Sunday, March 15, 2015

NXT Citrus Springs 3-14-15

NXT wrapped up its three day jaunt through central Florida with a final chaotic stop in Citrus Springs. Fans piled into the Citrus Springs Community Center to watch the men and women of NXT go to battle inside the squared circle.

Big Cass is out first accompanied to the ring by Enzo Amore, followed by his opponent Bull Dempsey. The two start off trash talking while Amore outside the ring is eating pizza from the concession stand. The crowd chants to “Eat it!” and Amore offers Bull a slice. Dempsey relents and tries to grab the slice but Amore recoils. Finally, the action begins and both Dempsey and Cass start off strong jockeying for the early advantage. Bull takes charge and does his best to wear down Cass who makes sporadic comebacks attempting a bodyslam to no avail. Eventually Cassidy mounts a last comeback and takes down Dempsey with a bodyslam following by a big elbow for the pin. Afterwards, a generous Amore leaves Dempsey his piece of pizza on his chest. It was a short but fun match to start the evening. Cass and Enzo never fail to fire up a crowd, while Dempsey continues to show glimmers of face potential.

The second match of the evening saw Steve Cutler take on Mike Rawlis. The two rookies are of similar size and seemingly evenly matched and it showed in the early goings. The action went back and forth until the favor began to shift in the favor of Rawlis who slowed Cutler with a series of rest moves such as chin locks and an abdominal stretch. Finally, Cutler fires back with a series of strikes followed by a flapjack. However, Rawlis turned things back around and planted Cutler with a Crucifix Powerbomb for the victory. It was an interesting change to get to see two lesser known talents show the crowd what they can do, rather than be fodder for more established guys. Ty Dillinger, who is doing a critic gimmick, wasn’t impressed. He came out and held up a scorecard giving the match a 4.

Heat magnet CJ Parker is out next and in a foul mood as always. He says tonight isn’t about signs or saving the planet. He says tonight is about him defeating Baron Corbin in the main event.

The evening continues with womens tag action as the team of Alexa Bliss and Devin Taylor takes on Becky Lynch and Dana Brooke. The good girl team of Bliss and Taylor started off strong with some great spots early on from Bliss who has made some great strides in the last year. It wasn’t long though before the power of Brooke and the prowess of Lynch came into play. The two ran roughshod while making frequent tags and looked to have the match won. In the final chaotic moments of the match Bliss landed a Sparkle Splash on Lynch for an upset victory. The experienced Lynch clearly held this match together but Dana Brooke is really starting to come into her own. The two actually make a pretty good team, or at least make more sense than the friendship of Lynch and Banks.

The match of the night was up next as Chad Gable took on Solomon Crowe. Gable plays the cocky heel well, even taking the time to correct ring announcer Dasha Kuret and have her announce that he is a 2012 Olympian. He can back it up with action as well, showing up Crowe in the early goings with his grappling. The explosive and unpredictable Crowe would not make it easy though, fighting back with a series of strikes and chops before the Olympian exploited and opening and zeroed in on the arm of Crowe. Eventually Crowe comes back with a series of strikes and a running knee in the corner followed by a single leg dropkick to the knee of Gable that sends him crashing down. Crowe contorts Gable into a Stretch Muffler for a tap-out victory. I thought they stole the show, but Ty Dillinger only gave them a 2.

Next up, Bayley takes on Carmella in a nice back and forth match. NXT fans are already aware of the talent that Bayley possesses, what is worth noting is how good Carmella has gotten. Not that she was ever bad, she was a natural from the start but now she is ready to show that she can share the stage with the top women of the division. She eventually took control of the match and took her time punishing the underdog Bayley who mounted an unstoppable comeback culminating with a Belly-To-Bayley for the pin. It was a fun match with a great showing from both ladies.

Next up Ty Dillinger takes on Hideo Itami. Dillinger starts strong, even managing to take time out to hold up his scorecard and give himself a 10. He manages to evade the fast feet of Itami and slow down the pace of the match. Hideo fires back and tries to perform a GTS but Dillinger escapes and continues the punishment. Eventually, a fired up Itami mounts a comeback and nails Ty with a flurry of signature strikes and several stiff kicks. He follows with a dropkick in the corner, followed by an Irish whip and a single leg dropkick for the win. Hideo Itami impresses as always, but it’s Dillinger who consistently proves he can put on a great match with anyone. Perhaps, they should let the man drop the gimmicks and just let Dillinger be Dillinger.

