After a whirlwind of a Wrestlemania weekend, it's common for fans to turn their wrestle-weary eyes forward and gaze into the future, trying to establish what is likely next for their favorite superstars, which I can happily say now include both male and female talents.
Trouble is, after this particular weekend, that task is difficult. . .If not out and out impossible.
Wrestlemania gave us more questions than answers and tonight's RAW could be one of the most intriguing in ages simply because we have no idea what to expect. Will Shane be there? Could Sting be there? Is John Cena back? Did the League of Nations break up? What about Baron Corbin? WHEN DOES EVA MARIE GET HER WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH?
. . . Ok, so maybe I'm the only one asking that one. . . And even that's just to be annoying. . .
So yeah, WWE is hard to figure out... But so is NXT, and the issues with that brand are even harder to solve!
The Problems with NXT
There's no doubt that NXT has a TON of depth, and actually since I started writing this, NXT has signed eleventeen new talents, including YOUR favorite indie guy. Go check, it could have happened!
The problems I want to talk about today don't have to do with how to manage all of that talent, although that is certainly something NXT will need to figure out. A 60 minute show once a week isn't going to work, long term, with so many superstars that need a chance to shine.
But that's another column.
No, the problems I want to delve into today are the fact that despite this depth, there aren't a huge list of top contenders for NXT's 3 championships. Let's look at them one at a time, in order of the matches as they appeared at Takeover Dallas.
The Tag Titles
American Alpha has climbed the mountain and won their gold, and while I am delighted for Jordan and Gable, who do they face next? Besides a rematch with The Revival. . . What other teams are there? The Vaudevillains? Blake and Murphy? We are all assuming that Enzo and Cass are showing up on RAW tonight. . . Are there even any other tag teams in NXT?
I don't think anyone would mind seeing Dash and Dawson continue their feud with Jordan and Gable into the summer - That tag match was one of the best we've seen in ages - But what happens when that is over? How does NXT quickly establish qualified tag teams, when there aren't many in the first place?
Keep this in mind.
The Women's Title
Asuka has proven herself to be the most dominant female talent since Charlotte, and more than likely she's even better than Miss Flair was. Bayley did a halfway decent job (though as we said on DDT Wrestling this weekend, neither Doc Manson or I were huge fans of their match), but even she paled in comparison to the Empress of NXT.
So who does she fight next?
Sure, we haven't seen a conclusion to the Asuka / Nia Jax and Eva Marie storyline, so there's something. But, just like the tag team situation, who comes after that? Carmella? Alexa Bliss? Dana Brooke? Nobody seems like a qualified contender. In fact, nobody seems remotely qualified to even come close to being a contender!
How does NXT quickly build up their young roster of female talent (Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Santana Garrett, etc.) to be able to even be in the same conversation as their new Womens' Champion?
Detecting a pattern yet?
The NXT Title
Both Doc Manson and I, along with a great number of you out there in the NAIborhood, were CONVINCED that Samoa Joe was going to win the NXT title on Friday night, and Finn Balor would be part of the WWE roster soon after, perhaps even as soon as Sunday's Wrestlemania. That didn't happen, and now once again, we have questions about who becomes the next contender.
In this instance, at least, there are a number of viable contenders to choose from. Austin Aries, Baron Corbin (complete with trophy), Apollo Crews and oh. . . That Nakamura guy. . . All could be potential challengers for Balor's title. Samoa Joe is likely also not done with Mr. Balor, although as Doc and I mentioned, the way Joe handled losing was particularly curious. Not sure what his future is.
Either way, we can be reasonably confident that the NXT male singles scene is relatively set heading out of Takeover - We just don't know what it's going to look like or who's going to step up to challenge the champion.
Yeah we do. . . He's the guy with the knees.
Confusion and questions reign in the two World Wrestling Entertainment properties. Nobody is really sure what happens next. . . Some people can use that to be negative - To fault WWE / NXT for being so muddled and "unprepared". Or, if you follow the Ten Commandments of the NAIborhood, you can be excited about the endless possibilities.
In a little over 24 hours, the stars of WWE NXT will converge upon the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in little ol’ Dallas, Texas. In the two short years the WWE developmental system has been airing “special events” (for goodness sake, they’re pay-per-views) on the WWE Network, this weekend’s Dallas production might just be the biggest show NXT has put on since their Brooklyn card. I promised DC I’d pump out a couple articles about WrestleMania weekend before the festivities really got started, so here goes on breaking down the NXT TakeOver Dallas card!
