THE NXT REPORT
I’ve often thought the best compliment I can give a work of art is that it transports me back to a childlike place of magic and wonder.
We strive to achieve that “kid-again” feeling less because we’re terrified of our own mortality and more because we recognize the purity of a child’s experiences. The untainted mind seems to more fully appreciate and experience life. Art (a book, a film, a painting, a song, a wrestling match) that essentially wipes your insignificant, adult preoccupations away and restores you to that nirvana-like place of purity and joy could be considered a public service; that’s how important that cleansing process is to our lives and why we’ve built our culture around pleasant, inspiring, uplifting fictions. We need these brief excursions into a place where magic exists, where all conflicts inevitably resolve themselves, where love conquers all, and where human beings overcome the psychological traumas and the petty jealousies that plague them daily.
And that’s why I love NXT so much.
From the moment the intro music hits I’m instantly transported into a world of positivity, a world of believable, but fantastical characters who are passionate, intelligent, strong, idealistic, and burdened by the same human faults I recognize in myself.
It’s a world that’s better than “that good pro-wrestling show the WWE has on the Network”.
NXT and its roster is better than “a show for the smart mark”.
In fact, it’s becoming increasingly obvious there’s a growing sect of the audience that’s not appreciating the show in the way it deserves to be appreciated - members of the crowd ironically calling moves, unwilling to forgive the occasional botch, quick to demonstrate their foreknowledge instead of just absorbing the show and reacting in a manner that supports it. These members of the crowd express an entitlement that’s grating for other, more absorbed viewers, an entitlement that could be damaging to the show and represents a misunderstanding of NXT's larger value.
NXT is a television show devoted to your need to return to a world of joy and fun and excitement and hope and good and evil and courage and magic.
From the craftsmanship that goes into the actual matches, constructed by several talented athletic artists who know how to move you to that place of wonderment, to the overwhelming positivity of the entrances, NXT consistently emanates from a place of purity. It’s a truly spectacular television show, benefiting from pro-wrestling’s focus on creating “The Moment of Pop”. Where other television shows may be preoccupied with political, philosophical, commercial, personal perspectives, NXT (and pro-wrestling) is so firmly focused on moving you to that place of clarity and joy that it’s hard to walk away from an episode feeling dissatisfied.
And even on an episode like this which consisted mostly of enhancement matches, I still felt like I was thirteen again. NXT is overflowing with emotion, and this emotion somehow manages to exist in a state of wild purity while simultaneously being cultivated by the bookers, remaining contained within a highly organized one-hour broadcast.
Two segments that exemplified this blend of pure emotion and organization were the number one contender’s match for the Women’s Championship between Becky Lynch, Bayley, and Charlotte and the closing pull-away brawl between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
The triple threat match showcased each woman in appropriate fashion.
Bayley was the spirited underdog who continues to show signs of increased aggression, catapulting her beyond that “underdog” label. Charlotte was the dominant athlete, consistently stepping into the match and taking over with brute force and unmatched in-ring prowess. And then there was Becky Lynch, the opportunist who’s been scratching her way to the top, creating opportunities for herself any way that she can. The histories of these character informed the finish of this match in a genuinely brilliant way.
Charlotte had overtaken Bayley in her Figure-Eight Leg Lock (one of the most impressive visuals anyone in the company can create), Bayley was fighting as hard as she could, refusing to give up, and then Becky slithered back into the ring to score a pinfall on Bayley, Charlotte so engrossed in the hold, so focused on winning that she was unaware.
It’s a Becky Lynch victory that makes complete sense and also feels completely earned.
Her rivalry with The Boss, Sasha Banks, has been brewing for a while now, and it’s time for the payoff.
This is a rewarding moment for Lynch-fans who have seen her transform over the past year from a stereotypical Irish gimmick to a more resonant, head-banging rocker chick. She’s moved from a babyface, to a heel, and now she’s operating in a new territory, somewhere between hero and villain, a shaky-narrative ground that she walks with poise. She is a likable competitor with her eyes on the prize.
The main event was a final match between Kevin Owens and Alex Riley.
It was a quick match, meant to put the final nail in this feud’s coffin. The match served its purpose just as the rivalry served its purpose - giving Owens something to do while Sami was away, continuing to raise Owens up as a brutal, callous champion.
After the match, Owens went to power bomb Riley against the ring apron - a reference to Owens’ vicious attack on Sami at NXT Take Over R:Evolution.
Owens and Zayn haven’t even shared screen-time since their shocking championship match at Take Over: Rival. Following that fateful match, it became somewhat vague as to whether or not Sami Zayn would even get his championship rematch someday. Doubt and uncertainty has surrounded the rivalry - fitting considering the bleak way Sami lost the title.
So when Sami leaped onto screen and pummeled Owens, it was an ecstatic moment.
Not since The Rock and Steve Austin traded barbs and blows have I been this emotionally invested in a pro-wrestling rivalry.
Sami’s heroic arrival was a perfect note to end on because it brought clarity where there was uncertainty - excitement where there was lingering doubt.
It was a run-in that made sense, like so much of NXT’s matches and segments because it was informed by the history of the characters. Zayn, having held off on engaging with Owens, instead cutting elusive promos, set himself back on the championship path last week with a win over Rhyno.
The closing moments of that episode saw Zayn point into the camera and shout, “I’m coming for you!” referring to Kevin Owens. And the final moments of this episode was a natural continuation of that righteous proclamation.
I encourage all readers to watch the final ten minutes of this particular episode and pay attention to the way Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are throwing fists.
This looks like a legitimate pull-away brawl. They’re throwing real fists - the kind that are wild and miss their mark save the occasional glancing blow. The rage in their eyes, the intensity will get anyone’s blood up.
And Sami Zayn’s spectacular leap off the top rope, arching end over end in the air and then smashing down on Owens and a blend of referees and guards was the perfect climax. Not only was it visually spectacular, a natural evolution of the brawl (in the world of pro-wrestling that is), it showed how Sami can defeat Owens.
Sami’s courage, realized in an unwillingness to quit and a willingness to hurl his body through the air will outwit the ground-and-pound Owens with an aerial offense.
Owens and Zayn are reflections of one another. Together they represent the yin and the yang, the light and the dark, the pure and the corrupt. While they’re opposed, they are bound by a shared passion. Like any good hero/villain dynamic they help shape the other’s existence, the line between love and hate blurred as much as the line that separates their personalities is blurred. Their in-ring styles, while opposite, intersect at key moments; Owens is able to hurl himself off the top rope and Sami is able to throw forearms and fists with great force.
Sami & Kevin even have similar speech-patterns - common amongst people who have known each other or been friends for a long time.
All of this makes for spectacular television, and it is, undoubtedly, the best feud in the WWE today.
Pro-wrestling fans are witnessing something important when they see Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens fight.
This is a rivalry that has spanned companies, representing the hard work and dedication of two performers who have devoted their lives to their craft. When they clash, that hard work pays off, embodying the best in both. This is the generation-defining feud the WWE has needed for over a decade, and I could not be more excited to see where Owens and Zayn take this story in the future.
It is a story destined for the grandest stage of them all.
It is a story that will make you feel like a kid again.
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