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Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for March 4, 2015.
Best: Paying Attention To Detail
“It’s wrestling. Wrestling doesn’t always have to make sense.”
That’s true. You probably don’t think I’d agree with that because I’m always complaining about stuff not making sense, but it is just wrestling, and it doesn’t. Irish whips don’t make sense. Collar-and-elbow tie-ups don’t make sense. Almost none of the building blocks of 100+ years of pro wrestling as performance art withstand a logic check if you say, “wouldn’t you just do something else?”
Still, though, when you create a fictional universe where imagined laws of respect and etiquette and physics rule, “making sense” in the context of said universe can really enhance the product. This week’s NXT starts with Alex Riley wanting a shot at Kevin Owens because of what happened last week, and Regal telling him he can either be an announcer or an active wrestler, but not both. In most wrestling promotions, that’s the drama. The fact that Regal himself was a commentator who stepped out of the booth to wrestle would never be addressed, because it isn’t “important.” Here, because NXT is something a little better, Riley calls Regal on it, and Regal has an excuse. He tried it and got destroyed, and he’s never competed again. Riley has his own excuse: he’s not at the end of the career, he’s in the prime of it. Regal stands firm on his decision because he’s the boss, and the entire point of bosses is that they stand firm on decisions.
Now you’ve got consistent characters who’ve evoked history and utilized it as a positive without getting obsessive or dorky about it, and that branches off into compelling stories. With Alex Riley. See how that works? If you respect your product and the audience, even the garbage dudes can get good stuff. Just pay attention.
Best/Worst: Breezus And The Sword Of The Spirit
The less said about the actual Adam Rose/Tyler Breeze match the better. Some characters go up to Raw and Smackdown and get worn out and come back to NXT as wounded heroes. You know WWE just “didn’t know how to use them” or whatever or the context of the crowd was different and WWE Arena crowds are impervious to irreverent fun, so you don’t hold it against the wrestler. If Big E showed up in NXT again tomorrow he’d blow the roof off the place. Xavier Woods? Not so much.
Adam Rose is Xavier Woods, I guess. It’s important I think to differentiate between “Adam Rose” and the guy playing him, because the guy’s fine. Adam Rose should probably be tossed in the garbage. You know, unless they’re going to fully morph him into a demon in command of a bunch of corrupted, drug-addled kids who’re in such a rave haze they’ve forgotten their parents and their names. They probably aren’t going to do that. He’s probably going to be “loser accompanied by weirdos” for the rest of his WWE career. Put him in a blue crate and hand him to CJ Parker.
Breeze wins with the Beauty Shot from out of nowhere with no set up, because they like doing that for some reason. It’s a spinning heel kick that connects with the calf at best, and the car wash boot fringe at the worst. Regardless, the money here is Breeze trying to get up the ramp AFTER the match and having to fight the Rosebuds using his selfie stick as a sword. I could’ve watched an entire hour of this. He pushes them away and they recoil in fear, then forget what’s happening and mindlessly dance forward. He parts them like history’s most gorgeous Moses and hurries through them like he’s trying to avoid a trap in a video game. It’s so good. The Rosebuds as Lemmings and obstacles is something I really enjoy. The last appearance of Adam Rose should be a hardcore match where somebody throws him off a cliff, and the Rosebuds just vacantly dance off the edge behind him.
Best: The Relaxed Version Of These Guys
I’m not a huge fan of Enzo Amore’s ring entrance. He says the same thing every time, which is a Road Doggian perversion of the OLD Enzo entrance, which was like chaos theory on the mic. You had no idea what he was gonna say. That’s where “zero dimes” and a host of other Enzo classics came from. Now it’s the same introductory speech every time, it’s gotten stretched out from one sentence to 30, and if you’re at a live taping you have to hear him do it in its entirety 2-4 times.
What I love, though, is RELAXED Enzo. When you just sit him down and let him talk, he’s the most bizarre, wonderful thing in the world. Here he describes Carmella throwing up in her mouth as a “baby burp,” and says that “Frosted Flake” Wesley Blake and “that Australian kid” have loose cheeks, and that every time he hears them speak he hears “bowel movements.” They need to WIPE THE CRAP OFF THEIR LIPS. Even Carmella’s good here because she feels like a part of the ensemble, and not like a bad Diva they tacked on to do a bad version of Enzo’s act and siphon his heat. She SHOULD feel like part of the team. Enzo and Cass with a bratty hair stylist valet is tops blooby.
