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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for April 15, 2015.
Worst: RIP CJP, Or
Best: Solomon Crowe Is Almost Okay
CJ Parker is no longer a part of NXT, and so begins us misunderstanding the taping schedule and assuming every appearance is his last. I remember when Oliver Grey got released and kept showing up for like a month afterward because they’d taped a bunch of shows. Next year there’s gonna be a battle royal before WrestleMania and Oliver Grey’ll be in there, and you guys will be like, “uh, they taped it before he was released.” Anyway, CJ Parker stayed in developmental forever and finally found something great to work with and then faaart noooooise.
He opens the show against Solomon Crowe, whom you may remember as the guy who’s supposed to be a hacker and kinda still is (?), but is mostly the love child of Syndrome from The Incredibles and a pissed-off Oompa Loompa. The thing about Crowe is that he’s a good wrestler, but “Solomon Crowe” is basically the worst thing in the world. What does he do? Why does he do it? He’s interrupting your “regular scheduled programming,” but he’s … a contracted wrestler in the promotion wrestling a scheduled match. CJ Parker wasn’t wrestling Philip Gooljar or whatever before Crowe interrupted. Corey Graves tries to put over the gimmick by saying Crowe controls all the TVs and took out his monitor, but, like, why? That’s the major thing missing with Crowe.
The good news is that his in-ring stuff’s coming together, and he finally feels like a part of the show. Dropping the slingshot splash in favor of the Stretch Muffler is the biggest upgrade ever, and adding a big goofy top-rope splash to the leg before he locks it on is the kind of stuff I love. I’m down with Crowe as a performer and hope this whole thing rights itself. It feels pretty close. Just have him brain somebody with a laptop and ride to the ring on a skateboard drinking Surge. Just do it.
Super serious suggestion: the audience should yell “caw” every time he hits a move. Gotta fill that void Konnor left in our hearts when he left for the Wasteland.
Worst: The Monster Squash Problem
The point here is that Baron Corbin still exists. Cool? Cool.
I’ve got a major problem with how WWE books unstoppable monsters and “streak” characters. The basic issue is that the steak is usually all they have. Baron Corbin’s the new big guy, so he shows up and beats jobber after jobber after jobber to show his dominance. That builds to him facing a “real” member of the roster, someone stuck in the middle, and another strong win. Here, it’s Bull Dempsey. Once that’s done, the writers are like, “well, time to put him against somebody worth a damn,” and when that happens, one of two things occur: the guy wins in a ridiculous way that nobody buys, or he loses in an anticlimactic way that doesn’t really help anyone. Corbin’s lost a few matches like this lately, mostly in tournaments. He’s not an unstoppable monster anymore, so what happens? They put him right back in the ring with jobbers and start over. It’s an assembly line of really basic-ass booking that doesn’t go anywhere and ultimately makes Corbin look like he can only beat cans. You know how you feel about Ryback? That’s what’s happening here. You WANT to like him, but eh. What’s to like if he can beat Stanksy and Rosenberg, but loses like a chump every time somebody good shows up? Characters like this live or die on their win/loss record because that’s all they have, and all they’ve EVER had.
My big pitch to WWE would be to use the time between a monster debuting and a monster losing to come up with a good plan for what the monster’s gonna do next. That’s it. Now’s the time for Corbin to develop a character and get involved in a character or competition-based story that removes him from Undercard Object Land and makes him a legitimate NXT Superstar.
Best: Blake & Murphy Being Romantic
They show up in the middle of the match to give Carmella flowers. Both of them. At the same time. Like they’re the twins from The Shining or something. Do they have a hive mind? Have I been missing the point? They aren’t lovers, they’re one functional wrestler that got split into two in a science experiment gone wrong. That’s why they’re bonded. Their wrestling competency is a Slapstick: Or Lonesome No More! situation.
Best: Colin Cassady Once He Realizes He’s Better Than This
I don’t want it to happen, but when Big Cass turns heel he’ll have the best reasons ever. This guy has to be a backup singer to a wacky, Mogwai-looking motherf*cker who shuffles his feet like he’s Curly from The Three Stooges. When they wrestle he has to stand on the apron and watch Enzo be helpless for a few minutes, then run in at the right moment and win the match by himself. The thing is that he’s good at it. He’s seven feet tall. That’s a thing you can’t teach, or whatever! He’s got this insane gift where he’s giant and can wrestle and can talk, but he’s got kind of a dough body and plays second-fiddle because he’s got no confidence. It’s crazy.
