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Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for January 28, 2015.
Best: Well I Certainly Wasn’t Expecting THAT
One of my favorite things about NXT (and Lucha Underground, because Wednesday nights are a golden era for wrestling fans right now), is that when they see a problem, they fix it. It’s not something the rest of WWE does. When a problem arises on the main roster — a main-event push for a guy who isn’t ready for it and has no momentum but is being pushed anyway, for example — longtime fans will get frustrated, not only because of the problem itself but because we know it’s going to be around forever. If WWE pushes Roman and the crowd responds negatively, they still push Roman. They tell you the WWE Universe are the only people that matter, then directly contradict that by disrespecting them and excusing unwanted responses or reactions as anomalies. “Roman got booed because Philadelphia fans are bad,” for example.
NXT doesn’t do that. One of the things I’ve been writing about since Arrival is that the introduction of live specials meant “special” events like major debuts and title changes could only happen there. If you’re building to these big events and want to have your best stuff happen when the most people are watching, you aren’t going to, say, pull the trigger on a title change on a Wednesday in the middle of the cycle. It kills the drama. Before, every episode of NXT was a special event. Things could begin or end at any time. You never knew when people would change or get called up or whatever.
On last night’s episode, NXT fixed that problem.
Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy opened the show by winning the NXT Tag Team Championships from the Lucha Dragons. It’s a great decision from a lot of angles, but first and foremost it reestablishes that titles can change hands at ANY time, and that the weekly shows can have the same consequences as the live specials. With one decision they fix the entire problem. Now I can’t discredit a weekly title defense because hey, remember that time the Dubstep Cowboys beat the Lucha Dragons?
On top of all that, it’s a good character decision. The Lucha Dragons ended The Ascension’s tag titles reign and freed them up to paint their faces and get beaten up by the elderly on the Wasteland of Raw, but they don’t really need the titles. You cheer the Lucha Dragons because they’re flippy guys in sparkly masks, you know? That doesn’t change if they’re wearing a decorative belt. In contrast, guys like Murphy and Blake DESPERATELY need that rub. They don’t have characters beyond “one of them’s a cowboy” and “the other one’s Australian,” so having them upset the champs two matches like a week after they announced they were gonna start being good immediately drops them into a branching graph of angles. What happens when an upstart team shocks the world? Can they hold on to the championships? How did they get here? What changed? What turned them from guys who struggled against the goddamn Mechanics into a team that could beat the best team in the promotion clean? It gives them an identity. We often forget that championship belts aren’t “rewards,” they’re storytelling tools, especially in developmental. NXT says they’re important. Now, we see what they do with it.
One quick note, though: next time we talk to the Dubstep Cowboys backstage, can we put them in shirts and put a little room between them? The followup interview seriously made it look like they were gonna start making out over the title win. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be GREAT if they were just a team of tough wrestler guys who happened to be in a loving monogamous relationship and I don’t want “it looks like they’re about to french” to sound like I’m throwing shade, I’m just not totally sure that’s what WWE’s going for. If one of these backstage bits ends with them holding hands and walking off together I’ll make the Robert De Niro impressed face and give them a golf clap.
Best: F*cking Finally
Don’t want to forget to mention this: during Tyson Kidd’s entrance we get interrupted by a PIRATE VIDEO FEED and a teaser clip for SOLOMON CROWE.
If you haven’t been following Crowe’s story, he’s basically NXT’s Glacier. He’s former indie wrestling standout Sami Callihan, Chikara Young Lions Cup tournament participant and tag team partner of pre-Dean Ambrose Dean Ambrose. He’s been signed and wrestling dark matches since roughly the time I started writing these weekly reports back in the summer of 2013, and his constant darkness has become kind of a running gag. His biggest television appearance to date was being Adam Rose’s DJ on the Exotic Express, if that tells you anything.
The best part is that he’s a HACKER. In 2015. In WWE terms that means he’ll hack into TV feeds or use his 1337 skillz to turn off the lights at Full Sail, but I hope they totally update and run with it. I want him telling William Regal to give him an NXT Championship shot or he’ll release Sami Zayn’s nudes. The only way you should be able to buy his t-shirt is with BitCoin.
Best: A Good-Ass Wrestling Match
The next match on the show is a first-round match in the #1 contender tournament for the NXT Championship between Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd, and it’s a good-ass wrestling match. That’s why I typed it in bold. One of the running jokes we’ve been using since Vince McMahon’s podcast appearance is “wrestling for the sake of wrestling,” and how you shouldn’t do it. Here’s the trick: wrestle for the sake of wrestling, and provide a context around it to amplify the drama and make it seem important. The good wrestling you’re doing can keep people engaged in the actual product you’re producing, and allows you to reap the benefits of hiring and training people to be good at their jobs.
