The February 5th, 2014 episode of NXT picked up by delivering the follow-up to the
Hunico Sin Cara and Alexander Rusev confrontation of two weeks prior.
We can ignore for a moment the absurdity of the larger, tattooed, slower Hunico suiting up as Sin Cara in order to accept the inevitable: the Bulgarian crushed him in mere minutes, making us wonder why WWE even wants to continue the character since at this rate, even kids won’t want to be seen wearing the merchandise of such a loser. The comfort for WWE lies in the fact that the increasingly astute Full Sail crowd at NXT tapings did not chant “Hunico” during the match.
Alexander Rusev, of course, has now arrived on the main roster of WWE along with his “social ambassador,” Lana. I stand by my claim that this is too soon for him, and WWE are clearly papering over the cracks in his persona by having him accompanied by Lana to add layers, as thin as they are (Lana herself has improved greatly in order to convey a Mr Fuji-like control over her charge). But ultimately, without either speaking a great deal of English, they are still limited (the real-life CJ Perry is, in fact, American, but learnt Russian after living there for a long period of time with her family, which begs the question of why WWE didn’t simply introduce her as a multilingual, multicultural character rather than insulting the intelligence of their audience).
Nonetheless, we must wish the two all the best on the main roster, though they’ll likely be back, given WWE’s backwards ethos: the main roster props up a glass ceiling on which stand yesterday’s star like Triple H, Batista, The Undertaker, and sometimes The Rock, while their mid-carders are, in turn, sent back down to developmental to eat up airtime that would otherwise go to the up-and-coming NXT talent.
Remember the motto of previous developmental league, Ohio Valley Wrestling? That’s right: “Tomorrow’s Superstars Today” – it was honest yet enthusiastic about its status as a developmental territory where you get to see incredible talent break out before the rest of the world sees it on the grand stage of WWE’s main roster.
Now, though, NXT is losing its mystique by relying on an awkwardly contrived feud between Antonio Cesaro and a Sami Zayn who really doesn’t need the rub from a mid-carder who would probably be better utilised as WWE’s next Kurt Angle. As excellent as their in-ring exchanges are, it’s a misuse of both wrestlers, and creates an unhealthy expectation in audiences believing they will – or can – only see such great clashes if someone from the main roster graces Full Sail with their presence and leads a dance with a supposedly otherwise clueless rookie (even if they grafted away on the independent circuit for years).
Nonetheless, NXT remains full of those glimpses of the future, presenting us with some characters we know the world will soon be watching (Paige) and others that are doomed to never make it (CJ Parker).
On this episode, we even had a four-person commentary broadcast booth: straight play-by-play Tom Phillips, heel Byron Saxton, face Tensai, and Renee Young. This was, though, at times simply overkill. A three-person booth, maximum, is acceptable, especially if including a special guest commentator like an active wrestler with a personal interest in the match they’re commentating on. But four? When they weren’t talking over one another, it still often seemed – as it has on previous episodes – indistinguishable (with the exception of Renee, obviously). Even Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan had distinctive voices; this does not seem to be a prerequisite any more, rendering a lot of commentating to feel like white noise. Matches need calling, play-by-play, and then complemented by colour commentary to offer, well, colour to the broadcasted voices guiding the televised audience through the action.
At least the next match featured the women (and NXT has an absolutely incredible women’s scene right now). Sadly, Emma is being brought up to the main roster as a “fan” (yes, like Terri “Tori” Poch, and yes, like Mickie James) where she is in danger of being wasted while contradicting WWE’s claim that they wait for the right time and opening before calling up talents from NXT.
Yet again, a main roster mid-carder was summoned to pull NXT duty – in this case, Alicia Fox, who’s been without a storyline longer than anything in Kaitlyn’s worst nightmares, and here fought and lost to Emma before acting as a spare wheel in the BFF group comprised of Summer Rae, Sasha Banks and Charlotte (“Don’t Call Me”) Flair, who attacked Emma until Nattie and Bayley ran in to make the save. Before the assault, Emma had taken the mic in order to deliver an iffy promo on NXT Women’s Champion, Paige, who has been conspicuous by her absence, though why this prompted such a run-in is just as much a mystery as Paige’s disappearance (explained as an injury on-air, but reports varying on her status).
In a strangely booked match, ex-main roster giant Mason Ryan squashed Sylvester LeFort to end the Frenchman’s quest to control the muscleman’s contract. I had expected Sly to have a secret weapon who would run in and attack the chiselled Welshman, but it didn’t happen. Perhaps this feud has been planned out long-term. Let’s hope so, because otherwise this was all an exercise in futility.
Backstage, Aiden English magically and successfully summons a spotlight as he sits on a chair. His justification for threatening Enzo Amore on the last episode was the previous week’s incident where EA drove over his foot with his wheelchair. In fact, it goes back to the “singing competition” between Colin Cassady and himself where he was humiliated, but at least the wheelchair spot was referenced. He then crooned “O Canada, I hope I make you cry,” because of his next opponent, former main roster mid-carder Tyson Kidd – which was awful, even by his standards of songs and singing.
Sure enough, the feud with Colin Cassady continued when Big Cass came to ringside and mockingly wore Aiden’s beret and scarf, distracting him enough for Tyson Kidd to finally manage to score an NXT pinfall.
Before Aiden English could be defeated, Sylvester LeFort was interviewed, still reeling from his pummelling at the hands of Mason Ryan, who he vowed vengeance on. That’s about as long-term as we’re going to get with this feud for now.
Speaking of feuds, NXT Championship contender Adrian Neville fought former partner and recent rival Corey Graves to revive their conflict following on from Corey’s promo the previous week. I never understood these two as partners or opponents, and although they’re both great wrestlers who have had some good matches together, there seems to be something missing in their chemistry to prevent them from fulfilling the potential they might have had. At least Graves has a gimmick of some kind; we’ve still no idea what Adrian Neville is supposed to be besides a high-flying acrobatic aerialist, which is hardly unique unless this is the 1980s still, making me a fresh-faced fan of pro wrestling after all.
After the number one contender scored the pin via his Red Arrow finisher as per the alleged recent NXT memo, the champ himself, Bo Dallas, again attempted to get under the challenger’s skin before their title match on February 27th. However, Triple H yet again appeared in order to draw out the build-up and add more albeit thin layers onto their conflict. He informed Bo that the NXT Championship belt would be taken from his grasp and hung above the ring for their title match in a ladder match, with The Man That Gravity Forgot relished. Apparently it’s the first such match in NXT history, which prompted enthusiasm from the Full Sail crowd as well.
However, it’s not the first such match in WWE’s developmental history, and the women have even done it so very well indeed. Check out this footage from the aforementioned Ohio Valley Wrestling promotion, formerly a developmental territory to WWE, so we can end this report from a mediocre NXT episode with a bang: