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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for May 6, 2015.
Public Service Announcement: Watch The ESPN E:60 Special On NXT
If you missed it, ESPN’s special on NXT was a can’t-miss exploration of that weird NXT from two years ago that nobody but me and my sad Hulu Plus account watched. It’s a world where Bill DeMott gives passionate advice, Triple H thinks Leo Kruger is a nice dude and WWE’s big prospects are Xavier Woods and Corey Graves. It’s interesting on its own, but FASCINATING as a time capsule of an era just before H realized he could run NXT like a utopian e-fed and bring in KENTA and Prince Devitt and Kevin Steen and everyone else he’d heard about on the DVDR message boards.
The best part is that it’ll fundamentally change the way you see Adam Rose. Adam Rose should show up on Raw as a huge babyface and become WWE’s next top star. And you know what? Stuff like this is proof that if WWE just invested some time in letting us get to know these people for who they are and playing that up to create a connection instead of forcing them into awkward filler roles, they could have an entire show full of beloved stars. Watch this show however you can. Google it. It’s everywhere.
(We’re rooting for you, Adam Rose.)
(Mostly so we can hear your original entrance theme again.)
(woooooorld gone wiiiiIIILD, WOOO!)
Best: Giving Divas A Chance, And Not Just Because It’s Trending
According to Cargo Collective’s Raw breakdown project, Monday’s episode featured 0 Divas matches, 13% segments with Diva and Superstar presence, and only 1% segments only Divas. Those numbers reflect Natalya showing up in the background, the Bella Twins walking down a hallway and Naomi and Tamina attacking the Bellas before a match could start. The show is three hours long.
In contrast, one hour of NXT this week featured six segments featuring female talent. It opened with a good match between Emma and Charlotte and post-match story progression featuring Bayley. We got a killer video package for Becky Lynch, a Sasha Banks promo, a Dana Brooke promo and a contract signing/fight to set up the Women’s Championship match at Takeover. Carmella showed up, too, during Blake & Murphy’s backstage attack on Enzo and Big Cass. Only one of these revolved around how a character looks (Dana Brooke, but that’s her entire thing) and only one involved boyfriend drama. Even that’s arguable, because the Carmella issue is being played as mind games between two tag teams, and Blake & Murphy are too into each other to have an actual romantic problem.
So there you go. One show wears GIVE DIVAS A CHANCE like a hashtagged badge, because it Trended Worldwide and they’re obsessed with that. One show actually books and showcases female talent to do things you’d want to see wrestlers do on a wrestling show, without nerfing them with some weird mission statement about equality. They’re just making them equal for real, and making the show awesome in the process. It’s wonderful.
Worst: DO NOT USE BAYLEY HUGS FOR EVIL
This is mostly about my inability to identify with WWE babyfaces, but stay with me.
The opening match is Emma vs. Charlotte, and is built around the idea that Emma is this dead-eyed shark lady who is handling her deep, existential depression by exploding Charlotte’s kneecap. There’s so much good leg work here, from the Putski Hammer that knocks Charlotte off the second rope to that boss dropkick to the knee from Emma while Charlotte’s down. It gets a little iffy when Charlotte’s dropping to her knees later for neckbreakers and forgetting to sell on offense, but that’s basically WWE, and one of those things you learn wrestling in places that aren’t The Performance Center. It doesn’t take away from the match in any major way, though, and things get really good near the end. Emma even managed to make the Bow Down To The Naturally Selected Queen look good by keeping her head down and selling it like a DDT instead of a cutter.
Anyway, the issue I have is with the post-match stuff. Bayley shows up and offers Emma a hug. Emma accepts, they hug, and Bayley does the late-90s babyface “I shook your hand whooooops just kidding I’m going to ATTACK YOU” thing and suplexes her. Don’t get me wrong, it makes total sense. Emma’s been f*cking with her for weeks now, stole her stuff and cost her a match. That moment of revenge is totally earned. I just hate the idea of a Bayley hug being used for evil, for two reasons:
1. Bayley hugs are from a good place, and I don’t want to see that place turn rotten, and
2. I feel like 100% of Emma’s problems would be solved by a good hug.
Like, look at Emma’s face when she gets hugged. She seems genuinely moved. She’s had such a terrible year, and this one nice lady managed to put up with her shit and forgive her for it. I know how that feels. Sometimes I want to stop yelling and screaming at the people who’ve hurt me and just hug them, because Jesus, isn’t that where you want to be? So yeah, Emma’s probably an evil heel who was gonna punch her when they let go, but my heart says Bayley just dangled the carrot of Loving Yourself in front of her eyes and created a monster.
