Over the last few weeks, RAW ratings have been. . . Slipping is probably too casual of a word. . .Plummeting might be too harsh. . .Let's settle on declining, and its causing panic within WWE and questions and debate outside of Titan Tower. The Twittersphere has been abuzz with potential problems and supposed solutions, and one of the most common ones is the idea that there just aren't enough "top stars" for WWE to build stories and content around.
This led to questioning the NAIborhood, asking them to pick 6 stars that they'd center their booking around for the next 4-6 years. Since I always try to answer the questions I ask, I'm here to offer my own "A-Team".
Since it was my question, I can tweak it, so I decided to come up with a Top Ten. Unlike my usual lists, I'm actually going to rank them from top down, instead of building to number 1, and since I'm already working backwards, might as well put my overall thoughts and conclusions first.
Completely unsurprisingly, I went ahead and chose 10 guys (I limited myself to male talents, which was the original premise of the question I posed) with what I consider superior wrestling chops, assuming that the rest would take care of itself. Probably a bold assumption on my part, as prior history shows (Hello Dean Malenko) that in-ring ability doesn't equal commercial success.
Having said that, I think all of these talents would and could succeed if creative and management bought into them and was willing to work to create compelling stories and aspects to their characters. Since the question put me in charge of WWE, I can guarantee that would happen.
Dean Ambrose, while he might have the potential to be the most captivating character in the company, doesn't have the ring work to back it up, which to me is a problem. If this wasn't the PG era, I'd probably have included him in my list, as an "extreme" heel Ambrose would be must-see TV.
John Cena probably should be on this list. In the next 4-6 years, he's going to be a major presence, and having him as a cornerstone of the company allows for other stars to become bigger because of him. Having said that, it really wasn't in the spirit of the question to include him. Sorry, John.
Apollo Crews was a popular choice by most of the NAIborhood participants, but he was never really an option for me. I'm still not sold on him as a wrestler. He's got some skills, no denying it, but I haven't seen him wrestle someone on his level, and that to me is a big thing. Anyone can have a good squash match (well, that's not true, but let's go with it), but Crews vs. Breeze will go a long way of getting me on the Crews Ship for good.
Crews Ship? Why isn't NXT running with this?
New Day could be the biggest thing to come out of WWE (besides maybe The Shield) in this decade, but since they are at their best solely as a combination of parts, it wouldn't make sense to include them. Sure, I could have bent the rules, but I already expanded my list to ten. I didn't want the hate mail.
Roman Reigns not being on this list proves that I did want at least a fair amount of hate mail, as I'm sure many people will be very put out he didn't make the cut. Look, he's good, and he's getting better, but he is only ever going to be "OK" as a professional wrestler if he keeps relying on a stupid punch and an overplayed spear.
Bring it on, people. I, like Roman Reigns should, will #EmbraceTheHate.
No question on this one, Seth Rollins is the best wrestler in either WWE or NXT and will likely remain so for at least the next decade. He wrestled two matches at Night of Champions and looked. . . tired. Not exhausted, not wiped out, not "blown up", just tired. Like he just completed a moderate Crossfit workout.
He's going to be the biggest babyface WWE has had since vintage Cena in the next 12 months. Count on it. #PreDCtion
There's a sizable gap between Rollins and the rest of the field, but Kevin Owens could make some headway catching up in the next 6 months, depending on how this IC run is booked.
Owens has supreme skills for a wrestler of any size, and the fact that he's not quite #BullFit only makes it all the more impressive. A heel Owens and a face Rollins could main event MULTIPLE Wrestlemanias.
Owens is like Peter Pan. He can fight, he can fly, and he can crow. No wonder he was a consensus NAIDraft Top 3 pick.
While already 34, Cesaro (and the wrestler that's next on this list) has the physical abilities and body type to wrestling well into his 40's, so I'm not worried about age. Cesaro does things in the ring that I've never seen before on a regular basis, and that's ALWAYS going to make somebody special in my eyes.
I get the reasons he's not main eventing right now, but remember - in this hypothetical, I'M in charge, so Cesaro can be as Swiss as he wants to be, just as long as he lets me put all the money he makes me in one of his countries' lovely bank accounts.
Doc Manson and I have both gone on record during the NAIborhood Podcast in saying that we're not huge Balor fans. The character needs work and I'm sick to death of the double stomp as a rule, but I've never denied he's a top shelf wrestling talent, and that's what matters. We can tweak the Demon if we need to, or, as I really want to do, we scrap is completely and let Balor be Balor.
Sami Zayn is only at this position (and possibly only on this list) because of the feud potential with Kevin Owens. If I'm starting a wrestling promotion from the ground up and can cherry-pick talents from anywhere, Owens and Zayn are probably the first two guys I pick. Even above Rollins. Both are excellent wrestlers and their chemistry together is just perfect. I can build stories around their on-again off-again friendship for years.
This is probably my #PieInSpace pick - the one that's way out there and probably will come back to bite me in the end. Luke Harper is already 35 and unlike Cesaro or Balor, doesn't necessarily have the body type that can last into his 40's (although with that tank top on, maybe he does and I just don't know it).
I'm picking Harper because he is the best 'big man' (only 6'5") I've seen in ages. He's super athletic, he can fly (and I don't even think we've seen his best aerial stuff yet) and he can brawl. Any promotion I am in charge of has Harper as a main event talent, beard or no beard.
Actually, I've seen pictures of him without the facial hair - He needs the beard.
For those who don't know, I'm working on a long term project where I have pseudo-Fantasy Booked (some realism included) from Night Of Champions (my predictions, not the actual results) to Wrestlemania 32. In my work, Kalisto goes from a tag team to a mid-card singles star, and if I expanded further (which would be a nightmare, don't make me do it), he's probably a main eventer.
A lot of people compare him to Rey Mysterio, and that's fair, except he's probably more athletic than Mysterio was in his prime. I think Kalisto could be bigger than Rey. #PreDCtion
There's something about Bray Wyatt's ring style that makes me completely and utterly happy. Maybe its the way that he often just throws his sizable frame at people. Maybe its because a lot of his moves look like car crashes, but unlike Foley's, hopefully won't shorten the length of time where he's able to walk well.
