– Before you read this, make sure you’ve read the show it prefaced, The Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. Or, I don’t know, read it after? I don’t know how this works.
– Our own Danielle Matheson was at the show live, so she’s my co-pilot for this week’s report. Her stuff’s in blockquotes.
– Shares, likes, comments and other social-media things are appreciated. Support the show between the live specials!
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for August 26, 2015.
Best: The Night Enzo Amore Was The Most Popular Wrestler In The World
This is what happens when you use time, money and resources to build up a developmental wrestling promotion and trust it to sell out an arena on its own merits, instead of “fattening up” performers in developmental and throwing them to the wolves in a completely different promotion with a completely different set of rules, expecting them to thrive.
The reason Enzo and Big Cass are treated like Gods when they step into the Barclays Center, and the reason why nearly 16,000 people all know their speech by heart, is because for better or worse, this is an NXT crowd. They’re here to see NXT. They aren’t here to see John Cena and Randy Orton, and they aren’t being asked to play along with the new and unfamiliar. If you’re a longtime fan of NXT and didn’t get goosebumps during this, I don’t know what to tell you. I once stood in line outside of Full Sail and watched Enzo stand by the door, looking around, hoping somebody would recognize him. Nobody did, so he shook his head and walked inside. Now, he’s got a SummerSlam crowd happily singing along to his entire long-ass entrance speech. That’s beautiful.
Most of the matches on the show feel like dark matches, because … well, they more or less were. These are the matches taped before NXT TakeOVer: Brooklyn, so there’s a 100% chance that while they’re fun and exciting, nothing important’s happening. The opening match is Enzo and Big Cass teaming up with the not-necessarily-received-with-open-arms-but-we’ll-still-do-the-woo-woo-woo-with-them Hype Bros against Scott Dawson, Dash Wilder, Jason Jordan and Chad Gable. It’s basically a showcase for Enzo, because every second he’s not in the ring, the crowd’s chanting “WE WANT ENZO.” Once Enzo’s been in there a while, the crowd chants “WE WANT CASS.” See, they know how it works.
The highlight is Enzo’s “dive” to the outside, which is just him hitting the ropes and building up momentum for Cass to grab him under the armpits like a baby and throw him over the top onto everybody. Air Enzo finishes it off, and the Realest Guys In The Room get one of the biggest wins of their career. Also, the Hype Bros were there.
My only complaint is that Chad Gable took the pin, because (1) his fresh dopeness is something they should be protecting, and (2) he was the only over guy on the heel team. You know a crowd’s a true NXT crowd when they pop for Chad Gable. Let’s drop the North Coast/South Coast beefing and all asininely chant things to fill the silence together, okay?
Best: Enzo and Big Cass Come Home
You can’t quite tell from watching it back, but however loud the chants seems in the arena, they were so much louder. We talk a lot about the things that make people love NXT the way they do, and a huge part of that is the connections they’re allowed to build with these performers as they learn and grow and get better or…just stagnate until they’re given something new to try. One of the things that makes wrestling fans so awful to be around sometimes, I think, is when they forget that sense of ownership isn’t a real thing, and these performers are human beings that don’t belong to anyone. It’s a hard thing to learn, and it’s hard to share people you’ve come to be such fans of with the rest of the WWE Universe. As NXT grows, and more casual or ‘smart’ fans buy in, you worry that they won’t love them like you do, and they won’t treat them in the supportive way they deserve. Any fear of that happening to Enzo and Big Cass was very, very deeply unfounded that night at Barclay’s.
When I say it was so much louder, I mean the chants were deafening. Here are two guys who, by all rights, should never make it beyond those tiny shows. You look at any iteration of Enzo and you’d never guess that THAT guy would help sell out an arena. But there he was, the most over you could ever dream of being, with over fifteen thousand people in the palm of his hand. There’s commanding a room, and then there’s owning an arena. And when you’re one of those people who watched them grow and change each week, seeing a thing like that is (hopefully) what every fan dreams of. Your heart can’t help but swell when you look at the faces of Enzo and Big Cass, confident as hell in front of a home state crowd, knowing that no matter what happens in that match, everyone is on their side. That’s amazing. It’s the best thing. It’s the biggest Best I could possibly give on a night just full of ’em. And he’s totally right – you can’t teach that.
