Takeover – Break’s Over

Did you miss me?

It’s been a whirlwind past few days in the House of J. Since returning home to New York on Wednesday afternoon just in time to watch NXT Takeover: London, I’ve basically been going non-stop. Lots of family and friends to see before I head back to the land of warmer temperatures and politics next weekend.

A few things have been on my mind over the last 72-ish hours, so forgive me if I jump around a bit. The first, of course, being that Takeover program. I was never worried that it was going to be bad show – none of the Takeover shows have ever been bad – but it was certainly anti-climactic in the wake of what TLC and Monday Night RAW brought to the table for WWE fans. Plus, I have my own personal biases that the NXT roster isn’t giving us what it once did in terms of storylines.

Bailey vs. Sasha Banks is going to be a feud that every other women’s feud (and men’s, for that matter) in NXT will be compared to. Now, as the leader of the division, she’s trying to bring the rest of her colleagues up to her level, but they’re not there yet. I commend her for the work she did in the ring with Nia Jax. I’m also very interested to see where Nia’s career goes, as she is so physically different from the rest of the roster. But I think the stand out match of the show was really Asuka vs. Emma. It was paced well, it told a good story, and Asuka is just the most compelling person to watch in the ring. She’s wonderfully weird in backstage promos, effectively overcoming the language barrier with her amazing facial expressions and bizarre gestures. In the ring, you cannot take your eyes off of her. That doesn’t mean Emma didn’t bring her own level of talent to that match – it might have been different with a lesser opponent (it certainly would not have been as exciting.) I could honestly watch Asuka wrestle anyone and everyone, week after week, and never get tired of her. She constantly changes things up and comes across as unpredictable. That’s just good TV.

I am always cheering for Enzo Amore and Big Cass, but there was no point at which (during their feud or during this match) that I thought they were going to win the Tag Team championships from Dash and Dawson. It’s not easy to stay invested in a title match when there doesn’t appear to be any real possibility of the challenger winning. I liked the false finish, but the camera being on Carmella was a dead giveaway that it wasn’t really over. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking, but as a big supporter of this team it is disheartening when a feud isn’t actually built to go anywhere. We all know  Gable & Jordan are next in line for a title shot, but I’m worried where Enzo & Big Cass are headed next.

A match I was really happy with was the Baron Corbin vs. Apollo Crews match. I have been a fan of Corbin since his return to the NXT ring in September of last year. I like his character, and I prefer him as the strong silent type (see also: stay off the microphone, kid.) Now that the feud between him and Crews is over, I look forward to his next opponent. I have hopes it’s someone who is as interesting to me as he is, because Apollo Crews does nothing for me. He seems like a nice guy and isn’t bad in the ring, but he’s kind of boring. No, he’s not “kind of” boring – he IS boring. And I don’t know what you do about boring. Give him more interesting storylines? I don’t know that there’s any way to repackage him to make him appear more interesting. He’s just sort of forgettable, and that’s like a death sentence to a wrestler. As someone who never followed his indie career, NXT has not given me a reason as new fan to Crews to tune in and watch him. I’m actually more interested in Tye Dillinger, whom Crews beat in his first televised match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn than I am to watch more from Apollo Crews ever again.

I’m not going to spend too much time on the main event of NXT Takeover: London, because I really enjoyed the match and wasn’t entirely sure who would win in the end. I like both of these guys, and am actually finding lately that I prefer two very different styles of wrestlers together. It keeps the audience on their toes, and impresses us when one of the wrestlers reaches into a new bag of tricks to get on his opponent’s level. What I do want to talk about is the Finn Balor entrance.

I love the body paint. I once “accidentally” fell into a black hole of Prince Devitt’s entrances in a variety of different body paints and costumes. (If you have some time to kill, I recommend starting here.) So when we first saw The Demon entrance at NXT Takeover: R Evolution, I was impressed, but I knew it would evolve over time. It was not so perfect that there was no room for change (for example: PLEASE GET RID OF THE STUPID FAKE DREADS I HATE THEM.) I enjoyed watching Balor at each new Takeover special, knowing his body paint and costume would be different. So naturally, in London, the Demon had morphed yet again and was now Balor the Ripper, in his top hat and coat. Suddenly – the internet went wild.

