The January 8th, 2014 episode of NXT built on last week’s show, which brought us back to normality after the holidays and a “200th episode special.”
Bayley’s lovable fan-girl underdog gimmick has effectively won over the Full Sail crowd and here, accompanied by Nattie Neidhart, she took on Summer Rae and her “BFF,” Sasha Banks.
What was most notable here is how the talented Summer Rae incorporated elements of her main roster persona as Fandango’s dance partner. The real-life Danielle Moinet is much more than a well-travelled, highly educated former lingerie football athlete; she’s so tuned in to the art of professional wrestling that she not only stays in full character the entire time she’s on-screen, whether it be at ringside, dancing, or in a match. To actually turn ballet-style stretches into holds, and chasse as she clotheslines an opponent, demonstrates a true dedication to her craft.
The opening moments focused on the headband Summer sported atop her golden locks like a tiara to taunt Bayley, who knocked it off her head, then delivered a sunset flip on Summer as she bent over to pick it up. Both women are good wrestlers – Bayley from her independent days as Davina Rose, and Summer from her training in WWE developmental the last two years. This match delivered as a result.
Bayley scored a much-needed pinfall win here, which didn’t hurt Summer at all. Both sold even after the bell, Summer checking her mouth, while Bayley held her arm to her stomach. Why more wrestlers don’t sell like this – whether in victory or defeat – remains a mystery. It adds to the realism after a match where several blows and holds have been executed.
WWE have finally put some heel heat on Aiden English, whose obnoxious “Drama King” character has been such a riot that Full Sail fans haven’t been able to help but cheer him on. The heat has arrived courtesy of Colin Cassady’s crowd-pleasing turn last week, where he unexpectedly and hilariously shocked English by matching him in a singing contest, provoking a beat-down from Aiden.
A side-effect of this is that it’s kept Big Cass over in the absence of Enzo Amore, who is currently sidelined with a broken leg. Nonetheless, here Aiden English gained the pinfall victory after gaining the advantage over Cassady, who still looks quite a bit like Edge, just taller. It would be good to see him dye his hair black, but then he might draw comparisons to Kevin Nash instead.
In a backstage segment, Tyler Breeze phoned Adrian Neville despite being in the same room as him – because, he explained, it gave him the opportunity to look at himself through his phone instead of talking to Neville’s face, which is, he claimed, inferior to his. Adrian is still developing his speaking skills, but for a man of his wrestling talent, this still calls into question why WWE aren’t utilising managers more as mouthpieces. (They did it with Rob Van Dam and Ricardo Rodriguez recently – probably the only way you can actually fail to enhance a star with a manager…trust WWE to miss on a sure-fire hit.)
The Derek Zoolander-like Tyler Breeze meanwhile, much like Aiden English, just invests so much in his character that was already well drafted up by WWE that he can’t help but prompt praise from the audience. WWE officials may be scratching their heads, but this isn’t because the crowd are favouring heels – it’s simply because these personas are so well-defined compared to the bland names that fill most of the roster, that fans find them entertaining and refreshing, so want to shout about it. For example, what is Adrian Neville’s gimmick exactly? “The Man That Gravity Forgot”? So, he’s a high-flier? So what? So was Koko B. Ware, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, The Rockers…but all of those wrestlers had characterisations. Adrian Neville is just some British guy who sounds like he should play soccer for Manchester United. It doesn’t make any sense. Acrobatic moves will pop a crowd, naturally, but what happens after that? The weaknesses of his persona become highlighted in a segment like this one, where the Englishman challenged Breeze to a match next week after his meddling in his NXT Title match against Bo Dallas.
