NXT: The Best of Both Worlds

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I’ve been on vacation, and I’ve been working hard to get Mad Man Pondo’s book ready for release. (We’re almost there, I promise.) Out of the blue yesterday, I found myself at NXT in Louisville, Kentucky. Long story short: I remembered why I fell in love with NXT originally, and I found an even deeper appreciation for the “other, other” WWE brand.

I won’t review the show, but here are some thoughts on an unexpected trip to NXT.

The War Raiders look like a tag team from a bygone era, both their look and the way they hit. I miss them in New Japan, but it looks to me like they’re doing just fine.

EC3 walks and talks like a face that could run the place. Only a matter of time before he’s one of the guys on the signage over the toy shelves.

Fabian Aichner has real potential as a heel. Great match against EC3.

Aliyah is a heat magnet she knows how to enrage a crowd, and she revels in it. I loved watching her introduce herself, only to get “Who are you?” chants in return.

Kairy Sane has to be seen live to be fully appreciated. She is electric. Even when she was at ringside watching her tag team partner Candice LeRae, she was always on. She also gave the crowd a laugh when she joined in on the “Who are you?” bit with Aliyah.

My happily married buddy Kevin Cordell says Adam Cole is his “boyfriend,” and having seen him live, I can see why he’s so infatuated. Adam Cole may be the most entertaining wrestler I’ve ever seen live. His psychology with the crowd, his charisma, and his sense of humor make for a killer combination. He played with the crowd the entire match, and they played back. He’s supposed to be the bad guy, but how do you hate a man who is that good?

Speaking of good, Raul Mendoza is a show stopper. I’m pretty sure most of the fans had no clue who he was when he made his entrance, but they won’t forget him. Props to Cole for making him shine.

The NXT tag division is outstanding, and so much better than the Red and Blue brands. After the opener between War Raiders and TM61, we were treated to O’Reilly and Strong vs. Lorcan and Burch. Both matches were terrific.

Kassius Ohno is still in my mind the most under appreciated man in wrestling. He does not have bad matches. And the Louisville crowd was solidly behind the man they will forever know as Chris Hero. Terrific match with Velveteen Dream.

It was a bit disappointing not to see Ricochet in action, but the Kentucky native received a very warm welcome when he made an appearance to hype his confrontation with Dream at Saturday’s Takeover show.

Nikki Cross is nuts, and her fans wouldn’t want her any other way. While sitting in a corner, she heard a fan shout, “Hey Nikki!” Nikki turned and gave the crowd her crazy eyed grin. “Kick her butt!” said the fan. Nikki nodded in wild-eyed agreement. No words needed to be said. She’s a non stop whirlwind of insanity, and I love it.

Shayna Baszler had more heel heat than anyone else on the show. All night long, the fans split on the other heels, especially Adam Cole and Velveteen Dream. There was no split with Baszler. She has pure heel heat. She’s going to do well in WWE.

Lars Sullivan is a classic monster in the French Angel mold. He’s also a terrific athlete. He had a war with Aleister Black in the main event that ended in a DQ win for Black, setting up their Takeover main event Saturday.

Major props to all the stars who signed the poster for the guy celebrating one year cancer free. After the first match, it looked like word had spread backstage, and everyone made a point to sign the poster.

Huge props as well to Aleister Black for his post match interaction with the fans. This was my first time seeing Black in person, and after collecting his title belt, he rolled out of the ring and started making his way around ringside.  He went around twice, posing for selfies with every single fan who wanted one. A true class act.

The NXT show took place at Broadbent Arena, a smaller venue than the YUM! Center Smackdown took over two months ago. The crowd was much smaller for NXT, but that actually made for a better show. The wrestlers engaged the fans more, and the fans were much more into the action here than at Smackdown. I didn’t hear a dozen disinterested conversations around me because the NXT crowd came to see wrestling. They are the Network subscribers, but they’re also the die hards who know guys like Adam Cole and Chris Hero and Candice LeRae from the independent scene. It’s a shame the crowds aren’t bigger for NXT, but then again, it would be a shame to ruin the wonderful thing NXT has going.

NXT has the top level talent and production of the WWE paired with the heart and spirit of the indies. It is the best of both worlds. 

A very big thank you to Kassius Ohno for inviting me to the show last minute. He was one of our very first interviews for Mad Man Pondo’s book before his return to NXT. After all these years of near misses, it was great to finally sit down and talk with him. Thank you again for your hospitality. See you down the road!