Thursday night, NXT started their Great Plains tour in Salina, Kansas. Being the first NXT show anywhere close to me, I pretty much had to go. So me and the lady friend drove two hours to see the show, and it was a great time. Since I have been wanting to write about NXT again for a while now, it seems like a good time to review not just the show, but the brand as well.
The idea of NXT touring is still a strange one. I don’t think anyone saw them as a touring brand when it was considered just a developmental territory. But with guys like Austin Aries, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, and Shinsuke Nakamura headlining, it’s a more then viable touring show. But when does NXT stop being “development” and start being something else?
Onto the show…
The show opened with No Way Jose vs Murphy: No Way Jose is a great opening act, with lots of crowd interaction and a fun offense. Unfortunately for him, these acts don’t succeed on the main roster. The smaller, more intimate spaces let a gimmick like No Way Jose or Adam Rose thrive, but gets lost in the bigger arenas of Monday Night Raw. Hopefully he gets a gimmick change before there’s any talk of bringing him up. Blake is just a guy. He didn’t interest me as a tag team, and doesn’t interest me as a singles guy. He’s got a good look to him though, so who knows. The match itself was pretty basic, with lots of stalling and wrist locks early on. Jose hulked up by dancing, and won with a half nelson slam, a much better finisher then his windup punch he used on TV. Overall this was fun, with Jose getting a big reaction with his comedy and chanting.
Next was Chris Girard vs Manny Andrade. Both these guys have had successful indy careers, with Girard in America as Biff Busick, and Manny in Mexico as La Sombra. The crowd didn’t really react to either guy at first, but got into it quickly with Girard’s stiff hits and Manny’s flips. One of the biggest reactions of the night came when Manny went for a moonsault from the top and Girard moved, so Manny landed on his feet and immediately flipped again, hitting a standing moonsault instead. Manny won with a double knees to the corner, which is a little underwhelming of a finisher.
Those two matches show what NXT should be, a place for younger guys to get gimmicks over and adjust to different crowds and different styles. The next match shows the other thing NXT should be doing. Tye Dillinger vs Austin Aries was next. Tye has one of those small-time gimmicks that was hugely over with the NXT crowd, but probably not the larger WWE audiences. Aries is Aries of course, one of the best around. Dillinger has struggled for years to get over, and Aries is too small to succeed in WWE, even in a post-Daniel Bryan era. But the two went out there and had the match of the night, with a hot crowd going crazy for everything they did. Aries won with a roaring elbow. A match like this won’t work in WWE proper, was was perfect for NXT.
Next was a Triple Threat Woman’s NXT Champonship match, with Alexa Bliss vs Bayley vs Asuka. A great thing NXT did recently was having Samoa Joe win the NXT title at an untelevised house show. That gives matches like these a real buzz that you might see a title change. It was cool seeing these girls in person, even though the match itself was pretty paint by the numbers. One of them was almost always knocked out of the ring. Baylet hit Asuka with a Bayley to Belly, but Bliss threw her out, only to get caught with an Asuka Lock and tap out. Bliss got probably the loudest boo’s of the night, and the crowd loved Bayley.
After an intermission, we got the match I was most looking forward to seeing. Tyler Breeze made a “surprise” appearance, cutting a promo about how he was an NXT Original, and all the new faces coming in had to go through him. Cue the Nakamura chants. Nakamura got a HUGE reaction, and it didn’t stop the entire match. Everything he did got a big pop. The crowd really liked Breeze too, so this was one of the louder matches of the night. They did comedy early on, with Nakamura trying to do Breeze’s pose and failing, and Breeze trying to do Nakamura’s pose and failing. After that, it was pretty standard stuff. Nakamura kicked out of the Beauty Shot, and hit the Kinshasha for the win.
If I wasn’t a Shinsuke Nakamura mark before this (hint, I was), I certainly would be after watching him live. Everything he does is electric, even when he wrestles a low intensity match like this one. I can’t imagine watching him in a serious match, I might faint. Even just the way he walks and moves gets the crowd going. So the question becomes, WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING IN NXT?!?!? This is the NXT conundrum. In order to tour, you need names at the top of the card. But Nakamura is a guy who would be making the WWE money now, on Raw and PPV. It’s like a Major League baseball team leaving one of their best players in Triple A. If the goal of NXT is to develop talent, they need to be moved to the main roster while they’re hot. If the goal of NXT is to tour and make money as a sort of super-indy, then they need to do a better job advertising and promoting and get the chaff out of the roster. Until they decide on what NXT is supposed to be, we’ll get things like Shinksuke Nakamura performing in front of a thousand people instead of ten thousand people. And while that’s great for me, to be able to sit 20 feet away from one of my favorite wrestlers, that’s money left on the table for WWE.
I was pretty drained after the Nakamura match, but next was American Alpha, Chad Gable and Jason Jordon, vs Alexander Woolfe and Sawyer Fulton. Maybe it was because I was tired after the last match, but this didn’t really do much for me. It was fine, and the Alpha’s are a lot of fun, but Woolfe and Fulton look like they should be chasing Imperator Furiousa down the Fury Road, not wrestling against collegiate athletes. Alphas won with Grand Amplitude, their assisted suplex. Alpha’s are a fantastic example of the NXT development working, and if their not on Raw by the end of the year, it will be a big waste.
The main event for the night was Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe for the NXT Title. It was a really good match, and the crowd was super into both guys. Balor got a huge “Bullet Club” chant, which goes back to my last blog post about the WWE being forced to acknowledge the greater wrestling world. They countered all the signature stuff until Joe won with the Musclebuster. Here’s another example of guys who should be on the main roster. Joe makes a great NXT champion, and would make an even better baddass Intercontinental or World Champion. And Balor just comes off as the coolest guy in the room, and the reaction from the ladies for him is off the charts.
I appreciate the struggle NXT is in right now, as it’s mix of touring and developmental let them bring some of my favorite wrestlers in the world to me. If it was Raw or Smackdown instead, there’s no way I would have gotten as close as I did for the price I paid. But NXT has to be careful. When news from the tapings came out that Eric Young was getting “the hottest free agent” treatment, there was a lot of scoffing. Young is a good wrestler, who definitely deserves a chance to do what he does best. But he’s not Joe, or Nakamura, or Kevin Owens, or someone people would consider a Top Guy. It turned out fine, with Young losing his match against Joe, but it’s still something NXT has to be careful with. It’s a fine balancing act, and we’ll see how long the NXT brand can maintain it.