All posts by Matthew Timmons

NXT Scouting Report, 12/11: Sami Zayn Needs A Hug

While NXT is often the second (and sometimes THE) best show WWE produces, its primary goal is to make future superstars with Raw getting the cream of the crop, SmackDown nabs the leftovers and those who would probably better off staying on NXT than finding themselves on Main Event, or worse, Superstars .

Each week we’ll scout the “minor league” talent in each segment from the hourlong show (AVAILABLE FOR FREE ON HULU, SO WATCH IT) and decide if they’re ready for the big leagues. This week: How much more of the Kassius Ohno farewell tour can we take? 

The Ascension vs. Hunico y Camacho – NXT Tag-Team Title Match

The WWE likes to trumpet how interactive the product is, mentioning Facebook likes, app downloads, and unique impressions statistics every chance they get. If you watched any of the WrestleMania 31 press conferences from a few days ago you’d swear the main event was already booked as John Cena vs A Hashtag.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting an interactive experience, if it gives fans more chances to consume, enjoy, and spend money on your product then it’s a success.  My problem lies when you use that interactive nature to get lazy with storytelling on screen, and let the extended universe fill in the blanks.

Case in point: The Ascension. I’ve complained for months now that these guys badly need to cut some promos or do something wacky related to their fledging gimmick to make things interesting. Instead, on this week’s NXT, announcer Tom Phillips talks up an article on WWE.com where the team reveals their “power and control over the perception of reality.” I have no idea what the fuck that means, but I like it! Why can’t they just say that on the air? Hardcore fans will surely seek out the article and learn more about these cats, but isn’t the idea to get them over with everyone watching? It’s not so bad on NXT, but the amount that this practice on Raw bums me out.

Okay, on to the match. Nothing terribly great about the action this week, as The Ascension’s title reign hasn’t really produced much excitement beyo-

WAIT I CHANGE MY MIND – LOOK AT THIS PICTURE:

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How have I never noticed Viktor’s Danzig tattoo? Must’ve been ‘cause I blacked out during all those Corey Graves rest-hold marathons. I demand they change their entrance music to “Dirty Black Summer” immediately.

This belongs on… Main Event.

Alexander Rusev vs. Kassius Ohno

Instead of trying to type with all the tears hitting my keyboard, I’ll just link to David and Thomas‘ pieces about Ohno and Indie wrestling.

Oh, and I went to Raw on Monday (here’s my live report if you missed it) and Alexander Rusev beat the shit out of Zack Ryder in a dark match before the show. Not necessarily a sign he’ll be up any time soon, but they’re giving him a look. I think he’s ready.

This belongs on… Smackdown!

Bayley and Natalya Backstage Segment

Bayley is cute enough to make me care about Natalya for 30 seconds. Not bad.

This belongs on… Raw.

William Regal/Antonio Cesaro Match Build

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This belongs on… Raw.

Summer Rae & Sasha Banks vs. Bayley & Natalya

Crisp, fast, and stiff looking action from all four women made this my favorite match of the show. I really like how fired up and pissed off Bayley was throughout – she’s getting close to being on the Paige/Emma  level in the ring – and I like her character even more than those two. Sasha Banks seemingly improves every week – her kicks straight to the gut and “Bankrupt” finisher looked outstanding. Bonus points for when Banks hits the finisher, Bayley’s hair braid went flying off screen – a serendipitous storyline moment for those who pay too much attention. When it’s going right, it’s going right.

If NXT keeps producing superior women’s talent that’s better than anyone on the main roster,  we might actually see a Nexus-style invasion to bring them all up at once and wipe out all the dead weight.

This belongs on… Raw.

Leo Kruger Promo

Kruger pitches himself to Zeb Colter for a coveted spot on the Real American Team. There are rumors that Cesaro might turn face because of how over the Cesaro Swing is with the live crowds. Might be a kill two birds with one stone scenario here, where Kruger can take Cesaro’s spot and The Real Americans unorthodox but somehow effective gimmick can continue.

This belongs on… Smackdown!

Mojo Rawley vs. Scott Dawson

I know that wrestling shows need dudes like Scott Dawson. Solid performers than can make guys look credible in the ring and keep the show moving. Not quite a jobber, not a comedy performer, just a good average grappler. Sorta like Curtis Axel  or Darren Young do every week on the my t.v. Guys don’t set out to be links in the cog – it just kind of happens. No shame in that, it’s a necessary part of the show.

