The Best And Worst Of WWE NXT 7/20/16: Backdraft

Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Shinsuke Nakamura Kinshasa’d Finn Bálor out of NXT. If you don’t watch wrestling, that sentence looks like nonsense typing.

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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for July 20, 2016.

Best/Worst: Samoa Joe Eric Youngs Rhyno

Two weeks ago, Rhyno returned to NXT by interrupting a Hype Bros vs. Blake and Murphy match and gently tackling everybody to the ground. Last week, he interrupted a Samoa Joe promo looking for a match with the NXT Champion. He got it — non-title, but he still got it — so this week we have the match. It’s the lesson we learned from Eric Young: All you have to do to get a match with the NXT Champion is walk up to the champ, say, “HOW ABOUT FIGHTING ME, JERK,” and if they say yes, boom, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never wrestled in NXT before. It doesn’t matter if the entirety of your recent resume is, “made Mojo Rawley fall down when he wasn’t expecting to.”

Anyway, the ending to Eric Young’s story is that he lost pretty handily, and that was that. That’s the story here, too. Their match is honestly pretty boring — I hate saying that because I’m so into SmoJo right now — but there’s an inherent joy in watching two big dudes hammerblow the sh*t out of each other for a few minutes.

I did love the finish, though, with Joe just sort of visibly getting tired of having to keep wrestling this match and finishing off Rhyno post-haste with the Clutch. That was good. One of the things I loved about 2002-2005 Joe is that he’d fight you toe-to-toe, but he also had a switch he could flip where he stopped playing and you were f*cked.

Best: Hideo Itami Returns!

Damn WWE draft ruining my “Finn Bálor was the one who attacked Itami, leading to a glorious Finn Bálor heel run” fantasy booking. Ah well, at least Joe’s still here. Maybe Nakamura will win the NXT Championship and leave Joe to feud with Itami over the injury for a cycle or two. I know Nakamura as NXT Champ seems like something that’d just stall him from being a huge star on the main roster, but c’mon, if you run a wrestling promotion and Nakamura’s in it for more than one show, how are you not gonna put your best belts on him? Do it just for the photo op.

No matter what they do, it’ll be nice to have Itami back. He debuted right in that sweet spot where WWE had begun to appreciate and promote Japanese stars as cool equals, but got hurt before Asuka, Nakamura and the Cruiserweight Classic made it the norm. I want him to finally get his chance to blow up. And hey, if he doesn’t start Busaiku-kneeing, Yes-Locking and Go 2 Sleeping people on the reg, they’re making a huge mistake.

Best: American Alpha Vs. The Authors Of Pain

First of all, I’m happy that American Alpha got drafted to the main roster, and deeply sad that they’re on the show I don’t write about. But hey, that show also got Dolph Ziggler and his myriad of terrible plots, so I’m considering it a wash.

Second of all, I loved this, and I love that it was basically three weeks of regular WWE TV storytelling in a single match. It starts with American Alpha walking to the ring and getting jumped from behind by the Authors. The Authors hit their finish on Chad Gable on the ramp, and refs have to come out and help Alpha away. That would normally be a week’s worth of content, but it keeps going. American Alpha gathers themselves, tell William Regal they still want the match, then rush to the ring. They manage to get the best of the Authors and stand tall, which would be week two. Then, finally, they have the match. That’s week three. The pre-match attack means American Alpha wasn’t on equal footing when it began and lost because they were already hurt, which sets up week four of five or whatever in Brooklyn. So, so well put-together.

Third of all, the match itself is GREAT. It’s one of the best American Alpha matches we’ve seen yet, because it actually called on them to be underdogs and tell a story. So far, most Alpha matches are just Gable getting beaten to death, Jason Jordan making the world’s greatest hot tags, and some back and forth with cool moves and counters and saves and spots. That’s good by itself, but this let us see American Alpha as a well-rounded tag team, and showed that when they’re on the main roster fighting the Wyatt Family or whatever, they can fight from underneath. They maintain their cohesiveness and timing and cool moves, but they know when to do them, and why. They’re a really f*cking phenomenal tag team, and they’re carrying the new guys to something great.

