Greetings, Adventurers, and welcome to the newest feature in the backlog: NXT reviews!
For those who might not know much about NXT, it’s the developmental promotion for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE); which has, in the past few years, undergone something of a revolution in presentation with the success of indie stars before their inevitable call up to the main roster.
If you think you haven’t seen any NXT talent on Raw or Smackdown, you would, in fact, be wrong. The current holder of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Roman Reigns, came up through NXT, as did his former SHIELD brothers Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, though the latter two are also aforementioned indie darlings. In fact, it’s now a matter of company policy that all new acquisitions go through/be trained in NXT before being allowed to run with the big boys.
NXT is, as its name implies and its opening sequence extols, the training ground for the future, and “the future is now!”
But enough background. You probably want to get to the review, right?
So, how nitpicky can I get over a one hour production that’s not even aired live online (insert obligatory 9.99/month plug for the WWE Network here)? Surprisingly. For matches, I’ll be giving ratings from 1-5 stars, where 1=barely watchable and 5=instant classic. For promos, I’ll give letter grades from F- — A+, with the same general sentiment applying.
Segment 1: Adam Rose vs. Sami Zayn
The show opened with Tom Phillips and Corey Graves catching viewers up on the events of last week’s episode, where three Superstars are currently vying for the NXT Championship: Samoa Joe, who lost a slobberknocker of a match against reigning champion Finn Balor at the last Takeover; Baron Corbin, whose delivery of Apollo Crews’ first WWE loss at that same Takeover led him to declaring himself “the uncrowned Number One Contender”; and Sami Zayn, who returned from a nearly year-long recovery from a shoulder injury, vowing to become the first ever two-time champion.
General Manager William Regal declared that a Triple Threat match for the contendership will take place, as the main event of the January 28th episode. Until then, Zayn will have to content himself with squashing Adam Rose, who you may know from the recent #SocialOutcast Twitter phenomenon and Main Roster jobber stable.
While it was, in fact, a squash, Rose got in some impressive offense, including a chain wrestling sequence that I’d not have expected from him, as well as keeping his heel work on point, working the crowd and killing an attempt by his opponent to rally by the midpoint. Zayn, riding a new source of momentum, eventually triumphed, reversing a rollup, locking in the Koji Clutch and forcing Rose to tap out.
A strong showing from both men, and reinforcing the notion that Zayn might just break that record.
TL;DR: Totally a squash match, but technically sound, psychologically decent, and it moved the plot along. No complaints. Rating: 3/5 stars.
Segment 2: Johnny Gargano Backstage Promo
Interviewer Rich Brennan asked Johnny Gargano what he felt about facing Joe later that night in the main event match, given Joe’s referring to himself as a “monster”. Gargano, an indie veteran who’s made quite the splash in NXT recently with tag partner and previous Joe adversary Tommaso Ciampa, was not impressed, calling Joe a “schoolyard bully” and that the way he deals with bullies is by getting in their face and planting his fist in it.
He finished by defiantly stating “As long as my heart is still beating, Johnny Wrestling will not back down”. With all that fire in his eyes and voice, he definitely presented a confident front, and we could believe he’d give Joe a fight.
TL;DR: I bought what he was selling, intrigued as to the match. Grade: B+.
Segment 3: Previously Filmed American Alpha Promo
In a segment shot earlier that day, Jason Jordan and Chad Gable, the hottest tag team in NXT complained about missing a nomination for the NXT Awards for Favorite Tag Team (which was ultimately won by Enzo Amore and Colin Cassidy). But what really got their goat was that Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy were nominated, even after they beat them in London.
With their now trademark charm and frat boy goofiness, they call out Blake and Murphy and challenge them to a match. They then go on to decide that since both of them are awesome, the “Alpha males of NXT”, they need a name to reflect that, with rapid-fire wit. In short:
Gable: We’re the American Alpha! Oh, that’s dumb.
Jordan: You’re a genius.
Gable: I meant to do that.
I have to ask, having seen Jordan live before his pairing with Gable, who IS this guy now? He smiles! He laughs! He finishes Gable’s catchphrase and means it! These guys are on top for a reason, and if the response they got in London is any indication, we might be looking at future megastars here.
TL;DR: Funny and effective promo proves once again that charisma and actually liking each other will get you everywhere in the Tag Team Division. I love it. Grade: A
Segment 4: Tye Dillinger vs. Apollo Crews
Crews, none too happy with his loss to Corbin in London, keeps his smile as he enters to a huge crowd pop. He’s resolved to move on and climb up, as he told Phillips earlier that day. He’s facing Tye Dillinger, a long term NXT resident who seems to be on an upward trajectory of late, despite a win/loss record one wouldn’t want to highlight, most recently in a competitive loss to Zayn last week, in the latter’s first match back at Full Sail University.
