Everyone seems to be on the NXT train lately, and with good reason. It’s consistently the best WWE show that they put on week to week and has a realism and freshness that we haven’t seen in years. Let’s take a look at this week’s episode and see if it stands up to the reputation I built for it no less than one sentence ago.
We start we a video re-cap of last week’s phenomenal Takeover: Rivals. They manage to make the show look tremendous without any of the forced hyperbole that I’m sure we’ll be inundated with after Fastlane. One thing that’s striking is that they’re able to use slow motion replays for their women’s match which would be absolutely impossible in a match with Nikki Bella pulling Alicia Fox’s hair.
The video ends with a montage of Kevin Owens’ title win which does a fabulous job of conveying the emotion in the building that night. You know you’ve done something right when you get all those shots of the audience upset and afraid for Zayn’s safety. No one’s having fun here Maggle, they’re just fighting.
We move to a cold open with William Tunney where he clarifies that, yes, a title can change hands on ref stoppage, and Kevin Owens will fight Adrian Neville tonight, but not for the title since he hasn’t earned it. Regal concludes by stating that Neville can’t get his title back but he can get revenge on the man who sent him to the hospital. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED FOR A WRESTLING FEUD. It’s simple and gives us a reason to get invested in the match, Adrian Neville and Kevin Owens. Strangely it only took about 30 seconds to do all that… I’ve been trained to need a twenty minute promo followed by the commentators talking about it all night to get these complicated issues.
We’re finally in the arena and Kevin Owens is out to a mixed reaction which quickly morphs into “Fight Owens Fight” which is a chant, I’m sure the WWE brass feel is more over than Owens himself. Owens cuts a great heel promo. He says he never lied or claimed to be someone he’s not, he’s just there to win. It contrasts so nicely with how brutal he is in the ring and that’s what makes it work. A good villain is always right, it’s his methods and actions that make him a “bad guy.” He calls out Finn Balor to pick a date for his challenge any time he wants and states that no one will take the title from him or his family. Kevin Owens fighting to make a better life for his family is such a clear a relatable motivation upon which a multitude of storylines and angles can be built. A word on promos: What made this click for me was how natural and from the heart it felt. During HHH’s podcast with Austin he mentioned that one of the reason’s they script the promos so heavily is that someone can make a mistake. Jesus Christ I’d much rather someone naturally make a mistake than someone say “Sufferin’ Succotash”.
Rich Brennan then immediately repeats what Kevin Owens just made clear on commentary. Uh-oh… my WWE commentary alarm is going off. Sometimes you can let something simmer so people have the chance to think about it. It usually works better than ” Get it???? Do you understand what’s happening???” I’m also curious if they train all WWE commentators to speak with their hands so much.
Match # 1 Elias Samson (I had to look it up) Vs. Rhyno!!!!
Crowd loses their mind at this surprise and this is the squishiest of squishy squashes. It’s awesome to see how pumped and happy Rhyno was to be back, and the people were legit thrilled to see him. This works so well here because had this happened on Raw no one would have cared as much. Just a great segment… until Jason Albert says ” Rhyno is the originator of the spear.” Ugh.
Finn Balor is backstage with Devon and he’s focused on winning the NXT title. I have no idea if Balor can talk or not yet, but if he can’t they’re doing a great job focusing on his positives. This nonsense of a top guy needing to do 20 minute promos to be over is exposed as such a fallacy after you watch Finn Balor do his stuff on PPV. Rhyno walks by and it’s as awkward as any rhino attack has ever been.
Match #2 The Vaudevillains Vs. Enzo Amore/ Colin Cassidy
The Vaudevillains are one of my favorite gimmicks in wrestling and their entrance is just sublime. Their shtick is fun and they do a ton of little things in the ring to sell the idea that they have, in fact, found a time machine. Enzo’s chants are waaaay over and I’d be curious to see if they could catch on on a larger scale. I like it, but I’m a little weirded out that there’s a tag title match between two teams that doesn’t involve the tag titles. Again I’m trained to only see and/or care about the tag champs ad whoever they are currently fighting. Anyways, back to the match, it’s solid and just as I start to admire “Butterscotch” Simon Gotch’s outfit Enzo and Cass finish with a sweet splash/big boot combo for the win. I like Enzo ad Cass, they have a real New Age Outlaws feel. Let’s be honest too, getting something like SAWFT over is much, much more difficult to get over than “suck it.” Blake and Murphy do the old interrupt the celebration from the NXT -tron bit, and add a personal touch by telling Carmella she should be with them. Carmella terribly pantomimes throwing up so while she may be “hot as hell” she needs to study at the Batista school of acting rather than the Shawn Michaels school of mugging.
Adrian Neville is preparing for his match with Owens back stage, and he smartly turns his loss to Balor around by saying, while he’s disappointed he gets to be the hunter rather than the hunter now. Just good simple stuff.
We next get an extremely obnoxious commercial where the WWE tries to work all the catchphrases they use on their T-Shirts into regular sentences. It’s painful and really goes to show how far they are away from “Austin 3:16” or “Just Bring it”.
