NXT: It’s Better Than RAWon November 2, 2012 at 11:57 pm
WWE’s best show isn’t even on TV. Which, considering how much TV WWE airs every week, is completely absurd. I’m talking about NXT, the show that had one season where it was relevant and then spiraled into the depths of sub-Superstars obscurity. The guys on NXT were the ones who only got call-ups to the main roster when they needed somebody to job to the jobbers. Then something magical happened.
WWE higher-ups stopped paying attention to it.
NXT 5, the seemingly never-ending season, ditched the competition format and just became a wrestling show. A really good wrestling show. Then NXT merged with FCW and Triple H took it over, relocating it to Full Sail University in Florida and using the film school there to produce the show, which only airs on the internet in the US but is on TV in several international markets, including on The Score in Canada. And oh man am I glad it does, because in an era of tedious three hours RAWs which routinely feature less than an hour of actual wrestling, NXT is proof that a one hour wrestling show can not only work, but be better than what the main roster’s gobs of money can do.
Full Sail University
Instead of taping NXT before RAW or Smackdown in front of a live crowd of thousands who could not give less of a shit about what was happening with those wrestlers they’d never seen before inside those yellow ropes, the new NXT is in the “NXT Arena” at Full Sail University. And holy crap does that audience give a shit about what’s happening inside those now-black ropes. TNA really suffers from taping its TV in the Impact Zone week after week, but just a stone’s throw away there’s a ravenous wrestling crowd losing their minds. On the episode that aired on The Score today, the fans chanted “FIVE” during Big E Langston’s promo segment with Vickie Guerrero… and not a goddamn thing Big E Langston said even made the slightest bit of sense. He was talking about how he had five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot, and somehow oozed charisma while jabbering like a mental patient. And the crowd LOVED it.
Need more evidence? Jinder Mahal and Michael McGuillicutty both get reactions. And are GOOD. Yeah.
The Roster and Storytelling
The roster is mostly FCW guys with a few WWE low-carders who aren’t being used on the main shows sprinkled in. I don’t have much to say about the FCW guys that hasn’t been said before, but the way the guys who have been in WWE are used is really interesting. NXT seems to be considered its own pocket universe where RAW and Smackdown don’t really exist, because most of the WWE guys are portraying entirely different characters than they did on the big shows. Jinder Mahal isn’t a member of a ridiculous multi-ethnic rock ensemble, he’s a rich Indian guy who wants to fuck shit up because he came SO close to NXT gold and let it slip through his fingers. His half-English-half-not promos actually work because he actually has somewhere to go with them. Drew McIntyre, Mahal’s nonsensical bandmate, isn’t associated with Mahal at all on NXT, and neither of them acknowledge that their RAW gimmick even exists. McIntyre is a big, tough Scotsman who wants to fuck shit up because he beat Seth Rollins, but Rollins didn’t have the belt yet so McIntyre didn’t get anything out of it. Are you sensing a pattern here? Characterizations on NXT are based on wanting something. Namely, the NXT belt. Also, violencing people.
Kassius Ohno and Richie Steamboat are a great example of characters being developed away from the title scene. They had a match, and Ohno cheated, got himself disqualified, then beat the ever-loving fuckshit out of Steamboat afterward, establishing himself as a right bastard who was a little unhinged. He then proceeded to cut these weird promos where he portrayed himself as an awkward nerd while Steamboat spent most of his time being livid and wanting to commit a homicide. Standard wrestling stuff, but here’s what they did right: they didn’t then have 76 matches on consecutive shows, which is the current WWE booking strategy for midcard feuds. No, they wrestled other people and tried to work their way up the ranks for future title considerations (okay, so I guess they aren’t THAT far away from the title scene. But that’s a good thing), and proceeded to screw each other over at every opportunity. Thus far, they have only had one match since the initial incident of the feud, and it was a perfectly executed feud-builder. Steamboat won clean on a roll-up, but didn’t definitively dispatch Ohno. Ohno then proceeded to thrash Steamboat like he was a wheat field out of frustration. While Seth Rollins defends his belt, Ohno and Steamboat are engaging in a bitter rivalry which is the best on the show.
The way the NXT belt is being used is basically perfect, as far as I’m concerned. The tournament, throughout which the belt sat on a pedestal at the top of the stage, was built as the most important competition in the lives of each of the participants, and once Seth Rollins won the belt, he treated it like he had just found the cure for his lack of mic skills. And by that I mean he treated it like it was important. Hell, look at how many characters’ entire motivations are based on variations of wanting the belt more than anything else. Rollins, for his part, is establishing the title’s importance and the how good the wrestler who wins the belt from him is going to have to be by having consistently high-quality 10-20 minute matches with a variety of guys that looked like turds on the WWE main roster (Mahal, McGuillicutty, McIntyre, Heath Slater… actually, it looks like slamdancing Seth Rollins really hates multicultural southern rock bands).
Oh, and on today’s episode, Antonio Cesaro defended the US Title against Tyson Kidd. It was excellent, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anybody, but it was also interesting that the WWE US Title was shown as being of lower importance than the NXT belt, given that there had earlier been a segment where Mahal, Justin Gabriel, Bo Dallas, and McIntyre argued over who would challenge Seth Rollins next and not one peep was made about being jealous of Kidd getting a US Championship match. It’s subtle, but it’s there: the NXT Title is the most important thing on the show, no matter who else shows up. Even CM Punk’s appearance recently was used to establish that, as he was there to call Seth Rollins’ title defence against Michael McGuillicutty. Rollins holding up the belt and staring down CM Punk was much less subtle than the US Title situation, but it served a similar purpose: on NXT, the guy with the weird-looking belt is the MAN, whether or not the WWE Champ is in the house.
This was a more interesting topic of conversation before JBL and Jim Ross returned to the booth on Smackdown and RAW, respectively. William Regal does the colour with Byron Saxton (or, recently, some other guy) on play-by-play, with Jim Ross joining them to call the main events. Regal stumbles over his words a lot, but the substance of what he says is fantastic. It’s always fun to hear somebody talk about wrestling who actually knows what things are called and can go old-school by explaining WHY moves are being done. Saxton keeps things moving and knows when to let Regal talk and when to step in and make calls, and JR is JR. It’s an excellent team, and was the best WWE had until Jerry Lawler’s unfortunate heart problem led to the restructuring of the announce team.
The Down Side
You probably can’t watch it easily. As far as I know it’s not on WWE.com anymore, and is instead on Hulu Plus, which is a pay service. In Canada and Europe it’s televised, but it’s time slots are pretty terrible. I watch it at 4 PM on Friday afternoon, which is shortly after I get home from school. Because apparently I’m ten. If you can find this show, though, you should absolutely go out of your way to watch it. It’s what WWE TV could be in the future when Vince finally pumps too much bull-shark testosterone into his balls and his brain explodes.