Thursday, March 26, 2015

Best Coast Bias: Survive And Advance

Just a family man doin' the best he can
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In the middle of NXT history being made, with Finn Bâlor pushing NXT Champion Kevin Owens to his limits and beyond in a four-segment main event, the Full Sailors chanted "Better Than RAW" as they are wont to do from time to time.

Luckily for WWE brass that they put this on as the last match in NXT's March 2015 and not, say, the third or fourth in their April 2015 lest they would've inspired Better Than WrestleMania chants. That still remains to be seen, however. What's known is this: outside of a few plot advancing segments in the back and quite a few replays, this was a two-match show; both Kevin Owens and Finn Bálor had the backs to carry it forward into appointment television.

Both men got pre-match chatter in before video packages showcasing their talents, but these four things were most notable for Owens wanting the more demonic/warpainted iteration of Finn and a terse Bálor saying he didn't need it to beat the Champ before coming out for his first NXT title shot without it but still with the full-throated support of the audience. You knew it was going to be good when even before Jojo made the pre-match introductions that both men looked borderline possessed and hate-filled on their respective ways out and that they were getting something in the neighborhood of 25 minutes in which to show off their wares.

Since this is the kind of thing you should be watching instead of reading about, let's just highlight a few things that made this a MOTY nominee and the sort of thing one would automatically ping as rewatchable even while it was going on.

The benefits and detriments of taping in a vacuum. The crowd was lively, to be sure. Considering how much of the match was Owens proving his ring general...ness? hood? with enough chinlocks to choke a horse in addition to the length of it, it could've easily devolved into a snore or the crowd going into business wholly for itself. Yet they were there any time Bá needed a well from which to draw up to rally himself, and outside of a round of sarcastic applause when Owens locked on the final chinlock of the match hewed to a (for them abnormal) traditional alignment of white hat cheering and black hat jeering. That being said, as far into the match as the crowd was, this was February's crowd that got this match at some point, and a lot of NXT's big fight feel comes from the live crowd from their live events seeing spectacular matches and reacting both for ill and for well. It's not like this is the last time the Irish artist formerly known as Prince and the French Canadian Murder Bear are going to ram heads down in Florida, but next time they do they should probably get the benefit of doing it Bill O' style in front of one of the most rabid fan bases in North America.

A lack of color. Having clearly separated Bálor into con and sin war paint occasions, it loomed over the proceedings for the entire show and set up a question or four with regards to the inevitable rematch(es). Could he have beaten Owens with it on considering he was an injured body part away from doing so here? Why would he do it for these important non-title matches but not one for the Big X itself? Was his not doing it his succeeding at winning the mind games war as Corey Graves posited by not letting the champion dictate terms, or did the champion have enough of a gleam in his eye to pull off some Vizziniesque business by letting him think that but knowing that with it on Finn's seemed nigh invulnerable since he arrived? And considering the homicidal look he sported waiting on Owens' arrival and on the way down, does he really need it again until he gets another crack at the belt?

Is Kevin Owens going to make the top 10 of the TWB 100 in 2015? Of course he is, don't be silly. (Ed. Note: If he's not #1, either Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, or Daniel Bryan made epic pushes, or Owens will have retired/gotten injured. Making that call now.)

Sorry--are both Kevin Owens and Finn Bâlor going to make the top 10 of the TWB in 2015? Interesting. Considering this is the most old-school match to happen in quite some time with regards for the Japanese import it's entirely possible; it's not probably going to end up the signature Finn match of the year but it shows just how damn good he is at milking the crowd's ardor for maximum sympathy. In the beginning he can't even get out of a side headlock to further underscore the size discrepancy between the two, but by the end even with his injured leg that he hurt on a tope con hilo to the floor? When he goes up for the Coup de Grâce there was a palpable moment of something roughly akin to precognitive shock. Maybe they'd somehow managed to keep a secret in 2015 qhwn it came to the pro graps; maybe until Owens recovered, Bálor would get in a quick run with the belt. For a guy who spent about 20 minutes out of 25 getting bieled around, his leg worked over Flair-style, and other indignities that a jerk like KO would (of course) make him suffer when he was on then it was on to paraphrase the Pharcyde.

Don't give away the store, but what was the best part of the match? In the final portion, Owens counters something and turns it into actual jaw-dropping offense. Finn kicks out of this somehow even though it looked like that counter alone was going to do to him what the apron powerbombs did to Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville. It strained credulity, but in a you-almost-can't-spell-Bálor-without-BAMF kind of way.

The rest of the show wasn't that stratospheric, but fortunately it didn't need to be. The Dubstep Cowboys (™ HolzerInc) further drove a potential wedge between the Bridge and Tunnel boys and Carmella by giving her some bling as an apologia for accidentally (?) bumping into her last week, something the former hairdresser noted loudly had never been done by either Enzo Amore or Big Cass. Emma became the biggest villain in the history of the wrestling industry by slapping Bayley in the face when she brought up how good it was to have the support of the NXT fanbase. Slapping Bayley?! What's the matter, Ems, there wasn't an operating wheat thresher around for you to dump a basket of puppies down? Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow.

Moreover, the evening started with another successful title defense for the Boss on this bootleg Night of Champions as she made Alexa Bliss tap out to her signature modified crossface. Bliss showed increasing capabilities and babyface fire even through her slight missteps, and again apparently NXT is the only chapter under Stamford employ to show a good guy or woman who can show frustration and get more aggressive (most notably after a crushing sunset bomb out of the corner that got her closest to the victory) without falling all the way down the well into smacktalk, disparagement, sneering and the like. You know, the things you do when you do it like a Boss. It does seem odd that they've burned through the Charlotte rematch already and with Bliss dispatched and Bayley off to do the Lord's work in setting Emma on fire and roasting marshmallows over her, Sasha Banks is very close to coming off to being a queen in a barren kingdom.

Yet somehow that seems to be more of a slight concern than something to say grace over. Kevin Owens has cleared out everybody in his path, and yet nobody thinks his reign is going to continue on unfettered and without opposition. Banks will line somebody else up in her sights, and KO will find himself with his hands full once he recovers from his surgery. Hell, he had his hands full with this week's title defense, and he survived that however narrowly. It's the fact he absolutely compelled and dominated the screen in doing so that makes NXT that special little oasis in the desert WWE can feel like its making their hardcore fanbase wander through sometimes.