NXT Steps Into 2016: WWE NXT (January 13) Review

To say that NXT had a “good year” in 2015 would be an incredible understatement – an understatement on par with claims such as, “Steve Austin was over in 1998,” “Michael Jordan was a good basketball player,” or “The Cheesy Gordita Crunch from Taco Bell is somewhat tasty.” In 2015, NXT’s “Takeover” specials became must-watch events which many wrestling fans found to be more intriguing than any WWE event not named Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble, or Summerslam (and for others, NXT’s specials exceeded even those WWE events mentioned).

NXT performers like Bayley, Finn Balor, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Kevin Owens, Tyler Breeze, Enzo and Big Cass, and Sami Zayn became household names (in wrestling households, at least), and their merchandise became ubiquitous at WWE and NXT events.  A number of matches from NXT “Takeover” events landed on wrestling pundits’ “Match of the Year” lists, and the promotion is constantly discussed anywhere people discuss professional wrestling.  Top talent from all over the world are signing with NXT on what seems like a daily basis.  NXT live events from Texas to London now consistently sell out in hours, and the brand was even able to sell out an arena like the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the day before WWE had their gigantic Summerslam event in the very same venue.  In the opening segment of the first 2016 episode of NXT, general manager William Regal claimed that “NXT is the fastest growing promotion in our industry’s history,” and after mulling his words over for a moment, you will realize that his seemingly hyperbolic statement may very well be true.  NXT is currently perhaps the third most important pro wrestling brand in the world behind WWE proper and New Japan Pro Wrestling, and their incomprehensible success and exponential growth in 2015 made that possible.  This brand has clearly evolved into something that is light years beyond a “developmental territory,” and after crashing through so many metaphorical ceilings in 2015, one can only be intrigued by what the future holds for this precocious pro wrestling promotion.  NXT sought to maintain this ferocious momentum with the first episode of NXT television of 2016, which aired on Wednesday, January 13th.

Opening Segment – William Regal, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, and Baron Corbin

Back on their home field of Orlando, Florida and Full Sail University, this episode of NXT begins with NXT general manager William Regal walking out to chants of “Welcome Back!”  Regal greets the fans with a promo from the ramp, wishing everyone a happy new year and expounding on NXT’s success before getting down to business and introducing Sami Zayn.

The crowd goes unglued at the sound of Zayn’s theme, and it sounds as if nearly every member of the audience is singing along with the “Let’s Go!” portion of the song.  The reception seems much louder and more energetic than what Sami received in the UK for his true return.  Amidst boisterous “Ole, ole, ole” chants from the crowd, Zayn, the consummate babyface, expresses how grateful he is  to be back in his “home” of Full Sail, and claims he is “one of the men responsible for building NXT and making it what it is today,” which is hard to disagree with.  Despite his sometimes questionable choices of attire, Zayn is so incredibly likeable; he is cheesy, corny, even goofy, but in the most endearing way possible, and never boring.  He’s that friend who sometimes embarrasses you in public with his Dad-style jokes, but he’s loyal as a pet Schnauzer and the first guy you’d call if you were in a jam.   Zayn continues by saying that he could stay in the ring all day feeling “warm and fuzzy” with the NXT crowd, but he needs to make a statement – a “proclamation,” in fact – Zayn wants to become the first two-time NXT champion.  Cue Samoa Joe’s music, as it seems like there is a large, angry Samoan who doesn’t care much for Sami’s proclamation.

A smug-looking Joe stomps to the ring to a smattering of boos, and gets in Sami’s face.  He insincerely welcomes Zayn back, and states that in regard to opportunities for the NXT championship,    Zayn needs to “get to the back of the line.”  Samoa Joe discusses how Finn Balor didn’t win at NXT Takeover London in their match for the NXT title, Balor “barely survived” (although one might quietly like to tell Joe that “winning” and “barely surviving” are not mutually exclusive).  Joe puts a finger directly in Sami’s chest, and adds that if Sami wants to keep his shoulder “tucked nicely in its socket,” Zayn best be getting out of Joey’s ring.  Joe has stepped up his game during this NXT heel run.  Everything he says is direct, meaningful, and all about intimidation, which he backs up in the ring with his hard-hitting style.

