The Network's here, which means that NXT ArRival is right around the corner. Realizing that not everyone has spent the last year watching the weekly show on Hulu (and before that HuluPlus, and before that YouTube), we're going to be running a few posts designed to get you ready for Thursday night's big show. And perhaps even more importantly, the weekly show that will follow every Thursday starting March 6th.
If you've subscribed to the Network already, WWEN has a nifty forty-five minute show up that kind of does the same thing as these posts. Now, I know I'm pretty, but that's hosted by Renee Young, so you'll probably want to check that out.
But I don't have to keep kayfabe, or answer to the WWE powers, so I can hopefully provide a little more critical insight, or at least clue you into some things about the players that cause me to mark out, or that make me feel really snarky.
Without further ado, in our first installment, let's look at the heroes and heroines of NXT:
Background: A high-flier signed from the indies, where he worked as PAC, the Newcastle native will challenge for the NXT title on Thursday night. Signed by WWE in the Summer of 2012, he debuted on NXT last January and quickly became the promotion's first tag titleholder with countryman Oliver Grey as the unfortunately boy band-sounding British Ambition.
Gray tore his ACL, and Neville chose Bo Dallas, the man he will face for singles gold at ArRival, as his new partner. This is rarely mentioned, however, as they lost their first defense before Adrian moved on to a program against The Wyatt Family with new partner Corey Graves.
Those two also won the tag titles, defeating Luke Harper and Erick Rowan and holding them for a few months before beginning a feud of their own. After that The Man That Gravity Forgot (as he has been known since his indy days) entered the championship program, where he has been cheated out of the title a couple of times before earning his latest shot in a Triple H-mandated beat the clock challenge.
Scouting report: Really strong with a great physique for an aerialist. Still working out his in-ring storytelling, as the WWE-style often makes it seem like he's just waiting to hit his finisher. That move, The Red Arrow, a beautiful corkscrew shooting star press that he hits perfectly every time, pretty much guarantees that he'll always be a babyface.
He's improved on the microphone, and sounds great with his deep voice and distinctive accent, but still has a ways to go if he hopes to be noticed for his talking on bigger stages.
Colin Cassady & Enzo Amore
Background: The first of several folks that WWE thought were heels that the fans at Full Sail Live turned into faces (and they were absolutely right to with these two New York/New Jersey guys), "The Realest Guys in the Room" are in a bit of a holding pattern due to a broken leg suffered by the smaller Amore. But that WWE has seen fit to keep him on screen even with a full lower leg cast and on his leopard print Hov-around is a sign of the money that they see in them.
Originally comedy jobbers for Mason Ryan, they are now comedy faces who just completed a program with Aiden English.
Scouting report: Both men were signed with limited experience in Northeast regional promotions, and will have more WWE seasoning than indy background before too long.
What little we've seen of Enzo in the ring paints him as a bump machine sparkplug. Big Cas, as the seven footer from Queens is known, is really green, but has taken a few steps while working solo during his partner's injury.
Where these guys shine is on the stick and with their gimmick. They're walking Looney Tunes characters, with big insults for their S-A-W-F-T rivals and a cantankerous affection for one another.
Background: A decorated scholar-athlete in college, Dean Muhtadi had a cup of coffee in the National Football League with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals before signing with WWE in 2012. A gym rat who got on Triple H's radar for his work habits, the company is reportedly high on Mojo Rawley, even if we haven't seen much to back it up on NXT to date.
He works a pure, old school face character who "doesn't get hyped," he "STAYS HYPED". His energetic ring entrance usually lasts longer than his matches, but he did get a chance to work a match against Dallas late last year where he showed some decent psychology.
One advantage that he has is the chant-ability of his catch phrase. That it has already caught on with the super-meta NXT faithful is probably a good sign.
Scouting report: Another guy that needs a lot of work before he should sniff a WWE ring. At this point, he basically works the male equivalent of a Naomi match. And, yes, that means that his finisher involves jumping ass-first into his opponent.
Background: Details are sketchy. His entrance and some of his signature spots are reminiscent of the famous generic luchador, El Generico, who cut his teeth in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, among other places. But Generico is in Mexico working with orphans, so we are left to presume that Zayn must have trained with him at some point.
In all seriousness, the guy has been around and worked the same rings as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins. And it shows. The Syrian-Canadian debuted on NXT just a few months after signing his contract and has never looked back; defeating former WWE tag champ Curt Hawkins and former United States champ
Antonio Cesaro in his first television appearance.
