WWE Continues To Be Shown Up By Its Own Developmental Program
It’s the final WWE PPV of the year this weekend, but you wouldn’t know it given how badly it’s been promoted over the past few weeks. Thankfully, even though TLC is almost pre-determined to suck, we were also gifted a superb NXT PPV earlier in the week, to soften the blow from Sunday’s inevitable disappointment.
NXT Takeover [R]Evolution (pronounced “our evolution”, as opposed to “revolution”, because somebody though that was way cleverer than it actually is) was a fast, furious and consistently exciting PPV that belied its rubbish name to provide thrills, spills and even some tears. Kicking off with a pre-show, during which Corey Graves announced his retirement and quickly joined the announce team alongside the insufferable Alex Riley and a man who looks like baby Michael Cole, and knows about as much about wrestling, Rich Brennan, [R]Evolution wasted no time getting to the good stuff, opening with the debut of none other than Kevin Owens (nèe Steen).
NXT is quickly becoming a thorn in the side of the WWE, with certain fans hoping their favourites never move up the main roster lest the powers that be ruin them, and [R]Evolution is so much better than one of its’ big brother’s PPVs, it’s embarrassing. Even the vignettes are tighter, more dynamic, better-edited and refreshingly short. NXT wrestlers don’t have the time to play around because they’re there to take someone else’s spot, so everything, right down to the between-match promos, must be quick and to the point. It’s refreshing to not have to suffer through lengthy moments of filler just to get to the matches, although when they’re this good we could probably take it.
The Lucha Dragons defend their tag team championship belts against The Vaudevillains next, and considering both teams are majorly over right now, it’s a match so electric it’s a wonder none of them get a shock. The Vaudevillains do a great job of stranding Kalisto so he can’t tag, but even so he and his Lucha brother fly around the ring like monkeys, Riley describing them at one point as “human pinballs”, which is strangely apt considering it came from him. A wheelbarrow senton is particularly awe-inspiring, but this is a match in which every moment counts. The Luchas retain, but when the fight is this good, who cares?
Baron Corbin squashes Tye Dillinger in about a minute next, while looking less like his biker character and more like the singer in a really rubbish metal band. This is the one “meh” moment of the show, but that’s only really because everything else is so fantastic, so there’s not really too much cause for complaint. Bull Dempsey watches from ringside throughout, hinting the two may come to blows sooner rather than later. And, considering Corbin looks like Dempsey’s little brother, that’ll be pretty awesome.
Another tag team match follows, with The Ascension (who are due to move up to the main roster any day now) taking on Finn Bálor and Hideo Itami. There’s an absolutely massive pop for the Irishman as he enters, dressed like some sort of goth monster hybrid with his now-infamous face-paint finishing off the look perfectly. He takes his time getting to the ring, playing up to the theatricality of it all, and he and Itami unload on their opponents before the bell has even rung. They’re really pushing The Ascension tonight, because they’re moving up soon, with Corey Graves (who lost to them not too long ago) noting how they always seem to be on the same page no matter what. It’s difficult to know where they’re going to fit in on the main roster, especially considering the tag team division is almost non-existent right now, but it’ll be exciting to see them shake things up a little bit nevertheless.
Sasha Banks takes on Charlotte Flair (daughter of Ric) next, for the NXT Divas championship, showing up clad in her ex-BFF’s shirt, but customised to remove the reference to her famous father. She throws it at Charlotte to kick things off, and within moments their match is better than 90% of those of the main roster. Last Monday, Charlotte actually showed up on Raw, only to lose to Natalya in a matter of moments – a real bummer considering, even based off this evidence, the girl has a fire inside her.
Banks mocks Charlotte with a Flair strut, a “woo” chant and even a Figure-4 lock but Charlotte fires back with an Electric Chair that has her opponent noticeably terrified. There are some really cool spots in this match but, for those of us who regularly watch, and roll our eyes at, the main roster Divas, it’s enough just to see a match with length, actual skill and no shrieking – the crowd even chant “This is wrestling” at one point, just to drive it home. Banks attempts to pin Charlotte three times in a row, but Flair’s kid wins with the Natural Selection, retaining the championship. But, again, when the play is this good, who cares?
A sit-down powerbomb and a reverse hurricanrana by Neville are two of the highlights, but really every move is special in a match of this calibre – something that is further exemplified by the amount of replays that follow it. There’s a lovely moment when Neville goes to hit Zayn with the belt, he grabs it, looks at it for a bit, considers using it and then decides not to, refusing to go heel even at the most crucial moment. He eventually wins, of course, with a kick in the corner, and the crowd go absolutely nuts as he weeps silently, staring at the belt in his hands once again.
Following the match, there’s a flood of NXT faces into the ring, but when Neville returns, the mood changes significantly. Zayn reaches out for a handshake, but Neville kicks his hand away, instead embracing him in a bear hug that would bring even the most cynical viewer to tears. Zayn’s good buddy, and fellow Canadian, Kevin Owens turns up next, and Zayn hugs him so hard he bursts his stitches, which he earned following his match earlier. Owens begins to walk Zayn out of the arena, and everyone is in good spirits, when suddenly he turns on him, attacking him and chucking him into the side of the ring in what is easily one of the most shocking moments of the year.
It’s an explosive end to a spectacular PPV, one which only further drives home the fact that NXT is so much better than WWE right now. The NXT roster is packed with talent, wrestlers who are hungry for the opportunity to show off what they can do as opposed to running the ropes, reading their lines and picking up a cheque at the end of it. NXT Takeover [R]Evolution was everything that a great PPV should be; exciting, thrilling, shocking and even, at times, oddly poignant.
With TLC still to come, it remains to be seen whether the main roster can live up to the example of those still technically in training but, on this evidence alone, it seems that there’s only one PPV we’ll still be discussing in a year’s time, and it isn’t on Sunday.