Announcer Greg Hamilton is in the ring next and introduces Hugo Knox. The pumping house music hits and Knox comes out dancing like the most enthusiastic Chippendale dancer ever. Knox, a man of few words says he is a future champ before bursting back into dance. Knox has been impressive in the ring thus far, moving with more agility than a man his size should. The gimmick? I’m not so sure, but the ladies seem to love it.

The night continues with tag team action as Sawyer Fulton and Tucker Knight take on the champs, Blake and Murphy. Knight and Fulton are two very big and strong guys who use their power to their advantage over the much speedier Blake and Murphy. The two take their time dismantling the champs methodically with Blake cut off from his partner. Eventually though Blake would make the hot tag to a fired up Murphy who came in clearing house like a man possessed. He knocks Knight off the apron and hoists up Fulton for a big suplex followed by a huge frogsplash from Blake for the pin. The champs work tremendously in tandem and work well as heels or faces. Fulton has gelled really well with fellow Shoot Nation member Angelo Dawkins in recent months, hopefully he can get that same synergy with Knight as well.

Baron Corbin is on the fast track finally competing in his second main event of the three day weekend. The same can be said for CJ Parker. Tonight the two met and while Corbin seems unstoppable, Parker was the one with so much to prove, which he did. Surviving the early onslaught of offense from Corbin he managed to take control attacking him relentlessly. All peace signs aside, Parker has a mean streak and he let it show. After sending Corbins shoulder into the ringpost Parker pounced and began to work the arm. Corbin comes back with a flurry of finishing moves and but Parker ducks a big boot and counters with a spinning heel kick. The two men make it to their feet and Parker follows with a palm strike and a faceplant DDT, followed by a ridiculously close 3 count. A frustrated Parker climbs the ropes and goes for a beautiful moonsault, but Corbin rolls out of danger. The two men make it up and Corbin throws Parker into a thunderous End Of Days for the victory. Parker is easily the most legitimate heel in NXT, but he is also underrated in the ring. Meanwhile, if Baron Corbin keeps putting on matches like this the naysayers will soon be silenced

Saturday, March 14, 2015

NXT Bartow 3-13-15

NXTs weekend triple shot continued tonight as its athletes converged on Bartow, Fl. It was a small but very lively crowd, one that included the Hardcore Legend Mick Foley who enjoyed the show from the back.

The evening starts off with Bayley taking on Dana Brooke. Bayley takes charge early on riding on the energy of the crowd thoroughly behind her. Bayley kept a step ahead in the fast paced opening moments of the match landing several of her signature spots. Eventually the power of Brooke comes into play and Dana takes charge of the match and wears down her opponent with a series of punishing holds accentuated by a fierce Firemans Carry Slam. But in the midst of her offense all it took was one tiny moment for Bayley to steal the victory with a Belly-To-Bayley from out of nowhere. Fan favorite Bayley never fails to fire up a crowd, while Dana Brooke is quickly improving with each outing. After, Bayleys music is cut abruptly and CJ Parker comes out saying that nobody cares about divas and nobody cares about her. Tonight, he continues, is about him and tonight in the main event he will defeat Hideo Itami.

Next up is Chad Gable vs Solomon Crowe. It seems you never know whether you are going to get heel or face Gable, tonight he played up the heel role and he played it well. He’s good at playing the cocky Olympian and equally showed off his Olympic skills out-grappling Crowe in the early moments of the match. Eventually the explosive Crowe comes back with his smashmouth offense that sends Gable reeling. Gable takes advantage of an opening and begins working on the arm of Solomon Crowe with a series of arm bars, taking time in-between to towel himself off. Eventually Crowe comes back with a series of strikes and a running knee in the corner followed by a single leg dropkick to the knee of Gable that sends him crashing down. Crowe contorts Gable into a Stretch Muffler for a tap-out victory. Ty Dillinger comes out, apparently testing out the critic gimmick again and holds up a scorecard giving the match a 4. I’d give it a much higher, both Gable and Crowe are exciting to watch and they are two of my top picks for 2015. This was definitely one of the highlights of the night.

Steve Cutler is out next and drawing off of his military background, saluting and then standing at attention waiting for his opponent, the lone wolf of NXT Baron Corbin. Starting strong Cutler took the fight right to Corbin to little avail. Unfazed, Corbin fought right back sending Cutler reeling and re-evaluating his game plan. Cutler finds an opening and takes control of the match. Thus far Cutler seems to be a brawler relying on a lot on his power, hitting Corbin with a thunderous suplex. None of it would be enough to take down Corbin who mounted an unstoppable comeback with a series of his signature moves and an emphatic End Of Days for the pin.

