– Shares, likes, comments and other social media things are appreciated. Support the show between the live specials!
Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for March 18, 2015.
Best: Away Games
As I mentioned briefly in last week’s column, I love that NXT is not only touring, but taping live shows for television in the new spots. This week’s show is from Columbus, Ohio, at the 2015 Arnold Sports Festival, and it’s just different enough to make a routine episode of NXT feel special.
It’s fun to watch a non-Full Sail crowd cosplay Full Sail. That’s proof that NXT has become a marketable commodity and brand, I think … people aren’t just there to see the wrestlers, they’re there to be a part of “NXT.” That means cheering the heels, the asinine chanting, the Bullet Club t-shirts, all of it. The good and the bad. It’s a lot like the mid-90s when wrestling crowds stopped being awkward kids in XXL t-shirts and Sting make-up and became aggressive 30-year olds yelling E-C-DUB, E-C-DUB. You know what I’m talking about.
I loved the Arnold NXT setup because it mimics Full Sail without copying it. I often complain about how WWE will tour the world, but how inside the arena it’s always exactly the same. Same camera angles, same shitty zoom-ins on punches, same crash to break and Raw Rolls On. It doesn’t change if they’re in Chicago or Turkey. Here, a change to the entranceway and a small flight of steps make EVERYTHING feel like a big deal. The performers are special guests. The crowd is packed in tight. Everybody wants this. That’s wrestling passion, and so much of it starts in the presentation. It makes the show feel alive.
Best: Can Somebody Compromise Sin Cara To A Permanent End Already
Kalisto. Singles wrestler. We’re doing it. Let’s do it.
Kalisto opens the show against Tyler Breeze and Jesus Christ, it’s WWE TV ready. The show’s covered in these dynamic indie guys like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens who make the show feel like the good old days of Ring Of Honor, but at its core, NXT is WWE developmental. Watching Tyler Breeze wrestle Kalisto was like watching Edge wrestle Rey Mysterio on Smackdown in 2002.
It’s not a match of the year candidate or anything, but it’s very, very good. We talk a lot about how Tyler’s going to get eaten alive the second he shows up on Raw or Smackdown, but he gets “WWE style” more than most. If there was some way to communicate to the announce team and say “hey, don’t bury this guy for being effeminate” before … uh, every match he wrestles ever, I think he could succeed. There are so many guys who could make it big on TV and make the company money if they didn’t employ three-to-five orifice-covering apes to hurl apeshit at them.
There’s so much good stuff in here. Kalisto doing his hand-walk backflip headscissors, which would break both of Sin Cara’s wrists if he tried it. Breeze countering Kalisto’s rebound off the ropes with the Supermodel Kick, probably the prettiest move in NXT. The Salida del Sol countered into the Beauty Shot. Part of me wishes this could’ve gone twenty more minutes, but the other part of me’s like, “don’t cut into the Alex Riley beatdown, stupid, you’re gonna want to see that.”
Paint a Moppy face on Sin Cara and throw him in a wood chipper.
Best: Kevin Steen As The Special Guest At A Body-Building Convention
This is still really funny to me. It’s the match with Alex Riley in real life. Kevin Owens is this pudgy, pockmarked guy who wrestles in a t-shirt and shorts and spikes his hair like he’s me when I was 13. He’s wrestling Alex Riley, a 6-foot-3 body builder. He’s main-eventing a show at a bodybuilding convention and beating a bodybuilder’s ass.
Anyway, the footage of WWE at the Arnold was great and added to the ambiance. It was fun seeing Triple H on stage with an actual smile on his face because if there’s one thing he got from his father-in-law it’s “marking out for bodybuilders.” Maybe in a different way. Regardless, seeing NXT treated like a special thing at a mainstream, non-wrestling event is nice. I wish they’d spent more time focusing on the new people they crammed between Hideo Itami and Finn Bálor on the autograph line. “OH MY GOD IT’S KENTA oh, hey, sure, sign this weird WWE placemat for me guy I’ve never seen before OH MY GOD IT’S PRINCE DEVITT.”
Best: NXT Visiting Children’s Hospitals
This is nice and sweet and I’m not making a joke about it.
Worst: … To Unload Rey Mysterio Action Figures
What’s a kid gotta die from to get a Del Rio?
