It's been a little while now since we last checked in with WWE NXT, so we're very excited to start talking about it again every week here at Cageside Seats.
Before resuming coverage with the second show of 2013, let's check in on what you might have missed. Quite a few NXT roster members have shown up on Raw and SmackDown recently; among the things that make the show such an interesting offering, is seeing where these newcomers came from, how their former homes address their promotion in-story, and scouting out who may get the call next. (See what we did there?)
NXT began as a uniquely pro wrestling version of a reality show, with "Rookies" competing in challenges and matches to earn a spot on the main roster. All of the competitors were, in actuality, already signed to WWE contracts.
The first season produced one of the more memorable angles of the current era in the Nexus, and launched several careers of varying degrees of success; including current Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett, former World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan, and former Tag Team Champions David Otunga and Heath Slater.
The third season focused on Divas and was ultimately responsible for bringing Aksana, Kaitlyn and AJ Lee into our lives. Another season was delivered to us strictly online, lasted for over a year, and the concept ran its course.
However, in May of last year, as part of their developmental system overhaul, Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) became NXT Wrestling, with NXT as its flagship program. Currently, the show is produced in Florida at Full Sail University and broadcast online via the HuluPlus web-streaming service.
When last we here at CSS left the crew in Orlando, FL (not this one), Seth Rollins was the NXT Champion and Jinder Mahal had recently won a tournament to become the number-one contender. Vickie Guerrero had offered five-thousand dollars to anyone who could put Big E Langston out of commission, as retribution for his turning down her services as manager.
Furthermore, Kassius Ohno was in the midst of a long-term feud with babyfaces Trent Barreta and Richie Steamboat... Bray Wyatt had appeared with his acolyte Luke Harper, and his motives were as mysterious as his southern-fried sermonizing was creepy... and brunette Brit Paige was involved in an actual storyline with Alicia Fox, which was designed to get her character over as the anti-Diva, by contrasting her with Fox.
As a means of bringing us all up to date as to what has happened on the last eight or so shows, let's check-in with the principals:
Despite his increased role on the main WWE roster with The Shield, Rollins still holds the NXT Championship. Even after his debut with that group at the Survivor Series pay-per-view (PPV), he was portraying a Jeff Hardy-esque babyface on NXT. He retained his title in a nice match against Jinder Mahal (who worked the match in his 3MB gimmick, despite playing his Maharajah character during the build), before showing up with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns (in full Shield regalia mind you) last week for a title defense. That match ended in a compete schmoz, with The Shield cleaning house on the entire NXT locker room before Big E Langston showed up to scatter them. NXT Commissioner Dusty Rhodes then booked a title match for the Jan. 9 show between Rollins and Langston.
Big E Langston
One superstar has been trying to hunt down Langston in exchange for Vickie's five grand: Camacho has ambushed Langston with little impact, losing both one-on-one and handicap contests to the master of the five-count (Langston's popular finish on NXT was to so incapacitate his opponents that he would demand the referee count to five on his pinfalls, a la King Kong Bundy). Despite the Christmas recap episode revealing Langston had debuted at the TLC PPV as part of AJ Lee's heel turn, Langston was still being treated as a good guy on the last episode of NXT.
The man formerly known as Husky Harris, from the then still reality show-ish NXT Season Two and the Nexus re-load, has great presence and charisma, but there doesn't seem to be a coherent plan behind his growing flock, as of yet. Luke Harper (former independent big man Brodie Lee) and Rowan (a large, bald red-bearded fellow who was working a viking theme before hooking up with Wyatt) "follow the buzzards", along with their straight out of Cape Fear cult leader. But they have done nothing but talk and squash jobbers to date.
This indie darling, and former partner of a previous iteration of Antonio Cesaro's, is portraying a strange character on NXT: commentary puts him over as an intellectual world traveler, he wears large-framed hipster glasses for interviews, while rocking long hair and an unkempt beard; in-ring, he's stayed true to his pre-WWE character of the master striker, always looking for the knockout (a la his new monogram). He spent much of his early time on the show in a feud with uber-face Steamboat and his friend Baretta, a program from which he ultimately came out on the losing side. Since then, he's acting as the brains in his partnership with the newly re-packaged...
A South African countryman of NXT alum Justin Gabriel, Kruger had multiple reigns as a heel FCW Champion before being re-packaged as a Kraven the Hunter-type for his NXT debut. He works an entertaining strongman style, and is pretty polished on the mic as well, even serving on commentary for FCW while sidelined with a broken neck. He was hired by Ohno to "hunt" Baretta towards the end of that story, and the two have been tagging together in their most recent appearances on the show. He's also rumored to be a HHH guy, so we may see him on our TV screens sooner rather than later.
Graves plays a punk, and he's been getting a lot of airtime on the last handful of shows. He worked a good heel vs heel match with Rollins on the last episode, but prior to that, I haven't been blown away by what I've seen of him. Commentary talks up his MMA background and he goes for a lot of submission finishes in his matches. The character is supposed to be an anarchist, he's tatted up and wrestles in Doc Martin-looking boots, but he also has a Vanilla Ice haircut.
The other Rotunda brother on the NXT roster (Bray Wyatt is also IRS' kid), Dallas went from fightin' undersized babyface in the first episodes I watched, to a weird masochist character of uncertain alignment by the most recent episode. He gets a lot of screen time, but I have a hard time seeing him as anything other than an Evan Bourne/Justin Gabriel mid-card babyface.
O'Brian is working a deliciously evil, old-school gimmick in the tag team The Ascension (they seem to be some sort of supernatural alien marauders), but he's currently without a partner since his previous one was released after assaulting a police officer. The group has been feuding on and off with the Usos for a while and appeared for an ominous Titantron promo following one of their matches recently, but it's unclear if O'Brian has a new partner, or if this was taped prior to the release of his old one. He's no spring chicken, having been working in wrestling for more than ten years and on his second stint with the WWE, but I could see him making some noise with this gimmick, if he can find a stable partner.
There are a lot of other players on NXT: one of the aspects of the show that is most compelling is how it has a 1980's Saturday wrestling show feel to it, with lots of stories and characters being developed simultaneously in a variety of ways, and even its own core of jobbers/enhancement talent. I'm looking forward to following it routinely, and breaking it down with my fellow Cagesiders.
What do you think of NXT? What guys and gals currently working the Florida promotion are you most impressed by or hearing good things about?
One last thing about NXT - it has the tastiest theme song of any WWE show out there right now, don't you think?
See you back here later this week for NXT Results & Reactions!