But instead of Dawson settling for that role now, why not take a chance?  This is NXT, where we can get a little nutty with gimmicks and try some shit out. I guess it’s goofy that he has a Frechman for a manager, but that’s not getting him to Raw. If his destiny is a homeless man’s Arn Anderson, I don’t think that’ll fly unless you’ve got the next Ric Flair hiding somewhere. Time to get creative and see if something can spice things up. He’s good enough to at least get a shot.

This week, Dawson was served up to Mojo Rawley and his ass-first offense. Rawley is going to be a huge star with his infectious deadlifts meets Pixie Sticks persona, and his size and speed combo might be the best in WWE next to Big E. Langston (although Bray Wyatt may have something to say about that.) I’m super HYPED (sorry) that these ex-football players and amateur wrestlers have this wonderful developmental system to go through. Getting the time and training to really hone their craft and characters before being tossed onto Raw is already paying off – the aforementioned Langston and Roman Reigns are already capable Hosses after only a year in the bigs. Rawley should be next.

This belongs on… NXT.

Leo Kruger vs. Sami Zayn

Much like Bayley earlier in the show, Sami Zayn wrestled pissed off and he probably lost because of it. Much of the joy we get from watching Zayn in the ring is how much fun he’s having performing for us – it’s obvious he loves to do this for a living. Having him get away from that could be give him character some added depth – as long as it’s actual explained on air via some promos.  Since this is NXT, I’m sure we will. I just hope I don’t have to watch it on the app.

This match was a bit shorter than I’d like – of course I’m happy if every Zayn match was ten minutes long, so I’m biased. I’m fine with an encounter between two top stars going short if the ending is something brutal and unexpected for storyline purposes. But in this case I’m not sure Zayn going balls first onto the ring ropes to set up Kruger’s finisher was that. Plus with the unnecessary extra-curricular activities, there could have been two more minutes of match time, which it probably needed. This one felt a little flat too me. I’ve given a Raw worthy rating to every Sami Zayn match so far… but this one didn’t really help either man. So it goes.

This belongs on… Smackdown!

Matthew Timmons runs the stat-centric WWE website Kayfabermetrics, and can be harassed on Twitter@matthewtimmons.

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Hometown Hero: Raw Regurgitated … LIVE!, 12/09

 

I bought my tickets back on October 9th.  Daniel Bryan had just failed to capture the WWE title at Battleground, but I knew he’d have another shot at the upcoming Hell in a Cell PPV.  By the time Raw rolled up to Seattle on December 9th, I was confident we’d get a championship celebration for our home state wrestling god.  After all the screwjobs and false starts, surely we’d get to greet Aberdeen’s favorite son with championship gold around his waist?  Right?  Riiiiight?

Oh.

Well, since that happened, last night didn’t go down exactly like I envisioned.  What happened might have been even better.

I’m not going to sit here and claim that Seattle just willed Daniel Bryan back into the title picture.  WWE can go ahead and ignore all of this, pass it off as hometown cooking, and keep Bryan fighting the Wyatts until they need him somewhere else on the card.  They’ve done it before, they can do it again.

But if anything, just for one raucous evening, I got to be a part of something truly organic and special.  My ears are still ringing.  I’ve been to Seahawks home games, seen Metallica live in San Francisco at the Fillmore.  This absolutely destroyed any other live event I’ve ever been to.  It was another classic moment in the journey of Daniel Bryan, and I got to be a tiny part of it.

And that’s really the point right?  We can talk about bad booking, and burying and pushes and all that jazz.  We want it all to make sense and look great in a promo package and tie up nice and neatly.  Rarely does that happen  But if we get moments like this, where Daniel Bryan is the best in the world and we let him know as loud as we can go, it sure makes up for it.  If after months and months of wheel spinning, a 90 second all out brawl thrusts Bryan and CM Punk right back into an angle they never should’ve been left out of in the first place, and suddenly creative look like geniuses.  And when John Cena cuts a killer promo, destroying Randy Orton and making everyone else look great, well that completes a trifecta and everybody wins.  I don’t know how it played on television, but it was bliss in the arena.  I’m still a bit woozy.

Woozy, but not delusional.  I’m not confident that WWE can pull this off, or even that they want to.  We’ve been teased and kicked in the dick so many times.  But part of me wants to believe that this is all a wonderful grand plan, that they knew the Seattle crowd would give Bryan the ovation he needed to restart his Authority angle and planned it accordingly.  Daniel Bryan’s hero’s journey to the WWE Championship relaunches, and everyone is happy.

