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2.24.2010

Notes From An Angry Mark On WWE NXT

It's been a long time since I've written one of these columns, but it's safe to say WWE NXT offered me some inspiration tonight. It's not all bad though - in fact I'm going to try to take a "fair and balanced" approach to what works about NXT and what doesn't, and unlike Fox News when I say that I actually mean it. Let's start with the positives.

* The truth is that while the history behind the name ECW meant something, the actual product being CALLED ECW in 2010 meant absolutely nothing.

Some would argue the brand went out with a whimper and not a bang last week, but one look at the ratings would tell you it had already done that a long time ago. What we got last week was a mercy killing, and trust me it's for the better.

With a new name, a new logo, and a new attitude wrestling on Tuesday nights actually has a chance to mean something. History can now divide ECW into three distinct eras - Eastern Championship Wrestling, the original "Extreme" ECW and the third and final WWECW. Let the comparisons be made, let the books be written, but more importantly let us all move on.

* While ECW on SyFy may have claimed to be a third WWE brand, it was at the end little more than a developmental program that aired on Tuesday nights featuring a few veterans (Christian, Goldust, Regal) and a lot of up and coming WWE prospects (Yoshi, Ryder, Bourne).

Thanks to the name change WWE has done away with the false pretense that this brand is somehow equivalent to Raw or Smackdown and that it should have a world title. Nothing beats a little honesty and NXT is nothing if not honest. From here on we've got eight guys from developmental getting TV time paired with eight established WWE superstars. I'm fine with that.

* Everybody that was ever established on ECW in the past (Punk, Morrison, Swagger, et cetera) moved on to Raw or Smackdown and did fine, so hopefully the last of the WWECW up-and-comers will move on too. If not then why not have them wrestle the "rookies" of NXT? The "mentors" can score their prospects based on how they do against guys who have already earned a spot on the WWE roster because of their performance on the last C show.

Give the rookies a chance to prove themselves against guys they believably have a chance to beat. The ones who perform the best can earn their way up to challenging their "mentors" or the handpicked opponents they bring in.

* Last but not least somebody give Michael Cole an award for most effective heel turn for the month of February. Let's face it, half of the internet already hates this guy and his "vintage" commentary on Raw, even though Cole pretends to be oblivious to it all. With a new show and a fresh start Cole can switch gears, turn up the volume, and play off that hatred to an unprecedented degree.

That's exactly what they're going for and don't kid yourself for a minute that's not the point when Cole talks about Daniel Bryan wrestling in high school gyms in front of 50 people. They know that's not the truth, and so do you. The results are in folks - Michael Cole talking shit about the rookies on the show pisses people off. It will be that much more meaningful for a "rookie" to impress a condescending heel announcer, giving out begrudging respect for a great performance, than it will for two happy-go-lucky commentators to sing the praises of up-and-coming WWE wrestlers trying to break in. Everyone hates him anyway, so this is a role Cole was born to play.

That leads me to the negatives of WWE NXT, which in a few cases are the coin flip of the positives.

* If ECW was a glorified developmental program which somehow made its way onto television thanks to a loaned acronym, NXT isn't even that. Much like the XFL, NXT is a name that really means nothing, not to mention it shows Vince McMahon has an unhealthy obsession with the letter X. They can claim it just means "NeXT" sans the E, but Steve Jobs already tried that 25 years ago.

His computers while innovative didn't sell very well, and neither do the rookies on this show. Yoshi Tatsu at least looked ready for the big leagues when he beat Shelton Benjamin. Heath Slater doesn't look ready to leave a barn full of hay. Only two guys on this show stand out - Otunga (the best heel of the bunch) and Bryan (the best babyface by far) - the rest look like FCW's not-ready-for-primetime players.

I don't honestly know which I dread more - having to watch Barrett wrestle or listening to him cut promos. I watch British TV regularly and have mates in Nottingham and still had to rewind three times to figure out he said "bare knuckled fighter."

