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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for May 27, 2015.
Best: Kevin Owens, Secure Person
If you need proof that Kevin Steen is doing the best work of his career right now, watch the opening to this week’s NXT.
This is how you do a show-opening promo. Owens is feuding with what, six people right now? He’s feuding with a legitimate fraction of the roster and has a bunch of things to address and points to make, and it never, ever sounds like he’s talking to fill time. You can’t hear three Seth Rollins sentences in a row without two of them being filler. Owens manages to knock out two of them in the first second you see him: he’s wearing a John Cena ‘The Champ Is Here’ t-shirt and entering to Sami Zayn’s music. Dude accomplishes more in a quarter of a second than heel Sheamus has accomplished in his entire career.
The promo itself is masterful. He insults John Cena by saying he was gonna issue an NXT Championship Open Challenge, but won’t because he’s “not an insecure person” and doesn’t have to prove himself by defending the belt against “just anybody.” He likes when people earn shots. People clap and chant about how Cena sucks, so Owens condescends to them and asks them why they don’t chant Sami Zayn sucks, because Sami sucks too. It’s so good and is a workshop in crowd control, and that’s before William Regal or Solomon Crowe even show up. Or the part where he references Samoa Joe, and says he only backed down from a fight because he wanted Joe to have a feel-good moment. Like, I could write an entire week’s column on what this promo accomplished.
Regal shows up, so they address two important points:
1. Owens headbutted Regal at Unstoppable, but Regal put his hands on Owens first, and that’s the only reason he’s still employed. Regal realizes he made a mistake, and makes Owens look scary and a little more important by standing up for himself, but not TOO much.
2. Regal lists off the people Owens has injured since arriving in NXT and mentions Hideo Itami. If you remember Unstoppable, we saw Itami down in the parking lot clutching his shoulder and Owens walking by, muttering, “that’s a shame.” Regal acts like it’s super obvious that Owens did it, because that’s our reaction. Of course he did it.
You know what, though? I don’t think he did. When Regal lists Itami, Owens stop him and sincerely — well, as sincerely as Kevin Owens can ever sound — says he can’t take credit for it. Itami doesn’t know who jumped him and sure, Owens references in this same promo how someone called him a “bad person,” but for whatever reason, I believe him. There’s a chance Owens won’t even be IN NXT when Itami returns from injury, so having us assume it’s Owens but revealing it to be someone else down the line could be brilliant. I’m calling Finn Bálor. Finn took him out of the #1 contender triple threat because he knew he could beat Breeze, but wasn’t so sure about Itami. Plus, you know, heel Finn Bálor is a thing that should happen when we’re done losing our minds over his D&D bodypaint.
That’s not even everything. Solomon Crowe shows up as the Regular WWE Babyface and says what Owens did to Zayn was crappy, and that KO is a piece of crap. Owens gets in an understated jab at Crowe’s voice, and Regal makes a match between the two … but only after making sure it’s cool with both of them and something the fans would want to see. Our regularly scheduled main-event of Alex Riley vs. Bull Dempsey will have to wait until next week.
The Raw feud with Cena and Elimination Chamber match are addressed, the Unstoppable match and injury angle with Zayn is addressed, Samoa Joe’s appearance is addressed and Owens’ reaction to it explained, the incident with William Regal gets an explanation, the Owens connection to Itami’s injury is referenced, Solomon Crowe looks important for maybe the first time ever AND we set up the night’s main. All in about 10 minutes.
Take notes, everybody else.
Best: Zack Ryder As Boy Emma
I didn’t like when Emma went up to Raw and became a girl version of Santino, but I love Zack Ryder coming to NXT and becoming the boy version of Emma.
The cast of Entourage showing up on Raw and willing him into an inspirational loss to his better maybe have ruined the narrative, but I like the idea that well-meaning, Internet-savvy Zack Ryder would suddenly blow up and make a name for himself and think it’s gonna translate into something big, only for him to end up a depressed, jaded jobber. He acts like he’s never been on NXT before, which is hilarious, and shows up in boring street clothes to force out some corporately-mandated pleasantries. But man, look at his face. He is dead inside, too. He had to sit next to Mojo Rawley, for God’s sakes. Mojo shows up and screams about shit and Zack’s just like, “ughhhhh life is meaningless, I hope Renee chokes me to death with an enormous foam fist.”
Long story short, I ship Zack Ryder and Emma now. Ryder was bigger than Emma ever was, but the Superstars-to-Divas gap sorta evens it out. If I made it onto the NXT creative team, their relationship is the first thing I’d write. A romantic comedy with them as the defeated, sarcastic leads, and Bayley and Mojo as their mentally challenged friends. Zach Braff would KILL IT.
Worst: Helpless Bayley
Speaking of poor Bayley, she follows up being a non-factor on the winning side of a tag match at Unstoppable by tapping out clean to Emma. It’s not bad, I guess. The match is very slow and character-based, so there isn’t a lot of room for excitement. It’s mostly Emma wandering around between moves and putting that “dead inside” vibe into the rest of us. She’s like NXT’s women’s Mil Muertes.
So, Bayley’s back to losing. The optimist in me says that Sasha Banks is faking an injury and NXT’s booking Bayley to lose constantly so they stay on the show, and don’t get called up and crammed into that “lose to Natalya when we remember Natalya exists” spot on Raw. The pessimist in me just sighs deeply and is grateful that at least Bayley’s losing to a Muta Lock, and not somebody’s jumping ass to the face. I may have forgotten the difference between optimism and pessimism.