Best: Eva Marie’s Entrance, Or
Worst: All The Rest Of Everything
Eva Marie’s entrance is great. Everything’s blue, and then she shows up looking like Trance Kuja and turns everything red. The production team’s on point for that. I still think if she’s gonna wrestle in black gear, her catchphrase should be, “partial some parts red some things,” but I guess you can’t fit that on a crop top.
Eva’s a fascinating conversation, but she’s still not much of a wrestler. It’s going to take a lot for her to lose that vibe that she’s a robot trying to remember her spots. “Wristlock. Cartwheel. Armbar. Taunt. Mock opponent. Sliced Bread.” Sliced Red? I don’t know, there’s a moment where she’s holding Carmella in a rest hold forever, running through all of Carmella’s team’s taunts — “how you doin’,” “s-a-w-f-t” — and it just feels fake. It’s like somebody taught a parrot how to do Enzo’s catchphrases, and it does them for treats. There’s a real purity to heels being sh*theads, and I don’t think Eva Marie’s got the emotional range to pull it off. She never convincingly looks happy or sad, or mad or hurt or tired. She’s just Eva Marie, 100% of the time. She’s like the video game equivalent of somewhere else’s real-life Eva Marie.
Of course, the purpose of Eva right now is to make a crowd full of people who think they know better get super angry, and she does that without fail. It doesn’t result in any good wrestling matches, but she’s doing what they’re sending her out there to do, so what can you do? A quick word to the sh*ttier wrestling fans in Brooklyn and around the world: if a woman is pretty but bad at wrestling, that doesn’t make her a whore. It makes her bad at wrestling. Being pretty doesn’t make her a whore, either, it makes her pretty. Give her all the grief you want for being terrible at several aspects of a job she gets a TV show and tons of money to do, but maybe keep your depressing-ass, regressive views on sexuality to yourself.
Worst: I hate writing things that feel like lectures, but GODDAMN these people
To further put Brandon’s comments into context, there was a real mean undercurrent to people booing and chanting at Eva Marie, and it was a common thread all weekend. On the one hand, we had people losing their minds for Bayley and Sasha and Charlotte and Becky (goddamn they love them some Becky), but anytime you’d be in a crowd of people (or on a bus full of writers, yikes) talking about women, it was always the same: they need to fire the Bellas. I like [this lady wrestler] because she’s not f*cking someone to get her spot. Eva Marie is a whore with no talent. Any kind of criticism had these weird sexual qualifiers. Even on commentary we told over and over that it’s hard to choose between Eva and Carmella because they’re both so beautiful. Well, no, it’s super easy to pick between the two, because even if she’s not the best, Carmella in her sexy Dasher Hatfield cosplay is still a million times less robotic than Eva Marie. It’s so unpleasant to listen to, and to be around, and removes room for any real criticism.
The Four Horsewomen of NXT are great and I love them and I only want them to stay in a protected, progressive, loving bubble that will boost them up when they do well and fairly critique them when they f*ck up, but that’s not a real thing that can happen. I’ve talked about it in the Total Divas recaps, but if you spend all of this time saying the right kind of female wrestler is all about looks, when you try to make the new “right” about talent, you can’t get mad or surprised when you focus on looks and people hate them. It’s still elevating one type of woman over the other, leaving the ones who really ‘care about being there’ on a pedestal of infallibility, and instead of being able to critique anyone – especially like Dana Brooke and Eva Marie on their own merits – it gets reduced to “wow she’s really good and anyone who says anything should burn in hell,” or “she sucks and is also a wanton sex maiden, probably.” It’s terrible. Nobody is like wow, that Tye Dillinger fellow sure does seem really into showing off his muscles, I bet he has a lot of sex that we should shame him for! Blech.
