It’s surprising that they didn’t find a way to get this episode about the tournament leading into Hideo Itami’s inclusive in the Andre the Giant Battle Royale before WrestleMania, or at least have it air the week after the show. Additionally, I would’ve liked to see this tournament play out in its entirety instead of just seeing clips of the first round matchups. The contest between Finn Balor and Baron Corbin is particularly interesting because we have yet to really see Corbin be truly challenged. If anyone could get a good match out of Corbin, it’d be Balor and unfortunately, we didn’t get to see that. I suppose you could just go read the dirt sheets, but that just isn’t the same. At least we get to see the culmination of this tournament, and it should be a good one with Balor, Itami, Tyler Breeze, and Adrian Neville making up the Final Four.
Neville and Itami are showing off of exceptional technical mat wrestling tonight. That is obviously less important on the main roster; however, it’s something that a wrestler can break out every now and again to impress the hardcore fans. Neville’s interaction with the crowd is on point tonight. Again, that’s harder to do on a Raw or Smackdown given the size of the crowd, but it demonstrates that Neville now how to control a crowd. Itami is a little less effective (potentially due to the language barrier), but he’s still quickly improving; even with his limited mastery of the English language.
Neville did an admirable job playing the heel against Itami tonight and, even though it didn’t make much sense considering how hot Neville’s face character is on Raw, it worked within the confines of the match. Itami had to go over and had to be the face because he was playing up his connection to Tatsumi Fujinami who was going into the WWE Hall of Fame later in the week. Itami even broke out the Dragon Sleeper to great effect and did a great job of showing off that Japanese “Fighting Spirit”. If Neville finds himself on NXT TV in the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see if he continues to play heel; that said, this one was all about Itami. He delivered a big performance, setting up an epic showdown with either Finn Balor or Tyler Breeze in the finals of this tournament.
Even in NXT, BULLET CLUB IS REEEEEAALLL. Finn Balor is just too sweet, brother.
Tyler Breeze continues to be one of the better heels in the business. His in-ring work really shines in an environment like this one where you get to hear everything he’s saying. When he said to the ref “will you ask him please” and then said, “I can’t hear you!” I almost lost it. It’s subtle things like that that true all-time greats do. Balor also looked excellent and, as you can probably tell from above, I loved his subtle nod to the Bullet Club. I’m slowly getting deeper and deeper into NJPW and Balor’s old running mates are the biggest reason why. Both of these guys are going to be big time stars very soon, but I’m not sure if anyone in the company has the potential Balor does. If he isn’t main-eventing WrestleMania within two or three years, I’ll be very surprised.
As great as that match was, it’s hard to not be tired of Itami continuously teasing the GTS and never actually delivering. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a very minor quibble; however, something like this needs a pay-off and Itami has been doing this same thing for months. Are they holding onto this for a potential championship run or has it just gotten to the point where the actual moment has been built too big after the countless teasing? I’ve heard via the Internet that Itami hit the move at house in San Jose, but why not use it on TV and get the mega-pop it’s sure to draw [NOTE: they actually did show Itami hitting the GTS on a video package to end the show, but I still wonder if they would’ve been better served to let it happen on TV and not on a house show. The crowd would’ve been absolutely electric and that just didn’t get over in the video package]? It’s hard to say, but one thing is for sure, those NXT boys (and girls) know how to put on a match. At the end of the day, Itami, Balor, Neville, and Breeze delivered and hopefully some people in Stamford were watching.
Closing Thoughts: The show ended with a nice, long package about Itami’s experience at WrestleMania. There are rumors that Itami has struggled a little behind the scene as he picks up the language and learns the nuisances of American wrestling and I wonder if this whole thing was to try and get him over more. The WWE obviously had huge hopes when he signed and, for whatever reason, Itami has been unable to deliver at the same level as guys like Finn Balor and Kevin Owens, who debuted at roughly the same time as Itami. The WWE probably still sees him as a mega-star with the potential to really bring in fans in Japan. Therefore, Itami is going to be given every opportunity to make it. His WrestleMania moment was just the beginning of a great career with the WWE.
You have to wonder how long Sami Zayn will stay in NXT. On one hand, outside of his eventual rematch with Kevin Owens, there isn’t really a lot left for him to do. He’s built a solid character, become the NXT champion, and generally done everything someone would do before getting the call to the “big leagues”. However, is there a spot for Zayn’s character on Raw right now? He kind of fits into that Daniel Bryan mold of someone whose character is basically just “I’m really good at wrestling”, but without the addition of The Authority keeping him down because of his size. Obviously, if he moves to the main roster, he’s going to put on incredible matches that will make the hardcore fans happy. That said, where do they put him on the card and what feud do they introduce him with that doesn’t just relegate him to the mid-card? I’m not saying Zayn doesn’t have a chance; I’m just saying there doesn’t seem to be a place for him right now. It’s quite possible he’s better off staying in NXT and working with guys like Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, and Rhyno (what?) over going to Raw and getting into six-man tag matches until someone retires or he gets fed up and leaves.
I think I’m supposed to get the impression that Emma is trying to “bring out the aggression” in Bayley, but that just wasn’t conveyed very well. Bayley is just below Charlotte and Sasha Banks in terms of wrestling ability and we don’t usually see such sloppy matches from her. Which makes tonight pretty notable. Emma has some skill as well (though I’d put her firmly in the “C” tier), so you can’t just blame that all on her. That said, neither woman looked very good in that contest. They tried to tell a story, but it didn’t really come over and they focused so much on the story that their wrestling was sub-par. The good news is that it was so strange that I kind of want to see where this feud goes in the future. Does Emma continue trying to mess with Bayley or does she move onto another Diva? Will Bayley ever stop giving hugs? Why isn’t Bayley wearing AJ Lee’s shirt to return the favor? These questions and more will be answered in the near future.
Since their debut, Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy’s movesets have largely screamed face. They’re high-flying, high-impact with tons of energy. Unfortunately, outside of a spat with The Ascension, they’ve mostly been feuding with face teams like the Lucha Dragons and Enzo and Big Cass. Neither of those teams are currently set up to play heel, so it’s fallen to Murphy and Blake to be the “bad guys”. This week, they finally changed up their moveset to be a little slower and more powerful, adding a little cheating in for good measure. This is an important development for this team because they have no chance to get cheers over Zo and Cass, let alone the Lucha Dragons. If they’re going to make this feud work, Murphy and Blake have to leave behind their top-rope moves and become more deliberate with their in-ring work. Tonight was a good start; here’s hoping they continue down their current path.
I’m a big fan of Jason Jordan as a single’s competitor. He has the size and look to really be something in NXT. The aggression he demonstrated tonight was something that we needed to see from him after his split with Tye Dillinger. Jordan and Dellinger were always a moderately impressive team, but you could tell that, if his character took the next step, Jordan had much more potential. It would be smart to put Jordan in the Shoot Nation faction if they ever actually debut, as he would make an excellent “enforcer” for the group and legitimate ties with his amateur background. Jordan’s slams lacked impact tonight, but once he clears that up, he has a chance to be a main event level player in NXT.
Two out of three falls matches have never really worked for me. You almost never (ever!) see anyone win two falls straight, especially between two wrestlers embroiled in a long-lasting feud. So, the first two falls often seem pointless because you know that the only fall that matters is the final one. Thus, quite a bit of the drama the wrestlers are trying to convey falls flat in the early going. Hideo Itami wins the first fall and now we’re supposed to be worried that Tyler Breeze might just lose two straight. But we know that that never happens, so that early concern means nothing. With that said, Breeze and Itami put together a compelling third fall with quite a few exciting near-finishes. It remains to be seen if these two will continue their program, but I think it would be an excellent idea. Itami and Breeze’s high-impact styles mesh well together and Breeze is the second best talker in NXT (after Enzo, of course), so he can carry the story while Itami gets his English up to snuff. With the championship scene becoming so crowded of late, this feud might be the best option for both men. I’d like to see this program continue through the next NXT Live special and then have Itami challenge for the NXT title after Sami Zayn (and maybe Finn Balor) move to the main roster. Breeze could also challenge for the strap; however, his program with Kevin Owens isn’t as ready made. They could go with the angle that Breeze is prettier than Owens, but I’d rather they come up with something better than that. A program between Breeze and Solomon Crowe is more interesting to me once Breeze and Itami are finished.
Closing Thoughts: This certainly wasn’t a bad NXT. Itami and Breeze had a very good match that went past my personal expectations for a two out of three falls match. These two could go against each other for another month or two and I wouldn’t be upset. Bayley and Emma’s match was sloppy and the story they were telling didn’t really get over. In the tag team division, Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy were much better as heels this week than they have been in the past. Their movesets were slower and more power based, which worked well against the Lucha Dragons. Finally, Jason Jordan looked like the real deal tonight and has potential to be a real player on NXT. All in all, this weekly episode of NXT had some solid wrestling with little-to-no real storyline development. Hopefully that returns next week.
Enzo Amore has never been a great in-ring performer, but he definitely makes up for that with the most charisma of any superstar in the world right now. That said, it looks like he’s used his time out of the main rotation to really improve his skills. Zo demonstrated a few quality technical, mat-wrestling maneuvers along with an exceptional new tag team finisher. Obviously, Big Cass is always going to be the better actual wrestler in this team; however, it would be a huge boon if Enzo shows improvement in his technical ability. Cass can dish out the power moves, while Enzo plays a toned down version of Bret Hart in the Hart Family or Daniel Bryan in Team Hell No. Zo’s wrestling doesn’t hold up to either of those all-time greats, so he needs to continue killing it on the microphone. That said, Enzo and Cass have the makeup to be a team made up of a big, power guy and a smaller, technical guy. They just need to twist it ever so slightly to take advantage of Enzo’s ability to talk. These two might never be among the all-time greats, but I think they have a real shot. This is a gimmick no one has done in awhile and Enzo’s charisma speaks for itself. If Zo continues to work on his mat wrestling and Cass works on his body a little more, they have some real potential at the next level.
Alexa Bliss is obviously a good athlete. I would not be surprised to find out she has a background in something like gymnastics, given her moveset. However, in the ring she’s still super raw, which is probably expected given she’s in NXT. Unfortunately, with women like Charlotte and Sasha Banks as our barometer, the level of expectation has been raised greatly and Bliss isn’t there yet. She delivers a few great spots per match, but also routinely botches even simple moves. If she can get her consistency down, she might have a shot. Until then, she’s just a tiny ball of potential. Hopefully it gets there some day. Carmella, on the other hand, has yet to demonstrate much in-ring talent. Much like Enzo, she oozes charisma; she just doesn’t back it up. That said, in her match with Bliss tonight, she seemed to adopt a pseudo-brawler style. Given her character’s background (from Staten Island, has five brothers, etc.), that style actually kind of fits. I’m not saying she’s going to become the women’s version of Kevin Owens (she doesn’t have the body type for it), but she could take that brawler style and adopt it to fit the women’s division. Carmella certainly has less potential than the other women in NXT; however, if they make the right moves, she has a chance.
Alex Riley has certainly kept himself in ring shape since moving to the announce table. The looks great out there. His ring skill is still mediocre, but it’s hard to call it bad, especially in a glorified squash match against C.J. Parker. We’ll get a real demonstration of what Riley can do if/when he gets his match with Kevin Owens. It’s very hard to envision a scenario where Riley beats Owens; they just have too much invested in the NXT champion. That said, Riley could certainly turn in a good performance and make a case for a second shot at becoming an in-ring Superstar. I’ve always liked Riley on the announce table, but if he wants to give wrestling another shot, then he should be allowed to. He’s certainly given a lot to this company. The least they can do is give him a second chance.
This ongoing feud between Hideo Itami and Tyler Breeze is just a classic fight over who’s the better man in the ring. These two don’t need a gimmick to tell a great story. Instead, they just go out and kill it each and every time their number is called. You have to wonder how the feud ends though. I would guess we’re building towards a more gimmicky match at a future NXT Live special. Maybe a ladder match with a briefcase for a shot at the NXT title? Or a two out of three falls match? Maybe even a 60-minute Iron Man (admittedly wishful thinking). Either way, I think this matchup has to end with Itami finally doing the GTS. They’ve been teasing it too much for him to never break it out and I can think of no better time than his first real singles feud.
Closing Thoughts: Two weeks in a row I’ve been left with a single thought after watching NXT. This roster has some real depth. This marks two weeks in a row that neither Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, nor Finn Balor have been in the ring. Heck, even Kevin Owens is barely there right now. And you can’t tell me that the quality of the in-ring product has gone down even slightly without four of the best workers in the federation in action. That’s incredible and I don’t know if it’s something the main roster could claim. Raw’s more loaded with talent right now than they have been in awhile, but if you get rid of John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Daniel Bryan for a few weeks, they’re going to have some problems. That doesn’t happen at NXT and that’s awesome.
This Alex Riley-Kevin Owens feud is a surprising development. It’s known (or at least rumored) that A-Ri wants to spend some time in the ring and it looks like he’ll be getting the opportunity to do just that. Sure, he’s not a great in-ring performer, but Riley was effective in his role with the Miz a few years ago. If NXT can get him into a similar situation, Riley might just have a second life as an in-ring superstar. That said, it’s hard to see his singles career lasting more than this transitional feud for Owens on his way to defending his NXT title against Finn Balor at the next NXT special.