The Authors of Pain are great here too, though, don’t get me wrong. I love that they’re presented as a single, devastating force. The announce team doesn’t even know their names, they’re just two enormous swat dudes with Christopher Daniels’ dad making finger-tents on the outside. They’ve got great intensity and their offense has impact, and their size makes American Alpha’s comebacks look super human. Chad Gable’s suplex, y’all. I’m not sure if I liked that or Jason Jordan’s dive more. And hey, guess what? The cool moments I’m listing work in the context of the match, and logically build upon the story. Jordan never dives, but he’s doing it here, because he’s sick of seeing his best friend get f*cked over and is willing to put it all on the line to help him out.

Beautiful stuff. And only the second best match on the show!

Best: America The Jobber

Patrick Clark goes from being the one guy on Tough Enough who actually watched and liked wrestling to being the one guy from Tough Enough to actually be a wrestler. Additionally, look at him. He looks like Ernie Hudson fell into a Toby Keith song. Instant forever love to anyone that airbrushes their face onto their tights.

The match is short but good, and I gotta give a supplemental Best to Aries’ finishing sequence. Doing a reverse powerslam instead of a backdrop after the shin-breaker to set up the Last Chancery is immediately 100% better than what he’s been doing.

After the match, No Way Jose shows up to even the score with Aries using GENERAL UNBELIEVABLE BRAWLING. Like, come on, imagine Aries vs. No Way Jose in a real fight. Jose’s like 8 times his size, he should be able to pick him up and tear him in half like the Hulk did to Tigra. Instead, he’s out here like Bart trying to fight Lisa.

Best: Bayley Vs. Nia Jax

Holy sh*t, this match.

Bayley and Nia Jax had a good match at NXT TakeOver: London. Bayley lost the NXT Women’s Championship to Asuka in Dallas in another very good match, and Asuka kicked Nia to death in yet another good, probably underrated match at The End. This match was better than all of them. Probably combined.

To me, this is the best women’s match in WWE this year. Easily.

It’s the perfect end to the trilogy. In match one, Nia is overconfident because she’s gone through her entire life not having to try very hard to intimidate and overpower people. Bayley has spent the past several years being picked on and underestimated, often fighting people out of her league. Being Women’s Champion gives her career meaning and vindication, so she’ll do anything to keep it. Bayley ends up outsmarting Nia, guillotine choking her until she gives up. It’s played as a tremendous victory for Bayley, and one that probably only happened because Nia was greener than Ted DiBiase’s pocket. In match two, Nia was starting to come into her own. She started getting vicious, and trading in the gentle corner strikes and kid gloves for some true viciousness. Powerbombs. Collisions that look like they could kill you. Bayley was coming off a loss to Asuka and wasn’t quite herself. Nia turned those tables, took out Bayley’s knee and just leg-dropped her into oblivion for the win.

Match three was at once a callback to and fulfillment of the stories introduced in those matches. For the first time, both women are equally motivated. They want a shot at Asuka and the NXT Women’s Championship. Nia wants to prove that she’s fully realized and can beat Bayley whenever she wants. Bayley knows she has to get serious and vicious if she’s going to hang with Asuka, so she’s got to beat people like Nia to prove she’s moving in the right direction. Nia dominates, because she should, and Bayley has to be resilient. That’s what she does best. Lots of being thrown around, lots of being tossed to the outside, lots of divine-intervention hope spots and close calls. Moving out of the way at the last second, letting Nia slip up. Nia’s not green anymore, but she’s not seasoned. She can still make those mistakes. Bayley just has to be confident enough to close the deal when those moments present themselves.

Once again, the match comes down to Nia’s inexperience and hubris. She has Bayley finished in the middle of the ring, but doesn’t deliver the death blow. Bayley’d kicked out of a f*cking Jackhammer a minute ago — the Jaxhammer, we’re all hoping it’s called — and she’s kicked out of leg drops before, so Nia doesn’t think it’s enough. She has to go bigger. So she drags Bayley over to the corner and starts CLIMBING THE ROPES, looking to drop a leg or an EVERYTHING on her. Finisher off for good, definitively. But what she’s actually done is given resilient-ass Bayley one more big opening, and Bayley takes it. She pops up, snatches Nia in a hug on the ropes and throws her back into the ring with a Belly-to-Bayley, and that’s it.

Everything about this match works. The timing, the backstory, the fact that you don’t have to know the full story to know the story they’re telling in the ring. The fact that the announcers fill you in on it anyway. Nia’s power. Bayley’s quickness and ingenuity. It’s all there, and it’s exactly right. If this is Nia’s NXT swan song, it’s great to see how good she’s gotten, and to know that she’ll be okay moving up. At the same time … damn, I wish we got another year of this Nia Jax.