THE NXT REPORT
This week’s NXT kicked off with a fun, surprisingly sense-making union of Zach Ryder and a returning Mojo Rawley. Mojo’s “Stay Hyped” gimmick and non-stop excitability gels perfectly with Ryder’s brotastic “Woo, woo, woo!” demeanor. They are broad and colorful, but entirely believable. I have seen guys like Mojo and Ryder in Long Island clubs. That bro-circle at the end of the match, where Mojo and Ryder huddled together with a section of fans for the soul purpose of jumping up and down and shouting happily is something I may or may not have participated in during my college years.
So I like this tag-team. It’s familiar to me. It has longterm and even main-roster potential. It gives both performers a much-needed direction, and it adds yet another color to the wide, beautiful spectrum of NXT characters.
The next match on the card was between Evil Emma and Blue Pants.
Blue Pants got a massive pop. I know the Full Sail Arena is small, but the intensity of the Blue Pants pop was still impressive. Recently I’ve discovered that Blue Pants’ real name is Leva Bates and that she’s wrestled on the independent scene and with promotions like Shimmer and Shine for a long time now. The NXT’s love of Blue Pants (which was originally ironic in nature) has become entirely sincere and Leva Bates has embraced the role with lovable gusto. There’s potential to tell an interesting story with Blue Pants/Leva.
The crowd is so deeply in love with Blue Pants that I can foresee an interesting heel turn should she become a more permanent fixture of the roster.
Or, should she stay face (seems a more natural fit considering she dresses in cosplay when she wrestles - the idolatry of today's sort of wrestling fan), I could envision a vignette or a promo that exposes the person behind Blue Pants, Leva Bates explaining that she’s been wrestling for a long time and that she loves that she’s found a niche in NXT.
NXT is reliably consistent in the way the brand builds and maintains talent.
It’s rare to feel like any particular performer is being purposefully ruined or “buried”.
And a good vignette here or a good match there goes a long way in establishing a character and connecting the audience with that character.
One such vignette showcased Dana Brooke in a new light.
She wasn’t necessarily depicted as a babyface.
She will probably still get booed for a little while longer.
But she seemed to speak from the heart and she explained why she was in NXT and what it was she wanted to achieve. There was a welcome levity to the presentation, a humor to her gentle heelishness that made her more human and likable.
She even talked about “women’s wrestling” and even though the phrase “women’s wrestling” isn’t a taboo in NXT the way it is on the main roster I still perk up whenever I hear it from any WWE performer.
It’s actually quite strange to consider that there’s any kind of battle between the WWE and its fans over something as simple and simultaneously complex as the use of the word “wrestler” or “wrestling”.
It’s very odd that the company has created an environment, deliberately or haphazardly, where fans feel as though the company is disgusted by the very thing the company inevitably produces, the thing that fans want when they go to a WWE show; pro-wrestling. As a long-time WWE fan, I can easily write that one of the most consistent feelings I experience as a WWE fan is a sense that the company simply dislikes me.
That’s bad, and must definitively change as soon as possible.
The word “wrestling” accounts for one of those Ws in WWE after all.
It doesn’t need to be this way.
We shouldn’t have to fight for the abandonment of the word “Diva”.
“Diva” only makes more money if someone in a seat of power decides it makes more money than “Woman Wrestler” or “Wrestler”.
It’s unfortunate that there’s such a divide between the company and its fans, and it’s become increasingly unnecessary. The tide is clear. The prevailing wind is blowing (and has been blowing) in a very obvious direction for so very long - people just want professional wrestling from the WWE and they want the WWE to simply and honestly accept the words “wrestling” and “wrestler”. People just want the WWE to stop fighting itself and embrace reality, to accept what it really is - a professional wrestling distributor, not a “mini-movie-making studio”. It’s a company that has their own brand of theatrical professional wrestling, but the medium its working in and always has worked in is, and wants to be, professional wrestling.
It seems a needless battle resultant from stubbornness and an almost purposeful disconnect from reality, outdated notions and tired ideas that made sense in the 90s because they were resultant from political and econmic battles that took place in the 90s.
You may recall a few paragraphs ago where I wrote that NXT rarely seems to purposefully “ruin” a performer. RAW often mocks its own talent where NXT tends to regard everyone as a viable oppurtunity to connect with audiences and draw money (a logical perspective).
So Imagine my surprise when it became apparent that Bull Dempsey’s new gimmick is that he’s “out of shape”. To defeat Bull, Tyler just ran circles around the ring until Bull became out of breath and got a stitch in his side. Initially, I took this for what it was - a bit of silly, juvenile humor in the middle of the show, faily harmless and forgettable.
But later in the evening Bull Dempsey appeared in William Regal’s office eating a bag of Doritos, and talking about his loss nonchalantly as if it wasn’t a big deal. Regal snatched the Doritos away and said, “You’ve got to get yourself in order” and walked off-screen. Bull’s response was to shrug and pull a Hershey bar out of his singlet and go to town chomping the chocolate.
This is the most non-NXT segment I’ve seen since I started watching NXT.
It is my hope that the writers/bookers drop this “angle” as quickly as they created it.
Like many, the primary reason I retreat into NXT is because there is an aura of respect that surrounds the prodcut and the experience of the product. I feel as though I’m watching something that’s gracious and intelligent and hopeful and devoid of cynicism.
So to see Bull Dempsey, a character the company has struggled to figure out, be given a couple segments that completely dismantle any hope he had of being perceived as a viable competitor, reducing him to pure, bad comedy sketch that’s transparently shaming his body-type is unsettling.
NXT would be wise to keep their fanbase in mind and tread lightly with an angle like this.
NXT is a brand and a world that’s uplifting, even kind to its fanbase and performers, encouraging people to believe that they can achieve their dreams regardless of gender, body-type, or demeanor. NXT is that life-affirming television show that tells you it's okay to be a geek, it's okay to be a freak, and it's okay to be a bit of a weirdo.
You can't have a character like Bayley who's presented in such a positive, uplifting light exist in the same world where the fat guy eating chocolate is a fat, disgusting fatty for being fat who needs to get his act together and needs to stop partaking in a destructive, compulsory behavior if he ever wants to succeed.
I ate the same package of Doritors that Bull Dempsey was eating during my lunchbreak earlier that Wednesday. Suddenly, I wasn’t watching the show that consistently helps me forget about my daily insecurities and frustrations, I was watching a show that told me I was disgusting for eating Doritos and that I needed to “get myself in order”. Now you might think "that's just your problem, Tim. Relax. It's just fun. It's just entertainment" and I would think back at you, "that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard".
This one Tweet sums it up perfectly.
This angle, if pursued, is doubly unfortunate because it undermines the fact that two men with bodytypes similar to Bull Dempseys are headlining the show.
Part of the appeal of Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe is that they’re not "ripped Ultimate Warrior Vince McMahon sports enertainer cut from marble concoctions".
They’re real. And that's not to say that "fat" or "overweight" or our definitions of those two things are synonymous with the "real". Going the route of "big is real" or a "real women have curves" philosophy associating people who don't adhere to modern beauty standards as "real" is an entirely different can of worms where suddenly we're discounting the viability of people who do adhere to beauty standards.
NXT, in showcasing the likes of Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, spreads a positive message; authenticity and talent is what gets over. Appearance is not irrelevant, it's simply an aspect of who someone is and how it differentiates them and even enhances their draw in this life. That positivity gets undermiend when a character like Bull is cartoonishly hiding food in his singlet (are we to believe that was in there during his match). The angle is also, most likely, entirely inaccurate.
I’ve seen Bull fly through the air.
I’ve seen Bull have physical matches.
I simply do not believe that he’s not capable of running around the ring and finishing a match.
And even if this angle is a rib of sorts that reflects reality, it’s not good television and it’s not something I imagine most people will want to see.
There will be those juvenile, meme,-obsessed, post-ironic-ironic viewers who will say it’s the greatest thing Bull’s ever done and they’ll cheer for it and convince the WWE to run with it, but the inescapable reality of the angle is that it’s a lame cartoon that has no place on the universally uplifting, realism-based, inviting show that is NXT.
Bull Dempsey does need a change if he’s ever going to get over.
Making him “the fat guy” isn’t good for anyone, though.
I’ve been writing about his need for a change ever since I first saw him - that singlet needs to go. That singlet instantly undermines any attempt at inhabiting an intimidating character.
The singlet is the bane of pro-wrestling's existence and only a select few can pull it off.
Bull isn’t one of them.
Bull’s gimimck also doesn’t seem to suit the man.
Dempsey was most entertaining when he was briefly a babyface partnered with Mojo Rawley.
There’s a gentleness and a humility to the real-life Dempsey that’s inviting and interesting.
The “Throwback” moster-heel gimmick is not who he is. A more subdued, gentle-giant of sorts, might be where his money is.
It is my hope that Bull is taken off television for several weeks and that he then returns repackaged in a way that more directly seems to reflect his strengths and intentions as a performer. It’s also my hope that NXT doesn’t decide to “go there” with this “fat” angle or anything like it in the future. It’s not what NXT fans want to see and it’s not the kind of television that belongs in 2015. The millennial generation may be too sensitive and too quick to scream *insert-anything*-shaming these days, but this kind of angle represents a perspective fundamentally at odds with the spirit and the draw of NXT.
The rest of the show was usual, ubeat, entertaining NXT-goodness with steam-punkified, lovable Becky Lynch scoring a submission victory over Jesse McKay.
A seemingly frustrated Baron Corbin took out Angelo Dawkins. The crowd continues to turn on Baron. I’ve long been a fan of Baron’s, but this crowd-turn seemed inevitable considering he’s been given little more than enhancement matches. His impressive size and peircing eyes and subtle grin worked wonders in the early months of his NXT career, but the NXT-fan will eventually call for something more when it comes time to perform in the ring. It will be interesting to see Baron go full-heel in response to this organic crowd-transformation. He just needs a viable babyface foil (perhaps the increasily embraced Tyler Breeze).
Samoa Joe made a slightly uncermonious in-ring debut in a glorified enhancement match against Scott Dawson. While I understand the reasoning behind the match being what it was (it wouldn’t make much sense for Joe to come in, have a 20 minute show-stealer, and defeat someone like Finn Balor), it didn’t feel appropriately epic considering it was the first time Joe wrestled in a NXT/WWE ring.
Kevin Owens helped on commentary, though, his turns at the desk always delightfully villainous.
After the match, Owens and Joe had their first meaningful exchange since Joe's debut.
While the the story doesn’t seem to be about much more than two big guys marking their territory, the quality of their dialogue and the authenticity in their mannerisms doesn’t call for anything more at the moment.
Their exchange was brief, but it was one of the more beliavable conversations between two rivals I’ve seen in recent years.
In stark contrast to the hammy gestures on the main roster, Joe’s reactions to Kevin Owens ironic speech about earning the NXT Championship, his headshakes and his grins, his casual “Come at me” bravado was exactly the kind of thing you’d see before a real fight.
NXT is just scratching the surface with these two.
And given the environment of flux between the farm-league show and the main roster, it’s uncertain how they’ll forge ahead with Owens & Joe.
That uncertainty breeds excitement rather than uneasiness, however, for the WWE’s best show continues to prove that a focus on straightforward, logical pro-wrestling conflicts results in memorable drama.
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