The night continues with mixed tag action in what has to be one of the weirder matches in recent memory. Carmella and Big Cass took on the team of Devin Taylor and the tortured Marcus Louis. Mixed tag matches by nature are often sort of a mess still yet this was a match made fun by the interesting mix of personalities in the ring. This match featured frequent tags, a lot of forced tags, and much shenanigans. In the chaotic final moments Devin attempts a roll up pin but Carmella turns it into her headscissors submission for a tap-out win. All in all it was a fun match. Big Cass has really come into his own in the last year, while Carmella gets better every outing and it won’t be long until she is competing with the top ladies of the division. Marcus Louis is absolutely great as the tortured monster and demands attention whether he is in the ring or simply on the ring apron. Taylor has improved since the last time I saw her perform and I look forward to seeing her in a more traditional match. Ty Dillinger didn’t think as highly as I did, he only gave it a 2.

Next, Hugo Knox comes out next to high energy dance music moving as if he is a Chippendale dancer. The enthusiasm of Knox is about enough to blow the roof off the place, love or hate the gimmick but he absolutely owns it. His opponent Ty Dillinger comes out to new music claiming that he is going to give us a match that is a 10. The action begins fast paced as each man looks to gain advantage. Eventually Dillinger takes control after a clotheline from hell, and then slows down the pace with a series of headlocks and rest holds. Knox mounts a comeback with a series of shoulder tackles followed by a spinning heel kick and a kick to the head. With Dillinger finally laid out Knox finishes him with a split legged corkscrew moonsault off the turnbuckle. I don’t know about a 10, but it was an entertaining match featuring one of the most underrated guys around versus a potential rookie of the year.

The action continues with Bull Dempsey taking on newcomer Mike Rawlis. Dempsey, who continues to show glimmers of a potential face run, takes early control of the match. After a series of arm drags and headlocks the match turns into a brawl with Rawlis surprisingly playing the aggressor and gaining control. Bull plays the underdog well making sporadic comeback attempts with a growing repertoire including a sunset flip and a cross-body. In the end the wrecking ball Dempsey ran down Rawlis and followed with a flying headbutt for the win. Even in light of recent booking Dempsey is looking better and better. Still early on for the rookie Mike Rawlis, he has all the tools and the rest will come with time.

Next up, Becky Lynch takes on Alexa Bliss. The match begins fast paced with Bliss almost a step ahead in the early goings. Bliss attempted to thwart the Delty Diva with her largely aerial offensive including a beautiful head scissors. Lynch came back with a style that throttles the line between technical wrestler and brawler nailing Bliss with a series of strikes and a trifecta of her trademark leg drops. Bliss regains control nailing a standing moonsault double leg drop, Lynch comes back with a Bexplex followed by a pin attempt, but Bliss kicks out. A few  more moments of back and forth grappling and then Lynch traps Bliss in an armbar submission for the tap-out victory. Becky Lynch is probably the best pure female wrestler on the roster, but Bliss has improved so much and tonight these two put on the best match of the evening.

Our main event of the evening is up next as CJ Parker takes on Hideo Itami. The two men start cautiously, as Parker tells him there is to be no kicking and this is a wrestling match… right before taking a cheap shot and taking control. Itami swiftly turns things around though and Parker evades the ring. Itami mounts offense before Parker makes a vicious comeback beating down Itami. He grounds Itami with a series of rest holds. He knocks the wind out of Itami with a senton, but unwisely goes for another which Itami counters. Hideo throttles him with a series of strikes and two different teases at a GTS, which Parker escaped from. Parker lands a palm strike out of nowhere that has Hideo seeing stars. Eventually though Hideo fires back with a series of kicks followed by an astounding dropkick in the corner, and then a single leg dropkick to Parker for the victory. Hideo looks as great as always, while Parker proves he is ready to move up the ranks in NXT.

Afterwards as the show ended the crowd erupted into a massive “We want Foley” chant.  Mick Foley obliged telling us that it was his sons birthday and all he wanted was to see NXT….. “right here in Bartow Florida.”. He then puts over the NXT roster and tells us to “Have a nice day.”