Best: Jig Explanations
Last week, NXT tried to explain Becky Lynch with a video package and it wasn’t really what it needed to be. It was just Becky in a studio saying “I’ve wrestled places! Now I’m here and I’m great!” We’ve never had a chance to learn about her beyond “she throws up horns,” “she was turned evil by the NXT Oculus” and “there are extraneous flaps on her gear to increase wind resistance.”
This week, they show the video we WANTED to see. Instead of Becky saying “I’ve wrestled places,” we SEE her wrestling places. We see photos of her as a dorky teenager, of her wrestling in Japan, of her holding badly-designed title belts from around the globe and posing for photos with baby version of Natalya, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and others. Man, they’re lucky Sami didn’t wear his mask out to bars or tourist attractions or whatever so they’ve got this endless supply of Zayn and Owens BFF shots.
The best part is the acknowledgment of Becky’s weird NXT debut, where she was decked out in green and doing constant jigs because “Irish.” They go for the quickest, most reasonable explanation: she wasn’t being herself, she was being what you thought you’re supposed to be in WWE. She’s Irish, so she has to dress like a lady leprechaun and Riverdance a bunch. It’s insane, but that’s usually how it works. One look in the evil backstage mirror and she realized she had to be herself, with all the strength and tenacity and cunning that comes with it. She might not be “marketable,” but she’s a f*cking athlete, and she’s gonna break some arms in tribute to her dark master. Or, you know, whatever.
Great stuff. I love that Becky now has a clear, complex character with a lot of believable motivations you can throw in the garbage if you prefer Sasha Banks. It’s like, oh, you fought hard to get to WWE? Sasha acted like a create-a-wrestler and jobbed to everybody until SHE looked in the mirror and realized that SHE needed to be confident and cutthroat. Sasha’s the one who did the grunt work and taught Becky that lesson.
(Wrestling is fun when you can pick a side and argue for it without having to make everything up.)
Best: TELL ME THE TRUTH, KEVIN
Man, this was a really great show from a creative standpoint.
Michael Cole talks to Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in separate sit-down interviews, and they contrast beautifully. The interview with Owens is intense because Owens has ZERO self-confidence, and knows he took the easy way out and road Sami’s coattails to the position he’s in now. He just doesn’t want anybody ELSE knowing it. If he admits it out-loud, it becomes the truth. The story about providing for his family is so amazingly up-its-own-ass. He beat up his friend out of professional and personal jealousy and everybody in the world knows it. The timing was about the championship, not the act. When he finally opens up and admits it, it’s going to be glorious and painful. Watch his eyes during the promo. Those are the eyes of a man who really feels like this, even if he’s funneled it into a fictional version of himself.
The interview with Zayn is the opposite. Sami is confident and open about everything but deeply hurt and disappointed, so he’s like YEAH COLE HERE’S WHAT I THINK HERE’S WHY EVERYTHING HAPPENED AND I’M GONNA KICK HIS ASS, but he’s got sadness in his eyes, too. That’s what happens when you have a falling out with your best friend. You’re so mad at them and want to shake them and throw them in a volcano, but then you want to dive in and save them and settle them down. You want things to be better but they just aren’t and they can’t be, and it just breaks your damn heart. In real life, we’re able to take some time and heal and make it okay. In wrestling, the non-stop punching makes that a lot harder.
Best: Bull Dempsey, Feud Prop
Remember when Bull Dempsey was the new monster in town? Now he’s losing 30 second matches to make Baron Corbin feuds feel more important.