Adam Rose is your classic case of a skilled wrestler stuck with a mostly lackluster gimmick. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Rose had stuck with his Leo Kruger gimmick when he debuted on the Raw roster. Would a psychopathic African big game hunter have more appeal than the party animal? You could definitely make the case for that being true. It’s easy to envision Kruger on Raw doing his take on Randy Orton’s old “legend killer” gimmick, stalking members of the roster around the arena and luring them into traps where he unfairly gains an upper hand in victory. It could’ve been a fun story and a much better way of getting a character over than what happened with Rose. Does tonight’s return to NXT signify that Rose is going back to the drawing board? Here’s hoping.
The NXT men’s scene is really crowded right now. The Tag division has six or seven teams that could easily be considered contenders and the NXT title picture is just as competitive. That said, I cannot wait for the Shoot Nation stable to officially debut and (hopefully) turn the whole promotion on its head. We saw Chad Gable debut a few weeks ago, and tonight Angelo Dawkins teamed with another stablemate to take on Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy. Factions are almost always exciting and one that is built around stars with legitimate amateur wrestling skill could be very exciting. If it works, this group of men could turn into the NXT’s version of Kurt Angle’s stable with Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas during the 2000s. Obviously, we’re still a ways from that happening, but if this group is as exciting as they sound, consider me a fan. They could really turn the NXT universe upside down when they make their inevitable debut.
In other news, Blake and Wesley continue to become more and more impressive each week. I had them pegged as transitional champions when they surprisingly took the belt off of the Lucha Dragons, but the young upstarts have more than proven me wrong. They’re explosive in the ring and possess very compelling movesets. The tag team division is too competitive right now to say these two will be on top for long; however, they’ve certainly proven a lot over the last couple of weeks.
Baron Corbin’s weekly squash match was merely a setup for a segment to advance the Riley-Owens feud. If Owens could just menacingly stand behind Michael Cole every week, I’d be happy. In fact, can we please just get a wrestler whose only job is to annoy the Raw announcement team? I mean, it seems like their job is to annoy us, so maybe it’s time to give them a taste of their own medicine? I can dream, right?
Solomon Crowe’s match this week was much more impressive than his debut last week against C.J. Parker. Unfortunately, because his debut was so weak, that’s not really saying much. So far, Crowe hasn’t done much to really impress and his size and body type don’t really scream “WWE Superstar”. However, it would be dangerous to write him off this quickly, considering how well regarded Crowe was in the Indy scene. Especially at this level, it’s a mistake to write off young wrestlers. With more time on the stick (and in the ring) I fully expect to see Crowe improve his standing over the next few weeks. His ceiling on Raw is probably a mid-card title belt; however, if they can find him a good partner, he has the makings of a great tag team wrestler. In fact, I could see Crowe and Dean Ambrose putting together a solid tag team in the near future. Both characters are kind of insane and teaming Ambrose with NXT’s resident hacker could make for an interesting program.
I don’t know if it’s true, but that “better than Reigns” chant after Charlotte’s Spear to Sasha Banks was incredible. Great job NXT crowd.
Say you’re AJ Lee, sitting at your house watching NXT this week, you’ve got to be wondering to yourself “what’s the point of coming back to Raw, when they won’t even let me wrestle like Charlotte and Sasha just did on an NXT TV show?” It really has gotten to the point where, if you’re a women’s wrestler, there isn’t a better place to be than NXT. Sure, the money’s (probably) better on the main roster, but if you actually want to perform as a wrestler, then you need to be on NXT. Every single week, these women come out and perform on a level that is on par with almost every men’s match we see on Raw or Smackdown each week. The fact that these ladies are immediately made into simply eye candy when they make the main roster is appalling. The women of NXT (and some of their Raw and Smackdown counterparts) are legitimate wrestlers, as good as many of the men, and it’s a shame that they aren’t allowed the time to show it. It’s even worse when a non-wrestler like Nikki Bella holds the division’s title for months at a time in an uninteresting storyline. She’s basically the champion because she plays such an integral part in Total Divas. When your champion is more known for her reality show exploits than her wrestling or acting ability, that’s a problem. Please stay in NXT Charlotte and Sasha; I don’t want to see you get screwed over by Vince McMahon.
Closing Thoughts: Tonight’s NXT was a pretty fun show to watch, which is made impressive when you realize that Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, and Hideo Itami played a minimal role at most. We got a look at how deep the NXT roster is, and were treated to a glimpse of the future of the promotion. Obviously, the show is more interesting when the main players are on the card, but tonight was an example that NXT is in good hands when/if those main five guys are called up to Raw. Plus, Charlotte and Sasha Banks continue to prove to the world that women really can wrestle. If only Vince McMahon was paying attention.