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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for June 10, 2020.
Best: Everybody Wants Some!!
While not the strongest week ever from an in-ring perspective, this week’s NXT goes a long way toward re-establishing NXT as a cohesive universe wherein characters have diverse motivations and can think or feel more than one thing at a time. One of the strangest things about WWE’s interpretation of professional wrestling is their insistence that if someone’s got a goal or motivation, it’s all they’re ever going to think about. You have one thing you do on the show. You certainly can’t do two things. When your “story” of cause and effect is over, someone else is slotted into your role. Nearly every other major wrestling promotion worth its salt has tried to remember that these are supposed to be at least mildly complex human characters, even (and sometimes especially) the seemingly inhuman ones, and has learned the value of them interacting with an ARRAY of other characters, instead of just the one or two they’re focused on.
Pre-USA Network NXT was LOUSY with dynamic character goals. At one point Bayley, whose character could’ve easily been described and written off as “infantilized wrestler who likes to give hugs,” was managing two concurrent friend betrayals, a long-standing rivalry with a person she hates but has grown to respect for at least being forthright with her motivations, and the overarching idea of an NXT Women’s Championship win validating not only her spot at the top of the card, but her growing confidence in being a role model to the little Bayley fan in the audience and her role as a professional wrestler of worth in WWE completely. In comparison, what’s Io Shirai’s character right now? What’s her motivation? She’s great in the ring, but how does she feel about literally anything? Before TakeOver her only point of view was, “I will become the next Women’s Champion.” She did. Watching the video package about the title change only confirms that she’s good at wrestling, her win was kind of surprising, and she knows the other Japanese people at work. Even characters that’ve gotten more TV time in the USA era haven’t gotten any substantial emotional development. Rhea Ripley’s character went from, “seems cool, wants to beat you up,” to the more layered, “seems cool, might be kind of a dork, can’t beat Charlotte.” The characters are being defined too much by what they do, and not who they are while they’re doing what they do.
Anyway, not picking on the current booking. I’m just laying that out so I can compliment them for briefly remembering that human existence involves interactions with more than one other person at a time. Here’s a breakdown of the show’s major plot points, and how they connect.
- Adam Cole defeated Velveteen Dream in a title match at TakeOver, but struggled because Dream’s serial killer friend Dexter Lumis hid under the ring, attacked the Undisputed Era, and drove away with them in the trunk of a car
- Cole has a non-title match with Lumis on NXT TV, so he opens the show with a Ted Talk on the dominance of his title reign while dogging Lumis for being a weirdo and dealing with Roderick Strong’s kidnapping PTSD
- While Cole is dealing with Strong’s panic attack, Keith Lee passes by and makes it clear he’s coming for the NXT Championship
- Lee defeated Johnny Gargano in a North American Championship match at TakeOver, which might’ve settled the score had their significant others not gotten involved. Because of Mia Yim and Candice LeRae’s escalating beef, Lee and Gargano remain entwined and everyone agrees to a mixed tag match on NXT TV
- Finn Bálor defeated Damian Priest at TakeOver, so his next goal is to avenge a cheap loss to Cameron Grimes from a few weeks ago. Grimes is cocky as hell about it and not only puts himself over Bálor in an interview, but insults Priest on the way through. Priest shows up and punches him in the face about it
- Grimes starts pretending he’s got an injured jaw and can’t compete, but is found out when his rampant backstage horniness runs afoul of a William Regal Zoom call
- Bálor pins Grimes and announces that he wants Keith Lee’s North American Championship
- Lee gets pinned by Gargano in the mixed tag
- Cole defeats Lumis with help from his crew, but Lumis and Dream brawl with the UE after the match, and Scarlett shows up to make it clear there are at least two other musical theater majors who ALSO want the NXT Championship
So instead of “this guy wants this title and this guy wants THIS title and this woman wants this women’s title,” you get the top two championships in the promotion weaved together by multiple, interlocking stories that work with new characters and existing character relationships that work to move the plot forward on a number of levels up and down the card. None of these characters are showing intense three-dimensional complexity to the point of making the program dense and only able to be followed by diehard fans — shit, I wish — but they’re clearly defined entities with clearly defined interests, motives, and ideas for what comes next. That allows US to have ideas for what comes next instead of just jumping to bored conclusions, and it’s a hell of a lot better than non-stop promo interruptions leading to singles matches leading to disqualifications leading to tag team matches.
Additional Notes On All Those Things I Mentioned Above
Maybe I’m just a slow learner, but I continue to be surprised at how little Dexter Lumis’ vague serial killer character worked as a bottom-card heel, and how brilliantly it works as a main-event babyface. I guess there’s a fine line between being a “tortured artist” who is psychotically into his hobbies and building ring announcer homicide shrines in your bedroom.
I also really enjoy that Karrion Kross and Scarlett can’t just use a normal hourglass to send dramatic messages, they have to use one that looks like it was built in Tulsa by Lady Trieu. They might be the most extra duo in NXT history, which is a major accomplishment considering Breezango are the current number one contenders to the tag titles.
Yimitless vs. Johndice is a fun way to spend 10 minutes, and it continues the trend of WWE dipping their pinkie toe into actual intergender wrestling. Apparently they believe you’ll be okay seeing a guy forearm and slam a woman in a wrestling match if you’ve spent years watching women kick and suplex the men. I mean, however we get there. Wrestling’s not real. Suspension of disbelief for a fictional TV show doesn’t seem as hard for everyone else as it does for wrestling, which is widely and objectively the most unbelievable shit on television.
