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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for August 19, 2015.
Best: Sasha Banks Vs. Izzy
The show opens with the contract signing for the NXT Women’s Championship at TakeOver. I’m not emotionally prepared for this, I’ll be honest.
If you’ve been reading the columns since the beginning, you know that for as good as the women’s division has been, it’s always been about Sasha and Bayley. When Paige and Emma were crawling out of the primordial ooze of Diva expectations to take the first steps in making WWE women’s wrestling a thing again, Sasha and Bayley were the Young Girls. They were the nobodies. They had talent, but they didn’t just naturally ease into a position of power like Charlotte. They had independent wrestling backgrounds, but they didn’t have the street cred or notoriety of Becky Lynch. They grew from boring nobodies into two of the most talented and emotionally complex characters in the company. Sasha chose the dark side. The NXT Oculus changed her into The Boss, and she drifted behind Summer Rae and Charlotte until she could build up enough confidence to pass them. Her career has been about being underestimated, and faking it until you make it. Bayley, on the other hand, chose the light. When she lost, she picked herself up again. When her friends and tag team partners turned on her and used her as a stepping stone, she turned the other cheek. When people showed up telling her she had to be meaner, she adjusted her pony and persevered.
When it was time for the NXT Women’s Division to rise up and fill spots on Raw, Bayley was the one who got left behind. It was an injury, I guess, but it was thematically appropriate. Sasha Banks ostensibly main-evented Raw this week and tapped out the Divas Champion. She faked it, but now it’s real. She made it. Nobody’s gonna take it. A girl’s gonna push ’em all out the way. Meanwhile, Bayley’s still down at Full Sail trying to prove herself. Emma and Dana Brooke deride her for being a joke. She not only has to defeat Charlotte and Becky to prove she deserves a title shot, she has to do it now, because they won’t be around much longer.
And now here we are, only a few days out from Bayley challenging Sasha for the NXT Women’s Championship in front of 13,000 people in Brooklyn. Bayley showed up with shaky confidence, ready to fight. She’s seen contract signings before, and knows what Sasha did to Becky Lynch. She stood on her face, if you’ve forgotten. Here’s the thing, though: to Sasha, Bayley’s a memory. She’s in the rearview. She’s such a non-issue that there’s no reason to jump her or stand on her face. She’s the Young Girl who didn’t adapt, and didn’t change, and didn’t harden and thicken her skin to survive. Why bother? She even throws Bayley superfan Izzy under the bus, explaining that it’s The Boss’s job to explain to little girls that fairytales don’t have happy endings.
“You think you’re a role model for all these little girls … I mean look at this one, dressed just like you. How sad.”
That’s why I’m not emotionally ready. If Bayley wins, it’s nearly two years of emotional release. It’s the nice girl who didn’t let her heart turn black proving that being “stuck” in NXT isn’t punishment, and that she’s legitimately as good as the critically acclaimed peers of her generation. She turned the cheek and made little girls cry when she won matches and never forgot how great a hug can feel, and she won. If she doesn’t? If she doesn’t, Sasha’s right. Fairytales don’t have happy endings. You have to turn your heart black (or at least gray) to succeed. You have to look in the mirror and change yourself. You have to become everyone else’s idea of “good” and “correct.” You can’t believe in a dream, because eventually you’re gonna wake up.
If WWE isn’t flying Izzy to New York and giving her a front row seat to this, win or lose, they’re the worst.
Best: The Job Squad
NXT’s pairing Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady with Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley, which is sorta like when they team up The New Day and Los Matadores. Regardless, they’re facing Chad Gable, Jason Jordan and the artists formerly known as The Mechanics (more on them in a minute) in an 8-man tag next week, set to be taped in the Barclays Center before TakeOver. As a warmup, they face the UTLIMATE NXT JOBBER SQUAD of Aaron Solow, former TNA star Jesse Sorensen, “Mr. 450” (aka “the guy who made it onto Deadspin for dressing like a Super Saiyan”) and Christian Bale from The Machinist.
