THE NXT REPORT
Like some classic songs, fine foods, or abstract art many pro-wrestlers are acquired tastes. It’s rare that I’ll ever instantly like a pro-wrestler. It’s especially rare that I’ll ever instantly feel like the talent I’m seeing could easily become a favorite of mine the first time I see them perform.
And yet this is how I’ve felt about Sami Zayn, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and most recently, Kevin Owens. This is in part due to the way NXT presents and builds these talents, but the talents are the ones who go out there and perform, offering some of the most emotionally resonant and psychologically fascinating characters I’ve ever seen all under one banner at one time.
The night started off with an excellent promo from NXT Champion Kevin Owens. Owens was straightforward and believable in his delivery, surprisingly unfazed by one of the most obnoxious members of the crowd I’ve ever heard.
A side-effect of the popularization of the idea of a “smart-mark” means that there are insufferable know-it-alls in attendance who don’t seem to comprehend that there is a time to cheer and a time to shut their mouth. Two guys in the audience responded snarkily and instantly to every single thing Kevin Owens said. Just shouting out willy-nilly in a vain attempt to make someone laugh - at least I can only assume that’s their reason.
I’m pretty sure those two guys aren’t reading or listening to The Work of Wrestling, and I don’t mean that as a slight against their intelligence. Just because my gimmick is “wrestling is art” does not mean I think this show is for a select group of high-minded-upturned-pinky-tea-drinking-Proust-pontificators.
This website is for everyone. Come one, come all.
But, the kind of fan who would scream out during a Kevin Owens promo clearly doesn’t think of pro-wrestling as a performance where performers should be shown respect and where audience participation should be appropriately timed. That type of insists-upon-themselves fan that I find so horribly grating doesn’t think of pro-wrestling as an art. They seem to regard it as a means of shouting haphazardly, another self-indulgent outlet to nonsensically spout off like a drunken teenager. One of the grandiose goals I endeavor to accomplish with this website and my podcast is to create a smarter, kinder pro-wrestling fan who genuinely understands why they're watching and genuinely understands why interrupting Kevin Owens during a promo is a terrible thing to do.
I wish those kids would read this article. If you know someone like this, send them a link to this website. I don't expect to be to turn everyone to the light side. Many will go on thinking paying for their ticket gives them the right to do whatever they want at a pro-wrestling show - even if that means becoming a reviled, obnoxious talker, the sort of person who chats throughout a movie, the sort of person the majority of the human race despises.
If you happen to be someone who talks during a movie or shouts “What?!” or interrupts a promo by inserting yourself into the proceedings, I kindly ask you to stop yourself. When you feel that urge rising up in your guts, push it back down and just pay attention to what you’re watching. If you’re just waiting for your chance to jump into Kevin Owens’ speech, then you’re not listening to Kevin Owens’ speech.
And he’s also not listening to you. He’s trying to block you out so that he can somehow get through what he has to say.
So you’re not listening to him. He’s not listening to you. And so no genuine relationship is formed. We respectful people simply have to watch a gifted talent try his hardest (and succeed against the odds) at not letting a disrespectful crowd get to him, not unlike a stand-up comic trying to get through their set amidst an onslaught of heckles.
Our job, as an audience, is to help these guys, not tear them down. You help them with boos and cheers and jeers that make sense.
If you really hated Kevin Owens then maybe I see, at least, some kind of motivation for disrupting his performance. But I didn’t hear hate in that obnoxious crowd member. I heard self-importance and self-indulgence and the kind of attention-deficit-childish-know-it-all-ism that defines a large portion of the pro-wrestling community.
You’re missing it, kids. You’re missing it.
The first match of the night was a fast bout between a surprise-returning Rhyno and Elias Samson. This was an instance where the entire crowd galvanized in a positive way, and those two upstarts couldn’t be heard. The reaction was impressive, and even though I never really got to appreciate Rhyno or learn much about him during his run with the WWE, it was a fun moment.
It’s unfortunate for Solomon Crowe that Rhyno returned on the same night as his debut. Rhyno’s explosive, unexpected appearance seemed to pop the crowd beyond repair when it came to the idea of another surprise appearance.
Solomon also came out in a slightly awkward fashion to disrupt a CJ Parker protest. He didn't have much to say or do that made him appear particularly strong or memorable where as Rhyno just had to gore someone.
Next came a decent tag match between Enzo & Big Cass and The Vaudevillians, as well as a fun, but brief bout between Sasha Banks and Blue Pants. (For full results click here.)
One of the more memorable moments of the night was an interview with Sami Zayn’s doctor. The doctor, giving an incredible performance because he probably wasn’t giving a performance, just explained what the medical staff did with Sami following Take Over: Rival, how he was medically cleared and was able to fulfill his commitments in Abu Dhabi.
