Friday, January 15, 2016

Best Coast Bias: Contentiousness

Asuka vs. the field (including the laid-out Eva Marie barely in the shot): WHO YA GOT!?!
Photo Credit:

It was only a couple of weeks but to the diehards it might've felt like a couple of months.

NXT isn't some sort of placebo that acts as a cure-all for everything that's wrong with professional wrestling in general and at times WWE in specific but it is a readily accessible reminder of what joys can be wrought out of a simple thing done well. After their first proper episode of 2016, full of those simple things? A new top contendership holder was established in the women's division, with one for the gents coming down the pike in a fortnight, and even though nothing specific was announced, Dash and Dawson (perhaps to be renamed the New Throwbacks in this space) (Ed. Note: GREASE MULKEYS! Didn't you get the memo? We don't have memos? Well then. - TH) continued their dominance by nerfing the Ascension while the Bridge and Tunnel boys won the fan-based NXT Tag Team of 2015 award and promised that the next time they saw the Champions, by the end of it D and D would be title holders no more.

But the focus this show was where NXT rose to its greatest prominence in the past year - centered around and built on the Women's Division. Bayley still might be the plucky underdog and possibly the babyfaciest babyface to ever babyface up to and including the point where she says depending on the winner of the main event number one contendership battle royale she might dole out a hug and does so to Rich Brennan (Rich, if you had to do that awkward side hug, no jury would convict you), yet we also find out a few beats later on that her chokeout victory of Nia Jax back at Takeover: London means that the newcomer rookie with only that red mark on her otherwise impressive ledger hasn't been medically cleared yet, and as such couldn't go in the battle royale. There was no series of scrolling tweets about Bayley being so nice in alignment yet so vicious in the ring she could deliver lasting damage to someone seemingly twice her size, and Jax didn't Tout out her plans for her no doubt soon to be imminent revenge, and you got no hashtag BadassBayley or any of that other flimshaw; NXT is the gourmet four-star restaurant that's been around three decades, the luxury hotel with the fluffiest pillows the size of flatscreens and thousand count sheets.

It further showed as a la the Royal Rumble, in a trifecta of set pieces throughout the show, every competitor from cannon fodder like newcomer Aliyah and Deonna Purrazo (best known for being the victim of Asuka's rage when Dana Brooke and Emma attempted their main-roster tried-and-tested Distraction Finish on the Japanese Murder Doll a few weeks ago and her response was to roundhouse kick the woman closest to her so hard that if you slowed it down frame by frame you could see the soul leaving the body, and to Purrazo's credit she did lead with that by way of introduction before vowing to bury that memory by winning) to former top contenders like Alexa Bliss and Emma and up to and including lastly, Asuka, all vowed that the next time Bayley put up her millionaire's version of Izzy's title on the line, they would be the one standing across the ring from her ready to take it as their own.

The contretemps started before the royale was officially A Thing, and might've led to the best moments as Eva Marie preened too long during her entrance - since everybody didn't get full-on usual entrances for obvious reasons and in a fun note her appearance caused Corey Graves to change his pick from her to the previously entering Carmella - when she went to turn the arena All Red Everything, Asuka's entrance cut her off (as Graves changes his pick again you can almost hear Tom Phillips on commentary ((hi again, Tom!)) rolling his eyes) and after docilely following Eva down the ramp for a bit in a bit that should've had the Halloween theme playing as a backdrop, the joshiette threw the whole metaphorical can of Planters at the situation and bumped Eva at the ramp's crest before entering the ring. The Total Diva didn't take too kindly to that as you might expect, and out of everybody else in the ring she was the one to step up and get in Asuka's face even though every one else in the ring was facing the former Most Dangerous when the bell rang. As a result of getting in Asuka's face, Eva found her own nearly ROUNDHOUSED into the fifth row, thus sending the crowd into paroxysms of joy, Eva to the floor (but not over the top) holding her precious face, everyone else in the ring reacting like Gus Fring had just taken a box cutter to the throat of a loved one, and Asuka smiling and nodding at the lot of them as if to say "If anybody else wants to meet David Bowie, I'm giving away the tickets for the express." Emma went after Asuka, and thus it started in earnest.

The bout kept escalating, with the cannon fodder departing relatively quickly followed by Bliss getting in a couple of cheapshot eliminations. Carmella got beat on by Emma, and also ended up on the floor without going over, and then things really started getting interesting as Emma got pushed by yet still managed to eliminate Alexa (you know who probably would've won this thing is Mama Bliss where she AT tho) and then both Peyton Royce and Billie Kay, looking as close to a unit as they've ever been presented on NXTV went after the main roster alumnae with both Corey and Tom pointing out and filling in the uninitiated on the history that all three Aussies had together and against each other. This managed to do nothing but leave them as woodchips to get served up to Asuka's buzzsaw, even more so when Billie went after Royce in a moment after Asuka eliminated Emma but they'd managed to get the upper hand on the Artist Formerly Known As Kana.

Lest everyone get caught up too far in the moment and think Asuka punched her ticket, despite the crowd chanting moments earlier that they saw her, Eva slipped into the ring and bounced Asuka, this presumably being the opening link in the chain of the world's longest-to-complete suicide. The crowd foamed at the mouth and champed at the bit...

...but before anybody could punch through their laptops, Carmella goosed Eva Marie's gander (or is that the other way around?), tossed Concord's Finest, and took the contendership for herself. Bayley did end up showing up and hugging her friend before ceding the spotlight to the woman who'd just won the biggest match of her career.