Cue the motorcycle engines, it seems like Mr. Baron Corbin also has something to say about this.  Corbin echoes Joe’s sentiment that Zayn is at the back of the line as far as NXT title shots are concerned, and that he, someone “more determined and durable” (ouch!), has passed Zayn by.  Corbin follows this up by making the insane claim that he is the “uncrowned NXT champion,” a moniker which he doesn’t justify, but one can assume he earned by being the only big, tattooed guy to pin Apollo Crews at Takeover London.  It should be noted that Corbin did not mention Crews by name, nor did the announcers at any point in the show, and he wasn’t featured on the episode at all.  That, coupled with his loss to the inferior Corbin, would make one think that perhaps the brakes are being pumped on his rocket push.  Despite his big talk here, Corbin still seems outclassed by the two men he is the ring with.  While he has undoubtedly improved in every regard, Corbin’s promos often still feel forced, and he is not quite at this top level of performer as the office would probably like him to be.  Samoa Joe seems to echo this sentiment as he suggests that Corbin’s delusional statements might be a result of losing so many brain cells after Joe choked him out, and that Corbin “isn’t even in the conversation.”  After Joe dismisses the over-confident Corbin like he was an 8 year old claiming to be Spiderman, Baron sulks off to the corner to let the grownups discuss grownup things. The Samoan one sticks a hefty finger in Zayn’s face and tells him to “know his place” when he’s in Joe’s ring, drops the mic, and walks out.  After Joe exits the ring, Zayn stands his ground, asking Joe why he’s leaving, and emphatically stating that his place IS in the ring.  Samoa Joe doesn’t take the bait, and smugly leaves like he has better things to do.  While Zayn is staring towards the ramp at Joe, our old pal Baron Corbin bludgeons Zayn from behind with a clothesline, dropping him.  After absorbing a few more punches from Corbin, Sami ducks another clothesline, and hits Corbin with a big Helluva kick, knocking him through the ropes to the outside.  Joe comes back to the ring and on to the apron, making a move toward Sami like he also wants to get a piece of Zayn, but decides not to bother, and the two lock eyes as Joe walks backwards up the ramp.

Overall, this was a very entertaining, meaningful opening segment.  For those keeping score, Corbin was not only belittled and dismissed on the mic by Joe, but bested by Zayn physically, even after landing the cheap shot to Zayn’s back.  I said earlier that Baron isn’t yet in Zayn and Joe’s class, and in this segment, his character ended up looking like the weakest of the three title contenders.

Bayley Interview

Next, Bayley gives a backstage promo with Rich Brennan, discussing her Takeover match with Nia Jax and the upcoming women’s battle royal to determine the number one contender for the NXT women’s title.  Bayley emphasizes how grueling her match with Jax was, and continuing with the theme mentioned earlier in the show, claims she simply “survived,” because she HAD to keep her NXT women’s championship.  This time-tested technique of repeatedly asserting that winners (in this case NXT champions Balor and Bayley) merely “survived” their matches is a good one.  This type of wording helps convince viewers that the men and women who came up short in these matches are great competitors who pushed their opponents to the limits, rather than “losers,” and it doesn’t hurt the winners either.  The WWE “main roster” could benefit from more of this type of language on their programming, as too often wrestlers who lose matches also lose momentum and credibility after a loss.  Bayley ends the promo by saying that depending on who wins the battle royal, perhaps she will give that lady a hug; then she hugs Brennan, and leaves.  In this promo and some of her others, Bayley comes across as a bit shy and not particularly confident.  I’m not sure if this is by design, to make her seem even more endearing as the underdog, or something she simply needs to work on.

During the break, the 2015 NXT awards (supposedly chosen by fans) are announced.  Each winner receives two prizes – a plaque and a photo op with their boss, Triple H – and each recipient gives a 20 second acceptance/thank-you speech.   The awards are as follows:

NXT Tag Team of the Year – Enzo and Big Cass

Reaction: Despite another year of not winning the NXT tag team straps, Enzo and Cass are still my favorite NXT tag team.  While there are better in-ring teams, no one is more entertaining than Enzo and Cass, and frankly, I am overjoyed any time that they make an appearance on my TV screen.  And isn’t that the best endorsement a performer can get?

