By Will Pruett
Much like in 2016 when NXT Takeover: The End happened, branding seemed to be more interesting on this show than a lot of the in-ring happenings. With this Takeover, we heard an awful lot about “The New” NXT and were given new symbols of it: New NXT Championship Belts. This show seemed to be about two things, providing good-to-great in-ring action and setting up for the future of NXT. It did both with great success.
With this being a show more about setting up the future than executing it, it stands to reason it wouldn’t be a newsworthy show. This is true. It wasn’t. All three of the major NXT Championships were retained. The dominant heel faction continued to dominate. The most newsworthy moment was the debut of Aleister Black, but even he did what was expected in winning his match.
What’s interesting about this rebuilding phase for NXT is that NXT has been rebuilding for about a year. The first large-scale call up of the NXT era was after WrestleMania 32. The next (and even bigger) one was at the WWE Draft. NXT saw a ton of turnover in 2016 and essentially held itself together with scotch tape. This is the curse of being the developmental brand, especially when you’re also the brand people expect great wrestling from.
Bobby Roode is absolutely a symbol of the NXT status quo. While Roode is a solid wrestler and a fine character, the only thing truly special about him is his theme music. If one were to take the entrance away from Roode, he’d be in a tag team right now. With shouts of Glorious Roode has made his way to being the top star in NXT. Those shouts have made him special.
One nice thing about Roode is the way WWE has positioned and branded NXT. Because NXT has embraced its audience instead of constantly deriding them (you know, like the rest of WWE and a great deal of professional wrestling in general), the audience is more apt to support a weak champion. While fans watching Raw are likely to rebel against someone they consider mediocre in a top spot, fans watching NXT are asked to have faith in the product because the product has had faith in them. Fan service has worked both ways for NXT now.
Who can step up to challenge Roode? It seems like Shinsuke Nakamura is preparing to make his USA Network debut on Monday or Tuesday night. Samoa Joe is gone. Austin Aries is gone. Who can step in to challenge Roode? NXT hasn’t done a good job of building up a deep pool of challengers, but the new NXT has a shot. The babyface team in the opening match had two wrestlers I expect to see headlining a Takeover at some point this year: Roderick Strong and Kassius Ohno. These men weren’t signed by accident. Speaking of not being signed by accident, great professional wrestler and better brand cheerleader, Drew McIntyre (of Drew Galloway fame) appeared on this show and seems NXT bound. He is a perfect wrestler for the NXT main event scene. In fact, it seems like the most valuable role he could play in WWE. Another strong possibility is Aleister Black being shot to the top of NXT quicker than one would imagine.
What about the other titles? Asuka has completed one year as Women’s Champion and doesn’t seem ready to stop holding this title. The new twist is her new attitude, which sets up some great challenges from the likes of Ember Moon (again) and Ruby Riot. We also have yet to see a true continuation of Asuka against Nikki Cross. The Women’s Division in NXT is actually getting far deeper and this is before the WWE Women’s Tournament this Summer. This can only be a good thing.
The NXT Tag Team Division looks particularly shallow, but it has two amazing teams hovering around the top in DIY and The Revival. If either of them stay past the weekend to build the new NXT, the tag division will be fine. The Authors of Pain also seem to be rapidly improving in skill.
This weekend (and by weekend, I mean Tuesday, which is actually the middle of the week) will end with quite a few NXT departures. My hope for NXT is that the rebuilding phase can end this time and not be perpetual. I know there will always be some roster movement, but the restocking of the NXT roster and the building up of main eventers has been ineffective. It’s time for “The New” NXT to be like the old NXT and create actual depth.
And now for some random thoughts:
– As far as Eric Young-led factions go, Sanity currently ranks somewhere between the Super Friends and World Elite. Team Canada, which Young merely participated in, but never lead, should also be mentioned in this debate.
– Ruby Riot stood out for me in the opening eight-human tag team match. I am not super familiar with Riot’s indie work, but I know she came to WWE with a very good reputation. Her unique look sets her apart and she seems quite able. She’d be a great babyface foe for Asuka in the near future.
– The opener was fast-paced, crazy, and fun. It made for a great launching point for this show. It was fun to see former WrestleMania weekend standouts Kassius Ohno and Roderick Strong get some nice spots in. I’m sure they’re thankful to not be wrestling 10 matches of the course of the weekend like they have in years past.
– I don’t understand the point of Sanity. I don’t understand what they do, why they’re friends, or how I’m supposed to feel about them. How are these feelings supposed to be enhanced by eye makeup? I’m not trying to be dense, I just don’t feel like the group has purpose.
– Aleister Black’s debut was good, but not amazing. I wouldn’t have had him in such an even match. Andrade Almas isn’t the guy I would put Black against. It was an awkward mix of styles and Black didn’t come off quite as impressive as I would have hoped. Alas, the man looked like a major star anyways and should be at the top of NXT for the foreseeable future.
– How good was Authors of Pain vs. DIY vs. The Revival? Can someone please distill that match into a whiskey and gift it to me? I need more of that frantic exciting action in my life.
– The wonderful thing about the goodness of the triple threat tag team match? The Authors of Pain held their own with two of the best teams out there today. AoP seem to be getting better and better with each progressive week.
– Seeing Revival and DIY team up at various points in this match felt wrong, but very right. It was some of the best wrestling storytelling I’ve seen in awhile.
– I do not envy Asuka and Ember Moon for having to follow that tag match, but like the NXT women usually do, they did an admirable job. This was a good match with a great story of Asuka being overmatched, then finally deciding to break the rules. It completed her turn and now opens up all sorts of new match possibilities.
– Asuka is already the best X Division Champion of the last 5 years.
– All three of the new NXT Championship belts are improvements over the old ones, but I can’t say I’m in love with the design of any of them. The biggest improvement is over the absurd top men’s championship, which was just giant letters. No one wants to carry giant letters. It’s a wonder NXT ever became the “cool” brand of WWE with a stupid belt like that.
– Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura was good, but not great. This is a common theme with Roode. It bums me out, simply because I’m aware of what Nakamura can do. This was towards the top end of (what I perceive to be) Roode’s ability. It was alright, but nothing amazing.
– I am all about live music as a part of wrestling entrances (as long as music is actually being played, not like that time Shinsuke had 20 silent violinists poorly miming). One of my favorite wrestling things of the last few years was this WWE 2k15 ad featuring Sting’s music being played. I want more live music in entrances. I want full orchestra pits playing to support WrestleMania. Give me more live entrance music!
– Shinsuke Nakamura’s red pants with black stripes were wonderful.
– The aesthetics of NXT have majorly changed over the last year. If you remember the Dallas Takeover, NXT was dimming the lights on fans as matches happened, not using the mega-elaborate WWE set, but a scaled down one, and embracing less of the spectacle. Now, they are leaving fans fully lit, as is WWE’s habit on Raw and Smackdown. They use a giant set when available. I miss the scaled down NXT set, simply because of the intimacy it gave shows. The intimate feeling was always false, but with less production in the way, it felt true.
– Speaking of aesthetic touches, anyone know why NXT using only-school barricades and not WWE’s usual padded ones?
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Kenny Herzog discussing his journalism career, his new Outside Interference podcast, doing a feature story on CM Punk, pro wrestling in the pandemic, WWE talk on Retribution, The Hurt Business, Roman Reigns as a heel, and much more...