Anyone who didn't love what this produced is fully dead inside and is probably shuttling back and forth between Iowa and New Hampshire. After all the rancorous feuds that put Bayley on a Championship-level, she gets to presumably have something closer to a friendly against a friend...but that belt is on the line, and silver will turn a good heart bad just as easily as gold has. Asuka's signature post-match Smilex ad was directed at Eva Marie, to be sure, but she also spared that look back in the ring when Bay was bigging up Carm and if anybody can pull off Brock's "my alignment is I WILL EAT YOUR SOUL, M[ATRIARCH FORNICATOR]" in the women's division we all know which roundhouse doling fear spawning machine can handle those duties. And whither Team Australia? Is this the thing that puts Peyton and Billie together as a unit and they face off against Emma and the DanaBot 5000? Could that happen only to see Emma sell out Brooke for ostensibly more competent backup and turn the latter into a babyface, something that seems perfectly viable for people who've seen her personality shine on season one of Breaking Ground? Eva Marie seems to be getting closer and closer to figure out a way to heist the title and take it to the Exclamation Point, but she also celebrated behind Jax's back when her muscle didn't get medically cleared--is that just Eva being Eva or the first breadcrumb in something else? Once Jax gets her official clearance and given the mere molecules she was away from crowning herself division queen out in London, you gotta figure she'll have something to say about the future of her surroundings and what (maybe even who) she wants to surround herself with.

And the suns that keep the rest of these planets orbiting, as they have since the summer, are the quietly toughened and ascendant Bayley and the Championship belt that's an eleven-year-old girl's promise to herself finally realized after years of mucking out the metaphorical stalls that provided the fuel to get to this point.

Again, thousand thread count on the sheets when it comes to Full Sail. You may know the Orlando building as something else, but what it served as at the beginning of the show before the ladies started tearing up shop was the place that warmly and loudly welcomed back William Regal, who after setting up the main brought forth the Sami Zayn, who got an even bigger and warmer reception in his own welcome backs. He reviewed his C.V. for everybody on a late pass, elicited awws from the crowd when he mentioned the warm and fuzzies he was feeling, and got down to the brass tacks at hand: as one of the people who helped make NXT the burgeoning juggernaut and hot brand it is, he wanted to proclaim his comeback served only one purpose, and that was to become the first man to hold the Big X twice.

Of course, such well-scrubbed and do-gooder earnestness abhors a black-hatted vacuum, so first Samoa Joe showed up to remind Sami that the last time that'd he'd gotten a title shot he'd gotten beaten within an inch of his life, an inch that only remained because Joe showed up. Secondarily to that point, given the within an inch that'd he'd beaten out of Finn Bálor at Takeover: London, maybe it was best for his shoulder and the rest of his person that he vacate the premises. That interruption was interrupted by Baron Corbin, out to remind Joe that London was a loss on his end while it wasn't on his, and that the Lone Wolf was the uncrowned NXT Champion. Joe shot back that certain chokeouts back in Brooklyn meant that B should C his way out of the conversation and leave it to the grown folks talking. As he left the ring, Sami encouraged Joe to try his wares, and since things follow a logical progression here the still-in-the-ring Corbin dropped Zayn from behind before realizing face-to-face warfare wasn't his spot and boot-to-face was Zayn's; when Joe tried one of his signature blindsides that'd worked so well for the course of weeks on Bálor, Zayn - call it the lack of the emotional component that was the Bálor blind spot or just the fact a good guy or gal can have a brain down on team Black and Yellow - wheeled around and caught Joe trying to enter the ring, hand wrist-deep in the metaphorical cookie jar.

Regal's response to this later in the show was to make a number one contendership triple threat in a fortnight, and as the Champion and every possible challenger stated themselves, they all raise a good case. Most importantly, whether it be a hard-hitting match, Corbin's full-fledged elevation to the grown-up table, or a Bálor/Zayn match that should have executives seeing dollar signs in their eyes and fans investing in ice packs to fend off priapism, whoever wins that wish-it-was-a-triangle match provides a compelling narrative even in the face of all the recent signings and the possibility that this could just be a placeholder until certain Phenomenonal backups and muscle show up, whether fer or agin the man picked out as 2015's overall competitor of the year by the fanbase.

One last point to make, in specific about this show and in general for NXT; damn right, presentation matters and better presentation matters more. Big brother puts on the Slammy Awards, draws them out over the course of an already overlong episode of RAW, and makes the people who should be wanting to see this sort of thing do things along the lines of trying to find a director's cut of Jupiter Ascending or Google "how to make a rum and bleach". Here? NXT only has a few awards, they all make sense, and it' s all handled in a short video package that shows the recipients receiving some swank looking bronzed ring bells (that'll probably be used by some nefarious heel in the future once one wins one of these), some posing with Proud Papa Triple H and General Manager His Lordship followed by a few words of gratitude to those in the audience who made it possible. For the record, Enzo and Cass got Tag Team, as aforementioned; Bayley won the Women's Competitor of the Year (even the phrasing, women's competitor by Gawd and you'd better not forget it); Takeover of the Year went to the Brooklyn effort, and even Sasha Banks managed to sound somewhat magnanimous accepting the kudos and other snack bars for the Match of the Year in Barclays separately from Bayley.

The difference is real, and even in the face of certain South of the Border flavored stiff competition coming their way in a fortnight – did you think that level of star power in a number one contendership match was some sort of a coincidence? – NXT is already setting themselves up to not just make Takeovers what they do every couple of months or so but what they'll do to an even bigger audience this year and their hearts as well.

Speaking as someone who got on early to this increasingly crowded bandwagon and is staying until the wheels fall off, it feels safe to say the only proper response to that turn of events is...well...didn't a little bearded guy do that once? It felt like that was a thing...