By Haydn Gleed
I attended the NXT house show at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, England on Wednesday night, and I came away not wowed by the in-ring action like I was after Takeover London, but I did have a lot of fun.
The arena had been cut off by about a third so it wasn’t the full 8,500 capacity available. Yet while this was a house show for a development brand, there was at least 5,000 people in attendance. In comparison, when TNA tapes the Impact Wrestling television show at the similarly sized Wembley arena, they do exactly the same trick of cutting off a third of the arena, but they also have to close most of the top tier. With NXT, except for perhaps the last 3-4 rows of the top tier, the seats made available were packed.
NXT ring announcer Dasha Fuentes came out before the start of the show to essentially warm up the crowd and talk to the people at ringside. She also announced that the fans in the arena could vote via Twitter on what NXT match from the past they wanted to watch on the big screen before the first match, which was an interesting concept. The options available were Seth Rollins vs. Jinder Mahal, Sami Zayn vs. Neville, and Bayley vs. Sasha Banks from Takeover Brooklyn. The women’s match won by quite a large margin, and essentially the highlights were shown. I’d never seen this done before at a wrestling event, and it was certainly novel and it pumped up an already excited crowd.
The first match was local lad and former soccer player Hugo Knox against Wesley Blake. Let me get the negatives out of the way, the gimmick that Hugo Knox has been saddled with is essentially a break-dancing version of Fandango, complete with doing the splits mid-ring, it really wasn’t pretty. Accompanying this was some gawd awful generic dance/club music. That’s the negatives out of the way. The plus that shocked me, possibly more than anything else on the show, was Hugo Knox looked fantastic and has way more potential than I had initially given him credit for. His moves looked crisp, it looked realistic and, possibly the perfect way of proving the old saying “don’t judge a book by his cover”, despite his muscular huge frame he flew around that ring with so much athleticism. He hit one of the most beautiful drop kicks I’ve seen in a long time. He’s nowhere near the finished product at this point, which in itself is an exciting prospect, but out of everybody on the show he surprised me the most simply because of my low expectations going in.
Wesley Blake for his part sold like a demon for Knox’s offence which elevated this match even further. Blake was working as a heel and got under the skin of the crowd, who in turn showered him with chants of “you’re just a s**t Robbie Savage”. Anybody in the UK will be chuckling at that right now. Eventually Hugo Knox won with a springboard moonsault type maneuver off the top rope in the corner.
Before I move on, I implore the good people of Great Britain to stop with the ONE FALL chant, it is truly cringe worthy. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the ring announcer introduces he match, and after she has said the match is scheduled for one fall, the crowd shout loudly in return one fall. It’s something that I’ve seen on the UK indie circuit, and it seems to be creeping into the mainstream UK shows. It’s not so much the chanting it afterwards, it’s the look of pure “aren’t I awesome and clever” on the faces of the people who shout it that bothers me. It could possibly just be me who finds it irritating, but to use the “talk of the kids” it’s tots cringe.
The tag team of Alexander Wolfe and Sawyer Fulton came out next, and the dot net reader from the Dublin show was spot on with the comparison to Mad Max rejects. They reminded me of The Ascension but with a little more talent in the ring. Yes they are a cliché powerhouse tag team in the Powers Of Pain mold, but they did have some interesting moves and moments which made me think they are not a complete loss. The power slam onto the knees of his tag team partner was not a bad move, but this unfortunately was the only time that the crowd seemed to be impressed with them. Their opponents for the match were American Alpha who were hugely over with the Liverpool crowd. Not quite as much as the Takeover London crowd obviously, but there was singing all the way through for both men and a “Jordan give us a wave” led to some nice interaction between the wrestler and the crowd. After, of course, the Jordan hot tag, they finished off the big guys with a double submission.
After the match, The Revival came out and said that they were impressed with American Alphas from an athletic and amateur wrestling point of view. They teased a match between the two, with Dash playing up to the crowd by saying this is the home of the Beatles isn’t it? He said let’s make this a Hard Day’s Night and that they should Come Together for a match. As they were about to climb into the ring, they pulled the rug from under the crowd’s feet and said they are the Champions they can do what they want when they want. They teased leaving but then tried to sneak attack The Alphas, but Dash got caught and took a bump before both of the Revival left. This appears to be almost a carbon copy of what happened in Dublin the night before (except for the excellent Beatles punnage goodness). There was no indication that Dawson was injured but strange that he should not be involved physically on both nights. It’s probably just a nagging injury if at all as I doubt they would have taken him all the way to the UK otherwise.
