– Hey look, this is a thing! Raw is full of former NXT stars right now, so I’ve decided to compliment both the Best and Worst of Raw and Best and Worst of NXT columns with a look back at NXT season 1, featuring guys like Ryback and Heath Slater and Daniel Bryan. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and ride the vintage version of the column until it gets to NXT Redemption and its 50,000 episodes.
– I also hope you’ll consider sharing this, so I can do more than one of them. Your shares keep spunky rookie Daniel Bryan in business, folks, share now and share often:
– Comments are also appreciated! Drop down below and share your memories of NXT, things you’re looking forward to seeing in future reports, R-Truth/David Otunga slash fiction, whatever.
– Here’s a link to s1e1, if you’d like to watch/rewatch it.
Please click through to enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE NXT for February 23, 2010. Season 1, episode 1.
Best: The Most Poetic Way Imaginable To Begin A “Next Breakout Stars” Show
Firstly, yes, I am extremely excited to write about Ryback in a cowboy hat.
Secondly, if you aren’t familiar with the concept of NXT Classic, let me catch you up. In 2013, NXT is the best show WWE produces. It’s a weekly, episodic pro wrestling show full of developmental guys and ladies trying out new characters, working on their craft and getting advice from some of the best and most knowledgable performers in the history of wrestling, like Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat and Sara Del Rey. In 2010, NXT was a 15-episode game show where developmental talent were thrust onto television with zero prep alongside a few good WWE Superstars (CM Punk, Chris Jericho) and a load of stinkers (Carlito, R-Truth, Matt Hardy) who just stood an inch from their faces and yelled YOU’RE GONNA FAIL the entire time. It was weird and kinda pointless, and ultimately devolved into a show where Divas run obstacle courses. Season 1 of NXT was their first attempt at “reality television,” so it’s just a bad episode of WWE ECW with too many talking head asides.
Usually when I write these WWE columns, they’re for weekly shows that’ve just aired, and I have to sorta put together these big paragraphical sections about where everything’s going and what everything means based largely on conjecture and hypotheticals. Writing about a show almost four years later gives me the opportunity to type grand sentences like, “Remember when people you knew on the Internet parroted WWE’s talking point about how being an ‘internet darling’ is meaningless, and how Daniel Bryan needed to learn from The Miz because he was a WWE Superstar and not some pale, five-foot nobody who’s never gonna make it? Remember how stupid all of those people were? Here, watch this segment where the star of Christmas Bounty tells the most popular guy in WWE he’s not good enough to make it.”
Less than a minute into the show, Miz is trying to explain how he’s well-spoken and has the charisma Bryan lacks, and says this: “What Daniel Bryan and the WWE live audience doesn’t know is that compared to me, Bryan’s personality is as dry as the Mojave Devvert.” Yes, “devvert.”
There’s a real poetry in watching The Miz tell the guy with the “yes” catchphrase he needs a good catchphrase to make it in WWE, because 1) he’s absolutely right, sadly, and 2) if having a catchphrase was all you needed, Miz would still be lording his success over rookies instead of “hosting” pay-per-views Bryan’s wrestling for the championship on. The most frustrating part of NXT has never been “why isn’t the guy I like winning,” it’s that WWE’s developmental system clashing with its main roster gives pretty much everybody who isn’t new a huge, illogical power trip where you can practically see the hamster in their head scratching and clawing to keep its spot.
Worst: A Show Built Around Watching You Fail
The opening segment of the first episode of NXT ever features WWE throwing the only obviously special rookie into the ring with the idea that he has no charisma, sorta throwing him to the wolves so they can watch him squirm. The only problem is that Bryan SHOWS charisma, because “a guy on a forum somewhere said this guy is vanilla” is not legitimate criticism. But the script I guess says “Bryan fails and we laugh at him,” so the Miz prefaces the segment by saying BRYAN HAS NO CHARISMA, interrupts Bryan HAVING charisma to say he has no charisma, and then the announce team AND the backstage interviewer rag on him for having no charisma. We’re agreeing with the bad guys now?
WWE developmental game shows have always been built around watching you fail. On Tough Enough, Stone Cold Steve Austin will tell you you need to respect the WWE superstars and do what they say. But then when you respect them and do what they say, they get mad at you for not showing fire or ruthless aggression or whatever and “making a name for yourself” like Austin did. But then when you do THAT, they get mad at you for not respecting them and doing what they say. It goes around in a big stupid circle and nobody gets over except the people who were there before you.
NXT was like this originally. Matt Striker, a guy with the pro wrestling charisma of a telephone pole who once tried to turn “I’M MARKIN’ OUT, BRO” into a catchphrase, tells Daniel Bryan that wrestling anywhere other than WWE is worthless and that he’ll have to listen to The Miz if he wants to make it. But he/we JUST WATCHED THE MIZ INTERRUPT BRYAN’S ATTEMPT TO DO WHAT HE SAID that ended with Miz SLAPPING HIM IN THE FACE FOR NO REASON. So what, is Bryan supposed to be like “thanks for slapping me, Miz, you’re great?” If he did that, is there a 100% or just a 99.9% chance Striker would’ve buried him for not showing fire?
