USA Hockey doesn’t return to the ice until Wednesday, Bode Miller has finally let his hangover get the best of him and nobody plays a spring training game for another week. In other words, this is the perfect opportunity to discuss faux sports. As Sports Casualties’ resident “sports entertainment” (known to some as pro wrestling) enthusiast, I have taken it upon myself to offer commentary on NXT, the brand new show that World Wrestling Entertainment is debuting this evening. The following is semi-live coverage and analysis of WWE NXT, Episode One. In the words of Hannah Teter, “we’re going to pee in cups, guys.” Alright, that wasn’t the quote I was looking for.
Let me begin by giving a brief introduction to the show, and by saying that there are a significant amount of unknowns when it comes to what NXT’s actual format will be. WWE is kind of marketing it as a reality show/regular wrestling brand hybrid, but they have not delved much into the actual stipulations around it. I am expecting it to be a competition-based “reality” show with plenty of “how things work” mentor moments. Think “Ultimate Fighter,” except scripted.
What we do know is this:
NXT is the WWE’s replacement for their own rendition of the ECW brand, which went off air last week after nearly a four-year run. ECW had grown extremely stale, and had basically become a complete afterthought in the company over the last two years.
So with that, in comes NXT which will take the top eight wrestlers from the WWE’s developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling (think Triple-A baseball), and pair them with eight current WWE wrestlers (or superstars, as Vince McMahon demands that they are called). The show will function in episodic seasons instead of the year-round schedule of a traditional wrestling program. The following are NXT’s participants:
- Rookie Daniel Bryan will be paired with WWE superstar and former “Real World” cast member, The Miz in one of the more publicized pairings. Bryan, known as Bryan Danielson previously in his career, is one of the more elite wrestlers in the world. Prominent primarily in the independent ranks, “Wrestling Observer Newsletter” has named Bryan the best technical wrestler in the world the last five consecutive years and the most outstanding wrestler the last four consecutive years. Bryan has the resume that die-hard wrestling fans swoon over, but he is paired with a man that is hated by those same groups of fans for the way that he broke into the business.
- Rookie Wade Barrett will be paired with WWE superstar and World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho.
- Rookie Justin Gabriel will be paired with WWE superstar Matt Hardy.
- Rookie Skip Sheffield will be paired with WWE superstar William Regal.
- Rookie Michael Tarver will be paired with WWE superstar Carlito.
- Rookie Heath Slater will be paired with WWE superstar Christian.
- Rookie Darren Young will be paired with WWE superstar and straight-edge proponent C.M. Punk.
- Rookie David Otunga will be paired with WWE superstar R-Truth.
Alright, it’s 10 P.M. which means one thing for everybody not named NBC, showtime.
“My God, the world is watching,” says Jim Ross’ obligatory introduction. That only means one thing: it’s time.
The show opens with a very “high school sitcom” theme song. I was expecting to see cuddling “90210” cast members instead of wrestlers. The Miz opens by bringing forward Bryan, referring to him as an “Internet darling” who has made it in the “minor leagues.” He says that he knows Bryan can wrestle, but orders him to march to the ring and introduce himself to the WWE Universe. “Show some personality,” orders the spray tan-laden reality star.
Michael Cole and Josh Matthews are the announce team. Ugh, one more night of getting to hear Cole yell “Vintage!” over and over again. Matt Striker will be the show’s host.
Bryan walks into the ring with his rather dorky demeanor. He begins by running down The Miz with little passion. The Miz interrupts in an arrogant way that only The Miz can execute. Miz tells Bryan that he needs personality. Bryan says that maybe he should “go on a reality show, get a faux hawk and come back acting like an idiot.” Burn. He also says that if he ever gets in a ring with The Miz, The Miz will have two options, “to tap or snap.” Clever.
Much like a night at the Woods’ household, Miz slaps Bryan and walks off. Bryan promises to “slap him back” as we go to our first commercial.
Strong opening segment featuring the two guys that everybody wanted to see. Nice jumping point for the show. Bryan looked awkward at first, but soon got comfortable and had the crowd heavily behind him.
Carlito comes out with his protege, Michael Tarver. A video profile gives some background on Tarver. Out next are their opponents, Christian and Heath Slater. Slater gets a video profile of his own, and his is rather entertaining. Slater refers to himself as both the “rock star without instruments” and the “one man rock band.”
The team of Slater and Christian win when Christian hits his killswitch finisher on Tarver. Tarver and Carlito had a confused teammates moment which ended up costing them the match. Slater showboated proudly although he did very little in an average tag match.
The running Wrestlemania is (blank) days away commercial airs. I really think this is one area where some other sports leagues could take marketing advice. Super Bowl commercials should start airing with a cool theme song 50 days in advance.
Darren Young makes his way to the ring sporting a South Beach party boy gimmick. Yes, he’s paired with C.M. Punk, a polar opposite with his Straight-Edge Society program. C.M. Punk comes out with his stable that looks fresh out of the meth lab. Punk has no idea why he’s in NXT and why he has to deal with Young. His opponent is David Otunga, the fiance of singer Jennifer Hudson, and that’s pretty much a synopsis of his gimmick.
Straight-Edge Society: Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke, Don’t Shower
Otunga wins in a quick squash match that leaves Punk looking more disgusted than his last trip to Oktoberfest.
Bryan is announced to have a match later with Chris Jericho. Nothing like having a match with the champion on your first night in the company. This match-up should be like a naked movie for Internet wrestling nerds everywhere.
Jericho makes his entrance alongside Wade Barrett with 18 minutes remaining in the show. This either means that there will be a decent amount of talking, or that WWE is really giving Bryan a trial run against one of its best performers in a match of adequate time. Let’s hope for the latter.
Barrett plays the heel role by taking care of Jericho’s ring introductions. He gets the crowd to boo him, but honestly Mother Teresa could probably draw some heat standing next to Jericho. Bryan’s introduction and then another commercial break, and it looks like we’re not going to get the lengthy match that my hopes were up for.
Jericho wins what was a very good match for a six minute contest. Plenty of bickering back and forth on commentary about Bryan’s experience. “I’m supposed to be impressed by some guy that has been wrestling in high school gyms,” said all-time wrestling great Michael Cole. The match was highlighted by an awesome bump that Bryan took when a dive to the outside of the ring turned into a Jericho reverse slam into the edge of the announcer table that looked brutal.
“That’s a cracked rib,” said a text message from friend and fellow wrasslin’ aficionado, Corey Frauenfelder. Bryan had a brief hold on Jericho that they sold as a “he almost beat the world champ” moment, but in all reality, it was about as believable as a Chicago Cubs World Series run.
Jericho would close Bryan off with a codebreaker and a variation of the Walls of Jericho submission hold. The closing image of the show was The Miz stepping into the ring and beating the living hell out of Daniel Bryan. It was like Bryan cheated to beat Miz in a Gauntlet challenge, and set up an epic house brawl. Miz said that Bryan embarrassed him. Bryan asked what bar they were all going to after the show in a light whisper.
It will be interesting to see the reaction to this show because it was a very unique format. I personally liked it, but I’m sure some will tear it apart. If there’s one thing that they made clear tonight, it’s that Miz and Bryan are the duo that is set to carry this show. That may change as some interesting storylines were also set with Darren Young’s contrast to the Straight-Edge Society and Jericho’s new British sidekick. There’s also two rookies who were not featured at all tonight who will need a build next week.
Don’t worry non-wrestling America, I’ll be back to work later writing about real, competitive sports once again. Let all of those who like their athletics unscripted rejoice.