NXT Female Performer of the Year – Bayley

Reaction:  Can’t argue with this one.  Her matches in 2015 were the stuff of legend.  Bayley is quite possibly the most universally beloved performer in the WWE landscape.  It could be argued that it was Sasha, but she spent a portion of 2015 not in NXT.

NXT Male Performer of the Year – Finn Balor

Reaction: Again, this one would be tough to argue.  No one was as consistently good for all of 2015 in important matches.  The only other legitimate contender might be Tyler Breeze, but I’d still take Balor.  His promos are the only flaw in his overall game, and they aren’t abysmal.

Best NXT Takeover Special – Takeover Brooklyn

Reaction:  This event had a raucous crowd, a great lineup, and included many people’s match of the year.  Yup.

NXT Match of the Year – Bayley vs Sasha at NXT Takeover Brooklyn

Reaction: Agree with this one too – I guess I’m your “typical” NXT fan.  Not only was this my favorite NXT match of the year, it was my favorite match of the year for any promotion.  Both of the Bayley/Sasha Takeover matches (this one and the “Iron Man” match) were superb, but this one was a bit better.  This match was the perfect storm.  It was the right crowd in the right venue at the right time with the right build-up, and these two performers absolutely delivered the best match of their lives (at this point).  We all desperately wanted this Bayley underdog story to come to fruition, and it did, in glorious fashion.  It says a lot about NXT fans that they would have no problem choosing a women’s match as the overall match of the year – they appreciate great wrestling, regardless of who is doing it.  This match was the best women’s match I have ever seen in my life, and I believe these two ladies raised the bar as far as the caliber of match two talented females are capable of having.  If there has been a better women’s wrestling match, in any era, I would like someone to tell me about it, because I have certainly not seen it.

NXT Overall Performer of the Year – Finn Balor

Reaction: I personally would have chosen Bayley, but I have no issue with the Balor pick.  Pro wrestling is a subjective art form after all, and both of these performers are excellent.  I was simply more emotionally-invested in Bayley matches and storylines than Balor’s this year.

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Danny Burch

I have enjoyed Ciampa’s work in NXT greatly, and was thrilled when I heard that he had signed an NXT deal (he was doing spot shows before).  I am a fan of Ciampa’s stiff style, and have been intrigued by every match of his that I’ve seen, NXT or otherwise.  I have liked what I’ve seen of Burch thus far in NXT, other than his repugnant 2001-style raver pants/jeans (are they JNCO’s)?  If he’s wearing those strictly for heat, it worked on me.

Ciampa and Burch had about as solid a 4 minute match as two guys can have.  The both used stiff-looking strikes throughout – uppercuts, slaps, forearms, and punches – and Ciampa also added some powerful knees and kicks.  Some highlights include a terrific slingshot face-buster maneuver that Ciampa utilized, and a powerful knockout punch by Burch (which didn’t quite finish off Ciampa).  The finishing sequence was beautiful: Ciampa landed a few vicious slaps to Burch and fired up, Burch began to take Ciampa down with a backslide, and Ciampa reversed the backslide into an interesting bridging arm bar submission for the win.  Graves was great calling this match, at one point calling Burch, “one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known.”   NXT announcers do a phenomenal job at not making anyone in their ring seem insignificant.  Even guys who are pretty clearly enhancement talent are simply “rookies,” “untested,” or “inexperienced in NXT,” rather than portrayed as losers; every match is an opportunity for someone to make a name for him or herself.  Before moving away from this match, I’d like to note that the pronunciation of Tomasso Ciampa’s name seems to be an issue.  The ring announcer says “CHAMP-AH” and on interviews with the man himself, he also says that is pronounced “CHAMP-AH” (he said he thought it would be easy – “CHAMP-AH” like CHAMPion).  However, the commentary team says “CHOMP-AH,” at the fans at Full Sail chanted “CHOMP-AH.”  I personally think “CHOMP-AH” is fun to say, but if the man says it’s “CHAMP-AH,” and the ring announcer (who was probably informed by Ciampa) says “CHAMP-AH,” who am I to say otherwise?  Regardless, commentary and ring announcers need to get on the same page with this one.

Enzo and Cass Promo

Next Enzo and Cass give a backstage promo.  They tell Dash and Dawson that they give them credit for the win at Takeover London, but they also don’t forget what they’ve done to them, and will exact revenge.  Enzo, a quote machine, states that “Real G’s never lose, they win, or they learn.”  Enzo says that what he learned is that Dash and Dawson have no backbone, Cass calls them “boneless,” which Enzo accentuates by saying, “chicken tenders!”  This type of interplay between Enzo and Cass is one of the reasons why they are so good with mics in their hands.  Enzo then goes on to claim that Dash and Dawson have been wearing the NXT tag team titles “as corsets,” which is a fantastic line.  These two (particularly Enzo) are simply some of the most creative and entertaining on the mic in the business.  I sincerely hope that both this team and the New Day stay together, Enzo and Cass move up to the main roster, and the audience is given the privilege of experiencing a New Day/Enzo & Cass verbal jousting session.  I can’t imagine that being anything other than absolute promo gold.  Specifically, I want to see Enzo and Xavier Woods essentially go head to head in the pro wrestling equivalent of a rap battle.

Three of the women involved in the battle royal are now shown giving quick backstage promos about the match.  Since not all of these females have seen a great deal of TV time, this is a great way to help familiarize the audience with their characters.

Billie Kay – the tall, dark-haired Australian, who works some sort of dominatrix gimmick, claims she will bring the other NXT women in the battle royal “to their knees.”  Not bad, not great.

Deonna Purrazzo – there’s really nothing I like about this Italian-American (I think) girl.  She talks about how she was knocked out by Asuka, but everyone will forget about that when she wins the battle royal. Okkk…..From her horrendously spelled-name, to her ugly ring gear, to her look, nothing stands as being something I’m interested in as far as Ms. Purrazzo is concerned.

Emma – Emma as a heel has been a revelation.  I have always liked her, but she probably had no business moving up to the main roster based on that silly awkward dancing, ditzy gimmick she started with.  I hope she continues to improve and impress as a heel in NXT.  Solid promo here.

After these short promos, we see William Regal, seemingly in his office.  He announces that due to the earlier events involving Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, and Baron Corbin, and the fact that each has a rightful claim to being number one contender (Corbin? Oh well), those three performers will have a triple threat match to determine the #1 contender for the NXT championship at an upcoming NXT event.  I’m intrigued by this match.  It has the potential to be a good one, and I’m happy that Zayn is quickly back in important matches.

Dash and Dawson vs The Ascension

This was another decent, relatively short match.  It’s interesting to see The Ascension get a pop like the Road Warriors at Full Sail, yet fans at any WWE main roster show wouldn’t pee on this team to save their lives if they were on fire.  I will admit that the Ascension seemed like they wanted to prove themselves in this match and had a decent showing, but they still do very little for me.  They are a team of “big scary monsters” that aren’t quite big or scary.  After an initial flurry by Viktor as the Full Sail crowd “Yah!”-ed along, Dash and Dawson used their methodical tag team work to ground him for most of the match.  After the eventual hot tag, Konnor did some work, but Dawson made a blind tag to Dash (he actually elbowed him in the head), and they hit their finisher on Konnor for the win.

Noteworthy stuff: Konnor apparently has white contacts now – extra scary.  After the hot tag, Konnor hit a ton of quick jabs and then did a strange Dusty Rhodes-like dance before landing the final blow.  I’m not sure if it was an homage, but it was out of character, and pretty ridiculous.  Dash and Dawson’s theme music is the worst. “We go hard! All day, all night…” Ugh.

Next there is a backstage segment involving Nia Jax, the NXT trainer, Eva Marie, and William Regal.  The trainer is checking out Jax, who apparently is suffering a major throat injury after the 60-pound force of nature that is Bayley choked her out at Takeover London.  Regal asks if Jax can compete in the battle royal, and the trainer says no.  Eva feigns sadness to Jax (she is Nia’s buddy), but when Jax isn’t looking at her, Eva pumps her fist and smiles at the thought of this giant monster not competing with her in the battle royal.  Nia begs to be in the match, trainer says no, Regal says no, Eva quietly celebrates.  Good segment.  Smart to come up with a reason why Jax can’t perform in this match.  At this point, you don’t want your new monster heel to look bad by being eliminated in a battle royal – a match she is built for –  but you also probably don’t want her to become the number one contender right after she just lost her title match with Bayley.

