The Best And Worst Of WWE NXT 10/21/15: Cowboy Up

Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: Nia Jax debuted looking like the Final Fantasy summon living inside William Regal and caused some stressful conversations. Alexa Bliss got in Bayley’s face, Samoa Joe got denied an NXT Championship shot and a new #1 contender was named via a cycle-setting battle royal. Apollo Crews won that.

If you’d like to watch this episode, you can do that here. As a quick note, I was on vacation last week, so this is technically last week’s column. Be sure to check back here soon (or right now, if you aren’t reading this as soon as I put it up) for the 10/28 episode.

Up first, the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for October 21, 2015.

Best: Come On, Billie Kay, You Know Better Than That

Note #1: Billie Kay and Peyton Royce both have matches on this episode, and they’re now both using the hilariously awful Beautiful Sexy Fierce as their entrance theme. It could be a show of solidarity, or it could be that their old themes were so similar the production team couldn’t tell them apart and just bubblegum bubblegum in a dish’d it.

Note #2: Billie Kay is dumber than a sack of illiterate bricks for not only jumping Asuka during a handshake, but trying to out-strike her with elbows. I think my favorite signature move in NXT right now is Asuka’s, “I was trying to be nice but you were rude to me, so I guess you have to die” smile. Do your homework, people. I want Asuka and Bayley to have a match and for Bayley to win, because she never takes any sh*tty cheapshots that piss Asuka off. She just wristlocks and hiptosses her and pins her clean. Either that, or we have Bayley be super nice and have Asuka snap anyway, and reveal that she’s just playing it cool to get to the part where someone justifies her violence.

Note #3: I’m gonna get a belt that says BRANDON STROUD on the strap, wear nothing but crop tops and wrap the belt around my stomach.

Best: Dawson And Wilder Destroying Legs, Even If It Isn’t Particularly Exciting

There’s a line of dialogue in WWE 2K16 (and in real life, I assume) where Jim Ross mentions that not every hold is designed to bring the crowd to their feet. That’s Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder. Me remembering commentary dialogue and not having anything else nice to say is my full review of WWE 2K16.

Anyway, yes, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder aren’t designed to bring a crowd to their feet. They’re cogs in a machine known as pro wrestling, transported in from a long-gone time when you went to your local armory to watch tough guys rip each other apart with basic-ass wrestling holds. Arn Anderson never hit anybody with a double stomp from the top of a ladder while dressed like a belt-haired Asian demon, but he got 20 years of top-shelf wrestling success by putting a guy’s arm behind their back and bodyslamming them on it.

Dash and Dawson take on Enzo Amore and Big Cass, who are the opposite of that. They are the least old school wrestlers on the roster. I think Peyton Royce is closer to Ole Anderson than Enzo Amore. They’re the ancestors of the New Age Outlaws; guys who have a very important role in making a WWE show fun, that does not necessarily revolve around what they do during a match. You want to see them, not what they do. That’s not an insult. Wrestling is a three-ring circus, right? Some people are there to see the trapeze artists, and some people want to see bears on unicycles. Both of those things are great.

The Mechanics (can we still call them that?) destroy Enzo’s leg for the entirety of the match, but he’s able to get a quick small package and steal a win. In response, Dawson and Wilder don’t leave and make frustrated faces … they stick around and hurt everyone some more, because they’re jerks, and their job description is HURT PEOPLE MORE THAN THEY HURT YOU. That’s awesome.


Speaking of awesome, here’s something nobody saw coming (unless they follow WWE on social media): TNA’s “Cowboy” James Storm making his NXT debut.

You know how a-holes like me just constantly make fun of TNA and never say anything positive? James Storm’s one of the exceptions. That guy’s always been one of the stalwart positives of Impact, all the way back to when it was a weekly pay-per-view show, and he’s got a f*cking Master’s Degree in spinning hay into gold. He was one half of America’s Most Wanted, the best tag team of TNA’s early era in a walk. You don’t want to know about the other half. He was also one half of BEER MONEY, the best tag team of TNA’s middle era (also in a walk), and maybe TNA’s best team ever. Dude rode a motorized beer cooler to the ring. The most love they ever gave him was a nerfed-as-hell 8-day title run in 2011 that made him look like a joke, but he stuck around and did his best to turn anything they gave him (including being a faux Bray Wyatt and murdering Mickie James with the Hogwarts Express) into compelling TV. The crowd chanting “you belong here” was a little up its own ass, but it’s true. There’s a short list of TNA stars I’d save from an Impact Zone house fire — EC3, Spud, Gail — and Storm’s on it.

