– We’re two episodes into our retro Best and Worst recap of NXT season 2 and traffic is down because Daniel Bryan’s not on it. But hey, Bray Wyatt is and so is Curtis Axel. We like Curtis Axel, right? Okay, but still, read the old show reports.
– Share this week’s column so your friends can know which atrocities the NXT Universe is responsible for. Spoiler alert: “zoos existing” is one of them.
Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for April 17, 2014.
Best: The Aiden English Recovery Plan
Last month on the worst episode of NXT, Sheamus randomly showed up to “out-sing” Aiden English, emasculate him by telling him his balls haven’t dropped and pinned him clean in the middle of the ring with a Brogue Kick. It’s a month later and Sheamus hasn’t appeared since, so Aiden English is left to pick up the pieces.
I’m not sure about WWE’s interpretation of a recovery plan — when a rising star gets beaten handily by an Important Person they lie dormant for a few weeks, then go right back to beating whoever they were beating before the important guy showed up — but I’m glad we’re getting back to English winning matches. He’s good in the ring and great on the microphone, and I can’t hate anybody who looks and moves so much like 2005 Claudio Castagnoli. He’s like the pilot inside the Cesaro mech.
The finish of the match was great, with English and Colin Cassady exchanging finisher reversals like they’re Austin and Michaels at WrestleMania 14 and English getting a cheap win with a handful of tights. Good stuff. GREAT stuff: William Regal having such a crush on Aiden English that he’s ignoring the cheating and marking out for being included in post-match celebrations.
On the finish: “Perhaps the elastic just went in his trunks.”
After he tossed a rose onto the stage: “That’s mine, it just landed by his foot there, look”
I hope the Regal/Renee flirting story ends with Regal realizing who he’s actually been in love with all along.
Worst: No Enzo No Peace
I am seriously concerned with the absence of Enzo. Reports say that he started training again recently, which is good, but why does he even need to be training? Enzo Amore’s strengths are not in the ring. On his best day, his in-ring WWE dream is “be the Santino when Santino leaves.” Outside of it (or wandering around it), the dream is limitless.
I don’t care if he’s in a wheelchair. I don’t care if he’s in a hospital bed. Wheel the hospital bed out onto the stage and let Enzo tell meatheads to eat their pie.
Best: Tyler Breeze’s Interview About Nothing
We made a big deal out of Tyler Breeze’s character and entrance, but his true strength lies in these weird backstage interviews where he brings it all together. It’s where he brings Tyler Breeze to life. Devin Taylor tries to introduce him and he responds by sticking his arm in from offscreen to make her read the proper introduction.
“The King of Cuteville, the most super good-looking piece of gorgeousness you will ever see, “Prince Pretty” Tyler Breeze.”
The best part is that it goes ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. “I thought this episode needed someone who was [dramatic pause] gorgeous.” And then he’s gone. I think my dream NXT segment is Tyler Breeze, Enzo and Brad Maddox backstage improvising for 20 minutes.
Supplemental Best: confirmation that Devin Taylor can read.
Best: Paige Handles The NXT-to-Raw Disconnect Like A (Double) Champ
First of all, what’s up, Paige’s outfit.
Second of all, I don’t know what’s more surreal … the fact that after WrestleMania 30 Daniel Bryan is the actual wWE World Heavyweight Champion, or that Paige is the NXT Women’s AND WWE Divas Champion. Some gracious deity swooped down and made my wishes come true. That’s just two, right? I get a third? Hey local improv theaters in California, make that dream NXT segment I mentioned happen in real life so I don’t have to waste my last wrestling wish*.
Third of all (of all!), Paige’s backstage interview segment really worked for me for a variety of reasons, but mostly because she worked so hard to bridge the gap between the NXT and WWE Universes. They’re connected, but are very different things. On NXT, Emma is a beloved wrestler who can go toe-to-toe with the champ. On Raw, she’s a doofy girlfriend who takes 100% damage from an Irish whip. On NXT, Summer Rae is a threat. On Raw, she’s upset because she can’t keep a boyfriend. Paige exists in both simultaneously now, so she’s working overtime to make it work … she acknowledges that people are coming at her from every direction now, looking to take one or both of her belts (bonus points for treating the titles equally), and mentions how she’s studied tape on everyone just to stay ahead of the game. She notes how the only reason she got the win was because of AJ Lee’s complacency, suggests that her demure nobody act was a form of playing possum to exploit this, and even justifies the post-match Diva group hug as an insincere gesture from girls looking to stab her in the back. Perfect.
If Paige has to be a different person on Raw, at least give her these moments on NXT where she can come up with reasons to justify it. Now give us an interview where Emma says, “whew, glad to be back at Full Sail where nobody’s trying to f*ck me.”
