Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Kona Reeves debuted his complex new character, “The Finest,” who is a guy who says I AM THE FINEST over and over. In more important news, Kairi Sane caught Shazza McKenzie’s heart but didn’t know what to do with it, so she threw it into the air and looked at it through a spyglass. Like you do.
You can also follow me on Twitter. As a reminder I am not Scott Heisel, but I’m trying. My name is Brandon. You may remember me from such columns as “The Best and Worst of NXT when it was on Hulu.”
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for May 9, 2018.
Best: Derrick Beat Man
This week’s most important thing is the NXT TV debut of EC3, who promises to win so many matches they rebrand the company “NX3.”
His first opponent is the Cruiserweight Classic’s Raul Mendoza, who combines the awesome, under-the-radar talent of a late ’90s WWF light heavyweight with the very average name of a late ’90s WWF light heavyweight. Look at those tights! Is that the New Orleans Pelicans logo? He’s killer in the ring, but also kinda looks and sounds like the unlicensed Dollar Tree action figure of a WWE Cruiserweight.
Anyway, he’s a great first opponent for [checks notes] Nethan Xarter the Third? Because he’s so good at controlling what’s happening in the ring and maintaining pace to make the star look good, but also doesn’t have a personality of his own (in WWE) so he doesn’t like, take away from what EC3’s trying to do. Sometimes you put a guy like Bobby Roode in a match with a guy like Elias and you’re like, “oh, hey, Bobby Roode doesn’t have a personality.” Not happening here. The Carter’s got too much personality, if anything.
EC3’s gotten very good in the ring, but what I’m here for is when he actually gets into beef with somebody. The thing the guy seemed to learn most in TNA is how to use his attitude and charisma to anchor stories and keep us interested, and add emotional gravitas to little things like Rockstar Spud getting a haircut because he wanted to be like his friend. That’s something many of the very good in-ring performers in NXT don’t really have … even the guys like Ricochet, who more or less live and die by what they can do with their bodies. That’s why Lucha didn’t even let him talk for 2 1/2 seasons. That’s not an insult, it’s just a different skill set. It’s the difference between, say, The Miz and Mustafa Ali. They both rule, but in different ways, and both roles are super important.
What I’m getting at is “I want to fantasy book a feud involving EC3, The Miz, Daniel Bryan and the Bella Twins that ties in the last 8 years of NXT and WWE history.” Don’t mind me.
Best: Sockless Aggression
Speaking of Ric, the show opens with him in a suit that shrunk in the wash talking about how he wants to be NXT Champion. He’s interrupted by the homie Velveteen Dream, and man I don’t care if they set this up with a clandestine game of Tiddlywinks, anything that gets me to a Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream TakeOver match is a Best. The period end period.
Real quick though, can we laugh out loud at Ricochet’s catchphrase? He’s “the one and only,” so he’s doing the Bobby Roode “glorious” AJ Styles “phenomenal” bit and working the phrase into sentences where it barely belongs. For example:
“Without a doubt, there is one and only Ricochet. And right now, there’s one and only thing on my mind. (No, it’s not socks) It’s the NXT Championship.”
“There’s one Ricochet” and “there’s only Ricochet” works, I guess, but there’s “only thing on my mind?” That’s the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” of wrestling catchphrases. Just don’t think about it. I hope one and only person in the back realizes it doesn’t make sense.
Best/Worst: War Machinery
Does anybody else find it super funny that WWE signs War Machine, and their first real marquee match on NXT is against two guys dressed like Michael Elgin? Heavy Machinery looks like Elgin got split into two people. They’ve even got his weightlifting-themed onesies.
The War Raiders are great, don’t get me wrong — well, Rowe is — but this ended up being really disappointing to me. You get Hanson and Rowe in there against Tucker and Otis and it’s a 2-minute one-sided squash? Why aren’t we cutting a couple of the “we ran into a random person outside” bits and give this a solid 7-10 of thicc dudes throwing hands? Heavy Machinery isn’t the top team in the land or anything, but shit, I don’t think they should be losing to anybody in two minutes.
Of course this is NXT, where they can just say “Heavy Machinery are now instantly 100X better” and have them be viable contenders again in a month, but it just feels like a wasted opportunity for some fun wrestling that would make the War Raiders look like valuable workers instead of the New Ascension. Because yo, they’ve even got the Ascension’s face paint, entrance and theme.
Best: Meet The New Bayley, Same As The Old Bayley
I continue to love the Dakota Kai and Shayna Baszler drama, built around the idea that now that Asuka and Ember Moon are gone, Baszler’s only real physical threat as champion (assuming Kairi Sane’s too aloof and weird to do anything) is Dakota Kai, so Baszler’s working overtime to make sure she’s in Dakota’s head and keeping her a non-factor. The bit where they make Kai look like she’s seen (as Mauro would put it) “a terrifying ghost” every time Shayna shows up only to juxtapose that with Kai straight-up kicking peoples’ asses in matches is great. We KNOW Dakota’s got it in her. Dakota just doesn’t know it yet, and seeing her grow and evolve and figure that out will be the best character arc we’ve gotten in the NXT women’s division since Bayley.
I like Dakota as a reworking of Bayley’s character. Bayley had the same hidden in-ring skill, but hers was underplayed because of her open and giving personality. She was just so happy to be there and meet everybody that she sometimes didn’t even THINK about how to win wrestling matches, so she got beaten regularly by everyone with a killer instinct for like two years. Charlotte turned on her and inadvertently positioned Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch as the top heels in her stead. That ended up being too much for Bayley’s heart to settle with, so she got her shit together and started winning. That arc is what made NXT’s women’s division matter, at least after Paige and Emma convinced someone the matches should be good.
Doing that with Dakota will be just as good, because you can do the same basic story arc without having to repeat the personalities. Kai and Bayley are both fun-loving, colorful babyfaces, sure, but they’re very different people. Kai comes equipped with the in-ring know-how already, and her dormancy is based on fear and PTSD rather than naivete and gullibility. Pretty into seeing if they take it all the way.
(Caring about wrestling characters is fun!)
Best: A Wild Nikki Cross Appeared!
NIKKI COME GET YOUR MANS, THEY’RE DEBUTING ON SMACKDOWN WITHOUT YOU
Best: (It Was Worth It)
Finally this week we have our main event, in which actual living human devil Tommaso Ciampa takes on and handily defeats NBA Dream Team collectable porcelain baby doll Kassius Ohno. I really can’t say how much I love the fact that Ciampa got his face strangled with his own knee brace at TakeOver: New Orleans, so now he’s coping with it by doing it to everybody else. Fewer heels saying they’re handsome and gifted and cowardly, more heels kneeing people in the back of the head and trying to dig out folks’ eyeballs with their bare hands.
It’s a good place for Ciampa to be. Ohno’s size and experience makes him a realistic threat, but he’s also a jobber to the stars and mostly there to help the people with career trajectories get in work. Having way littler but more intensely motivated and hatefully focused Ciampa be able to take all that strong offense and still come back to trump it is crucial to making a top heel who’s smaller work. He needs that “ruthless aggression,” and he needs to back up what he says. This match went a long way in establishing that, and it’s good to see Ciampa get some strong wins outside of (but still related to) John Wrestling.
Lots of good stuff this week. Ciampa looks strong, EC3’s got a bright future, Dakota Kai vs. Shayna Baszler’s gonna eventually rule, and Ray Rowe’s strong enough to defeat two (2) Michaels Elgin. We knew all that already, but it’s fun to watch.