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Please click through for the Best and Worst of NXT season 4, episode 1. We are wild and young (again)!
Before We Begin
Here is a field guide to your NXT season 4 rookies and pros.
Rookie: Johnny Curtis
Johnny Curtis was a brash, cocky, muscular young upstart with a boring white man’s name. After (spoiler alert) winning NXT season 4 and earning a championship match, Curtis sat in WWE developmental purgatory for years, trying out gimmicks such as “weird guy,” “bumbling kidnapper” and “guy who is into physically acting out the literal meanings of popular phrases.” Eventually he’d become a ballroom dancer with a hangup about the pronunciation of his name, leading to like half a second of mainstream appeal before getting into a months-long breakup angle with two ladies and being totally forgotten. I guess that all falls under “weird guy.”
R-Truth is a smiling rapper who dances out in baggy jeans and asks the crowd, “what’s up?” Nobody cares about him, but it’s mildly fun to yell “what’s up” with a crowd of people. Four years later he is exactly the same, although he did briefly let childhood abuse and a fear of spiders cause him to hallucinate and interact with an invisible, adolescent WWE fan.
Rookie: Byron Saxton
Pro: Chris Masters
Byron Saxton was a brash, cocky, muscular young upstart with a boring white man’s name. He did color commentary on the WWE version of ECW before transitioning into being a wrestler. He was so good at it that he was quickly put back into a color commentary position on NXT. You can still hear him there when Renee Young’s too busy to sit-in on color, and see him pop up backstage on Raw or Smackdown when Renee Young’s too busy to hold a microphone and stand near Big Show. The announce team calls him “one of this season’s best athletes” because he’s the black one.
You may remember Chris Masters as THE MASTERPIECE, a brash, cocky, impossibly muscular young upstart with a boring white man’s name. He had a move called The Masterlock, a full nelson that nobody unimportant could get out of. He couldn’t wrestle worth a lick, and was released after repeated violations of the Wellness Policy. They brought him back a few years later at half the size, and had Triple H laugh at him for NOT being on steroids. Masters worked hard and got surprisingly good in the ring, so they released him again.
Rookie: Jacob Novak
Pro: Dolph Ziggler
Jacob Novak was a brash, cocky, sorta-muscular young upstart with a boring white man’s name. He looked like the baby of Josh Mathews and Christopher Nowinski and thought “wearing a bright white suit jacket with bright white trunks” constituted “personality.” It made him look like a baby someone had dressed up like an orchestra conductor. He’s so terrible he gets eliminated first, brought back for NXT Redemption and eliminated first AGAIN. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. He might be dead.
In 2010, Dolph Ziggler was a brash, cocky, muscular young upstart with an ersatz Boogie Nights name who’d survived a bunch of bad gimmicks to become an under-appreciated, workhorse Intercontinental Champion. Four years later, exactly the same. EXACTLY. Even R-Truth had the thing with the spiders.
Rookie: Derrick Bateman
Pro: Daniel Bryan
Derrick Bateman was a brash, cocky, muscular young upstart with a boring white man’s name. He also happened to have the weirdest charisma and personality we’d seen in a rookie in a long time, quickly becoming the season 4 fan favorite and the unexpected “protagonist” of season 5. He was a can’t-miss future star, but a couple of badly-timed injuries kept him on the shelf and ultimately cost him his job. He found his way in TNA, busted his ass and became one of the best things they’ve ever done.
Daniel Bryan is a nerd who got injured the second WWE handed him the ball. Now his wife does all his moves and catchphrases.
(Seriously though, Daniel Bryan is my favorite wrestler, and the fact that he’s sitting at home with a broken everything makes me so irreversibly, cripplingly sad that I have to make jokes about him being a B+ Player to keep from resting my head on my desk and blankly staring off into the distance.)
Rookie: Brodus Clay
Pro: Ted DiBiase Jr. and Maryse
Brodus Clay spent much of his developmental life as “G-Rilla,” a gangster gorilla who was so bad at wrestling he once botched a lateral press. He was one of the only rookies on NXT season 4 to NOT be a muscular hairless guy, but that’s what WWE wanted, so it didn’t work out for him. Also, still not great at the wrestlings. He spent a while as Alberto Del Rio’s bodyguard, then re-reappeared after a series of ominous, threatening vignettes as a FUN-LOVING DANCING DINOSAUR MAN FROM OUTER SPACE. Everyone was on board with it and all YEAH SPACE DINOSAUR until the following WrestleMania, when somebody (Vince McMahon) said, “you know what’d be funny? The Funkasaurus dancing with a team of Mammies.” The only living, breathing, rompin’ stompin’ Funkasaurus in captivity’s chances of survival got worse and worse, and he was released.
Ted DiBiase was a brash, cocky, muscular young upstart with an amazing legend’s name. The problem is that he wasn’t his dad. Ted DiBiase was the Million Dollar Man, a fantastic wrestler with a black manservant who was so rich and flamboyant he could buy his own diamond-studded title belts and make commoner wrestling fans do degrading things for money. Ted DiBiase Jr. was a really average, kinda boring dude who loved hunting and tailgating. Despite this, WWE kept telling him “NO, YOU’RE THE RICH GUY TOO,” and it never worked.
Maryse is a French-Canadian Playmate who is one of the most objectively beautiful women ever employed by WWE. She kept getting better and better, and got surprisingly passable in the ring. She ruined all of this by falling in love with, then marrying The Miz. You are not allowed to shake Maryse by the shoulders and yell what the f*ck is wrong with you.
Rookie: Conor O’Brian
Pro: Alberto Del Rio
During NXT season 4, Conor O’Brian was one of the very worst attempts at a pro wrestler ever. He kinda looked like a rat, so they put rats on his gear, gave him rat-themed nicknames and were like “when you do promos, do a bad James Cagney impression.” It’s SO WEIRD. It’s even weirder now that he’s KONNOR, one half of The Ascension, NXT’s longest-reigning tag team champions. That’s what a spelling change, 20 pounds of muscle and a complete and total dropping of “RAT GIMMICK” will do for you.
Alberto Del Rio had to wash his own dishes, because he was Mexican.
And now, NXT season 4.
Worst: The Show’s Been On For 5 Minutes, Let’s Do A Talk The Talk Challenge
The season 4 rookies have 30 seconds to “introduce themselves to the world.” I don’t know if you picked it up from the last page, but the running theme of season 4 is, “who can be the most by-the-numbers WWE Superstar?” Season 1 was built around Wade Barrett, but Daniel Bryan was the runaway success. They wanted a big, tall, muscly international guy and got a tiny, whitebread indie darling from Aberdeen. Season 2 was built around the rise of the son of Mr. Perfect. He blew it TREMENDOUSLY, and the winner was a tiny, kick-throwing indie darling who quickly bailed on the company when they didn’t do what he wanted to do. Season 3 was … I don’t know what season 3 was, but it was won by a goofy lady who’d had her first ever match on live television 12 weeks earlier. For season 4 they weren’t taking any chances. Everybody was identical, everybody did and said the right things, and nobody had come CLOSE to holding the ROH Championship.
– Johnny Curtis is one of the weirdest people ever, so he gives a shout-out to his 4th grade gym coach and ends his introduction with, “a vote for me is a vote for freedom!” They should’ve eliminated everybody who wasn’t him or Bateman at the end of episode 1.
– Brodus Clay tries to get over like seven catchphrases at once. “Recognize Brodus Clay,” “I’m coming at this competition with lemon juice and razor blades, you dig?” “marinate on this,” “there’s two things you can do about it: nothing, and like it,” and “AND YOU DO KNOW THAT.” In thirty seconds.
– Byron Saxton says nothing, but it SOUNDS great.
– Jacob Novak cuts a promo about how he loved the board game ‘Monopoly,’ because it allowed him to own the competition … just like he’s going to own the competition here at NXT. Because there’s only one place for Jacob Novak, and it’s ON TOP!
– Derrick Bateman kisses the ass of the greatest state in the union (Ohio). The best part is Dolph Ziggler standing behind him the entire time going “YEAH, YEAH HE’S RIGHT, THIS GUY’S GREAT.”
– As for Conor O’Brian … man, I can’t. I literally cannot even. Jump to the 4:05 mark of this video:
That’d be one of the worst promos ever if he wasn’t doing it on purpose. It’s like the Sharknado of wrestling promos. Who threw this guy on (internet) television and told him to be Rat Capone from Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers?
I guess the same person who told Alberto Del Rio to be Vickie Guerrero, because when Conor’s done cutting the cheese (cough), Del Rio tells him he’s boring “just like Daniel Bryan” and that he’ll have to do better. Words are exchanged, and GENERAL MANAGER I GUESS Matt Striker steps in and says “whoa ho ho, this is now gonna be our MAIN EVENT!” No idea when Striker got those powers.
Best/Worst: No Michael Cole
Best: Todd Grisham has replaced Michael Cole as the NXT play-by-play man, which means we’ll actually get matches called and stories moved forward instead of listening to Cole masturbate into a toilet and swoosh it around for an hour.
Worst: What am I supposed to complain about now?
Right In The Damn Middle: Almost Every NXT Season 4 Match
Here’s something you should get used to reading in this season’s recaps: “The match was competently wrestled and theoretically exciting, but the blandest thing in the world.” That’s it. There are a few sparks and stinkers on the list, but almost every match from season 4 is being wrestled by technically okay pro wrestlers who’ve been in training for a while and don’t want to piss anybody off.
The opening match is Johnny Curtis vs. Jacob Novak. The idea of Curtis as a babyface is interesting and he wins with the Fandango top rope guillotine leg drop, but that’s pretty much it. It’s a guy in black trunks vs. a guy in white. Player one vs. player two. John Smith vs. James Jones.
Worst: Josh Mathews Has Already Forgotten How NXT Works
This is happening in December of 2010. Although they’re on “season 4,” NXT’s only been around for about six months.
On Raw, the John Cena vs. Nexus storyline is happening. Cena was “fired” at Survivor Series, and decided to keep showing up to Raws to incapacitate members of the Nexus as revenge. It gets to be too much, and David Otunga — Nexus second-in-command and in a total Starscream situation where he’s a crony who wants to be leader — tells Wade Barrett on behalf of The Boys that if Barrett doesn’t bring Cena back, they’ll exile him from the group.
The Worst here is that Josh Mathews says “David Otunga got his START on NXT!” and is now instrumental in the issues between Nexus, John Cena and Wade Barrett. Reminder: EVERY OTHER PERSON IN THE STORY BESIDES JOHN CENA ALSO GOT THEIR START ON NXT. Secondary reminder: This happened six months ago, and Josh called the entire thing.
Best: Maryse Is Totally Right About Brodus Clay
She says Brodus needs a new haircut and new clothes. DiBiase’s all YOU NEED TO BE STRONG AND PIREFUL LISTEN TO ME. Maryse was right, bro.
Also, remember that brief period when it looked like WWE was going to do an angle with Miz and Maryse? Jokes about marrying the Miz aside, they had an real, palpable chemistry. Go find any of the times they interacted with one another on WWE TV. Now watch this, where poor Ted Jr. is supposed to be dealing with a beautiful gold-digger and interacts with her like he’s ordering food at a Burger King drive-through.
Worst: Bateman Gets Screwed
The first actual challenge of the season is “Capture The Flag,” now containing elements of the always-popular obstacle course. The rookies have to run down the ramp, toss a ladder into the ring, set it up, climb it, retrieve a flag and run back. It doesn’t prove anything, necessarily, but as far as physical challenges go, there have been worse.
The problem with it, as always, is the shifty timer. Guys will cross the finish line and the timer will just keep counting until it gets to a number it wants. Derrick Bateman (the only rookie who appears to be trying) rushes back across the line in time to beat the top score, but they add 2 1/2 seconds to it for no reason. I thought maybe it was the difference between a timer in real life and the graphic showing up on screen, but even the announce team is like, “damn, what’s up with that clock?”
Congratulations on your bad officiating, WWE. You gave a win to Jacob Novak.
Best? I Can’t Tell: Chris Masters And Byron Saxton
Hey WWE, if you’re gonna film segments like this that’s cool, but pull the camera back a bit. I’m not sure either of these guys is wearing pants. Try not to pull down yours and f*ck a dude after you watch this clip, I DARE You.
Best: Hey, Matt Striker’s A Solid GM
He’s also a solid BM, but the main-event tag match pairing Bateman and Bryan against Del Rio and the Rat King is pretty good. Bryan and Del Rio handle most of it, and I’m sad we never got a truly great, meaningful match between the two of them. Del Rio was already an afterthought by the time people started taking Bryan seriously, and now whether Bryan comes back or not, Del Rio’s off in Mexico babysitting MISTYEYES.
Bateman’s got a lot of energy, and it ends up being his downfall. He gets in some good offense against Del Rio, but misses a Jumping Nothing off the ropes and gets caught with the cross armbreaker. It’s a nice callback to Daniel Bryan’s first match on NXT, where he did his best against a World Heavyweight Champion and lost due to his overzealousness.
So much Bryan/Bateman to love in this season, and it’s only the beginning. I can’t wait until Conor starts yelling “yah” when he kicks.