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Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE NXT, originally airing March 9, 2010.
Best: The Birth Of A Complex
The opening tag match for episode 3 features Daniel Bryan. It also features R-Truth, non-lawyer-character David Otunga and The Miz. Bryan is two hours and 40 seconds into his WWE career, so he’s not quite good enough to turn that hodgepodge of hapless in-ring fartery into something worth watching. That said, I’m giving the opening tag a Best because it created a very important part of Daniel Bryan’s WWE character: the idea that he is the “weak link.”
Early in his career, Daniel Bryan was confident. He wrestled around the world for 10 years, earning the respect of his peers and opponents and riding that all the way to a job in the big leagues. He showed up on NXT and bot bullied and pushed around, but he stayed confident … in his (4-year old spoiler alert) elimination promo, he says that “Bryan Danielson” will be just fine. Even when he chokes out Justin Roberts with a tie and loses his job for being too good at being violent, he goes right back to busting ass with guys like Shingo in the ECW Arena. He’s the American f*cking Dragon. The best wrestler in the world. He gets his job back, helps dispatch the Nexus and eventually becomes the United States Champion. It all culminates in a Money in the Bank win where he announces that he’s going to hold on to it and cash it in like a man: in the main event of WrestleMania.
What happens after that is where the curiosities begin. Bryan starts losing a lot despite having the case, and people around him convince him that he’s stupid to try to cash it in with confidence … that maybe he’s NOT the best wrestler in the world, and that if he wants a world title run he needs to take advantage of MITB’s unique properties. Bryan refuses. Then, because the One Ring corrupts, he takes the low road and cashes in. Watch what happens when he does it. Overcome with joy, he goes straight for Michael Cole, the guy who has talked negatively about him the most, and screams YESSSS in his face.
That becomes the mantra of the insane Dragon. Yes. Yes. Yes. He starts saying it when he doesn’t deserve to. Starts amping up his confidence to ridiculous, false levels despite barely escaping with the title intact as WWE builds to WrestleMania 28. There, he gets a new jacket and gallops down the entranceway as nearly a hundred-thousand people chant YES. He kisses his beautiful girlfriend before the match … and then boom, he’s dead. He loses the title in 18 seconds. He’s a joke. An embarrassment. A fool. The confidence starts to cave in around him. He challenges for the belt again and comes up short. Goes after CM Punk and comes up short. He gets madder and crazier at the idea that he’s not as good as he thinks he is and ends up in a gay-subtext therapy-themed tag team with one of WWE’s jokey “monsters.” There, at his lowest point, he starts screaming to anyone who’ll listen that he’s not “the weak link.”
That ultimately catapults him to success. His failure becomes his strength. He starts fighting harder than he’s ever fought to prove that he’s worth respecting. It starts to work. He can destroy The Shield by himself. He can defeat John Cena in the middle of the ring, fair and square, and become WWE Champion. He can face the insurmountable odds of a corporate hierarchy that’ll do anything to see him fail and still succeed, even if he doesn’t win in the end. We, the fans, see him as the strongest link in the chain. The narrative goes from confidence underlined by failure to failure underlined by confidence. It’s beautiful.
And where does it start? In NXT season 1, episode 3, when Mike The Miz tells Bryan he’s the “weak link,” and announces that if Bryan loses the match, he’s gone from WWE. Bryan doesn’t lose the match. Miz does. But four years later we see a true superstar motivated by the fear of failure, and an NXT Pro who can’t do a figure four and eats, lives and breath weak linkage.
The first word Bryan ever said on WWE television was “yes.” Exactly.
Worst: Michael Cole Has Never Been Able To Say “Veteran”
The “he’s great, but he’s terrible!” contradictory yell-speaking that would overcome him in season 3 like Ashitaka’s curse and turn him into a monster was introduced in the previous episode, but Michael Cole’s already in VINTAGE form here, saying things about Daniel Bryan like “I commend him! BUT HE NEEDS TO TAKE A STEP BACK!” I’ll get a chance to type about this for … uh, four more years of television, so I’ll simply pass it over with a wank and focus on one of the things I hate most about WWE: the fact that nobody can say “veteran.”
Vet-er-an. Veteran. Michael Cole says VENNURN. MIZ IS THE VENNURN JOSH, YOU GOTTA RESPECT THE VENNURN, HE’S A VENNURN IN THIS BUSINESS!!! It drives me insane. For a company that loves veterans so much you think they’d have a pre-show meeting with the f*cking Hooked on Phonics monkey to teach them how to say it. Cole’s not the only one who does it. They’re all terrible. John Cena says “venneran.”
This is all because Vince McMahon doesn’t know how to say “gentlemen*,” isn’t it?
*(“ladies and jennamen”)
Worst: You’re Not Even The Franz Fravorite!