I loved the crowd reaction shots, almost as much as I love Rich Brennan dropping that “he started back in WCW and spent the last 15 years on the independent circuit.” That’s so wonderfully insulting. STING HASN’T WRESTLED SINCE 2001, HE’S BEEN FLOATING IN AN ENDLESS BLACK VOID, WE CAN’T EXPLAIN IT. Also, if you’re wondering where James Storm was in WCW, here’s him jobbing to a wrestling boy band.

(Sorry about your damn whatever.)

Best: Wrestlers As Human Beings

Before Finn Bálor won the NXT Championship in Japan, they aired a series of “better know a wrestler” videos that turned him from “Prince Devitt doing WWE stuff” into Finn Bálor, fully-formed, fully-realized WWE character. He wasn’t just “cool wrestler” anymore, he was a human being that loved LEGO and worked hard to get where he is and earned the respect of everyone on the way up. It made him feel like a guy who deserved our support.

Apollo Crews is facing Bálor for the championship on next week’s show — spoiler alert, it’s great — so he’s getting the “wrestler as a human being” treatment. I can’t think of anything WWE does that instantly and permanently endears us to its superstars like these videos. They’ve always been the kings of the video package and the factory-made biography feature, so seeing them take a few minutes to sit down with someone they expect us to cheer and say, “hey, why should we cheer you,” is incredible.

Crews’ video hits a lot of the same notes as Finn’s, and I love it. We find out about how he fell in love with wrestling, and how he thinks of what WWE does as the end-all and be-all of wrestling. He got into the indies (the real ones, not Rich Brennan TNA) with WWE as his goal, and had to learn what it took to make it from scratch. We hear about his family life growing up, and watch him get emotional talking about how his mom bought him a WWE toy belt with money she needed to buy groceries. That’s f*cking amazing. How could you ever NOT cheer a guy that real? That’s like three kinds of love intersecting.

As a bonus, we see some pre-WWE footage and get that great shot of the Dragon Gate roster saying goodbye. Akira Tozawa on WWE TV! Yosuke♥Santa Maria!

Worst: I Love You, Peyton, But You’ve Gotta Tighten Up Those Kicks

As a reminder, I am a total Pro Wrestling Women’s Alliance and Melbourne City Wrestling homer, so I’ve been a KC Cassidy/Peyton Royce for years. That said, if they’re gonna build her character as “the girl with long legs who likes to kick a lot,” she needs to get good at kicks. I appreciate her getting both feet up on her dropkicks, but those big lanky Booker T crescent kicks aren’t gonna cut it. Look at that picture. Alexa has to put her hands up way over her head so the leg connects with SOME part of her and justifies her falling down. It’s … not good. Combined with her ballerina kicks in the corner, she’s gonna have to start laying them in or maybe try a “girl with long arms who is good at elbows” gimmick. Right now she looks like those Kumite shots in Bloodsport where a kick clearly misses by like two feet, but the guy getting kick still turns to the camera and spits out blood.

The match with Alexa wasn’t bad by any means, the kicks just bugged me. I could’ve done without Corey Graves and Byron Saxton passive-aggressively arguing with each other when neither of them had a point, too. Byron’s “WELL I NEVER” tone is increasingly funny, because I’m not sure I will ever buy Byron Saxton having emotions.

Best: This Finish, Finally

Okay, remember when Rhyno and Baron Corbin were feuding over which one was the most unstoppable unstoppable force, and it ended with them breathing all heavy at each other and being homoerotic destruction pals? I spent that entire feud assuming the only reason it was happening was to set up a match finish where Rhyno went for a Gore and Corbin countered with the End of Days. The End of Days requires the opponent to be running at you, and the Gore is a dude running at you. It made perfect sense, and they never did it.

It took them until g.d. October, but we finally got it. Rhyno hit a Gore, Corbin kicked out, and then Corbin countered the second Gore with the End of Days. Glad to finally have some closure on that.

One of the most interesting things happening in NXT right now is the secret rise of Baron Corbin as a great worker. I don’t think the crowd’s totally figured it out yet. For the longest time he was the squash match guy, and anything longer sorta exposed him. Then he had that too-good match with Samoa Joe that seemingly lit a fire under both their asses, tore it up in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic with Chad Gable, and now here he is getting a fun singles match out of Rhyno. Developmental works, right? Sometimes it’s not about “not knowing how to wrestle,” it’s about being comfortable wrestling on TV and learning what works from what angles in which scenarios.

I’m excited for Corbin to fully develop into someone so good we don’t want him to leave, debut on the main roster as a guy not getting enough opportunities, thrive on the main roster as a guy we think got pushed too fast, then slowly turn back into someone so good we don’t want them to leave.