Best: Didgeridoo Yourself A Favor
It’s only two weeks old, but my favorite running joke is Enzo Amore and Big Cass referring to Wesley Blake by a thousand condescending nicknames but calling Buddy Murphy “that Australian kid.” The time between the end of Enzo and Cass’s singalong entrance and them putting down the microphones is my favorite thing in the world.
I want the Australia gag to continue. I want them calling Blake & Murphy “Noozles” and threatening to trap them in a crystal prison in Koala-Wala Land.
Worst: Didgeri-straction Rollups
1. Blake & Murphy’s tights have gone full Chris Benoit, red and black with wolverine scratch marks on the legs. They should book them as Benoit’s Sons From Other Marriages Who Are Totally Fine And Well-Adjusted And Haven’t Heard What Happened.
2. Big ups to Columbus for the “we want Blue Pants” chant. Hey WWE, Full Sail isn’t the only place that likes her. Nobody’s chanting “we want Bull Dempsey” at live shows.
3. The finish would’ve been fun if we hadn’t seen it so many times before. Carmella I guess decided to get drunk as f*ck before the match and spends the entire time doing these big gestures and points. She and That Australian Kid end up on the apron and it distracts Cass just as he’s about to win. One Bad Raw Distraction Rollup later and he’s lost. There is no move in WWE history more devastating than “temporarily losing concentration.” You could get thrown off the TitanTron into a dumpster of fire and kick out at two, but if you’re doing fine and somebody 10 feet away yells “HEY” too loud, you’re boned.
4. Including this in the report for no reason so you get the reference:
Worst: The Realization That This Generation Of Divas Is Probably An Anomaly
Danielle Matheson wrote a bit about this yesterday (that you should go read immediately if you haven’t), but for all the progressive work they can and have sorta done with women in NXT, WWE is WWE. They’re a company that wants to make a specific kind of money from a specific kind of person, and catering to too many wallets at once compromises the one that brought them to the dance.
There’s a specific generation of Divas, arguably starting with AJ Lee but more directly starting with Paige and Emma and on through the competitors in the NXT Rival fatal 4-way, that hopeful, know-it-all wrestling fans have faith in. I’m one of them. We think they have the skill-sets and personalities and looks and charms to redefine what WWE wants and expects from women. Instead of being a fitness model who can barely throw a clothesline without falling down, Charlotte is a f*cking athlete. Instead of being as vanilla as possible to fit as many broad fantasies as she can, Bayley is a complex character that comes from a real place inside wrestling fans, and balances the hope that things matter and get better with the reality that they don’t. Sasha Banks could be a pretty girl with a famous relative, but she’s so much more. She’s a blossoming flower. She keeps getting better, she connects with crowds and rocks an emotional range that goes from obviously false self-confidence to sycophantic rage. Becky Lynch … does metal hands? Okay, they aren’t all these weird avatars of change, but they’re good. Becky can wrestle her ass off. They’re wrestlers, and people who watch wrestling for wrestling want wrestlers to wrestle. Some of us need the fake sports thing to underline our goofy characters and stories. We don’t all have the instant luxury of being Max Landis* and being okay that half this shit doesn’t make sense.
We’ve sorta convinced ourselves that Charlotte and Bayley and Sasha and Becky are the New Normal. But if you pay attention? They aren’t. Alexa Bliss is the new normal. She’s little, pretty, blond, and a cheerleader. Her character is “I try hard.” She’s already had her fairy music and glitter sneeze taken away once, and only got it back because enough people in enough places complained. She’s great, don’t get me wrong, but she represents a more traditional “Diva.” You can picture her on Maxim, doing a bikini photo shoot and then making frowny faces because Nikki Bella said she’s jealous. Right? Carmella’s another example. Carmella doesn’t fit (and gets overshadowed by Blue Pants) because she fits on Raw. She fits in a Fulfill Your Fantasy Holiday Underpants Match. Dana Brooke is next in line, and look at any of the YouTube comments or people who follow her on Twitter for an explanation of the role she fills. She’s the New Beth Phoenix or the New Trish Stratus or the New Whomever. She’s muscular, blonde, pretty, easy to put on magazines. Easy to put in swimsuits. It’s just what they want.
