Hey, all. Brandon is taking a rare week off from the report, so you’re stuck with me instead. I’ll try to make him proud.
Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Bobby Roode appeared and blessed us with possibly the greatest wrestling theme of all time. Hideo Itami returned, Mojo Rawley got the Coquina clutched out of him and Asuka murdered a child to prove a point.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for August 3, 2016.
Best: Lumberjack Bayley
This week’s episode kicks off with the contract signing between Bayley and Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: Back II Brooklyn. For me, the highlight of this was ~casual Bayley~ showing up in a sleeveless plaid shirt, because she’s a lumberjack, and she’s okay. That’s all. I really liked the shirt!
(Asuka’s shirt was no slouch, either, as it appeared to be composed of Austin Aries’ delectable rumpmeat.)
Worst: The Fireworks Factory Used To Be A Lot More Firework-y
This entire episode was pretty much setting up and finalizing all the various matches for Back II Brooklyn: Into Darkness. Which is fine. Things need to be official. The problem is (and it seems a lot more glaring than TakesOver in the past, although perhaps nostalgia has colored my memory), it seems like almost all these matches have been foregone conclusions for a month, if not more.
This week, the “official” match announcements felt about as fun as going to a notary public. I mean, you get to put your fingerprint on something. That’s fun. Kinda. But it’s also a little bit of a chore. Bayley and Asuka are great, but the contract signing was just sort of there. We’ve heard these two passionately (or dispassionately, in Asuka’s case) making their arguments for this title match for a long time now. The contract signing felt more like a “this is what we do” sort of thing than a “we have a reason for doing this” sort of thing. Maybe it’s just me!
Nice shirt, though.
Best: The Authors Of Pain Have Composed A Compelling First Act
Once again, the formidable team of Nails and Ryzin come up short, this time against 650 pounds of grade-A hoss meat. This was a squash that looked absolutely terrific, and the Authors REALLY laid into their finisher and just murdered that guy and his bad haircut.
After the match, TM61 stupidly hits the ring to get their lunch eaten and their clocks clean, then dumped in short order. I expect these two teams will probably go at it on the undercard of Back II Brooklyn: The Squeakquel, which we’ll then see the following week. It should be good! TM61 is going to get slaughtered, but I’m looking forward to it.
While we’re on the subject, though, a supplemental Worst to neither of the Authors having in-canon names yet, and to the fact that they have a mouthpiece who has barely spoken. I’m pretty sure they could be doing this without Ellering at this point.
Best: Shinsuke Nakamura, Boy Detective
Nakamura is just so good at every promo opportunity he’s given and he does so much with so little. I’m excited/nervous for when he moves up to the main roster and instantly becomes the best part of whatever show he’s on. But for now, I’m just going to start composing fanfic of him half-assedly and condescendingly solving mysteries no one asked him to solve. Shinsuke Nakamura as a passive-aggressive Encyclopedia Brown is my patronus.
Best/Worst: The Storied Bobby Roode/Cien Almas Feud Kicks Into High Gear
This week’s episode began with Bobby Roode celebrating to himself outside of William Regal’s office. The payoff for that was him storming the ring after Cien Almas won a match and debuted a new finisher to snootily tell him that Roode vs. Almas was official for Back II Brooklyn: Book of Shadows. At first, I thought the celebration really didn’t match up with the match that Roode was given, but then I realized it’s because Roode views this as a lay-up and a GLORIOUS showcase for him in Brooklyn. That’s great. The Bobby Roode character is a perfect fit for this era of NXT, which needs a great big old sh*thead.
The Worst here is for the continued vanilla ice cream of Cien Almas, who continues to be the biggest possible downgrade from La Sombra and is still going with that ring entrance attire. His match was fine, his new finisher is fine. Everything about Cien Almas is fine, which is a problem for NXT and especially for die-hard NXT fans. The promotion and we the fans have developed this culture and this expectation that NXT stuff is always the best all the time and it’s weird to keep seeing a guy we SHOULD love and get behind who is just … there.
I have a sinking suspicion that the Brooklyn crowd — well known for being a Brooklyn crowd — is going to sh*t all over Almas at TakeOver and shower Roode with all the love they can muster. The match could be a big turning point for Almas, but it could also turn into an unwarranted Samsoning, based on nothing more than Almas being presented as a very good, unexceptional wrestler that NXT fans have no real reason to care about.