Bray is 28 (younger than everyone on this list but Kalisto) and a complete blue chip talent, in my book. Bray vs. Rollins or Wyatt vs. Owens could last years and I'd love every second of it.
Neville was someone I debated for a while. I love his in-ring work, even if its a bit formulaic at times, but I did have to spend a bit more time weighing that against his character / gimmick deficits than I did with the other guys on this list.
I'd have to go back and explore Neville's minor heel stint in NXT, where he was a little more arrogant and a little less. . . Dopey might be the right word. That's a character I could work with.
The damage might be irreparable in the real world of WWE, but I'm still a big Rusev supporter. I'm a sucker, wrestling wise, for guys who I think look like me, size wise, yet can move around. Bam Bam Bigelow, Big Boss Man, Amish Roadkill, Bray Wyatt, Rusev.
Put him back with Lana, drop the nationalist gimmick and just let him fight. #FreeRusev
That's it. Ten talents who can have amazing matches night in and night out, even if I'm the only one watching them.
What do YOU think? Who would you build around, and more importantly, why? #BeHeard
One of these days I’ll get back to being historical about these “What If Wednesdays”, though it does bode well that the current product is so good, its hard to talk about anything else.
On one edition of “The Chief’s Briefs”, I spoke about a cruiserweight division. It seems to be a popular topic in the NAIborhood, so why not expand on it.
I’ve spoken about this a number of times - the size of the WWE superstar is falling. The age of the Super Heavyweights is over, and will be even more done with once Kane, Henry and Big Show lumber off into their respective sunsets. Today’s talents are smaller - the average weight of a WWE talent (including NXT guys) is 244 pounds. Take out the three guys I just mentioned and it goes down to 237.
So, you might be saying, if the guys are that small already, why have a ‘lightweight division’ to begin with? I bet you’re expecting one of my traditional “lists” here, but really, there’s only one reason.
Cruiserweight wrestling puts a focus on other superstars.
Rey Mysterio. Dean Malenko. Eddie Guerrero. Chris Jericho. Before these guys were main event talents (OK, Malenko never became a main event talent, but I love him so BACK OFF!), they had their success in the cruiserweight division. The talents that we all assume are going nowhere in WWE - The Nevilles, the Kofis, the Itamis - could all benefit from a title that they can easily compete for. If they run with the ball and can move up to bigger and better things, so much the better!
So there is definitely a reason to have this belt. Let’s hypothesize what would happen.
The belt would be a novelty act, just as it always has been.
Some people on Twitter have said that if a Lightweight belt is brought back, it should be done in a UFC fashion, meaning the title should have as much meaning and importance as the Heavyweight title.
This will never, ever, EVER happen. Not in WWE.
Besides just the long term significance and history of the heavyweight title, compared with the lack of such in a LW belt, you’re not going to be able to conVince McMahon (HA!) that there are now 2 belts at the “top” of his company. It just won’t work.
This belt will be, like the Hardcore and European titles (along with the other LW belts) before it, just something for the “lesser / lighter guys” to vie for. Nothing more. It’s not the end of the world - we’ll still get some fun action out of it. But we can’t expect it to matter.
The belt would be defended both in WWE and in NXT
We’ve never had a title that’s “crossed brands” between developmental and the main roster, but this one could change all that. For starters, let’s just look at the talents who qualify for a cruiserweight belt.
Note: After online deliberation, I’ve decided to set the cut-off at 225 pounds. This gives us the widest berth of names while also allowing some slightly heavier talents (Curtis Axel at 228 or Bo Dallas at 231) a storyline opportunity to “cut weight” to make it into the division.
That’s a pretty fair split of WWE to NXT talents - Why couldn’t you have Neville win the tournament for the title (more info to follow) and decide to defend it on both shows? You’d have some logistics to figure out with the NXT taping schedule, but it could happen and it would be great!
Neville vs. Itami one week on NXT, then taking on Adam Rose the next in WWE? Or losing it to Kofi, so now we can see Kofi vs. Finn Balor, or a Kofi / Ziggler match that matters?
Tell me how this is a bad thing!
No, seriously, this is the end of the column. I want to know YOUR thoughts. Would a cruiserweight division work? If so, who would you want to be the stars? Could certain WWE talents be born with a new title to battle for?
There are, as always, a lot of directions one could go when reflecting back on last night's NXT. I could discuss the debut of one Solomon Crowe, which I liked a whole lot more than my compatriots Jason and Liam did. (Obviously Crowe isn't big enough to take over the whole show, but he's starting with Parker, just like Owens did, so that's something.)
I could also spend my time in mourning over the way my favorite NXT tandem, the Vaudevillains, have become so much of an afterthought that they were, for all intents and purposes, squashed by Enzo and Cass, a duo I don't like as much as many of you do.
Instead, I will choose to spend the majority of my time talking about an NXT talent who honestly is likely not going to be spending much more time at Full Sail University. I speak, of course, of Adrian Neville.
Those who know me are well aware that I've never been sold on "The Man that Gravity Hesitates before Remembering". (If it forgot him altogether, he'd be unable to reach the ground. He could never be pinned, I suppose, but he'd be counted out CONSTANTLY.) I admired his work in the ring to an extent, but I really worried that the lack of character development and his "meh" promo skills wouldn't translate to the WWE roster. And, to be honest, I still feel that way.
However, just as the Royal Rumble Triple Threat match was the moment when I fully and completely bought into Seth Rollins as a main event superstar, last night's match between Neville and Owens was when I became completely convinced that Adrian Neville is WWE ready.
I'm not going to take the time to review the match - My NAI teammate @BaneOfWrestling did that in his NXT review, which I encourage you to check out. What I will do, however, is pinpoint the single moment when I hopped on board the "Mighty Mouse" bandwagon.
It wasn't the 450 splash, though that was good. It wasn't the reverse-Hurricanrana, though that made me cringe. (Honestly, I give more credit to Owens for taking that like a champ).
It was the deadlift German Suplex.
(This would be the point where I'd link to the .gif or the video, provided I had any technical expertise. Such is life - Google it, friends.)
Up until that moment, Adrian Neville, to me, was a cruiserweight. He had skills, there's no doubt, but he was still "just a high flyer". I enjoy aerial acrobatics, but I can list a number of guys who excel in that area and get nowhere in WWE. Justin Gabriel comes to mind, and he was so dis-satisfied with his WWE career that he quit and went skydiving.