Apollo Crews vs. Elias Samson
Call me easy to please, but I’m actually kind of excited about this match. I have no clue what the Elias Samson character is about, and I couldn’t even begin to guess. However, for some reason he appeals to me. Physically, he’s a cross between Seth Rollins and Damien Sandow. He’s had some entertaining matches over the past few weeks, and I think with a talent on the level of Apollo Crews, this match Friday night can be something special. The best thing about NXT has been its ability to book a match on no more reason than the fact that two people don’t like each other and want to solve their problems with violence. I won’t lie to myself and say this will be a show-stealer, but I’m excited for it anyway.
Predicted Winner: Elias Samson
Reasoning: Elias Samson has already gotten his first loss out of the way. If NXT wants to build him as, at the very least, a solid part of their midcard, he needs a win over a star the caliber of Crews.
Austin Aries vs. Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin has unfortunately been relegated – for lack of a better term – to welcoming in NXT’s big Indy name signings the past couple of Takeover events. He put on an *exceptional* match against Samoa Joe in Brooklyn, arguably his best special event showing to date. He had a great match against Apollo Crews in London, and I was actually shocked when he picked up the win. As much as I love both Joe and Crews, Austin Aries is arguably in a league of his own. Not many people can call themselves “The Greatest Man to Ever Live” and actually have the talent to back it up. Aries is one of the best professional wrestlers on the planet, and I am *STOKED* to see him on a niche platform like NXT, and with a talent like Baron Corbin. Corbin has shown he can hang with both big and smaller guys, and tell an absolutely amazing story. This one is gonna shock a lot of people.
Predicted Winner: Austin Aries
Reasoning: Simple, he’s The Greatest Man to Ever Live. However, this might be just the start of what could be one of the most compelling angles NXT has done in months.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
This is the match that sold me on writing this little prediction article to begin with! I have only been a Nakamura fan since January 2015, when I watched him and Kota Ibushi put on one of the best matches of ALL of 2015. I have only been a fan of Sami Zayn since February 2014, when I watched him and Cesaro put on one of the most exciting matches of ALL of 2014. Putting these two talents in the same ring is a recipe for success. Zayn’s legacy in building NXT, in helping to make it some of the most intense, compelling wrestling of the past two years, is the perfect counterpart to Shinsuke’s legacy from all around the world, especially in New Japan Pro Wrestling. When he’s on his game, there is no one better on the planet – both as a ring technician and an entertainer – than Mr. Nakamura. Given that this might be the biggest stage he’s ever performed, Shinsuke will bring every part of his soul into this match, and I have no doubts Zayn will be there every step of the way. This match has the potential to not only be the best match on the Takeover card, but the best match professional wrestling fans watch all weekend.
Predicted Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
Reasoning: I truly believe Sami Zayn was chosen for Shinsuke’s debut opponent because he could handle the King of Strong Style’s….style. 😉 This is going to be brutally hard-hitting, we’re going to get taken on an emotional roller coaster for however long the match is, and the story might just drain us before we even get to the main event. However, Nakamura will come out the victor in this insane battle.
The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) (c) vs. American Alpha (Jason Jordan & Chad Gable) – NXT Tag Team Championship Match
When Dash & Wilder first showed up as a tag team, I was NOT impressed. However, over the course of a few months, and especially once they won the NXT Tag Team titles from the Vaudevillains, I’ve become a believer. They aren’t flashy like Big Cass and Enzo, they aren’t characters like Gotch and English, and they certainly don’t have quite the appeal of Jordan and Gable. However, their hard-hitting technique, their focus on getting in, handling their business, and getting out has its own appeal. Jordan and Gable have taken over the NXT Tag Team division. They have meshed as well as just about any tag team I’ve seen in the past three years. They’re fun, they’re charismatic, they’re unbelievably talented, and they epitomize what tag team wrestling is supposed to be. The same can be said for Dash and Dawson (I still have issues with their tag team name, but that’s neither here nor there). I’m going to borrow DC Matthews’ prediction here and say that this match will set the foundation for what tag team wrestling (both NXT *and* the main roster) will look like for the next decade.
Predicted Winner: Jordan and Gable
Reasoning: It actually has nothing to do with Jordan and Gable, but all to do with Big Cass and Enzo. If ever there was a time for those boys to start dominating the tag team division as its biggest faces, it was back in August in Brooklyn. However, once Jordan and Gable crashed the party, it was clear NXT Creative was going in a different direction. Jordan and Gable are just now hitting their peak as faces, and beating Dash and Dawson could set both teams up for a feud that could indeed last across NXT and WWE for the next ten years.