Intercut with the doctor’s explanation, was never-before-seen footage of the aftermath of Rival, where Sami Zayn was tended to by physicians and slowly walked up the entrance ramp and back behind the curtain as the audience was clearing out. When I saw this footage I wished that it had been shown the night-of. While the show ended the way it ended for a reason, it would have felt, for me, a little more narratively satisfying to see the aftermath, to see Sami slowly get back up and walk out. Such would have made it seem that much more real, but also such would have provided some necessary processing-time.
Regardless, the doctor interview was spectacular, and it’s the kind of no-nonsense realism that should inform the entirety of the WWE product.
This emphasis upon realism also informs the Kevin Owens character. Much like the main stage’s Brock Lesnar, he’s being represented as a prize fighter. His in-ring style matches this, a fusion of pro-wrestling theatrics with a rough and tumble fighting realism that makes him one of the most impressive talents in the entire company.
His headlock is the best headlock I’ve ever seen. It’s not a throwaway, let’s calm-down and regroup kind of move. It looks like a legitimate hold where he’s trying to choke his opponent.
The main event match between Adrian and Kevin was yet another example of why NXT is the company’s best show. The crowd was resoundingly in Kevin’s corner throughout most of the match despite his heel-nature and his indifference toward their praise.
Adrian’s truly remarkable comeback, a long series of high-flying flips and kicks inside and outside the ring won the crowd over. As momentum shifted, so too did the audience’s energy, and the result was a sense of gratefulness and excitement for what was going on in that ring regardless of personal preferences.
Kevin wound up victorious, but Adrian’s fight from behind was a truly powerful, emotionally rewarding comeback. In fact, Adrian did one of the most impressive things I've ever seen in a pro-wrestling match. He deadlifted Kevin (who was lying prone on the mat), through his legs, and then up and over his head into a german-suplex-pin.
Adrian is so earnest in his performance, so straightforward that he occasionally seems to lack the kind of charisma the WWE is looking for. This could work to his advantage in a true Reality Era. He’s like an athlete who might have a hard time during a press conference, but wows you when he’s on the field. His charisma and power is within the ring, and his somewhat demure personality outside the ring helps him get over when he comes from behind. He and Kevin, like almost everyone in NXT, represents that pro-wrestler of the future, a performance-style and an honesty that simultaneously embraces and transcends the medium of professional wrestling.
These are special days in NXT.
I’m not quite sure how it’s possible to not take good things for granted in life.
In fact, I have no idea how to not take anything and everything for granted every single moment of my existence.
It all just seems to slip through my fingers, and the harder I try to hold on, the faster it falls. We settle into our patterns and we have our moments of pop, but we come down from that high and move on to the next moment.
Right now NXT is riding high, this class of pro-wrestlers representing a significant era in the medium’s history.
All those who knew Sami and Kevin prior to their ascension in NXT feel fulfilled and vindicated. All those who didn’t know of Sami and Kevin, or who knew about them but never actually saw them wrestle (like me) is gifted with a kind of performer and a style of wrestling that’s sadly been absent in the WWE since The Attitude Era. What’s more, it’s a style that goes beyond any previous era into an entirely new, previously unknown realm of athletic performance.
A combination of explosive elements within the pro-wrestling culture, not just in NXT, not just in WWE, but in all of professional wrestling at this very moment, represents a very special time in our lives. The old is fighting with the new. The new, in an ironic twist of fate, seeks a return to the old, finding a bright future in the traditional, all the while the advent of podcasting and the WWE Network will create a new generation of pro-wrestling fan who is more easily informed about the realities of the medium than ever before. This new internet culture will also create new analysts of the medium, a new way of studying and understanding professional wrestling in large part due to the accessibility of the form’s greatest minds.
We have seen a painstakingly slow, but powerful breakdown in the wall that separates MMA and professional wrestling, reality and fantasy.
We are witnessing the first preliminary steps toward massive upheaval, revolution, change.
We, right now, are at the forefront of a professional wrestling renaissance.
It began in 2011, and I’ve taken a lot of it for granted ever since - I spent the last three years of CM Punk’s career (Punk is my favorite wrestler of all time) bitching and moaning about how badly booked he was. And then he was gone…just gone, and I can never get that time back. Even if he returned, it would never be the same.
The years have expired, and I must move on.
But I encourage you to not make my mistakes. We must find a way to appreciate and pay attention in such a way that we’re privy to the significance of matches between Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Adrian Neville, Hideo Itami, Finn Balor, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Charlotte.
This class will never come again. And it’s impossible to know how long they’ll remain in the same place at the same time, and whether or not their transition to RAW will be successful or even possible.
This time is precious, pro-wrestling fans.
And every Wednesday at 8pm, we’re reminded why.
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