Is This Even Developmental Anymore?

19 Feb

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The February 12th edition of NXT continued the march towards the Arrival debut on the WWE Network, with what seems to be an official policy of ticking over until that show, at which we will be treated to the best that developmental has to offer at this stage (albeit with a little help, as usual, from the main roster’s mid-card).

Tom Phillips introduced the night’s offerings alongside William Regal, Alex Riley, and Renee Young, who has enjoyed immense popularity which we can only hope will break the doors down for other women (why are male referees still officiating female wrestling matches, anyway?)

Speaking of women, the opening match was a joy to watch, demonstrating yet again that not only does developmental possess a wealth of talented “Divas” who can wrestle (thanks, Sara Del Rey), but that they can put on a great match when given decent allotted time. Here, Nattie Neidhart and Bayley were joined by Emma in facing rivals Summer Rae and Sasha Banks, who were teaming with not Charlotte, who’s injured, but instead Alicia Fox, who has become associated with the faction.

After several minutes of strong action, Charlotte was joined at ringside by her BFFs Summer Rae and Sasha Banks, as all three stablemates retreated up the runway, abandoning Alicia Fox, who, naturally, was soon overwhelmed by her opponents and defeated. This is another fine example of the continuing of a story while protecting all involved: As Emma heads up to settle down on the main roster with Nattie, Neidhart emerges victorious with underdog Bayley, and the BFFs take an official “loss” without feeling it, while Alicia Fox is martyred and can, as a result, pursue any number of options: she can try to avenge her loss to Nattie and her understudy, and/or can of course enjoy a babyface run against the BFFs. Either way, you’d hope she herself can return home to the main roster she’s enjoyed for the last five or so years.

Aiden English is back to his winning ways, here again getting the better of Colin Cassady, who is still developing into a promising young wrestler, even without Enzo Amore in his corner; in fact, if anything he’s been afforded the room to breathe more life into his character. The commentators effectively protected the talent here, explaining away the loss as though English was simply Cassady’s “bogey man,” his Achilles Heel who always gets the better of Big Cass. English got the pin after the “Director’s Cut,” which seems like something they’ve used to refer to finishing moves from the likes of Goldust and The Big Show before (surely “Curtain Call” would have been more suited to a stage star thespian like English, while “Director’s Cut” or “Final Cut” would have worked better for a Hollywood silver screen wrestler like Goldust…as for Show, he just needed an actual gimmick, and pretty much any name other than the abysmal moniker he himself has admitted to loathing).

As promised, Sami Zayn limped to the ring on a bad wheel and took to the microphone to again publicly demand a rematch against Antonio Cesaro, who himself went to the ring to reiterate that he had nothing to prove and no reason to wrestle him again, even raining on the parade of the Full Sail crowd who were convinced their chants had persuaded the Swiss strongman to yield to Sami’s demands. Just when it looked like Cesaro was being reasonable, Antonio instead kicked Zayn’s bad leg from under him and again told him “no.” However, Triple H again decided to take the chance to play babyface in the comfort of Full Sail by emerging, microphone in hand, to book the match anyway for – you guessed it – the NXT Arrival show on the WWE Network on the 27th. I wonder if this match will require a contract signing too?

A promotional video for next Sunday’s Elimination Chamber aired with no sight of Stephanie McMahon delivering cheesy lines; it was actually a good piece that created drama and added to the mystique of the War Games-like match that Steph’s husband claimed credit for just this week. (Well, we knew it wasn’t actually Eric Bischoff’s idea)

Shawn Spears Gavin Spears Tye Dillinger jobbed to CJ Parker, who has at last embraced a heel turn as a self-righteous, environmentally-aware modern-day hippie. Parker’s a decent wrestler, with certain potential, lumbered with a gimmick that can, sadly, never really work as a babyface today, but this heel turn has demonstrated that he can talk, especially when he doesn’t have to try and win over a crowd. The man who debuted by photobombing Tyler Breeze is now just as much of an obnoxious heel.

Finally, the Wyatt Family came “home” and soaked up cheers that would turn the Shield green with envy, and Erick Rowan and Luke Harper squashed Marcus Louis and his partner, Jason Jordan, who was even treated to a taste of Sister Abigail after the bell, courtesy of Bray Wyatt (there’s a line I never ever imagined having to type). Bray Wyatt took the microphone and acknowledged that he was created in NXT, as were all the Wyatts, and prompted another crowd pop in doing so.

And that was your big ending – and I don’t mean Langston. Just a squash match for a main event, presented as a treat because it was main roster talent. But frankly, these NXT episodes are suffering as they tread water until the Arrival show. After that, perhaps we’ll see the likes of Solomon Crowe grace our screens, and booking focusing on, you know, developing developmental talent rather than hauling in main roster wrestlers and Triple H every week.

The danger with NXT’s upcoming presence on the WWE Network as opposed to the speakeasy style emergence on international channels and YouTube, is that it risks being treated as just another show, alongside Main Event, SmackDown, or even Raw. If that happens, we can only hope the powers that be at Titan Towers are happy to give developmental wrestlers – with all their flaws and even their preliminary characters – equal exposure on the same platform as those other shows. If not? NXT becomes just another show, and where that leaves “home grown talent” in terms of gaining some valuable TV wrestling experience then, in the absence of any desire to pluck wrestlers from the independent circuit, is anyone’s guess.

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