The Best And Worst Of WWE NXT 10/19/16: Strong Bad

Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Sanity debuted, revealing themselves to be Eric Young, Necky Storm and two other guys. Their Purge aesthetic made Bobby Roode bail on the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, leaving Tye Dillinger alone to take a beatdown. Also, Shinsuke Nakamura returned from injury to confront Samoa Joe, and Peyton Royce made a donkey face.

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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for October 19, 2016.

Best: Trumpet Of The Swann

This week’s opening match (and round one match in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic) is Team They Love To Have Fun, No Way Jose and Rich Swann, vs. Team They Don’t Like To Have Fun At All, Drew Gulak and Tony Nese. From what we’ve seen on Raw and now NXT, Gulak and Nese’s gimmick is that they didn’t make it past “armbars” in wrestling school and were like, “this should be enough, we’re gonna buy some dress clothes from Sears and grimace about how much we love applying these armbars.” And they aren’t even good armbars, really, so they just lose. I’m not shading them for not actually knowing how to wrestle, mind you — okay, well, I’m not shading Gulak for not knowing how to wrestle — I just think it’s funny that their characters are no-nonsense get-it-done technical types who can’t overcome any nonsense and can’t get it done. They remind me of the Mechanics, back when NXT didn’t put any effort into them beyond, “they’re regular guys, not interesting at all! That’s the gimmick!”

Swann and Jose get the strong win here, of course, because the Authors of Pain need a sympathetic, likeable babyface team to eat for breakfast in round two. That way, Hashtag DIY somehow beating them in the semi-finals, possibly via castigo excesivo, will really pop. Then you’ve got opportunistic-ass Team Aries going into the finals with an unfair advantage over the scrappy try-hards and boom, your tournament finale’s got palpable pro wres drama.

And kickouts. So many kickouts.

Worst: I’m Not Digging These Interchangeable Cruiserweight Classic Teams

My kingdom for an actual Cruiserweight Classic show that segregates these developmental rosters so we don’t forever lose the character effort and layers that made NXT the best show in the WWE catalog, and we don’t keep tossing these Cruiserweight Classic guys into milquetoast cardboard cut-outs of themselves in a universe that necessitates a very different presentation when we could just give them a show and portray them in a better light. If you aren’t gonna use WWE guys in the CWC, why are you doing it in reverse? Why do you think that works? Is the CWC supposed to be a jobber battle?

Best: Eased-Back Babyface Tye Dillinger Who Still Loves Saying 10, But Not Right Now, This Is Serious

“Doctor, will I be able to compete at TakeOver: Toronto?”
“No, it looks like your rotator cuff has some TEN-donitis in it.”
“Gonna have to put you in the hospital for an emergency ah-ten-dectomy!”
“what, are we not doing that anymore?”
“How rude.”
“He’s fine, why do you ask”

Best: Bobby Roode’s Entrance Keeps Getting Better

Speaking of Bob Roo, he gets a quick squash victory over the Cousin Oliver of the Cruiserweight Classic, Sean Maluta. The best part is Bobby’s entrance, which has gotten so bright and sparkly it looks like Scott Bakula has Quantum Leapt into his body to make sure he wins the match:

Roode skunks Maluta (as he should) and uses the post-match to revisionist-history shit-talk Dillinger, saying Tye begged him to be his tag team partner “on his hands and knees” and blew the opportunity. Words!

That brings out Dillinger to punch him out of the ring, and I appreciate that while the crowd played up the “ten” thing, Dillinger maintained his anger and fire and just stuck to the punching. It goes a long way when pro wrestlers drop the jokes and actually seem like they care about what they’re doing.

Best: Cassie And Jessie Are Fussie

Liv Morgan (in her still-weird-to-me “Liv Vibes” tee, which doesn’t mean what she thinks it means) gives a backstage interview to Some Cathy about how Billie Kay and Peyton Royce were “making excuses” by beating her up (?). That INSTANTLY summons Kay and Royce, who kick her in the face, drag her out onto the stage and figuratively throw her under the bridge in front of everybody. It’s so good, and I’m glad the Two Mean Girls trope is back.

Blue Ivy — that’s what I’m calling them, I don’t care — announce that they run the NXT women’s division and are putting everyone on notice, including Asuka, which not only establishes them as the top heels but confirms them as New Emma and Dana. Billie Kay is the Dana, btw.

Best: Austin Aries Is A Monster

Austin Aries is officially the biggest heel in NXT, for three reasons:

1. He makes fun of Hideo Itami’s injury, pointing out that Itami questioned his toughness and then bailed on the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic before his first match because of an injury. He says it’s worse than a sore neck, because they did an MRI and found out he’s got no spine. That’s so good. I’m mad at how good that is.

2. He eats a banana during a promo and just throws the peel over his shoulder, which is both littering AND the leading cause of comical pratfalls.

3. He gets Roderick Strong an NXT job.

Worst: Strong Rod

If you know anything about my personal pro graps fandom, you know that Roderick Strong in any form has been my least favorite pro wrestler since like, 2005. A child-sized guy who looks like a sentient human leg and doesn’t appear to know that wrestling’s a work hitting people as hard as he can for no reason and spamming backbreakers has never been my thing.

To put it another way, remember when Balls Mahoney got a WWE job because they were signing every ECW guy, and they’d already signed Tommy Dreamer and Sabu and Taz and the Dudley Boys and literally everyone else they could, so they were left to choose between Balls Mahoney and like, Big Dick Hertz? I feel like that’s Roderick Strong right now. He’s Balls Mahoney. They already got Austin Aries and Bobby Roode and Eric Young, and AJ Styles is WWE Champion and Daniel Bryan’s career is over and Samoa Joe’s here, and every big-name indie guy you can think of has either been signed and blown up or come and gone. Like, Sami Callihan had an entire WWE career begin and end, so sure, let’s bring in Rod.

Anyway, I’m gonna step back from my bullshit opinion for a second and say this:

Best: Strong Rod

I like that they brought in Rod as like, the only guy who can work with Aries, because he’s never going to overshadow him. NXT Aries is all about being the most important guy in the room, so of course his best possible partner option would be the guy who’s exactly like him, minus the charisma. So Rod shows up to an okay reaction — definitely not one of those TUNE IN TO TAKEOVER TO SEE THE DEBUT OF A HUGE NEW STAR moments — is the second most important guy on his team, spends most of the match getting beaten up, and then helps facilitate Aries’ advancement in the tournament. It’s still called “Team Aries” after Strong shows up, so sure, why not? You could put worse wrestlers into that spot.


The actual highlight of this match for me was Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight, who are Actual Gimmicks away from being my favorite team on the roster. Just two hyped-up big men who want to hit you AND THEMSELVES with their bodies. They even celebrate with a jumping Milli Vanilli-style belly buck:

If we can get them into something better than the “I’m tough, now I’m a fat joke” Bull Dempsey Memorial character progression, we might have something special. And if we don’t, we’ve got Bull Dempsey II and El Hijo del John Kronus. So, you know, fingers crossed.

Best: Cien Things HIS Way

Andrade Almas has a point. The guy worked his entire career to get enough respect and reputation to get a WWE job. He finally gets it, and he shows them the ultimate respect by removing his mask and playing ball. He’s gotten zero respect in return, from both the company and the fans. So why should he just keep going out there smiling and pointing like some sort of less compelling No Way Jose? I get you, Cien. Do you.

Bonus points if they put Andrea on commentary for his matches and have her be like, “He believes that by executing that armdrag, he’ll be able to ground his opponent and also make their arm hurt.”

Best: Craziest In The Galaxy

After that, Sanity’s Nikki Cross gets a “match” with Danielle Kamela. I put match in quotes because it’s basically Cross forearming her in the face over and over until she pins her, then continuing to punch her to death until the referee reverses the decision. I haven’t seen that finish in a while. That’s CLASSIC. I also like that despite them being anarchists or whatever, Eric Young was upset at the call. Teams like this don’t work if they don’t also care about winning and losing wrestling matches. Wyatt Family, I’m looking in your direction.

So yeah, thick post-apocalyptic Kristen Stewart takes Danielle to the woodshed. I don’t know about y’all, but I am super into tweaked-out feral Nikki Cross. I like that not only is she a talented wrestler, she’s playing a different kind of character for the women’s division. She’s not an arrogant heel or a happy-go-lucky babyface like literally everyone else ever, she’s a weird nutso Mad Max pet who can’t stop biting the ropes and rubbing her teeth. It’s like she’s infected with the Rage Virus and got turned into a fast zombie. Love it.

So now we’ve got:

– an unbeatable Japanese karate murder pimp champion
– a duo of hateful Australian ladies
– a peppy little babyface who has more guts than brains
– a mysterious werewolf ninja (?)
– an ersatz Eva Marie that can actually wrestle
– a crazy Scottish Purge zombie

… plus a lot of up-and-coming types like Aliyah, Daria Berenato and Binky Blair who are right on the edge of being something. That’s a pretty dope women’s division, honestly. Turns out they used the “rebuilding year” to actually rebuild.

Best: LOL

Finally we have the hilarious occurrence of a Shinsuke Nakamura promo being interrupted by NXT’s version of Patrick Clark’s version of Dave Chapelle’s version of Prince. Clark challenges Nakamura (with people in the crowd visibly makING “what the hell even are you, what are you doing” hand gestures), gets kicked once and instantly dies to be a backdrop to a looming Samoa Joe.

It’s not much, but Clark’s character seems like one of those where at first you’re like, “what the fuck are you doing, NXT, come on,” but gets a sudden twist or character trait somewhere (or entrance theme, or entrance gimmick, or SOMETHING) that gets everyone on board. Right now he seems like a talented guy desperately trying anything to get on TV — and worst case, another really bad attempt by WWE at creating an LGBTQ character without any subtlety or perspective — but he’s like one notable thing away from being entertaining. I hope that happens soon.

Besides, NXT isn’t NXT without a Zoolander guy. Miss you, Breezy.