Monday, June 2, 2014

Best Coast Bias: Days Of Future Present

A fine end to a superb two hours
Photo Credit:
There's nothing more likely to induce early retirement in a boss or turn hairs gray on a producer or induce arrhythmia in a coach's arteries than a practice player.  Practice player, for those unfamiliar with the term?  It's someone who looks like an all-star behind closed doors but looks like they couldn't sing All Star at karaoke when the lights are on bright.  It's those who succeed when the stakes have flatlined but corpse out the moment there's a pulse in the situation.

You know: the inverse of NXT.

For all the hand-wringing and concern trolling from a multitude of corners leading up to the second Network Special NXT Takeover pretty much took everybody's naysaying, wrapped it up in a tight little ball and threw it 134 mph at everybody's chin.  In the best thing WWE's put their name on since WrestleMania the second live NXT show was possibly the two quickest hours of the year for the Stamfordized pro graps enthusiast.  The five-match card never let up, never failed to at least be serviceable, and in the case of the unofficial triple main event was so good James Brown's corpse reanimated, danced, and left and returned to the stage on no fewer than six occasions to sing.

This wasn't a show where you found the one good thing or match and gave it some weed grower to justify putting it in the spotlight; it's the sort of show where such richness abounds you really feel you're doing a disservice talking about it when everybody should just be watching it.  So in lieu of just typing the word WHEE! except with 58 Es and 27 exclamation points, let's start with the sun around which the NXT constellation orbits - the big X Championship belt - and rotate around from there.

It's a shame when the truth boomerangs back to catch you in the face, and especially when you're the one throwing the club to begin with.  But Tyson knew, and had known the whole time.  To quote him directly in his preshow interview with his wife, "If I lose, I'm a never was.  If Neville loses, he's still a former NXT Champion."  From things like that pre-match comment to yelling "Come on, Neville!  I need this!" while applying a chinlock it was evident that he was desperate to put a light big enough in the form of the NXT title to send the naysaying cockroaches about his career scattering.

Unfortunately for him not only was he going against a man who's cruised into June lossless, he was facing a younger, more athletic, and more confident version of himself in ring.  With Neville on the roll he's been on its one thing for him to say that he's more confident in a pre-match video package and another to get within striking range of Kidd before the match twice and hold up his prize overhead (even if Kidd only had eyes for it and not him).  There's a reason it's called show and tell.

In a show full of chain wrestling, their early display of it might've been the most compelling; in a show with some crazy-ass counters and markout moments they may've had the most giffable ones.  But Tyson went from condescendingly patting Neville's head and giving a couple slaps on the shoulder to breaking the chain with a forearm shot pretty fast, and in that small near imperceptible moment the center started coming undone.  I'm sure the scattering of "Nattie's husband" chants didn't help, but it's not like he's about to be doomed by them in a sort of reverse Daniel Bryaning, right?

Besides, he had his own problems: Neville being so in his body out of body they both went for dropkicks and crossbodies at the same time, doing somersault forward nip-ups at the same time and giving Kidd the same exact offense he'd been forced to eat when TK'd been in control.  Fact.  The moment Neville countered a sunset flip powerbomb by landing on his feet and Tyson looked agog before running wildly into a sitout powerbomb it was a matter of time.  The only thing more frustrating than having to open up your arsenal to the furthest reaches must be when it keeps not working, as his Dungeon Lock was survived by a rope break and Neville kicked out after a rope-hung Harlem Hungover.  A pop up supercanrana (no, really, see?) and the Red Arrow later, and Neville retained in the last of the night's trioka of "well, that was worth the $10/mo right there".

And here come the wheels starting to come off the track: blowing off not only Neville's attempt at a post-match handshake on Takeover itself but Paul Heyman's prurient question and Nattie twice in the post-game show -- and let the record show this show was so good even the post-game delivered from front to back and is worth checking out if you have the half-hour to spare -- but to the point where some brilliant tech monkey was able to whip this up tuit suite.  Don't care much for Total Divas, it seems to taunt, well, maybe you'll care with awesome wrestling and excellent video packages and logical progression in storytelling.  And it turns out to be true. Talk about a boomerang in the chops.

Crazily enough, that was just one tentpole that held up the show.  You could make the argument amongst the three MOTY Honorable Mention nominees put on the board that it was any part of the totem pole and make it convincing.  But it takes a certain kind of man to make the #1 contendership he just earned look gorgeous, and you know to which slice is being referred.  To quote the King of Vain himself in yet another quality pre-match video package: "Is my beauty a distraction for my opponents?  Yes.  Is it a distraction for the entire world?  Again, yes." It was one thing to show a more pronounced toughness in the weeks leading up to his match v. Sami for next in line and all the Beauty Shots in the chops helped, no doubt.  As the last of the Famous International Playboys Master Regal noted pre-match, "Tyler Breeze is more than a beautiful face, and beautiful clothes, and a beautiful face." Outside of Neville himself -- whom he's both stymied and lost to -- perhaps no full-time NXTer has done more with his 2014 than T Breezie.  Hell, he's such a sexy boy he's even singing his so-unbelievably-ridiculously-vain-it-comes-back-around-to-awesome theme music and busting people in the chops with superkicks that earn the superlative.  (Lest you feel bad for Sami in this regard, they gave him something he could skank to, and brought up the interesting question of 'Who's going to win when both guys are debuting new themes?')  So his toughness showed in what an eyeball-popping retinue of moves Sami hit him with when everybody's favorite ginger had the upper hand.  You know a bit of the Zayn offensive: split-legged Asai suicidas, Steamboat presses, and Blue Thunder bombs.  Any man who gets victimized by the nearly flawless NXT debut of the double pumphandle Orange Crush and lives to tell the tale deserves to win the match, even if by hinky means; Sami went to polish him off with the Legitimate Japanese Businessman's Kick only to have Tyler cover up and his forearms act as cup protectors. Why wasn't Sami wearing a cup?  Because no wrestlers wear them, for silly time-honored reasons.  The cost for him failing here was the referee checking the situation before Tyler put a Beauty Shot in that red beard and earned/stole the #1 contendership in a match so good there needed to be a minute's worth of replays afterwards.  Dan Engler made the right call (has it been mentioned the production team ruled your face with this show yet?  Maybe once?) but it leaves wiggle room and keeps Sami in his lovable loser role.  Not only that, but another Breeze/Neville match in a main event position has the high possibility of earning another MOTYHMC candidate as this one was, and again it could be somewhere in one's top three of the night completely dependent on personal bias.