He's had great matches with everyone they've thrown at him, including being screwed in his title shots against Dallas a la Neville, but it has been his ongoing rivalry with fellow international and independent veteran Cesaro that has dominated his time in WWE. Their first two-out-of-three falls match is the stuff of legend (and the 2013 Match of the Year for many), and it should be a treat to watch them try to follow it.
Scouting report: He's ready. Really, the only questions were if he could talk and if he could adapt to WWE's more conservative style. He answered the former immediately, connecting with his laid back but hyper competitive "likeable" character (largely in fantastic interview spots with Renee Young when she was still an NXT full-timer). There were reportedly some issues with the latter, but he's still putting on great matches that involve tornado DDTs and suicide dives, so I guess they worked something out.
His babyface comebacks are second only to Daniel Bryan, and I'd listen to arguments that his are better. I'm kind of jealous of folks that are about to get their first dose of Sami. You're gonna like him.
Background: She worked a little on the all-female indies like Shimmer and Shine before landing her WWE contract. She played a spunky jobber against Emma (who hadn't 100% completed her face turn yet) before debuting her super-fangirl gimmick.
Her character is frequently starstruck - there was a fantastic "WOO" off with Ric Flair (who B called Mr. Nature Boy, so as to not confuse him with Dusty Rhodes, who was Mr. Dream) and some awkward hugging when Divas champ AJ Lee visited the Performance Center. Despite usually getting to a point in all of her matches where she sets her fandom aside and kicks ass, she hasn't won very much until just recently, where she's finally getting the upper-hand in her feud with Summer Rae's Beautiful Fierce Females (BFFs) faction.
Bayley has mostly feuded with the BFFs throughout her time on NXT, but it recently got personal when Summer recruited Charlotte, who had been the plucky brunette's friend and tag partner. That betrayal has lit a fire under Bayley, but sometimes she still just wants to give her fans and heroes a hug.
Scouting report: I LOVE HER SO MUCH, YOU GUYS!
Ahem, sorry, yeah, she's pretty great. Probably the best female worker in WWE, or at least, my favorite. She works a fast-paced, hard-hitting style that still manages to incorporate her character every step of the way. The women will probably be gradually introduced to the main roster, and Bayley's gimmick will require that Emma and Summer can get and keep their characters over so Creative sees the value in giving the women more time to connect with the crowd. But once that happens...HUGS FOR EVERYONE!
Rewatching this match, she's come a long way since this, but I can't find embed-able clips of anything more recent.
Background: Wrestling royalty, the young Brit is the daughter of Sweet Saraya and Ricky Knight. Both of her older brothers work in European promotions as well. Despite just having turned 21 last summer, she actually is one of the longest tenured NXT women.
And the movement to call the females of developmental started with Paige as well. Her gimmick has always incorporated her nickname the "Anti-Diva", and she is the first and still only holder of the NXT Women's championship.
She has also feuded frequently with Summer Rae, going back to when the former Lingerie Football Leaguer was a ring announcer. She defeated WWE Divas Tamina Snuka and Alicia Fox in the tournament to crown the first Women's champ, and then in the finals, defeated Emma in one of the better WWE women's matches of all-time.
After a tag team-of-rivals program with Emma against the BFFs, Paige defended her strap against Natalya before exiting TV due to an undisclosed injury. She hasn't been seen in a couple of months, not even to promote her title defense at ArRival.
Scouting report: There's a lot of promise here, and despite how long she's been in the company and the passion of some of her fans, it's good to remember how young she is, because she could stand to get some seasoning before hitting the main shows, in my opinion.
She's an able dance partner for the right opponent, but when not with a ring general type can be a little station-to-station in her work. The Baby Daffney character she's working acts like a heel-leaning tweener but gets a solidly face reaction, which sometimes makes for weird interviews - especially when she's called on to talk in the ring.
But she's very athletic, has a distinctive look and with the team WWE has put together for the women to learn from in Florida, the sky is probably the limit for Paige.
I've left out folks like Mason Ryan and Emma that have either received past or current exposure on the main shows. The plan is to serve up a few more of these, focused on heels, the announced matches for Thursday night and maybe a few other surprises, time permitting.
In the meantime, feel free to use the comments to talk about what you think of the main técnicos in developmental right now, ask questions, speculate on the future and all that stuff you Cagesiders do best!