Friday, May 15, 2015

Impressions from the First Philly NXT Show

They tore the house down last night
Photo Credit:
NXT has been doing house shows ever since it was a brand, and it had three under its belt outside the state of Florida this year with shows connected to the Arnold Classic and WrestleMania. But the first house show in its existence as a fully touring brand outside its cradle area happened last night in Upper Darby, PA, which is right outside of Philadelphia. It was an accurate test of what kind of show NXT would run outside of its base in Florida a somewhat good reflection of the crowds it would attract. And the people running the show made a hell of a statement by putting on Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte as the main event.

Kevin Owens is still the NXT Champion, and nominally, in any promotion with a mainstream bent, as long as that titleholder has a comparable opponent in terms of card position, that match goes on last. Women rarely headline shows like these, and with Owens defending against Finn Bálor and Tyler Breeze rather than someone like Solomon Crowe or even one of the non-over meatheads like Baron Corbin, Bull Dempsey, or Mojo Rawley, having Banks and Charlotte go on last was a strong statement towards how this administration views its wrestlers.

Would it have been a stronger message if that main event slot came at a Takeover event? Sure. One thirsting for true equality should always want more until the equilibrium is reached, but at the same time, noting the steps along the way isn't a bad thing to do either. While women, Banks especially, have main evented Floridian house shows, to get the ball on such a historic stage when their forebears had not been given an inkling of that opportunity has to be special. Banks and Charlotte obviously treated it as such, because they blew the crowd away with their epic performance. Their match seriously was one of the top three matches I've ever seen in person, and it was the best one that didn't happen in that crucible of 2011 Chikara, when the goddamn company was on fire at every show it produced. It even seemed to mean something to the other women on the roster, as a few of them, including Bayley, peeked from behind the curtain to watch the action live.

The show aside from the thunderously tremendous main event had so many great things going on. Owens continued to be the consistently best live performer I've ever witnessed, whether it was holding court in the ring, or even ejecting Creepy Craig and Jojo from their seats and watching Bálor and Breeze duke it out. Breeze bumped like a goddamn pinball during the entire match. Tye Dillinger came out working a new "Perfect Ten" gimmick that had my heart bound up the moment he held up his first placard, and Crowe gave a performance requisite for the homecoming reaction he received. Bull Dempsey mimicking Taz while soaking up the raining boos he got was even entertaining.

The roster came with its working boots on for a house show, and it showed why people will flock to see something that the main company has branded a developmental territory (even though I still swear it is more the premium brand right now because of the talent within and the status as a Network seller). And the roster's performance gave off a sense of close-knit unity. Bayley tagged with Alexa Bliss, who absolutely got hammered by boos in the intros and that didn't abate through the match even though she was almost as good as her friendship-loving beloved partner during it. After the match, Bayley took extra care to make sure that she deflected her crowd love towards Bliss. They know the score, and they seem protective of each other, which isn't essential for a good show, but is still awesome to see.

Of course, the night wasn't without its hiccups. The crowd was subjected to a dreadfully boring extended Baron Corbin squash of Rhino. Dana Brooke struggled again, although I admit she's starting to show signs of improvement. And of course, I'd be remiss without mentioning the crowd rearing its ugly head with a grotesquely homophobic "Blake sucks Murphy" chant directed at the hated heel Dubstep Cowboy team and the continuation of the horribly racist "Sasha's ratchet" chants. In both cases, other members of the crowd rallied against those gross chants, but the fact that they're even started is troublesome for the kind of crowd NXT attracts. It's not just a Philly thing, although Philly fans need to check themselves before they wreck themselves. These awful chants have also happened at other venues, included the sainted Full Sail University.

But even with the warts, the show lived up to its historic billing and was an enjoyable experience overall. One show is not a great sample size, but it's a great start for the future of NXT as a touring brand that can not only give fans in locales disparate from the state of Florida a chance to view the nearly-ready-for-prime-time wrestlers at the top of the pecking order, but to give wrestlers like Corbin, Brooke, and Dillinger chances to either improve on their fundamentals in front of a live crowd outside the home base or in Dillinger's case, to workshop new gimmicks to prepare for television to hit the ground running. All in all, it was a historic show that I'm glad I was in the audience for.