Real quick note on “sweet boy” — I’ll probably have the garbage Internet person brigade on my back for even bringing it up, but can we get some clarification on what Enzo means when he says sweet boy? One definition of that is more or less a “square,” somebody who’s boring and nice and average. Sawft, one might say. Another definition is a gay slur. I like these guys, so I’d feel a lot better knowing it was one over the other.
Best?: Alexa Bliss Is Getting Better, At Least
We get a quick pre-taped interview with Alexa Bliss, who is returning from a nose injury and refocusing on defeating the women of NXT with her unique combination of gymnastics and glitter sneezes. It’s not a great promo by any means, but it’s an improvement. If you remember the earlier days of Blissy on the mic, she sounded like a G-rated phone sex operator. I think I compared it to those radio commercials you hear for strip clubs. COME DOWN TO FULL SAIL UNIVERSITY FOR NXT’S HOTTEST LADIES. ON THURSDAYS IT’S 3.75 YOU-CALL-ITS.
Alexa Bliss makes me feel like my high school art teacher. I was really into art growing up and had some talent, so when I got into his class he saw how good I was and held me to unfair, unrealistic standards. He said he was “trying to motivate” me. There were kids in class who couldn’t draw a straight line and he’d give them an A for effort, but give me a B- for drawing something “too realistic.” It got to the point where we’d have two weeks to do a project, I’d finish mine in 30 minutes and spend the next two weeks doing everybody else’s. When I graduated he wanted to get all buddy-buddy with me about the great teaching job he’d done, and I just wanted to punch him in the mouth.
I feel like that’s what I’m doing with Alexa Bliss. She looks like she looks so you know WWE’s going to shoot her to the moon as New Kelly Kelly no matter what, but she’s got a spark, you know? She’s got something. She works hard and has great footwork and shows a lot of fire in the ring. At the risk of turning this into another Enzo paragraph, you can’t teach that. She hasn’t quite put it together yet, so I’m holding her to these stupid standards of greatness where she has to be Paul Heyman on the mic and Ricky Steamboat in the ring, because if she is — if she can be — she’s the one who can change everything.
She probably just wants to punch me in the mouth.
Worst: I SAW THESE GUYS DOWN AT THE PERFORMANCE CENTER
The next match is “Totally Heterosexual” Blake & Murphy leapfrogging their way to the ring through a cloud of dubstep-soundtracked epilepsy to face Angelo Dawkins and Sawyer Fulton. They win with a brainbuster/frog splash combo, and the match is fine. Two things, though:
1. If you haven’t seen them yet, ‘Shoot Nation’ is a thing NXT does at house shows. NXT doesn’t have any big factions, so they’ve gathered all the guys with some amateur wrestling experience and nothing better to do into a group that’s basically an updated Varsity Club. If you need a more recent reference, they’re the World’s Greatest Tag Team as like 5 guys. They’re pretty awesome, and at the very least are responsible for forever stripping Angelo Dawkins of his wacky dancing Ninja Turtle gimmick. The last thing WWE needs is another happy, dancing black guy.
2. I’m Worsting this segment because the announce team’s incessant “I SAW THESE GUYS WRESTLING AT THE PERFORMANCE CENTER AND BOY LET ME TELL YOU” needs to die in a fire. I mean, I get it. You have a Performance Center and everybody trains there and when guys get brought up from nowhere you have to say something, but the PC and NXT are creating a really pinched-off version of pro wrestling. Before, WWE Superstars could come from ANYWHERE. Japan, India, the moon, parts unknown, wherever. They could come from down the street in your hometown or from the depths of Hell. Now, everybody who shows up on Raw gets the “they’re from NXT” statement. With the way NXT guys can get treated on those shows, that’s not always a positive. Everybody has to be from there. Now on NXT you have new guys show up, and they get “I saw them training at the Performance Center.” If you aren’t KENTA or Prince Devitt, you don’t really have a chance. You’re just from the same boring place as everybody else, and there’s no Performance Center show for announcers to be like “we found these guys on the moon.”
A supplemental Worst for Jason Albert last night in general. It’s just little stuff. Pronouncing “the” as “thuh” in “The Brian Kendrick,” or calling Baron Corbin’s End Of Days “the end of the days.” It drives me the nuts.
Best (And A Kayfabe Worst): Bayley
Everybody’s such a butthole to Bayley. Ugh.
She’s backstage being nice to Charlotte and compliments her side-pony, and Charlotte’s like “what, you think I’m trying to copy you.” Bayley’s like “welp okay” and wishes her luck, and Charlotte’s like I DON’T NEED LUCK, ARGLE BARGLE WOMEN’S CHAMPION. If that’s not enough, Emma shows up and Bayley’s like, “hey, want to go have fun in bubbles” and Emma shuts her down. So Bayley’s like “welp okay” and asks if she wants to go watch the Sasha Banks/Charlotte match. Emma passive-aggressively shuts her down for being too nice and running around hugging people when she should be winning championships, then bails to do nothing.
The moment that really stuck out for me is the one in the picture. Bayley’s being hugged by a WWE Diva and look at the look on her face. That’s the look of a heart that would be broken, if it hadn’t already been broken and taped back together a thousand times.
(Stepping back from rampant Bayley fandom, I’m excited to see them finally going in the right direction with Emma’s character and rehabbing her as the world’s youngest and most still-together Randy The Ram. Also, Charlotte should continue being a good guy but a terrible person because Flair.)
Back in October, the NXT crowd debuted the Baron Corbin Match Counter Timer Chant in a squash of a guy named Tony Briggs. I described him as “a gym teacher dressed like a member of the Spirit Squad.”
On last night’s episode, Corbin and Briggs met again. He still looks like that. The crowd starts up with the ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR and instead of running into Corbin and dying, Briggs hangs back. He started the Corbin chant, god dammit, and he’s going to be the one to END IT. Corbin punches him in the face a few seconds later and puts him away anyway, but the fact that Briggs remembers his mistakes and it at least attempting to learn from them is outstanding.
Best: CJ Parker, Toadie
Kevin Owens decides to be the Luke Harper to Alex Riley’s R-Truth and just stands behind him to piss him off. The other announcers are like, “C’MON RILEY CALM DOWN YOU’VE GOT A FAMILY” like he’s holding hostages or something, which is funny. Owens pours water on Riley’s head and Riley gets all frazzled and in his face. Riley shows good emotion here and the crowd gets behind him because they want to see a fight, but it’s Alex Riley, you know? Unless something’s changed in the last four years, the end game is this big Renee Dupree-wrestling motherf*cker throws a bunch of bad punches and hiptosses and eats a powerbomb. NXT’s made me reconsider and even love a lot of people I couldn’t stand, but if they manage to do that with Alex Riley I’ll consider them God’s prophets on Earth.
Speaking of guys I love that I used to hate, CJ Parker. Riley goes backstage and is all SAY IT TO MY FACE to Regal, declaring that BECAUSE WATER he’ll be quitting his announcer job and signing a talent contract to face Owens. I wish Regal’s response had been, “Okay, you’re no longer an announcer. We have tryouts next month, you can send your tryout fee to this address.” Instead he says Riley won’t get Owens until he says so, which is also acceptable. CJ Parker’s snickering like a goober in the background, so Riley challenges him instead. The highlight is Parker pointing out that he’s the only person who’s ever been able to do anything to Owens, and that the scar on Owens’ nose is from him. That’s so good. CJ Parker’s character going forward should be I MIGHT ACCIDENTALLY DRIVE YOUR NOSE UP THROUGH YOUR BRAIN DURING A MATCH, WATCH OUT.
Worst: Solomon Crowe
It’s okay to already hate this guy, right?