Anyway, I kinda liked the finish her, even if it bugged me. In case you missed it and can’t click that video for some reason, John Wrestling goes for his slingshot DDT on Keith and connects, but DDTs him onto Candice. Keith is DISTRAUGHT that he landed on her in the middle of a match in a scenario he had no control over, and stands up with her in his arms like his wife just got killed in a movie. Johnny, understanding that (1) this is a wrestling match and (2) Candice LeRae is his very tough tag team partner, rolls with it and pins Keith mid-ethical-babyface panic. The announce team is like, OH MY GOD HOW COULD JOHNNY DO THAT, HE DIDN’T EVEN CARE ABOUT HELPING HIS WIFE~!! and all I could think was, “he probably just trusts her, and he cares about giving her the W.”
Finn Bálor vs. Cameron Grimes was fun while it lasted, as well, but can we take a minute to talk about Cameron Grimes’ voice? I don’t know why his elevated, affected North Carolina shout-speaking is so funny to me. I know he was raised down the road from the Hardy Compound and all, but his AW MAN LEMME TELL YA ONE THING style of confident yelping sounds like David Cross’ redneck voice. It’s like you’re about to step into the ring against Harry Connick Jr.’s character from Independence Day, and he’s got a HAT.
To briefly talk about the match, I continue to be real in love with the current NXT Prince Devitt-ass version of Finn Bálor. If this guy ever starts acting like a pandering sweetheart again it’ll be a crime. If you’re five feet tall and 110 pounds and your most marketable ideas are wearing belts on your head to pretend you’re a demon and riding to the ring on a friend’s shoulders in a jacket that’s also a Lite Brite, your wrestling needs to be IMPACTFUL and VIOLENT. If you do dramatic entrance poses and kick somebody’s ass, you’re an anime villain. If you don’t kick somebody’s ass, all you are is a poser.
Best: We Don’t Just Escobar, We ARE The Bar
Probably the best moment of the episode is the Interim Cruiserweight Championship confrontation between interim champion El Hijo del Fantasma and daddy’s special boy Drake Maverick. Maverick got his job back by losing, Shane McMahon-style, and challenges Fantasma to a rematch. That’s when the mysterious Full Sail parking lot kidnappers arrive to right them both, and SURPRISE, it turns out the two masked men who’ve been abducting people are cohorts of the only other masked man who works there. Seems like your first plan would’ve been to ask the luchador about the other luchadores, right? If your best friend is a plumber and you get attacked by a bunch of plumbers while he stands around, you’re gonna naturally draw some connections. Quick question, though; if Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde were the masked men, who were the masked men that abducted THEM?
It’s at this point that Fantasma shockingly unmasks and declares himself Santos Escobar. No relation to Eric. FINALLY, a WWE character who is a handsome, arrogant young Mexican man who doesn’t wrestle in a mask despite being related to lucha libre royalty! WWE’s reaching Ryan Murphy levels of being obvious about their type.
Also On This Episode
International treasure Dakota Kai gets a strong and relatively easy win over Kacy Catanzaro, who is EASILY my favorite jobber in wrestling right now. Catanzaro’s gonna figure it out and really connect one of these days, and we’ll be better off for it. Here, NXT decides to pull an AEW by having the biggest person in the division (Raquel Gonzalez) abuse the littlest (Catanzaro) until Kayden Carter “makes the save.” That’s in quotes because she tried, but got REINA’d as well. I’m real ready for the top women’s division feud to be Io Shirai vs. Dakota Kai, if only for how well those sounds and syllables go together.
Speaking of women at the top of the card, here’s Robert Stone (brand) getting literally slammed into the garbage for trying to upgrade from Aliyah to Rhea goddamn Ripley. It’d be like Bobby Heenan getting fired by Buddy Rose and deciding he should try to manage Hulk Hogan instead. It’s not gonna happen, but hey man, nice shot.
Finally, here’s Indus Sher returning to the ring for the first time in a hot minute — the last time they were in a match on TV was over two months ago — and get to squash the all-star duo of Mikey Delbray and Mike Reed. Still tougher opponents than Ever-Rise. Indus Sher still kinda feels like one of those threatening under-card WCW teams that’d always get matches on Clash of the Champions but never won the tag titles, but anything that gets Malcolm Bivens on TV is a positive. Give him some mic time before and/or after these squashes, you bums.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
mfw it’s already almost 10 on a Wednesday
It only took a year and a half but it’s FINALLY happening.
Interviewer: Psycho Killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?
Ciampa: Fa fa fa fa, fa fa fa fa fa fa
Kross: Better fall fall fall fall, fall fall fall and pray…
The C Team
If Kairi Sane isn’t on NXT with her recorder to celebrate Io’s championship win then NXT deserves to lose in the ratings this week.
Quick Cole turn the hourglass sideways so Kross never comes!
Dexter Lumis’s theme sounds like the opening of a true crime podcast.
A silent Ciampa doesn’t have time for Kross words.
Baron Von Raschke
Sam Shaw as the best new character on NXT is not something I would have thought possible…but…here we are.
Cam’ron Grimes sounds like a 2006 Pitchfork Best of List.
Draw me like one of your Undisputed girls, Dexter
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of NXT. We’re not sure you ever actually read this part or do what we ask (or if you even scroll down through the top 10 comments of the week), but hey, it would really help us if you commented down below and shared the column if you liked or laughed at anything. The world’s tough, and that makes this kind of thing a lot easier.
Join us here next week for Imperium defending the NXT Tag Team Championship against Tyler Breeze and Fandango, Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox get a shot at the Women’s Tag Team Champions (come on, IIconics!), and Timothy Thatcher re-doing WALTER segments nobody watched on NXT UK. See you then!