But that suplex. . . Wow. . . Being able to lift Kevin Owens, who is no small man, completely on his own strength, slowly bring him back for the German, and then execute a picture perfect bridge?
That's some Cesaro-level stuff right there!
That's what sold me. If Neville can "flip, flop and fly", to quote Old-Dust himself, AND pull off some Antonio-style feats of strength. . . I don't know if he needs a perfectly formed gimmick: That kind of talent is going to succeed in WWE.
I don't need him in a mask and cape, WWE, but let this guy have 10 minutes a night with talents like Ziggler and Rollins (or even Fandango and Swagger), and this guy is going to make you some SERIOUS money.
I'll take the time here to bring up what might be my favorite stable / booking idea I've ever had, and I'll give all the credit in the world to my good friend Josh Petrie ( @jpetrie18 ) for co-creating it.
A group of international (though it doesn't have to be all "foreigners"), supremely gifted wrestlers - NOT sports entertainers, but WRESTLERS - who essentially can run roughshod on WWE anytime they want.
My original pairing was Cesaro and Rusev. Tyson Kidd is now a natural third member, and after last night, Adrian Neville joins the squad. All four of these guys in matching "amateur style" windbreakers (Kidd can keep his headphones) wrestling circles around their competition? To quote Shannon Scott from when I mentioned this idea last night on Twitter, shut up and take my money.
This can happen, WWE. All the pieces are in place. Now you've just got to put them together.
What do YOU think? What stood out from you on NXT? Is Neville ready for the next step? Be Heard.
If you've happened upon that little blog that belongs to myself and my good friend Doc Manson, Number 2 Contenders, you've seen my NXT Top Tens before. It's no secret that the WWE's "minor league" system is my current favorite hour of wrestling a week, and while my first few editions had WAYYY too much bias in them, I'd like to think I've sorted that out a bit.
It's OK, Bull Dempsey. . . I still love you. . .
Anyway, I base my top ten rankings on a number of factors. Current storyline, ability to connect with fans and most importantly, WWE potential. Please remember that this is my own rankings. You're more than welcome to post your own below.
First, as always, some Honorable Mentions
Marcus Louis - Nobody is quite sure what exactly WWE is planning on doing with Louis - he might be a modern version of the century-old French Angel gimmick (though he doesn't have the pituitary problems that poor Maurice Tillet had), but whatever it is, I've been quite intrigued. Will we see him at Takeover? I imagine so.
Baron Corbin - I get a lot of flak for this, especially now that Corbin looks poised to feud with my boy Bull. Trust me, when Corbin made his debut (and every time he walks to the ring), I can't help but get excited. If this ranking was purely based on presence alone, he'd be in the upper echelon. However, while the fans counting the seconds of his match is fun, I really think at this point we're obviously seeing WWE hiding the fact that Corbin's not that good in the ring. Until I see a longer match, I can't hold him in too high esteem.
Kevin Owens - Comparatively, we have Kevin Owens, who hasn't even made his live in-person debut on NXT television yet and I debated giving him a top ten spot. We should all stand and applaud WWE for these Owens teasers - I can't remember the last time a talent had this much backstory and character development before ever stepping foot in the ring. Takeover is going to be amazing for many reasons, but KO's debut (you know we're going to call him KO, right?) is a giant part of that.
Ok, on to the rankings!
10. The Ascension
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Konnor and Viktor, if memory serves, were top talents in my rankings this summer, and now they're barely hanging on. Part of that, as we'll see with some other names on this list, is their pending WWE call-up. Once a talent gets extensive WWE time, I don't feel right about putting them in a "prospect" ranking (Hence why Tyson Kidd won't appear here. . . No worries, though, Kidd gets his own column later this weekend.).
The Ascension went from being dominant monsters to just another tag team fairly quickly. Putting over Balor and Itami is nice of them, but they're leaving NXT far more lambish than lion-like. Perhaps this was WWE's plan all along, and we'll see them adopted by Bray Wyatt in the hopes he can save them. Or, much more likely, the last few months will be forgotten and these two will be hyped as NXT's most dominant tag team, Demolition-style ring gear and all.
9. Tyler Breeze
Do I still think Breeze is one of NXT's most well-rounded talents? Yes, I do. However, he's suffered possibly more than anyone else on the roster from the debuts of Itami and Balor. They just don't seem to have a big plan for him right now. I imagine we're either going to see him at Takeover against Tyson Kidd (which would be a fantastic match, even without much buildup) or in a rematch with the aforementioned Marcus Louis, and if that's the case, doesn't Breeze lose? I still think Prince Pretty makes his WWE debut in early 2015, though based on how the last couple months have gone, I can make the argument he could have benefited from a call-up right after Fatal 4 Way.
8. Lucha Dragons
Kalisto and Sin Cara haven't been seen much on NXT these last weeks, unless you count the miniaturized versions that the Vaudevillains have been toying with. A month or so ago, I made the case on Twitter that the WWE Tag Team division needed the Dragons ASAP. That's still mostly the case, though the outlook for tag teams seems to be improving.
You could even say it's a New Day for them. . . Thank you, I'll be here all week.
The writing appears to be on the wall that the Dragons will lose the titles on Thursday, though I'm not entirely sure that's the case, if only so that we don't wind up with 3 new champions at R-Evolution.
7. Sasha Banks
On Twitter yesterday I posted that I don't get all the Sasha Banks love. She's not as impressive to me as she is to many of you. When I asked for reasons, the only person who didn't solely give me the "She's hot" rationale was frequent NAI contributor Tyler (@MoeTWWE), who discussed her all-around abilities - good on the mic, solid in the ring, easy on the eyes.
While I agree she's a decent wrestler, I still don't see what's so special. Perhaps that's because she's being compared to. . . Nope, I'll save this for later in the column. If you're familiar with my work, you know where I'm heading.
6. Hideo Itami
I feel for KenTami, I really do. At Fatal 4 Way, Hideo makes his debut and is all the rage. Then, he gets beat down by The Ascension, to the point where it's not even fun to watch anymore. Now? He's an afterthought. It's Finn Balor and. . .that other guy, the Japanese one. . .
