Remember when Hulk Hogan and race in wrestling was all anybody could talk about?  You know. . . About 10 days ago?  How quickly things change in this social media world, for in less than a fortnight, we’re now talking about Piper (obviously, that would have happened no matter what), Ultima Lucha and some team that may or may not be called ‘Beef Mode’.

For those who wondered how Hogan survives the fallout of his released audio, the answer is in the previous paragraph.  Today’s society has a massive case of collective ADHD - We automatically move to the next shiny thing that captures our attention.  If Hogan were to disappear from the public eye for a while, only to come back in 18-24 months with a series of tell-all interviews, giving a total mea culpa for his actions and showing us that he is actively seeking forgiveness, a lot of people would break out the red and yellow boas and welcome him back with open arms.

It might seem ludicrous right now, but its true.  It could, and possibly will, happen.

Regardless, while most of the world is now too focused on the difference between the “fake” and the “real” forms of entertainment, there’s still the racial elephant in the room, specifically when it comes to how WWE responds in the coming days and weeks.  Tonight’s Roddy Piper tribute will offer an opening answer - We’ll see through the editing and clip selection how far away from Hogan the company will choose to go, but it’s even more than that.

While Vince McMahon & company have avoided the majority of the racial magnifying glass, at least with the mainstream media, they still should probably do something in response, and not just crown John Cena as the new World Heavyweight Champion, and thus the REAL American WWE flag-bearer.  If I’m on the WWE creative team, I’m trying to find the best way to put as much focus on African American talent as possible, and as much as I like them, I’m not talking about New Day.

Now is the time to start trying to build to the first ‘black’ World Champion in WWE history, and in this Chief of Staff’s opinion, there’s a talent currently on the main roster that could be that guy.

The Case for Titus O’Neil

I’ll freely admit, up until the Prime Time Players reunited recently, I didn’t have a high opinion of O’Neil as a wrestling talent, and based on the conversations I had on Twitter last night, there are a number of you that still feel the same way.  Take a look at his work thus far in 2015 (both in NXT and as one half of the PTP), though, and you’ll see there’s some workable talent there.

I’m not saying he’s the second coming of William Regal, or that he’s even on the level of Booker T, but Titus has shown he can be  a dominant ‘power-wrestler’ who can hold his own in a match.  Take a look at the history of World Champions (can you say Batista?  I knew that you could), and you’ll see that the description I just gave you is good enough for a title or two.  WWE will happily overlook a deficit in wrestling ability if you make up for it in other ways.

There’s far more than just talent to being a World Heavyweight Champion, otherwise Shelton Benjamin would have won about half a dozen or so during his WWE stay, as would Billy Gunn, Mr. Perfect, Tito Santana and, oh yeah, that Sandow guy. . .

Being the World Heavyweight Champion means you are an ambassador for WWE.  Besides John Cena, who has long passed the point of needing championships to define him, the WHC is THE public face of professional wrestling.  Seth Rollins was on The Daily Show last week, not Sheamus or Roman Reigns or even The Miz.  World champions appear on talk shows (I remember Kevin Nash going on Regis and Kathie Lee with his WWF title), they do promotional appearances, and they walk around in public carrying a large gold trophy.  Ring ability is not their only pre-requisite.

A World Champion needs to be eloquent, camera-friendly (that’s a very politically correct way of saying physically attractive), and preferably trying to make a positive difference.  In other words, just like Titus.

We’ve heard him on commentary verbally slapping JBL around - Titus can talk.  He’s a physically imposing specimen who smiles a lot and puts people at ease.  He’s been voted best Dad and he takes homeless people out to dinner.  He’s ALREADY one of WWE’s best superstars from a public relations standpoint.  He is, from a color blind viewpoint, the ideal talent to consider as a future World Champion.

I’m not willing to delve too far into the intricacies of the racial views of the folks behind the WWE curtain, so for the purposes of this column, I’ll assume that Titus would get serious consideration as a contender for the title.  So, our major question is. . .