And maybe the match of the night was the Women's Title tournament finals.  It may sound shocking, but somehow having a Flair and a (partial) Hart in a WWE ring with a Championship up for grabs lead to a quality match.  Kris Kristofferson had to enjoy what he was seeing, as the grizzled vet NattieKat and virtual newcomer Charlotte got between the ropes and put on a match that turned the heads of any casual viewer while causing the diehards to shake their heads at the fact that only down Full Sail way in WWE purview can someone be an attractive wrestler who happens to be a woman rather than the inverse sulfur pumped into the lungs of the viewers on the big shows.  At the risk of showing age, it was refreshing to see a match start off with a bulk of chain wrestling -- on par with and probably better than that in the main, though, again, your mileage may vary -- and the crowd being into it without any derogative chants breaking out.

Maybe they were too much into the swank update of Charlotte's old theme adding a club beat and the official theme song of the family into a new one for Recognition or wondering who Charles Robinson bribed to get to referee this spot, but let's be honest: when one thinks of awesome women on the roster Charlotte and Nattie aren't in the immediate rattling off of names.  Paige is the pretty goth destroyer of worlds, Emma's the bubby Aussie who somehow stops being ditzy enough long enough to perfectly execute a Muta Lock, Bayley is loved by everybody with a soul, and so on and so on and la da di dah.  But this match should go a long way towards changing that.  After all, it's not every day a This Is Awesome chant breaks out during a ladies match: unless you're an NXT Network Special, in which case it always does.  Funny how that works.  Lest you think this was all awesome reversals, rereversals, rerereversals (and yes, this could keep going) this also featured some nasty slaps, dragon screw takeovers to the floor, backpack Stunners and top rope moonsaults that were more beautiful in execution than in accuracy.

Charlotte is her father's daughter, after all, but maybe she shouldn't be doing things as the resident Regina George that make a knowledgeable viewer go "Baby, no."  Then again, maybe she isn't that Plastic anymore: she did her work without cheating, even managed to get on a Sharpshooter after surviving Nattie's and reversing it into the figure four in the most notable and lengthy part of the match before using those weakening the Total Diva to set her up to Bow Down To The Queen and earn her first title in the center of the squared circle.  No Ric, no Sasha, not even so much as a thumb to the eye.  Charlotte took the hits and despite not facing off with Paige - which, now that we know she can probably hang on that level that should happen as soon as is feasibly possible - earned her way to the belt.

It was the sort of crumbled-up cookie things on the sundae of a great match that could make North Carolina come on and raise up before taking off its suit jacket and spin it round its head like a helicopter.  She cried, Nattie cried, Ric cried, and everybody hugged everybody before the first lady of the Dungeon she raised Charlotte's arm.  There was even a new iteration of the vintage Flair For The Gold sign in the front row with the sequins on a black background.  About the only thing that could ruin the moment is if you were some kind of snarky Internet columnist waiting for Charlotte to break this surfeit of goodwill and sportswomanship with a belt shot to the face, but what sort of me could've possibly been waiting for that black stiletto to drop?

Even if it had, it wouldn't've marred the show especially after another match that ridiculously good: with the Ascension making work of the well-intentioned but ultimately outclassed luchadores and Adam Rose kicking it off by finally getting pinfall retribution on Camacho not a single beat of the program was off.  Even Rusev getting interrupted by Mojo Rawley gave us a platform to watch Regal's gleeful schadenfreude over the former football player's Hacksaw impersonation get turned awry with Rusev kicking him in the face before locking him into a pair of Accolades, throwing off vintage one-liners like "I'm glad I'm English at the moment, how embarrassing for you Americans" and proving his influence on Cesaro by noting what a lovely country we had and too bad we couldn't pull off a population transplant.  You felt like he was a beat away from cackling "His ass didn't just get kicked, it stayed kicked!'  

To use a Waltonism, flow plus meaning equals performance.  From their opening video package reminiscent of the Kid Rock Desire epic of 2002 but distilled down to its essence in under half a minute to Neville shrugging off Tyson's churlishness to celebrate in front of the fanbase, NXT was so in control of the flow they might as well as have been clad in sunglasses fighting off all other contenders -- yes, even their own big brothers and sisters on Mondays and Fridays -- one handed while staring at their other hand in amazement.  The matches all had meaning, met or superceded expectations, and for once Hunter may've just been speaking truth to power instead of merely enhancing his coffers when he made his note that NXT was taking over the world.

I, for one, heartily welcome our new Full Sailian overlords.  Especially if we're on track to get six events on this level come 2015.