The Best And Worst Of WWE NXT 2/19/14: arRIVING At The Conclusion

Pre-show notes:

– Share the column, please and thank you. If we get 10,000 readers and 14 shares, that’s a pretty off ratio, right? Let’s close that gap.

– This is the last time we’ll be watching NXT on Hulu, so if you’re into doing that, check out this week’s episode here.

– Next Thursday night is NXT OUR RIVAL (not its actual name), a live “pay-per-view” on the WWE Network. Should we have an open discussion thread for it? I’m sorta waiting for the WWE Network to launch and be a functional thing before I plan too thoroughly around it. If it fails and we end up watching the shows on Daily Motion I don’t want to have had my hopes up too high.

– If you’re new to NXT, you can check out previous weeks’ columns here. If you’d like to go back even farther, we’re doing a retro recap of NXT season 1 here. On the most recent episode (four years ago) Daniel Bryan recreated American Gladiator events on top of a giant air mattress. No, really.

– Follow us on Twitter @withleather, follow me personally @MrBrandonStroud and like us on Facebook.

Click on through for the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for February 19, 2014.

Best: The NXT Crowd Turns Ascension Matches Into A Social Experiment

Man, how many times have I used a picture of the Ascension posing in the blue lights? It’s all they do.

One of the things I love most about the Full Sail crowd is that they, more than any other wrestling crowd in the world, can directly affect change. They booed CJ Parker into a heel turn, they cheered Tyler Breeze until he became a folk hero and they’ve learned to entertain themselves during boring Ascension squashes by noticing Konner’s YAH~ noises and making them into a fun game. Y’see, Konner yells YAH whenever he does anything. Punches, kicks, slams, YAH YAH YAH. Sorta like how Curtis Axel says “shaa.” Originally the crowd was just doing it along with him (like a “Yes” chant), but now they’ve made it into a thing that demands but doesn’t actually require Konnor.

Example: “We want YAH” chants when Konnor was on the apron. Then, a dueling chant of “Let’s go Konnor” “YAH YAH YAH!” It’s so much fun. The Ascension has noticed it, too … Konnor tags in to a way bigger pop than he should be getting, then tags out before he does anything that would cause a YAH. Brilliantly done. Now he’s either gotta stop YAHing, or embrace it. Change affected.

On a related note, could we have like, one other tag team in NXT so the Ascension could wrestle actual dudes?

Best: NXT, Where the Women Are Not Wrestlers’ Girlfriends

In this week’s Best And Worst Of WWE Raw column I wrote a series of depressing paragraphs about how WWE depicts women and interpersonal relationships as signs of weakness and failure, yet can’t stop writing female characters solely based on their relationships with men. For example, AJ Lee has held the Divas Championship longer than anyone in the history of the company (even longer than Maryse!), but all you ever hear about is how she’s a crazy jealous whore. It’s unfortunate, and indicative of WWE actively disrespecting its own largely-female audience and insulting anybody with basic human decency and a thought process.

The reason I wrote those paragraphs was because they brought up Emma — one of Full Sail NXT’s signature characters — and immediately thrust her into the role of WRESTLER’S GIRLFRIEND. She won a dance contest against Summer Rae, then became the lady who stands outside the ring during Santino matches and tries to kiss him. That causes him to lose, and the announce team to SCREAM AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS about how he needs to BERATE and HUMILIATE HER in the ring RIGHT NOW on LIVE TELEVISION. Instant punishment for being a woman and doing something in front of them. Ask yourself, how many Santino Marella girlfriend characters can you name? Here’s four, just for this one comedy guy: Maria, Beth Phoenix, Tamina, Emma.

Now, ask yourself how many romance angles, good or bad, you’ve ever seen on Full Sail NXT. How often do you see women interacting with men at all? Aside from a few intergender tags, not a lot. And even THOSE are built around the partners being equals. At Full Sail, the female wrestlers have that … wrestlers. They have some of the Diva conventions like rampant jealousy, but characters that exhibit those traits are clearly the bad guys. Summer, Sasha and Charlotte are basically just Raw’s stock “bitch” characters, but they exist beyond that when examined closely, and (most importantly) THEY WRESTLE COMPETENT WRESTLING MACHES.

The first match on this weeks’s show was Emma vs. Summer Rae in the last of Emma’s “beat everybody en route to the rematch with Paige” streak, and it was good. Nobody demanded a public breakup, nobody went in for a kiss, nobody got mad that they were or weren’t on an unrelated TV show. Just a good, solid wrestling match full of cool characters you’re allowed to be interested in. Of COURSE Bayley would carry Emma’s sign for her. Of COURSE Sasha would try to get involved and mess things up. It’s not hard to tell stories with women, you just have to want to do it.