How do you get Titus from his current position in the company to World Champion?

It can’t be too quick - If he randomly won the title in the next month or two, everyone would know EXACTLY what was going on.  This needs to be relatively gradual. . . In fact, the ideal scenario would be building Titus to his own “Wrestlemania moment”, which gives us 8 months to work with.  I’ve put on my fantasy booking hat, and sketched out a PPV schedule that I think could work.  Are there better options?  I’m sure there are, and I invite you to leave a comment with your own plan.

Summer Slam

- Prime Time Players lose their titles to New Day in whatever multi-team match they’re planning.  In my head, New Day cheats (obviously) to get their belts back, causing even more bad blood between the tandems.

Night of Champions

-  Titus and Darren, extremely frustrated at how New Day used their three man advantage to win, sets out to end the trio tyranny, challenging the Positive Power to one more match at NOC.  The stipulation?  The losing team must disband.

New Day wins, of course, because this group is amazing and must remain together, and this forces the split between Darren and Titus.  In a perfect world, Darren Young goes on to get a solid mid-card push while also being able to address being the first openly homosexual wrestler in WWE, but that’s another column.

Hell in a Cell

-  Titus begins his singles run and almost immediately falls into conflict with Big Show.  Hate him if you must, but there’s no denying that a win over Paul Wight is almost always the first step towards main event status.  Cena did it, Reigns did it, and frighteningly enough, Ryback’s going to do it.

Titus battles and defeats Big Show at HIAC, sending Titus into the upper mid-card.  This leads us to. . .

Survivor Series

- In an actual Survivor Series elimination match (shocking, I know), Titus, along with Ryback and the recently promoted team of Enzo and Big Cass, takes on Big Show, Rusev, and a team I’ve had in mind for quite a while now, King Barrett and a newly heel Neville.

Titus is the sole survivor of this match, overcoming 3 on 1 odds by defeating Big Show, Neville and finally Rusev all on his own.  Rusev attacks him after the match, however, which takes us into. . .

TLC

and a “Bulgarian Brawl” - basically a No DQ streetfight between Titus and Rusev, who obviously is back to being a monster, and not just a funny fishmonger.

Since I can’t fantasy book one guy without fantasy booking others, I’m going to say that Rusev wins this match, just barely, although TItus continues his strong showing.  He definitely doesn’t tap or pass out to The Accolade - I’ll say the two of them wind up crashing through a table somehow, and Rusev manages to drape his arm over Titus.

Royal Rumble

- Entering somewhere in the middle (14th?  17th?), Titus is one of the more dominant participants in this year’s Rumble, eliminating multiple guys, including Rusev, earning a little bit of payback from his loss at TLC.

Dominant participants are the name of the game this year, as Titus, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns all have single handedly eliminated more than 5 men.  They are so strong, in fact, that the three of them are all alone in the ring before all 30 men have entered the Rumble.

In fact, we’re just about to see who drew Number 30. . . The buzzer goes off, there’s a little bit of silence, and then. . .

Sami Zayn, making his return to ring action and his official WWE debut, sprints to the ring, springboarding off the top rope and diving onto Kevin Owens, enacting just the beginning of his revenge for the NXT events of 2015.  The two of them wind up brawling with such fervor and fury that they eliminate each other, continuing to fight all the way backstage, setting the scene for their Wrestlemania clash.

That leaves Titus and Roman Reigns. . . The same Roman Reigns who won last year’s Rumble, the same Roman Reigns who has spent the last 12 months fighting and clawing his way to the top, overcoming overwhelming obstacles and finding respect and admiration from the fans of World Wrestling Entertainment.

And then Titus tosses him out. . . Fairly easily, I might add.

Roman snaps, as we’ve all been hoping he would, and the Samoan Savage is unleashed, taking out Titus, maybe even dusting off the powerbomb and putting O’Neil through the announce table.

I’m taking way too long for this booking, so moving quickly through 2016. . .