Bayley (c) vs. Asuka – NXT Women’s Championship Match
Since Sasha Banks, has Bayley faced a more daunting mountain to climb than when she steps into the ring with Japanese sensation Asuka? When Regal announced this match-up, I was pretty surprised. Asuka has been in a pretty steady feud with Dana Brooke and Emma for the past few months, and only just recently started interacting with the current NXT Women’s Champion. I actually thought we’d see Asuka vs. Nia Jax before we saw Asuka competing for the Women’s Championship. However, now that this match *is* happening, I think I’m more excited for this than I was for Bayley’s Iron Man Match against Sasha. Both women bring a level of experience to this match-up that can only make for some of the best in-ring storytelling we’ll see in our lifetime.
Predicted Winner: Bayley
Reasoning: I don’t want to see Bayley on the main roster until there is a spot for her. If she drops the title to Asuka, that tells me she’s headed straight for Monday Night RAW, and I don’t think the other three Horsewomen are quite done telling their story over the Divas Title enough to bring Bayley into the picture. On the same side of that coin, as much as Asuka has been beating the crap out of Dana Brooke and Emma, I don’t think she’s completely ready to be the face of the NXT Women’s Division. Come back in 4-5 months when we’re heading into SummerSlam weekend, and my opinion might change.
Finn Bálor (c) vs. Samoa Joe – NXT Championship Match
Samoa Joe and Finn Bálor have been around this business for a LONG, LONG time, and while Bálor might have made his NXT debut first, it didn’t take Joe long to make his way to the main event scene right behind him. Doing quick research for this article, Bálor has been NXT Champion for over 9 months, and Joe has been his most intense opponent in those 9 months. Joe brings an athleticism and level of conditioning to this particular matchup that might actually give Bálor problems tomorrow night. Joe has never been more focused, more determined, in the past few months he’s been locked in this feud, and I think tomorrow night, we’ll see the absolute best Samoa Joe we’ve *ever* seen. It won’t be easy in the least. Then again, anything worth having is worth battling your heart out over, isn’t it?
Predicted Winner: Samoa Joe
Reasoning: I want to see Joe vs. Aries on a WWE platform. I want to see Baron Corbin thrown in the mix. I think NXT needs a dominant champion the level of Samoa Joe, and they need a heel champion the level of Samoa Joe. He can work with just about any talent on the NXT roster, and tell stories with his eyes closed. If he doesn’t win, I think this is the last we see of Joe in NXT. Third time’s gotta be a charm, right?
So, those are my analyses, predictions, and reasoning! Let me hear your thoughts, friends! What are you most looking forward to on the NXT TakeOver Dallas card? Who steals the show? Who shocks us the most?
If there was an overarching lesson or theme I took away from Wednesday's NXT: Takeover special, it was that there's a distinct difference between the "have's" and the "have nots", the "WWE ready" and the "Still Developing". While that's not a major issue in the grand scheme of things, it could potentially cause a problem down the road. . .If it hasn't already.
I'll go ahead and post my first of what will likely be many disclaimers - I didn't see the entire show. I skipped the first women's match (even with Charlotte involved) and missed the second one. And yes, I'll watch it.
Let me say that again. . . YES I WILL WATCH SASHA BANKS VS BECKY LYNCH! I KNOW IT WAS AMAZING - IT MIGHT EVEN HELP ME FIND RELIGION! STOP YELLING AT ME!!!
So I won't be including the female talents in this list - You know who is ready and who isn't.
Tyler Breeze and Finn Balor have it. I enjoyed their entrances more than many of the Wrestlemania ones, and I thought Breeze's was even better than Balor's. For some reason, I was expecting a different paint job, not the Venom-ish teeth. It was good, don't get me wrong, but Breeze owned his entrance. It was magical.
Baron Corbin does NOT have it. Yes, his match with Rhyno was longer, and yes, that's a good thing, but he's still not anywhere near ready for the big-time, unless he's going to be a Luther Reigns or an early Diesel and just stand there.
Dingo and Clap-Clap do NOT have it. I don't think any of us expected them to, really, and while I like the alliance with Alexa Bliss, I still think there's work to be done. I will say, though, that I'm much higher on Wesley Blake (of the Lenny Lane-style pigtails) than I was when this tag team started.
Enzo and Cass ALMOST have it. . .But not yet Don't get me wrong, I enjoy them both, and they are going to be WWE tag champions. It's gonna happen. . . But their ring work still needs a little something in order to get them fully ready for "the show".
Truthfully, I don't know where The Vaudevillains have gone. These guys would have helped Enzo and Cass in a prolonged feud and given them the extra polish they might have needed to be fully ready. Where are you, Simon and Aiden? I need you!
Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe have it. . . In spades As if there was possibly going to be another answer here. Unstoppable was so good because NXT knows what my middle school band teacher taught me - The beginning and ending is what you remember, the middle doesn't matter as much. Takeover began and ended with WWE ready talents, and that's what counts.
But that's also the problem.