He’s stated to Corey Graves that 2016 is his year, and he aims to prove it. He makes good on that resolution early on, matching technical wrestling with an ability to make the crowd throw “10” even when he’s working heel. Crews is not amused, however, and brings the sharp spots and astounding strength which he’s come to be known for, awing the crowd by lifting Dillinger twice (the first time, Dillinger tried to fight out) while performing a hanging suplex, even doing a squat with Dillinger in the air.
Dillinger kept up the aggression, which is a bit unusual for him, and kept Crews on his toes; even hitting a suicide dive midway and his finisher, an uncovered knee to the head, on the prone Crews near the end. Alas, Crews kicked out at two and finished off the Perfect 10 shortly after with a giant powerbomb and pinfall. After the bell rang, Crews took up a mic and issued a challenge to Balor.
Basically, “I don’t like DQ finishes, and I won’t ask for a title shot. I just want to see who would have come out on top”. He wants a nontitle match next week. A nice little segue into the champ’s storyline, where he has a target on his back and many people are aiming their weapons. Even with that promo, though, I thought that Crews could use a bit more of a character, and motivation. A million-watt smile and athletics for days can only get you so far. Regardless, definitely a good match.
TL;DR: A technically good match which moved storylines and highlighted the rise of 10. Our face, however, needs more character. Match Rating: 3.25/5 stars. Promo Grade: C+
Segment 5: Blake and Murphy Backstage Promo
Brennan asks Blake and Murphy to respond to American Alpha, but before they can, Alexa Bliss takes over and goes off on her boys. In her delightfully bitchy fashion (seriously, she has more character as a heel than she ever had as a face), she tears into them for the loss in London, then declares that she’ll lead by example in the upcoming tag team match with Emma later that night.
She seems to be reveling in the thought of causing pain, and a few interjections by Blake and Murphy about American Alpha fail to take focus from the Evil Cheerleader. In fact, they seem to be dragging her down a bit with their flat acting. Oops. Moving on.
TL;DR: Bliss hijacks a promo, probably for the best, honestly. Grade: B for her, C+ for them.
Segment 6: Vaudevillians Vignette
It’s a delightfully antique video…that suddenly has the music go all sinister. Two frowns later, and it seems the Vaudevillians (Simon Gotch and Aiden English) might be putting a bit more emphasis on the “-villain” portion of their moniker.
Segment 7: Story Development by Announcers
Phillips and Graves discuss the latest NXT tour, and bring particular attention to Zayn nemesis Kevin Owens, currently feuding with Ambrose on the main roster for the Intercontinental Championship, making a surprise appearance at the end of Zayn’s match in Milwaukee. A nice little reminder of the hatred between the former friends, and perhaps planting the seeds for a continuation of their enmity on the main roster. Hmm…
Segment 8: Rich Swann vs. Baron Corbin
Continuing the theme of Triple Threat squash matches, Corbin stalks out to face the debuting Rich Swann, another indie favorite and a particular peeve of the Lone Wolf. Phillips and Graves hype up the countries Swann has wrestled in, and the unique style he favors.
While the match had some cool spots, such as Swann flipping in mid-air off a back body drop and landing on his face and the ending sequence involving a catch from the top rope into Corbin’s Deep Six for the pin, showed off his explosive athleticism, and advanced the plotline that the size disparity between the competitors—Corbin is nearly twice Swann’s—was sadly insurmountable, I felt like this match needed more content.
Corbin’s sneering contempt for both Swann and the crowd was palpable, and at one point it felt like his arrogance allowed Swann to futilely attempt a comeback. Still, good character work and psychology couldn’t hide the fact that this match was not booked to have much happen.
TL;DR: The booking made sense, and Swann made an impression, but the match felt thin. Rating: 2.5/5 stars.
Segment 9: Carmella and Bayley Backstage Promo
After Carmella’s win in the Women’s Battle Royale last week for the Number One Contendership, Women’s Champion Bayley should be feeling worried about this tag match, right? Nope. She and Carmella affirm their friendship but acknowledge that they won’t hold back during their match.
They aren’t able to say much more, as the NXT Tag Team Champions Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson swagger into frame and taunt Carmella over Enzo and Cass’ loss to them in London. Saying that they “Never close the deal when it counts”, they infuriate Carmella by asserting that Enzo and Cass are “all fluff and no stuff”, requiring Bayley to hold her back from jumping the laughing champs.
