– Thanks to a combination of The Holidays, a (mostly) clip show and rampant winter illness it’s been half a month since our last NXT report. You should support this one! Clicking share buttons makes my body work properly, which produces reports. It is science.
– Here’s a link to this week’s episode.
– If you enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE NXT, make sure you’re reading our ongoing retro recap of season 1. It features Daniel Bryan without a beard, Ryback in a cowboy hat and Darren Young with Dragon Ball Z hair.
Please click through to enjoy The Best and Worst of WWE NXT for January 1, 2014.
Best/Worst: Kofi Kingston, The One Guy Who Comes To NXT And Doesn’t Get Any Better
Okay, one of two guys. Alex Riley came to NXT and got a thousand times worse because he job description changed from “trip up whoever’s wrestling Miz” to “give your thoughts about pro wrestling for an hour,” but in terms of in-ring performance, NXT is usually a big improvement. People who are bad on Raw (Natalya) get to show the skills that got them jobs as wrestlers, and people who are good but underutilized on Raw (Antonio Cesaro) become amazing. Kofi Kingston, who for all intents and purposes seems very Natalya like in the fact that he’s almost exclusively terrible but gets called a good wrestler based on a bunch of hypotheticals, shows up to NXT and … wrestles the exact same match he’d wrestle on Raw. Exactly the same.
There’s a lot to be said for the intimate, “independent” nature of the Full Sail NXT crowd. They chant asinine stuff, they cheer for amusing mid-card heels and they’d prefer a great wrestling match over a goofy skit. In contrast, a Raw crowd is this homogenous lump of people who want bright colors and flashing lights and funny words and are packed in so tightly and sat so far back that they can only follow (or pay attention to) the broad strokes. In that regard, Kofi is very entertaining. He wrestles for a big crowd, because that’s all he’s ever wrestled for. He spent like, four months on the indies before getting signed. He jumps and has signature taunts and easy-to-follow moves that don’t make a lot of sense, but look cool when you’re hundreds of feet away. I’m not knocking him. It’s a thing you have to learn. When Bryan Danielson was ROH Champion, the big argument against him was that he’d only ever wrestled in front of small crowds, and when he got to WWE he’d have to essentially “relearn” how to wrestle. Going from WWE to NXT and back is a great indicator of how good a person actually is at adapting and performing.
Spoiler alert: Kofi is not good at that.
He wrestles Rusev exactly like he’d wrestle Mark Henry on Raw. He’s doing his big hand gestures in the corner, he’s doing vague COME ON fire-ups that make the people in the front rows kinda look behind them to see who he’s talking to, he has more than one move that involves him getting a running start, then stopping and not using the momentum to complete the move. Compare Kofi/Rusev to Dolph/Rusev and you get a better idea of what I’m saying. You can be your Raw self without wrestling for Raw, and maybe the reason Kofi’s never broken through to the next level has less to do with creative and more to do with his own limitations. Some guys are just made to fill a role.
Anyway, Kofi gets squashed an you’d think that’d be my favorite 2-minute match of the night, but NOPE. That comes a little later.
Worst: Bull Dempsey Is Aware Of His Weight Problem
Devin Taylor is backstage with Sylvester LeFort, and it is the polar opposite of the Enzo/Aiden English segment from two weeks ago. Just a total personality void. LeFort announces that he’s holding auditions to see who’ll become his new fighting Legionnaire and in walks this guy who looks like the love child of Brodus Clay and Hercules Hernandez, “Bull Dempsey.” LeFort IMMEDIATELY goes “you’re fat!” and Dempsey just turns and walks away, having failed the audition. Mason Ryan wanders in, LeFort gets all excited. Ryan calls him an idiot and leaves.
A few things:
1. What was Bull Dempsey’s audition plan? “I’m gonna wear my gear and put this chain around my neck, but I ain’t gonna do or say anything. He’s gonna LOVE ME!” I hope his gimmick is, “has problems and knows it, and wishes you would stop talking about them. Also he’s the Junkyard Dog.”
2. What was Mason Ryan doing there if he wasn’t auditioning? He shows up, interferes in the interview like he’s going to contribute, then just calls everybody stupid and bails. He wasn’t wrestling. Why is he interrupting? Why is he shirtless? What is he looking at on the ceiling up and to the right?
3. Is LeFort auditioning wrestlers or boyfriends? I’m not calling him gay as a joke, I am sincerely wondering why he’d turn down a fat guy and then get all bent out of shape for the ripply muscly guy (especially after managing Scott Dawson and Alexander Rusev, who are not ripply muscly guys) unless he was after the D.
Best: Kids Doing The Emma Dance
Adorable. The best part is that a kid doing the Emma Dance is still legitimately better at dancing than Emma.
Best: Emma Out-Submissions Natalya
As I mentioned, NXT Natalya is pretty rad. She continues her streak here, wrestling Emma in a short but enjoyable little match that makes more sense as a wrestling match than most. They don’t spend a lot of time running the ropes and doing jumpy strikes, they just tie up and go for moves and submission holds until one catches the other in something they can’t escape. So few matches actually play out like that, which is weird considering that a real life fight performed under pro wrestling rules would play out that way. Not a lot of “hold my hair and walk up the ramp” moments, just submissions and staying on the guy until they’re out.
Emma is especially great here, as she’s much more similar to Natalya than Paige. If anybody’s passing the “I’m a good wrestler on Raw but you’re never gonna see it” torch to anybody, it should be from Natalya to Emma. The return of Pin-Up Strong was welcome, Emma salvaged that terrible discus clothesline by just walking into it whether it was being thrown properly or not, and Emma’s Muta Lock is one of the best submissions in WWE because the way she holds it and moves her body makes it look like she’s actually applying pressure and torque to something. Usually people just put the move on and that’s supposed to hurt. Emma actually wrenches it in. Extra points.