Of the 5 guys I mentioned as "having it", only Tyler Breeze is under the age of 30. Samoa Joe, as mentioned multiple times on NAIpod this week, is 36 years old. I'm not saying they're ancient and nearing the decrepit stage of their careers, but as someone who is also in his early 30's, I can say that the body definitely changes a bit as you age.
These guys have a limited window of time where they are going to be at the top of their game, which begs the question.
Truthfully, what possible "developing" does Fergal Devitt, Rami Sebei, Kevin Steen and Nuufolau Seanoa need? Don't give me "They need to learn the WWE way of wrestling" - I don't buy that for a second. As far as I can tell, the WWE form of wrestling is to do safer moves and roll out of the ring every so often so that Michael Cole can awkwardly cut to commercial - these veterans can handle that.
At this point, as exciting as NXT has been and as marvelous as the next few months will be, aren't these guys wasting time in Full Sail? Shouldn't they all (Yes, including Breeze) be on the main roster?
The career of a professional wrestler, specifically in WWE, is very short. It doesn't feel that way because we see many of them multiple times a week, but it is. For all but the tippety top tier of guys, it's what? 4 years? 5? And that's it. Stone Cold set the world on fire from Wrestlemania 13 to 19, and then he was gone.
These guys have a relatively narrow window of making a huge mark in WWE, before injuries, booking or burnout gets in the way. Every Takeover they spend in NXT is time away from their WWE careers.
And that's not the only problem.
Solomon Crowe. Jason Jordan. Marcus Louis. Tye Dillinger. Shoot Nation, if they still exist. Alex Riley. The aforementioned Vaudevillains. . .
BULL F#$*ING DEMPSEY!
These talents were missing from NXT:Takeover, and in many cases, from NXT entirely. Why? Many of you would argue that it's because "they're not ready".
Really? They're not ready for developmental? How is that even possible?
These guys are missing because the spots that would normally be filled by them are being taken up by these talents who are, as I mentioned, WWE ready. That's not only a crime to the guys who should be on RAW and Smackdown right now, but its a crime to the talents who should be the focal point of the NXT product.
Sure, NXT does live events where these guys get a more featured role, but the only thing that's really going to get them ready for WWE TV is NXT "TV". Right now that's not happening.
The easiest answer would be to move the WWE ready guys (including Enzo and Cass, if you wish) to the main roster and let the developmental program be actually about development.
This isn't the best answer, though. WWE is already having a hard enough time making sure their current crop of talents is being featured enough, so adding 5-7 more guys to their roster is just going to complicate matters further.
Alternative options abound for solving this particular problem, but this is the one I like best.
Three tiers of wrestling
WWE, of course, would be the cream of the crop, where stars rise to the top, to paraphrase Mr. Savage. Underneath that, however, would be 2 other "organizations" - Think of it as AA and AAA from baseball.
The lower league, whatever the name would be, is for the guys who truly are developing, whether its ring skills, characters, promo work, whatever. This group does the Florida circuit of touring and still has a WWE Network show, just like the current NXT does now.
Before his unfortunate parking lot injury (kayfabe), I'd be booking Hideo Itami as the champion of this tier. He needs to adapt to the American style of wrestling and he needs to work on his English promos. I'm not saying he's terrible, I'm just saying he needs more work, so don't send me hate mail.
The second tier, the AAA of the group, would be called NXT. This would be where talent get the final polish, the last minute tweaks and additions, before being ready for the main roster. All of these "indie darlings" who have signed with WWE - This is where they would have gone straightaway. A couple months on the "new NXT" roster, maybe one Network special event, and then they are WWE bound.
The "new NXT" roster functions much like the WWE one - more nation-wide tours, a slightly more expensive WWE Network product. Hell, give them Smackdown! It's not like people are actually watching it anyway. Imagine a casual or former wrestling fan accidentally happening upon Owens and Joe facing off on the SyFy or USA network. That would attract some eyeballs!
I like this system because it opens up more opportunities for talents on all levels of WWE. Zack Ryder, Jack Swagger, Heath Slater - All these guys suddenly become bigger stars, albeit on a "lower tier" program. We saw how a year or so in NXT did wonders for Tyson Kidd's career and it could do the same for guys like this.
I also like this system because, in theory, it could scale back the workload for everyone. I've been a longtime proponent of wrestlers having a more part-time schedule, and this could do that. If you have a tiered system in place, you could call up a "AAA" talent to replace a main level guy who takes a couple months off. Dolph Ziggler disappears for a while, but in his "spot" is Sami Zayn... That sort of thing.
I'm not saying that WWE and NXT have it wrong - it'd be lunacy to think so. What I will say, though, is that it can be better. HHH and Steph are becoming famous for thinking outside the box - This seems right up their alley.
What do YOU think? Be Heard.