Fast Lane

- Titus vs. Reigns, not for the chance to go to Wrestlemania, just because they hate each other.  Steel cage match, and a brutal one at that.  Much like TLC, this is another chance to showcase Titus’ bona fides as a main event star, but just like TLC, Roman gets the win, escaping the cage mere seconds before Titus can climb out.

Regardless, as winner of the Rumble, Titus heads to. . .

Wrestlemania

to take on the World Heavyweight Champion.  I considered Lesnar as the champ, but Jason Moltov is right, the next person to beat Lesnar needs to be, really and truly, the Next Big Thing, and at 38 years old, Titus isn’t that.

(In case you’re curious, in this alternate universe I’d have heel Reigns exact some revenge, beating a face Lesnar)

No no, the champ really needs to be John Cena for this to work.  Being the first African American champ is amazing unto itself, but doing so by beating THE superstar of WWE. . . That’s really something.  It’s an unspoken signal that the race problems in WWE, while they might still exist, have overcome their biggest hurdle.

Wrestlemania 32 ends with Titus O’Neil’s children in the ring with him, celebrating.  John Cena shaking his hand and raising his arm to the Dallas faithful.  The ring is filled with wrestlers who have come to congratulate the new champion, of all races, though Darren Young chief among them.  The Prime Time Players embrace in the middle of the ring, doing the Millions of Dollars dance one more time, but this time Titus has the World title on his shoulders.

And, just for fun, we’ll have Darren Young as the US champ as well.

---

Will it happen?  Sadly, I doubt it.  WWE is set in their ways, and I mean more than just race when I say that.  Roman Reigns looks to be THE guy in 2016, and if not him it’ll be Kevin Owens or maybe even Cesaro.  I don’t think many of us would complain if that was the case.

But, the fact remains, Titus O’Neil COULD be a World Heavyweight Champion.  He’s got the tools, he’s got the look, and, as you just read, he could have the story.

What do YOU think?  Could Titus be the first?  How would you book it?  Be Heard.

They say that you’re only as old as you feel.  I’m not sure if that is entirely true, since I feel pretty good for my 31 years, but considering my sleep schedule, I’m either a radio host for early morning drive-time or an octogenarian.  Based on my slightly stammering performance on my first (and hopefully not last) appearance on NAIpod, I think we can all safely say I’m no radio host.

The point I’m trying to make is that I started falling asleep during the Zayn / Owens main event on Wednesday’s NXT:Rival.  I know, I know, that’s shameful, but its true.  It wasn’t that the match was bad - far from it, though I do think the number of reverse chinlocks might have had something to do with it.   Besides, its not like this is the first time.  Ask Doc Manson (@DocManson); I’ve been falling asleep during wrestling shows for close to a decade now.

Like I said… I’m an old man.

So this morning, at the bright eyed and bushy tailed hour of 5 AM (which is when my body naturally woke up, I’ll have you know), I decided to re-watch NXT.  Not just the Owens and Zayn match, which I still hadn’t seen the end to, but the entire card.  NXT is that good.

I also wanted to WATCH it.  The first time I was live tweeting it, and as any of you who have done that knows, you’re not really watching wrestling when live tweeting.  You’re listening to it while typing, which is perhaps why Michael Cole is so reviled among the NAIWC - most of the time during RAW we’re only hearing his voice.

So replacing my Chromebook with an actual looseleaf notebook, I sat down to record an NXT version of DC’s Network Diaries.  As always, this isn’t a review or a recap.  This is simply a few of my thoughts.  I’ll share a Highlight, a Lowlight and a So What?, a takeaway from the match.  All set?  Onwards, then!

Hideo Itami vs. Tyler Breeze

Highlight:  Tyler Breeze, apparently, is a submission specialist and decided not to tell anybody until Rival.  I was grinning ear-to-ear for both his ringpost Figure Four and the “Figure Four Cloverleaf” (perhaps known as a Mexican Cloverleaf?) he applied during this match.  Considering he got a seal of approval from his trainer Lance Storm (who tweeted that Breeze did a better half-crab than Storm ever did), I’d say I wasn’t the only one who loved it.