Still, he's in a high profile feud, he's been doing some actual wrestling (hence why I can no longer call him KickTami), and he's going to win on Thursday. Counts for something. My advice to Hideo? Once Takeover is, well, over, get as far away from Finn as you can. You need some time to be your own man.
Ok, you only had to wait a spot or two, but I appreciate it all the same. It's time, once again, for my weekly declaration...
Charlotte is going to be the greatest women's wrestler in history!
Truthfully, this is why I don't view Sasha in high esteem - I'm comparing her to Charlotte. Right now, that's like comparing the local swimming hole and park to the California coast. It's really not fair. Charlotte, to me, is just SO FAR ABOVE any other female talent on the NXT roster. She needs to go to WWE just so the other ladies have a chance to shine.
Which is exactly what's going to happen. I expect this to be the last time I can rank Ms. Flair here. It's been fun.
4. The Vaudevillains
I'm a little confused by Simon and Aiden right now. On one hand, we've seen a more aggressive style in the ring, which I appreciate. On the other, they're doing goofy old-time vignettes where they're essentially Wile E. Coyote, except they actually catch the Road Runner Mini-Dragons.
God, I hope you all get that reference.
So are they a comedy act or a serious team? I suppose Thursday will be a good indication for us.
3. Adrian Neville
I'm not afraid to admit I've never been a big Neville fan. Love his ring work, didn't see how he fits into a WWE landscape. That was Adrian the face, however. I must confess, the heel-ish overtones we've seen the last few weeks, even if they're just hints, have made me much more intrigued.
Still, much like Charlotte, I imagine this is about it for The Man who Gravity. . . Allows a couple extra seconds before remembering. Sorry, I'm The Teacher, I can't get behind a scientifically inaccurate nickname. Regardless, he's got to be WWE bound by the end of the year, right?
2. Finn Balor
I don't quite understand the entrance.- Why does he do a roll on the entrance ramp for no reason? Is he going to eventually kiss those stairs? - But I can't help but be fascinated with just about every facet of the former Prince's NXT style. Without intending to, he has outshined poor Mr. Itami, and with the expected paint job at Takeover, could do the same for the entire "promotion" by this time next week.
Just. . . Just get a new finishing move, Finn. You're going to hurt yourself.
1. Sami Zayn
This has been a very well done 'road to redemption', hasn't it? Zayn has seamlessly transitioned into being the man that NXT is built around. Excellent in the ring, makes you feel something when he speaks (which is much harder than it sounds, as anyone watching RAW would agree) and should. . . No, I'll go further. . . WILL become NXT Champion in just a few short days.
Unless Mr. Owens has anything to say about it...
Welcome to the NXT Top Ten, edition 4. It’s been a little while since our last rankings, and a whole lot has happened. We had arguably the event of the year, Takeover: Fatal 4 Way. We’ve had some debuts, both of new NXT talents and of some top tier developmental guys on RAW. Actually, that has required some tweaking, since at the onset of this rankings, I said I wouldn’t include any NXT guys with WWE experience. Since that would mean getting rid of three rankings stalwarts, we’ll now adjust that to say I won’t include any NXT talent who has had a significant WWE run.
Which brings us to Tyson Kidd. I haven’t been including him in my rankings as of yet, and I haven’t had a big problem with that up until now. He wasn’t getting anything resembling a decent push, I thought, so why bother? Well, now he had arguably the strongest showing of the men involved in the Fatal 4 Way, and this whole “fact” thing seems like it is taking off. Should I start ranking him? Help me, #NAIborhood, you’re my only hope! If you want him ranked, then rank him I shall.
(Note: If you’re curious, he’d likely be in the top 5 somewhere this week.)
OK, let’s do some rankings.
Number 10: Hid. . . Nope, I won’t do it. His name is Kenta!
Let’s put aside the name issues for now, since it will just raise my blood pressure. Had these rankings happened right after Takeover (which, in hindsight, should have happened), ‘The Wrestler Formerly Known as Kenta’ would have been ranked higher. His debut appearance was as good as one could have hoped.
However, and maybe I’m in the minority on this, but I was not blown away by his debut match with Justin Gabriel last night. There were some definite ‘strong style’ moments, but did he actually apply a hold or do a move? I recall kicks, elbows, a springboard dropkick that barely connected, and a double stomp that also came very close to missing his target.
Again, I might be crazy, but that match didn’t fill me with excitement over Kenta’s future, nor did his post-match beatdown by The Ascension.
It’s one match, so I’m not pulling an Arnold Skaaland and throwing in the towel on young Kenta, but I’ll need to see a bit more wrestling in order for me to rank him higher in future weeks.
Number 9: Enzo Amore and Big Cass
These two had a strong showing at Takeover, getting the chance to showcase their comedic side, which up until last week, I wasn’t a huge fan of. While their little vignette last night didn’t strike a hilarious chord (maybe it was the wobbly camera-work of one Big Cass that threw me off), adding a third, female member to their gang is not a bad idea, especially if she can wrestle. Please tell me she can wrestle?
*Frantically searches Google*
Ok, ok. . . Looks like she’s a wrestler. . . Crisis averted.
Number 8: Bull Dempsey
Gotta tell ya. . . This hurts a bit. . .
I’ve never claimed (I don’t think) to have an objective rankings. Having said that, I’ll admit that my love for Dempsey has clouded my judgement a bit. He’s been ranked 6th, 4th and 5th up until this point, which is probably too high. Is he amazing? Yes, I truly think so. Does he have a bright WWE future? I really believe that he does. Should he be ranked higher than current NXT title holders? Probably not.
Still, he squashed Mojo at Takeover and looks poised to take on a new challenge in the coming weeks. Sky is still the limit for Mr. Throwback.
Number 7: The Ascension
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. . . Konnor and Viktor, who held the top spot in my rankings just a few weeks ago, have seen their stock tumble mightily. First, they lost the belts at Takeover to the Lucha (Lucha! Lucha! Lucha!) Dragons. Now, this is not a huge deal, since we all seemed to think they were WWE bound, so giving up the belts was a logical step.
Then, they got their butts kicked by a suit-clad Kenta after interrupting his debut promo. Again, on its own, not a big deal, but that was two indignities on NXT’s biggest stage. Anyone who used Takeover as a way to introduce themselves to NXT talents was not going to think The Ascension was poised for a big main roster run.