And the entire point of doing the hero’s journey is, well, the journey itself.  Making the man a legend.  I argued that it was the right call to keep Bryan away from the belt because it didn’t add up who he’d feud with.  He still needs a bit more seasoning before he can sell a title feud all by himself yet.  The journey wasn’t over.  The training, the stumbles, the discovery, all the bits and pieces that add up before the victory and resolution.  More to go.

I haven’t been super happy with how things have gone, despite agreeing that Bryan shouldn’t be champ.  The feud with the Wyatts has been great, but it doesn’t make any sense that after chasing the WWE title for months, suddenly Bryan wouldn’t mention a thing about it and just move on.  Cena acknowledging that he should be fighting Bryan instead, and Shawn Michaels getting a running knee both went a long way in erasing months of storyline frustration.  Maybe we’ll make to WrestleMania XXX and finish the journey after all.

And maybe we had a bit more road to travel because once it ends, it ends for good.  Once he’s the man, we don’t get to cheer him like we did tonight anymore.  Sure, he’ll get cheered, but it won’t be, “Daniel Bryan is a guy we love because wrestling is awesome and he’s awesome and why don’t you get it?!?”

Cheers like that come from a special place, a potent mixture of love, anger, spite, and, well, hope.  I have no idea if they’ll ever pull the trigger and acknowledge Bryan is the best wrestler in the WWE.  But while we wait, maybe forever in vain, there’s no harm in telling them what we already know – as loud as we can.  In this world of the scripted spectacle, that’s the realest thing we got.

NXT Scouting Report, 11/20: Everybody Gets A Cookie!

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While NXT is often the second (and sometimes THE) best show WWE produces, its primary goal is to make future superstars with Raw getting the cream of the crop, SmackDown nabs the leftovers and those who would probably better off staying on NXT than finding themselves on Main Event, or worse, Superstars .

Each week we’ll scout the “minor league” talent in each segment from the hourlong show (AVAILABLE FOR FREE ON HULU, SO WATCH IT) and decide if they’re ready for the big leagues. This week: Can a beat-the-clock challenge help our burgeoning sports-entertainers shine? 

Bo Dallas Homecoming

The most interesting thing to watch as Bo Dallas evolves his character over the coming months  is how he handles increasingly hostile crowd. Oblivious Bo is funny, but at some point he needs to learn how to keep that gee-golly shitbird smile going while acknowledging the crowd when they’re ignoring a wordy segment like this week’s slide show. It’s easy when it’s some simple Boo-Urns stuff he can shrug off, but he had to work to get through all his material here. Nothing to worry about necessarily, just something to watch for going forward. Oh, and the two best Dallas lines this week: “There I sports entertained…” and “Did you come here for a cookie?” Oh, and it was nice of Olive Oil to let Bo borrow her shirt.

Overall this was a slam-dunk segment surrounding the championship, it makes the version on Raw seem unnecessarily complicated by comparison. Bo Dallas is the face of NXT, but the fans love Sami Zayn, and Sami wants to title. So JBL’s going to make him work to get there without sacrificing the integrity of the federation. So a beat-the-clock challenge is created to give the rest of the roster a fair shake and not just hand another shot to Zayn. SIDE NOTE: The beat-the-clock challenge is a pretty stupid way to determine a #1 contender because it really doesn’t prove any sort of higher skill level. But it squeezes several matches into one show while simultaneously giving each match urgency, direction and purpose. Tournaments are always preferable, but with NXT’s one hour running time, the story needs to move a bit quicker.

One other big positive form this segment: Zayn came across as a tough babyface without being a dick – “cheeseball” is a great way to get at Dallas without calling him something misogynistic. Hope that character thread continues.

This Belongs on … Raw

Big Cass vs. Alexander Rusev

Even if I’m going to give a beat-the-clock challenge a pass overall, I still need to criticize the wrestlers when they completely ignore logic trying to win the stipulation. Maybe somebody translated the rules into Bulgarian using Google Translate, but what the fuck was Rusev looking at the clock for!?! This was the very first match of the challenge! He had no time to beat! Come on!

Other than that bit of ridiculousness, this was a fine match that made both guys look pretty good. Rusev got to beat up a legit 7-foot dude, and Big Cass got some babyface props for his fighting spirit. His breaking out of Rusev’s first attempt at the Camel Clutch was great, actually looking like a someone ripping and clawing to break a hold. So many times it looks like the guy applying the hold just kind of quits or forgets they are in a wrestling match.

This Belongs On … NXT 

Adrian Neville Interview 

I’d normally hate to celebrate a concussion of a sports entertainer. But in this case…

THANK YOU NEV-ILLE! CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP. THANK YOU NEV-ILLE! CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP.

This Belongs On … SmackDown

Bayley Interview

The variety of female characters that grace NXT is outstanding. And I’d be hard pressed to choose anyone over Bayley as my favorite right now. How can you not love this girl? There is some serious babyface sympathy here, but without her seeming weak or helpless. Outstanding.

This Belongs On … Raw 

Tyler Breeze vs. Kassius Ohno 

Oh god, no one told me Ohno would still be on these episodes. Does this mean we have to sit through four weeks of Ohno matches and promos knowing his fate? Oy vey. Ohno wasn’t a personal favorite of mine, but I know how much he meant to a lot of independent wrestling fans, and I always appreciated his cerebral, big strike wrestling style. It was on full display here as Ohno only went for quick pins. You know, to try and actually wrestle to the stipulation. Not surprising he’d be one of the only guys who understood the rules and wrestled accordingly.

On the plus side, it was nice to see Breeze straight-up dominate most of this match despite the loss. He looked quick, aggressive, and — despite the goofy section with Ohno lying outside and the count-out possibility ignored – focused. Getting in the ring with some one of Ohno’s caliber showed a bit more of Breeze’s in-ring knowledge and timing. The finale of the match, with reversal after reversal, flowed well and improved Breeze all-around stock even more.

This Belongs On … SmackDown

Hunico/Camacho vs. Jobby Jobbers

squash-yellowcrookneck

This Belongs On … Superstars

Kassius Ohno Interview

:(

Aiden English vs. Adrian Neville 

Okay, so now as the beat-the-clock challenge progresses, I’m starting to even 2nd guess my self whether it has any merit at all. This might just be me whining because it makes my job scouting a bit tougher, but these matches become breakneck and jittery so quick, characterization is mostly lost – and evaluating character is half of my job. Although one could say English’s attempt at a high risk maneuver at the top rope with under 30 seconds shows off his characters lack of ring awareness, we’d have to penalize just about every participant for pulling bonehead shit like that.

But, this match was still strong – both men looked spry and game, with Neville looking especially crisp after wrestling with a “knee injury” the past couple of weeks. Still not sure what kind of character Neville will go with when he finally gets called up – if he wants to stand out past guys like Tyson Kidd or Justin Gabriel he’ll need something more than high-flying skills and an accent. Hasn’t worked for those guys.

This Belongs on … SmackDown 

Leo Kruger vs. Sami Zayn

Did you see that thumbs up Zayn gave the tie-tied little girl in the front row during his entrance? What a great guy, that Sami Zayn. Can’t find a more naturally like-able wrestler going. I was hoping that we’d get Sami on the big stage around this time, as maybe a surprise Survivor Series participant or teaming up with Punk/Bryan against the Wyatts, but as long as we get solid matches each week on NXT out of him, I can be a patient fan.

We’ve seen these two do battle a few times already, and as Alex Riley pointed out (somehow without mentioning The Miz!) their contrast in styles is a pleasing experience. I had been spoiled that Neville vs. Zayn was happening soon, so I saw the beat-the-clock challenge tie coming a mile away. But seeing the timing and skill it takes to pull of getting that spot juuuuust right was awesome. Kudos to Kruger, Zayn, and ref dude for pulling it off.

Also, big ups for Bo Dallas changing into his trunks to watch this match. Always gotta be ready for a fight.

This Belongs On … Raw

Matthew Timmons runs the stat-centric WWE website Kayfabermetrics, and can be harassed on Twitter @matthewtimmons.

NXT Scouting Report 11/7: The Unwashed Mass Cometh

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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

Matthew Timmons runs the stat-centric WWE website Kayfabermetrics, and can be harassed on Twitter @matthewtimmons.

NXT Scouting Report 10/31: Shooting the Breeze One More Time

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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 yet another Breeze/Parker matchup cut the mustard? 

Enzo Amore & Cass Cassidy vs. Alexander Rusev & Sylvester LeFort 

The entire purpose of this tag-matchup was to further Alexander Rusev progress as the big hoss of NXT, and on that level it worked just fine. After last week’s vicious destruction of the walking hacky-sack, I figured Rusev’s was moving to bigger and better things. Hanging out with Scott Dawson’s white trash ass wasn’t doing anything for him, and rarely has a hot mysterious blonde not improved a man’s situation. All good developments from a talent that just needs some seasoning before he’s ready for big things. The execution on his “turn” on LeFort was a bit sloppy jalopy, it would have been more effective if he’d attacked Dawson (who was no where to be found without explanation from the booth.) But we got the point – Rusev is a giant slab of hurt-the-fuck-outta-you, and NXT is on notice.

I was a bit disappointed when play-by-play man Byron Saxton asked Renee and Regal if they’d ever seen a big man as athletic as Rusev and somehow they blanked on FORMER NXT CHAMP and all around wrestling god Big E. Langston. Just thinking about those two facing off gives me the biggest fucking grin. Big dudes who can move are the best, and that match-up would be off the charts.

And despite practically jobbing in this situation, Enzo and Cass still got their full intro, which is a good sign. It’s by far the best thing about them, and as long as the wrestling is passable they’ll be stars. Being “fun” heels as a tag-team is an important part of a three-hour TV show, as 3MB has proved time and time again. And these guys are even more fun, and the gimmick makes more sense. SAWFT would be over in one segment. Whenever you’re ready WWE.

Verdict: Smackdown worthy 

Aiden English vs. Jason Jordan 

Well, at least this week’s Aiden English squash match with his opponent actually named check by the commentary team. He even got trunks with his name on the ass! Still, same bit we’ve seen three or four times from the resident artist of NXT. Outside of a not-so-hot encounter with RVD a couple of weeks back, this was stock stuff.  Time for a proper feud to see if his “method” will work with a real NXT competition. Also: I really wish on Raw JBL would sell guys as much as Regal does here. His enthusiasm for English was infectious.

Verdict: Superstars worthy 

Adrian Neville Interview

Poor Adrain Neville having to explain his beef with Corey Graves. Get this man somebody not awful to wrestle and maybe we’d get some fire and conviction in his promos.  You can tell Neville knows outside of injuring Graves into an early retirement he gets nothing from this feud. When’s his old tag-team partner coming back?

Verdict: Superstars worthy 

Paige vs. Summer Rae (non-title match) 

It’s fun to see Summer Rae compete in the minor leagues during a breakout week for her in WWE. She scored the pin in a mixed-tag match at Hell in a Cell and looked great in her solo Raw debut despite losing to Natalya. Anyone that watches NXT knows how much better the women’s wrestling is, something I’ve harped on in the column to the point of exhaustion. But it’s even more apparent after watching Summer stretch those legs against some of the stale WWE competition and come back and square off against women more her speed.

The match itself was just ok – we’ve seen this tilt before several times. The real progression here was the further set-up of a Mega-Powers style clash between Paige and Emma down the road, as this was the 2nd straight week Emma’s accidentally knocked Paige around. Best vs. the best is always welcome, and if they can do it without turning either wrestler heel and stay true to character arcs it should be a fantastic  set of matches. Their NXT championship match in July was awesome, and with a little more heat in the feud it could be even better. I know a lot of people are clamoring for these ladies to make their Raw debuts, but I think it would be smart to wait until the Total Divas clout runs out completely so they don’t have to get pinned by Eva Marie on some random Smackdown.

Verdict: Smackdown worthy  

Luke Harper Vignette 

Luke Harper getting a singles spotlight run in NXT is a fantastic idea. The man is prepped to tangle with Punk and Bryan on the big stage soon, so his stock is going to skyrocket in the next coming weeks. Getting some work in with skilled Kassius Ohno without the looming presence of Bray Wyatt should help us get to know his individual character even more. Ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya.

Verdict: Raw worthy 

Tyler Breeze vs. CJ Parker (Part 1000) 

Okay, so maybe it hasn’t been that many times, but it sure feels like it. When these two first tangled back in July, I was worried their gimmicks were a little to perfect for each other, and finding follow-up feuds might be difficult. Which seems to be the case so far. This is a slight guess, but the reason we keep getting these matches is the crowd response is exactly the opposite of the normal heel-face dynamic, and NXT hasn’t adjusted and keeps trying for the result they want.

Normally the blow-off match of a feud features our hero finally vanquishing their foe and standing tall in the center of the ring. But for some odd reason despite the crowd loving every move Breeze makes in the ring, and booing the shit outta Parker, they still book this like Parker was the normal crowd favorite. So even though the “face” got sweet revenge on the heel, this feels oddly empty without Breeze getting his deserved clean victory.

