I’m a recently converted fan of the professional wrestling promotions NXT (which actually serves as a developmental territory but really has taken on a life of it’s own), and Lucha Underground (LU) on the El Rey network (which features Lucha Libre, Mexican professional wrestling, mixed in with fictional screenwriting from reality TV producers Robert Rodriguez and Mark Burnett). I’ll be reviewing here the shows on May 11, 2016. You can read the NXT review here and the Lucha Underground review here. My intention is to provide more analysis than narration, although I would have to recap some of what happened in order to provide context for the analysis I’m doing.
NXT Review, May 11 2016
Finn Balor, the former champion, made his first appearance since losing the NXT title to Samoa Joe three weeks ago in Lowell, Massachusetts. It’s good for character development, doesn’t overexposure the competitor, and the extended gap between losing the champion and reappearing builds his character for consumption by the fans. This other guy, Elias Samson, whose character I believe is some guitar strumming drifter with terrible lyrical skills, obviously was provided as cannon fodder for a returning former champion to take his frustrations out on. If you watch the opening segment, you can see that Samson was setting himself up for one of Balor’s signature moves, the Pelee kick, which Balor did so beautifully. Hey guys, remember this is a choreographed product, those of us watching for a long time can kinda tell what’s going to happen.
One thing about NXT is it has really built up it’s tag team division, bringing in new guys every other week in great tag team matches. American Alpha, the tag team champions, in their first match back since winning the NXT tag team titles, made short work of their opponents. Although unknown teams are mostly cannon fodder for some other wrestlers, usually their is some character build to ‘jobbers’ as they are called on the NXT roster. The team opposing American Alpha wore matching jackets, so there’s something. The wrestling was very solid, and Chad Gable and Jason Jordan (American Alpha) remind me of a young Kurt Angle from long ago. Obviously, with the team that dropped the belts to them, The Revival, coming out and doing a staredown with AA, they’re building towards a rematch soon.
The next match featured the newest wrestler signed to the NXT roster, Shinsuke Nakamura from Japan, facing Alex Riley. For those of you who actually heard, Alex Riley was released by the WWE on Friday May 6, demonstrating that NXT is, indeed, a pre-taped show. It’s too bad, Riley started branding himself as “The White Lion” and using the tag line “Time to Rage”, and looking at the size of him you can see he could probably back it up. Hope he finds some other gigs in the Indys. As for Shinsuke, NXT/WWE has a tendency to have a wrestler stick with a specific move set. Although it’s an innovative style, I hope we see him do more moves other than kicks, knee strikes and this ‘inverted exploder suplex’ which seems like his only wrestling move thus far. You can see in this video Shinsuke has a number of moves (The inverted exploder, called an Inverted Powerslam in the clip, is number 11), I’m not sure if it’s the company not letting him do them is my question.
The backstage segment between Austin Aries, William Regal, and Blake/Murphy was quite hilarious, even though it’s a familiar segment when the talent is conversing with the management, and having some other talent come in to interrupt which usually leads to a match. It’s hilarious because of the comment Aries made about how looking at Blake/Murphy would be more bearable if Alexa Bliss, the tag team’s female companion, was present (which she was lol). Obviously the match between them was set, and Aries will bring a ‘tag team partner of his choosing’. That’s what intriguing me, who is Aries’ partner going to be? He was seen making a phone call at the end of that segment, so it’s possibly (in the storyline plot) someone he knows from his past. My first thought is Eric Young, who made his debut last week and both he and Aries were from TNA, another wrestling promotion. Since NXT seems to be bringing in new stars every other week, as Young himself is an example, it might be Bobby Roode, a former TNA champion who recently left that company and is technically a free agent (he has not yet signed an official WWE contract). However, it might be too much to bring Roode aboard for a tag team match, but that hasn’t stopped NXT from bringing in a major star in the same tag team format. That’s actually how Finn Balor made his NXT debut a few years back.