And again, that’s not to knock Bliss or Carmella or Brooke. They’re hired for what WWE wants, and they can be great at delivering what’s asked of them. It’s just important, I think, to take a step back and realize his weird, precious, SHIMMER brain fart NXT had for a year or two that gave us women in matches we could be proud of, and not feel the need to justify.
*also to explain, not knocking Landis or Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling at all. I loved it, and will see John Cena as that Spoiler I Win John Cena lady for the rest of my life. Wrestling fans watch wrestling for different reasons and that is totally cool, especially when they’re good at explaining why.
Best: Home Field Advantage
I don’t remember a lot about Bliss/Banks, but I appreciate WWE pointing out Alexa’s home field advantage and having it actually matter. If you didn’t see the match, she gets lucky and wins by count-out. It’s not the most noble way to win, but it gets her a W and positions her to get a title shot next week, so do what you’ve gotta do. I’m all for WWE embracing wrestlers’ hometowns. I think it makes sense. If WWE rolls into West Virginia, crowds should know it’s okay to cheer for Heath Slater. If they go to Cleveland, give extra love to Ziggler and let Miz soak it in for a second before he tells them to go screw. “CM Punk in Chicago” was god damn brilliant, but it shouldn’t be the only person and place that get to coordinate.
One small complaint: I’m not super into the commentary booth dynamic right now. They’ve settled into a Schiavone/Tenay thing with Brennan and Graves where Brennan doesn’t call anything and Graves backs him up. Kalisto will do a 450 splash and Rich will just go “BUH!!! FOR THE WIN!!!” and 10 seconds later Graves will nonchalantly mention that it’s a 450 splash. I don’t know if they’re just doing that to train Rich for the main shows (which I guess is the entire point) and give us reason to like Graves (also the point?), but I noticed it last night and it stuck to my ribs. Rich Brennan called the Sling Blade, dammit, I don’t want to lose him yet.
Best: Enjoy This For The Rest Of Your Life, Sasha
I’m not sure Sasha Banks is the heel.
Think about her story since arriving in NXT. She was a do-gooding nobody until Summer Rae exposed her to the Full Sail Oculus and transformed her into an urban Gretchen Wieners. Charlotte showed up, usurped Summer and Sasha’s group and for all intents and purposes stole Sasha away. Sasha raged against her to get opportunities, and eventually conquered her against all odds to become the NXT Women’s Champion. She won the rematch, and now she’s faced with a challenge from Alexa Bliss, a scrappy newcomer who has done absolutely nothing but won by a cheapshot into the ringpost and got gifted a title match. Do you see how this all connects?
Everyone who has done Sasha wrong has been a Barbie-as-f*ck blonde. Summer, Charlotte, Alexa. They’re women who show up and get whatever they want without a lot of effort, in direct contrast to the agonizing climb Sasha (and Bayley) have had to make. I feel like that might be on purpose. It’s a good story to tell, and it could turn Sasha face as hell to anybody paying attention. Maybe that’s why Sasha and Bayley hate each other so much, you know? They know there’s only room for one ethnically-ambiguous brunette at a time.
Best: Alex Riley Gets Alex Riley’d
I love that the payoff to the Riley/Owens feud is Owens just murdering him, and Riley having no way to fight back. Owens just beats the Rob Conway off of him, powerbombs him and pins him clean. He even mocks the dumb Alex Riley “rage.” It’s beautiful. If Sami Zayn couldn’t mount an offense against this guy, shouldn’t Riley get immediately murked?
Best: One For The Road
The best part of the entire show is the post-match attack, with Finn Bálor showing up to stop Owens from powerbombing Riley into the ring apron. Owens hesitates but decides to go for it anyway, so Finn jumps down off the stage and attacks him. They take it to the ring and Finn gets the upper hand, so Owens bails. But on his way around the ring, Owens passes a floored Alex Riley and just stomps the shit out of him again for good measure, and it’s the greatest thing. He is such a colossal piece of dick he can’t stop beating up Riley, even in the middle of his own beatdown. Love it. Love it times ten.
I hope they kayfabe it so Owens blew out his knee because he stomped in Riley’s chest too thoroughly.
Worst: Hey, Can We Get That Cleveland NXT Show On The Network Next Week
Five seconds of Finn Bálor vs. Cesaro in a video package is not enough, you monsters.