CJ Parker now holds the show hostage by putting police tape all over the ring. He’s mad he wasn’t on Takeover. I’m mad he’s on the show right now. I was under the impression he died at the hands of Kevin Owens. This all serves as the backdrop for the long awaited debut of Solomon Crowe. Which is…. kind of shitty? He looks different, which is good, but then he starts talking and… whelp, I hope he can work! This felt overly long.
Match #3 Sasha Banks Vs Blue Pants
Number one Blue Pants is one of the dumbest names I’ve ever heard of in wrestling, and no great theme song of some idiot singing “The Price is Right” will make it better. Just awful. I usually always look forward to the women’s matches on NXT but this one was a bit of a letdown. I’m gonna go ahead and blame that on Pants since Sasha Banks has enough good stuff in the bank (hahahahahahaha) to get a pass here. Plus she bothers to wear the title to the ring which I always appreciate. The best sequence is the end, as Sasha does her great suspended knee stomp in the corner followed by a sweet backbreaker/bank statement combo for the Pants tap out. Banks scares off the out of shape male interviewer and claims she’s “the baddest diva in NXT” I’ve never hear a truly bad person refer to themselves as a diva, but who knows what Brock Lesnar says in the privacy in his own home.
We finally get the update on Sami Zayn we’ve been promised for the entire show and … he’s fine. All that build for that???This is also the guy who said CM Punk was fine though too right? Dr Amann looks totally like they got some indy guy to play a doctor. Do they not have a real doctor???? Is this guy getting the official “CM Punk spite push”? Perhaps he and Ryback can main event WrestleMania? Great he’s getting on TV right before he announces he’s suing CM Punk. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.
Match #4 Kevin Owens Vs. Adrian Neville
Right off the bat the commentators say ” William Regal said he’s the one who makes the rules.” This is the kind of shit that would never fly if Gorilla and Vince were announcing. It seems like a small thing but Vince would never quote a Jack Tunney’s ruling, he’d be allowed to have his own voice and be himself upset about a heel’s nefarious tactics. The announcers need to be invested too, not just shills who repeat what has been said and tell us what we should like. (cough) Anyways this match is great. Adrian Neville gets absolutely no credit for being one of the best workers in the company right now. Everything is crisp and vicious. Twice he made me ohh and ahh in the comfort of my own home. The dead lift German on Owens and the reverse hurricanrana are both tremendous spots that they will take away from him and give to Roman Reigns. Kevin Owens is also wonderful and linking moves together. These two tell a great little story of Neville not being able to hang with Owens, then he hits one desperation move, then he gives Owens everything but ultimately falls to the pop up power bomb. Fantastic match and if this is what we’re going to get from an Owens’ title reign I’m all in.
Best Match: Kevin Owens Vs Adrian Neville
Worst Match: Sasha Banks Vs. Blue Pants (this one pains me)
Best Promo/Skit: Kevin Owens: Family Man
Worst Promo/Skit: Solomon Crowe’s “Now back to your regularly schedules program!”
MVP: Kevin Owens
What Worked Really Well
– Between the Kevin Owens promo and Regal protecting who gets a shot they’ve really done a great job making the title feel important.
– Every match clearly is being used to further programs rather than fill up TV time.
– The Video packages are top notch.
– Regal is a wonderful authority figure.
What Sort Of Works
– The overly lit arena is about one more blinking light away from making me epileptic. It does look different though.
– The Owens/Neville match is a perfect example of a small complaint I have whenever I watch NXT. The match is very good, but I’m always catching myself wishing I was watching these guys fight in ROH or New Japan. They’re forced to wrestle a “WWE” style which seems to mandate them to put in a bunch of slow spots. I always feel like guys like Zayn, Owens, Neville, Balor and Itami are holding back. I just want to see them go all out before they’re called up and have to lose to John Cena.
What Didn’t Work
– The commentators were a real problem with this one. They’re quietly slipping into Michael Cole mode where they don’t talk about the match outside of a few ohhs and ahhs. You don’t need to tell me how good something was or how to feel. A good announcer lets the product breathe.
– Solomon Crowe looked terrible. I really hope I’m wrong about this one down the line, but right now he came pff lame and second rate with his look and line delivery.
– There was waaaaaay too much talking this week. For the first time since I started watching NXT the show felt a bit long and laborious.
– They built up the Sami Zayn update way too much to just say “He’s fine! I cleared him to wrestle in Abu Dhabi! I’m suing CM Punk!”
– I get that they want to have commercials for their merch and upcoming shows, but why in the hell do we need to cut away mid-match during the main event of a taped show on a network that they own. You can’t plan the ad breaks another way?
So Why Should I Watch This Instead Of Raw?
The one hour format works really well. Instead of getting Roman Reigns standing across the ring two times a week for two months you get a mix of guys that always feels fresh. This week wasn’t the best example of how good the show can be but it still had a way better match than anything on Raw or Smackdown this year. I also love the idea that we’re watching the future of the company. It’s a future I’m scared for, as I don’t see them fitting in with the Main Eventers on the main roster, but for now we get to see them go, week in and week out.
Thanks for Reading! See You Next Week!