Honestly there’s not a lot of story to the match. Neville wants to win because he recently lost the championship and wants it back. Kidd wants to win because he’s entitled and thinks he deserves it, and had his title shots “unlocked” when Neville lost to Zayn. The early rounds of a tournament are there to sew the storytelling seeds you need in later rounds, when the stakes are higher. Neville’s the one moving on, so he wins a great back-and-forth match with his finish and announces his intentions: he thinks he’s the greatest NXT Champion ever, and he wants to get it back and keep proving it.
It’s almost stupid at this point to say Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd are great at their jobs. They’re the two most improved characters on the show over the past year, I think. Neville never gets as much hype or credit as the other “leaders of the new school,” but he’s worked hard to improve his mic work and has put on as many top shelf matches as anyone in the company. Kidd’s always been a workhorse in the ring but was vanilla ice cream in a cardboard cone, so he turned himself up to 11. His weird Music from Another Room marriage became a loveless, passive-aggressive nightmare, and his love of cats became an obsessive quest to BECOME one. All the love in the world to these guys.
Who told creepy Greg he’s supposed to interview someone by standing behind them with his chest pressed to their back? Dude’s wrapping his arm around Neville from behind to ask him a question. Neville never looks at him, and when he’s answered the question Greg just turns and disappears. Did NXT hire the damn Slender Man to be its live host?
Best: Charlotte Sometimes
1. Charlotte’s shirt. Baller.
2. An additional Best to Charlotte for approaching Bayley in the locker room, skipping the small talk and going straight for the goofy, Dragon Ball-style I WILL DESTROY YOU. How many times do people on wrestling shows actually say the phrase I will destroy you? Not enough. I love the image of Charlotte as basically the worst person in the world, thrust into a default babyface role because she’s a dominant champion related to a legend and respected by her main roster peers because of it. Like, she doesn’t WANT to be nice or good or likable, she’s just really good and it happens. Sorta like what would’ve happened if we’d met Horseman Ric Flair in his 20s instead of his 30s. She reminds me a lot of babyface Ric Flair, honestly. That guy’d get cheered, but deep down you knew he was still a total scumbag.
3. The reason Bayley got “edgy” last week is because she watches the show and saw what standing up for yourself did for Sami Zayn. That’s so pitch-perfect for Bayley’s character. She’s the “mark,” the one who’s here because she not only loves “this business” but the people IN it. Of COURSE she’s gonna choose NXT’s Most Decent Person has her role model and try to do what he did.
Best: Tyler Breeze, Always
Let’s take a moment to discuss the “haunting of Tyler Breeze” angle going on, because I haven’t formally written it up yet and people keep asking me to. I haven’t written it up because nothing has happened. They’ve had Tyler Breeze do things uninterrupted and taken about half a second to say “hey, is there SOMETHING IN THE BACKGROUND?” It’s Marcus Louis in a hoodie. That’s it.
I’m honestly pretty excited about the prospect of Breeze being in a real angle, since his last one was what, CJ Parker photobombing him? The rest of his run has just been being Tyler Breeze in normal wrestling situations. He’s too good of a character to only be in “I want the championship” stories. Having him be haunted by a weird French phantom could be really fun, especially if Marcus Louis is just a red herring and it’s actually a depressed, emotionally-scarred Mojo Rawley. “The Phantom of the Opera isn’t THERE in my mind, the Phantom of the Opera STAYS in my mind!”
Best: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Bayley
In a move that everyone totally expected to go well, NXT higher-ups decided to tag Bayley and Charlotte against Team BAE a week after Bayley’d suplexed Charlotte and gotten a mildly undeserved title shot. Also, Sasha and Becky are backstage overtly teasing a breakup, with Sasha assuming Becky will do the right thing and Becky being the worst fictional person in the world.
I wanted more from this match, but what we got was fun. It felt very chaotic, and sorta seemed like nobody knew what they were supposed to do. They were just out there having a match until Bayley and Charlotte got in each others’ faces. That’s fine, because that’s the story you need to tell before the fatal 4-way, but everybody’s so good it makes you wish they’d have a long, structured tag. I’m totally with Bayley, though. She should address Charlotte knifing her in the back that one time they tagged and the betrayal that followed, because “face” or not, Charlotte’s the dirtiest Diva in the game. Protect your neck.
The best part of the match, as always, was THE BOSS.