It’s basically an exhibition for the faces to do some stuff and Be Hype about it. It’s fun, but most of the wrestling on this episode is for the sake of itself. I’m sad Baron Corbin didn’t run out and just End Of Days everybody in sight out of habit.
Best: The New Four Horsemen
Unsurprisingly, my allegiances lie with the non-Mojo team. I don’t totally understand their alignments — Dawson and Wilder have always kinda been heels, but haven’t Gable and Jordan been Buddy Copping it the last few weeks? — but I’m mesmerized by The Mechanics’ new satin jackets, so I’ll let it slide. The only talking point for Dawson and Wilder is “they’re like the Andersons” already, so is this our NXT Four Horsemen? If it is, I’m into it. The only problem is deciding which one is the Ric Flair. It’s basically two Andersons and two Barry Windhams.
The best part is the very end, when Jason Jordan convinces everyone to give in and say “Gable” to complete Chad’s terrible catchphrase, and Chad responds all happy, patting everybody on the back. “Good guys! These are good guys!”
Best: Tyler “Thunder” Breeze
I want them to start calling him that when he beats Liger in Brooklyn. THUNDER BREEZE. It sounds like a wine cooler and it’s SO AWESOME.
Anyway, Breeze faces the self-proclaimed “serial thriller” Rob Ryzin, who bought some sweet Spider-Man tights on Highspots and wrote “RYZIN” across the ass. He beats him with the Supermodel Kick, which is ABSOLUTELY how Breeze should be winning matches. He’s got the best superkick in the game right now, I think. After he wins, he puts a Jushin Thunder Liger mask on poor Robby, cuts a promo on “Liger” and Beauty Shots him for emphasis. Quick, simple and effective.
The image of Liger in a WWE ring will be enough for me, whether the match is spectacular or not. I can’t imagine even a 50-year old Liger would know he’s got one match in WWE for his entire career and not bring everything he’s got. Give me a fighting spirit palm strike/Supermodel Kick spot, at least.
Samoa Joe trounces Steve Cutler in seconds. Will Steve Cutler ever be a thing? Right now he’s kinda portrayed as the jobbiest of the NXT jobbers, but they’ve turned guys like that into gold before. Baron Corbin used to be one of them. He used to be a guy with terrible tattoos who pissed us off because his name was too close to “Darin Corbin.” Now he pisses us off for entirely new reasons. Will we ever be like, “wow, Steve Cutler is my favorite wrestler?”
The Joe match is there to set up the post-match, with Corbin attacking and hitting End of Days to put him down. I get them wanting to bring them back up to 50/50 after Joe choked him out last week, but I’m surprised they showed us Joe eating an End of Days here, and not in Brooklyn. I guess that means Joe’s winning, and we weren’t gonna see it there anyway?
Best: Alexa Bliss’s Face
Her face is the best character on the show. She has Muppet levels of expressiveness, and I mean that as a compliment.
In a night of water-treading squashes — whoops, we thought this live special was gonna be on Wednesday, sorry everybody — Blake & Murphy defeat Angelo Dawkins and Sawyer Fulton. One of the things I like about Blake & Murphy is that they’ve got this Dean Malenko thing where they never fully treat their opponents like losers. If The Ascension wrestles Dawkins and Fulton, they get their sh*t in and leave. Blake & Murphy always try to make it competitive, and I think they’re better for it. If you can beat your opponent super easily, what’s the point in beating them at all?
After the match, The Vaudevillains show up to announce their way to counter Alexa Bliss at TakeOver, and she cuts them off (twice) with slaps. It’s a wonderful play on WWE tropes, with Bliss just leaving the ring, calmly walking up to them and smacking them while they try to cut a promo. I can’t decide which warning I like more, Gotch’s, “Madam, you would be wise not to exploit your female privilege,” or English’s, “You are not saved by the bell, Miss Bliss, you can’t come up here.” Then the promo just stops, hilariously, and Blake & Murphy’s music plays. I love that the production team gets the final say on who wins a segment. “Sorry guys, she’s just gonna keep slapping you, see you later.”
