Going into this week’s NXT, I found myself more relaxed than usual. Maybe it was because I took last week off. Maybe it was because I’d just experienced one hell of a PWG show this past weekend and it had let love into my heart once more. Maybe it’s because it’s hard not to be relaxed after watching an episode of the Tough Enough after show, Tough Talk. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, do. You might fall in love with Miz.) No matter the reason, I found myself ready to accept what ever enjoyment this week’s NXT was willing to offer. Good thing it happens to be a pretty enjoyable NXT this time around.

This week’s NXT is all about the build-up to the big fight, tag team main event: Finn Balor and Samoa Joe versus Kevin Owens and Rhyno. Like the episode’s opening video package says: “Forget good versus evil. Ignore right versus wrong. This is rage and fury versus brutal intensity.” Yes, it reads as ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun of professional wrestling—95 per cent of it reads as ridiculous. Typically, a tag team main event in WWE isn’t something deserving of excitement. Usually it’s the same four people wrestling the same match for at least a month, in order to promote a match where they wrestle each other. It’s not really riveting stuff, but that’s just the way it is.

Here, however, this is the first time the audience is seeing this match, and as it is build-up specifically for Saturday’s Japan show, (ugh) The Beast In The East, it might just be the last time the audience is seeing this in NXT. Rich Brennan uses rhetoric like “almost a dream match” and “almost history being made,” and while those are oddly chosen words (“almost” isn’t needed), he’s not completely wrong. The match itself isn’t even revolutionary, but there’s more of an importance to it, mostly because it hasn’t (and most likely won’t) be beaten into the ground with rematch after rematch after rematch.

It also doesn’t hurt that NXT concludes the Who Is Finn Balor? mini-documentary this episode, which is the most compelling aspect of the show (no offense to the rest of the show). With three weeks of WWE chronicling Balor’s journey from Ireland to NXT, it begs the question: There’s no way Balor loses on Saturday, right? Not even taking into account the fact that Balor losing would make Becky Lynch cry even more, the amount of effort put into propping Balor up as a superstar—not just a “WWE Superstar”—only makes it logical for NXT to capitalize on it and have him to win. Plus, it’s not like Kevin Owens won’t be able to keep busy without the title. He’s still feuding with five other Superstars as it is, and that’s not just on NXT.

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As for the rest of the episode, there are solid matches (and a Baron Corbin “match”), but it’s mostly filled with backstage segments and interviews. It’s actually to the point where you would almost assume the whole show were a go home show for the Japan excursion. It’s not like there’s a TakeOver coming up, but to make this as hokey as possible, there’s a feeling of the winds of change in this week’s NXT. Part of that is because it’s filled to the brim with backstage segments about the future of NXT, even if the future is just a week ahead. Emma (after her match with Carmella, who has some hiccups but mostly looks better in the ring this week) and Dana Brooke develop a tag team feud with Sasha Banks, officially making The Boss face and therefore absolutely unstoppable. There’s also the Vaudevillains (who now have face music you can clap to!) and Enzo/Cass vying for #1 Contendership, which is oddly repetitive, but the NXT tag team division is sadly not as evolved as the rest of the program’s divisions. Just consider that proof of NXT still being a WWE show.

But the two backstage segments that are the most intriguing are surprisingly the ones with two of the most directionless members of the roster: the segments with Jason Jordan and Bull Dempsey. Jason Jordan is obviously still on his search for the perfect partner, and Bull is… Well, he’s fat. There’s a runner about Bull having to get in shape, but every bit is about how he’s fat. It’s embarrassing, really, but this week might just be rock bottom.

What’s interesting about both of these segments though are the way they exist within the context of NXT as a product of the WWE. “The only reason I’m doing this is because they’re making me do this,” Jordan tells Devin Taylor. It’s a statement that’s not focused on, but it kind of should be. With all the thrown together tag teams in WWE, an explanation is rarely given, but when it is, it’s never that cut and dry. It makes sense that WWE—as a shoot, real company—would make Jason Jordan get a tag team partner. It’s sink or swim in development, something has to give, and all of those other cliches, and he would need to find a way to make things work to stay on the roster, somehow, someway. Tag team, character overhaul, all of the above. But to give that reason onscreen, it implies that kayfabe NXT is also run like a real company. It’s something that’s missing on the main roster, as being the authority literally means being the evil Authority, and reason is often thrown out the window with regards to talent relation.

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Then you have Bull, who William Regal is making a priority, because, in theory, he signed this guy to an NXT contract, and now he’s making a mockery out of that. This is where it gets tricky, because Bull Dempsey’s figure has been like this since he began in NXT, and now it’s being treated like a joke. But what if it does change as a result of this and it stops being a job? What if an actual change happens? There have been plenty of stories about developmental talents being told to lose weight or trim down for the sake of their careers, but for some reason, that’s never part of the show. Until now.

NXT is cool in part because of the demons and the models, but it can be just as cool when it comes to reality. Kevin Owens exists. And like I said, Finn Balor’s mini-documentary is the best part of the episode. Well, that and Tye Dillinger reacting to all the “10” chants. Wrestling may be about larger than life characters, but it’s nice to remember that those type of characters have human qualities. That’s what this week’s NXT truly succeeds in.

Stray Observations

  • RESULTS: The Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) defeated The Mechanics (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder); Baron Corbin defeated a jobber named Tucker Knight; Emma (with Dana Brooke) defeated Carmella; The Man or The Establishment (call it what you will) defeated Bull Dempsey and Jason Jordan; Tyler Breeze defeated Tye Dillinger; Finn Balor and Samoa Joe defeated Kevin Owens and Rhyno
  • We Need To Talk About Corbin: By the time the crowd starts chanting “Cor-Bin-Sucks,” the match is over. The Baron Corbin experiment really needs to be over too. Back to the drawing board, please.
  • The Vaudevillains/Mechanics (who could stand to go full Trailer Park Boyz) match was not just competitive: The Vaudevillains were at their most Chikara-esque this week. That’s both a good and a bad thing.
  • Corey Graves remains a delight on commentary, especially as he, of all people, calls The Vaudevillains “hipsters.”
  • I’ve said it before, but after this NXT, how can Tye Dillinger not get even a little bit of a push? The crowd wants their Perfect 10!
  • Emma’s new theme is an absolute jam. I’m so glad it changed from that generic music.
  • I apologize greatly for the delay on this one, but sometimes when you’re apartment is overheating, you just have to prioritize, you know? (So yes, this was written in a bit of a state of delirium.)

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