NXT is often the second (and sometimes THE) best show WWE produces. But its primary goal is to make future superstars who will one day grace our televisions on Raw. Each week we’ll scout the “minor league” talent in each segment and decide if they’re ready for the big leagues. This week: Can Kassius Ohno get some sweet Wyatt Family revenge?
Alexander Rusev vs. Sylvester LeFort
A quick squash match to end Alexander Rusev and Sylvester LeFort’s tenuous business relationships. They’ve decided that a hot Russian(?) blonde is a better choice for Rusev’s ascent to the top of NXT, but I’m not sure if that’s the best choice. Aligning the Bulgarian bruiser with a Eastern Bloc accent in high heels fits his surface0level character, but I quite enjoy the sheer goofiness of LeFort’s performance. Him trying to buy off both the ref and Rusev highlight his clear monetary pro wrestling intentions, which works for me. Sometimes the simple story is the best, and LeFort backing Rusev because he’s a beast and will make him cash money works despite the oddness of the character pairing.
Now, as I said last week, an attractive blonde woman never hurt anyone’s standing, but I have a feeling it’s to play up the Bulgarian angle and cater to the more xenophobic wresting fans. If it moves Rusev’s character emphasis from shoot-fighter with an unorthodox style to a cliche ’80’s foreigner then it’s a missed opportunity. It’s hampered Del Rio on the main roster, and the E should avoid making the same mistake again. Rusev’s skill and athleticism will get him far, but I’d love to see a neat, nuanced character develop to go with it. We shall see.
Verdict: Main Event worthy
Bayley/Charlotte & Summer Rae/Sasha Banks Segment
The Mean Girls successfully drove a wedge between Paige and Emma, and now they’re going after Bailey and Charlotte. Nobody’s winning an Academy Award for this segment, but NXT’s dedication to putting the time in for these feuds makes the subsequent matches a lot richer, and they’re doing it in only one hour! Later in the show we got a quick backstage confrontation between Emma and Paige, so all six of our main female wrestlers got air time on tonight’s show. A combined Raw + Smackdown is five entire hours per week, but only about 10 minutes are dedicated to women’s action, and rarely any of it story. When these ladies all find their way up, that has to change.
Verdict: Raw worthy
Leo Kruger vs. El Local
A short, effective outing for Kruger as he got in all his offense against his plump luchador opponent. After a couple of high profile matches with Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro, this was sold as the return of a refocused and game Kruger to establish dominance in the ring. All his moves looked crisp and strong, and our announcing team did a nice job of selling Kruger as a force going forward. His snap suplex into a double hook submission was killer – I’m a sucker for anybody chaining moves together and not preening in-between (all character-based of course, Breeze can preen all he wants.) If Kruger can pair tight technical wrestling with his crazy-eyed hunter gimmick, cable television is right around the corner.
Verdict: Smackdown worthy
The Ascension vs. These Guys
Another squash match from our tag-team champs? I guess there aren’t any babyface tag teams to challenge for the belts, so we are stuck running in place with The Ascension for now. How about letting them cut some weirdo promo after the victory about ancient bullshit and mystic power? Give me a reason to boo these dudes. We don’t know anything about them, and I’d like to hear what they have to say. Time to make sense of this gimmick and see if its got wings. Also, if you’re going to do sweet tandem finishing moves, it’s best to remember which one of you is the legal man and needs to wrap up the three-count. Oof.
Verdict: Superstars worthy
Mojo Rawley vs. Some Dude
I really like how they’ve worked Mojo so far. Instead of presenting him as a jobber killer in his first couple matches, they’ve let him get hit in the mouth a few times and actually have to sweat a bit to win his matches. Portraying him as raw and unpolished, and letting him work with some of that sweet, sweet babyface comeback heat is a great idea, and an underused tactic for new dudes. The guy is a lovable ball of pure unbridled athletic energy, and it’s going to get him into trouble in the ring occasionally. NXT’s ability to tell coherent and character building stories inside the ring is spot on.
Verdict: Main Event worthy
Kassius Ohno vs. Luke Harper
Goddamn Luke Harper is fucking great. Fantastic synergy by the WWE – he gets another showcase solo match in NXT the same week he hung with CM Punk on Raw (losing in a roll-up after missing with his brutal lariat) and gets da gawd Daniel Bryan on Smackdown this Friday. No surprise for those familiar with the former Brodie Lee, but after this week I wonder if his standing (at least with the non-NXT watching WWE fans) will exceed that of his leader Bray Wyatt.
Harper looked fantastic tangling with the agile Ohno, a perfect match to his “farm boy” strength, as Renee Young put it. Harper’s animal-like ring psychology was on full display here, and he’s slowly proving that he’s not just going to be an empty wife-beater with a meathook. The gator-rolls, the taunting with his dead eyes before a devastating big-boot, and his stiff-looking style makes him a naturally brutal big man that works so well with underdog super-sellers like Ohno. His match with Bryan on Smackdown will be a must watch. Side note: Alex Riley seemed a tad preoccupied with Harper’s hygiene and showering habits, but it did give me the inspiration for a killer nickname for him, The Unwashed Mass.
And speaking of Ohno, any fans who were worried about his standing – despite losing again to Harper – should pay close attention to the commentary team. They not only mentioned his physique looking more impressive than usual, but they reinforced many of Ohno’s character traits like his striking ability and home-run in-ring style, which Ohno obliged by hitting a vicious rolling elbow that almost secured the victory. If they’re putting in the effort to sell him to the NXT audience, that can only mean good things going forward.
Also, play-by-play man Tom Phillips even referenced Ohno’s past run-ins with Punk, Rollins, Bryan and Cesaro. I’m not saying it guarantees an Ohno call up as Punk/Bryan’s third man in their burgeoning Wyatt Family feud, but holy shit it’s never going to be easier to get him to the main roster storyline-wise. Regardless the fact the seeds were planted mixing Ohno in with established stars is a good sign. Make it happen, Triple H!
Verdict: Raw worthy