Worst: Damn, Oliver, You Just Lost Clean To A Transitional Move
Oliver Grey made his in-ring return against Camacho, got in almost no offense and lost to a Samoan drop. I know you’re just Oliver Grey, but … really? A Samoan drop? Camacho gave it a lingering setup like a Shell Shocked, but it’s still just falling onto your side from like 5 1/2 feet up. Would you lose to a hip toss? Camacho ain’t Ryback, you could probably get up. Who do I have to blow to get Camacho a death grip?
Speaking of that, a supplemental Worst goes to William Regal for mentioning that Oliver Grey is a “blood relative of King Edward I” and nobody responding with “WHO GIVES A SHIT, CAMACHO IS A BLOOD RELATIVE OF KING HAKU.” Are we still pretending Camacho’s from Mexico? If he’s gonna push so hard to look like NXT season 1’s A-List, can we start calling him David O-Tonga?
Best: Bo-lievers Are Law-Abiding Citizens
If you missed last week’s episode, Bo Dallas attempted to “occupy NXT” in the style of Daniel Bryan, then broke down in the ring when nobody jumped the rail. It involved a lot of screaming about how he once bought the crowd cookies.
This week, Bo has regained his composure and decided that the Bo Movement didn’t work because Bo-lievers are “law-abiding citizens” who didn’t want to break any rules by getting in the ring. Perfect. He follows that up with an assurance that he’s still on track to regaining the NXT Championship, and that the Bo Dallas hotline is ringing off the hook with support. I wonder if that’s where Bray Wyatt got his Bo impression?
Worst: Devin Taylor Is A Bobblehead
I know I already suggested she’s illiterate, so I don’t want to seem like I’m piling on for no reason, but the worst thing about Devin Taylor is her bobblehead. She’s clearly got no idea what the wrestlers are saying, or why any of it matters. She asks a question and just starts slowly nodding her head “yes” as they speak. I guess it’s code for “yes, I understand what you’re saying,” but she does it non-stop. Watch the Bo interview. She’s halfway offscreen and her head’s just wobbling around.
This is one of the reasons we’re such nerds for Renee Young. She asks questions and responds to what is said. You know, like a human being. How weird is it that “acts like a human being and seems interested” is a revolutionary concept in WWE backstage interviews?
Worst: A Real Dead Cowboy
WESLEY BLAKE ALERT, WOOP WOOP
On this week’s show, column favorite Wesley Blake teamed up with Cal Bishop to take on … oh, the Ascension. Welp, guess how this match happened?
It was as fun as any of the non-stop Ascension squashes are, but I’m giving it a Worst both for Cal Bishop’s total ineptitude as a tag team partner and for A Real Live Cowboy not lasting long enough for the announcers to have their “what constitutes a REAL cowboy” conversation. Good news, though, is that we didn’t come out of it empty-handed. A conversation that happened while Blake was on the outside getting beaten to death by Viktor:
“Cowboy Strength does account for something.”
“That Cowboy Strength’s looking REAL GOOD right now!”
I do not appreciate your sarcasm. That is a real, live cowboy.
Best: “Be The Change That You Wish To See In The World. – Mahatma Gandhi” – CJ Parker
Promo of the night goes to CJ Parker, a man I still cannot believe I love. He spoke candidly about how he lies awake at night, staring up at the ceiling wondering what life would be like without the NXT Universe. “It’d be a developmental show performed in an empty arena,” you might think. “Like Impact.”
But nope, CJ Parker blames the crowd for litter, animals in zoos and the existence of SUVs. Because yo, the NXT crowd is responsible for those things. MOJO RAWLEY’S FAMILY IS THE REASON WHY PANDA BEARS HAVE TO BE BRED IN CAPTIVITY. It’s amazing. Also amazing is William Regal speaking up randomly in the middle of Parker’s speech with a cold, “I want to punch him in the face.”
Best: Global Warming Chants
I have a love/hate relationship with the NXT crowd (stop chanting “better than Batista,” guys, that was a one-time-only gem), but I have to give them a Best for chanting “global warming” to throw CJ Parker off his game. If Parker can blame us for cars that’ve been around since the mid-1940s, we can pretend we like the destruction of our planet to piss him off.
The match with Khali was … not horrible, I guess? It was a Khali match, but as Khali showcase matches go it was better than most. Parker got in a little offense, Khali moved like his legs are made out of Raja Lions but made his moves count, and Regal made Khali seem more imposing and dangerous than ever with a simple story about how a Khali brain chop once dislocated his hip. How scary is that? A guy’s so big and strong that he can bop you on the head and make your insides collapse. He’s like Frank Dux smashing the bottom brick to get into the Kumite. I want to see him chop somebody’s dome and make their feet explode.
Best: Holy Shit Does NXT Have A SECOND Tag Team?
I considered typing “love” a hundred times.