The newly corporate Kane filled in for John “Bradshaw” Layfield this week, as the voice of the Corporation – or The Authority, as they’re being called, corny as it is. One fan yelled “You sold out!” but truth be told, Kane’s character became meaningless way back in 1999 when parts of the mask and bodysuit he supposedly wore to cover horrific burns on all but one arm of his person started to be stripped away, piece by piece. As were layers of his character – the conclusion being that, despite other wrestlers even referred to his visible scars backstage, he had just imagined it. That’s right: the WWF jumped the shark. After all, if you want JR Ewing to live on in Dallas after his on-screen demise, you just claim it was all just a dream. Tap those shoes together and repeat after me: “There’s no place like home.”
So here, libertarian politico Glen Jacobs felt so at home in his suit that he got to inform the witty and charismatic Xavier Woods (PhD, no less) that he was going to be punished for supposedly starting a petition to reinstate The Big Show after The Authority had terminated him. The punishment in question? No, not a handicap match, or a contest where he has to fight with one arm tied behind his back. No, it was simply another regular match – against a wrestler who, unlike Woods, hasn’t even made it to the main roster yet.
Xavier’s opponent was Alexander Rusev, who – accompanied by the ever-improving “Ice Queen,” Lana – did indeed claim victory.
Though he undoubtedly possesses incredible potential, the Bulgarian is still as green as grass, so if WWE are putting him on house shows and in dark matches to ready him for an imminent debut on the main roster, they may be jumping the gun. But then, they’re also doing that with Roman (no relation to Luther) Reigns, who is also still way too inexperienced to break off into singles stardom away from The Shield.
Kofi Kingston – another main roster star to lose to Alexander Rusev, just last week – was shown giving an “exclusive” interview to wwe.com, where he admitted he underestimated the Bulgarian and had allowed himself to be distracted by Lana at ringside, and called for a rematch. This simple but effective interview demonstrated just how easy it is to lend a little credibility to a rivalry and have the audience invest in it as though it was based on a genuine contest, allowing for suspension of disbelief. It was so pleasing to see, it’s a shame WWE doesn’t do this kind of thing more often.
Baron Corbin was allowed to dominate the first part of his match with Tyson Kidd who, to be fair, needed a win here, and received it. But it’s nice to see Corbin have the chance to exhibit some of his albeit limited arsenal. He has a great look, and some potential. It will be interesting to see how WWE proceed with him from this point forward.
And finally, The Ascension retained the NXT Tag Team Titles by beating Hunico and Camacho in an exciting Tornado match. This one match probably did more for Conor (no relation to Conan) O’Brian and Rick Victor than the last six months. Now known as Konnor and Viktor, just by engaging in a thrilling, fast-paced title defence, they ended the show in victory, and were enhanced massively as a result of coming out of the match on top. It’s a pity the American Wolves – or American Pitbulls, as WWE had renamed them – didn’t have the opportunity to provide the same service to The Ascension. Unfortunately, the two independent stars have not been offered a permanent role in NXT, and thus had no chance to build a name for themselves like the impressive yet greatly inferior Hunico and Camacho have.
The Ascension must feel like 214 is the year to “do or die.” Conor O’Brian has been quagmired in WWE developmental for the best part of nine years, which is astonishing. Granted, he quit once before, in 2007 – when he preferred not to be on the road at all than be placed on a separate main roster “brand” to his partner Krissy Vaine (though other reports suggested they both requested a release due to health problems in both their families). After being re-signed in 2010, Conor looked like he might finally break through to the main roster when he appeared on the third round of NXT, back when it was presented as a pseudo-reality show. Portraying a rat-like character, he went nowhere besides back down to developmental.
Now known as NXT itself, Conor O’Brian today finds himself still in development hell, having been on the verge of breakthrough when his then-partner Kenneth Cameron assaulted a police officer and WWE stepped in to administer their own punishment above and beyond what the courts were to decide, terminating his developmental deal and leaving Conor going solo again.
Now, as simply Konnor, he finds himself as close as he’s ever been to breakthrough success, with partner Viktor in the latest version of The Ascension. An NXT Tag Team Champion at the age of 33, it certainly is now or never for the former Conor O’Brian.