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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for August 5, 2015.
Best: Bayley Wins The Big One
In the Best and Worst of Raw column I’ve written a lot about how great the Divas Revolution has been, but how it’s missing a personal connection. On NXT, the women’s division didn’t get popular because they had good matches … it got popular because we were given a chance to learn about and connect with characters before they had matches. That way we have something to care about, and are given a reason to like what’s happening on the shows in a way deeper than, “that’s good.” Good matches happen all the time. Good matches featuring characters we love, with important consequences that are contextual and relevant to the show? Not as often as you’d think.
On Raw, we’ve got a lot of women we’ve grown to care about through NXT — Paige and Naomi, but more directly Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch — having good matches. They’re important, too, because they’re trying to build a foundation of expectation for the WWE Universe, and re-train millions of people to see women’s wrestling as part of a wrestling show after decades of it being a novelty cool-down. It’s not a piss break anymore, and your favorite hacky columnist isn’t supposed to say he’s gonna go make a sandwich. It’s good for the sake of being good, which it has to be. What we haven’t gotten is a chance to know ANYBODY, or understand why anyone’s wrestling these matches. They’ve been slotted into Laff-a-lympics teams by Stephanie McMahon to “end the dominance of Team Bella,” but there’s not an end game in sight. If they beat the Bellas a bunch, what happens? If the Divas Championship changes hands, do we keep having team matches? Is there a points system I’m missing? Raw crowds don’t know Charlotte as a redeemed heel bad-ass who wants justice but doesn’t take sh*t, they don’t know Becky Lynch as this world-traveled veteran looking to find her identity and earn the respect of her peers on her own merit, and they don’t know Sasha Banks as the emotionally fragile savant who has always been good enough to sit on top, but only recently started to believe it. They know Charlotte as Ric Flair’s daughter, Becky as the redhead and Sasha as the black one. That’s the disconnect between NXT and Raw.
The good news is that we still have NXT. We’ve seen Bayley grow from a dorky nobody who loves hugs to a legitimate, top-tier competitor. She’s still Bayley — she hasn’t compromised what makes her her, but she’s putting it aside for a minute to be good at her job — and she’s finally ready to rise up and be the best. She’s got a #1 contender match coming up against Becky Lynch to prove herself and maybe an NXT TakeOver Women’s Championship match against Sasha Banks in Brooklyn, but first she has to tackle a goal that might personally be bigger than both: defeating Charlotte.
Bayley and Charlotte have a long history. When Bayley needed a friend, newbie gymnast Charlotte was there. When Summer Rae and Sasha Banks gave Charlotte a more obvious route to success, Charlotte slapped Bayley in the face and took it. Bayley never got her revenge, because Bayley doesn’t really do revenge. Natalya showed up to stick up for her, but Natalya vs. Charlotte ended with them hugging. Bayley didn’t get revenge or hugs. As Sasha Banks started to figure it out and set her sights on the Women’s Championship, Bayley was the test fodder. When Becky was going from a goofy Irish lady to a mean-hearted rocker (or whatever she was trying to do), Bayley got jumped and injured. When it was time for the NXT Women’s Division to show up on Raw, Bayley broke her hand and couldn’t go. Charlotte is suddenly the standard-bearer for women’s wrestling on the biggest promotion in the world’s biggest stages, and the poor geek she slapped is still down here trying to prove herself with the rejects and new kids.
That’s why this is so important. If Bayley’s going to ever be the NXT Women’s Champion, she has to prove she can beat Charlotte … and if she wants to ever beat Charlotte in NXT, she’s gotta do it now. These women aren’t going to be around much longer. Now Bayley’s suddenly positioned against all three — Bayley vs. the Divas Revolution — to show that she won’t be forgotten. Innocent, precious Bayley is now the link between generations of NXT Women, and that’s a family line desperately in need of preservation.
On Raw, this would be happening so Michael Cole could get a Divas-related hashtag trending for a few minutes.
I’m adding too much of my personal sh*t to it, I guess, but this flies under the radar for most people as one of the most emotionally relevant NXT matches I’ve seen. Izzy in the front row in Bayley cosplay, wiping tears from her eyes, tells the story. Bayley’s finally able to rise up and meet Charlotte on Charlotte’s level, and wrestles a better, smarter match than she has in the past. She anticipates Charlotte’s big moves and counters them, whether it’s rolling to the side to keep her from bridging into the Figure-8 or throwing that Belly-to-Bayley out of the corner. It’s her time, and it’s now or never.
The ending is important, too. Bayley wins, but she’s already up the ramp by the time Charlotte’s recovered. Charlotte’s smiling and looking for one of those Divas Respect Hugs, but Bayley’s already on the stage. It’s not time for hugs right now. She’s still got something to prove.
Best: William Regal
Regal adds so much to NXT, and I forget to mention it sometimes. He’s the Yin to Dario Cueto’s Yang.
In one segment, he works Bayley through the realization that she deserves credit for all her hard work and determination, and puts her in the #1 contender match against Becky Lynch. In another, he gives the Vaudevillains a rematch against Blake & Murphy at NXT TakeOver as an apology/reward for them getting cheated by Alexa Bliss but not beating her up or whatever. Later, he shows up to give Tyler Breeze the best opponent he can find. That’s what I love about Regal … heel or face, good or bad, he’s always working in the best interest of the show and the fans. He’s the babyface interpretation of “best for business.” He’ll keep Kevin Owens on the show because he’s good for business, but will openly hate his guts.
Best: KEVIN OWENS NO MORE!
God, I love a wrestling show that makes sense.
Michael Cole interviews Kevin Owens, and Owens brings up his biggest problem: he wants fair treatment, but can’t stop punching William Regal in the face. He apologized, though, and thinks any questioning of that apology is an attack on him. This is how a modern heel should work: they should be the worst person in the world, and feel justified and “good” in being it. Or, you know, they should be ridiculously and unforgivably evil. Anything in the middle just feels insincere.
Anyway, Owens heard Regal say he hopes Finn beats his ass at TakeOver and points out that Regal only said it when his back was turned and he was leaving. He openly wonders if Regal’s going to orchestrate a “Montreal Screwjob” — they’re in Brooklyn, but it’s on a “Montreal boy” — and suggests the championship match should be a LADDER MATCH to prevent referee malfeasance. How great is that? They’re adding a stipulation and explaining why, instead of just having Owens attack Finn with a ladder one week and saying, “WHOOPS, NOW IT’S A LADDER MATCH.”
Baron Corbin Pinned Another Guy
And the beat goes on.
Best: The First Men To Walk On The Moon Were The Apollo Crews
Please tell me Alex Riley named him because he reminded him of Apollo Creed and Terry Crews.
I’m excited for Uhaa to finally debut, and I hope his TakeOver opponent is Solomon Crowe. Crowe should ease nicely into CJ Parker’s “I’m never getting called up, so I might as well try to have good matches with the people who have futures” spot. I wouldn’t have spoiled the fact that Apollo Crews is this muscular powerhouse who can do standing moonsaults and sh*t weeks before his debut instead of just letting him blow peoples’ minds in real-time, but it probably won’t matter.
Let’s figure this out now. When he gets called up, does he become APOLLO or CREWS?
Best: Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Flyin’ Tyler
Tyler Breeze squashes one of the most blessed men in independent wrestling — Bayley’s real-life boyfriend Aaron Solow — and DEMANDS COMPETITION. He should’ve written William Regal’s name on a wooden board and broken it over his knee. Regal shows up and is all, “LOL, you’ve got a match against ONE OF THE LEGIT GREATEST OF ALL TIME, deuces.”
So yeah, as WWE social media spoiled seconds after it happened on the tapings, Breezus will face New Japan Pro Wrestling legend Jushin “Thunder” Liger at NXT TakeOver. If you aren’t familiar with Liger’s work, he’s been traveling, winning championships and setting trends around the world since 1984. He invented the shooting star press, revolutionized junior heavyweight wrestling in the United States and has starred in movies about how awesome and ridiculous his character is. Also, that’s not spandex and a mask: it’s a containment unit for a violent Japanese demon. Jushin Liger is a super hero who uses the controlled power of demons to defend Japan. He’s wrestling a male model. Pro wrestling is awesome.
Of course, Liger is 50 years old, so he’s not gonna do anything mind-blowing in Brooklyn. But he’s Jushin f*cking Thunder f*cking Liger, and if you have a problem with ANYTHING he does, you can completely and thoroughly f*ck yourself.
If you only watch NXT and need context for how cool and important Liger is, here’s baby Kevin Owens taking a mark photo in his shoulderpads.
Worst: Finn Bálor Used Metronome. It’s Super Effective!
I love you, Finn, but man, this was the most boring interview ever. Finn’s voice is soft anyway, so when he’s making concerned lizard faces and whisper-talking to Byron Saxton it’s hard to handle. It’s like an NBA post-game interview. All he says is stuff like, “if he can talk the talk, he can walk the walk” and “I’m not going to underestimate my opponent” and “we’ll have to wait and see.”
As a totally kayfabe reaction, I want Owens to call Finn out on not being able to beat him without the Demon. I want SOMEBODY to do that. To just be like, hey, if you’re such a noble and wonderful champion, maybe wrestle me without drawing all over yourself.
Worst: Watching These Guys Gives Me Hype-1 Diabetes
Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley have new gear, and it helps them easily defeat the team that beat Enzo and Big Cass last week. With the Vaudevillains getting the shot at Blake & Murphy at TakeOver, maybe the Hype Bros will face the Realest Guys In The Room in the battle of Who Can Be The Most New York?
Best: Bull Dempsey
For the second week in a row, NXT’s Worst Guy has become my favorite person on the show.
On last week’s episode, Bull Dempsey decided it was time to get “Bull-Fit.” It’s a joke, you see. It’s a complex one, so try to stay with me. He’s sh*tty, so it sounds like “bullsh*t.” It mostly involved him making sweatbands magically appear and lying down on flights of steps while people yelled at him about being fat.
This week, Bull decides he’s going to take it seriously. He watches the Bull-Fit video and shakes his head, and decides to actually try for real. That’s such an amazing second step in this story. WWE loves to say “this guy’s a joke” and stay with it until they leave, but Bull went from “LOL fat guy” to “fat guy who has decided to make his life better” in like a month. They’re taking an opportunity to actually tell a constructive, inspiring story with the guy. Who the hell saw THAT coming?
Bull tries a little, but f*cks up and decides to give up, but it turns out he’s made a bunch of new friends who are also trying hard to better themselves, and they give him the strength to go on. It’s SO GOOD. Bull starts doing better, and his Rocky training montage ends with him flipping a giant tire with the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP. BULL DEMPSEY, MY MAN.
I had no idea that a wrestler with an inferiority complex and an eating disorder was something I needed, but damn, seeing yourself onscreen sometimes feels good.
Best: Samoa Joe vs. Rhyno
In the best match he’s had since signing with WWE, Samoa Joe defeats Rhyno. It’s still a very 2007 kind of match to be happening on NXT in 2015, but it serves its purpose. Its purpose is to get Jeff Jarrett over, right?
In all seriousness, now that Samoa Joe’s defeated Baron Corbin’s accountabilibuddy, he’ll no doubt have to face Corbin himself. How hard will I have to concentrate to NOT see Corbin as Matt Morgan? TUNE IN ON AUGUST 22 TO FIND OUT.