A lot of people started watching NXT when it came to the WWE Network, so they get this fresh look at a bunch of guys they’ve never seen before trying out new characters in a truly fresh, expectation-free environment. That sounds awesome. I’m that jerk who watched NXT throughout the game show years, made it through all 500 episodes of NXT Redemption and went all-in with Full Sail on its first episode. Stuff that seems fresh to most people is years-old in my brain. The Wyatts, Emma, Leo Kruger’s Faces Of Foley … I’m used to it. It feels like a really good episode of Raw to me.
That said, NXT occasionally breaks out moments like this and makes me feel like a newbie. I LOVE it. Jason Jordan and Tye Dillinger showed up in matching gear with tandem offense to be a SECOND TAG TEAM (gasp). They fought Baron Corbin and Sawyer Fulton, guys we’ve seen before but never gotten attached to. It wasn’t a squash … these teams competed. And yeah, only one team got an entrance so the result wasn’t in question, but they made me forget the structure of a wrestling show and get invested in this new experience.
I can’t say enough good things about this match. Jason Jordan’s got a BALLER dropkick. They lose points for stealing MNM’s Snapshot finish without anybody mentioning it on commentary (Joey Mercury is right there, guys), but God bless them for remembering that a tag team division’s a thing they should have, and utilizing a lot of the underappreciated things like coordinating shorts and poses a real tag team would have.
Also, let’s call them “J.J. Dillon.”
Worst: Oh God, Are We Asking Sasha Banks To Act Again
First the Real Americans and now this.
Summer Rae is off being a Total Diva, so the BFFs are just Charlotte and Sasha Banks. Banks has thrived in her role as THE BOSS, hiding her flaws brilliantly by exaggerating and spotlighting her strengths. But whoops, Charlotte is the one getting the push, so Sasha has to lose a bunch of matches and be the Gretchen Wieners of the team. This requires Sasha to act, which is a red flag so large you could drape it across Florida from coast to coast.
Sasha Banks has the acting ability of a trout. We’ve talked about this at length. She’s great at playing a character, mind you, but when she’s asked to sorta exist in a fictional situation she falls to pieces. Instead of listening to an entire thought she responds to individual words or phrases, causing her to make 3-5 different facial reactions for every sentence. She punctuates this by going dead-eyed and staring up and to the left at nothing. Her mouth gets weird. It’s like she’s rebooted and is waiting for the next sentence so she can react to it.
You’ve got a great thing going with heel Sasha, guys, please don’t ask her to emote outside of the ring. “Sassy handshake” is her emotional limit.
Worst: Is Devin Taylor Making Wardrobe Changes Mid-Show?
I know NXT tapes a ton of shows at once and doesn’t always coordinate its footage properly, but you shouldn’t be pointing out the interview girl’s clothes if she hasn’t been wearing them for the entire show. Devin spends the first half hour in a Zardoz dress. When she interviews the BFFs she’s in a black, long-sleeved number with a mesh midriff. Again, I could roll with it if Charlotte wasn’t all “where’d you get that dress, Goodwill?”
Devin’s response should’ve been “yeah, there’s a Goodwill across the street, I didn’t have anything to do for 20 minutes so I went fishin’ for bargains.” Also acceptable: a short explanation about how she spilled food all over herself.
Also also acceptable: “You guys are wearing shirts from Walmart, at least I’m dressed like an adult.”
Best: If Brodus Clay Didn’t Still Wrestle Like A Student This Would’ve Been Tight
And finally, our main-event: NXT Champion Adrian Neville takes on Brodus Clay, now hailing from the CONCRETE JUNGLE~ and brought to the ring by an Ethan Carter III-esque entrance theme that just goes HEY, HEY, HEY, HEY, HEY on loop.
The match was pretty fun, but would’ve been great if Brodus Clay remembered to be his character between moves. That’s a really underrated aspect of being a pro wrestler … playing your character walking. A lot of guys do a move and sell and pose, walk, do a move and sell and pose, walk. They’re great at playing a WWE Superstar during the move and the sell and the pose, but they forget it when they aren’t “doing” something. You should ALWAYS be your character. Those are the moments when the crowd as stopped looking at what you’re doing and started looking at you.
Brodus doesn’t do that. He hits a move and it looks great, and then he wanders to the next thing like a student trying to remember his spots. You might call it “deliberate pacing” or “being methodical” or whatever, but if you’re gonna be an unstoppable funky dinosaur monster with an angry hip-hop lean why the f*ck are you slowly wandering around like you’re looking for your keys?
Sasha Banks is a great example of a wrestler who gets this. When she’s The Boss, she’s The Boss. When she transitions between moves, she makes sure to add some kind of color to it, some tiny gesture or acknowledgment of the people around her to reassure us that we’re seeing a fully-formed, “real” person. Sami Zayn’s great at it, too. Part of telling a story in the ring is not just performing the lines, it’s performing what’s BETWEEN them.
Anyway, I laughed pretty hard when Brodus went for a splash off the ring steps and it was so bad the announce team thought it was an elbow.