Best: Emma Backstage

Emma’s brief backstage interview was the best example of how weird and enjoyable of a character she is on NXT, and why we like her. She’s wandering around backstage with her sign, dancing for no reason, and the interviewer stops her to ask her a question. She completely ignores it, assumes it’s about her sign, then THROWS HER SIGN ON THE GROUND because she’s done talking/thinking about it. Then she absentmindedly dance-points about how she’s going to beat Paige and makes a dramatic exit … in the wrong direction.

That’s Emma. A horrible, self-centered person living in her own “bubble” (get it) who has somehow become endearing because of it. Not “hot Diva who can’t dance and wants the caricature D.”

Best: The Face Of NXT

Tyler Breeze is worried about Adrian Neville winning the NXT Championship because that’d make Neville the “Face Of NXT,” and Breeze doesn’t want anybody with a face that ugly representing him. If there’s a more pitch-perfect character in pro wrestling than Tyler Breeze right now, I’d like to see it.

A supplemental Worst goes to Devin Taylor for having not shown one discernible human emotion since her debut. Look at her face. Look at her dead, cold face.

Best: (Antonio) Cesaro

The Cesaro/Zayn feud is hitting me so hard with logic and reason I can barely handle it.

This week they have a moderated backstage interview where they bring up how Cesaro’s not only going to be in the Elimination Chamber but wrestling Zayn four days AFTER it, and what that means for the Zayn/Cesaro dynamic before and after. If Zayn puts his hands on Cesaro before their match, he loses it. Zayn explains that he’d never do something to compromise that match, because it’s the one thing he needs to validate himself and move on to the next stage of his career. If Cesaro puts his hands on Zayn before their match, he loses his spot in the Chamber. To, uh, CM Punk I guess. But Cesaro barely cares, because he’s already gotten in his cheap shots, and he knows he can beat an injured Zayn with his eyes closed. He gives so little a shit that he keeps interrupting Zayn to talk about himself, and starts checking his phone in the middle of the interview. He WANTS to piss off Zayn enough that he’ll get hit and not have to wrestle the match, but he doesn’t actually care that much.

Also, at one point Cesaro refers to Renee as “the beautiful, yet Canadian woman.” My eyes are big cartoon hearts right now.

Best: Neville vs. Breeze

Much like Daniel Bryan, I think Adrian Neville is the type of guy who benefits more from hard-fought victories than decisive ones. He’s a little guy. Really little. He’s strong to be as little as he is and he’s in great shape, but no guy that little should be trouncing his opponents and squashing them with his finish. There should always be an effort involved. Skill and determination triumphing. That’s a fun thing to watch. A guy fighting back from underneath. It’s something you can identify with. How can you identify in a superhuman guy being too big and strong for pain to effect him simply deciding it’s time to win?

I liked this match a lot, both because of Neville’s ability to anchor an entertaining match against someone who isn’t the shit-worst (Corey Graves, I’m looking in YOUR direction) and because it allowed Tyler Breeze to be a functional pro wrestler. Breeze’s character is perfect, but the whole “don’t hit me in the face” thing needs to be limited to the opening moments of matches … eventually he’s gotta just wrestle the hell out of a match so we can cheer or boo or whatever. The character can and should be integrated into what’s happening, but not DOMINATE what’s happening.

Both guys looked great, I thought, and in a year I think Tyler Breeze is gonna be one of the best actual wrestlers in the company. If he can get one of those Shield looks where WWE decides “okay, this works, let’s give it a showcase and let it sink or swim,” he’s gonna swim. I love that they’re starting to do that more often, and honestly I think that’s how wrestling should work on the reg. Don’t just decide what’s gonna work and what won’t and shove shit down peoples’ throats until they believe you. Try out a bunch of different stuff, good ideas and bad ideas, and see what sticks. Your crowd WANTS to react to you. Wrestling promoters (and wrestlers) forget that sometimes.

Best: Serious Bo Vs. Neville Staredowns Are Not Exactly The Shield Vs. The Wyatts, But I’m Ready For This Match

Bo Dallas being a terrified baby who is actually a stone cold killer when pushed too far is a great character, and watching him bounce back and forth between them is great. The week between shows for Bo must be fascinating (kayfabe, go with me here) … getting all this confidence and momentum built up, then having to wait six days with his crazy brain doubting him and regressing him back into insincere smiling guy. He’s not SCARED of Neville necessarily, he’s just scared of losing his championship, and he’s got no self confidence. How could he, wrestling in front of a crowd that has hated him for so long?

I’m anxious to see what they do with the title match at Arrival. I’m also interested to see how many times I have to type “Arrival” properly before I give in to the stupid hashtag spelling.