Now, they’ve taken a bit of revenge on Kenta, but that’s about it. As of this writing, they have not been called up to the main roster, save for a random match here and there. There doesn’t seem to be a set plan for them yet, which explains how they’ve dropped so far.
(Could we see them at NOC this Sunday? Interfere in the tag match? Become Rollins’ new muscle? Dare I say it, but could they attack Cena?)
Number 6: Baron Corbin
If you’ve read my Takeover piece (and if you haven’t, how dare you!), you know that Corbin, in my mind, stole the show one week ago. I mean this sincerely, but when Triple H hinted at more than one debut, the Twitter-verse freaked out, all but convinced we’d see Devitt and / or Steen in an NXT ring.
Seeing Corbin for the first time, just for a second or two, I remarked that if this was the debut Triple H alluded to, and not Prince or Kevin, people were going be all bent out of shape.
Well, it was, and we weren’t. Corbin’s dominant victory (and impressive finisher) captured our imaginations, and we got another peek at that last night on NXT. I’m still enamored with his look, his very casual air in the ring, and his finisher (now called End of Days), but I will say that I’d like to see his matches last more than 30-60 seconds.
I’m all for squash matches when they need to happen, but too many matches like that make me start to wonder what is being hidden. Back in ECW days, there was a giant wrestler named 911, who had multiple squash matches all ending with a fearsome looking chokeslam. Turns out he wasn’t a very good wrestler, so a squash was really the only way to keep him relevant. Doubt that’s the case with Corbin, but I’m just the slightest bit concerned.
Number 5: Tyler Breeze
Poor Tyler. Of the four talents in the main event at Takeover, I’d make the case that he came away looking the weakest. Tyson looked the strongest in the ring, and the Zayn - Neville storyline quickly took center stage, leaving Breeze in the background, exhibited even more by him being the only one of the four not involved in last night’s NXT.
Perhaps (and I’m being a crazy optimist here) that’s because WWE sees he is the most main-roster ready, so he’s moving on from NXT. We’ll see him make his debut on the post-NOC Monday Night RAW, and he’ll be selfie-ing (is that a word?) his way into the hearts of the national TV audience.
Or he’s about to get buried. . . You know, either one. . .
Number 4: Kalisto
I suppose you could include Sin Cara here, if you’d like to, since they are the reigning NXT Tag Team Champions. One could also make the case that since Hunico is now Sin Cara, and Hunico never got a fair shot on the WWE roster, that Sin Cara should be included in my rankings. . . But that’s confusing to read and was even more confusing to write, and I’m tired, so I’ll just stick with Kalisto.
Kalisto has certainly become an uber fan favorite in NXT, as the crowd was dying for the Lucha Dragons to make the save for Kenta last night. Kalisto is most definitely the star of the team, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Number 3: Adrian Neville
I’ll admit it - I’ve never been a big Neville fan. Go back and check my rankings; it’s true. There was even a week where the NXT champ, in my mind, didn’t make the Top Ten cut.
I will say, though, that I have been very intrigued by the ‘heel’ish tendencies Adrian has demonstrated as of late. His interplay with Zayn has been tremendous, and “stealing” Zayn’s dive by doing a Asai moonsault was easily one of the highlights of the Fatal 4 Way match for me.
If this keeps up, and there is no reason to think it won’t, then I’ll begin to take Neville more seriously as a future WWE talent. My biggest qualm has been his lack of character, and he seems to have one now. . . And I like it.
Number 2: Sami Zayn
I still hate that he’s got the “can’t win the big one” gimmick right now. Even worse, I hate that he’s the “microseconds away from breaking up the pin” guy. Did it in the tag tournament, did it at Takeover, did it last night. This is the only way he makes it to the WWE roster, I get it, but it’s not a fun thing to watch happen.
Zayn gets the #2 ranking, and an edge over Neville, based almost exclusively on mic skills alone. I got a big kick out of his interplay with Titus O’Neill last night, and he has the sense of humor and verbal banter to be a huge star.
Plus, did you see the look on his face after doing the standing moonsault? Then how he chuckled and applauded when Neville one-upped him? This feud is going to be the best thing WWE does (Not just NXT, the whole roster), besides Ambrose and Rollins, in a long, long time.
Number 1: Charlotte
She’s the best women’s wrestler on NXT. In fact, she’s the best women’s wrestler in WWE right now. In fact, she has a really good chance of being the best women’s wrestler. Ever. Yeah, she’s THAT good, and that gives her the number one spot in our rankings.
The powers-that-be made the absolute right decision to have Charlotte retain the title at Takeover. Just like Brock Lesnar, there is nobody on the roster that can touch her right now. I was almost offended at the amount of offense Emma showed last night.
(By the by, if Emma had won, would the announcers have been able to say “Emma stole a victory?” Food for thought.)
Seriously, Charlotte stands, both literally and figuratively, head and shoulders above the competition. The only way she should relinquish the title is if she voluntarily gives it up, since there is nobody worth defending it against. She’s really that good. Did you see that Neckbreaker / Natural Selection combo? Most WWE talents of any gender would love to have that fluid and effective a finishing move.
Say it with me, folks. . . “Woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”
I’ve always hated how wrestling announcers always seem to say “We are witnessing history in the making!” Tony Schiavone was famous for this kind of thing. Every WCW Monday Nitro (Now available on the WWE Network!) was the biggest one of all, or we just witnessed the most amazing match of our entire lives, and even as a 15-16 year old kid, I knew that was horse manure.
Plus (and this is me just being a pain), EVERYTHING is history. I went out this morning to pick up breakfast for my family, which was, technically, history in the making. It’s just not a history anyone would want to read.
So I usually get my Teacher’s knickers in a twist about that kind of thing. . .
However. . .
On Thursday night, we saw history in the making.
NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way was, in my opinion, the best WWE event of 2014, and I dare say we could go back even further. On Thursday night, we saw a group of relatively unknown talents show Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, and yes, even Mr. #KidsAndTroops himself, John Cena, exactly how a wrestling card should be done.
