Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Best Coast Bias: Poring Reigns

Say yeah
Photo Credit: WWE.com




Honestly, how dare NXT do this to us. The End, indeed. Only one possible Match of the Year candidate for the entire two-hour Network Special? Don't they know what's supposed to happen to their viewership? We're supposed to be elevated to such a plane that the concepts of time and space themselves immolate and we feel like God Herself cradled us to Her bosom. But no. Not this time -  instead we got a merely above-average wrestling show with five good to great matches.

It's enough to make you want to preface all your comments with a sniff followed by a "Well, actually..."

But to do so would give especially short shrift to the evening's best match, a rematch for the NXT World Tag Team Championships from Dallas featuring American Alpha defending the straps against the Revival. Inarguably the best tag match in NXT's brief but illustrious history, this match had four of the best at their best in a match that seemingly went by in a eyeblink instead of the three segment special that it would've constituted on a regular episode of NXTV. To the surprise of no one, when it came down to the mat based part of things the champs had the advantage; when things edged more towards the clubberin' side of the ledger, the proud Southern boys perpetually ready to fight had their side of the scale weighing more. Early on it seemed Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson would be stymied in their attempt to become the first two-time belt holders in Full Sail history, as Alpha not only deftly used their amateur backgrounds to keep them off base but even won a Pier 4 in the early stages of the match.

The tandem offense blossomed late, with both Alpha and Revival managing to have a moment where their illegal man took out the other team's only to have the legal man survive the count right at the death. It looked for all intents and purposes that Jason Jordan's increasingly signature finishing run off of his hot tag was going to lead he and Gable to yet another victory, but Dawson saved Dash from a Grand Amplitude and then Jordan ran right into the jaws of a Shatter Machine. Gable's save attempt would've been successful if there was a four-count rule in wrestling. You could audibly hear the air being sucked out of the building, actual gasps, or probably both. Sure, they'd cheated a couple of times during the match, but there was no doubt about that ending. They'd made their own magic and flashed more than a little brain to go with their brawn, and as a result they were more than happy to let every Full Sailor know that they'd made good on their pre-match words. It was almost hard to believe that this was the same team that'd just been clearly bested by Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano in that very location the week prior, and commentary (shrewdly?) didn't note that at all during the low-key post-match celebration the once and current champions were having on their way to the back. And as for the former champions?

They'd barely gotten a second to pull themselves up and hear the vociferous approval from the crowd when two large unsmiling men dressed all in black looking like baby Mengs ambushed them both, taking turns splatifying Jordan and Gable. Going by the name the Authors of Pain on NXT house shows, their identities didn't get that through the course of the ensuing beatdown...something that only got curiouser and curiouser when Paul Ellering seemingly came off of the side of a milk carton to stand at the entryway and approve the assault from his ostensible new charges. It does kind of make sense in a "time is a flat circle" sort of way: you dress and act like the Steiners, at some point the modern day reiterations of the Samoan Swat Team, the Road Warriors, or apparently both are going to want to tee off on you.

But while those four men were hard at work stealing the show, what would've been all over the metaphorical marquee was the main event, a title rererematch while still being a first in NXT, a steel cage match for the NXT World Championship - Samoa Joe/Finn Bálor IV. While we didn't get the bloodletting that occurred in Dallas, it was still a violent affair as it should be. Having learned his lesson in Lowell, Bálor rode shotgun with the Daemon that'd helped him rack up a 2-0 Takeover record against his former friend; the newish champion's response in characteristic defiance was to shut the door on the steel himself. No chinlocks, no wristlocks, no Gablesque hold and counterhold here; this wasn't ultraviolence but it damn sure had to hurt. Joe was more than willing to throw the Irishman into the cage on several occasions and got lucky when a kick knocked him groggy and he went slump over the top rope as a result, a rope that because of that impact shot up and got the former titleholder right in the shamrocks. Bálor fought hard and with anger -- you could see it most subtly in the moment when he stepped on Joe's head on an escape over the top attempt and most viscerally in his finishing run. But as he'd survived Joe's Muscle Buster previously, Joe would barely kickout of a Coup de Grace late in the match. With the crowd chanting "Up!" it looked like he was contemplating delivering it from that height for what surely would've been a killing blow...yet it was the champion who killed the undefeated run of the Daemon emphatically dead with an avalanche Muscle Buster that'll probably be in NXT highlight reels for years to come. That pretty much ended the show, with Joe triumphant but staggering to the back under his power while the medics got in between the ropes and checked out Bálor. No alarms, no surprises, and to the astonishment of more than one fan, no Nakamura. But more about the reigning King in a beat or two.

After him and before the main, the World Women's Championship was on the line in possibly the hardest-hitting match that belt's been privy to in another really good match as Asuka defended against the red-hot ascendant Nia Jax. Six months prior, Rocky's cousin had had a shot at the belt at Takeover: London and essentially got outsmarted and barely lost. But as she's gone up the ladder her skillset's come along to match, and it seemed entirely possible that Asuka had gotten a moment of glory in Dallas that wasn't going to be replicated in Orlando. (Corey Graves, as usual and on point to the decimal, brought this point up before the special lighting and pre-match intros by illustrating what'd just happened to American Alpha. An announcer who knows what they're talking about and can connect the invisible throughlines of an entire program. You'd think this would be more commonplace.) Asuka seemed more than willing to play Jerry to Jax's Tom, but when she inevitably got caught a whomping ensued. Asuka tried a handful of submissions and while they did damage it wasn't nearly enough to incapacitate the fellow San Diegan the way she'd won the championship. Good thing every time she strikes a woman it sounds like a package of ground beef falling unimpeded out of a freezer. Jax went out metaphorically kicking and literally screaming, but after a series of backfists and kicks, down she went. The medics checked on her, but it was hard to tell if she was dazed due to the brutality or the fact that the title had eluded her yet again; Asuka was reveling in the fact she'd survived and won, cradling her title like a castaway clutching to a life raft.

If that wasn't the most interesting match going into the evening, it had to be the one prior to it in which Austin Aries faced off against the Greatest Man That Ever Lived* (*possibly) in Shinsuke Nakamura. Literally starting off together in consecutive matches in Dallas, the former multi-time multi-place World Champion could hear and see himself being liked and cheered--he just wasn't being revered and deified as Swagsuke was. So without outright donning a black hat at least of yet A Double started going back to some of the elements that'd helped him make his name all over the globe. You could see the familiar smirks and sneers pick up in past weeks, and his celebrated cape started accompanying him into his matches. Familiar accoutrements aside, they still didn't get at the crux of the puzzle he was up against solving vs. Nakamura, even with a resume possibly longer than his wingspan, he was in an underdog's position going in and might have to wrestle the perfect match to get a victory.

Austin Aries being Austin Aries, that's what he did.


It says something that he thought an apron Death Valley Driver (a) nope, not a typo and b) how was this not the craziest move of the night?!) still might not be able to dethrone the King and he went Heat Seeking to further frost the cupcake, but unfortunately for him either due to luck or skill Shinsuke was absent this time and he went fuh-ly-ing into the barricade like a Hitchcock bird into a phone booth panel; Nakamura would literally win the match three moves later. Aries countered a lot of signature moves and controlled the vast majority of the match only to end up counting the lights with the undefeated pinning him in the middle of the ring. It was emblematic of the whole situation. Sure, Austin Aries is good. Really good. But he's not Shinsuke Bleeping Nakamura good, you know?

Taken with Andrade Almas' debut in the opening match over the beloved Tye Dillinger thus confirming that 100 is greater than 10, this was a tight two hours that cleared the roads for their singles champions, teased the incoming presence of Robert Roode Esq. in a brief backstage interlude, and never failed to be compelling television.

It says a lot about how far NXT's come in the past three years that "merely" doing that had a lot of their fanbase feeling Ariesesque instead of Nakamura style when it was all said and done.