At this point we get more promos from the battle royal entrants:

Peyton Royce – Another very pretty Australian.  She oddly holds a flower for the entire promo, which she sniffs on multiple occasions. She says she’s the “Venus Flytrap of NXT,” which I don’t think we’ve heard before.  I’m still not sure if that explains the weird flower-sniffing, but the strangeness was at least somewhat memorable.

Alexa Bliss – Like Emma, I think Bliss has really blossomed as a heel.  She cuts one of the better promos of the bunch, and her metal claw thing is still badass.

Carmella – Typical Carmella stuff, which isn’t a bad thing.  I loathed Carmella when she first arrived in NXT, and thought her character might single-handedly ruin what Enzo and Cass had going.  Instead, she got much better, turned babyface, and they helped her become pretty darn entertaining.  At this point, I find her cute, quirky, better in the ring, and a fun performer overall.

Elias Samson “The Drifter” vs Corey Hollis

Oh, Elias Samson, you mysterious bastard.  Samson, looking like Randy Savage’s illegitimate son, has what essentially amounts to a squash match against Hollis.  In this match I noticed that Samson is pretty damn big, or Hollis is incredibly small, or perhaps a bit of both.  This match is similar to Samson’s debut, although I did notice that he was more expressive facially, and more methodical in his movements.  While he was beating down Hollis, at times he laughed and smiled, while last week he was almost completely stoic.  He seems to be both reveling in the misery of others, and also just totally above this whole charade (of wrestling?  Of life?).  Hollis did a good job bumping his ass off for Samson, making him look imposing.  Samson finished Hollis off with a swinging neckbreaker, which isn’t the most intriguing finisher out there, but Samson did execute it very crisply and quickly, which made is somewhat unique.  He didn’t use the elbow from the top rope like he did during his debut; maybe someone decided that the guy already LOOKS like Randy Savage, so we probably shouldn’t give him Randy’s finish too.  The announcers keep emphasizing how Samson doesn’t talk to anyone, and no one knows anything about him.  Graves asserts that he thought maybe he could talk to Samson about the Steelers, as they both grew up in Pittsburgh, but no dice.  After winning the match, Samson grabs the mic. “Oh great, maybe we’ll find out what this guy is all about!” you think, but instead, he says “What this place needs, is what I am,” and we get jack.  Samson probably needs to give us something soon, or our ever-dwindling intrigue will turn to flat out boredom.

Finn Balor Promo

Balor talks about how difficult his fight was at Takeover London, and how each of the three men who could become number one contender for his title has his own merit.  He claims that “Samoa Joe is a monster” who will never stop coming after him, but it doesn’t matter who becomes the top contender, because the title is staying with Balor.  As with most of Finn’s promos, this is no-frills, to the point, and not particularly memorable.

Now we have the last of the promos from the battle royal entrants:

Cameron – Cameron says that “People have been asking, ‘Where’s Cameron?’”  No, they haven’t.  I have no use for Cameron.

Aliyah – Hey, it’s Aliyah, from “Breaking Ground!”  Formerly known as “Nooph,” or “Grootff,” or maybe “Snoooph.”  This promo is a disaster.  She likely wants to seem energetic, but she’s literally hopping around cutting her promo.  This girl is like 18 or 19 years old, I have no idea why they would even dream of putting her on TV at this point.  From this and her showing in the battle royal (spoiler: she doesn’t win and looks pretty bad), it doesn’t seem like she is quite ready.

Liv Morgan – Liv is the very pretty blonde who wears a football jersey (which ironically says “Jersey” as in “New Jersey” on it) and Jordan basketball sneakers while she wrestles.  She seems to be going for the “New Jersey gangsta chick” gimmick, based on her attire and promo.  She closes the promo with that obnoxious gunshot mimicking sound that some rappers do (“Brrrrap!”) which sounds incredibly silly coming from a cute little blonde girl, and I sincerely hope she never does it again.  I’m not sure if she is supposed to be a heel or babyface.

