Finn Balor/Samoa Joe Contract Signing
-Michael Cole’s smug handling of the crowd rejecting him was great. I generally like the guy (he was tremendous commentating at Beast in the East) when he’s not micromanaged to a suffocating death. He’s starting to look his age though.
-I like the Corporate route they went to make sense of the Eva Marie/Bayley match. Even better was they used a corporate shill in Michael Cole to relay the message knowing the crowd wasn’t going to welcome him with open arms. Being clever and logical at the same time goes a long way to keep a guy with a fairly short attention span like me invested.
-As for the contract signing itself, it was excellent. Completely devoid of wrestling cliches, but still full of the intensity that a wrestling rivalry of this type needs to be credible. It portrayed Joe as the silent badass he is and should be, without even letting him speak a word. It also did a good job of finally letting Balor show some semblance of character by being visibly hurt by what Joe did to him, with a nice wrinkle in the story being that Finn has admitted on numerous occasions that he knows exactly why Joe did it. It’s a multi-dimensional story that we’re sorely deprived of on the main roster, but it isn’t too complex to be pretentious or Russo-esque.
-The pull-apart brought some nice wrestling tradition into it, but I really can’t watch a pull-apart without hearing Lesnar tell Taker “I’M GONNA KILL YOU” and Taker reply “YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO.”
-Overall, this was a fantastic way to open the show from the smug Michael Cole introduction to the contract signing to Joe choking out Balor so badly that Finn started drooling. It’s amazing how good wrestling can be when you have creative minds cultivating it.
The Mechanics (c) vs. The Vaudevillains
-Tremendous psychology again from Dash & Dawson. I LOVED how they switched up their limb-work so as not to make themselves vulnerable to any potential scouting from the Vaudevillains.
-The match itself was good, and with about 5 more minutes of selling and heat tacked onto it, could have been better than their last. It was still really fun, but it seemed rushed and as such they couldn’t really expand upon the limbwork like they’d been able to in matches past. They somewhat made up for it with a few great nearfalls and counters down the stretch, but it really missed the psychological edge I’m used to getting from the Mechanics.
-The post-match return of Enzo & Cass was nice, and I got a good laugh out of Scott Dawson begging off and saying “Zo…zo!” Well, he probably said “no”, but my hunch makes sense here so I’m rolling with it. I really got a kick out of Enzo and Cass leaving the bullshit behind and going hell for leather to get their revenge. That’s yet another obvious flaw in RAW’s bass ackwards booking. They don’t want their heels showing ass and getting their comeuppance, so then their faces end up like Randy Orton this year dead in the water because they want to “bide their time”. IT’S SO GODDAMN SIMPLE.
-Away from the usual WWE-bashing, this was another good match for Dash and Dawson, attached to some satisfying storyline advancement to boot. **1/2
-Who in the merry mother of fuck set up those studio lights for the Eva Marie segment? That’s GOT to be intentional. I actually got a kick out of Eva in this segment, and she was on the verge of showing an actual identity as the promo wore on. Her fembot, plastic delivery works tenfold within the context of this whole debacle and she’s playing the Queen Bee role well for what it’s worth. Don’t hold your breath, but I actually enjoyed the segment quite a bit.
-The Drifter Elias Sampson is going to be fucking AWESOME. The douchey Sons of Anarchy acoustic song was tremendous in all the right ways and I hope to God this gimmick translate on-screen.
Asuka vs. Dana Brooke
-Ah, but it’s a trap, you see. I loved this segment for a couple reasons. One being that I get to hear Asuka’s music, which I’ve since determined is currently the best in the company and will remain so until Roman Reigns adds THE GUY WITH THE WETTEST HAIR to his theme music.
-And another reason is that Emma’s submission legit looked like she was trying to murder Asuka and that’s awesome. A lot of guys in WWE either A) don’t have submissions or B) if they do, they don’t put any effort towards making it look credible. I’m looking at you John Cena and Charlotte. It made the whole ordeal feel personal between Emma and Asuka, and it helps that the match at Takeover is going to be off the fucking charts. Evil Emma is too hot for words.
-Man, NXT really is trying to make this Eva/Bayley match as good as possible with this build-up, aren’t they? Bayley hit all the right notes by saying that while Eva Marie is what WWE wants in its champion, she’s actually a competitor and a wrestler, and her calm-but-confident demeanor during all this hammered the point home. I mean, Eva should be nowhere near this match, but NXT is trying their damndest to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.
-Oh man, you have no idea how happy I am to see that Sami Zayn vignette. I’m literally salivating at the prospect of Zayn vs. Joe.
Apollo Crews vs. Jesse Sorenson
-I tried really hard to find a witty TNA joke out of all of this, but it’s 2 AM and with the new TNA TV deal, I’ll have many more opportunities to make one. Last time I saw Jesse Sorenson he had a snoozer against Tommaso Ciampa at Glory By Honor XII in ROH, but that was two years ago, so I don’t really have an opinion on him.
-I really liked Rich Brennan putting Jesse over on commentary as well. A lot of the NXT audience is going to know of Jesse Sorenson, but it’s still nice for NXT to at least try and acknowledge him.
-Apollo’s smiliness at the moment has subsided, which is alright with me. I dug the intense side of him last time out and it’s nice that he’s running with it as a character arc for the time being.
-The match was the washout it should have been, with another appearance of that awesome powerbomb Apollo did to Breeze at Takeover: Respect. Hopefully that’s his finisher from now on, because the standing moonsault sucked as a finisher from the jump. It did its job and was fairly entertaining, but it’s not something worth rating.
-God damn it Baron, LOOK INTO THE CAMERA.
-I love everything about this “WWE Corporate” thing they have going on this episode. Sending Lil Naitch down to officiate the match is a tremendously subtle “Fuck You” to the NXT audience. I’m beyond ready for this match at this point.
Bayley (c) vs. Eva Marie
-The back-and-forth between Saxton and Graves during Eva’s entrance was tremendous. It’s that type of bickering you should do. It discusses the merits and context of the match from both viewpoints, using logical arguments to support said viewpoints. These guys aren’t JR and Heyman, but it beats the piss out of a dumb cowboy guy yelling CHIEF JAY TROMBONE and HE’S A LUNATIC MAGGLE until I slit my own throat. Maybe my standards have been lowered, but Brennan, Saxton, & Graves have been excellent over the past couple months.
-Here we go… and they waste no time with the smoke and mirrors here, do they? The ref took a nasty bump as Nia Jax pulled him out, so props to him for that. Eva pulls out a pretty decent Sliced Red for a pretty great nearfall, too. Nothing else she does in the match really means anything, but this is truthfully one of the best storytelling matches I’ve seen in ages despite the relative lack of meaningful offense.
-It harkens back to Eva’s second or third match on her “All Red for Champ” tour where she forgot to kick out of a pin, which got her all kinds of heat. To capitalize on it, NXT booked her next match to have the ref intentionally stop his count at two to help her out. Fast forward to this episode, the corporate machine – which instigated this Eva Marie push – is making no bones about the fact that they want Eva as their champion. So what do they do? They send out their lead announcer, who would shill a Nicole Bass sex tape if he had to, to be the GM for the show until the competent GM gets better. So that means the corporate machine gets to control Eva’s destiny to their heart’s content. So much so that they wheel out their tippy top ref to enforce in case things get “out of hand.”
-Nia Jax kills the first ref after Bayley all but squashes Eva (forcing corporate to play its hand almost immediately), so that forces Lil Naitch to get involved, just like that initial ref did those months ago. He stops Bayley from doing the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tube Man thing in the corner, which allows Eva to fit her finisher. When Bayley kicks out and inadvertently sends Lil Naitch out a few moments later, she’s finally starting to gain her bearings.
-After dropping Nia Jax for a couple seconds, the good ref comes out and counts the pin to get Bayley what she deserves. And the entire time, Bayley looked the part. She was a champion and so much better than Eva it wasn’t even funny. She used her experience as a wrestler to make short work of Eva any time she got her in the ring fair-and-square, which is the exact way they should have booked this.
-But as great as the booking for this match was, this shouldn’t have been more than a passing joke in somebody’s head. Whoever decided to stick Eva Marie into the only respectable women’s division they have should be forced to watch Randy Orton vs. Sheamus on a continuous loop. Hopefully whoever did this shit learns what a horrible idea it was, only salvaged by the fact that Hunter and the writers for NXT are very gifted wrestling minds that know how to make the best out of a rotten situation. As a match, it’s *1/2 but the whole package was extremely entertaining.
Overall: As an exercise in wrestling writing, this is probably the best booked NXT show in months and months and months. Everything was cohesive, logically built, and the main event segment was an awesome “Corporate vs. Champion” angle that WWE hasn’t done well since Austin vs. McMahon. It wasn’t overbearing or insulting, but it featured just enough Corporate interference that you got invested in Bayley’s plight. Add on with a fun tag title match on the undercard, the great contract signing, and you have a must-watch NXT TV show to track down. Excellent stuff.