The WWE has picked an inopportune time to hit its post-SummerSlam doldrums. When I and several hundred thousand of my fellow fans signed up for the WWE Network in February, we opted in to a six-month contract. The WWE had to know that, which makes the last few weeks of television completely baffling. At a time when they should be giving us reasons to sign back up, they seem to be actively driving viewers away. I loved SummerSlam (as did Bro Jackson writer Robert Rich; you can hear us talk about that here) but the last few episodes of “Monday Night Raw” have been the kind of thing that make you feel dumb for liking wrestling. But this mark and his money are easily separated so bad television hasn’t prevented me from signing back up for another six months over the weekend. That will show them.
“Raw” sucked. Here’s my money. Dear Vince McMahon, please feel free to ignore my complaining for the rest of time. However, “Raw” wasn’t the reason I signed back up. They got my $9.99 a month for “NXT Arrival,” the best weekly wrestling show around. It’s the WWE’s minor leagues. Filmed at Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla., you get a chance to see what is hopefully the next (NXT, ahhhh I get it) generation of WWE stars. This week’s “Raw” featured a special match highlighting some of the top talent from “NXT” in a tag team match. If you didn’t know who any of those guys were, Thursday’s “NXT Arrival” offers a great chance to tune in (log on?) and find out.
The brainchild of Triple H–the WWE onscreen character who happens to also be Paul Levesque–head of talent relations for the WWE. The Performance Center is the WWE’s in-house training center. Former college athletes and stand out indie wrestling talent are brought in and polished up for prime time roster. It’s like Hogwarts on HGH. The success of recent Performance Center graduates The Wyatt Family, The Shield, and Rusev have gone a long way to justifying the obvious expense of bringing all this talent and training in house. In wrestling you are only as good as your ability to find and create talent. Someday Triple H will be the head of the WWE and he is taking steps today to create the stars he will need to keep the machine running.
New episodes debut weekly Thursday nights on the WWE Network and it’s my favorite thing the company is doing right now. The matches never overstay their welcome, the whole show is wrestling the way you wish it always was. With “NXT Arrival” a live “special event” coming up Thursday, it’s the perfect time to start watching a show that features the some of the best talent in the world. Here are nine (ninety nine) things that I love about “NXT.”
The realest guys in the room
You know the little guy who runs his mouth knowing full well he has giant friend to fight his battles for him? That’s Enzo Amore. He sounds like a dude from “Entourage” (Queens BOULEVARD!) and keeps it super real. He has a stupid-ass haircut and he is awesome. He starts running his mouth from the second their intro music hits recalling Road D-O Double G himself. Enzo is the mouth but his 6’ 10” friend Colin Cassady is the muscle. The pair is intentionally funny which is something sorely missing from wrestling. I would love to see more tag teams on the main roster and these dudes are going to be huge stars as soon as they get called up.
Second-generation wrestler Charlotte’s real name is Ashley Fliehr and her father is named Richard and his fake name is Ric Flair. The Nature Boy’s daughter debuted in July of 2013 and has quickly become an incredible wrestler. Her progress from complete novice to experienced pro has been shockingly fast. Fun to watch in the ring and doing fantastic work as a heel right now in “NXT.” She had a brief cameo at Wrestlemania 30 and I would expect her to be back for Wrestlemania 31 challenging for the WWE Women’s Championship.
Ole, Ole, Ole
There was a really special masked independent wrestler a few years ago named El Generico. His ladder matches versus (recent WWE signee) Kevin Steen while both fought in Ring of Honor are legendary for their innovative violence. He wrestles the way people do in video games. El Generico was a legend on the independent scene for years, then one day he was gone–rumors claim he is working at an orphanage in Mexico.
Shortly after the disappearance of El Generico, Sami Zayne debuted on “NXT.” Sami Zayne is your favorite wrestler, you just don’t know it yet. Zayne has quickly made a name for himself on “NXT” with a trilogy of matches with Cesaro that have to be seen to be believed, Zayne is the breakout star of “NXT.” He makes wrestling look fun while still making it look real which is something few people are able to do. He has the charisma of Shawn Michaels without seeming like a creep. And by all accounts is beloved behind the scenes. Sami Zayne has the chance to be truly special.
Having said all that, I have no idea if Sami Zayne will work on Monday nights. In “NXT” Adam Rose sort of made sense but on the big stage he looks ridiculous. Paige looked like a monster in “NXT” and for awhile looked really lost on the main roster. It seems that Sami Zayne has a fan in Triple H so I hope he’s gets his shot and soon. But I can see his road being similar to Daniel Bryan. Nothing about what Sami Zayne does is conventional. But that’s exactly why he continues to connect with audiences no matter the venue. Prepare for a ton of hot “why isn’t Sami getting pushed?” takes coming soon.
