THE NXT REPORT
NXT got off to a good start with General Manager William Regal addressing the NXT audience. Seated behind a desk and staring directly into the camera (a setup that makes complete sense within the pro-wrestling fiction), Regal announced the next Take Over special will arrive on the WWE Network on February 11th.
I think it’s safe to write that NXT fans instantly feel that jolt of genuine excitement when a new Take Over special is announced. Main roster pay-per-views often lack their intended allure (outside of the big four), because not only are they so frequent, they’re also presented as little more than an advertisement for the WWE Network.
NXT specials, partially because they’re less frequent and partially because the builds are simply more consistent, feel like the culmination of several month’s-worth of storytelling. They are the crescendo, the climax that they're supposed to be. In that way they sell the Network incredibly well. They’re “must-see, can’t miss” as a certain Advocate might say.
A furious Sami Zayn charged the ring and hammered Tye Dillinger into the corner. It’s rare that I’m surprised by anything in pro-wrestling lately - and I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism of the current product, simply that it’s genuinely difficult to surprise long-time fans who are hip to the business - but I was genuinely surprised by Sami’s actions. As always, he is the epitome of sincerity in performance. No one else inspires belief more than Sami Zayn. It’s also good to see Sami go a little crazy and senselessly attack someone so that he’s not boxed into a reductionist and alienating pure, white-meat babyface gimmick. He’s a good man, but he’s still a man. When he gets angry, when he’s in a rage as a result of betrayal, he’s prone to the same humanity that afflicts us all.
It will be interesting to see how Sami’s non-title match with Kevin Owens will work out. Because there is currently a tournament for the number one contender for the NXT Championship, does that mean Sami will be in two matches? The segment wasn’t particularly clear about this. Sami said he would face the no.1 contender in addition to Owens, but it wasn’t expressly stated by Regal that there would be two matches featuring Sami Zayn at the next special. This is semantics, and I’m sure it will become clearer moving forward. It's probably already clear for some, I simply think that specifically hearing “You will face Kevin Owens and then later in the night you’ll defend your title” would have made things explicitly clear.
Though there was a good amount of variety on the card featuring good talents, the majority of the matches were a bit slow. Apart from the women’s segment, the energy wasn’t as typically high as NXT usually is.
That’s not to write that the matches weren’t good. The performers certainly put in the work. But the meshing of personalities in the matches didn’t always sync.
Finn Balor benefits from someone with a more noticeable, louder personae than Curtis Axel. And Hideo has yet to be pitted against someone who really lets him shine.
The main event between Hideo and Tyler Breeze definitely had good moments. The crowd even erupted into “This is awesome chants”. But the pairing of personalities didn’t inspire much of an emotional investment. Hideo Itami, thus far, is a man with "an amazing legacy in pro-wrestling" (as commentary continues to sell him) who hasn’t really had one memorable match or even a memorable moment in NXT. His appeal is obvious, and we constantly hear about his amazing kicks. But I still don’t really feel like I’ve seen Hideo Itami be whoever Hideo Itami is supposed to be.
And Tyler Breeze works best against someone who is an obvious foil to Tyler, someone who he can call an “Ugo” and flit his hair at. Itami being such a straightforward athlete doesn't really allow Tyler to shine, which is why Tyler’s impending feud with the recently head-shaven Marcus Louis could be incredibly entertaining. I can hear it from Tyler now: “You are the Ugo to end all Ugos” or “You are the Ugoist Ugo of them all” or “One Ugo to find them and in the darkness bind them.”
The standout segment of the night involved NXT’s women warriors Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, and Women’s Champion Ms. Charlotte.
Sasha and Charlotte were supposed to have a championship rematch, but Becky got involved and forced a disqualification. The two heels then focused in on dismantling the champion babyface.
Down came Bayley (who’s been away due to an attack from Becky & Sasha) to the rescue.
The ensuing action elicited another surprised reaction from me.
Bayley clutched the Women’s Championship and stared at it longingly after having interrupted the scuffle. When Charlotte snatched it away, an angry Bayley exploded and smashed Charlotte down into the mat with a Belly-To-Bayley hug-suplex.
Because all of these character elicit such a strong emotional reaction, and because all of these performers are so consistent in their performances, as an viewer, you really care about the choices they make. You fear for the moral corruption of the good and you hope for the transformation of the evil.
To see Bayley, much like Sami Zayn, indulge in a violent, snap decision came as a genuine shock. The crowd erupted in favor of her actions. What made the moment interesting was that it wasn’t about turning Bayley heel. It was about Bayley standing up for herself, asserting herself in this ultra-competitive league of lady wrestlers. She’s a good person at heart, but she also wants to win. Sometimes, to win, you have to embrace your competitive, and perhaps somewhat darker, nature.
William Regal quickly came out and booked a fatal four-way Women’s Championship match involving all four ladies at Take Over.
Team B.A.E., represented in Sasha and Lynch, prattled on humorously, their arms flailing, screaming that they would be the winner. Bayley pumped her fist in that endearingly “can-do-attitude” way of hers, and Charlotte, like the all-powerful queen, just raised her title as if to say, “Bring it, bitches.”
NXT is not just one of the finest examples of what women are capable of in pro-wrestling, it’s one of the finest examples of what female performers are capable of in all of television so long as people stop thinking in tired terms.
These ladies are not props to be dissected by your eyes, divided into sexy fragments to be possessed by the onlooker.
Their sexuality and gender is almost a non-factor, the fact that their women not even discussed or addressed because it needn’t be. They’re athletes who posses their bodies, who do what they want and when they want to do it, competing for the right to be the best.
These characters are all the more empowering because no one is shoving their empowering nature down your gullet.
The most powerful statement any marginalized group can make in favor of being taken seriously is to simply stand up and be. Be the example that supports your argument and people will eventually catch on. NXT’s female division demonstrates how people can be reconditioned to take women’s wrestling seriously, and that this can be achieved without consciously telling people to take it seriously.
All people need as incentive to pay attention is for Charlotte, Bayley, Sasha, and Lynch to go out there and go to work.
And I can’t wait to see them do so on February 11th at NXT Take Over.
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Photos via WWE.com.