NXT

April/May Match of the Month

I think I will do these bi-monthly now, to have a bigger amount of matches to talk about per post. April was a big month, with NXT and WrestleMania. EVOLVE had a ton of matches with a lot of hype, but I didn’t actually watch them yet, so they don’t appear here. Also, I didn’t take the best notes on what I watched, so I’m sure there’s a few 4-star matches I forgot about, but that’s alright.

***** Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura
NXT Takeover: Dallas. April 1, 2016

This was as close to a perfect match as you can get. If you haven’t seen it, you need to go out of your way to watch it. Everything about it was so great, and a red hot crowd gave it a big match feel. It was Nakamura’s debut and Zayn’s farewell, and was an emotional night with an emotional match.

****1/2 Asuka vs Bayley
NXT Takeover: Dallas. April 1, 2016

These two had a tough draw, trying to follow Zayn/Nakamura, but they did a great job at telling their story, with Asuka as dominant as ever, and Bayley never giving up.

****1/2 Sasha Banks vs Charlotte vs Becky Lynch
WWE: WrestleMania 32. April 3, 2016

This was a crowning moment for the women of the WWE. The debut of the new title and the dumping of the word “Diva” would have been a lot less important if these three hadn’t delivered a great match. Fortunately they did, and the revamped Women’s division kicked off on a high note.

****1/2 No Mas Match: Sexy Star vs Mariposa
Lucha Underground. May 4, 2016

Wrestling is, at it’s core, a method to tell a story. The Sexy Star story has been questionable, to say the least, but it ended in the best and most satisfying way possible. This ranks as one of the best Lucha Underground matches ever, not just for the in-ring work, but because it’s story. It was violent, it was bloody, and most importantly, it was passionate.

****1/2 Will Ospreay vs Ricochet
NJPW: Best of the Super Juniors. May 27, 2016

The most talked about match in years, I wrote a whole post on this match. It’s pretty amazing, and everyone should go watch it.

****1/2 Kyle O’Reilly vs KUSHIDA
NJPW: Best of the Super Juniors. May 21, 2016

An amazing way to open the Best of the Super Junior tournament, highlighted by an insane flying armbar counter from KUSHIDA. That spot alone gives this match an extra half star.

****1/2 Aj Styles vs Roman Reigns
WWE: Extreme Rules. May 22, 2016

An escalation of their previous match, these two put on one hell of a performance. The hardest thing they had to do was convince us that AJ could win, and they did that with the second Style’s Clash.

****1/2 Intercontinental Fatal Four Way
WWE: Extreme Rules. May 22, 2016

Cesaro. Sami Zayn. Kevin Owens. And, uh, The Miz? This was a fast paced multiman match with three of the best workers in the business. And the Miz more then held his own. He’s one of the best characters in WWE, and the threat of him winning put everyone on edge.

**** Samoa Joe vs Finn Balor
NXT Takeover: Dallas. April 1, 2016

Joe looked looked like a vicious monster in this match, throwing Balor all around the ringside area. The match was hurt by the frequent stoppages, as Joe got busted open with the first strike of the match, and the ending was a tad anti-climatic, but everything before that was excellent.

**** Intercontinental Title Ladder Match
WWE: WrestleMania 32. April 3, 2016

This was your typical WrestleMania multiman ladder match. It’s hard to go wrong with these, and the surprise winner made for a nice “WrestleMania Moment.” The Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens story interwoven throughout also helped.

**** KUSHIDA vs Will Ospreay
NJPW: Invasion Attack. April 10, 2016

Like most KUSHIDA matches, this was technically perfect, though without a lot of emotion. Ospreay brought a bit of something special though, including some innovative selling of his injured arm.

**** Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito
NJPW: Invasion Attack. April 10, 2016

This would be rated a bit higher, but there was just a little too much interference for me. But the crowd was red hot for Naito’s heel antics, and we got the much anticipated Rainmaker to Destino counter.

**** Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn
WWE: Payback. May 1, 2016

These guys had a tough time after a scary situation in the previous match. But the first WWE 1 on 1 match between these two delivered big time, and got the crowd back into the show.

**** AJ Styles vs Roman Reigns
WWE: Payback. May 1, 2016

AJ is so good, and Reigns more then held his own. Reigns is best when he can throw guys around, and this match was a great showcase for both guys. Reigns really came into his own as a tweener character here.

**** Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii
NJPW: Wrestling Dontaku. May 3, 2016

Ishii and Naito have a great clash of styles, and always put on an enjoyable match. The struggle between the brainbuster and Destino at the end was particularly awesome.

Edited because I forgot about Ospreay/Ricochet and Sexy Star/Mariposa

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NXT: Showdown in Salina

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…

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March Matches of the Month

March was a better month for good wrestling then February, though nothing stood out as a real Match of the Year. There weren’t a lot of big shows in March, most of the month building to the big shows in April. Still, a solid month.

****1/2 HHH vs Dean Ambrose
WWE: Roadblock. March 12, 2016.

This match gets an extra half star because of the crazy close false finish after Ambrose hit Dirty Deeds. A really good match that made me jump out of my seat when I thought Ambrose won, and I can’t ask for much more then that.

****1/2 Mil Muertes vs Fenix
Lucha Underground: March 16, 2016.

A fitting conclusion to their year long rivalry saw Fenix come out on top is a bloody and exciting match.

**** Finn Balor vs Neville vs Balor
NXT: March 2, 2016.

This was a lot of fun, but nothing really stood out. A paint-by-the-numbers 4 star match between two really good wrestlers.

**** Tomohiro Ishii vs Tetsuya Naito
NJPW: New Japan Cup. March 4, 2016.

A great match of clashing styles. Ishii’s intensity and stiffness against Naito’s speed and indifference made for fun match, with Naito countering the Brainbuster with Destino for a cool finish.

**** New Day vs Chris Jericho & AJ Styles
WWE: Monday Night Raw. March 7, 2016.

An exciting tag match that showed off the strengths of everyone involved. AJ in particular was on point, hitting is high flying moves perfectly.

**** Samoa Joe vs Sami Zayn
NXT: March 9, 2016.

A nearly hour long match is really hard to do. Some people didn’t like this one, but I thought it was really good, keeping my attention the entire time.

**** Mil Muertes vs Prince Puma vs Pentagon Jr
Lucha Underground: March 9, 2016.

A crazy exciting match with great spots and told a great story. I would go higher if it was a bit longer.

**** Tetsua Naito vs Hirooki Goto.
NJPW: New Japan Cup. March 12, 2016

The finals of the New Japan Cup saw Naito win an excellent match that built up both wrestlers. Goto kept winning with creative roll up, unable to hit his Shouten Kai finisher. Naito went through Yoshi-Hashi, Ishii, and Toru Yano, all members of CHAOS. They had a great near fall when Goto finally landed Shouten Kai, but it wasn’t enough. Afterwards, Goto joined CHAOS, bringing the tournament full circle.

**** Aztec Warfare
Lucha Underground: March 23, 2016.

Better then the Royal Rumble in every way. One of the best battle royal matches I’ve ever watched.

Show, Don’t Tell

When learning to write fiction, I imagine most people heard the mantra, “Show, don’t tell.” It’s a useful, if overly simple, way to keep the consumer interested in the story you are telling. In wrestling, “showing” takes place mainly in the ring. If two wrestlers are involved in a blood feud, the most effective way to show that they hate each other is for them to go all out with aggressiveness in the ring. If two wrestlers are seeing who is best, the in-ring work becomes a game of one upping each other. If they are fighting over a girl, she will be at ringside, no doubt to give her favorite an edge.

The WWE is by far the worst at this among the promotions I watch. Every single episode of Raw opens with someone standing in the ring and literally telling us the stories. WWE assumes that its viewers are so dumb, they must be handed the story in the simplest, most easily accessible manner. WWE patterns itself a family company, and no doubt doesn’t want children to be confused. But kids are not as dumb as WWE seems to believe. There are dozens of recent children’s cartoons filled with depth and subtlety that both kids and adults can enjoy. WWE though, caters to what it believes to be the lowest common denominator, so they will continue to explicitly tell the viewer what is happening and how we should feel about it.

New Japan does the best at this mode of storytelling. They have to be, in order to appeal to a global audience of wrestling fans. I don’t speak a lick of Japanese, but I am able to follow along with the stories. When Okada lost the main event at Wrestlekingdom last year, he didn’t need to tell us how unhappy he was, we could see it on his face as he cried out of the ring. Shibata doesn’t need to spend 20 minutes telling us why he is feuding with Naito. From watching them in the ring we know Shibata is an intense man and Naito is a lazy dick. Speaking of Naito, he has his in ring character tuned to perfection. The way he lounges against the ropes in tag matches and takes every opportunity to troll his opponent is fantastic. He is a masterclass in showing us his character, not telling.

NXT does a decent job of not going the full WWE. Their promo’s are kept short and sweet, and are followed up by appropriate in ring action. The recent debut of Asuka is a good example. Instead of just telling us, “Asuka is great” (though they did plenty of that too), we got a build to seeing how good she could be. It was her menacing smile, the reaction of Emma and Dana Brooke after watching her training video, and her vignettes, that built her up. But the most important part of her debuting story was her in ring dismantling of Brooke. NXT has reached an ideal middle ground of telling us the story through short promos, and showing us the story with in ring action.