One nice thing we did see was a full display of Breeze’s aggressive offensive in the second half of the match. He laid out Parker with some vicious knee drops to the face, mixed in some submission maneuvers, and overall put together his best offensive sequence since debuting in NXT. I surprised it didn’t lead to a win – but as strange a booking decision this was, Breeze is still the clear star out of these two. Time for him to move along.

Oh, and one more quick quibble: “Shooting the Breeze” is not a catch-phrase Breeze should use for himself. Just saying.

Verdict: Main Event worthy 

Matthew Timmons runs the stat-centric WWE website Kayfabermetrics, and can be harassed on Twitter @matthewtimmons.

NXT Scouting Report 10/2: It’s BO Time!

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: Who will enter the first ever Bo Dallas Invitational?

Fandango & Summer Rae vs. Santino & Emma

One thing that really bummed me out about the final episodes of Breaking Bad was all the chatter about “good fans” and “watching the show the right way.” Anytime anyone tries to tell fans how they should enjoy or perceive any kind of art is just plain wrong and reeks of elitism. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy or despise any kind of consumable product. That of course goes for wrestling as well, and maybe it’s even more crucial when storylines and characters can become so divisive.

So when I say I feel bad for people that don’t enjoy matches like this one, I don’t mean it in any sort of “you’re watching wrestling wrong” kind of way. If one wants all hardcore ECW matches because that’s what they like about the medium, then more power to ’em. There’s enough variety that something should work for just about everyone.

I feel bad because it’s so much fun, and I want everyone to enjoy this as much as I do. Good lord was this segment magical and I’m still smiling just thinking about it. Santino and Emma combining their entrances, the tag in hi-five gaffes, and all the ridiculous Cobra swapping was as fun as anything I’ve seen in NXT. They had great natural chemistry together and I’ll be sad every time Santino pops up on Raw without Emma close behind. A big reason why this worked is they let the segment breathe – on Raw this would have been three minutes and each spot rushed through. Also huge props to Fandango for his amazing sell of the Cobra Strike – I think his gum flew about 50 ft in the air.

Verdict: Raw worthy. 

Ascension Promo

Okay, I know this was just a quick promo to give The Ascension some sinister vibes heading into their huge tag-team championship matchup, but I got ask: where is this “home” O’Brian and Victor grunt about? Is it some sort of alternate time or dimension? What are these dudes? Are they futuristic? Ancient? Highlander dudes without sweet swords? Until they get some direction beyond mysterious and growly, the main roster has no place for these weirdos. I’d also recommend canning the “hero” talk – too close to the Wyatt Family and Shield action plans. Get a distinct agenda and maybe we’ll talk.

Verdict: TNA worthy.

Kassius Ohno vs. Luke Harper

Promised myself this wouldn’t be a breakdown of the returning Kassius Ohno’s physique because I try my damnedest to stay away from the dirt sheets. But Ohno’s extended absence probably has roots in some sort of backstage shenanigans, considering he was gone for “four months” with no reported injury – so I can’t help but let it color my thinking heading into this matchup. Quick take: he looks fine, so hopefully if that was a problem it’s in the past. Now, as far as Ohno’s journey to the main roster, not sure what this match tells us. Luke Harper dominated the proceedings, which he should have as a conquering beast returning to NXT.

I was surprised, however, by the shortness, and — outside of a few flurries — how little Ohno got to do. For his big return to the ring, Ohno not only didn’t get to win, he didn’t even get something akin to Sami Zayn’s matches with Cesaro/Swagger – a loss that feels like a win because of the awesome. This didn’t feel like a new chapter in a storied rivalry – no after match kerfuffles to keep the narrative going – just a decisive, impressive victory for Harper. I don’t think this means that ‘management’ is still down on Ohno. There is no reason to bring him back if they didn’t think he had it. My guess is this was a way to ease him back into action, give him some frustrating losses, and push forward a storyline where Ohno can turn heel again and start an epic feud with Zayn.

Verdict: Smackdown! worthy.

Enzo Amore y Big Cass Promo

Just do yourself a favor and watch it, it’s pure gold.

TROAT. BIG MUSH. NO SHOES. SAWWWWWFT TACOS.

Verdict: Raw worthy.

Mojo Rawley Vignette

Ummmm… So this cat’s entire gimmick is he’s super hyped all day every day? I have no idea if this could work, but if we can somehow get a recreation of this scene with Rawley and Enzo Amore I’ll be a happy camper.

Verdict: Superstars worthy.