“Hey, Justin Gabriel again. I thought this week was gonna get better, but nope, my pro put me in his soggy ‘unlock your destiny’ inspira-tee so he could dress like a hillbilly-ass Guy Fieri and compliment me for my ‘450-degree splash.’ Who says it like that? You’d figure a guy with Rob Van Dam’s haircut would’ve watched a wrestling match before.
Then Chris Jericho walks in and I’m like, oh, cool, I get to speak to a regular human being, and the first thing out of his goddamn mouth is ‘Last week you did pretty good! But not good enough. For this week.’ Jericho says Barrett’s his protege, then says Barrett is good, because he’s his protege. Barrett follows it up with I’M HIS PROTEGE and then accuses me of not being the ‘franz fravorite.’ Y’ALL ARE REAL GOOD AT IMPROV, GUYS, KEEP IT UP. F*ckers have me so f*cked up that my only response is ‘with all due respect to you, I respect you.’
Way to talk, Justin Gabriel, you’ve got a bright future ahead of you. I hope they don’t come up with some shitty throwaway syndicated hour of jobber matches between now and infinity and stick me on it forever. Oh well, at least I didn’t have to dress like a Gay Dracula this week.”
Best: The Orangest Match
I know a lot of this is colored by how much I love him now, but man, I was so wrong about Heath Slater.
On episode 3, Slater responds to last week’s show-ending, apple-related cliffhanger by facing Carlito in a one-on-one match. On paper, “Carlito vs. rookie Heath Slater in a match where they both try to be as orange as possible” sounds like one of the worst things in the world, but it was actually pretty good. I sure hope Carlito continue to work hard and doesn’t get released for doing drugs any time soon!
It was the most by-the-numbers thing in the universe, don’t get me wrong, but it was fun to watch. Carlito is now retroactively the most unlikable person in the world and Slater’s in there hootin’ and bumping his ass off, trying to get a crowd that absolutely does not give Jinder Mahal’s crap about him to follow along. He gets another win, too, which is fun for him, but brings back that weird old question, “why do you have Jennifer Hudson’s fiancé and the greatest ROH Champion of all time on your rookie show and keep giving all the wins to the derpy guy who looks like a character from Thumb Wars.”
Best: CM Punk Cannot Make Darren Young Drink
The Straight Edge Society do this great bit where they talk amongst themselves about how they helped Darren Young get a victory last week with Young standing right behind them, trying to get in on the conversation. Punk’s ultimatum is made clear: if Young wants the continued help of SES, he has to drop the “South Beach Party Boy” lifestyle and accept Straight Edge. He says that he can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink, which might be the most pro-drinking thing Punk’s ever said. I’m hoping I’m remembering the season wrong and that at some point Young, on the brink of elimination, shaves his head and starts listening to Earth Crisis.
It’s really interesting to look back at early Darren Young and wonder what his character or development might’ve been if he’d just been out the entire time. 2013 WWE can barely handle it so I know 2010 can’t, but the idea of a gay babyface rookie being cast aside by a homophobic heel Pro is really pretty interesting. Heel Punk’s already pretty quick with the gay jokes. The only problem is that the only homophobic people in WWE are the good guys. Can we cultivate a wrestling audience that boos a guy for not wanting a gay rookie?
Worst: Enjoy This 15 Minutes Of Hype Videos For WrestleMania 26
Suggestion for WWE going forward: I know you have to fill your shows with hype videos for all your other shows, but when you tape them or upload them or whatever, make two versions. Make a version with the hype videos intact so people watching them within a month or so can say “hey, I’d like to also watch THAT thing,” and make a version without them so people watching them half a decade later don’t have to sit through an extra Hulu commercial break because you dedicated 15% of the show to WrestleMania 26 feud recaps.
Best: Chris Jericho, Color Commentary Yeller
The show’s main-event is Justin Gabriel versus Wade Barrett, and while the match itself was solid, the highlight was the birth of Chris Jericho on color commentary without a headset.
If you don’t remember, this was right after Jericho’s last (good) heel run of 2008-2009 as The Best He Is At What He Does, where his wrestling was great and his character was firing on all cylinders and he was basically bulletproof. He went on a hiatus in late 2010 and came back a year or so later as Sparkly Jacket Guy, but between the end of his epic run and departure he was stuck sorta treading water as a tag team guy, teaming up with Big Show and Miz and anchoring NXT. It’s at NXT where he developed YELL AT THE ANNOUNCERS WHILE THEY’RE TRYING TO ANNOUNCE, a technique where he just yells things like TALK ABOUT WADE BARRETT at Cole and Josh whether they’re talking about Barrett or not. During this match he actually walks over to the table and yells at them, but after a while he’s just shouting at them from the apron. I love it, and I will always miss this Jericho.
Next Week On WWE NXT Season 1:
The Great Khali, Matt Hardy and Michael Tarver all wrestle. GET HYPE.