. Make or break. Live or die. If he hits it, it’s over, and he proves Cesaro wrong. If he doesn’t … well, he’s probably toast.
2. They almost messed it up. That’s what’s so special about this move. Cesaro was just supposed to pull him up out of the stalled DDT position and hurl him into the air in one motion. That’s how they’ve done it before. Something went wrong, though, and Cesaro lost control on the way up … but he’s SO F**KING STRONG that he was able to steady himself and keep Zayn in the air Dirty Dancing style until he could get his footing. So a guy walks around WITH A GROWN MAN HELD OVER HIS HEAD WITHOUT ANY ASSISTANCE WHATSOEVER, then squats and f**king LAUNCHES him into the air for the Swiss Death. Instead of a “whoaaa … OHH!” reaction, you get “whoaaa .. ooooh … OOOH, OH GOD, OH GOD, WHOA, OH SHIIIIT YOU’RE DEAD, YOU’RE DEAD.” Even the announcers start losing their shit here, which they NEVER do in NXT. Alex Riley even lost THE MIZ’s shit.
I will never forget the experience of seeing this match live. I urge every single person reading to try to get to a live NXT taping, or … hell, don’t. Stay at home and pirate it or whatever so we can keep it to a comfortable few-hundred people losing their minds at the greatest wrestling on the planet and never let it grow too big. But know who these men and women are, support them, and learn to love wrestling again. Because wrestling is pretty goddamn great sometimes.