Bobby Roode made his entrance up next, with a pink generic video wall, and he was wearing what I can only describe as a Ravishing Rick Rude robe. Nevertheless he got a great reaction and played to the crowd. His opponent was No Way Jose, and I’ll admit reluctantly, my foot was tapping away to his music. This was essentially a comedy match to begin with, with both men dancing various moves after some basic wrestling. After three minutes of this, No Way Jose’s music hit and he started dancing mid-ring. Roode stood watching and reluctantly his legs started moving to the rhythm. After several seconds of trying to stop his body moving, he channelled Cappella and let the “Music Move Your Feet”. This led to a good 1-2 minutes of both men dancing in the ring, at which point Roode attacked Jose from behind to start a proper wrestling match which he eventually won with a spine buster. The wrestling purist in me was not impressed with this, but at the same time it has to be put in context. R-Truth and Fandango did something similar on Smackdown back in April at the O2 Arena which I described as dancing for the soul of Goldust, but that was for television. This was a house show, and going back to the word I used at the beginning, it was simply fun and an amusing moment in that context.
The final match before the Intermission was a women’s tag match between Nikki Storm & Payton Royce against Carmella and Bayley. I don’t mean any disrespect to the other three in this match, but this was all about Bayley. Not only was it clear she was a step ahead of everybody else in the match from a character point of view but especially from a wrestling standard point of view. It wasn’t that the other three were bad, but you could just see that Bayley was better in every measurable way. It was Bayley’s birthday, so the crowd sang a rendition of Happy Birthday to the queen of hugs. After some okay action, Bayley and Carmella were victorious after Bayley hit a Belly To Bayley for the win.
Following the intermission, where we were encouraged to buy signed photos of Bayley and Finn Balor which I think is a great little gimmick on an NXT level, we came back with Tye Dillenger against Andrade “Cien” Almas. Tye came out to a great reaction, and went along with the cheers from the crowd until he started to say it’s really hot in the arena. He proceeded to take his jacket off to display a Manchester United soccer shirt, which is a sure fire way of getting heel heat from the Liverpool crowd. Despite the crowd wanting to cheer for him after he took off the shirt, he continued to wrestle the match as a heel and not pandering to the crowd despite how easy it would have been with the crowd chanting ten after impressive moves. Almas eventually won the match with a running knee into the corner, but I don’t know what it is, but he’s not clicking with the crowd. He is obviously incredibly talented and some of his offence is just breath-taking, but there seems to be a disconnect with the crowd. I’m sure it’s a case of getting used to working a new style, but at the moment the crowd reaction to him just isn’t there.
The NXT Women’s Title was on the line in a triple threat match next between Asuka, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jaxx in what was possibly the worst match of the night. To get the admin out of the way, Asuka retained her women’s championship after applying the Asuka lock onto Bliss, but to say this match was clunky would be an understatement. Firstly, Nia Jaxx going to hit a Rock Bottom (before Alexa stopped her) while playing a heel was just insane (she’s Rock’s cousin incase you missed the six billion times they have mentioned it) but otherwise when Jaxx and Asuka were in the ring the action was ok. Bliss however was very poor. Her gimmick of being a spoilt brat throwing a tantrum every five minutes isn’t heel heat, its go away heat, and when Alexa and Asuka were in the ring there just didn’t appear to be any communication between the ladies. There were a number of small blown spots, and even when Bliss was offence, it looked so weak. For example, Bliss whipped Asuka into the corner to setup the next spot, and it required Asuka to go towards the corner at speed so she would trip so her head would hit the middle turnbuckle, but Bliss whipped her in so lightly that Asuka had to create the speed and momentum and it looked bad.
From the low of the evening to the high and that was the tag team main event between Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura against Austin Aries and Samoa Joe. This was the first time I had seen Nakamura live, and although I’ve of course been impressed with his body of work that I’ve seen previously, until you see him live you don’t fully get what makes him special. There’s a presence that comes through on his entrance and when he’s in the ring that you don’t get fully through the television. Balor had the reaction of the night, and although he rightly didn’t use his demon gimmick, the fans went crazy for the entrance. The crowd also gave Aries and Joe a great reaction despite them playing the heels in this match. Samoa Joe also flicked the v sign at the crowd when they sang for him to give them a wave, but this got a massive cheer as opposed to heat. With nothing being on the line in this match and it being a house show, it wasn’t the emotional roller-coaster that all four of these men can take you on during a match, but on a similar note, with the talents of all four of these men it was certainly a good well wrestled match. To finish the match, Nakamura hit a Kinshasa kick and Balor followed up with a Coup De Grace on Aries for the pinfall victory.
After the match, Finn Balor got on the mic and publicly thanked local lad and developmental trainer Robbie Brookside for everything that he has done for not only him, but everybody in the back. This was a real nice touch for the local lad, although the crowd never actually saw him live. Finn and Shinsuke continued to celebrate in the ring to send the crowd home happy.
And that was the point of the evening. It wasn’t great matches or of course storylines, it was a standard house show with the intention of giving the development guys and gals some exposure to wrestling in front of the British fans and giving the fans a show that would leave them feeling like they had had a fun evening. On all counts, NXT succeeded.
As always, feel free to get in touch via either twitter @haydngleed or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk about this event or anything wrestling related.