TCWNN #22: So what’s NXT?

WWE NXT debuted this week, replacing ECW. And it was actually pretty darn good.

Obviously the first thing to talk about is the one thing that everyone is gushing over: how much of the show was dedicated to Bryan Danielson. Or Daniel Bryan. Why on earth he was given a name change when his whole WWE storyline and persona revolve around the fact that he IS Bryan Danielson, the greatest non-WWE superstar in the world, isn’t totally beyond me (the WWE, like most major corporations, does prefer to own their own trademarks after all), but it does add a touch of the surreal to the proceedings when Michael Cole starts ranting about how if this Daniel Bryan is so great how come he‘s never heard of him (more on the WWE’s new and improved Tony Schiavone later, I promise).

Still, setting aside that minor bit of surrealism in the WWE’s reality show within it’s fictional show ( a surreal concept in and of itself), the fact does remain. Bryan Danielson  is getting a genuine push out of this show, either out of a genuine belief in the office that he has what it takes, or out of sheer luck of the draw inspired by the uproar created by the selection of the Miz for his mentor. To me, personally, Miz was and is a great choice in that both men could learn from the other. Miz has personality in spades, but is no stand out in the ring, while Danielson, while not as white bread a talker as people say (and no where close to  as bland as Cole and Miz made out on NXT), does lack the over size charisma of the ex-MTV reality show stalwart. But whatever the reason, the newly christened Daniel Bryan was made to look like a bonefide next generation WWE superstar, with a ready made feud, multiple segments focused on him, the face commentator singing his praises non-stop over the objections of a clearly heel broadcast partner, and a main event toe to toe with World Champion Chris Jericho in what I’d say was a pretty evenly booked match. If they wanted to, they could have a Miz/Daniel match ready to go for the under card of Wrestlemania in a heartbeat.

But NXT is not solely the Bryan Daniel show. There are other performers to consider here. So far, the only one who made any impression was David Otunga, the real life boyfriend of Hollywood star Jennifer Hudson. His promo work in the video package shown to introduce him was excellent, even if his character is apparently the exact same thing we saw with MVP, only with the added bonus of real life connections. “I met the President this year. Twice.” is a pretty great cocky heel claim, as is “If you don’t know me, you should. Google me.” Unfortunately, based on his quick and awkward squash of fellow rookie Darren Young, he has a long way to go in the ring skills department. Young himself was completely upstaged by CM Punk’s disdain for the entire proceedings, and really only succeeded in showing that he looks like a black John Cena with bad hair.  Michael Tarver also got his own promo package, focusing on his supposed ability to knock anyone out in 1.9 seconds, yet that played no role in the match he participated in. Heath Slater seemed to be overdoing it. Both men seemed adequate enough in the ring, but didn’t shine like stars either. Chris Jericho’s rookie, Wade Barrett, again was not given quite enough time to make any sort of impression beyond “cocky British guy”. The rest of the roster didn’t even make it to the ring. Which is fine. It’s only the first episode, and the guys that didn‘t get time to shine at least had enough time to get across their characters and what their relationship is with their mentors. So it’s really not the  talent that we need to be worrying about.

The format on the other hand, still needs some bugs worked out. Going into it, no one knew for sure if this was going to be an actually reality show, or a kayfabe reality show taking place within the WWE Universe, or some merger of the two. From Vince McMahon’s statements, it certainly sounded more akin to the late and mostly unlamented Tough Enough, only with more experienced competitors. Well, we now know it to be “in universe”, but this opens up a great many more questions. Is there actually a real training component to the show? How exactly is the winner decided “in universe“?  Why exactly are the mentors serving as mentors?  And how exactly are they mentoring by serving as valets, or by using rookies as valets?  Will the rookies be valeting their mentors to Raw and Smackdown, or will this just exist in an NXT bubble until the winner moves forward to a main roster?  And so on. The set up is murky when compared to what was initially described, and if it’s not clarified quickly, the show will quickly start to come off like an episode of Superstars where the job guys can win. And the new method of shooting the show? For the most part, it just seemed like a series of diagonals and close ups. Not totally distracting, but nothing revolutionary or more exciting.

And then there’s Michael Cole, the internet’s (and based on some of the one liners tossed his way on air, the WWE’s) favorite announce team whipping boy. We all know, or at least assume, that most of what Cole spouts out is fed to him from backstage. But the complete over the top, near screaming delivery of the anti-any wrestling not done in the WWE universe viewpoint during the main event was on a whole nother level of hyperbole. It even brought to mind for me the later years of Tony Schiavone in WCW, where everything was a greatest moment or the most heinous action ever seen.  Again, the question is if this side of Cole exists solely in the NXT bubble. I certainly hope so; Cole is already in serious danger of being a detriment to the viewing audience, and if this new persona spills over the Raw announce team will be in serious trouble.

Still, all in all, I have to say, I was impressed. I wasn’t expecting much from NXT, let alone a desire to see where it went after it’s debut episode. But here I am eager to see, well… what’s NXT.

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