Like, nothing against Sami Callihan. I’ve seen the guy work for years and know what he’s capable of. Solomon Crowe is not starting off great, though. He faces Bull Dempsey in a showdown of unflattering singlets — who will win, the black Borat swimsuit or the poop-stained number that rides up in the crotch? — and wins with his slingshot splash, which is stupid on a number of levels. He can only do it in that one spot on that one side of the ring because of WWE’s love affair with the hard cam, so guys have to stumble and fall exactly right there every time. You know how guys only seem to fall and drape themselves across the second rope in Rey Mysterio matches? It’s that bad times four. On top of that, Solomon Crowe is a little guy. He’s billed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, which you know means he’s less than both. How is he splashing BULL DEMPSEY and pinning him? At least Corbin picked him up and threw him down.
The worst part is that they aren’t explaining his character at all. The hacker thing became “He’s a little different!” So now he’s just coming out with technical interruptions and color bars for no reason to an F-Zero track and defeating giants with his POOPY DIAPER ATTACK. I don’t get it. HACK THINGS.
Best/Worst: Sami Zayn Loses His Smile
Sami Zayn goes off to Abu Dhabi on a WWE tour and all of a sudden he’s lost his smile. He says the landscape of NXT is changing too quickly and he’s just not in the right frame of mind to return right now. Homeboy all that shit you listed changed while you were the champion. The only thing that’s changed is Solomon Crowe showing up. Sasha winning the NXT Women’s Championship and Balor as #1 Contender and everything else was under your watch.
I’m Worsting it because it seems like such a crummy perspective from such an emotionally connected wrestler, but also Besting it because Kevin Owens put the damn fear of God in him and I’m excited to see where it goes. Here’s to hoping it goes to “Sami saving Balor after something wretched and setting up a big rematch” and not “Sami goes up to Raw and loses to The New Day while Kevin Owens has a bunch of great matches everybody loves.”
Best: The Boss
Watch this. Unless you’re Emma, find this and watch this.
Sasha Banks defends the NXT Women’s Championship against entitled-ass Charlotte and pins her clean to retain. Well, she pins her with her feet on the ropes, but Charlotte isn’t kicking out. Watch the finish again. Charlotte’s just dead as a fish lying there on her back, and Sasha doesn’t even get her feet on the ropes until like, two. I might be looking into it too much, but I’d like to believe this is a purposeful decision to show that Sasha Banks is exactly as good as she says she is and capable of anything, but is a heel because she doesn’t have any self-confidence and feels like she has to take shortcuts to win. So she wins, and takes a totally unnecessary shortcut on top of it because she doesn’t believe she will. That’s good. All in my brain, probably, but good.
It puts #GiveDivasAChance into a unique perspective. WWE needs to change the way they treat women, right? So the fans create a hashtag to help them become aware of it. At the same time, down in NXT the Divas are revolutionizing televised women’s wrestling. They’re wrestling these long, beautifully crafted and performed wrestling matches that can and routinely do stand up against anything the men do. There’s no big “this is good for a girl” disclaimer, and there aren’t a bunch of romance angles trying to tie the two together. Nobody’s putting baby in a corner, so to speak. It’s what women’s wrestling should be. Women, wrestling. Being awesome. Killing it. Getting big reactions, being great characters, working their asses off. The weird thing though is that NXT is WWE. We like to divide them and separate them and pick sides, but it’s not like NXT’s actually the TNA Knockouts Division. They’re owned and operated by the same motherf*ckers running 30 second Bella matches on Raw.
Now’s probably not the time to write about it at length and here’s certainly not the spot, but I’d urge you to consider that the change doesn’t need to come with a flip of a switch. WWE promotes women’s wrestling a certain way because that’s what the WWE audience wants and has been taught to want. WWE NXT promotes women’s wrestling a certain way because that’s what NXT’s audience wants, and has been taught to want. The change will come when NXT has taught enough people their way to turn the tide of popular opinion on WWE proper, and the majority becomes the minority. Unfortunately, thought and progress and real, earned value are rarely the popular opinion. But hey, it’s already making a dent. Great women’s wrestling has been around and all around the world for decades, but we’re Giving Divas A Chance because a WWE audience has been taught to prefer a WWE product.
Worst case scenario, we’ll just wait for Alexa Bliss to figure it out.