That said, WOOF, THIS MATCH. I don’t know how they did it, but Eva Marie setting up for the sliced bread felt like an actual eternity watching it live. Maybe they sped it up, or maybe watching a live Eva Marie match just feels like you’re being punished for something and it’s never gonna end, I dunno. But nobody went to the bathroom because they were too busy booing her, so progress or something I guess.
Anyways, I’m excited to see what Jonathan has to say about this whenever it pops up on Total Divas, because oh man, that was so not dope.
Worst?: The Drifter
Maybe I’m spoiled by how instantaneously I fell in love with “Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger, but “The Drifter” Elias Samson leaves something to be desired. I think it was the announce team’s conversation about him, which left me with more questions than answers. I’m paraphrasing:
“It’s THE DRIFTER, Elias Samson!”
“What does that mean, that he’s The Drifter?”
“He handed me a business card that said THE DRIFTER on it!”
“That definitely means he’s The Drifter. If you need someone to do some stuff, you call him!”
No idea. If they want to do an El Mariachi gimmick with him (or, more accurately, an Antonio Banderas ‘How Do Say? Ah Yes, Show’ gimmick) or even turn him into NXT Jeff Jarrett, I’m fine with it. I just don’t want him to end up like Solomon Crowe, where you’re like, “hacker?” but the only actual character description available is, “weird loser.”
Samson takes on Bull Dempsey, which they build up as this grand homecoming for Bull, even though he’s been an ineffective, unimportant heel for 90% of his NXT run and hasn’t actually had a previous match as a fitness-themed babyface. So Bull’s out here acting like a conquering hero, and the audience is fine with it, but the last time he was wrestling up here he was a giant wrestling baby. How excited can you get for that guy? It’s not exactly Prince Devitt returning to Japan.
The match is fine, but all they’ve really added to Bull’s character is a robe, a bunch of smiling and some Kamala-eque belly slapping. This whole thing felt like it needed more time in the oven.
Best: Dana Brooke Looks Like She Got Shot With Homer Simpson’s Makeup Gun
Nice of Dana to take a break from filming the ‘Lady Marmalade’ video to wrestle tonight.
You’d think I’d give this a Worst because oh my God, look at her, but I’m kinda into Dana Brooke as this more operable, malleable Eva Marie that isn’t constantly worried about how good she looks. That’s the thing about Eva, she’s playing a heel, but she’s more concerned with how she looks doing everything than what she’s doing. Dana can just go out there looking like Divine and let it all hang out, and her fearless character work will get her through a lot of the rough stuff. You can’t be afraid to look ridiculous sometimes, and Dana f*cking owns it.
Worst, But I Understand: The Constant Deluge Of Video Packages
This week’s show was 90 minutes, but it easily could’ve been 60. The extra 30 is just commercials and video packages. SO MANY VIDEO PACKAGES.
I get it, though. They’re treating this week’s episode as a jumping-on point for people who finally took the plunge, watched NXT TakeOver, loved what they saw (because of course they did) and decided to watch on Wednesday. You want to run a bunch of refresher videos for those people so they can get some quick character info on the people they’re seeing. They aren’t gonna see anybody they liked from TakeOver, because this was all taped in the same night. Lots of slow motion recaps and reminders of how great everything was. That can be frustrating for the regulars who know who Dana Brooke is and don’t need a backstage interview and 3 minutes of video to remind us, but at least we have the luxury of watching on demand and fast forwarding. You’d think the backstage clip of Dana looking like a Kermit the Frog nightmare and patting Devin Taylor on the head would be enough information, but hey, we’re building a brand here.
Best: The (Whatever Her Last Name Is) Family
The best of the recap and behind-the-scenes videos in a walk is the backstage interview with Bayley, who is still like 5 seconds away from being a total mess after winning the NXT Women’s Championship. The scene’s emotional enough when it’s just Bayley talking about her connection to the Four Horsewomen and where the NXT Women’s Division goes from here — “I don’t want them gone. I just want them to be around all the time” — but then her FAMILY shows up.
