Today I watched a live NXT special for the first time. These live shows apparently don’t mix with Australian timeslots that well, so they never get broadcast here and thus I never get to see them. Until today! After all, I am back to existing as a functioning wrestling addict, and no wrasslin’ junkie worth their salt would dare to miss the hottest show in town: NXT.
NXT as a weekly show is the stuff dreams are made of. For only an hour’s worth of your time, you get a perfect, self-contained episodic wrestling program, complete with defined characters, storyline progression, cool angles, decent promos, great matches, serious presentation, and an emphasis on women’s wrestling. This show has it all. Takeover specials take the form of 21st century Clash of the Champions-style cards. It all has the feel of wrestling as it should be.
Even down to the little things like how they wrote Hideo Itami out of the show. There’s nothing old school-er than being attacked in the parking lot, and I loved the way it was done, with a fan following Enzo and Cass and inadvertently being on hand to capture the moment, to Kevin Owens casually walking by and tossing out “That’s a shame.”
The tricked out entrances for the opener rocked, with Tyler Breeze going all out unveiling his Spring 2015 collection of babes, and then Finn Balor’s epic Demon Balor entrance topping it. I’ve never been the biggest Devittoh fan, but man, that dude looks badass as hell in that bodypaint, and that was his sickest yet. The match itself was fairly dull, but I did like the finishing run, starting with the missed stomp-Beauty Shot sequence, through Breeze’s tantrum, Balor’s stage dive and the finish.
Two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to envision Emma as a heel, but this turn has revitalised her. I immensely appreciate Charlotte buying into this BFF team with Bayley. Bayley is saving wrestling with kindness the way I imagined Cherry would have in 2008 had she not left the company. Anyway, it’s actually a testament to the quality of the NXT women’s division that the timing issues that Dana Brooke had stood out a mile here. This was fine.
I don’t really get the appeal of Baron Corbin. I mean I understand it, I see his tattooed twink biker look and hear women screaming for him, I can see what’s happening here. But for me personally…I don’t get the appeal. Maybe if I were a straight girl. Anyway, this match was a whole lot of nothing, but Rhyno is perfect fodder for Corbin as long as they continue to persist with him.
Enzo and Big Cass are so much money. I could listen to them run through their schtick all day erry day. Enzo wrestles just perfectly for his character. He has the biggest mouth in the room but he’s a total goof, getting his ass handed to him and relying on lucky breaks and his 7ft tall partner. I actually popped huge when he hit the crossbody because I’ve never seen him not miss before. I expected the Alexa Bliss finish from the TV, but it was still disappointing. Enzo and Cass are the kind of guys that I want to see win no matter what. When they finally win the tag team titles…shit will massively be lost. Also, full credit to Blake and Murphy for sporting the most ridiculous heel hairstyles I’ve ever seen. A Chris Jericho topknot and PIGTAILS. Approved.
And now onto the main event: the women’s title match. God I love NXT. Now that these girls are getting it done and people are noticing I feel like such a hipster fan sitting here being all “I liked the Divas before it was cool…” Nevertheless, I did and I told youse all so. Is Layla still employed? I sure as hell hope so, because Layla going down to NXT for a while to do real work would complete me. Now that TNA is kicking the bucket for real just imagine Taryn Terrell in NXT…or Gail Kim. Get Kong back in. These days any outlandish signing seems possible, and the idea of any halfway decent woman getting a chance to shine in NXT is wildly appealing.
But seriously folks, Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch. Holy Moses. When the whole show was over I rewound and watched Sasha vs Becky all over again, and I could go for thirds right now. I haven’t said that about a wrestling match since Andre the Giant vs Stan Hansen, and there ain’t much higher praise than that. This is easily my favourite match that I’ve seen since I kicked the weekly wrestling habit 18 months or so ago. This was FANTASTIC. Every second of this from the Japanese-style entrance walks onwards rocked and rocked hard. It’s the kind of match that makes me want to list every single great moment within, but when I consider how many there were I find it impossible, and it probably still wouldn’t do the match justice. Every second of this ruled.
One extremely minor moment I loved, for example, was the part where Sasha had the hammerlock on and Becky countered by ramming her back into the corner. It was so simple, but so well executed, as you can see Sasha looking back trying to get her bearings before being forcibly pushed into the turnbuckle, and this happens twice before she finally has time to sidestep her and let Becky throw herself in there. It was one of those moments where you can see the gears turning in a wrestler’s mind, see exactly why everything unfolds as it does, and I love those moments in matches. Or when Sasha did the dive. On paper it seems like a strange choice for a heel who isn’t a high flyer, but it made perfect sense in context because the match was such a struggle and she needed to pull out something extraordinary to get her momentum back. And even then, she does this big one-armed tope but Becky CATCHES HER and tosses her into the stairs, so while you start off impressed with Sasha, you end up impressed with Becky and the focus of the spot is on the babyface, which is an incredibly effective way to have a heel hit a cool highspot and still retain the dynamics of the match. Little details like that immensely added to this.
Oh and what also added to it was totes sick arm work, cool moves, great selling, perfect timing…everything on point. I can’t even begin to explain it. Love, love, love everything. Matches like this remind me of why I love this crazy caper so much. Sasha Banks is unquestionably the best wrestler in the world right now. She’s on a completely different level to everyone else.
What I loved about the post-match was that not only did Becky get the standing ovation, but the crowd started singing her theme tune, unprompted and with no music. That encapsulates everything good about the NXT crowd. Not only are they smart fans who like to chant and pick workrate favourites, but they also really care about these wrestlers. They just care. They care enough about Becky Lynch to be able to sing the tune to her theme music off the top of their heads, even after half of them were chanting for Sasha throughout the match. Their ovation didn’t so much say “we’ll clap you for having a good workrate match”, but it said “we’ve seen how far you’ve come, this was a big moment and you nailed it, we’re proud of you for doing so well”. That is a dedicated, invested crowd. People compare them unfavourably with the Impact Zone bozos, but that’s way out of line. The Impact Zone was plagued with non-stop “This Is Awesome” chants for the slightest nod to workrate and a lot of apathy towards what was otherwise happening. Full Sail is heavily, deeply invested in the product in front of them. They may not buy everything they’re being sold (Corbin, etc.), but they sure as shit give it a whirl first, and they always react to what is going on. They cheer the babyfaces, boo the heels, and even when they don’t it’s because they’re excited about their favourites, not because they have that smarky “cheer the heels” cynicism. They chant things that suit and help the wrestlers, they treat indy names like superstars, they amuse themselves but don’t distract from the matches, and above all they have fun and enjoy watching a wrestling show. I absolutely love Full Sail and won’t hear a bad word against them.
Anyway getting back to our sheep, it was hard for the actual main event to follow the real main event, but luckily this was Owens vs Zayn, and that shit is always on. I like that this was a brawl, it made sense for so many reasons. The feud is so bloody at this point it demanded a fight, it made it easier to work around Zayn’s injury, and we so rarely see things like crowd brawling on NXT that it helped it stand out as a match (and especially in comparison to Sasha/Becky). Plus it reminded me of their crazy ROH battles from 2010. I liked the way they did the finish, with the referees trying to get a look at Zayn, but Owens is so hell bent on destruction that he keeps interrupting, and in the end it all just falls apart because Owens doesn’t give anyone enough space to do anything, whether that would have been ringing the bell or letting Zayn continue. You just get confusion, a mess. The split-second moment where Regal hooked Owens’ nose and got HEADBUTTED TO DEATH instantly sold me on Regal vs Owens and I sincerely hope it happens sometime during this angle. Regal worked the Cesaro match like it was his retirement, but I am now all for him coming back and doing it all again with Owens, which is lofty praise from me because I came into Owens’ NXT run not really caring about him at all. But wait, there’s JOOOOOOOOOOOOE!!! Samoa Joe in WWE is just so surreal and so amazing to watch, maybe even moreso than any of the unlikely signings that came before. It’s so hard to believe, after all this time. Kevin Steen feuding with Generico, Prince Devitt and Samoa Joe on WWE TV. What a time to be alive.