The Ascension vs. Corey Graves & Adrian Neville

I’m not into three out of four wrestlers involved in this match, and I’m afraid it’s leading me to incorrectly evaluate Adrian Neville. I get so jazzed when gets the hot tag I’m not sure if it’s because he’s performing great or I’m shell-shocked after another installment Rick Victor/Corey Graves rest-hold theatre.

In my notes it says that this was the best I’ve seen Neville since he’s teamed up with Hot Topic. His hot-tag offense late in the match was glorious, dare I say even D. Bry-eque. He mixed even more back-flip evasive maneuvers, and his offense seemed crisper, quicker, and a bit stronger. Hopefully this improvement wasn’t comparison camouflage and Neville is ready to fly high on Raw.

Putting the tag-team titles on The Ascension means somebody in NXT-land thinks these guys are ready to rule over Orlando. This is not necessarily a bad thing, regardless of how I feel. I’m reviewing based on what I think will play on Raw or Smackdown – and clearly I don’t think this team is ready. But I am interested in seeing what they can do now that they’re clearly positioned as the big bads of NXT. Hopefully that’ll jump start some interesting character development from these guys that makes them work.

Corey Graves still sucks.

Verdict: NXT worthy.

The Bo Dallas Invitational

In the normal heel handbook, this type of segment usually consists of the conceited bad guy cutting a promo about how unstoppable he’s become and there’s no one in the locker room that measures up. It’s a classic trope and works well to incite some serious babyface heat for anyone who takes on the challenge.

This could have been the moment this iteration of Bo Dallas’ amazing character starting slipping into traditional heel type stuff, but once again Dallas pulled off an amazing performance, twisting this segment into something that let him shine in his oblivious dick role. His genuine excitement giving some fresh-faced scrub a shot at the champ was adorable, and I loved how he showed concern for his random jobber opponent after the match. He could have easily acted cruel and dismissive, but he stayed true to the narrative and I love him for it. Almost as much as I loved his bizarre line-reading of “NXT CHAMPIONSHIP!!!” I have no clue what that was all about, but it made me laugh every time he did it.

The Leo Kruger and Antonio Cesaro part was clearly done just to set up a match/feud with each other, and it’s a great idea. Cesaro is a de facto wrestling instructor out there – clearly WWE brass like him in NXT for his ability to generate great matches out of anyone. Kruger intrigues me, I like his overall vibe but I’m not super sold on his ring work just yet. A few matches with Cesaro should tell us a lot.

Okay, I know I’m burying the lede with this almost-El Generico business at the end of The Bo Dallas Invitational, but I wasn’t ready to talk about it until now. This is something I knew WWE would always have in their back pocket, but deploying it so half-assed I’m just kinda stumped why they bothered. Storyline wise it makes sense, as Dallas decreed that Zayn was banned from his Invitational despite being a strong contender for the NXT championship. Zayn needed a way in, and donning a mask is a great tradition in wrestling when you need to get around the rules.

But with so much weight behind this particular wrestler wearing a mask, it just left me emotionally bent. I’m sure the fans who know nothing of Generico enjoyed the segment, but I can’t help but wonder if they blew a real opportunity to resurrect the legend of The Generic One down the road. Overall the segment was awesome and Zayn played it great, so I’m not going to downgrade it just because I couldn’t help but engage in some fantasy booking.

Verdict: Raw worthy. 

Matthew Timmons runs the stat-centric WWE website Kayfabermetrics, and can be harassed on Twitter @matthewtimmons.

NXT Scouting Report: A Cool Breeze Blowin’

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: Who will stand out in a huge 8-man Tag main event? 

Sami Zayn vs. Curt Hawkins

One of my favorite running subplots of Sami Zayn matches is how much his impressive background is brought up by the announcing team. When William Regal  gives his impeccable color analysis, he always mentions Zayn’s international resume and 10-year plus career in THIS BUSINESS. Just two weeks ago Bo Dallas cut a promo where he constantly played up his experience over Zayn’s as subtle joke for fans in the know. And of course, the constant barrage of “Ole!” chants when Zayn does awesome Generico-esque stuff in the ring.

Somebody forgot to slip Alex Riley that memo, as he constantly refers to Zayn’s inexperience and “young” career without a hint of Bo Dallas’ winking knowledge. I’m not surprised that Riley doesn’t pay attention to the indies, as he’s probably too busy writing The Miz/Matt Ryan slash fic to pay much attention. Don’t get me wrong, Riley put over Zayn quite a bit during this match. But this “The Natural” moniker he tried to get started is goofy. Zayn’s decade long career prior to NXT has as much to do with how polished his ring skills are – at least as much as his “natural” ability. I don’t expect ROH and Generico shout-outs on NXT – but Riley’s the only guy seemingly not in on the fact that Zayn isn’t exactly green.