From top to bottom, there wasn’t a weak link. I know this because even the part I liked the least held my interest. As evidenced by the bruising on my remote’s “fast forward” button, the same can not be said for the last few months’ of Monday Night RAW.
What does this mean, exactly, for the future of NXT and WWE? I’m not really sure. All I know is I’m as excited to be a wrestling fan as I’ve been since WCW and ECW were actually on television.
As I sat and watched the event in the wee hours of Friday morning, I jotted down some notes. As I sit here and re-watch it today (a phrase I have not uttered in quite some time), I’ll jot down some more. I submit to you, dear students, some idle musings and comments on “history in the making”, NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way
- I like how NXT took over the “Then Now Forever” piece. Cool way to start off a show.
Lucha Dragons vs. The Ascension
- Super impressed with the quick development of the now named Lucha Dragons. The new bright blue outfits are awesome, the matching masks are cool and I’m even willing to forego my usual disdain for the use of the springboard in the entrances, because it looked badass. You could tell right away that the Dragons were primed to win the titles, as obviously a lot of work had been put into fleshing out their image.
-The Ascension’s entrance is still something I have a problem with. If you’re there live, you would totally be able to see them ducking out of camera range! Hopefully when they are full time WWE guys, they rise from the floor like The Brood did.
- Speaking of which, I now need to listen to Gangrel’s theme music, arguably one of my favorites in wrestling history.
Random Thought Experiment: Has there ever been a stable where the leader was completely outshined by his “cronies” as much as The Brood? Edge is a HOF’er, Christian might be too, and nobody ever talks about Gangrel anymore.
- I’m going to keep mentioning it every time I see the Ascension - Viktor looks exactly like Christopher Daniels.
- Wonder if the massive NXT build for The Ascension will actually do them more harm than good in WWE. They absolutely ran roughshod over the tag division at Full Sail, looking huge and dominant. What happens when they wrestle Big Show and Mark Henry? Or Harper and Rowan? If they are anything but equally dominant in WWE, won’t that be a let-down?
I’m also concerned, as many are, with their size. Konnor, the big man of the team, doesn’t look THAT much larger than Sin Cara. You can’t have a monster that looks UP at most opponents.
- There are people on Twitter who think NXT guys won’t get recognized or appreciated when they make it to the WWE roster. I think that idea got proved pretty much wrong with the tag match we saw on RAW, as I heard more than a few “Ole!” chants.
Consequently, when you see Ascension on Monday nights, Konnor is going to get his “Yahhh” chants. Count on it.
- I like that Kalisto is going to get the hot tag. He is going to be the big star of this tag team. In fact, before Takeover, I predicted Kalisto would get the biggest bump based on his performance.
I, like everyone else, didn’t see Baron Corbin coming.
- I’ve been watching the first year of Monday Night Raw, and one of my favorite parts is, of course, listening to Bobby Heenan. In between all the #Heenanisms, he actually discusses strategy, specifically when it comes to tag team wrestling.
I mention this because Heenan would have done a dance of joy seeing the way Konnor held Sin Cara down, keeping him from tagging Kalisto, then (very creatively) forcing him back to the Ascension’s corner.
This might be the way that they get over in WWE - They become the most complete tag team. Double teaming moves, cutting off the ring, frequent tags - all the things that are sometimes lacking in today’s tag matches.
- I imagine that Kalisto is to many fans what Rey Mysterio was to me in 1996 - something I had never seen before. There is a natural grace and style to his moves that immediately make you take notice. Plus, he’s got polish. The sunset flip powerbomb was botched a bit, but he recovers so smoothly I imagine most people didn’t even care.
- Never seen a springboard double corkscrew bodypress. Never seen the step-back enziguiri Sin Cara did to Konnor. Never seen one opponent hold the ropes open with his feet so his partner can dive through them. I love this team.
- The camera angle where it looks like Sin Cara is diving through the ropes into your living room is an excellent feature. Reminds me of when Cactus Jack used to do the apron elbow and look like he’d crash through your TV set.
- OK, I’m speaking directly to Renee Young here. I love your work and think you belong on RAW, but when something is “the biggest upset in tag team history”, your voice needs to express that emotion, and not sound like you’re a news anchor describing the events of the local county fair.
- I hope that, since everyone said the future starts now, it starts with new title belts that don’t look like they were purchased at Party City.
- Watching the Adrian Neville vignette on Thursday, all I could think about was how he is going to need someone to speak for him when he gets to WWE. This time, however, I’m listening to what he’s saying instead of how he sounds, and maybe it’s hindsight being 20/20, but you can hear the beginnings of a heel turn in what Neville says. He’s untouchable, he’s undefeated, he can’t be stopped. A little foreshadowing, perhaps?
CJ Parker vs. Baron Corbin
- I was fuming when I saw CJ Parker make his entrance. He’s easily my least favorite NXT character (I even like Mojo more), so I was flummoxed to understand why they would give Parker the time of day, let alone a match.
Then I saw his opponent.
Obviously Baron Corbin was one of, if not THE, showstopper of Takeover, and a whole lot of that had to do with his finisher, which I give you was amazing. However, I would argue that the most impressive part of Corbin wasn’t the move, nor was it anything that actually happened during the match.
Go back and watch when Corbin is introduced. Look at his face. There is literally no expression. None. He doesn’t look angry, or fired up, he’s not excited to be there or nervous or. . . ANYTHING. That’s when I took notice. Immediately, I was glad to see CJ, because I knew he was about to get his ass kicked. I became a Baron Corbin fan based on that look alone. His little smirk at the end sealed the deal. I’d buy a Baron Corbin t-shirt right now if they were for sale.
- OK, I blew past it earlier, but I will say again, that finisher was excellent. I do, however, give a lot of credit to Parker (Don’t mind the talent, can’t stand the character), because there’s a whole lot of that move that relies on the person who is on the receiving end. Parker sold that like RVD used to sell the Pedigree, where it looked like he literally died.
- Tweeted about this earlier, but I loved Tyson Kidd’s vignette - I don’t know if he’s ever going to get a legitimate shot in WWE again, but between his promo and his performance in the Fatal 4 Way, I have a whole lot more respect for Tyson Kidd than I did a few weeks ago.