I would not be unhappy if Natalya just hung around NXT for the rest of her career, helped Sara Del Rey train this next batch of women to be incredible and made her money having “boyfriend problems” on a reality show I am not obligated to watch.
Best: The Sing-Off
Remember when I said the Full Sail crowd would rather see a great wrestling match than a goofy skit? Yeah, that’s not really a fair thing to say, because the goofy skits Full Sail gets are almost always fun, even when they’re roping in WWE’s most tired tropes. Remember when Emma had a “dance-off” with Summer Rae, and how on Raw it would’ve just been this tiresome excuse to watch cameramen do kung-fu zooms on asses, but on NXT it involved a few hundred people going all-in on the enjoyment and watching a lady sell an invisible shopping cart bump?
It’s in that spirit I present to you Aiden English and Colin Cassady having a sing-off. There is so much wonderful to discuss here, from the on-screen return of Renee Young (‘sup Renee) to Big Cass’s pipes blowing exhausssst. These Something-Offs are always just a popularity contest and it continues to be SUPER unfair that the WWE Universe gets to decide the winners, but Cassady rules and is the best possible Test so I’ll allow it. Plus, he gets a gold star for working in his catchphrase. I think Aiden might’ve won if he’d worked in his “DYABBLE-you DYABBLE-yooooooou” thing.
Additional highlights include Cass’s face (pictured) and Aiden responding to the crowd chanting “encore encore” by getting pissed and shouting YOU DON’T DESERVE ONE.
Best: Tyler Breeze Squashes Mason Ryan
Tyler Breeze, all five-foot-something, 190-something pounds of him, took on oft-pushed and celebrated 6-3 295-pound Mason Ryan. Knowing what you know from however long you’ve been wrestling, what do you think happens?
If you haven’t seen the match and answered, “Tyler Breeze gets in 95% of the offense and squashes Mason Ryan,” you’re either a contrarian liar or a darksided psychic. Sure, there’s some light interference from LeFort, but it’s all in FAVOR of Ryan. Ryan’s getting his ass kicked and comes back with a couple of punches and a slam, so LeFort bobbles out and is all, “COME ON YOU CAN LE DO IT” or whatever they write for him. Ryan, for no reason whatsoever, slides out of the ring and violently clotheslines LeFort. He rolls back into the ring, eats a Beauty Shot and gets pinned. Clean as a shit, right in the middle of the ring. To the tiny male model.
I’m not sure if I’m giving this a Best because Tyler Breeze has such a bright future or because Mason Ryan is such a hapless gimp, but either way, this was surprisingly one of my favorite matches of the week. Tyler Breeze should just illogically squash everybody. Bring back down Big E Langston and have Breeze just jump and swing his car wash boot at his face and Big E’s dead. Maybe a few months down the line reveal that Breeze loaded his boot with bricks or grenades or something and that’s why they’re so big.
Worst: Alex Riley Is A F*cking Moron
During Breeze’s entrance, William Regal jokes that his jacket is made out of “Brazilian polecat.” Everyone chuckles, because William Regal is a delight. Then, because nothing gold can stay, Alex Riley has to pipe in and make his own joke. Here is the verbatim conversation, featuring the responses from Regal and Tom Phillips. I can’t possibly type Riley’s dialogue to make it sound worse.
Riley: “What about the PHONE COVER? What is that, is that uh, OSTRIIIICH FUR maybe??”
Tom: “Ostriches don’t have fur.”
Regal: “Honestly … so it’s math and biology you skipped out on classes at, right?”
Riley needs to accept that he is the Martha Dumptruck of NXT and stop trying to have big fun.
Best: There Is Nothing More Bad-Ass In Wrestling Than Winning Two Straight Falls In A 2-Out-Of-3 Falls Match
It’s the truth. One of my favorite 2-out-of-3 falls matches ever, and I type this with all the proper disclaimers and the understanding that I don’t like it as much as I used to, is MVP vs. Chris Benoit at Judgment Day 2007. The build up was centered around how Benoit was obviously the superior wrestler and how MVP was way out of his league. Benoit remained overconfident, and when the match happened, MVP beat him in two straight falls. Won the first fall with his finish and the second with an inside cradle. Benoit was stunned, and the rub wasn’t that MVP had cheated or done anything dastardly … he simply PREPARED FOR THE MATCH, studied how Benoit wrestled so he could look for weaknesses in his game, then exploited them. It was brilliant and intelligent and bad-ass, and justified like two additional years of bad-to-worse MVP matches.
The main-event of this week’s NXT was Sami Zayn beating Leo Kruger in two straight falls, and it’s exactly what Sami needed. He’s sorta the default #1 babyface based on how good he is, but if you look at his win-loss record, it hasn’t been stellar. He lost to Jack Swagger, he lost to Antonio Cesaro more times than he won, he lost to Bo Dallas. He’s lost to Kruger, and only barely been able to beat him when he’s triumphed. If Zayn is going to move forward as the Great Canadian-Slash-Middle-Eastern White Hope and Kruger’s getting repackaged, there is absolutely no better way to send these guys in the right directions than with the most definitive win in pro wrestling. Two straight. Loved it.
I still don’t love Zayn’s boot being a finish (because I’m so used to it being a killer indicator that a finish is about to happen, which helps me buy the nearfalls even when I shouldn’t) and I’m gonna pour one out for Kruger’s Kraven the Hunter gimmick, but time marches on or whatever.
Who knows, maybe in a few months I’ll be going bonkers over a Russell Brand gimmick. Stranger things have happened. Hell, Tyler Breeze squashed Mason Ryan.