“Is WWE really suggesting that Balor is a murderer of prostitutes?” “Does whoever put him in that getup even know the story of Jack the Ripper?” People? Get a grip. Please go back and watch Balor’s entrance for this show. He is in London, and the crowd goes completely insane. They don’t suddenly notice his garb and go “oh, now that’s just – that is inappropriate. No no, absolutely not. We can’t have this.” It’s their history, so if the Brits (who we’ve all made fun of for being stodgy, don’t lie) can enjoy the entrance without being offended, I think we can, too. I really like the idea that the Demon Balor and the Finn Balor we see on weekly TV are separate things. The Balor the Ripper entrance brings forth the idea that the Demon persona might be even more dangerous than we know. But I feel confident that no one at NXT was trying to subliminally tell the audience that Finn Balor is a murderer. Please stop reading too far into these things, you all give me such a headache.

Moving away from Balor in particular, I just wanted to point out that this was a low point for NXT in terms of the excitement factor. The card itself was not that thrilling – but it was still a good program. When the main roster low-balls their programming, they tank. It’s god-awful. But this, while not as good as something like NXT Takeover: R Evolution, is certainly still an entertaining and worthwhile show to watch. I would like to see less of the one-off indie wrestlers on TV and give more time to the people still currently toiling away at the performance center waiting for their spot. If they tank, they tank, but you don’t have to draw your audience in with names from other promotions who are only going to do a job and leave. WWE is already showing us faces of people we’ve never seen on NXT TV with their program Breaking Ground. Why not let their story play out that way and at the end bring them out on an episode of NXT? Seems like a plausible way to get someone over – or at least have a crowd know who they are when they walk to the ring. Regardless of how they do it, I’d like to see NXT get themselves out of this slump they’ve been in since so many of the women, Neville, and Owens were called up.

In other news, the Slammy Awards are happening in 48 hours on Monday Night RAW. I would like to know why WWE gets to decide when NXT exists and when it doesn’t. And if maybe we could all agree to redefine kayfabe as an object, like – say, a cast-iron frying pan. And then maybe I could smack someone over at headquarters around with it. NXT EXISTS. IN FACT, SOME OF THE PEOPLE ON THE MAIN ROSTER WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER OFF STAYING THERE (that’s another post, J, calm down.) Why, for the love of all things wrestling, is NXT not on any of the ballots?

No, you know what, I know why. Because they would wipe the floor with the main roster. Match of the year would be Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, though the Ironwoman match is a close second,) feud of the year would be Zayn vs. Owens – the list goes on and on. But to try and find “best of” moments, when for most of the year the Best of WWE was happening in NXT is laughable. Maybe WWE thinks it’s a good idea to hold an award segment like this when all of the best thing they’ve done this year happened in the last week. At least that’s fresh in our minds.

The holidays are a nutty time of year for everyone, and I can’t promise I’ll be watching RAW on Monday instead of spending time with my family. I CAN tell you I will be back to it on the 28th with my newly converted fan friend who watched TLC with me. She’s very stoked, and I’m very stoked to have someone new to the product making me excited to watch. I hope to be able to post a few more times before my return to the DMV next weekend, but forgive me if they’re not daily. Also, leave me some snarky comments about the Balor entrance stuff, I want to know what y’all think. That really bothered the crap out of me.

I need to run out for more eggnog. See you kids on the flip side.

The Lady J Says

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NXT 12/9/2015

After doing this post last week, I felt I owed it to myself to actually sit down and watched NXT tonight. So I did.

This was a very different go-home show than the one I watched on Monday. I don’t even know what RAW was about. This show, inside of an hour, very clearly set up all of matches we are going to see next Wednesday in London.

I really enjoyed seeing a more aggressive side of Enzo Amore and Big Cass. I thought it was a great idea to have them skip their intro in favor of just storming to the ring and demolishing their opponents. I don’t really know what happened with current tag-team champs Dash and Dawson, but apparently they did something dastardly to Enzo and Cass and are likely to catch a beating next week. I couldn’t, however, tell you the name of their opponents for tonight, or why they were even out there.

I really enjoy Asuka. I like her over-the-top entrance and her weird smiling, and I love her in-ring work. I don’t like Dana Brooke, and I’m neutral enough on Emma that I can boo her if the situation calls for it. I have no issues with this feud either (except that it involves listening to Dana Brooke speak) but I don’t know what Asuka’s opponent’s purpose was. Couldn’t tell you her name either. What I CAN tell you is that she received crickets from the audience. No cheers. No boos. Not even so much as a sneeze. Nothing.