There’s a reason only one of these 8 guys is popular 4 years later, and why that one guy’s popularity is the thing WWE seems most hellbent on imploding.
Worst: The Value Of Being Carlito’s Rookie
Here is the intro for Michael Tarver, the one NXT season 1 rookie not still employed by WWE, as spoken by Carlito, one of two NXT season 1 pros not still employed by WWE*:
“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s take a look at Carlito’s rookie. With my knowledge, my skills, and my mentoring, he will become the next breakout WWE superstars.”
One of the big flaws with NXT season 1 (besides all that shit I just spat out in gigantic text-block form) is that many of the “pros” are just horrible. If WWE had paired up all of rookies up with legends or respected veterans, their whole “gotta respect them and do what they say!” thing would’ve had some merit. Only a few rookies got that, though (Heath Slater got Christian, Skip Sheffield got William Regal, Wade Barrett got Chris Jericho), and poor guys like Michael Tarver had to stand around “learning” from guys like Carlito. Like, what’re you gonna learn from Carlito? How to get a job because you’re related to somebody famous, then piss it away through apathy and terrible wrestling?
Maybe Carlito should’ve been David Otunga’s pro.
*Jericho isn’t technically employed by WWE, but he’s a part-timer, so that’s close enough.
Best: The Christian Rock Band
I don’t want the first Vintage NXT column to sound overwhelmingly negative, because I love watching this show. Going back and seeing the cut-and-paste create-a-wrestler rookie versions of guys I like on Raw is the most fun, like when you get to see Heath Slater calling himself a “rock band without the instruments” literally five seconds into his first appearance.
That’s what I’m most excited about. In season 1 I get to wax nostalgic about the Nexus. Season 2 gives me Bray Wyatt and Curtis Axel. Season 3 I’ve got AJ and Kaitlyn, and season 4 gives me Ethan Carter III, Fandango and the unfunky Funkasaurus. Even a lot of the “lost” talent makes me happy when I see them and remember they existed, like Maxine and Percy Watson. These old episodes give me starry fan-fic eyes, and I see Heath Slater bounce out all stupid and just imagine a teen (for some reason) Jinder Mahal slowly putting down his sitar and thinking, “wow, I really like this guy’s style.”
I remember really hating Heath Slater when this first aired, but he’s honestly pretty good right away. He’s obnoxious as F*CK and should’ve never been presented a guy we’re supposed to cheer for, but he’s already making everybody’s offense look great, and makes a kick from Carlito look like it hurt, which should’ve earned him some sort of Pro Wrestling Nobel Prize.
Best: Yes, I Am Basically Only Writing Up NXT Season 1 So I Can Talk About The Straight Edge Society
The best actual part of NXT season 1 is the relationship between the most ridiculously exaggerated Darren Young ever and The Straight Edge Society, which, as all good-hearted people will remember, featured the best-ever incarnation of CM Punk. So you’ve got shaggy-beard Jesus cult leader Punk being forced to mentor a guy who looks like John Cena stuck his finger in a light socket in a cartoon and Darren just sucks SO BAD and Punk does not give a SINGLE F*CK about Young’s career. We even get a picture-in-picture where Punk says he’ll only mentor Young properly if he joins the cult and shaves his head. But Young is SO INTO MAKING GOOFY FACES and having a giant chain necklace and I love it all.
Not to mention the fact that Serena is standing there with him, as well as Best Festus. I miss bald, superfluously-buxom Serena more than I miss any living member of my family, and circumstance never led to her exceptional natural wrestling ability getting to shine through and rise up to meet that wondrous bar set by her character, “bald lady who wears too many layers.” Serena wearing too many items of clothing is a hundred times sexier to me than Kelly Kelly cramming a bathing suit bottom up her ass, and yes, a small percentage of my affection for her is based on how badly I want Straight Edge Savior CM Punk in my life. Like, 49%. 49 and a half.
DARREN YOUNG WHY ARE YOU A GAY CAVEMAN
Right before Darren Young’s match against David Otunga gets started, Michael Cole and Josh Mathews have this exchange:
Josh: “I tell you what I’m excited to hang out with Darren Young! This guy looks like he can party!”
Cole: “You WOULD be, wouldn’t ya?”
… I see what you did there. Uh, four years later.
There’s a lot of really good character work before the match begins, with Darren not being accepted into the Straight Edge Society’s entrance pose, then having to walk down the ramp slightly to the right of them. At one point Punk switches sides with Serena so she doesn’t have to walk next to him. Poor Darren Young. I hope he wins!
Best: Google Him
In David Otunga’s rookie profile video, he claims to have the charisma of The Rock, the cerebral attack style of Triple H and the strength of John Cena, and if this video was the only thing you’d ever seen, you’d believe him.
