Our beloved collection of misfit toys enjoyed a well-deserved breather after the rousing success of Takeover: Chicago II. They have returned to Full Sail University to resume their tapings for future episodes, and our appetite for unconventional WWE programming will be whetted once again. However, with the formation of NXT UK underway (long overdue, in my humble opinion) and the recent elevations of top performers to the main roster and 205 Live (if Sarah Logan can EVER be considered a top performer…), it leaves some fans to wonder about the future of the WWE Power Plant. If I may, I’d like to discuss these matters.
The Upper-Card Is STACKED!
With the return of EC3 (Derrick Bateman) to NXT, the list of challengers to Aleister Black’s reign on top of the Gold Brand has gotten crowded. In a losing effort in Chicago, Lars Sullivan seemed to gain respect from a fanbase who would look at his size as a detriment (ok, me). But commissioner William Regal isn’t one to give out repeated title challenges unless the roster depth requires it. Black’s tweener status is ideal for either faces or heels to challenge him. Ricochet would seem to be the next contender after his hellacious match with Velveteen Dream, and the match would steal any show on planet Earth. But Triple H may feel “The One And Only” does not need a belt to get over, whereas those like EC3, Sullivan, and Roderick Strong are better suited as delusional opponents to the crown. I don’t list Johnny Gargano or Tommaso Ciampa in this, as their rivalry does not require any title to appreciate it!
The Mid-Card The Main Roster Needs
One of the biggest gripes of the current product in WWE is that there is little regard for the mid-card. Meanwhile, Takeover was recently headlined by a legendary Gargano/Ciampa Street Fight, in which neither man is in contention for the top title. While the North American Title was created for this group, that was only done because of the genesis of NXT UK and its belt going back across the pond. Undisputed Era’s Adam Cole is ideal as the title holder, and excellent matches with Velveteen Dream and Ricochet are certainties. But the future lies with up-and-comers like Fabian Aichner, Kona Reeves, and Raul Mendoza. Kassius Ohno has done a masterful job of being the gatekeeper of NXT, and the aforementioned trio will eventually shine on their way up the ladder at his expense.
What Tag Team Division?
The demise of this art is exemplified in the tragic tale of Authors Of Pain. Akam and Rezar were booked as unstoppable monsters without ever having to utter a single word on a microphone. After causing the split of DIY and demolishing challenges from The Mighty, Heavy Machinery, and $treet Profit$, they were called up to Raw and flukily dropped the belts to reDRagon. Since then, their mouthpiece Paul Ellering departed and they have been comically omitted from any storyline. To make matters worse in NXT, Bobby Fish’s knee injury did not cause the champs to relinquish their belts. Instead, the Undisputed Era merely recruited Strong to tag with Kyle O’Reilly, and proceeded to tear through the same contenders that AOP did, but with less decisiveness. The addition of War Raiders (War Machine, with Rhyno still employed) and formation of 1-2 Punch are solid, but the fact that an unhyped match led to the UK’s Moustache Mountain claiming the titles from reDRagon shows the decline in tag team booking.
Long Live The Queen Of Spades!
Since her arrival in NXT, and the subsequent departure/abdication of Asuka, the Women’s division has been built around the development of Shayna Baszler. The runner-up in the inaugural Mae Young Classic has soared past its winner, Kairi Sane, and decimated all comers since winning the belt from Ember Moon. Nikki Cross gave a valiant effort in defeat at Takeover, but passed out to Baszler’s version of the Tazmission. At the moment, the only faces on the women’s roster are Sane, Dakota Kai, and Candace LaRae. Unless heels like Bianca Belair and Lacey Evans are able to generate enough interest from the crowd to necessitate a face turn, the likely next challenge will be from Sane, who booking passed over in order to crown Baszler to begin with. I envision an extended run for Baszler, as her bully gimmick is one of the few currently connecting with fans of the division.
Overall grade of the NXT 2018 first semester: B