It looks more and more likely that we won’t see Rey Mysterio on WWE TV again so a fanbase turns its lonely eyes to “NXT’s” top luchador, Kalisto. Formally know as Samurai del Sol, this Chicago trained high flyer works a fast paced, high flying style. He is partnered with masked wrestler Sin Cara (the second person to play Sin Cara if you care about that sort of thing) in the “NXT” tag division. Kalisto is fun to watch and has a spectacular finishing move. There seems to always be a ceiling for lucha wrestlers on the main roster. Hopefully Kalisto can break through the ceiling or at least leap from it.
The Red Arrow
Current “NXT” champion Adrian Neville’s finishing maneuver is sight to behold. A 450 corkscrew from the top rope onto a downed opponent. My podcast co-host Daniel Strauss assures me that Neville (formerly Pac on the indy scene) has a great personal story and that if I give him a chance I’ll be fan. I have yet to see a match of his I’ve loved but his finishing move is phenomenal.
Tyler Breeze is Zoolander. That’s it. He sings on his own Europop style entrance song. He comes to the ring holding his iPhone in his hand while it broadcasts a close up of his “perfect” face to the Tiny-Tron in “NXT.” Tyler Breeze is in the tradition of The Model Rick Martel and Gorgeous George and you desperately want to see him get punched in his stupid face (he’s doing a great job). His best match was with Sami Zayne and was the first indication that he is more than just a pretty gimmick.
A Kick In the Head
Thursday’s “NXT Arrival” will be the debut of KENTA. You know those kicks Daniel Bryan does? He was inspired by KENTA. CM Punk’s GTS? Punk straight up stole the move from KENTA. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest performers in the world KENTA made his name wrestling in Japan for Pro Wrestling NOAH. His style is heavily influenced by MMA and full of strong style kicks and strikes. Watch KENTA lay someone out with his GTS and you will never look at Punk’s version the same way.
The dream of a Daniel Bryan vs. KENTA rematch at Wrestlemania is something we could actually see. Maybe. I hope. The history of Japanese signings in the WWE doesn’t instil much hope. Vince McMahon’s penchant for stereotype is beneath us all and would be a grave disservice to this world class performer. At 33 he’s has conquered Japan. Here’s hoping he can survive life in Florida.
Spawn of The Bullet Club
Ireland’s Fergel “Prince” Devitt started 2014 as New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Heavyweight Champ and he could be ending 2014 as “NXT” champ. One of the world’s premiere high flyers (lot of those flying around all of a sudden), steeped in Japanese strong style, and with the solid foundation of traditional English training. Devitt can do it all.
His recent gimmick involves getting airbrushed into various Comic Con IP-infringing personas. This influx of high flying former Japanese stars is the sort of thing that makes a wrestling fan hopeful. I can’t wait to be disappointed. Please don’t screw this up WWE. With three hours of TV every Monday adopt the old WCW Nitro model and give the high flyers the whole first hour. An hour of Devitt, KENTA, and Sami super kicking each other would be fine by me.
Train, Steen, Train
Kevin Steen is a former Ring of Honor champion and famous for his battles with the aforementioned El Generico. Steen (like friend and training partner Sami Zayne) is one of those wrestlers that just connects with a crowd. He makes that Mick Foley kind of connection with people where you can’t help but root for Steen. He looks like a wrestling fan, but when he gets in the ring his package piledrivers and violent brawling style take you back to the attitude era. Steve Austin himself is on record as a fan of Steen. Will Steen still be Steen as he makes his way through the Performance Center? I hope so.
Vince McMahon has an idea of what a wrestler looks like. But as Daniel Bryan proves if you let people wrestle, talent will show through. Steen and Sami Zayne are worth your $9.99 each month. I signed back up to see that. I can’t wait to see FIGHT STEEN FIGHT in a WWE ring.
There is a ton of talent either in “NXT” right now or just about to debut. It feels like WWE is headed in a different direction even if the main roster hasn’t completely embraced all the talent from “NXT.” The success and prominence of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Bray Wyatt have shown that today’s “NXT” wrestlers can be tomorrow’s stars. But the apathy that’s greeted Adam Rose and (at times) Bo Dallas prove that a gimmick can only take you so far. Even if “Raw” was unwatchable for the next 10 years (or it could just be three bad shows in a row) I would happily pay $9.99 for an hour of “NXT” each week.