I’m always a little iffy about real life stuff intersecting with my precious, protected little niche kayfabe jumble to the point that I don’t even uniformly love the post-match hugs the NXT Women love to give out, but Bayley suddenly turning into a real person and being kinda embarrassed of her family is the greatest. Like, she loves them, but she’s also at work, and she just had the biggest moment of her life and almost broke her friend/blood rival’s neck. MOM, TOO MUCH TALKING. I love it. That sh*t is real.
Whoops, It’s Emma
I’m not sure whether to give this a Best or Worst, because none of it came out like it was supposed to.
The main event of the TakeOver pre-show slash episode is a fatal fourway between Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Emma and Dana Brooke. The match itself goes pretty well whenever Becky and Charlotte are in the ring, to the point that I wonder if Triple H ever turned to somebody with his fist to his mouth and was like, “shoulda just done Becky and Charlotte.” Everyone’s fine, though, even Dana with her wrestling underpants and terrible clubbing forearms, and then the finish happens.
Everybody’s getting a moment to shine, so Emma gets hers. She tosses Becky into the corner by the hair, then runs into the opposite corner to hit an Emma Sandwich on Charlotte. You can kinda tell things aren’t right from the height Becky gets going into the corner, but everything seems fine. Emma runs back, hits an Emma Sandwich on Becky and gets the pin. I’ll let Emma’s face tell you whether or not that was supposed to happen:
Whether Becky was knocked loopy and couldn’t kick out or somebody was supposed to break it up and didn’t, the referee did the right thing and counted the pin. That happens in wrestling sometimes, and if the ref stops counting because he doesn’t think that’s the finish, it destroys the delicate-ass reality of the entire operation. The ref’s gotta count to three.
On the plus side, I don’t think anybody in the world predicted Emma to win this, so maybe they’ll finally be forced to remember that Emma’s one of the two NXT Women who started the damn Divas Revolution in the first place and show her some love. She’s been kinda drifting in the wind since iPad Case-Gate, but she’s in the shape of her life and a legitimately important cog in NXT’s identity, so let’s make lemonade or whatever.
I’m not even sure if I should crap on the post-match stuff, which would normally infuriate me. As it stands, Charlotte and Becky look like sore losers for attacking someone who beat them fair and square. My brain says, “they’re calling an audible and trying to save face,” and ultimately I just blow a raspberry and toss it in the discard pile.
Best? Ehhhhh? Maybe??? Question Mark?????
I was really curious as to what they’d do with it, because in person this was…confusing as hell. It’s a shame, as it was one of the few matches I was really pumped for all weekend. I also totally forgot that we were still in the taping portion of the show and was like HEY WHY ISN’T ANYONE TALKING ABOUT THIS ON THESE HERE INTERNETS??
There’s a part of me that, for some reason, is just holding its breath waiting for the day Charlotte comes in and just starts shooting on everyone. I dunno why I think it’s gonna be her, but the deep down, rotten part of me that has sat through so many bullsh*t women’s matches and listened to my friends talk about much they struggle and fight, and how even at the top it never really goes away, seems to just be waiting for the day Charlotte snaps and goes full Pentagon, Jr for real and starts collecting people’s arms.
It’s a super shame that out of the five women’s matches over the three-day wrestling weekend, only one was really where it was supposed to be. I was really starting to get into this one, even with Dana and her weirdly thrown together sk8ter boi/sexy saloon girl whose outfit got torn off in strong gust of desert wind, but…well, there’s always next week, right? I mean, nobody’s talking about how a Diva Revolution has failed and everyone’s just giving up, right?
Oh, that’s a thing we’re doing?
Well…good luck keeping all of your arms safe, ladies.
Next Week: The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic begins with Baron Corbin and Rhyno vs. The Ascension, and we find out how much of those controversial spoilers become canon. Also, somebody tell me Tyler Breeze’s next big opponent is Regal himself. That’d be a hell of a match for TakeOver UK, especially if Owens doesn’t stick around.