By John Moore, Prowrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
NXT TV Hits
Shayna Baszler vs. Dakota Kai: I felt like this match ended up the way it should have been if they were going to come back to Baszler vs. Kai on a bigger stage down the road. Shayna Baszler hasn’t been dominated yet. Her opponents get moments of hope, but Baszler has pretty much been the Final Boss character of NXT. I talk about how Raw and Smackdown have a hard time making strong heels and how strong heels equal marketable babyfaces and intriguing storylines. Baszler and Kai might be laying there in the cut as most intriguing feud in professional wrestling via my perception. Baszler deserves a ton of credit for doing all the things right from her demeanor, her promos, her bullying, to her aggression. Kai may be overacting for some, but I’d be saying “go hard or go home”. Too many times in pro wrestling we see people hold back and it ends up damaging their character in the long run. Owning 85 percent of the match was great for Baszler in making her both dominant and telling the story of it being “too soon” for Kai. The little glimmer of hope did just enough to show a bit of progression on Kai’s end to set up what should probably be a win at Takeover: Brooklyn (and selfishly, I wouldn’t mind Kai taking another loss and making a step forward at Takeover so we could see the potential payoff be at the Los Angeles show).
Nikki Cross: It’s interesting that NXT has such a deep character on their roster and that character as spent over half a year in their “bullpen” (a term that I’ll be using several times in this hit list). Killian Dain seemed to be getting most of the TV time from the Sanity faction with Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe getting a good amount of TV. Cross pops up for the random squash and disappears for months. It’s good to have her back. This was a fun match that only happened in the mind of Nikki Cross where she fake won the NXT Women’s Championship in her head-canon. Baszler doesn’t lose anything from getting dominated by Cross due to Cross’s unorthodox personality being able to take anybody off guard. Dakota Kai sold being the impromptu fake referee and being off guard very well too. This segment played into the Cross character very well and this Cross-Kai relationship is very intriguing. It’s a very Shonen-anime-esque relationship based off the build and promos. This is very similar to the Rosemary and Allie odd couple relationship in Impact Wrestling (just without the deaths and possessions). I just played the game Undertale recently and it also reminds me of the Undyne and Dr. Alphys relationship where you have the idealist cartoony figure trying to empower the timid introvert with the power of idealism.
Kayla Braxton: While Mike Rome has been the better MC in my opinion due to me seeing him more at live events, Braxton has been improving every week she has been given time. A small Hit for the progression and another for her and Greg Hamilton the night prior for doing formal ring introductions for title matches (this is more credit for the Paul Levesque method of presenting pro wrestling as a sporting event). This hit is also a follow-up for a recent announcement by Braxton that a match was announced as a “no-contest” in a recent match.
Velveteen Dream and Ricochet: Ricochet has improved immensely on the mic. He’s not as polished as CM Punk, EC3, or Drake Maverick, but he can hold his own with an elite talker like Velveteen Dream and doesn’t come off as too try-hard. Remember, there was a reason why they made him a mute in Lucha Underground initially with Konnan doing all the talking. Ricochet doing the cool flip over the top rope was well done too as it adds some superhuman fantasy to awe the crowd. Velveteen Dream was great on his end. The stuff he’s doing isn’t as nuance as the stuff he pulled during the Aleister Black feud, but the identity he discovered during that feud translates well in a weekly feud when he starts doing the standard stuff. One of the best parts of this promo was the natural exchange between the two where they are reacting to each other with words like “homeboy”.
Ricochet vs. Chris Dijak: WWE is saturated with talent right now. I have to say, I do miss seeing Ricochet in weekly 10-plus minute epics against a plethora of world class opponents, but he managed to both look good here while allowing the former Donovan Dijak to showcase what makes him special. Dijak was great in showing off his power and agility. As I recommend with a lot of big men, I would advise pulling the moonsault out in meaningless matches. He can do a clean moonsault but the crash-and-burn he pulled out today was one of those random “Kurt Angle” bad ones that make you fear for potential injuries for the guy. I’ve seen it a ton of times to giants like Brian Cage and Judas Mesias, but the crowd reacted very well to Ricochet doing his deadlift follow up suplex. I usually get a sense from people who criticize Ricochet, or even the Young Bucks, for being all flips and no psychology, that they’ve haven’t watch a full match of theirs and have only seen ten second gifs.