Enzo Amore vs. Sylvester LeFort
- OK, this was going to be the part of the show I skipped. Enzo vs. Sylvester. I get that Enzo and Cass are way over, but part of the reason I’m not such a big fan is that I can’t understand what Enzo is saying half the time. Plus, and I’m sorry if this offends some of you, but I just get super annoyed by the “in your face, yippy chihuahua” type people. I actually think those two would work better as heels, because it would be expected that I should be annoyed, but I digress. What I will not deny is that they are super. . .SUPER. . .over with this crowd.
Also, Big Cass looks like Edge’s younger brother.
- I’m not a big Legionnaire fan either, but I will say two things. 1. I like that their entrance music isn’t “Le Marsaillaise”, the French National Anthem. 2. Sylvester’s tights are pretty cool.
Speaking of tights, I can take Enzo a lot more seriously when it doesn’t look like he’s wearing leopard print yoga pants.
- Random question, but do you think we’ll see the Bella feud end in a hair vs. hair match?
I know, me neither. . .
- This match is far more entertaining than I expected it to be. Nothing fancy, nothing overly technical, but a well-told story from beginning to end.
- Look, I get that Cass and Enzo are hugely popular, and I did appreciate the Dudley Boyz nod, but do they need to play to the crowd THAT much?
- I loved how Sylvester ran off in a cartoonish manner. There is potential with his character. Doing a little bit of Wikipedia research I discovered LeFort is a graduate of Lance Storm’s Wrestling Academy, so I immediately take him a bit more seriously than I did before.
- Do you know who else is a Lance Storm alum? One Tyler Breeze, and its time for his vignette. I still maintain he has the most complete character in all of NXT, and while I hope he gets his title run, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him graduate first, especially since Neville and Zayn seem to be heading down the path to an extended feud.
The debut of Hid . . . . Kenta, damn it, his name is Kenta!
- I’m glad Flair isn’t the one introducing Kenta. There isn’t a connection between those two, and besides, as NXT’s GM, Regal should be the one introducing Kenta.
- OK, time for a mini rant. Done it on Twitter, so bear with me.
Look, I understand that WWE wants to market the name, more specifically, to market the name AFTER these wrestlers leave the company. That’s why Bryan Danielson is Daniel Bryan, that’s why C.M. Punk became CM Punk, I get it.
But. . . This guy is Kenta. We all know this. Having him change his name ENTIRELY is a ridiculous notion. You heard the “Kenta” chants; they aren’t going to go away. I don’t care that it’s a tribute to his hero, I don’t even care that Itami is Japanese for ‘pain’. The man’s name is Kenta. Come up with some version of that, please. K.E.N.T.A. would have been fine. Add an extra ‘n’, or an ‘h’. Just don’t insult our intelligence, WWE.
This is going to keep happening, you know. Devitt and Steen will have different names, now. Vince McMahon and WWE think that because they are essentially the ONLY major wrestling company, they can fiddle with history. If they want to bury a guy (Punk), it’s going to happen. If they want to change a name, or a result, or ignore an entire era in wrestling, they’ll try to do it.
The only thing standing in their way is you, the fans. Call out WWE when they’re being stupid. At the very least, you’ll feel better.
There is but one way I would have accepted a name change, and that is if Hogan had totally botched it during the contract signing some months ago.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you. . .Kendo! Kintar! Kaptain Krunch! What’s this guy’s name?”
- Outside of the name change, it was as good a debut as you could ask for. (The chair sit was a particularly nice touch).
The Ascension looks even weaker now that they’ve lost the titles and got beat down by a small guy in a suit, but Kenta (I won’t call him anything else) is a major player in NXT.
Here comes the Itami!
Bull Dempsey vs. Mojo Rawley
- Shh, be quiet. Bull Dempsey is on.
Look, I’ve accepted that I can’t be objective about Dempsey. I just can’t.
Yes, there are issues with his character and look (though I’d much rather he just put longer tights on than those who want him to tone up a bit). Yes, the finish to this match is supposedly (haven’t yet watched it a second time) botched big time. I just don’t care. I enjoy Bull Dempsey far too much, and want him to succeed.
Look, his feud with Mojo is 2-3 weeks old, and we already saw a darker, less “hyped” Rawley on NXT a few weeks ago, so Dempsey is causing positive changes everywhere he goes!
So here’s a disclaimer: I will likely be very high on Bull Dempsey, almost certainly TOO high.
Again, I’m watching a lot of ‘93 WWE, so I’m drawing a huge comparison to Bam Bam Bigelow with Dempsey, and that was even BEFORE the diving headbutt. Total smash-mouth style, VERY stiff (as evidenced by Mojo getting cut open by a Dempsey right hand), always moving forward.
Now, a note on the finish. I know a lot of people think it was botched, and I haven’t asked for reasons why, but I don’t see it. I think Dempsey’s headbutt is going to be aimed at the mid-section, for safety purposes only. We’ve seen the dangerous possibilities of a head-to-head collision one too many times. I’m OK with Bull aiming a little lower.
Was Mojo too far away? Maybe. Is it going to improve over time? Of course.
Where’s my Bam Bam Dempsey shirt? I want one!
- OK, OK. . . So Enzo and Cass ARE entertaining. Good banter, good facial expressions. I’ll admit, perhaps I have been missing the boat on. . . Do they have a name as a team yet?
I still don’t know the name of the other Legionnaire (Marcus Louis, thank you Enzo), but I give him credit for doing what he’s done so far. Hope we see him with some obviously painted on eyebrows. And a beret. . . Definitely a beret.
Charlotte vs. Bayley
- Must say, I’ve never really “got” Bayley. Being so happy all the time isn’t a gimmick - in my mind, its a sickness. Having said that, I have bought into Bayley a little more thanks to that vignette, which is exactly what those things are supposed to do. She’s pretty legit.
Having said that. . . Charlotte is. . . Should I say it? Do I dare? Indeed I do.
Charlotte is THE BEST women’s wrestler in WWE right now. I almost wonder if she’s being kept in NXT (if that is in fact the plan) because she would instantly outshine every other Diva on RAW or Smackdown.
She’s been very good for a very long time, but these little additions of the Flair persona. The “learn to love it” quote in the vignette, the (as Michael Cole would put it) “vintage Ric Flair” moves dropped in now and then. . .Oh, and of course, the “woo”s. Those take her over the top.
