Last weekend I went up to Blackpool for the NXT tour show at the Empress Ballroom – I thought that would be a special evening simply for the return of William Regal. (I was right.)
And on Wednesday evening I was at Wembley Arena (in the very back row) for Takeover: London.
Here follow my thoughts, for what they’re worth…
NXT create brilliant babyfaces. One of the things I like most about watching NXT is having a hero like Sami Zayn or Bayley that I can cheer – and everyone else does as well. There’s no splitting of the audience, no duelling chants – everyone’s behind the person who’s meant to be the good guy. That’s a testimony to the talent in the ring – Asuka might not speak the best English, but she doesn’t need to because the way she acts is enough. Credit also has to go to the way they create heels as well, though; these aren’t “cool heels” who secretly want to be cheered, these are baddies who deserve to be booed, and that’s what they get. That’s not to say that they’re not respected or liked – take Emma, for example, who’s a terrific wrestler and fondly thought of by the audience, getting heckled and booed and jeered because that’s her job to elicit them. (Incidentally, another related fact is that NXT assess crowd reactions and go with them. Remember when they had to turn Paige face because she was so different and exciting? The same thing happened with Jason Jordan and Chad Gable, who were clearly intended to be some kind of goofy tweeners but were so obviously immediately taken to the audience’s heart that they had to be faces.) It puzzles me so much that WWE’s main shows can’t manage this. Perhaps it’s partially related to…
Triple H, who are you? Triple H turned up at the start of Takeover to welcome everyone to the show. We all know that NXT and developmental is the baby of WWE COO Paul Levesque, and essentially he seems like a real-life decent enough chap. But Triple H? The authority figure who got a beating on RAW by the apparent top babyface of the company just two days previously? What universe is this all happening in? WWE have had problems with portraying “reality” for ages now, with Total Divas entirely screwing up their timelines, but they really need to decide what Triple H is supposed to be, and stick to it.
Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are MONEY. Their match against the Dubstep Cowboys was delayed by 15 minutes as the crowd sang their names repeatedly to the tune of 2 Unlimited’s No Limits. This pair are fantastically talented wrestlers, and have great chemistry together. Presumably the NXT tag-team titles are in their very near future. One would also hope that there will be Jordan and Gable merch to purchase – I was wandering around wanting to THROW MY MONEY at anything Jordan and Gable-themed, and found nothing. Disappointing.
Enzo and Big Cass broke my heart. Enzo dropping to his knees in despair and Carmella putting her arm around his shoulders to console him was so sad. They give everything, and it’s never quite good enough. But Enzo was right – if he had one pound for every time he and his associate had been knocked down and hadn’t got back up again, he’d have zero pounds.
Nia Jax deserves the benefit of the doubt. Her match with Bayley was fine, pushed to good thanks to the story and the atmosphere. She’s still obviously limited as an actress and as a wrestler, but let’s face it, we said the same about Dana Brooke when she first arrived and now I wouldn’t want to do without her.
Apollo Crews looked strangely lost. He and Samoa Joe tried to bring some seriousness to a party atmosphere in Blackpool; in London the crowd were distracted by shouting abuse at Baron Corbin rather than cheering the guy they should be cheering. A bit more storyline – and reasons for us to invest in him – is what’s needed here. (Kudos to Corbin, though – since everyone’s seemed to agree that he’s not an instantly likeable character, he’s revelled in his heelishness. He got stunning amounts of stick in Blackpool and London, and it encouraged him to play it up even further. Good stuff.)
Sami Zayn is a precious, wonderful treasure. Remember what I was saying about babyfaces everyone wants to cheer? The roof damn near blew off the Empress Ballroom when his music kicked in before the main event (he came out after champion Finn Balor, purportedly as a surprise); as the ring crew quickly prepared for one last TV match at the end of Takeover, scattered chants of “We want Sami!” began prior to an utter roar as his theme cranked up. He was given the responsibility of doing the valedictory speech as well, looking intensely confused when he elicited boos whenever he mentioned any other British town – “Is this some weird British heat I don’t know about?” he enquired. The crowd wrapped up their ovation for him with “Thank you, Sami!” chants, at which point he beamed and replied, “Oh, you guys, you’re so, so welcome!” It’s going to make a great episode of Breaking Ground (exclusive to the WWE Network) but it’s also going to be something I’ll remember very fondly – seeing possibly my favourite active wrestler get the accolades he deserves.
The UK will never get a live special event again. And it’s entirely our own fault. British wrestling fans – you might think you’re ever so clever and knowledgeable, but WWE remains a PG product. Chanting “Fuck you, Corbin, fuck you!” on a live broadcast is not going to make the powers-that-be more inclined to return. (Incidentally, here are some other things that are inappropriate: 1) CHRIS BENOIT CHANTS.)
Linked to that – PLEASE refer to the wrestler in front of you by the name under which they are performing. It’s one thing referring to Finn Balor’s previous work in Japan as Prince Devitt; it’s another cheering him on with “Go on, Devitt!” and looking around smugly as if you expect everyone to be wowed by your memory bank’s resources. It’s irritating to everyone in the crowd, and disrespectful to the wrestler you’ve obviously followed for years.