Lowlight:  Go back and watch this match.  With the exception of the flurry of punches ending in a spinning backfist (which, I’ll admit, was awesome), I’m pretty sure Itami did nothing but kicks. . . Nothing.

Unfortunately, Hideo, you’ve left me no choice but to return to you your earlier nickname.  From here on out, until you show me that you are actually going to WRESTLE, you are known as Kick-Tami.  And that is not a nickname of affection.

Seriously, someone who cares more than I do should go back over all of Kick-Tami’s matches in NXT and calculate the percentage of his moves that are kicks.  I’m willing to bet its over 80%.  That’s not good, no matter how solid the kicks are.  Scott Steiner did 80%+ belly-to-belly suplexes in his day, and people hated him.

So What:  Tyler Breeze is WWE ready, Hideo Itami is nowhere close.

From the selfie-stick to the submission moves, the way he sold each of Kick-Tami’s 457 kicks to the “I hate you” punches near the end of the match, everything about Breeze’s performance Wednesday night shows me he is done with NXT.  This guy has been on the cusp of being ready for a long time (Those with long memories will note I’ve been saying he should move on up for months now), but Rival sealed the deal.  He’s now officially “languishing” in the minor leagues.  Get this guy to WWE!

As for Kick-Tami, I offer this. . .

Kevin Owens is the NXT champion.
Finn Balor is the #1 contender.
Hideo Itami gets his ass kicked for a while, then kicks his way through a rather meaningless match to win.

I once predicted he’d end 2015 back in Japan. . . I may have been wrong with that, but I do think we’ll see him there before we see him in WWE.

---

Bull Dempsey vs. Baron Corbin in a No DQ Match

Highlight:  What do you think my highlight is going to be?  With the exception of a very well executed spinebuster and a very poorly executed ‘End of Days’, this match was all about Bull Dempsey.  Goon McGoof him all you want, but you have to admit he was impressive.  He beat down Baron for a majority of the match and, in my opinion, looked good doing it.

Look, you can hate on Goon all you want.  You can criticize his hairy paunch and his too-short tights.  I can’t argue with those.  But when the bell rings, he can get things done, especially in a No-DQ “hardcore” format.  That’s no longer in question.

Lowlight:  That End of Days was rough.  Had this been a Smackdown taping, they’d have re-shot that in a heartbeat.  I would hope that NXT talents have permission to alter endings - as in “that sucked, let’s do another one before the match is over.”

So What:  As much as I like Bull, and I do, I have a hard time seeing where he goes from here.  Beating down Kick-Tami makes some sense, but that’s only going to help get Hideo over more.  Is that what Goon McGoof’s lot in life is for now?

Random Aside:  I’ve had very little to say about Rich Brennan til now, mainly because I’ve never really stopped and listened to his commentary.  However, when he brought out an old school Mulkey Brothers wrestling reference and then, 5 seconds later, talked about Pop Culture with Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show, I became a fan.  That’s the voice of the NAIWC, my friends, more so than any other announcing talent I’ve heard on WWE programming.

Dingo and Clap-Clap vs. Lucha Dragons for the Tag Team Titles

Note:  I’m probably going to offend some people in this section, so you may want to skip down to Finn vs. Neville.  You won’t hurt my feelings - go ahead.

Highlight:  There were two moments that stood out for me here.  The first was the Kalisto Frankensteiner that Buddy Murphy took like he was channeling RVD.  The second was Wesley Blake’s frog splash, which was as beautifully executed as I’ve seen since. . .Well, also since RVD, though this one had a Guerrero flair to it.  I’m not trying to be biased because Wesley Blake joined our conversation briefly on Twitter a week or so ago, I’m serious - it was fantastic.

Lowlight:   Here comes the offensive part.  Last warning. . .

The worst part of this match was not anything done by Kalisto, Sin Cara, Murphy or Blake.  It was the reaction of certain members of the Twitter-verse, including some people who may or may not be NAI Hall of Famers, at the slight number of miscues in the match.

Holy cow, folks. . . When did you all become the second comings of Dean Malenko?  What gives you the right to blatantly (and in some cases, brutally) criticize these athletes for a less-than-perfect performance?  Last I checked, NXT was the DEVELOPMENTAL league, the place where talents go to hone their craft.  In a place like that, they should be able to make mistakes freely without being jumped on by folks sitting on their sofas at home.

All four of the talents in that ring for this match are giving you 100% night in and night out.  If you want to mock them slightly for screwing something up, that’s fine. . .Especially if its funny.

But don’t bitch when they botch.  You couldn’t do a tenth of the things they can do, and they’re doing it for your entertainment.

Alright, rant over.  If you’re offended, all I have to say is - You were warned.

So What:  I wonder if this is going to be a problem with NXT in the future - there are so many top notch matches with internationally acclaimed talent that the crowd can’t keep up the enthusiasm for the lesser known “homegrown” guys.   The crowd felt flat for this match, and in a 2 hour show like this, I can’t necessarily blame them.

Can there be too many good matches on a card?  Do we need the bathroom breaks in order to fully appreciate a show as a whole?  Am I suddenly understanding why the Bella Twins are always on my TV?

Finn Balor vs. Adrian Neville

A quick note on the entrance before I get to the match itself.

I don’t know that I like the precedent being set with the paint.  Don’t get me wrong - the entrance is awesome, but do we need to see it at every Takeover?  When Finn gets to WWE, is he going to be wearing the paint for each PPV?  Won’t the frequency make it lose its meaning?  I would have prefered he come out as usual for this match, since he has no history with Neville, and save the paint for whatever title match was coming his way.   But that’s just me.

Also, I think the early parts of the match were so slow because everyone in NXT knew people were going to still be losing their minds online about the entrance, so they gave us 5-6 minutes to calm down before the match got good.

Highlight:  That counter of the Red Arrow, the knees into the inside cradle, was something I had never seen before.

Lowlight: Not much to choose from here, but I don’t really understand why Neville, after taking the dive from Balor, crawled into the ring, out of the ring and then over to the chair.  That seemed to just be to set up the next spot, and I would have liked it to be more of a fluid, organic transition.

It’s a good sign that something as nit-picky as that is what I’m calling a “low point” in the match.

So What:  Balor’s going to be a huge star.  There’s no doubting that.  I also really think Neville could work as a heel.  We started seeing it in the feud with Zayn and got glimpses of it with Balor.  It’s little things - rolling to the outside, showcasing a Phoenix splash from the second rope (take that, Rollins!).

Barrett needs to introduce his latest piece of Bad News - his new partner “Nasty” Neville.

Ok, the name needs some work.

Charlotte vs. Becky vs. Sasha vs. Bayley for the Women’s Championship

Highlight:  There were lots, and in a women’s match, that is amazing in and of itself. (Though to be fair, NXT women's matches are always like this.  It isn't until they get to WWE that things go South.)  Each talent had a time to shine, each looked like they could win (or retain the title), this was a well-done contest.  It was a bit of a spotfest, which if I had to pick anything would be my Lowlight.  Fatal Four Ways are usually this way, though, and again - I’m nitpicking here.

So What:  Becky Lynch has arrived.  That’s my takeaway.  She was the most impressive talent in the ring for this match, surpassing Bayley by quite a bit, I think.  Her suplexes were crisp and beautiful, her submission move was fantastic, and had she won the NXT title, I’d have stood and applauded.  She’s going to be a big star.

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens for the NXT Championship

I saw someone post something on Twitter earlier that said that if this keeps up, Owens vs. Zayn could be a feud the likes of Rock and Austin, of HHH and HBK.

I like the sentiment here, but here’s my problem.   I think it already is.  With the exception of mainstream WWE exposure, these two talents have been feuding for years, and from all reports it has been one of the better feuds in history.

