THE NXT REPORT
The latest episode of NXT started off with a quick match between Baron Corbin and Solomon Crowe. Baron went over and then got involved in some fisticuffs with Rhyno.
Interestingly, it seems the crowd has finally turned against Baron.
While the incredibly smarky and increasingly obnoxious NXT crowd can be unnecessarily vicious and demanding, the chant “Baron’s Gonna Bore You!” is indicative of the way the character hasn't been permitted to evolve much since his debut many months ago.
The repeated squash matches have made a once imposing figure seem like a one-trick pony (all the more frustrating when it's obvious there's talent and charisma there). The NXT fans, for better or worse, will inevitably demand excellent matches from a talent who is presented as a dominant force.
This is why a good feud with a suitable opponent is invaluable for Baron. This battle with Rhyno is the sort that doesn’t need to be anything more than a testosterone-fueled horn-smashing brawl. And unlike Baron’s brief feud with Bull Dempsey, this rivalry has the added prestige of a veteran like Rhyno, a chance for Baron to actually get “put over” in the truest sense.
The feud must not fizzle, however. Both performers have found a good direction in one another and there’s a chance for it to sustain them for a few months given how NXT doesn’t overexpose talent. Baron also shouldn’t go right back to a never-ending stream of squash matches if this feud with Rhyno is going to mean anything. That’s what happened after Baron defeated Bull and it resulted in the crowd chanting “Baron’s Gonna Bore You!”
There’s a chance for Baron to become a strong mid-card heel - perhaps losing, clean, to Rhyno at the upcoming Take Over: Unstoppable, only to then retaliate after the match and pummel Rhyno. The NXT fans have been firmly behind Rhyno since his arrival, and given the crowd has shown increasing signs of discontent with Baron, the time seems right to capitalize on these emotional investments and weave them into the story.
NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks scored a victory in another enhancement match, contributing to her momentum going into what could be a very memorable battle with Becky Lynch at Unstoppable. Over the past several days news of Sasha’s epic main event battle with Charlotte at #NXTPhilly has spread throughout the digital land. One of the benefits of social media is that it serves to contribute to the legend of professional wrestlers - anecdotes passing through digital word of mouth and brief Vines or impromptu Instagram photos.
The #WomensWrestling trend grows every day, overflowing with brief accounts of what the ladies have done at the past two NXT shows at The Tower Theater.
The fact that these shows aren't broadcast on the Network contributes to their mystique, hearkening back to the days of old where you either “had to be there” or you “had to hear about it” to know what took place. Given that pro-wrestling is a storytelling medium that walks freely between the realms of fact and fiction, it thrives through personal accounts that embellish emotionally rewarding moments.
The internet, used to the WWE’s advantage for these house shows, can help create legends.
I didn’t see one move in any NXT Philly match.
I’ve only seen photos and Tweets and the comments of other pro-wrestlers and veterans who were there, and yet I feel more connected to the journey of Sasha Banks than ever before. I’m even more invested in the next stage of her career simply because of the stories I’ve heard and read about what happened that night in Philadelphia.
This is the future (if not the present) of the way pro-wrestlers will get over.
It’s a style of promotion that’s a perfect blend of old & new, building anticipation by providing those who weren’t there brief glimpses into what they missed, and rewarding those who were there by cultivating a dedicated, loyal following who’s “in the know”. The brief glimpses provide you that much more incentive to subscribe to the Network and tune in every Wednesday night at 8pm.
I’m now going into Sasha’s fight with Becky with the mythological significance of NXT Philly in the back of my mind, and that’s powerful. And it’s all thanks to Twitter, and the free promotional material NXT has access to through a social-media-engaged fanbase. We become the best form of marketing for the WWE. Our pleasure, our excitement, shared proudly through social media becomes a massive billboard that screams “BUY NXT!” And that’s exactly where pro-wrestling wants to thrive in the digital age.
And it's also a means of letting the WWE know that there's no reason Charlotte vs Sasha Banks in the main event can't become a more regular event.
The rest of this NXT episode was as enjoyable as ever - Carmella finally came into her own and cut an excellent, crowd-rallying promo on Black & Murphy. Tyler Breeze and Adam Rose defeated Hideo Itami & Finn Balor in a fun bout that ended with Tyler standing tall over everybody (including his partner Rose). Prince Pretty has some real momentum going into his triple-threat number one contender’s match, and in NXT it’s not outside the realm of reason that he might actually win on May 20th.
This week’s episode was primarily about building the main event championship match between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
It has become almost impossible to separate reality from fiction in this feud, and that is when pro-wrestling storytelling is at its best. I could make a strong case for Sami’s shoulder injury being a work, I could make a strong case for it being a shoot, and I could make a strong case for it being somewhere in-between. I could spend a large portion of this review dissecting a series of events that make it rather difficult to decide whether the WWE is working by design or simply making the best of a bad situation. For every bit of evidence suggesting this is an elaborate work, there’s another bit of of evidence suggesting it’s all eleventh-hour workarounds (such as a regrettable bit of ADR during the final Zayn/Owens promo).
Instead of trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t, I’ll simply write that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens create magic.
Sami’s plea for Owens to finally offer an explanation as to “Why?” he’s done all he’s done represented the culmination of several months-worth of storytelling. Owens has often said that he’s fighting to make a better life for his family, when it was clear that envy drove him, anger at the fact that he was overlooked by the WWE for so many years while his friend, Sami Zayn, skyrocketed to the top.
Sami really twisted the knife, going so far as to bring up the fact that Owens’ kid would rather where a Sami Zayn tee-shirt than a Kevin Owens tee-shirt.
Owens' silence was the perfect response, until finally, with back turned, frankly stating that he was going to exploit Sami’s injury and send him home for good.
It was a fittingly somber note to end on.
This rivalry is not unlike a beautiful symphony, each note taking you through an eclectic emotional experience. One week you’re jumping out of your seat and screaming for joy as Sami soars through the sky and crashes down on Owens, then the next week you’re cringing as Owens smashes Sami against the entrance ramp and laughs maniacally, and then the next you’re left unsettled by ominous, prophetic dialogue.
I truly do not know what will happen at NXT Take Over: Unstoppable.
But rest assured, I’ll be tuning in to find out.
Thanks for reading! Are you excited for NXT Take Over: Unstoppable? Let me know in the comments. And subscribe to The Work of Wrestling podcast in iTunes so you don't miss my review of the Payback pay-per-view! Have a nice day and follow on the gimmicks: