Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: “The Boss” Sasha Banks returned to Full Sail via Escalade to feud with new NXT Women’s Champion Bayley on whether or not a child in attendance should feel good about herself when watching wrestling. That set up a 30-minute Iron Man match between the two for NXT TakeOver: Respect on October 7, because William Regal thinks EVERYONE should feel good about themselves watching wrestling.
In other news, Dana Brooke played a DJ set on Devin Taylor’s head, Tyler Breeze accidentally revealed that he doesn’t know how to use a phone, and Apollo Crews continued his “there’s no reason I shouldn’t stay undefeated forever” tour.
Please enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for September 23, 2015. If you missed the episode, you can watch it here.
Best: When Life Gives You Red Lemons, Make Red Lemonade
All Red Everything Eva Marie shows up in an all-blue outfit ( … ) to wrestle Carmella. Typing that sentence made my fire alarm go off.
One of the lessons I’ve learned from trying to run a wrestling promotion in real life is that sometimes even when you put all your heart and effort and thought into something, sh*t happens, and you have to make it work. Sometimes someone gets hurt and a match finish changes on the fly, or a referee forgets how count-outs (or pinfalls) works, and you have two options: you can move forward like nothing happened and leave fans thinking you f*cked up, or you can work it into the narrative. If you missed Eva Marie’s previous NXT match, she got bodyslammed by Billie Kay and straight-up forgot to kick out of a pin. The crowd responded with an angry, sustained whine for the rest of the match, which Eva won via her opponent picking her up and physically guiding her through a move.
Now, the statement, “Eva Marie is getting better in the ring” is true. She is. The problem is that “knowing how to do wrestling moves” is not what makes wrestling wrestling, and the remainder of Eva’s act looks like … okay, remember the movie Mannequin? It’s about a mannequin that comes to live and has crazy adventures. Imagine that movie, except they didn’t cast Kim Cattrall and just had Andrew McCarthy interacting with and carrying around the inanimate mannequin, and like, everyone who comes in contact with it is like, “wow, that’s a real woman now!” That’s Eva Marie’s matches. You want to believe she’s come to life, but right now she’s still just standing still and wearing clothes.
Instead of throwing up their hands and giving up, or, even worse, pushing forward like nothing happened, NXT is turning Eva’s ineptitude into a plot point. In a picture-in-picture interview, she thanks the referee for not giving into the “peer pressure” of the “biased audience” and seeing that her shoulder was up, even though it totally wasn’t. She blows him a kiss, and now we’ve got a story about how the damn ref’s holding her hand through matches because she’s got him sprung. That’s not a progressive storyline or whatever, but it’s a hell of a lot better than, “we’re letting this lady wrestle on TV and she has no idea what she’s doing.”
As a quick supplemental note, I actually love what this story does for the referees. I’ve always wondered why North American wrestling didn’t give the refs identities. In other promotions around the world, certain referees have loose alignments or skills that effect the ebb and flow of the matches they officiate. Even on the independent circuit you’ve got promotions like Chikara, where fans recognize the difference between Bryce Remsburg and John Barber and know their strengths and weaknesses without it having to be a big storyline. NXT’s starting to develop that … everybody loves Drake, as he’s the stalwart indie guy who has been everywhere and seen everything and deserves our respect, but now they’ve also got Danilo Anfibio, the biased, awkward dude who doesn’t know when to count a pin. I like being able to recognize non-wrestling personnel and know stuff about them, even if it isn’t crucial.
Worst: Tyler Breeze Almost Losing To Bull Dempsey, Or
Best: The Story Implications Of Tyler Breeze Almost Losing To Bull Dempsey
Much like the “Eva Marie doesn’t know how to wrestle so let’s write a story about how her f*ck-ups are part of the show” thing, I like that NXT’s turning our Tyler Breeze frustrations into part of his character.
When NXT started bringing in guys like KENTA and Prince Devitt, guys like Tyler Breeze got pushed to the side. If you remember watching TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way, Breeze was THE MAN. He was the best part of an already-great match, and he’d ridden the ironic love of the Full Sail crowd to actual smark stardom. If you ask jerks like me who we love most in NXT, we’re gonna say “Tyler Breeze” before “Samoa Joe.” It’s a phony-as-hell sense of fellowship and entitlement to support the guys who made their names here instead of there, but whatever, we do it sometimes.
The story with Breeze went from “he’s not being used” to “Breeze is upset about not being used,” which allowed it be addressed on-screen. He started bugging William Regal for opportunities, but they’ve all blown up in his face. He lost his title matches. He missed out on chances to be #1 contender. He asked for a world class competitor at TakeOver: Brooklyn, got one in Jushin Thunder Liger, and lost. He asked for a partner for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, got one, and lost in embarrassing fashion to people who aren’t even part of the company because he was so upset and apathetic. He tries to wrestle Adam Rose last week, gets interrupted by Bull Dempsey, and is forced into a grudge match he doesn’t even want. He wrestles it, and almost LOSES, because he’s so f*cking bored. He’s that gifted kid in school who f*cks around and doesn’t try hard enough because he’s not being engaged, and knows nobody cares about him. There’s no damn reason TYLER BREEZE should be coming this close to losing to BULL DEMPSEY for any reason whatsoever. Now he’s stuck in a TakeOver match with Apollo Crews that he’ll almost certainly lose. They run into each other backstage, and Breeze can’t even muster the strength to get in Crews’ face about it.