Finally, there is Lucha Underground, which is almost on whole different level when it comes to showing us and not just telling us. We are told Drago is a dragon wrestler, and then we are shown Drago sprouting wings, breathing fire, and flying off. LU will run counter to my desire to see storytelling happen in the ring, though there is plenty of that as well. The difference between LU and WWE though, is that Lucha Underground knows how to tell a story through promos. They are able to take people without acting chops and make them look like a stars, all while telling us the story. In WWE, people like Roman Reigns are put in the middle of the ring for 10 minutes, made to stumble through awkward promo after awkward promo, telling us for the 20th time why is doesn’t like Bray Wyatt.

It’s ineffective and cringe-worthy how often the WWE falls on this trope. It’s especially prevalent in the mid-card, when wrestlers are not given the time to tell a story through the match. So guys like Neville, Wade Barrett, Sheamus, and Cesaro are brought out for us every week to have the same five minute match they had last week, and Michael Cole tells us why they are fighting this week while JBL makes jokes.

NXT Takeover: Brooklyn

Someday it may stop being surreal watching guys like Jushin Thunder Liger and Samoa Joe work in a WWE ring. NXT Takeover was not that day. Not only did all our favorite former independent guys perform (Uhaa Nation!), but did so in front of 13,000 people at the Barclay’s Center.

The results of Takeover: Brooklyn almost don’t matter. What matters is that a group of people who made their names outside the WWE machine, along with some who have yet to really make their name, sold out the same arena Summerslam is in. A show headlined by Kevin Steen and Prince Devitt. A show headlined by two women who didn’t just talk about being a Revolution, but showed exactly what the Revolution should be about.

There was the outside veterans, Liger and Joe, working with the newer guys, Breeze and Corbin. The debut of Apollo Crewes, who should have the rocket strapped to his ass and pushed to the top ASAP. And two kick ass main events.

But most importantly, NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was the climax of HHH’s vision. It’s proof you can have an extremely awesome and successful show without insultingly stupid storylines, without pointless filler, and without all the crutches the WWE relies on.

I don’t want to hyperbolize but this show has to be seen by everyone as a huge success. Maybe NXT is given more freedom as a separate brand. Maybe the stars of NXT are fast-tracked to Raw. Maybe Vince and Co. start taking a more vested interest in their developmental brand. The future of NXT is going to be fascinating one way or the other, and we will look back to this show as a major tipping point.

The Independents

I’ve been working on this post off and on for a couple weeks now, trying to find the right hook for it. So much has happened recently with NXT and big time independent wrestlers that it’s still hard to get a grip on. Independent wrestling fans watch for years as our favorites work in gymnasiums in front of dozens of people while everyone from anti-indy fans to anti-indy promoters tell us that they will never find mainstream success. The term “vanilla midgets” gets tossed around as an insult to anyone who doesn’t fit the 80’s style of big muscles and big personalities.

And then a guy breaks through. He signs that WWE contact and makes a name for himself on TV and then a different famous indy wrestler is on TV, then another, and the floodgates have opened and suddenly Kevin Steen is powerbombing John Cena on Monday Night Raw. How did we get here?
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NXT Takeover: Unstoppable

The latest NXT special is in the books, and like all the previous specials, it was pretty damn good, especially the second hour.

Before reviewing the whole show, I have to comment on how remarkable NXT is. Three years ago no one would have believed that Kevin Steen, El Generico, and Samoa Joe would have main evented a WWE produced event. NXT is a super-indy, with many of the best acts from the various independent promotions from the past several years now under its banner. HHH, for all his supposed hatred of internet wrestling fans, as gone and created an internet wrestling fans wet dream. I want to write more about this soon, but for now, I’ll stick to reviewing the show.
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WWE Payback/NXT Takeover

Everytime WWE and NXT have a special the same week, NXT blows them out of the water. WWE’s TLC back in December was completely blown away by an awesome NXT show, and WWE Fastlane was mediocre at best while NXT put on another great show. Now we do it again, but WWE Payback was a surprisingly good show. Will NXT be able to match up?

Yes. Yes it will. Obviously. But let’s take a closer look at the two shows.
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Top Ten

Anything interesting going on yet? No? Damn. So I guess I’ll write out my Top Ten Wrestlers of 2015 so far. These are the guys I have enjoyed the most this year, not necessarily guys who have had the best year, though those two things often go hand in hand.

1. Brock Lesnar
Lesnar had only had two matches this year, but one of them was a potential Match of the Year, and the other was the main event of Wrestlemania. That’s a pretty good first three months by anyone’s definition. He made the Mania match better then it had any right to be. I could watch Lesnar throw people around all day, and it’s a bummer he probably won’t be back around until Summerslam.

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State of NXT

Let me stop you before you say the obvious. Yes, NXT is part of the WWE. But while the WWE product is mostly stale and boring, NXT is the best wrestling show around. I say that without hesitation, with no qualifications.

NXT has the same importance of New Japan, in that every match, and every show, matters. It has the production values of the WWE, which are easily the best in the business. It has the electric small crowd atmosphere found in Ring of Honor or old ECW shows. And most importantly, it has great wrestling.

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