Best: Brass Knux As A Conversation Piece
Meanwhile, inside William Regal’s office, his desk features his brass knuckles on a tiny velvet pillow, perched upon a display stand. That’s a true power move.
“Oh yes, come in, have a seat, why don’t you? Oh, these? Yes, these are the beloved brass knuckles I kept hidden in my taint back in 2002. I used them on anyone who got into my eyeline. Go on. You were saying … ?”
Worst: An Attempt Was Made
Look, I like Billie Kay and Liv Morgan a lot. Especially now that Billie Kay has a distinct look and thing and great entrance theme. But man alive, was this rough. Was this rough with several weeks of advance time to edit. Large portions of this match appeared to have been wrestled in accidental CHIKARA/PWG slow motion. It was hard to watch and you just felt deep sympathy and contact humiliation for both women the entire time.
They’ll both get a lot better, but it’s a much steeper uphill climb now that the entire women’s division has been gutted. The stopgap class of Carmella, Dana, Alexa and Nia is suddenly gone and Asuka can’t wrestle every match (as much as we’d like her to). Save us, Nikki Storm or someone.
Best: Ember Moon, Relative Of Kobra
Hey, speaking of someone, here’s someone!
Ember Moon is apparently some sort of Storm Shadow, which I’m super into. And these supernatural vignettes featuring someone with the “Moon” surname … that’s gotta be at least a partially intentional nod to Lucha Underground, right?
Here’s hoping Ember Moon is the first step to getting some actual, vetted indie women’s talent into the division so wrestlers like Kay and Morgan aren’t just in there floundering around with bug eyes like they’ve just been haphazardly flung in there by Rusev.
Whatever: Gargano And Ciampa Are On The Same Page
After having a Match of the Year Candidate in last week’s episode of Cruiserweight Classic, Gargano and Ciampa assure Regal they’re still partners and focused on the tag titles, get their tag team title shot (officially) at Back II Brooklyn: First Day of Camp and have a tune-up match against the unlikely team of Tucker Knight and Patrick Clark.
Again, this is less a fireworks factory and more a factory where they make the pamphlets for the fireworks factory. It’s all fine. It’s just also all perfunctory at this point. Maybe it’s just that we can’t wait for Brooklyn. But maybe we’re still trying to wrap our heads around things on NXT just being fine.
Best: Here Lies Mojo, He Stayed Hyped
Now that he has departed for the main roster, presumably forever, let us take a moment to appreciate the strange career arc of Mojo Rawley in NXT. He showed up, seemed like a fun and compelling character, then just kept running into people with his butthole until we were sick of him and his rooting section.
Then he got paired up with Zack Ryder, who somehow managed to help shape him into a complete character and a fantastic amped-up tag team specialist. This week, he showed fire and told a story. He wasn’t looking for the title or glory, he was a man who was wronged last week and looking for revenge. He looked great, got just enough offense in, then got choked out of NXT continuity. Thanks for sticking around long enough for us to appreciate you, Moje.
Best: Shinsuke Nakamura’s Karate Kid II Tactics
Of course, the entire main event this week was just leading up to the last (?) Joe vs. Nakamura confrontation we’re getting before Back II Brooklyn: This Time It’s Brooklyn. Shinsuke threatens to come to the ring, walking slowly down the ramp in his airiest low-cut blouse. This causes like six referees and 12 security dudes to come barreling out of the back and get between the two men.
Then Shinsuke works Joe into a fever pitch, and the payoff is like fourteen men holding an enraged Kaiju Samoa Joe back while Nakamura honks his nose. It’s perfect. Nakamura has successfully gotten inside the brain of the uber-entitled and pissed-as-f*ck Joe without actually doing anything.
Joe is absolutely going to murder Nak at Brooklyn … if he can manage to get his hands on him. Nakamura is playing it smart, Joe is playing it passionately. That passion and fury may cost Joe in the end, but I’m still hoping for a Brock-Cena style destruction on the part of Samoan Joseph. After all, it’s a SummerSlam weekend tradition.