I like the fact that in NXT, men and women can ACTUALLY interact and behave like they’re on the same show. It actually makes the Universe feel alive, like just because Bayley and the tag match is the story Carmella’s focusing on right now doesn’t mean she can’t advance her plot with Enzo and Cass at the same time. More of this, NXT. Please.
TL;DR: Men and women can actually talk to each other, and two stories advanced with one promo. Nice work. Grade: B for the guys (they added to the story and it fit their gimmicks), B- for the girls (I only docked points because I felt that Bayley could have been a lot more passionate in this promo. Carmella made sure the grade stayed high).
Segment 10: Alexa Bliss and Emma w/Dana Brooke vs. Bayley and Carmella
As this tag match gets underway, Phillips and Graves speculate about the chances of Bayley and Carmella’s friendship lasting through the title challenge, or even this match. Given the record of close friendships in this company (Owens/Zayn, Joe/Balor, Rollins/Reigns and Ambrose), they’re not wrong to wonder.
Still no sign of it between our face team, Carmella dancing as Bayley bounds down the ramp and launches into a hug with her. In the ring, Emma, Bliss, and Brooke bicker like mean girls, before immediately assaulting the Women’s Champion as soon as she entered the ring. In the midst of all this, Bayley seemed to injure her ribs, something Emma and Bliss exploit extensively during the match. Dana plays the role of shrill manager to perfection, with shouts of “That was three!” during near falls, and complaining when the ref suspected her of interfering “I didn’t touch her!”.
Bayley finally tags Carmella into the match after enduring all this punishment (including the corner splash from Emma that knocked Becky Lynch loopy once, the refs are STILL saying “Kick out!” after that spot), and the Princess of Staten Island proves why she’s the Number One Contender, forcing Bliss to tap to a modified headscissors that honestly makes me want to say “I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille” every time I see it.
As she and Bayley hug in the ring after the bell, I do have to note that while everyone played their parts beautifully, Bliss proved to be in the most need of more time in NXT. She shoulder rammed Bayley in the corner three separate ties, and while stomping her side while holding the ropes was creative, I wish I’d seen more moves from her.
TL;DR: Best match of the night. While not a technical masterpiece (looking at you, Bliss), the story was great, the character work was awesome, and it showed why Carmella is the correct opponent for Bayley. Rating: 3.75/5 stars.
Segment 12: Finn Balor Promo Backstage
The NXT Champion answers Crews’ challenge from earlier. Calmly, almost dispassionately, he says he understands Crews’ desire to finish this, he’s talked to GM Regal, and they’re on for next week. They’ll settle this in the ring, and they’ll see once and for all “who the better man is”. Compelling stuff…if Balor’s delivery had been better. You can do calm, but passionate, Finn! This was almost toneless. Ugh, I hated having to write this. He’s the champion for a reason, hasn’t had a bad match since picking up the strap, but the promo skills need work. I can’t deny it.
TL;DR: Promo did its job, but the acting could have been better. I’m sorry. Grade: C+
Segment 13: Johnny Gargano vs. Samoa Joe
Gargano is having a good time recently (he’s just gotten engaged to Candice LeRae. Congrats, man!), but this match puts a stop to that. He gets a huge crowd pop, who seem to die almost instantly as Joe’s music hits.
That’s odd. Normally, he gets a better reaction than this. In the ring, the crowd doesn’t seem to make up its mind, doing dueling chants to the point that I almost shout at my screen “He’s a HEEL, crowd”. Lucky for me, Joe seems to read my mind, as he becomes extra sadistic to elicit boos. And my, is he sadistic. After his loss to Balor in London, and now having to deal with this Triple Threat, he’s pissed, and he wastes no time in letting Gargano know it: Kicking Gargano off the apron, trying hard for a countout, and never letting up with his offense.
Gargano tries to get some shots in, but he barely phases Joe, even after two or three running enzuigiri and a jumping DDT from the apron. Joe locks in the Coquina Clutch and that’s it. Gargano’s out.
I missed the episode where Joe had his match with Ciampa, so I can’t compare the matches, but in terms of storytelling, this match did its job, Joe was appropriately menacing, Gargano was as cocky as ever, and the stage is set for the Triple Threat match next week. Good luck, Corbin and Zayn. Joe’s coming. I just wish I hadn’t seen this match before from him.
TL;DR: This match did what it was supposed to do, but I’m a little bored with Joe, and I wish this booking had allowed for more to happen. Rating: 3/5.
See you all next week!