It was sort of an unusual NXT show, but sometimes those end up being the most memorable ones.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Changing Landscape Of NXT

It is only March and it has already been a remarkable year for NXT. The developmental division has truly come into its own as a brand and is packing houses and selling out shows at an unprecedented rate. Testing the waters out of state the brand is coming fresh off a series of successful show dates in Ohio, and much to the chagrin of faithful Florida fans touring can’t be very far behind. With popularity reaching new heights one has to wonder what the rest of 2015 will bring.

Things have changed within the ranks and in the ring as well; 2015 has been a virtual reset. In January Blake and Murphy burst onto the scene winning tag team gold, while Februarys Takeover crowned not one, but two new champions as Sasha Banks took home the Womens belt and Kevin Owens became new NXT champion in a most controversial manner. The landscape has changed and the hierarchy has been seriously rearranged.

I’ve never been shy about singing the praises of NXTs tag team division, it is simply everything that one wishes the main roster could be. Now it seems that the exciting tag matches we are privy to at house shows every week have the potential to make it to our television sets as well. After a year dominated by two tag teams, Blake and Murphy are a breath of fresh air and may just be bringing all sorts of change with them. The Vaudevillians, as well as Cass and Enzo are both incredibly over with the crowd and have made their quest for the tag titles known, but there are other teams to look out for as well. Angelo Dawkins and Sawyer Fulton have become a very formidable team in a relatively short time. Both are sizable men with amateur backgrounds, and while one wonders about the fate of the Shoot Nation stable we at least got one good tag team out of the deal. Meanwhile, it finally seems we are on the verge of seeing The Mechanics Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder on our television sets. While other teams may have been getting more time, house show regulars Dawson and Wilder have been putting on some of the best tag matches in the company. The two have great in ring chemistry with current champs Blake and Murphy, and a program between the two teams would be incredible.

The much heralded womens division has been shaken up recently with the crowning of a new champion in Sasha Banks. Though it seems the shake-up may not be quite done. Banks and former champ Charlotte have produced so many classic matches together and truly helped define the division that we watch with such pride. However it seems both women already have one foot out of the door, as they seemingly spend more time touring with the WWE roster than the NXT roster. So what will become of the division when its two top athletes are gone? Anyone who watched Takeover: Rival already knows the answer, it will be fine. In that fatal four way match both Bayley and Becky Lynch proved they are more than capable of carrying the division further. The adoring fan base of the ultimate underdog Bayley would agree that she is ready to take it to the next level. Meanwhile Becky Lynch who may just be the best pure wrestler of the division, truly came into her own at the recent Takeover. These two ladies have clashed several times now, but I really don’t think we have seen all they have to offer yet. As torchbearers of the division these ladies will put on several classics of their own. A newly reinvigorated Alexa Bliss and the rapidly improving Carmella are both stepping out of the shadows, while the debut of the Dana Brooke is not far off.

It really doesn’t seem like that long ago that the idea of Kevin Owens in a WWE ring seemed unlikely, not only is he here but he is the NXT champion. A mere two months after his debut he mercilessly beat down Sami Zayn to take home the strap. In the weeks following those that didn’t already know are finding why Owens is possibly the best heel in the business. The abrupt title change is reverberating throughout NXT and one has to wonder what comes next. Luckily for the fans there is more to come in the Zayn/Owens saga as Sami Zayn is still due a rematch. Meanwhile Finn Balor, who is quickly becoming the most popular wrestler in NXT is destined for the gold sooner than later.

But one has to wonder what is ahead for the current state of NXTs increasingly crowded main event scene. The main roster debut of Adrian Neville is surely imminent and Sami Zayn likely isn’t very far behind. Considering the meteoric rise of both Owens and Balor it is hard to imagine them staying in NXT as long as Zayn or Neville have. So what will the landscape look like after these men have moved on? Who exactly will be the next members of the “NXT 5”? It seems Hideo Itami will probably be with NXT longer than the rest, but he is undoubtedly a tremendous talent with much to prove and it most obviously a main eventer. The push of Tyler Breeze seems to ebb and flow but he will surely be one of the top guys moving forward. Baron Corbin is wrestling longer, higher profile matches and seems destined to take a top spot soon. Solomon Crowe has barely even debuted, but he obviously has the fervor and explosiveness to take him to the top of the heap very quickly. No one can draw genuine heat like the underrated CJ Parker, is his time finally here? Add to the list all of the extremely hungry talent already tearing it up at house shows, not to mention several new names that could potentially make things even more interesting. As fans all we can do is speculate an extremely unpredictable playing field, but I look forward to watching it unfold.