Seriously, folks, nobody can touch her. AJ and Paige have a good feud going, but Charlotte is the real deal. At some point, Charlotte is going to need some sort of “Nature Girl” robe variation. Or she’s going to make the “Four Horsewomen”, along with Steph, Nikki Bella and Tamina (though Ronda Rousey would be cool, too.).
- I like Bayley’s new look, and having now heard Tom Phillips giving the proper name of the wave-y things, I can even appreciate that a little more.
- Do we really need the “sparkle” sound when the women’s title icon is displayed? Seriously.
I’m not alone in thinking that this match was the match of the night. Honestly, when was the last time an NXT women’s match stunk? Not since I’ve been watching. On RAW? 2 weeks ago.
Bayley hits a diving rear elbow to a seated Charlotte’s back. Charlotte counters a backslide into a neckbreaker. Everything these two wrestlers do is polished and with purpose.
- Rolling Figure Four Headscissors. Move of the night so far.
This is going to sound absolutely insane. . . But what if Ric isn’t the best Flair?
- One day I would like to have a referee mic’d. I’m sure he’s just giving time updates to the wrestlers, but it would be neat to hear the “inside baseball” stuff.
- Polished and with purpose. I give Triple H a ton of credit, because obviously there is a lot of focus on the “little things” in NXT.
For example, Bayley rolls up Charlotte, who kicks out at 2, and Bayley pounds the mat in frustration as she gets up to try to attack again. You don’t always see those things in WWE.
- This match had the perfect finish. Charlotte has the answer for everything Bayley does, but Bayley won’t quit. Camera in perfect position for the look on Bayley’s face, almost daring Charlotte to keep going. Charlotte hits Natural Selection (excellent name for her finisher, by the by), and that’s the ball game.
I’m not saying I told you Charlotte would retain. . . . But I totally did.
- Haven’t read the NXT spoilers (this show is too good to ruin), so here’s what I’d do from here.
Charlotte comes out and essentially forfeits the title, saying she has nothing left to prove in NXT. She’s beaten everyone who is anyone. Sasha comes out, pretending they’re still friends and assuming Charlotte will surrender the belt to her. Charlotte says that after Takeover, she knows Bayley is the second best women’s wrestler in the company, so she wants her to have it. Regal books a match between the two for the title (since Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch, the only other two women’s wrestlers I can name in NXT, aren’t ready).
Sasha tries to cheat, Charlotte stops her, Bayley wins the belt. She and Charlotte hug it out, letting Flair leave with the same friend she entered NXT with, and also leaving it open for her to be a face or a heel when she makes her WWE debut.
- Somehow, I missed the Sami Zayn vignette the first time, so couple quick thoughts.
Bryan and Rollins clips were perfect. Both undersized guys who we question if they can win the big one (In Seth’s case, it’s the case. Will he turn it in against Lesnar? What if it expires on him?)
More allusions to the friendship between Zayn and Neville, which only makes me think said friendship has a countdown clock on it.
Speaking of which, Neville vs. Zayn in a Best of 7 series? Or a 30 minute Iron Man? TLC? As Kevin Smith is so fond of saying (and I’ll paraphrase for the kiddies out there), forget you - take all my money!
The Fatal Four Way
- Kidd’s entrance has gotten a lot better. The hooded jacket is a nice touch, and while I didn’t get the Beatz at first, the whole “drowning out the crowd noise” is a smart tweak for his character. Plus, he looks a little like Rick Steiner.
- Is it just me or is the crowd very quiet for Neville’s entrance? Don’t hear cheers nor do I hear boos. Do I detect ambivalence, or just loud entrance music?
- Get new titles *clap clap clapclapclap* get new titles *clap clap clapclapclap*
- Zayn taking a selfie on Breeze’s phone was excellent.
Lesson: We like characters who are funny, not funny characters.
DX, The Rock, Austin and Angle were so over because they had senses of humor, just as Zayn does by taking that picture. They are funny, and thus we like them.
Adam Rose, on the other hand, is just a funny character, in the same way Fandango is, just as Duke Droese and The Goon were before them.
Funny characters don’t work, unless they themselves are funny (Santino), and even then, its more about the person than the gimmick.
Ok, I’m done now.
- Why is the Koji Clutch not an official finisher for somebody?
- It’s sad that the guy booked the strongest (Kidd) is also the one least likely to make the main roster. I’ve said it before, but Tyson has done everything one could have hoped - improved mic skills, in ring ability, character. Yet I still fear its too late.
- Neville is definitely turning heel, and I like it. Stealing Zayn’s spot to do his own high-flying move was very cool, and (like all good turns) it is based in reality. Neville really is that much better than everybody else (save for maybe Kalisto) when it comes to high flying, so why shouldn’t he be cocky about it?
- That “This is Wrestling” Chant died quick when Zayn dropped Neville, or when Neville over-rotated. Whoever screwed it up, it done screwed up.
Still, that’s the perfect chant for NXT.
- Loved seeing Breeze try to pin Neville, then quickly move to Zayn, then throw a little tantrum. Passion. Polish. Purpose. The 3 P’s of NXT.
- Enjoy that the Punk chants were quickly drowned out by boo’s. It’s been done, folks. Drop it.
- The “tower of doom” (superplex and powerbomb) has been done over and over, but it never fails to pop the crowd.
- I like seeing Zayn checking to make sure he kicked out after Breeze stole Neville’s pin post-Shooting Star Press. Cool moment.
- Alright, getting on the logic train right here. Loved seeing Neville stopping Breeze from tapping, except Breeze has two hands. Why didn’t he just tap with his other hand?
- The ending of this match was booked beautifully. Whomever the agents were deserve credit galore.
- This is Zayn’s future, isn’t it? He’s always going to be the guy that ALMOST breaks up the pin. Did it in the tag tournament, did it tonight. Seriously, how can he NOT be booked as the underdog for the rest of his life?
- So there ends the best “PPV” of 2014. Looks like Neville is sticking around, showing signs of turning heel, setting up what will almost certainly be an amazing feud with Sami Zayn. If that becomes the “main event” of NXT, I might stop watching RAW altogether. They just can’t compete.
Hope you enjoyed the show Thursday and this trip down short memory lane.