And They All Went to Sleep For A Thousand Years

Hello readers – sorry to have left you hanging after RAW on Monday. Been a strange past few days. I’m back on track now, though! We’re going to have a guest post coming up soon (be gentle, would you please?) and I’m even working on the logistics of a video post. I used to do them a while back, but my hair is much better now.

I actually watched last night’s episode of NXT in its normal time-slot, and even the subsequent episodes of Table for 3 (which featured former NXT champions Bo Dallas and Adrian Neville, along with current NXT talent Samoa Joe) and CultureShock (featuring excellent cosplay of The Vaudevillains by some friends of mine, Dan & Diego!) Now, I didn’t have any problems with the matches per say, but I was thoroughly unimpressed by the stories being told.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that “NXT is in a transitional phase”. Which, I have to admit, doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. They already HAD a transitional phase in building the NXT brand to what it was not three months ago. There is no reason why they should be floundering in the way that they are right now. In fact, the NXT brand is experiencing the complete opposite of the main roster at this moment.

Right now on the main roster, they are missing three of the big names that are usually draws for the company in Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Randy Orton. Post-Hell in a Cell they also temporarily eliminated the Undertaker, and during RAW, we saw the demise of Kane. We’re now looking at a depleted roster – or are we? One day – in the not-so-distant future – all of those guys will be gone. What we’ll have left is a roster not entirely unlike what we saw on Monday. And how did WWE deal? They created a tournament for the #1 contender spot that actually made sense: put all the winners from HIAC in matches together, and the winners of those matches go into a fatal four-way for the chance to face Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. And it was great television as well as great wrestling. (NOTE: I’m not claiming this is normal on the main roster, or that they’ll maintain this for next week.)

On NXT, however they seem to have lost sight of their purpose. I will give them this much: they’ve been bled a little dry. With Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami out on injury for months, and Adrian Neville, Tyler Breeze, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch all called up to the main roster, it’s been hard to fill the void. But there is currently so much new talent down in NXT and so little TV time that the product is making very little sense from week to week. It used to be that when people were going to be debuting on NXT they were hyped – there was some sort of commercial we’d see a few weeks before they finally appeared in the ring. Now people are just showing up left and right without warning. It doesn’t seem to fair to them to get swallowed up in a whole crop of new faces – especially the people who have been in the business forever. Every once in a while springing someone new on us could be fun, but the hype for Kevin Owens was so palpable when he finally appeared on an episode of NXT, people were climbing the walls. I want to get that excited for people as a fan, but I need some help from the NXT marketing team.

As far as the actual programming goes, it seems they don’t know what they want. We’ve heard that Triple H listens to the fans as he focuses the direction of the NXT product (though I hope that doesn’t just mean the live audiences, because I’m beginning to hate them more than I hate live main roster audiences.) NXT is constantly making adjustments, which is understandable – but make them during the live events, not on TV. I like Jason Jordan and Chad Gable a lot, but I don’t want to see the “talented guy looks for scrappy new tag partner” trope one more time. And while I empathize that the women’s roster was shaved down quite a bit by the main roster call-ups, but I’m tired of watching indie girls get fed to actual contracted talent. I think it’s great that NXT is trying to diversify their audience, but the new WWE Network program Breaking Ground shows us there are plenty of people who could use the air-time, even if it’s to job to Emma.

I’m not going to give advice to a publicly traded company on how to do their job. I’m sure Trips will get the swing back in NXT eventually. But in the meantime, how about a request: more stories and less filler. You’ve got plenty of heat brewing in your roster, just open the lid and let it go.

The Lady J Says

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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!