Best: Sasha Banks Is The Best Thing In WWE Right Now, Period
SHE TAGGED OBAMA.
Best: Hideo Itami Brought Finn Into This World, And He Can Take Him Out
Just wanted to say how much I love these kinds of NXT episodes, where the matches are bookended by fun backstage stuff that advances characters and gives people motivation. Sometimes they’ll get deep into a tapings cycle and just fill the show with matches. That’s fine, but the NXT crew’s so good at explaining the how and why of everything that I miss it when it’s gone.
For example, Finn Bálor’s giving a backstage interview about how he has to face Hideo Itami next week in the tournament, and Itami shows up to be all “hey motherf*cker, we’re pals and all but I will end you.” Now suddenly I am ALL ABOUT watching Itami take Bálor to the woodshed. Itami was celebrated before he showed up, but since arriving he’s had to continually prove himself and improve his game to match WWE’s style and expectations. Bálor just waltzed in like a God and painted himself and got a t-shirt and praise from everyone. If I was Itami I’d want to put my foot in his face, too.
The other example is EMMA, who is back and looking for a “fresh start.” Bonus points for DANCING DEVIN~.
I haven’t read any of this taping’s spoilers so maybe it’s nothing, but I love the idea of Emma accepting that maybe her dancing bubble bullshit didn’t work out for her and that she needs to go back to the well. Her returning to NXT is PERFECT, because the Divas division at NXT is high quality but sparse, and Emma can go when she needs to. If she’s not going to do anything on Raw besides gender-specific sock puppets and SADNESS REMINDERS, having her spend another six months down here getting freshened up and working with the women she’ll in theory be working with on Raw in a few years is great. All in.
Best: LOL Bull Dempsey
A repeat of their first match. Despite all the “we’re equals” nonsense and tough talk, all Baron Corbin’s gotta do is break out a move or two from his never-before-seen moveset to put Bull Dempsey away. He just beats his ass again and pins him clean. I love it, and I love that Bull Dempsey talking a big game but not actually being big enough or dynamic enough or good enough to be a WWE Monster is becoming part of his character.
It’s not just in my brain anymore. Corbin’s doing an interview backstage and Bull accosts him again, saying he “got lucky twice” but couldn’t a third time, and that he’s gonna knock his teeth down his throat. Before Bull’s even done talking, Corbin does this:
He SQUISHES BULL’S CHEEKS LIKE A FISHIE and pie-faces him. INCREDIBLE. Bull’s response is to stand there huffing and puffing and doing nothing, because as I’ll once again remind you, he’s Salieri living in the shadow of Mozart. There’s nothing he CAN do, and sometimes that’s how life works. If they aren’t careful, Bull Dempsey might become my favorite character on the show. Or at least the one to which I can most relate.
Best: Psychological Contract Signings
First of all, take a moment to process the fact that El Generico and Kevin Steen are having a contract signing for a title match on a WWE show.
Second of all, I love that William Regal continues to be a progressive, 2015 General Manager by acknowledging that every WWE contract signing ends in violence and doing what he can to prevent that from happening. Triple H will do that sometimes, but when he does it it sounds like a joke. Regal actually wants things to go well, as a GM character should.
Third of all, the relationship between Zayn and Owens is great because it not only references history, it lives in it. Zayn’s always been the nice one. The babyface. The guy who values the fans and love and honor and all those cheesy things. Owens is the realist. He’s the guy willing to take shortcuts. The heel. The dirtbag. The guy who earns our respect for saying he’s fighting for his wife and kids, but loses it because he’s fighting for them the wrong way. They aren’t just saying they know each other … Owens knows how to get what he wants from Zayn, and he’s working him like a puppet. He gets him hot over a personal matter and leverages it into something professional. When the fight’s been escalated to the point of a contract signing, he knows he can just stall and wait it out until Zayn agrees to give him a shot at the title. Zayn’s falling for it because he’s gullible, but also because he’s passionate. He knows that if he doesn’t give into Owens’ weird friendship blackmail he’s going to get powerbombed into the ring apron more than once, and he might as well confront things head on and get past them. The trick is that he’ll never get past them, and that if he beats Owens at Takeover he still might catch a powerbomb. That’s the hard part about being a hero: it doesn’t end when you win the battle. That’s just the first moment of your next fight.
Fourth of all, dude threw a pen in Sami Zayn’s face. Between that and kicking the belt, I’m not sure Kevin Owens could be a worse person.
I love all of this, and man, if Sami loses his first big live special title defense I’m not sure my heart will be able to take it. The best part? They’ve already got me afraid it’ll happen.