When he gets tired of tossing Enzo around and gets his shit together he’s going to be a future WWE Champion. This guy should be the new Kevin Nash, not the new Trent Barreta*.
*In the interest of clarification, I prefer Trent Barreta to Kevin Nash 100% of the time and Trent Barreta is something to be, it’s just that one of them’s a famous Hall of Fame WWE Champion millionaire and artistic fulfillment aside, that’s probably where you want to end up.
Worst: Despite All His Rage He Is Still Just A Something Something
“HEY KEVIN OWENS, IT’S ALEX RILEY. WHAT’S UP MAN? NOT MUCH HERE. HEY LISTEN, I JUST WANTED TO TELL YOU THAT I’M STILL RAGE AND THAT I’M BASICALLY HOMELESS OR WHATEVER, SO I’M GONNA MIST MYSELF WITH VEGETABLE OIL AND STAND BACK HERE IN THE LOCKER ROOM IN A HOODIE UNTIL I GET TO WRESTLE AGAIN. DID YOU KNOW I’VE SCRATCHED AND CLAWED EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY SINCE I’VE BEEN HERE? REMEMBER WHEN I WAS AWFUL AT COLOR COMMENTARY AND COMPARED ALL THE BLACK WOMEN TO JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE BECAUSE I’M FROM THE 80S AND SHE’S THE ONLY BLACK WOMAN I CAN REMEMBER? AH SHIT CLAIRE HUXTABLE, I COULD’VE COMPARED THEM TO THAT. RAGE. ANYWAY, THAT WAS ALSO SCRATCHING AND CLAWING.
ANYWAY HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE. WE SHOULD WRESTLE AGAIN! I DID REALLY WELL LAST TIME AND THINK I COULD BEAT YOU. OR LAND TWO PUNCHES INSTEAD OF ONE? WHO KNOWS LMFBO
YOURS IN RAGE,
Worst: Let’s Have A Frank Discussion About Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke is a bad conversation. She wrestles Blue Pants in her debut and wins with a Samoan Driver, and a solid 80% of the match is her touching herself.
There are a few realities we have to accept before we have these conversations on line. One is that if they’re trying to position Dana as a heel, they’ve done a masterful job. I kinda want to throw her — the fictional version of her we see on wrestling shows — into a gorge. I’m guessing that’s the idea, so that’s cool.
Another, less-easy-to-explain reality is that NXT has changed over the past year and a half. We call it “developmental” still because it is, but we need to consider what kind of development they’re doing. When we say developmental we equate it to a wrestling school, like these people have been signed to WWE and report to NXT to learn what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s not how it works. The Performance Center is physical developmental. That’s where people report, and where the people who’ve never wrestled before learn to bump, and so on. NXT house shows are the next step up from that, where people who aren’t ready for television can go to get in work in front of a live crowd, which is a crucial element to succeeding in pro wrestling. If you’re amazing in front of your trainer but can’t put it together in front of strangers, you’re never going to convince strangers to buy a ticket to see you. That’s the job. By the time you get to NXT TV you should be almost ready to be on Raw or Smackdown. Think of it as Triple-A baseball. There’s some shit you’re gonna learn when you get to the Majors and there’s still a huge learning curve, but by the time you’re there you should know how to swing the bat and which direction to run when you connect. NXT suddenly being populated by 15-year indie and international veterans hasn’t helped the severity of that.
Dana Brooke was … really pretty bad here, and you’re going to read a lot of defenses of it. “It’s developmental!” “It’s her second match ever!” “Of COURSE she’s green stop being an asshole!” Those are all accurate statements, especially the part about how I’m an asshole, but there’s a f*cking precedent here, guys. If Dana Brooke showed up on Raw exactly like this she’d probably be fine, because Raw’s taught us to lower our expectations to the very bottom and treat women like beautiful, uninteresting objects that send us to the bathroom to piss or masturbate. I hate (hate hate hate) that, but it’s the truth. The Alex Riley-quality rage we feel arguing about Give Divas A Chance and wanting women to have characters and stories and matches that matter is born from this. Women just wear sexy Halloween costumes and kinda forearm and roll each other around until one of them hits a move they know and that’s it. It’s sad and it sucks and it’s sadly sucked for a long time.
