Just when you think NXT can’t get any better…it does.
Tonight’s live show, NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, was a testament to what NXT as a part of the WWE brand truly is: a fully formed, safe-haven product for performers to grow in front of an audience of dedicated wrestling fans. Everyone in the audience at Full Sail University tonight knew the history of each of those performers, and not just as their NXT characters. They knew their true history – who they were before they ever signed on the dotted line of a WWE contract. This is their house.
(Just a quick reminder for new readers: I don’t critique matches because I’m not well-versed enough in wrestling technique. My expertise is in story lines and promos.)
As a whole, Unstoppable was not perfect. It came in waves of excellence. But there is nothing that was unworthy set before us. The opening match, originally a triple-threat match between Hideo Itami, Finn Balor, and Tyler Breeze to be the #1 contender for the NXT Championship, was altered when a video was a shown by a “fan” of an injured Hideo Itami in the parking lot. The video shows Kevin Owens walking past Itami, saying his injury was a shame. Were we, as the audience, meant to believe Owens had something to do with this injury? Did he take out Itami because Owens felt he was the only real competition in that three-way match?
When the match did get under way, Tyler came out to a new entrance with female counterparts holding phones. I, personally, think the phones don’t make the gimmick – the projection of the front-facing camera does. But we didn’t get that. Instead, on the titan-tron was a large, stagnant, typewriter font “TYLER BREEZE” on a white background. *snore* Meanwhile, Finn Balor’s entrance is only getting better. Today’s episode of “Talk is Jericho” feature Balor as a guest in which he explained to Chris Jericho that his name comes from a Gaelic “One-Eyed Demon” called Balor, and Balor’s nemesis, Finn. Balor’s body-paint and ring gear has altered since his first NXT TakeOver appearance, but I think he’s still growing into his WWE persona. I don’t like the dreadlock-hat, but I did like the spiked back piece and the eye hiding beneath it, as well as the slash marks on his legs. I also think the bat wings were okay, but a longer cloak might be more impressive, and if he’s going to wear a headpiece, something with horns is more fitting of a demon. Just a thought.
In the end, the outcome of the first match pits Balor against Owens once again as the #1 contender for the NXT championship. Let’s hope we don’t play this story out the same way as last time.
Following this match was a diva’s tag match pitting Charlotte & Bayley against Emma & Dana Brooke. I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch most of this match, it just didn’t hold my interest, which is a shame, because I really enjoy Charlotte & Bayley. But I would much rather them be opponents then have opponents that are unworthy of them. I am not sure what the point of pitting Emma against Bayley is, and I’m not too pleased Bayley is taking her bait. This type of booking makes Bayley seem petty, like the girl in middle school who gets picked on and lashes out. Bayley is a grown woman who is talented and shouldn’t be falling for Emma’s taunts.
And just in case you, fine reader, do not follow me on twitter, this is my feeling on Dana Brooke:
As a tattooed freak of a lady, I was on the bandwagon for Baron Corbin from the very beginning. I liked when they developed his Goldberg-esque gimmick of squash matches (and by “they” I mean The NXT Universe did it themselves) but I always knew the character needed to grow beyond that. Baron’s story line with Bull Dempsey was probably a try for that, but I never felt that Bull Dempsey was anything more than a Rhyno wanna-be, short on the mic, big with the punches. When their feud, culminating the last NXT live “PPV” event, fell flat, they needed to try something else to reconnect Corbin with the audience. So why, exactly, did they choose to pit him against the REAL Rhyno, a guy not known for his stellar promos or his in-depth story lines? He’s fun to watch in the ring, but there’s more to wrestling than “I want to gore someone, I pick you!” What Corbin needs is a chance to be challenged. We need to see more of who he is. One of the things that makes the main event picture so great is because there is history and back story to Zayn vs. Owens. We need Corbin to become 3 dimensional – he needs back story. Nobody starts out a lone wolf. What happened to this guy to make him what he is, the bringer of End of Days? He needs to be picked apart. This would be a great opportunity for a Bray Wyatt type, or a Leo Kruger (just sayin’).
I was and was not disappointed by the tag team match. I am a HUGE fan of Enzo Amore and Big Cass, and not just because I’m from New York. Enzo is undoubtedly the #1 stick man in WWE. If (heaven forbid) Enzo should ever get hurt, he needs to be a manager. Him vs. Paul Heyman in a promo-off. (Book it!) Enzo & Cass have made a connection with the audience: their characters are recognizable, they are over-the-top and fun, but they’re still humans and they make mistakes. They try to do the right thing. Blake & Murphy (reigning NXT Tag Team Champs) are ridiculous. They remind me so much of the New Age Outlaws, which is fine. They’re not my favorites – they remind me too much of guys I went to college with who did molly and had black lights in their dorm rooms. But when you get all four of these guys together, they tell you a story. They got Carmela involved, which is very important. Why have a valet if she’s not part of the story? And in the end, she WAS the story, as Enzo & Cass lost the match when Alexa Bliss came in and attacked Carmela from behind, thus aligning herself with some of the worst hair WWE has ever seen. If Alexa Bliss is turning heel, can we fire Dana Brooke? Please? I love Alexa Bliss, regardless of her face/heel status.
The Women’s Championship match was unbelievable. I spent the entire 20 minutes on the edge of the my seat. There was balance to what happened in the ring. They told a beautiful story. Just watching them made me feel exhausted. But everything leading up to this match made sense as well. Becky Lynch was never on Charlotte’s radar when she was champ. To get herself into what (at the time) was the Holy Trintiy of the NXT Women’s division, Charlotte, Bayley, and Sasha Banks, she had to make some changes. She ended up aligning herself with Sasha which worked until her hunger for the title got too big. On the last NXT TakeOver, we saw Becky face Sasha, as well as Charlotte and Bayley, in a Fatal Four Way for the title, which Sasha won. But now Sasha’s ex-minion wanted her chance in the limelight, and boy did she ever shine. The story felt very complete to me, it arced nicely and I would like to see Sasha and Becky move on to face other opponents. They definitely had the match of the night, no question.
The main event was not what I was expecting. The story that has been unfolding between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn has revealed a side of Sami Zayn we’ve never seen before. Kevin Owens came to NXT as a cold, collected, and vicious fighter. Sami was a fan-favorite, a good guy, a solid worker. When he took that horrible beating from Owens and lost his NXT Championship, I thought they were moving him to the main roster – but no. Sami came back, after a time, and demanded a chance to redeem himself. Owens wasn’t having it. In Zayn’s absence he had turned his attention to other things, bigger fish, like his upcoming match with John Cena at Elimination Chamber in a week and a half. But Sami knew all the right buttons to push. I have never seen Sami Zayn cut promos like the two he cut, one to get the match and two last week. Sami pulled out all the big guns – that everything Owens did has Zayn’s name attached to it and that Owens had to put Zayn down because Owens’ son was a Sami Zayn fan. You NEVER mention a guy’s kid – and definitely not this guy’s kid. But in true resilient Sami Zayn fashion, he held his own until the very end. And when it seemed all hope was lost…
Some big things are happening in NXT. It’s a great time to be a wrestling fan.
The Lady J “To Watch” List:
1. NXT Women’s Division (minus Dana Brooke)
2. Kevin Owens vs. Samoa Joe
3. Samoa Joe vs. Kevin Owens
4. Uhaa Nation is in NXT!
5. Me, passing out from excitement