Bianca Belair: Yet another documentary-style video package for an NXT wrestler, and yet another home run. Belair has already come off very well in her time on NXT and this took her character depth to another level by highlighting her life accolades. Having so many pictures and video of past accomplishments did a good job backing up her claims of being the best at everything. Saying you’re the best at everything can come off as a bit conceited, but she has the video to back it up and her words sold it as confidence instead of pride. In the ring, she has been extremely impressive (Though her finisher sucks. It’s her falling on her back while a person sits on her. All of her other moves from the 450 to the Gorilla Press lawn dart throw are better finishers). The one thing missing from her game is showing her “fighting spirit” in the ring. She comes off as lackadaisical, which is the same problem TJP has. Being that talented, she needs to have the same presentation as people like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, or Brett Favre. Speaking of such as a Vikings fan, I spoke with Jason Powell about a year ago and we talked about how former Viking Teddy Bridgewater is such a likable person because he brings that winning attitude to the field. Bianca needs to bring that winning attitude to the ring.
Fozzy: I like the parallelism of having the second Takeover: Chicago also having a Fozzy hit single as the theme. The song selection is also supported by it being performed by a current WWE wrestler (who’s currently on his own self-imposed New Japan excursion). This song isn’t as great as “Judas” was, but it does make good use of minor chords in the instrumentals and vocals. In fact, both upcoming NXT Takeover themes that Paul Levesque announced on twitter sound really good and make great use of minor guitar and vocal chords. Hopefully next week, I’ll get to offer my positive thoughts on Halestorm’s “Uncomfortable” (the other Takeover theme) if they make the public NXT announcement next week.
NXT TV Misses
EC3 vs. Fabien Aichner: The match wasn’t anything bad but there were a lot of head scratchers surrounding this segment of the show. I like the world-building aspect of having Johnny Gargano randomly wander on set to make his big Takeover announcement to the world. What made that odd was at the beginning of the show and on their social-media, they announced that Gargano and Ciampa was not supposed to be at the arena and that their match was announced via William Regal (via the commentators). Another head scratcher is people like EC3 and Aichner being in the proverbial bullpen. Unlike someone like Danny Burch or Raul Mendoza, Aichner has a high-tier toolset with agility, strength, and physique. Aichner got the match against the NXT Champion on their USA special and shined in that spotlight but he’s still their resident enhancement guy. EC3 already graduated to the main roster during his last run as Derrick Bateman and became a main eventer through his experience in Impact Wrestling. He’s been in NXT for months and is still in wheel-spinning mode. I have confidence that they’ll have something planned for him by Takeover: Brooklyn, but it’s a bit odd to see such a polished talent just have nothing to do. I get it, they only have so many storylines they can run in a one-hour window. Since they did this with Bobby Roode when Roode showed up, I’m confident that they’ll have something meaningful for him down the road. Maybe he’ll feud with Johnny Gargano after he’s done with Ciampa and this was indirect foreshadowing. If they want to light the world on fire, bring in Drake Maverick to feud with Ethan?
Aleister Black and Lars Sullivan: This segment wasn’t terrible and it did get the job done in setting up a title match via William Regal (via Lars Sullivan). It seemed to drag a bit and it would have been better if both men used less wordage. Black has been cutting longer promos recently. He’s decent, but he was so much better as the man of few words. Black could have walked out there and said “well?…” and it would have been more effective and then have Lars say “I have you…At Chicago!” and then have Mauro convey the William Regal booking. I understand that they are trying to make Sullivan look like a book-smart genius, but geniuses don’t have to speak all of the time. He didn’t even use the SAT words in this promo. I feel that they sell Sullivan’s genus well when they have him cut introspective promos in his random brick yard.
William Regal’s absence: At NXT Takeover: New Orleans, they announced that Regal was “under the weather”. His absence at the subsequent NXT tapings made me a bit nervous as to his role in WWE just because they were going out of their way not to mention him or give us a health update on Regal. Regal missed the next set of tapings yet now he’s the unseen GM of the show. We see that he is supposedly booking matches and has a physical office, but he might as well be the NXT Anonymous General Manager at this point. Regal was a strong player in adding credibility to the show. He might be one of the best GMs in WWE history. In NXT his role as the “Jack Tunney” of NXT was done to perfection by him and hopefully he returns. The Miss comes from the constant onslaught of wrestlers talking on behalf of the invisible William Regal. I like that they are having a non-intrusive authority figure book things, but making him an intangible plot device has its own flaws when they are drawing attention to how intangible “William Regal” is at the moment.