On NXT, in developmental where everybody’s supposed to be green and working shit out, everyone else is above this. It’s not what NXT does. When Alexa Bliss debuted I remember being like, “she’s got a good look and I want to like her but she doesn’t really have any moves and she’s bad at public speaking.” As time’s gone on she’s gotten much better on the mic and has been impressive in the ring, because she’s learning and growing. She’s blonde and muscular and pretty too, but she doesn’t feel like a Hawaiian Tropic model who got dropped into Dream Slam. She looks like she’s learning to be a wrestler. Dana Brooke is only one match in, granted, and she could end up being the best wrestler of all time, but right now she doesn’t look like she’s learning how to be a wrestler. She looks like someone who they’ve The Air Up There‘d into being a wrestler, and she’s spent 1000 times more time learning the choreography of her entrance taunts than learning how to do a headlock. She got “you can’t wrestle” chants from the crowd and yeah, NXT’s crowd can be the worst, but they’re also routinely patient and supportive when they see somebody trying. They know “developmental” more than most because they’re there every week, and they know the learning curve. This is an anomaly. This is a project that rejects the pre-existing projects we love.
And seriously, if that’s the point, bravo. Dropping a toxic character into the mix can create a ton of compelling stories. What happens when Dana Brooke and Bayley are positioned against each other for a title shot? That’s going to call all the jerks like me to action in support of the babyface. What happens when Dana Brooke steps on Blissy’s face to get an opportunity she doesn’t deserve? They can do a lot with this character, but the long, torrid history of Eva Maries has taught us that they don’t always do, and that can be terrifying.
Anyway, that’s what I think about this lady who had one crummy match on TV. If you wanna read it as “Brandon hates women,” go for it? Remember that an important part of loving and respecting women’s wrestling is being able to say, “that woman’s bad at wrestling.” If you blindly like everybody who does it, you’re fetishizing it.
Best: Sami Zayn Vs. Rhyno
I think I used up my wordcount up there.
Anyway, this week’s main-event is the return of Sami Zayn in match against Rhyno. There are two big stories here:
1. Rhyno feels like he can “cut in line” for a shot at the NXT Championship because he’s a former WWE Superstar. Sami Zayn worked for 18 months to get the NXT Championship and battled through one of the most complex and emotional stories we’ve seen on the show. Zayn’s former best friend showed up and manipulated him into a title shot 2 months in, so now Zayn’s not only upset at people taking shortcuts, he’s acutely aware of how confrontational jerks will wedge themselves into places they shouldn’t be to get what they want. It’s a new take on a babyface stopping heels from succeeding. He’s fine with them winning, he just wants them to do it right.
2. Zayn’s coming back from getting BRUTALIZED by a bigger, stronger, hyper-aggressive guy, so his return match is against a bigger, stronger, hyper-aggressive guy. That’s easy but effective storytelling, and the kind of match Zayn should be having right now. He shows up, gets his ass beaten and almost gets KO’d, but digs down deep and comes back with big flailing arms until it works out for him. That’s the inversion of the Owens story. Zayn’s learned not only how to take a beating, but how (and more important, when) to fire up and fight back.
The timing at the end of the match is brilliant, with Zayn getting a burst of offense and Rhyno repeatedly cutting him off, but Zayn triumphing anyway. The best example is the very end, when Zayn knocks Rhyno off the top rope to the floor and dives out onto him. The next move when they get into the ring is Rhyno belly-to-bellying him across the ring into the corner. It’s not a smooth series of moves leading to a victory, it’s a fight. Zayn can’t just dodge once and hit all his moves and win. He’s not John Cena. He has to stick and move, stick and move, until something can put Rhyno away.
Great stuff. A Supplemental Best to Rhyno, too, for selling everything like a Punch-Out character. Watch him when he gets hit with big moves, he’ll big out his eyes and shake his head around all dramatically. He’s doing it when he’s being pinned at the end. He’s a guy you can’t knock out, you just have to hit him with enough uppercuts to stun him.