The strength and the wrestling are pretty iffy, but the charisma certainly isn’t, and WWE not taking advantage of Otunga’s charisma and celebrity connections by replacing The Miz with him in every on-screen or social situation continues to be one of their biggest mistakes. The guy is STELLAR at being this kind of character because he’s essentially that dude in real life, so when he’s saying things like, “I’ve been to the White House this year, TWICE,” or, “You know who else went to Harvard law school? The President. We in the same club!” he’s saying it with sincerity, and he can back it up. Otunga going to Harvard and hanging with Barack Obama is way more impressive than “I was in a Christmas movie on ABC Family with a lady from the Bring It On sequels.”
The “Google me” catchphrase really should’ve stuck. My favorite part is probably when he says he has “no weaknesses,” because he’s totally correct. “I’m not able to wrestle without f*cking up tremendously” has never stopped someone from being a huge WWE star.
Well, maybe Sin Cara.
Best: The Best GIF
The first rookie vs. rookie match in NXT history lasts about a minute and ends with Otunga hitting the sloppiest spinebuster you’ve ever seen for the win. It’s not very good, but it produces one of the finest and most useful CM Punk GIFs ever:
It says so much, doesn’t it?
Best: Good News Barrett
On this show, Wade Barrett is a big, can’t-miss prospect with an M. Bison jacket, paired with Chris Jericho and destined for greatness. We will move forward assuming this is how he continues to be, and that his character traits are never replaced by “stands behind a hashtagged lectern” or “is related to a barber.”
As cool as Barrett is, though, they’re already starting to undermine him. All he does is stand at ringside for Chris Jericho’s match against Daniel Bryan, but two important moments happen:
1. Barrett is tasked with coming up with a big fancy speech on the fly, and when he appears to be doing a great job of it, Jericho interrupts him with, “I just want you to introduce me.” Barrett’s response is to say, “okay, sure, here’s cool world champ Chris Jericho,” and the match begins. Jericho’s interruption works and is fine because he’s supposed to be WWE’s biggest dickbag, but the announce team basically spends the rest of the match going “pfft, what an asshole” at Barrett for trying, not at Jericho for being a jerk. They’re almost immediately yelling about how uppity the rookies are as soon as Barrett’s done constructively making himself and Jericho seem important.
2. During the match (for some reason), Matt Striker asks Wade Barrett what he can learn from watching Chris Jericho wrestle. Barrett starts to explain that Jericho’s all quality, and Striker cuts him off with UH NO DUDE I ASKED YOU WHAT YOU COULD LEARN BY WATCHING HIM. Barrett has to say “I’m trying to tell you, asshole, everything Jericho does in the ring is quality and I’ll need to be like that if I want to win wrestling matches.” The announce team immediately chimes in with “lol Barrett sucks at talking, huh.”
Running theme here is “nobody wants these kids to succeed and f*ck if I know why.”
Best: The Beginning Of Daniel Bryan, Or
Worst: The Beginning Of The End For Michael Cole
The first episode of NXT is pretty clearly designed to be the “Internet darling fails and we replace him with guys we like more” show. Bryan was supposed to suck at talking, then he was supposed to lose the crowd in this match with Jericho and be quietly shuffled off into the independent wrestling abyss. As mentioned earlier, Bryan is good at talking and the Best In The World at pro wrestling, so he has this great little five minute match with Chris Jericho where he fires up, gets the crowd behind him and nearly kills himself diving into the announce table. He shows literally everything the announcers have been yelling about rookies needing all night long.
Chris Jericho does an AMAZING job of letting Bryan get the right amount of offense, too. Bryan legitimately looks like he can hang with Jericho based purely on his skills and heart, but he’s not all the way there yet, and Jericho’s able to use his experience to land a lucky blow out of nowhere and lock on a sick submission for the win. Everybody looks great, and Jericho during this time period was really spectacular.
When the match starts, Michael Cole’s very subdued, talking about how Bryan’s gonna be tested against one of the best superstars in WWE, and how he wonders if he’ll have what it takes to get the job done. Then, somewhere in the middle of the match, you kinda subliminally hear somebody jump onto Cole’s mic and scream NO, CALL HIM A NERD, THE INTERNET LIKES HIM, NOTHING HE DOES CAN BE GOOD and Cole just switches. Unfortunately, Cole has never switched back.
And so is born the “Michael Cole raises his voice to make an incorrect point” moment, the moment that ruins 5-6 matches on Raw every week. Josh Mathews notes that Bryan’s wrestled all over the world for 10 years and knows what he’s doing (the same talking point they’re using to get Sami Zayn over in NXT right now to great effect) and Cole just starts Voice-Raising about how IT’S THE MINOR LEAGUES and how Josh is JUST LIKE THESE INTERNET BLOGGERS and all the asinine, ignorant points an old man who runs wrestling but secretly hates the shit out of wrestling might make. Somewhere far away, JBL shapes his mashed potatoes into the world MAGGLE and we’re off to the shitty races.
But yeah, Daniel Bryan’s gonna be good, but … you know, only if he listens to the guy who also got here via game show. That Daniel Puder won. Because respect.