As far as the match went, it was pretty standard stuff – which normally would be just fine. But after getting such high quality action during Zayn’s tussles with The Real Americans, Hawkins just wasn’t up to snuff, the first 3rd of the match where Hawkins dominated the ring wasn’t believable. He might be considered “main roster talent,” but the crowd – who’ve been in a constant state of euphoria during the last few Zayn matches – wasn’t buying what Hawkins was selling. The best part of the match was Zayn’s sell of Hawkins’ enziguri – I loved how he collapsed to the mat, weakly grasping for his opponent as he crumpled. He made Hawkins look tough! Zayn will always pull out a solid match- he’s the closest to Daniel Bryan in the regard going in any level of WWE.

Verdict: Smackdown! worthy.

nxt

Aiden English vs. Local Jobber

Man, I am sucker for this kind of crap. Just ridiculous stuff from Aiden English, who’s gimmick is “Daniel Day Lewis as a pro-wrestler” and I am ALL IN. The spotlight, the not-so-great Pirates of Penzance vocal stylings, the gentleman artist ring awareness. It’s got the air of Damien Sandow’s gimmick, just like Tyler Breeze echoes Fandango. Similar but with enough distinction that I they could both work on the main roster. And just like that fantastic time Sandow sang Randy Orton’s theme song – if English can change his lyrics based on his opponent and current feud – that’ll put him over automatically. Who wouldn’t love that? Listen to the pop he receives when he takes an encore performance – that crowd is hype.

It’s goofy and stupid and I love the shit out of it.

Verdict: Smackdown! worthy.

Bo Dallas Interview with Renée Young

Bo Dallas just threw shade at Curt Hawkins and he had a legitimate point! Bo Dallas used the word nifty in a wrestling promo! Bo Dallas almost made the uber-professional Renée Young lose it on camera and start laughing! What I’m trying to say is, Bo Dallas is a treasure right now and I hope this character translates to the big stage because it is glorious.

Verdict: Raw worthy.

The Ascension/Tyler Breeze/Leo Kruger vs. Corey Graves/Xavier Woods/CJ Parker/Adrian Neville – 8-man Tag-Match

It is difficult to tell a coherent story in any kind of wrestling matchup, as the balance between pure wrestling, television promotion priorities, and performers abilities all have to merge into one single purpose. NXT somehow pulled off a nice little story in an 8-man tag match that could’ve been a giant clusterfuck of opposing gimmicks, feuds, and varying levels of competence is impressive. Most of these guys I’m lukewarm on, but thankfully NXT decided to make the entire match about the wrestler head and shoulders above the rest: Tyler Breeze.

Breeze wanted no part of this random grouping of NXT top guys, shrinking up on the ring apron and even shaking his head when a pro-Breeze chant started up in the crowd. When he did finally tag in, the crowd exploded with approval, and Breeze pulled the perfect heel move. The threw a couple of punches and raced back to his corner. The crowd loved it so much it got a “this is awesome” chant – not for the quality of wrestling but Breeze’s pure dedication to character. I love how much the NXT crowd cares about such things, and it goes a long way to help establish the giant personalities WWE is searching for. They appreciate the nuance and Breeze gives it too them.

And to prove the crowd right for focusing on the singular greatness of Tyler Breeze, the match ending was completely  focused on his unwillingness to get his hands dirty. His compadres in evil bounced, leaving him to fend for himself during an onslaught of babyface fire. Parker, Woods, Graves and then Neville took turns landing huge blows on Breeze to humiliated him as much as possible. Breeze was a champ selling their offense, stumbling around the ring like a 3am drunk desperate to find his car keys on the sidewalk. But despite posing over the fallen heel at the conclusion on their onslaught – the focus was clearly on Breeze. While the four faces shared time mugging for the NXT crowd over his disposed body, Breeze captured all the heel heat for himself. Eight supposed future WWE superstars sharing a ring together – but only one advanced his character and made the match about him while still making everyone look good. Impressive stuff from Tyler Breeze.

Verdict: Smackdown! worthy. 

Matthew Timmons runs the stat-centric WWE website Kayfabermetrics, and can be harassed on Twitter @matthewtimmons.