Alexa Bliss has always been enjoyable, whether as a tutu-wearing fairy babyface or as this “she be but little, but she is fierce” heel. I also like her as the “manager”of dopey Blake and Murphy. I like to think of her as Cruella DeVille with Blake and Murphy as her Jasper and Horace. They are an excellent heel team. I can’t stand Mojo Rawley, and have no real feelings about Zack Ryder, so the match itself did nothing for me. And I’m not sure what the purpose of it was, since neither of these teams are on the card for next week’s Takeover in London.

Bayley defeated Peyton Royce, who is apparently an Australian mermaid horticulturalist, for reasons passing understanding. But we did get an Eva Marie/Nia Jax promo afterwards. Jax has a match with Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship next week, and I imagine it will be excellent – especially with all the heat Jax has acquired just standing next to Eva Marie.

Finally, we had a tag match of Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin against NXT Champion Finn Balor and Apollo Crews. Now this match actually made sense – Corbin vs. Crews and Joe vs. Balor are both matches occurring at NXT Takeover: London, so they put the faces on one team and the heels on the other. Brilliant. Why was that so hard? The match was good and the finish left the audience wondering if there will be a new NXT Champion by this time next week.

I think NXT is still a product I can take a lot more pleasure in than I am currently taking in watching RAW, but I’m starting to notice a lot more WWE-esque things creeping into the product. I’m not sure why matches on a go-home show are booked so strangely. I suppose if the show features storylines I can actually get myself invested in, I can overlook strange booking for now. I’m entirely sure that this episode would make me want to watch next week’s show, even if I hadn’t already been a fan. And isn’t that what the go-home show is for?

Paul Heyman tells a story about Dusty Rhodes putting him on TV to cut a promo. Herman went on forever and put everyone he could think of over. But when he was finished, Dusty asked him where the money was, because he never sold the show. He didn’t give people a reason to tune in next time. NXT always gives you a reason to tune in next time. The only thing RAW gives you is a reason to tune in to anything else.

The Lady J Says

See the Whole Board – NXT 6/3/2015

I belong to a pro-wrestling group on Facebook. Someone I went to college with added me to the group and I don’t comment often, but I like to read people’s opinions or thoughts on what’s happening in the industry today. The other morning someone mentioned that they have been watching Attitude Era episodes of Monday Night Raw as well as PPVs in chronological order on the WWE Network. The thing that struck this individual was that for every amazing match involving all of our Attitude Era heroes, there are several mind-numbing matches involving people you forget quickly afterward. It occurred to me that the issue I wrote about in my pre-elimination chamber match is not a new one for this industry, and I imagine it is exacerbated on Raw currently due to the length of the program.