Speaking of Alexa Bliss, she had a match against a female competitor named Rachel Ellering, whose father was a former manager during the ’80s and ’90s. Although Alexa has usually been partnered with the aforementioned Blake and Murphy, but she’s really been establishing her own mark in NXT; her Instagram account shows her own personalized social media hash tags. Someone of her talents shouldn’t be restricted to bumming around with former tag team champions. I’m looking at that exchange from before and thinking she’s ready to ditch Blake and Murphy soon, maybe hook up with Austin Aries lol. And yes, she should definitely get a shot at the NXT Women’s Championship; that splash from the top turnbuckle she does is a thing of beauty.
Finn Balor’s main event match with the ‘drifter’ Elias Samson was basically a squash match, meaning it was one sided in favour of one competitor. The fact that Balor ended the match by pinning Samson by basically sitting on him posing demonstrated that. Samson’s character is unique, but as long as he keeps losing matches to other guys that NXT wants to showcase, I’m not sure what they are doing with him. The Finn Balor/Samoa Joe promo at the end, setting up their rematch, was a foregone conclusion. Balor is hearing the siren call of WWE calling him up to the main roster, since his former running buddies in Japan, Luke Gallows, Carl Anderson and AJ Styles are already there now.
Lucha Underground Review, May 11 2016
Like NXT, LU is only one hour long, has a few really good matches, but also has backstage segments that look straight out of TV dramas, and I really like that mystique they’ve built around the product, making what happens backstage unknown to the live audience which strengthens plot development.
The first match was a three way match for ‘one of seven ancient Aztec medallions’. LU does a play on the Money in the Bank concept in WWE whereby someone who wins a briefcase will get an automatic championship match anytime, anywhere. LU changes it up by making matches with the winner gaining this medallion. When all seven are put together, they form something called the Gift of the Gods championship, which also guarantees a championship match anytime, but it has to be announced at least a week before in order for the promotion to properly promote the match. Back to this particular match, I thought it was rather short and that was disappointing. Mr. Cisco and Cortez Castro are rather talented wrestlers. Recently they’ve gotten over (earned respect) of the LU fan base, and it was disappointed to see the match end with a surprise roll up while grabbing the tights of your opponent. Also, this Joey Ryan character is really gross, if you see the opening introduction, Joey is oiling his hairy chest and even the referee was grossed out by it.
The next match was for what they call the Trios Championships, basically three titles for a team of 3, same rules as in tag team matches. I have almost nothing to complain about, other than this weird quirk where they place wrestlers on trios teams that don’t have much chemistry together. The reason I have not much to complain is the presence of Rey Mysterio, who is basically someone of legendary status in Mexican wrestling. All the moves were great, and the match ended with an amazing 630 senton from the top rope by Prince Puma. I do see that a match/rivalry between female wrestlers Ivelisse and Taya developing, and with what I’ve seen those two do they are going to have a spectacular match.
The final match is called Grave Consequences, and it’s basically the WWE standard casket match, whereby the winner has to stuff their opponent in the casket provided and slam the lid shut. Because the WWE’s Undertaker makes only sporadic appearances on their programming, and the mystique around the character having waned, a casket match rarely happens on WWE anymore. I’m glad that LU managed to keep the mystique alive in this type of match and also incorporate Mexican traditions in regarding their celebration of Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), so the audience and viewers really do get a sense of the idea of death surrounding the match. The match’s violence was off the charts, and every time I think I’ve seen it all on LU they surprise me again. One thing I would say about the technical wrestling of the match is, despite the two competitors, Mil Muertes and Matanza, being in the 250 Ibs. range, they can fly around the ringside area and pull off some surprising moves. Also unlike WWE, they don’t operate under a PG rating so blood isn’t censored on television when it is shown.
That’s all I have to say for now. The shortness of the LU review is more attributed to how much more positive opinion I have of it than anything, and I don’t have anything against NXT either. NXT has really focused on the wresting, which unfortunately in WWE is sorely lacking.