I know I’m not important enough to truly influence anything, but I can’t help but feel like I did this to Bull. You ever hate on a guy for months and then “get what you want,” and then feel terrible about it? Can we just get him some better-fitting gear without an XFL logo on it and give him another look as someone else? I’ve got the weight of Bull Dempsey’s career and Blake & Murphy’s aggressive heterosexuality on my hands.
Shake it up!
One of the unexpected highlights of the show was Uhaa Nation wandering into William Regal’s office to sign his WWE contract, then getting a jumpcut-to-origin video package. I am very excited to see Uhaa tear it up in a WWE ring, and I hope he gets popular enough to have CM Punk pull and get Ricochet and Akira Tozawa fed jobs, too. I also hope that song they used in the video package is his entrance theme. CHAMPY-YONNN, I WAS MADE TO BE A CHAMPY-YONNNNN! I HAD LUNCH CAUSE I’M A CHAMPY-YONNNNNN
Worst: Wesley Blake’s Top-Knot
Now every time I see Blake & Murphy I’m going to picture them murdering the original Nite Owl.
Best: Dramatic Sasha Banks Spins
Her name should pop up across the bottom of the screen in the Full House font.
Edit: That was fast.
I love you, Mike Kendrick.
Best: The Contract Signing
Here’s another thing NXT does better than the main roster shows. This week’s Smackdown (spoiler alert) ends with a contract signing for the fatal fourway at Payback, and everybody just kinda farts around until it’s time to fight. Nobody advances the story or their characters, they’re just interchangeable video game dudes with different costumes and movesets, tapping X to skip the cutscene.
On NXT, the contract signing is used for all the right reasons. The big one is establishing the character motivations and letting us know who we’re supposed to cheer for, because that’s been a point of contention. Both characters have been heels. The crowd loves Sasha Banks because she’s great at what she does, and they like Becky, but she hasn’t really had anything. She’s just a good wrestler who exists. They were on the same team, and then they weren’t, and there was some light eye-rolling and finger snapping.
The contract signing lays that all out and explains it. Becky pauses before she signs to let the crowd know about her story, and let them know how much she appreciates and values the honor she’s earned. She’s been fighting her entire career to get to this point, even when it felt like an impossibility. The crowd claps and cheers for her, because that’s an admirable, identifiable thing. What does Sasha do? She signs the contract with a goddamn PERSONALIZED STAMP, throws the clipboard in Becky’s face and attacks her. She bends Becky over the table and STANDS ON HER HEAD with the title in the air. See how easy that is? Now instead of iffy motivations and having to make everything up in our heads, the stage is set: Becky is the fighter who has worked her way to the top against ridiculous social and professional odds, and Sasha is the chaotic, false personality of power and dominance worn by a woman who is incredible at what she does, but sees it all wrong. Sasha is terrified of her opponents and has to show up to them because she’s afraid this is going to be the end of her, and everything she’s worked for is going to vanish. It’s easier to climb a mountain than it is to stay at the top.
Amazing. Also, THE STAMP. I can’t overstate the stamp. She signs things with a stamp.
Worst?: I’m Pretty Sure We Just Watched Alex Riley’s Suicide Note
Come on, Alex, I can’t have Blake & Murphy AND Bull AND you on my hands. Don’t do anything drastic. Can we talk about this? You like the Miz, right? Have you thought about dressing up like him and standing outside the ring during matches pantomiming his moves? That could get you over. I mean, the guy who was doing it has turned into the New Alex Riley, you might as well turn into the New Damien Mizdow.
Best: Breeze Vs. Itami, Again
The main event might’ve actually been the least interesting part of the show for me. Tyler Breeze vs. Hideo Itami is always good, but I feel like I’ve seen it too many times in a row. The announcers are even like, “they wrestled on this show and then also again at this show and then again in the tournament and now they’re wrestling here, sooo.”
I don’t really have a lot to say about it, which is weird, because I can write 500 words about Becky Lynch jigging. I guess I’m mostly excited to see the payoff at Takeover, and I appreciate that they created a Finn Bálor/Itami beef but left it ambiguous enough so I don’t have to hot about the “we’re friends, YOU ACCIDENTALLY HIT ME, I’LL KILL YOU” trope. In an unrelated story, go Tyler Breeze!