I’m really into his character development, and also kinda sad for him because he’s starting to become an avatar of depression. He’s a guy who has everything in the world — talent, good looks, a WWE job, fan support, seasonal residences around the world and a seemingly endless string of opportunities — but he’s just … hopeless. He knows that as soon as he starts trying hard, some asshole from New Japan or Ring of Honor’s gonna waltz in and get everything he had to scratch and claw for without trying. He wants things to be better and feels like he’s entitled to them being so, but realizes more and more that actually being good at something is meaningless. What’s the point? Why is he even here?
It’ll get better, Tyler.
Best: Asuka, With Correct Japanese Pronunciation!
God bless the people who decided Asuka should be pronounced “Ah-ska” — like it should be — and not “Ah-SOO-ka,” like Tony Schiavone’s pronouncing it in 1995. Tony saying “Ken-SOOKIE Soo-sakie” gave me phonetic ignorance for like 15 years. Also, thanks for giving her entrance music that doesn’t start with a damn guzheng.
Best: YOU DEAD
So yeah, Kana becomes “Asuka” and makes her formal, non-Flair-related NXT debut. She signs her contract and cuts a short, adorable promo about how happy she is to be here and how her dream is to be NXT Women’s Champion. That gets interrupted by Dana Brooke and Evil Emma, who do the normal THIS IS MY RING Diva bully stuff and force her to leave the ring. She does, and everything’s kinda disappointing until she gets to the top of the ramp.
There, she looks over her shoulder with teary, bloodshot eyes and gives them maybe the greatest YOU ARE GOING TO DIE look I’ve ever seen. That one glare is more effective than three years of The Ascension screaming. I also love Emma and Dana’s gulpy response faces, which suggest they should’ve continued picking on Bayley and Devin Taylor and not the new lady who’s also a psychotic clown Nazi who will kick them to f*cking death.
I can’t wait for the followup. I’d love to see Asuka and Devin team up, just to see Devin condescendingly pat Dana’s head after she’s been stretched and roundhoused into a coma.
Best: Gear Psychology
Real quick, I wanted to throw some praise at in-studio announce guy Kyle Edwards (formerly The Score‘s Arda Ocal, before WWE gave him history’s most NASCAR name) for his gear psychology. He’s talking about the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, so he’s wearing a polka dot shirt with a yellow pocket square. I see what you did there.
I also love these Dusty Classic updates in general, because they make me feel like I’m watching WWF on Saturday mornings. In-studio recaps of important stuff, short interviews with the teams that’ve advanced (centered around putting over everyone involved), the works. I hope they keep doing it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Edwards slide into the NXT announce team’s DMs when Rich Brennan gets permanently anchored to Smackdown. At this point I’d rather have the NXT Kids kids in the booth than insincere-ass Byron Saxton.
Best (With A Worst For Presentation): NXT Texas
Speaking of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, I sat front row for the Austin leg of the Texas tour and can say without hyperbole that The Vaudevillains vs. Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson was the best tag team match I’ve ever seen in NXT. Holy sh*t it was good. That’s why I was so disappointed in the recap video we got this week, which doesn’t even show highlights from the match … it goes straight from the pre-match posing to the finish. You guys have no idea what you’re missing out on.
I get that you don’t want to show the entirety of a house show match on TV, even when it’s canon for a thing you’re doing ON TV, but I wish WWE would put out a Network special or a DVD or something with the entire tournament on it. The Vaudevillains are doing a pretty special thing right now where they’re transforming from a goober comedy act into a fantastic f*cking tag team, and anchoring a bunch of dope tag matches that, win or lose, make the NXT tag titles and division feel important.
Best: Speaking Of That, Here’s That
Despite facing each other in a round one Dusty Classic match we saw about 20 seconds of, Blake & Murphy get their tag titles rematch against The Vaudevillains. It plays on a lot of the same points as their TakeOver: Brooklyn match — particularly Blue Pants having to do a run-in to keep Alexa Bliss from cheating — but it’s good. Really good. I’ve been hammering the “Simon Gotch is secretly one of the two best wrestlers on the show” talking point for a while, and man, I stand by it. That guy’s so weird and singular, and now that he’s doing Glacier-style karate strikes I can’t help but love him more. I didn’t think The Vaudevillains of all people would become the show’s super workers, but here we are.
I hope NXT stays focused on doing something with Blake & Murphy, too, because as uneventful as their tag titles run was, it turned them into a legitimate thing. They went from being two randomly-paired dudes to being the kind of dependable team you can use to build a division around. I like that the disconnect between NXT and the main roster allows some of these guys to stay in the oven for a while, because “feeling comfortable wrestling on TV” is one of (if not THE) most important thing they learn. That’s what allows Dana Brooke to go from being a lady you can’t trust to stand on the ring apron without falling to being a great on-screen character, and what turns Aiden English from a guy we want to laugh at into a guy we want to see kick ass.
Great stuff this week. While it wasn’t an overall strong show for in-ring stuff, it gave us enough to let the character work blossom.
As A Reminder:
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