While NXT is often the second (and sometimes THE) best show WWE produces, its primary goal is to make future superstars with Raw getting the cream of the crop, SmackDown nabs the leftovers and those who would probably better off staying on NXT than finding themselves on Main Event, or worse, Superstars.
Each week we’ll scout the “minor league” talent in each segment from the hourlong show (AVAILABLE FOR FREE ON HULU, SO WATCH IT) and decide if they’re ready for the big leagues. This week: How will NXT celebrate its landmark 200th episode?
Triple H Promo
Pretty standard stuff from the COO, playing up his babyface character in front of a loving NXT crowd rather than the corporate scumbag he’s sneering at us with on Raw. The NXT universe sure does love it’s homegrown talent, as they roared with approval as Trips name-dropped all the stars of Raw and Smackdown that came through Full Sail.
And just like the NXT crowd, I was waiting for HHH to mention BIG E. LANGSTON for christsakes, just the best face they’ve had over the 200 episodes. And here’s where NXT takes its place as the best televised wrestling program going. This crowd wasn’t having any of Aitch forgetting ’bout E – and the five-count-chant rang through the arena. I’ve never been prouder to say that NXT is my favorite wrestling show. These fans don’t miss a thing, and their love of the little things that make wrestling magic is infectious. It’s a pleasure to do this every week.
This belongs on… NXT!
Sami Zayn & Tyson Kidd vs. Leo Kruger and Antonio Cesaro
And minutes after the five-count chant, the NXT crowds ups themselves with a “match-of-the-year” chant for Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro. How great must that feel for those men, almost four months after a match, fans are still chanting about it? Again, the greatness of the NXT crowd on full display. They were the real stars of the 200th episode.
The match itself felt like the best “greatest hits” package NXT could give us. Another Cesaro/Zayn encounter. A veteran WWE star in Kidd getting his groove back against great competition. The underrated Kruger working with three men he has a real history with. This is effortless stuff for NXT – everything about it made sense, in-ring and storyline wise. It’s what makes the show so great.
This belongs on… Raw.
I like that Emma is kinda of bitchy and rude here. The handling of her and Paige’s babyface roles in NXT are interesting studies in how to not change characters who gather genuine fan support. She’s aloof, goofy, and cute as hell. No need to suddenly shoehorn babyface pandering stuff that doesn’t fit that kind of character. Bonus points for how she proudly exclaimed she was done with the silly stuff, then did her Emma dance anyway as she exited.
This belongs on… Raw.
Paige vs. Sasha Banks
I know Brandon Stroud’s been pointing out the glacial pace of Paige’s finisher in his weekly NXT recaps, but it hadn’t bothered me much until this episode. I’m not entirely sure why I suddenly decided it cheeses me off – but holy hell that was as slow developing as an defensive lineman running an end-around. Maybe’s it’s because with Banks, Paige, and most of the women’s roster down in NXT, the action is so fast-paced and and well-timed the moves’ lack of speed stands out. Can’t she just steal the RKO or something?
Oh, and I though it was very nice of Banks to keep her ass up nice and high after getting knocked out by the Paige-Turner for the easy pin. Quite the visual, I’m not going to lie.
Enzo Amore/Big Cass & Aiden English Backstage Segment
It’s a fantastic sign for Enzo and Big Cass that WWE featured them in a backstage skit despite Enzo’s injury keeping him out of action. And as with any segment involving the funniest men in pro-wrestling, I urge you to go find it and watch it for yourself instead of me just quoting every other line. I will, however, give you my favorite:
“I’m gonna drop you like an unnecessary theatre elective.”
This belongs on… Raw.
The Ascension vs. “The American Pitbulls” – Tag-Team Championship Match
I knew this match was coming. Even if you try and avoid the dirt-sheets and spoilers as much as I do, stuff like this tends to seep out. The American Wolves, Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards, are indie-wrestling tag-team stars, and this was their debut tryout match in NXT. And I really don’t know anything about them. I’m one of those asshat WWE fans that only watches indie stuff when somebody tweets a link saying “watch this doofus it’s great,” or if I’m going back and checking out some Generico or Tyler Black action. I know what you’re thinking: if you want to be a credible wrestling journo (ha!) you gotta check it all out. I’m working on it.
So was I impressed by the
Wolves Pitbulls? Yes and no. Yes, because they obviously can go. Natural, fluid, and most importantly a team. Matching pants, shouting instructions to each other, and tandem moves that make sense in the flow of the match. The WWE’s fledgeling tag-team division is much improved over the last year or so, but they can still use guys who are dedicated and essential as a tag-team unit. They could work on Raw in no time.
The no? Well, it might not be their fault. I’m just not an Ascension fan, and I didn’t think they gave the Pitbulls enough to work with. I know some people dig ’em, and I don’t necessarily hate them. I just don’t think they are anything special, and I haven’t seen them have a great match with anyone yet to prove they can lift up another team. I was hoping getting to work with a world-traveled and complete unit as Edwards and Richards would help the Ascension shine – they’ve pretty much only had squashes since winning the belts – but I wasn’t in love.
This belongs on… Main Event.
Kofi Kingston Interview
Basic backstage stuff to set up a feud with soon-to-be on Raw Alexander Rusev. NXT has a way of bringing out the best in wrestlers coming down from cable, so I”m excited to see what Kofi can do versus the Bulgarian Brute. This is probably a match we’ll see on Main Event 10 times in 2014.
This belongs on… Main Event.
Bo Dallas(c) vs. Adrian Neville – Lumberjack Match for the NXT Championship
I’ve gone on and on in this column about how much I love me some Bo Dallas. Adrian Neville is a gifted athlete and gets some serious babyface fire going. But all I could think about after this match was how well Tyler Breeze was booked, and how great NXT is at telling stories.
When this was announced as a lumberjack match, well I really didn’t see the point. Usually this stipulation is reserved for heels who run away or take excessive count-out losses. Sure, their last tussle was a count-out win for Neville, but we didn’t get a promo from him accusing Dallas of chicanery. But, WWE adds stipulations to matches that make little sense in the narrative all the time, so this isn’t new.
But if all the lumberjack action was just an excuse for Neville’s suicide dive into the mass of jobbers, only for it to back-fire because Breeze is as crafty as he’s pretty, then it was worth it. It was a wonderfully executed finish that elevates everyone involved and moves the narrative along. Neville’s high-risk offensive backfires as he has no time to recovered from missing The Red Arrow. Can he balance his attack to become champion? Bo Dallas retains the belt without having to resort to anything overtly heelish, keeping his Oblivious Bo bit intact.
And Tyler Breeze finds himself feuding with the 2nd most popular face on NXT, all by being himself. Nobody bothers Breeze during iPhone time, even if it’s in the middle of a match he was supposed to be lumberjackin’. It was time to elevate The Gorgeous One past his petty feud with CJ Parker into something bigger. In one succinct act, the table is set for Breeze vs. Neville for 2014. That’s best for business.