The issue, to clarify, is not about wrestlers who aren’t very good coming out and having poor matches. Anyone can have an off night, and there have always been people in the industry who just don’t have “it”. Also, I imagine in the Attitude Era, guys who might have been more “over” at a different time ended up falling into the shadows of the big stars of the time. What I am discovering is key in any solid wrestling promotion is the proper use of everyone on your roster. You want to have enough people at your disposal so nobody gets burnt out (or becomes prone to injure from being overworked.) You want to have a variety of characters so you can create a variety of story lines and feuds. And you want to have a variety of talent so you’re not relying too heavily on how someone looks, how someone speaks, or even how someone wrestles. Everybody has something to bring to the table; let them shine.
As someone with a background in writing, I want to see challenging, fresh story lines in pro wrestling. But the more I examine the product, the more I realize there has to be a happy marriage between creative storytelling and solid booking. This is how I am approaching this past week’s episode of NXT.
In this episode we were given four matches: Tyler Breeze vs. Adam Rose, Carmella vs. Alexa Bliss, The Vaudevillains vs. Jason Jordan & Marcus Louis, and Finn Balor vs. Rhyno. Now, post-Unstoppable, my concern was that so much attention was on the Indie Darlings (as I so obnoxiously refer to them) and there was not enough attention being focused on that talent that needs the benefit of being a part of a developmental program. Therefore, when you get two back-to-back episodes of NXT that actually feature the rest of the roster, you can’t be angry. Not every episode should be all Sami Zayn or all Kevin Owens, all the time. It’s good to put Samoa Joe on TV to let the audience know what they have to look forward to, but it should be weeks before we see hime wrestle on TV, thus creating as much hype as possible. Special attractions cannot be special if you can get them at any time.
There are three belts currently in NXT: the NXT Champion, the NXT Women’s Champion, and the NXT Tag Team Champions, and not one of these champions wrestled last week. You had a solid women’s match that furthers the tag team story line that is leftover from Unstoppable because Carmella is aligned with Enzo & Big Cass, while Alexa Bliss is aligned with Blake & Murphy (c). This is good story telling and good booking.
There was also an interesting tag team match up that created some more audience interest in The Vaudevillains and painted them as baby faces again. This, in my opinion, was where they always belonged. They are nerdy guys who have a huge following (particularly as Simon Gotch is so vocal on Twitter and interacts with their fans constantly) and never should have been painted as heels just because of their old-timey gimmick. It also brings Marcus Louis back into the picture and aligns him with a current heel, Jason Jordan, who recently ditched his tag partner, The Dillinger. This is the beginning of solid story telling and good booking.
The opener of this program really baffled me, though. What is Adam Rose doing on NXT? NXT television broadcast is not purgatory for WWE wrestlers. I was at a taping of RAW a few weeks back, and saw Adam Rose wrestle Heath Slater in ACTUAL purgatory, AKA Superstars. The match between Rose and Breeze was not particularly exciting, though it was well put together. If there is a back story between the two of these characters, it’s so long ago I can’t remember it at this point, and that’s not good. Now that Breeze is out of the title picture (he’s lost his last three shots at the #1 contendership,) they need to think of where he’s going next. If it’s up the main roster, I hope his match with Adam Rose wasn’t foreshadowing. No story telling, sad booking.
As for the main event, I was completely surprised. I don’t like Rhyno because he cannot cut a promo to save his life. I would liken him to Scott Steiner – he rambles incoherently, and always seems out of breath, like thinking is exhausting to him. I understand that a wrestler’s promos should reflect their character, but I am never cool with someone’s gimmick being that they’re an idiot – so please, speak like you understand how the english language works, as you don’t appear to be foreign. This match was mercilessly short and went well, considering that Balor is adaptable enough to wrestle Rhyno differently than he does Breeze or Neville. That just makes him more believable. Also, having Rhyno come out and gore him after the match was fun but a little silly – after all these years in the business, Rhyno the character still doesn’t understand how to be aggressive with purpose? I hope Baron Corbin was watching. Mild story telling, as Finn is the #1 contender for the NXT Championship, decent booking.
Now I am now down on the entire show. There is an upside to everything, and it’s all about where NXT is headed next. We’ve brought some inter-gender story telling into the mix – PLUS. If the Rose/Breeze match is a step to re-branding Rose and promoting Breeze – PLUS. The return of the Vaudevillains and increased relevance of current “mid-carders” Jordan & Louis – PLUS. Hopefully moving Rhyno further up the cards means he moves out of NXT faster – PLUS. Anything involving Balor – PLUS.
Of course the show also had a series of promo downsides, though. If NXT has one universal weakness, it’s promos. I’m not sure why Dusty can’t seem to help any of these kids, but whatever is holding them back is contagious. From Devin & Greg, who are doing some of the poorest interview work I have ever seen (can we say red-light fever?) to individuals who aren’t sure how to work in front of a live audience, or who don’t know how to be dramatic without taking painfully long pauses (I’m looking at you, Solomon Crowe,) it’s an outright epidemic. And even when seasoned professionals are given promo spots, they end up being poorly produced. William Regal cut a press conference style promo announcing a ridiculously awesome event in Tokyo on Independence Day in which Balor would face Owens for the NXT Title. He was speaking to an empty room and the live feed of the in-house audience was cut so he spoke to absolute silence as well. Way to bury an epic announcement. Regal ought to have been speaking in the middle of the ring to the NXT audience itself. If that wasn’t possible for some reason, they could have at least pre-recorded it in front of the roster, like a massive staff meeting so there was some kind of reaction.
There are so many components and pieces in professional wrestling, I can see how difficult it might be to get them all working at once. What boggles my mind, though, is how a company as tremendous as WWE would be unable to focus on their flaws and give them the attention they require. Even in a smaller part of the company, like NXT, there’s no reason why things can’t be kept moving forward, and why we shouldn’t be seeing people improve week after week.
The Lady J “To Watch” List

1. The Enzo/Cass/Carmella feud with Blake/Murphy/Alexa Bliss. I have high hopes for all six of these characters, particularly Enzo & Big Cass.

2. The return of the Vaudevillains. Sort of like Return of the Jedi, but with less Slave Leia. I think.
3. Hopefully the development of some new characters, including the re-booting of some individuals from the main roster.
4. A worthwhile story line for Baron Corbin – or an exit strategy.
5. Charlotte on the main roster, for Pete’s Sake!