Anyway, Dana Brooke is great as a posed mannequin at ringside.
Best: Are We Dating? Are We F*cking? Are We Best Friends? Are We Something In Between That?
In the first of two intensely homoerotic backstage segments, Baron Corbin’s giving a post-match interview with Renee Young and gets interrupted by Rhyno. Rhyno’s breathing all heavy, won’t stop staring at Corbin’s chest and says, “that was intense … that was real intense. I say we do it again sometime. The sooner the better.”
Cut. Okay, let’s try it again, only this time take your dick out of your hand.
Best: Welp, This Works
Alexa Bliss now has red in her hair instead of blue and her own Chris Benoit gear with Misfits font to match Blake & Murphy, and my thoughts are in boldface. There isn’t much to their characters beyond “we’re characters,” but the look is there. The look works. Dubstep, flashing lights, the wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man zooms and some fit-ass white people in matching clothes. If WWE isn’t already writing them into the next line of Stackdown collectable playsets I’ll be surprised.
They take on Mike Rallis and Elias Samson, and it’s a better match than it needs to be. Samson is starting to look like a star, and the match gains a lot of quarter-stars if you pretend it’s Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy being proactive in keeping down NXT’s other bland dudes with boring names. With Prince Devitt and Samoa Joe and Kevin Steen around, there are only so many places for the Lucky Cannons of the world. Gotta protect your spot!
Also, a supplemental Best for Alexa Bliss doing Sparkle Splashes to guys. There’s more for her to land on, so she can just go for it. If she’s trying to Sparkle Splash Sasha Banks there’s no padding, so she’s basically flipping off the top rope and landing on her knees and elbows.
Best: Finn Bálor Squash Matches
Say you’re Finn Bálor. You are a quick, strong, talented, athletic International champion who can also occasionally summon a demonic dragon to live inside your body and give you strength. Everybody loves you and you almost always win. You’ve got a match against Tye Dillinger. What should happen? Should you have a long, tough back-and-forth with Dillinger, or should you just hit all your moves in a row and win?
I’m not advocating squash matches happen in place of “good” matches all the time, but sometimes I seriously just want to see a wrestler I like do their thing and bail. This was one of my favorite uses of Finn Bálor yet, because he actually got to look as tough and cool and invincible as advertised. He should just be EVISCERATING anybody as low on the totem pole as Tye Dillinger. Like, Dillinger should grab a pre-match handshake and suddenly be on fire and dying. Bálor should be able to beat a guy like Mike Rallis before he gets in the ring. Eye contact should make Mike’s throat collapse.
But yeah, good stuff, and a solid use of five minutes that’d otherwise go to Elimination Chamber hype videos.
Worst: Creepy Greg
In the second of two intensely homoerotic backstage segments, Creepy Greg (in full suit and tie) is lurking in the shadows of the WWE Performance Center, watching Jason Jordan work out. He approaches him, apologizes for interrupting him and asks him what his future in NXT looks like. You know, because you couldn’t wait for a guy to finish a set before confronting him about future?
Jor-Don says that he’s been scouting talent and has found the perfect tag team partner, who we’ll see in action soon. I hope it’s Tye Dillinger. He gets interrupted by Chad Gable and a conversation about Gable’s legit wrestling accomplishments begins, causing Greg to disappear into the darkness. He’s like NXT’s Dean Pelton. He was just interested in Jordan’s workout sweat. Why are we having a conversation now?
Gable gives Jordan a towel that says “Gable,” and Jordan reluctantly uses it and throws it away. I’m guessing Greg ran up, snatched it up off the floor and scurried away.
As advertised, the main event is Kevin Owens vs. Solomon Crowe. It’s not the most important Owens match we’ve seen, but it might be my favorite. It makes Owens look like a killer against a legitimate opponent, which is surprisingly something we haven’t done yet. His first match was him as a babyface mauling CJ Parker, and he almost got his nose bone shoved backwards through his brain. He got into a beef with Sami Zayn, and those matches were just one-sided things with story endings. He wrestled Neville and Bálor, but those matches were built up as even affairs, and Owens only really winning because he’s an opportunist. What’s left, Owens vs. Alex Riley? Come on.
Here, Solomon Crowe is good enough to seem like a threat, but not good enough to seem like he’s going to win. He’s also tough enough to take some realistic-looking damage, so Owens just beats the shit out of him. It’s awesome. Crowe is collapsing onto his knees on the outside, getting flipped with back elbows and murdered on the pop-up powerbomb. Owens stops looking like an iffy, cowardly heel for a second and starts looking like NXT’s Brock Lesnar. Him yelling “get the stretcher” doesn’t seem like a catchphrase, it seems like a promise.
The only thing I liked more than the match was the post-match stuff, with Owens trying to powerbomb Crowe on the apron and being interrupted (somewhat expectedly) by Destination America star question mark question mark Samoa Joe. Owens immediately rolls into the ring and gets ready for a fight. He said earlier in the night that he could drop Joe (snap) like this, so it’s time for him to prove it. Joe comes to the ring, Owens immediately bails. You want to strangle Owens to death for being such a shithead, but you also kinda want to hug him for being so good at his job.
Great show this week. If they keep up this pace, the next live special will be 6 amazing matches and 40 minutes of everyone backstage making out.