As for their plan, I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I’m requesting Blue Pants dressed as a flapper.
Best: Truth Owens Truth
I admit that I use a lot of hyperbole to make points in these columns. Every fun new thing is “my favorite thing,” and everything that pops me and gets me excited for the next show is, “the best thing ever.” I wanted to acknowledge that so I could tell you with 100% certainty that outside of actual wrestling matches, Kevin Owens ethering the Full Sail crowd is the best thing that’s ever happened in NXT. Holy sh*t.
Owens shows up with a ladder to cut a promo on Finn Bálor, and the crowd boos the mention of TakeOver being in Brooklyn. Instead of going the, “there’s a reason TakeOver’s in Brooklyn and not here” route Sasha Banks took, Owens takes an aside and more or less Package Piledrives Full Sail with some real talk. Here it is, in all its glory:
You know what? Before I go on, I have to address that. Do you know how disgusting that is, by the way? No no no, are you too stupid to realize how hypocritical you’re all being? Because week-in and week-out I’ll come out here and you guys’ll chant, “Kevin Owens,” or, “fight Owens fight” … unless I’m laying a finger on, say, Sami Zayn. Yeah. Then, you’ll boo. Or if someone even mentions the name “John Cena,” you boo; but if I talk about beating John Cena, you cheer, which is really ironic because you guys know what you are? You are the John Cena of wrestling fans.
Yeah, you think that’s funny? I think it’s pathetic, because nothing genuine comes out of your mouth, ever. That’s why you all claim to love NXT, you all claim to want everybody in NXT to succeed, but when we talk about NXT selling out a 13,000-seat arena — which, by the way, only sold out because I’m in the main event, you boo. YOU BOO. You want NXT to grow, but then you boo because it’s not yours anymore, because you’re not going to get to see it live. And that’s exactly why every time I have to come to Full Sail, I feel sick to my damn stomach, because I know I’m performing for a bunch of ungrateful, undeserving, pieces of trash.
The reason I love it so much is because it’s so absolutely correct, and I say that as exactly the kind of fan he’s insulting. I’m not an Orlando local booing because I’m spoiled, but I struggle with the “let NXT grow/keep it like it is” fandom all the time. When I was on With Leather getting 200 pageviews trying to lovingly write about this niche WWE Hulu show nobody was watching, I wanted people to watch it with me, but not everyone. If everyone watches it, WWE smooths it out and homogenizes it to make it appealing to as broad an audience as possible. That audience wants to see what they see on Raw; they don’t want to see guys working and selling fingers, callbacks to previous matches in a feud or 18-month stories about a good man struggling to stay good in the face of omnipresent, apathetic, acceptable evil. They don’t want to see women’s wrestling with actual characters and stories. They want to make instant decisions and hold onto them forever. They don’t want to change their minds, or watch someone grow and develop from a trout-level actress who can’t stop looking at the ceiling into The Boss. They don’t want Mike Dalton to become Tyler Breeze. If he does, they’ll just chant “Mike Dalton.” They don’t want longterm anything. Thought, story, reward, none of it. They want instant disposability, and the right to yell woo at things they’ve decided they enjoy, and go to the bathroom during stuff they don’t.
And that’s the thing. Who the f*ck am I as a wrestling nerd to say they can’t have it? Who am I to say, “no, Tyler Breeze, stay down here where you’ll be loved and appreciated by 400 insincere jerks and some guys on a forum. Don’t travel the world being a TV star. Don’t make millions of dollars. Stay here and wrestle good matches because proper payoff to early-match arm-work is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.” I should go f*ck myself, right?
We love this. We love it. We want the best for it, but we want it to be the best and still be ours. If you love something, you’ve gotta f*cking let it go. We know THIS is good. We’ve seen so much good get turned bad. Happy and sad are two sides of the same coin. Owens’ speech is the ‘Both Sides Now’ of wrestling promos. It’s so good that Bálor appearing out of the darkness, being The Demon without looking like The Demon and attacking folks with a ladder feels secondary.