The match on Wednesday proved it, as we were treated to a phenomenal match that was also (and here’s the important part) a complete story told from beginning to end.  Every move mattered, every moment built on the one before it, and while this chapter ended with Owens standing over a beaten and soon-to-be- Z pak’d Sami Zayn, the book is far from being finished.

This entire match was a Highlight.  Seriously, when was the last time WWE told a story like that?  The Triple Threat at the Rumble was good, but it didn’t have the emotional energy that Owens and Zayn did.

No lowlight here, and here’s the So What:

NXT fans are in for a treat with this storyline.  I can’t wait for Wednesday to find out what happens next.

In many ways, the current WWE product is tailor made for the age of social media. . .  Quick matches, a LOT of commercial breaks, plenty of time to live-Tweet, poke fun, and as the New Age Insiders proclaim, to Be Heard.

Last night’s NXT extravaganza, Takeover: R-Evolution was not, by definition, “current WWE product.”

I know this because I was not drawn to my computer repeatedly throughout the show, as I am so often during RAW or even PPV’s.  In fact, at one point last night, I closed my Chromebook and slid it across the room - I love ya, NAI-bors, but you weren’t going to get in the way of this epic event.

For the first time since The Attitude Era, I was transfixed by the action I saw on a wrestling show.  From top to bottom, R-Evolution was an amazing card. . .  Well, OK, there were a select few weak spots, but we’ll get to that.

My friends Mr. Moltov and Mr. Stryker, went to ROH’s Final Battle a week or so ago, and were reminded what real wrestling looks like.  For those of us who missed that show, last night’s NXT caught us up in spades.

Rather than take you through step by step, I thought I’d go a different route today - Who are the winners and losers coming out of Takeover?

Winner -  Kevin Owens

You’ll notice I’m using his WWE-given name, which isn’t what I tend to do with this “previously existing megastars”.   But after last night, who’s Kevin Steen?

Many of us, be it on NAI, on Twitter, or just on our own, pondered how NXT would handle the debut of “KO”, but none of us, methinks, predicted that he’d open the show.  (Full disclosure: I did, slightly in jest, opine that CJ Parker would be an ideal opponent.  I’m not saying I’m prescient or anything. . . But I’m not saying I’m not, either!)

One of the few things I did manage to post while watching Takeover was the following - “Brutal. . . Bloody. . . Badass.”  That pretty much describes my overall thoughts on the man, especially after taking out our newly crowned NXT champ to end the show.  Kevin Owens’ “televised” NXT career is 2 hours old and he already seems to be the number one contender - that’s a debut!

Loser - Tyler Breeze

I mentioned this already, but Breeze has quickly found himself much further down the talent totem pole with all these debuts.  While he might have been considered the top singles heel a week or so ago, no longer is that the case.  I truly do think WWE dropped the ball by not calling him up to the main roster during his whole “music video” bit - Hate to say it, but he might not hit those heights again.

Winner - Finn Balor

We knew he was going to do something impressive.  We even had a hunch it would involve paint.  (Or, at least, I did.  By the way, use 34 when getting today’s Lotto ticket.  You’re welcome.)  Even knowing all that, there was no way to keep from marking out last night.  In fact, when the crowd starts chanting those words specifically, you know you’re doing something right.

Loser - Hideo Itami

You’ve vanquished The Ascension, Hideo.  Now run as fast and as far away from Finn Balor as you can - nothing good will happen to your career standing by his side.  You’re just the guy who gets beat up until you can make the hot tag now.  I might have to start calling you Marty Itami pretty soon.

Winner - Women’s Wrestling

I’ve seen more technically proficient women’s wrestling than I saw last night.  I’ve even seen what I would call better matches overall.  However, last night was as brutal a women’s wrestling match as I’ve ever seen, and that’s a very good thing.  Sasha Banks and Charlotte could have easily been run over by the Owens / Balor / Main event freight train, and they held their own.  The future is very bright, especially since my expectations that Charlotte would be on the main roster may be a bit premature. . . See, I told you I wasn’t psychic!