Asuka – Everything about Asuka is wonderful.  For her, it is one sentence, “I will become…number one contender,” a smile, and that’s all she needs.  She intimidates with a smile like few wrestlers I can think of.

NXT Women’s Championship #1 Contender’s Battle Royal    

Half of the competitors are already in the ring and get no TV entrances (screw those newbies!).  Bliss comes out first, followed by Emma, who looks absolutely stunning in her typical heel gear which includes those floppy leather gloves and aviator sunglasses.  She does this quick pose in time with a portion of her theme music that is nothing short of mesmerizing.  Carmella is next.  She moonwalks into view from the side of the stage and blows rapid-fire kisses to the audience as she shimmies down the aisle.  Eva Marie is next, stopping at the top of the ramp to open her coat and unveil the goods.  In the process of doing this, she is interrupted by Asuka’s music, and looks offended.  Asuka enters, covered by her mask, as Eva looks on in disgust, perhaps hoping for an apology.  Asuka is directly behind Eva, and it seems as if they will walk to the ring in an odd procession, until Asuka rudely shoves Eva Marie out of the way and makes her way to the ring first.

Asuka gets up on the top turnbuckle and greets the crowd in her trademark mask-biting pose, while the rest of the ladies look on.  Asuka gets down, the bell rings, and all the women stare at Asuka, who stares back, unafraid.  Eva Marie begins to yell at Asuka for disrespecting her during their entrances, and Asuka simply smiles and delivers a spinning heel kick directly into Eva’s beautiful mug.  Eva rolls under the bottom rope and out of the ring, but she is not eliminated from the match (no more “Under Any Rope” Female Battle Royals!  Yay!).  We don’t see or hear from her again until the very end of the match.

Before continuing with the battle royal, it is worth noting how supportive the NXT fans are of the women’s wrestling product.  When this battle royal was announced, nary a groan was heard; the entire crowd was seemingly looking forward to this match.  NXT takes women’s (note: not “Diva’s”) wrestling very seriously;  the female competitors are placed in meaningful angles and matches, they are treated as important and valuable members of the roster, and the women in turn deliver great performances.  This treatment of the female talent on television and at NXT events coupled with the stellar performances that these athletes deliver conditions NXT fans to respect and admire women’s wrestling.  Considering the way female wrestlers were portrayed on WWE television less than a decade ago, as well as the way fans viewed them, the current climate of women’s wrestling in regard to NXT is nothing short of a revelation.  While the WWE main roster is still not at NXT’s level as far as fostering the best climate for women’s wrestling, the progress that NXT has made in that regard is a testament to proper booking and presentation.

