Two title matches and an eventful contract signing highlight this week’s packed edition of NXT.
On a packed show that included two championship matches, NXT’s focus was on establishing what just might surprisingly be the new top villain in the brand, while also beginning to steer the course for NXT TakeOver: London. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the biggest thoughts coming out of this week’s NXT.
NXT Figured Out How to Work Smart Fans
There’s no shame in admitting it – WWE worked me (and many other fans), and they worked us good. From the moment that word leaked a few months back that WWE was considering making Eva Marie the face of the NXT women’s division, many of the NXT faithful made their voices heard loudly and clearly. How could WWE take the blood, sweat, and tears put into the division – one that made history by main-eventing a TakeOver card with a 30-Minute Iron Man Match for the NXT Women’s Championship that featured two of the best female wrestlers in the world – and throw that away by making a seemingly vapid Total Divas castmember the champion? For crying out loud, I spent almost 500 words talking about it in this space last week.
Based on how the actual title match between Bayley and Eva Marie came off, however, it appears that WWE was aware of what it was doing all along and knew just how to manipulate the hardcore fans who often like to think that they’re smarter than the business, because the entire idea of Eva being the “corporate” choice was essentially the point (though not necessarily the goal) of the entire match in the first place.
From Michael Cole showing up as the temporary replacement for NXT general manager William Regal (away dealing with his real-life recovery from neck surgery) and saying that Regal didn’t want the Bayley/Eva match to happen, but “WWE corporate” did, to Eva revealing backstage that she had a ringer in the form of Nia Jax by her side, to WWE referee Charles Robinson being sent by corporate to ensure that nothing “controversial” occurred during the match, the deck was stacked against ultimate underdog Bayley from the jump.
Although Eva is still very bad and very green in the ring – those shoulder blocks into the corner feel less like wrestling moves and more like a child playacting as a wrestler – WWE wisely overbooked the match to feature false finishes, two ref bumps, and multiple instances of interference from Jax at ringside before Bayley ultimately picked up the win with a Bayley-to-Belly from the top rope, only to then suffer a post-match attack by Jax that left her laying and Jax walking out looking satisfied. In the end, it seems that establishing Jax as the actual threat to Bayley’s title was the true goal and that Eva’s challenge was simply the means to an end.
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More interestingly than that, however, was that WWE stumbled onto (or maybe even knew all along) the fact that the biggest heel in NXT isn’t anyone who’s actually on the roster. Instead, that true threat and the biggest of the bads to NXT fans is corporate involvement.
We talked about it last week – the fear that Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn were beginning to leave their greasy fingerprints on the pristine and pure NXT, the place where true fans go to get their actual wrestling fix. Even though she’s exactly the type of “diva” favored by McMahon and Dunn, someone like Eva Marie would never fly with the fans as the face of a division built by the likes of Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch and Bayley and Charlotte, but WWE knew that all along.
It knew that the biggest threat to NXT fans was the panic that NXT would begin looking more like Raw and SmackDown and less like the special show that it’s become the talk of the wrestling world in 2015. And WWE used that fear to its great advantage.
Fans like myself who decried Eva’s entry into the NXT Women’s Championship picture can now only tip our caps to WWE for a job well done, while at the same time wondering why a company that’s proven so deft at weaving nuanced stories on its “minor league” show continues to be so unwilling to do the same thing on Raw, SmackDown, or its pay-per-view events.
NXT TakeOver: London is Taking Shape
With this week’s episode of NXT being the first one shot at the latest tapings, it was charged with beginning the setup for NXT TakeOver: London, and by the end of the show, no less than five different matches were in focus.
First is the NXT Championship match between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe, as Cole set the stage for a contract signing between the two that had Joe attacking and locking Balor into the Kokina Clutch for the second time in recent weeks. The contract signing was a nicely done iteration of an often-overused wrestling trope, and it did its job by making the eventual match between the two even more hotly anticipated.
As mentioned earlier, Nia Jax seems to be the direction that Bayley’s heading with regard to the NXT Women’s Championship, though a Fatal 4-Way Match involving Eva Marie and Alexa Bliss does seem to be another possibility, given those two women’s issues with the champ of late. Meanwhile, Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady returned to extract some revenge on new NXT Tag Team Champions Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder after Dash & Dawson’s successful title defense against the former champs, The Vaudevillians, and possibly put themselves in line for a shot at the titles in London.
As if that wasn’t enough, a newly aggressive and focused Apollo Crews officially accepted Baron Corbin’s challenge from last week, while Emma attacked Japanese shooter Asuka from behind thanks to diversionary tactics by Dana Brooke to seemingly set the stage for a battle between two of NXT’s international favorites.
TakeOver cards also are typically home to returns and surprise debuts, so with NXT airing a Sami Zayn return promo and there being some recognizable names reportedly backstage at the tapings (including a popular former TNA World Champion not named James Storm), TakeOver: London could end up being a memorable event.
*Let’s just say that the Full Sail crowd wasn’t big on the idea of Michael Cole being around, as they booed him lustily during his appearance. While the first instinct was to be annoyed by his presence, it’s entirely likely that he’s only here to further the “corporate” intrusion angle.
*As mentioned above, the contract signing segment was a successful one, as it showed that Finn Balor is progressing with the biggest weakness in his game – promos. He’s getting better, which is something that’s necessary if he’s ever going to have success on the main roster. Additionally, Samoa Joe coming out, signing the contract without even looking at Balor, and then walking straight back up the ramp (albeit before returning and attacking Balor when Balor made his own exit) was a new approach to what are often hackneyed contract signings that really worked well.
*The NXT Tag Team Championship rematch between Dash & Dawson and The Vaudevillains seemed to give the former champs a little more than their initial match did, though Dawson and Wilder would eventually come away victorious once again. The new champs’ approach of destroying their opponents’ body parts is a uniquely old-school one, with the focus being on English’s arm instead of his knee this time around. The match could’ve been a little longer for my tastes, but it was still solid action.
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*In addition to her shoulder blocks into the corner being maybe the least convincing move in wrestling, Eva Marie also still can’t cut a promo to save her life.
*The repackaging of previously enhancement talent Elias Sampson as some kind of folk singer is an… interesting move?
*”Do you know the one difference between me and Eva Marie? I’m a wrestler and she’s not.” Bayley as a confident champion is working very nicely.
*Sami Zayn return video. Get excited.
*Having Apollo Crews continue his newly aggressive approach after Baron Corbin cost him his shot at the NXT Championship is some nice storytelling. Crews pretty much destroyed former TNA talent Jesse Sorensen during their match, even breaking out the atomic drop variation spun midair into a sit-out powerbomb that he used on the indies as Uhaa Nation to end the match. Crews should definitely make this his new finisher, as it looks much more impressive than his previous one does.
*Speaking of Sorensen, he actually got his own entrance and a buildup on commentary from Rich Brennan, which might’ve worked better had he not already been on NXT in the past (more than once, I believe) with little fanfare.
*Let’s be honest – Baron Corbin’s promos are terrible and sound like the type of garbage spewed on the main roster. Although, given the revelation of “WWE corporate” as the newly crowned top heel in NXT, maybe it’s actually by design.
*A match between Samoa Joe and Tommaso Ciampa next week? Can’t wait.