Loser - Anyone competing in a “Divas” division

It’s practically an entirely separate category now, isn’t it?  Paige, things aren’t working for you in WWE, time to go back to Full Sail; that’s where the real wrestling happens.

Losers - Lucha Dragons and The Vaudevillains

Had last night been just your average, run-of-the-mill NXT show, their tag title match would have been a welcome addition.  But remember that freight train I mentioned?  It creamed these guys.  They couldn’t compete with what was going on around them.

High marks to Aiden English for pushing Simon Gotch out of the way, inspiring the first ever “Chivalry” chants I’ve ever heard in a wrestling arena.  Otherwise, fellas, you got your work cut out for you.

Winners AND Losers- Baron Corbin and Bull Dempsey

Look, I get it, OK?  Bull Dempsey isn’t your cup of tea.  I’m not asking you to fall in love with Goon McGoof, alright?  Can you all at least admit that in his minimal role last night, he did an acceptable job?  He was supposed to look relatively unimpressed, do a sarcastic clap, and stare down Corbin.  He did ALL of those things!

Corbin and Dempsey have a captivating unspoken feud going (though I still think they could wind up as a team), so they “win” for that, but they were also victims of the Freight Train.  Just slightly less so than the tag title match was.

Winner - The Announce Team

I’m saddened that Corey Graves, a submission specialist, had his in-ring career cut short due to injuries, but for someone making their NXT announcing debut, he did a commendable job.  I really liked the trio of Rich Brennan, Alex Riley and Graves; for the first time in a long time, I heard people calling the actual in-ring action instead of just telling a story that has nothing to do with what’s happening on the screen.  Rather than turning down the volume, I actually put it louder so I could hear the commentary.

Note: I’d put Lawler, Cole and JBL in the “losers” section, but we already knew that.  At this point, it’s just mean to keep picking on them.

Loser - Roman Reigns

First of all, what in the hell was he doing there?  Stop shoving this guy down our throats, WWE!  Look, I want to like this guy, I really do. . . And I’m not just saying that to pander to all his avid fans, who are also loyal and wonderful DC Matthews followers. . .  I honestly want this guy to be a big star, but WWE keeps shooting itself in the foot with Roman.  First, they put him on RAW with multiple promos - the one skill he is weakest at.  Now they bring him down to NXT, where he is outshined by just about every single one of the “next wave” of talent?

How am I supposed to see Reigns as “the next Cena” when I already think Owens, Balor, Zayn, Neville and the like are going to be better than he is?  What purpose did this serve?

Winner - Sami Zayn

Just ask him yourself, he’ll tell you - “He’s the F&%^ing Man!”

The road to redemption has ended for Zayn, and while it was finalized with an apron powerbomb, Sami is the NXT champion.  Both he and Adrian Neville (another winner, but also in my mind, no longer an NXT superstar) were able to live up to the pressure set to them by the opening hour and change of Takeover, and we have never been so sure of Sami’s ability to . . . forgive me for quoting someone you all despise here, but “never give up”.   Cheers to you, Sami, you’ve earned it.

Biggest Winners of all:  Us

As Triple H tweeted, there’s a whole box of brass rings missing.  These guys and girls of NXT showed everyone on the WWE roster what a real wrestling card can look like.  We didn’t need guest hosts or authority figures, though I always appreciate seeing William Regal’s angry face. . . We didn’t need stupid storylines or comic relief.

At just under 2 hours long, NXT Takeover: R-Evolution reminded us all why we became wrestling fans in the first place.  Best WWE product of 2014?  That’s debatable, but its certainly a top contender.  And we all know it’s going to be world better than TLC(S), don’t we?

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.

5.  Charlotte

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.

 

Class dismissed.

podcast@ddtwrestling.com
DDT Wrestling. Copyright 2015-2021.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram