While it wasn’t a weekly TV show like Raw and Smackdown, last night’s NXT Takeover II embodied a lot of what’s been missing from the flagship WWE shows.
The rookies hammered it home, as did the bookers and everyone else involved.
I am, by no means, a wrestling purist. If anything, in my creative approach, I always tried to look at wrestling as an action movie that played out live.
Meaning, the meat will always be the action scenes, but you’ll be so much more into it if you’re genuinely invested in the characters.
This is why Lethal Weapon stands the test of time, and The Marine and The Condemned don’t. Anyone can shoot a gun fight, but not everyone can make you care.
But, while it is important to know that character and story development are key, you cannot forget your endgame, your action scene… your wrestling match.
I believe this is one of WWE’s current problems. They are putting too much effort into their angles and non-wrestling segments, with two big consequences:
One: matches tend to lose meaning, which is evidenced by the general feeling around matches like Rusev vs. Ryder, among others.
Two: the product is made to suffer even more when your non-wrestling segments don’t deliver, which has frequently been the case, with wrestlers being thrown into poorly written dramatic and comedy segments. In other words, you’re featuring under-performed bad writing.
For me, this is a big reason why NXT nails it: they keep the in-ring product in the driver’s seat.
Sure, they do develop the characters, as you can tell when you take a look at stars like Enzo Amore and Tyler Breeze, but it’s all about winning to get up the ladder (or settle an intense personal beef).
The angles flush out their characters, but never without reminding us that their goal is getting the W.
While this is entertainment, NXT also still feels like a sport. A sport with entertaining characters.
Not exactly breaking news: Cole, Lawler and JBL make the show difficult to watch, by talking about anything other than what we’re seeing in the ring, sometimes even complaining about what we and they are watching.
(And yes, I’m aware that they are told to perform commentary like this. But that does not ease my pain.)
However, on NXT, commentary contributes to our immersion into the show.
Renee, Saxton and Phillips did play-by-play, gave their opinion on each match, the strategy of each participant, while putting over their ability and what they will do to emerge victorious.
This way, commentary becomes 2 things that it isn’t on RAW:
A) A friend to the audience, as the helping hand that guides us through the match and its story.
B) A friend to the performers, as the enhancement tool that puts them even more over, by remind us of the stakes involved in each match, the quality of who they’re facing, the obstacles one has to overcome to win and, for God’s sake, what they’re actually doing in the ring.
Go, NXT announcers!
Not a single thing happened without being carefully thought out and not a second of the show felt like a waste, as everything had a purpose.
3 title matches, 2 matches to get a wrestler over as a legit threat with a quick win, 1 potentially feud-ending Hair vs. Hair match and a debut/presentation.
All segments furthered a character and/or story, which is how you get to make Lethal Weapon, instead of The Marine 2.
On RAW, we frequently don’t understand why some segments are necessary and, most importantly, why a lot of talent shows up without much reason for their appearance.
Good wrestlers are not a rarity in the WWE environment, but good characters are.
With such a big team of creative people and so much TV and Network opportunities every week, WWE can afford to get (almost) everyone a storyline and some character development.
WWE have, in my heel opinion, the deepest talent pool they’ve ever had in its midcard and NXT, so there’s no time like the present for the creative team to up their game.
If that happens, the outcome will be the same level of anticipation as we had last night for Takeover. On a weekly basis.
Wrestling is anything but difficult.
Pair two performers, set up why they’re fighting (it’s either personal or competitive) and figure out how best to get everyone involved over (or, at the very least, further along in their development).
This is NXT. It doesn’t overbook, overthink or overpromote.
And WWE has gotten good at doing all three, as they keep:
– overbooking aka trying to protect wrestlers with over-elaborate finishes (all of Bryan’s losses to Orton)
– overthinking aka not recognizing who is getting over organically in a timely fashion (Fandango, Cesaro, Ziggler, Ryder,…)
– overpromoting, by repeatedly running the risk of force-feeding their flavors of the month to an audience who feels it coming, before they’ve legitimately decided if they’re going to back said flavor.
NXT has managed to steer clear of all these hazardous practices, which are major factors in viewer frustration.
The Florida-based show takes a simple approach, as wrestling should. No one on the card felt out of place and nothing felt forced.
As long as they can keep this up, NXT will keep its audience and, furthermore, grow it.
Keep it simple. Keep it awesome.
Was NXT Takeover II a home-run for you? What do you think the show can teach the other WWE products?