* There's no discernible point to this whole exercise. I already postulated a possible way to "score" the rookies in the plus side of this column. I honestly don't expect WWE to listen to me or my idea, but they'd damn well better come up with something. Vince McMahon spent so much time hyping this show up as "new and innovative" and right now it's neither - it's ECW with a change of name and roster and so far neither of those changes are a proven winner.

It would be INNOVATIVE to grade wrestlers on their promos, ring presence and actual matches then reveal the scores to the audience. It would be INNOVATIVE to make wins matter in either a real or kayfabed way. Make us believe the rookies need the wins to either keep their spot in NXT or just to avoid getting beaten up by their mentors. It would be INNOVATIVE to see their real life outside this show, not just watch their video package promos.

* Speaking of which, what happened to the idea of blending pro wrestling and reality television on NXT? I'm not saying we should go back to the original WWF Tough Enough... oh wait, maybe I am. I ENJOYED Tough Enough. It's one of the few reality TV shows that I've ever given a shit about. Okay obviously in 2010 it's too late to go all the way back to that formula, but there's no reason not to borrow from it a little. If Michael Tarver is going to tell us he slept in a car and ate cheese sandwiches just to get his break, why not show us that?

Make the rookies go on field trips. Have the cameras follow them on a house show loop in and around FCW's stomping grounds. Show us the life of a developmental wrestler - the tiny crowds, the crappy gyms, the shitty food, the car breaks down and you have to walk five miles down the interstate to get gas in the pouring rain. Tell me that's not more compelling television than a solid hour of "mentors" yelling at "rookies." You can do that too but mix it up a little bit - otherwise you're just putting guys on TV who we can't emotionally connect to.


* And that really is the only reason Otunga and Bryan stand out amongst this entire crop - they've already as much as admitted the latter is the "King of the Indies" and even those who never saw him in ROH or Japan can figure out he's not a wrestler born yesterday. It's kind of sad to watch him pretend he CAN'T cut a promo when I know he can, but at least he doesn't have to fake his way around the ring.

Otunga's heel video package and lightning quick squash set him apart from the rest, but it also serves to point out these other guys just don't stand a chance of getting over. I'm not sure that's the tone you really want to set on the debut show - two stars and six nobodies. Darren Young had no credibility going into tonight's show, now he has LESS. It's going to be an uphill battle to make anyone give a shit when even his mentor doesn't.

Maybe that dynamic can mean something in the future but it's still a bad sign when you look like a jobber on a show full of jabronis to begin with. Then again it may be that they only care about Bryan and Otunga getting over out of this experiment and everybody else is cannon fodder - if so it sucks to be them.

So that's it in a nutshell - WWE NXT is a show that in some ways really does shake things up and in other ways feels like the same old shit with a fresh coat of paint. I'd rather it be more the former than the latter but to get there is going to require a whole lot of work. If the show is one hour of developmental league matches intercut with promos for Raw, Smackdown and the next PPV then it's no better than ECW and perhaps in some ways worse.

If the show truly embraces the eight "rookies" on the brand, lets the audience in the arena and at home get to know them better, and then gives them a chance to earn their keep it might just work. Right now I'm willing to give the show one thumb up out of two, with that one wavering a little between up and down. The next NXT needs to live up to the promise of innovation, and if not, there's always a promotion called EVOLVE where wins and losses do matter and the roster of talent is a lot less bush league even though they're not on TV.


2 comments: on "Notes From An Angry Mark On WWE NXT"

Anonymous said...

I fully believe what Joey styles said and what Donnie said on the show.

Cole's shit is a worked shoot - he truly feels that way because hes a wwe that knows nothing about Danielson. So WWE puts him in that spot because it will sound most real coming from a guy who really feels that way.

Helix said...

I didn't realize Danielson was so small until I saw Mizanin and Jericho towering over him.