The first half of the battle royal is relatively uneventful.  We see ladies pairing off, or working in threes, using strikes, kicks, and chokes in hopes of weakening their opponents, and occasionally attempting the typical, “I’m going to try to toss you over the top rope but you won’t quite let me,” stuff that is common in battle royals.  Some of the more inexperienced workers don’t do this particularly well, and at times seem unsure of how to proceed.  The neophyte Aliyah, not surprisingly, is the first woman eliminated.  Purrazzo is next, knocked out by the Brodus Clay’s former dancer, Cameron.  Little Liv Morgan attempts a powerbomb spot with Cameron that ends up botched, as Cameron awkwardly falls on top of her.  Ever determined, Liv again lifts Cameron for the powerbomb.  While they wobble and Liv’s knees buckle, Liv attempts to throw Cameron over the top rope.  Cameron uses a head-scissors technique to try to reverse Morgan’s maneuver at the ropes, and as they are dangling precariously, Bliss eliminates both of them, then stands over the rope, talking trash to anyone who will listen.  Emma uses the Emma-mite Sandwich to attack Carmella who is grounded in the corner, and Carmella rolls under the bottom rope (she stays out of the match for multiple minutes).  Emma and Bliss begin trading blows, and Bliss jumps on Emma’s back, utilizing a sleeper.  Emma moves Bliss on to a top turnbuckle, ends up elbowing her out of the ring, and Alexa is eliminated.  Now we are left with three lovely Australians (Emma, Billie Kay, and Peyton Royce) and Asuka remaining in the ring, with Carmella and Eva Marie on the outside but not on camera.  The announcers mention a few times that Carmella has not been eliminated, but seem to forget about Eva Marie.  I’m curious what these competitors were doing while they were on the outside, and if they were always visible to the audience at Full Sail (there is a point a bit later when the crowd chants “We see Eva!”).  Kay and Royce team up to attack Emma, Emma ends up seated on the top rope (this has proven to be a bad spot to be in throughout this match), and she gets eliminated by Asuka via spinning heel kick, leaving the relatively inexperienced Kay and Peyton alone with the killing machine known as Asuka.  At this point in the match, it seems that Asuka is a lock to win, as neither Royce nor Kay currently has the credentials to be a legitimate number one contender for the NXT women’s championship.  Regardless, Royce and Kay work together in an attempt to eliminate the favorite, and nearly do so.  Then inexplicably they begin to attack each other, but Kay is knocked to the apron by Asuka.  Royce and Asuka, near the corner, do a fun spot that begins with Royce attempting to spin kick Asuka.  Asuka quickly ducks, and flips Royce over her head.  But Royce deftly grabs the top rope to save herself, and she is left standing wearily on the apron about a foot away from the wounded Kay.  Asuka, seeing her two opponents in this precarious position on the apron, hits the rope opposite rope, bounds back, and uses her forceful running hip attack to eliminate both Kay and Royce.  The crowd rejoices, as Asuka seems to have won.  As she looks towards Royce and Kay, the crowd begins to stir, as they realize that the evil Eva Marie is entering the ring!  There is nothing the crowd would like to see less than Eva winning this thing, and as grabs Asuka from behind and tosses her over the top, the crowd fears that their worst nightmares have come true – Eva Marie has won the battle royal and is the number one contender for the NXT women’s championship.  Eva talks smack at Asuka after eliminating her, likely telling her never to disrespect her again like she did on the ramp before the match.  But the bell has yet to ring, and this thing isn’t over.  Suddenly a wave of joy spreads over the crowd as they see the princess of Staten Island, Carmella, dash into the ring.  In the same fashion that Eva eliminated Asuka, Carmella grabs the unaware Eva Marie and tosses her over the top rope, leaving her alone in the ring, the winner and new number one contender.  Carmella is fired up, bouncing up and down in delighted celebration.  While Carmella celebrates with the crowd, the other half of the duo of known as “Bay-Mella,” (which viewers of “Breaking Ground” are familiar with) hits the ring, and the two buddies hug it out.  The two friends Carmella and Bayley will have a match for the NXT women’s championship.  As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy Carmella quite a bit and feel that she has improved by leaps and bounds, but I don’t think she is quite championship material.  Regardless, I think she and her buddy Bayley should be able to put on a quality match, and I’m looking forward to it.

For a battle royal that only lasted about ten minutes, this was an entertaining match, and the result was unexpected.  Asuka really shined, while Bliss, Emma, Royce, and Kay all put in solid performances.  Eva and Carmella missed a portion of the match, but played their roles well.  Cameron, Morgan, Purrazzo, and Aliyah didn’t particularly stand out.

NXT once again did an excellent job of developing their characters, advancing meaningful storylines, and entertaining the viewer/audience.  Every moment of the show served a purpose, and the only parts that I thought fell short were a few of the battle royal entrants’ promos (which amounted to less than a minute of actual screen time).  Now that a handful of NXT stars have moved on to the main roster, NXT immediately went to work building new stars and reorganizing their current stars.  Balor, Zayn, Joe, and Corbin seem to make up the top tier of current male performers, despite Corbin’s limitations.  Unfortunately, after the exodus of Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch, the top tier of the women’s division consists of essentially Bayley alone.  Asuka is right on the cusp of that top tier (1A), however, and clearly has the talent to be there shortly.  Emma, Carmella, Bliss, and perhaps Nia Jax are the tier below, and those are the performers that can hopefully be elevated to the next level.  NXT is likely going to act as if Eva Marie is also on this second tier, but I’m not sure she is truly a believable contender.  The tag team division is also intriguing with Dash/Dawson, Enzo/Cass, Gable/Jordan (who were missed on this episode), and perhaps the Vaudvillains all making up the top tier of tag teams; hopefully there will also be more tag teams formed with the influx of recent NXT signings.  Overall, this show was another step in the right direction for NXT.


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