The problem with NXT recording four weeks of WWE programming while the rest of WWE programming (on the main roster, that is) is still happening on a week-to-week basis is just that. The rest of WWE is happening on a week-to-week basis, moving on while the folks at the Performance Center hone their craft and put on a solid, albeit spatially-removed, show. So when Sami Zayn answers the John Cena Are You Hot? Challenge on RAW, the NXT episode that Wednesday features a hilariously ADR’d line about that when Sami isn’t in a shot. When Kevin Owens makes his own Kevin Owens Temptation Island Challenge for SmackDown, there has to be an insert from Corey Graves about it on commentary. The latter plus the additional inserts of promos addressing the current state of WWE show that NXT is figuring out how to navigate the ever-changing (yet simultaneously stagnant) main roster of WWE. It’s evolving, which is always pleasant, especially in professional wrestling.

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Much like last week, NXT is making more room for the Performance Center folks and those who got lost in the shuffle (hey, Vaudevillains—never leave us again!), which makes even more sense when you think about just how quickly the folks in the opening credits could be snatched up for the main roster and ruin the internal continuity of NXT. There’s no Kevin Owens or Samoa Joe in sight, as the episode focuses more on Balor’s contendership and what that means. There’s still no Becky Lynch or Sasha Banks (who gets the standard video package of her journey, like Becky had last week). Solomon Crowe cuts a promo that makes it sound like he’s rebranding; the words “When I get back, I’m going to be better than ever” are uttered. Dana Brooke is off traveling the world, doing what she actually loves, fitness competition. So many things are happening all the time in WWE, and that doesn’t stop because NXT is “developmental.” So when NXT gets like this, it’s giving others chances, which is good, in theory.

The first match of the night, Tyler Breeze versus Adam Rose, is interesting for a lot more reasons than the match itself. First of all, I believe the tapings were also the first to be recorded in a post-E:60 NXT special world, so a good portion of the crowd chants “WE WANT [LEO] KRUGER.” Another portion chants “NO WE DON’T,” but given how downtrodden Adam Rose is at this point and how his character isn’t even a character anymore, it’s not certain if they even mean that or if it’s the effect of the NXT crowd growing far too accustomed to chants (and downright uncomfortable with any silence). I have always been one of those with the belief that Leo Kruger was a good character that never got a fair shake, but then again, the same could be said of Adam Rose.

WWE’s face-heel turns can be brilliant. They can also be the most frustratingly, poorly thought out things in the entire world (wrestling or otherwise), and that’s what happened in the case of Adam Rose’s heel turn and subsequent (after months of torturing) dropping of his Rosebuds. The Adam Rose heel turn is the perfect WWE Creative/Vince McMahon example of lacking foresight or even a living up to the name “Creative,” as what appears to be an obvious storyline apparently isn’t to them. He’s a party monster who a tour bus called the Exotic Express. He’s based on the Russell Brand character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In a PG environment, they can’t outright say he’s giving everyone ecstasy and other drugs to keep them under his spell, but there is definitely a hold that he has on the Rosebuds.

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So he turns heel and becomes an abusive party monster, a dictator of debauchery. This is in a post-Wyatt family world, and it would be so easy to move forward with the idea of Adam Rose being a different kind of cult leader. Just that acknowledgment would make the months of nonsense mean something, anything. But there was never anything. There is never anything. And then he starts dating Rosa and dumps his Rosebuds. Here, he comes to NXT, looking and acting like the male version of “Evil” Emma. There is nothing there. No energy. No purpose. Everyone who watched the E:60 special on NXT came away seeing Adam Rose in a completely different light and wanting nothing but the best for him. It was the type of publicity WWE always seeks for its Superstars. It was absolutely squandered.

What’s scary is that this match also shows that Adam Rose’s present could easily be Tyler Breeze’s future. He’s already lost in the shuffle in NXT, and as usual, the main roster can barely see an unconventional character without making them goofy. The least flamboyant example of that on the main roster is Dean Ambrose, who went from cool and unhinged to, well, “the Lunatic Fringe,” hot dog carts and all. Vince McMahon gets a whiff of subtle (or even blatant) fun or humor in a gimmick, all bets are off.

This is all a strangely negative tangent for what is a sound match from two solid wrestlers who are or can be so much more than their gimmicks. But try explaining why Adam Rose isn’t getting even a second look when he does that beautiful Spinebuster (his Spinebuster really is beautiful) into Boston Crab transition. How is Tyler Breeze not Supermodel Kicking his way into a Money In The Bank ladder match? In FCW/early NXT, once he became Leo Kruger, he was that guy that just clicked as someone who got the WWE Style and needed to be called up sooner, rather than later. Sound familiar?

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Moving on to a less existential match, Carmella has gotten better than she was in her debut, and they’ve finally figured out how to get her to come off as face in situations, with or without Enzo and Big Cass. She’s still not great, but she has improved, and much like her male counterpart—she really is a female version of Enzo—she luckily has mic skills that more than make up for what she lacks in her in-ring ability. However, when it comes to mugging for the camera during her match, it takes away a good portion of the good will. There are just too many variations of the word “woo” courtesy of Carmella and Rhyno (of all people) this week, and every time she fusses with her hair in between moves (in addition to all the cat fighting in the opening of the match), it serves as a reminder that all is not well in the NXT Women’s division. Awkward posing appears to be the default for NXT women who aren’t quite up to the level of the Four Horsewomen, and it’s the most main roster Diva aspect of the division. That’s good for fitting these women into the subpar box on the main roster, but really, it looks dumb. Someone just needs to tell everyone involved how dumb it looks.

Alexa Bliss, on the other hand, knows what she’s doing in the ring, even if she’s not in the Four Hoursewomen category. Her situation with Blake and Murphy is veering into unintentionally hilarious through no fault of her own, but she is (and they are, I suppose) making it work—whatever it’s supposed to be. It’s a fun enough trios feud which more than holds its own weight in these less intense NXT times.

The return of the Vaudevillains is definitely a highlight of the episode and pleasant one at that, as they went from an over tag team with an interesting gimmick to… gone. They just plain disappeared. Maybe it’s because their team name implies they’re always heels when that couldn’t be further from the truth. But they’re here now, and they’re up against Jason Jordan and his new tag team partner Marcus Louis. In fact, it appears that the Vaudevillains only returned from dark match obscurity because of the Jason Jordan partner situation. After last week’s lackluster Jason Jordan segment, this week’s match and the fact that he chose Marcus Louis as his tag team partner continue his weak introduction into a fairly dim spotlight. For those of you unaware of Marcus Louis, he’s a French wrestler who lost his hair when when his tag team partner, the disastrous Sylvester Lefort, lost a Hair versus Hair match against Enzo and ran away. That whole storyline actually led to the introduction of Carmella, who you already know as a contributing member of the NXT roster. He lost his hair, turned from fairly attractive Frenchman to “A MONSTER,” made a quick stop at a potential Phantom Of The Opera storyline with Tyler Breeze, never saw that come to fruition, and this is the first time we’re seeing him since. The question of where Jason Jordan even found him isn’t even broached, because it’s all too boring to care about. As are whatever the repercussions of Louis losing them the match.

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At least the Vaudevillains are back, if only for a week.

The main event of Balor and Rhyno actually works pretty well, as it’s Balor’s quickness versus the ground and pound of Rhyno. There are a lot of slap sounds in this match, and that’s just fun. Rhyno even gets to heel it up, doing the ultimate villain move of mocking Balor’s (awesome) entrance. If there’s one peculiar thing about the match—which again comes across as the NXT crowd’s comfort in constant chanting—is the Rhyno chants during it. That’s not to say Rhyno doesn’t deserve chants; it just sounds like a lot of the Rhyno chants are from the younger set, which makes me wonder when Rhyno became so popular with the kids. All I’m saying is, Rhyno was hardly the most interesting member of Team RECK. “Let’s go Finn” versus “GORE” is a good dueling chant regardless, and Rhyno does deserve recognition in this match, as he starts the heel taunts as soon as it becomes obvious the crowd is as split as they are. The people get their Gore though, as NXT closes, and this is already an infinitely more compelling story than Rhyno/Baron Corbin. Rhyno makes it clear he didn’t just come to NXT to hang with the kids: He came because he wants the gold, and the way to get to it is to get through those ahead of him in line. Badaboom, easiest storyline in the room.

Still, it won’t make him any bigger of a heel than Eva Marie is. The Eva Marie segment is honestly one of the most amazing displays of heel heat in recent memory. One person cheers for her, and it’s a fan I’ve come to brand as Baron Corbin Lady. Eva Marie even tries to get a cheap pop early on, and it falls completely flat. “You can’t wrestle” and all, the crowd is the most riled up they’ve been all night and probably the most heated they’ve ever been. All for Eva Marie and not because she’s good at what she “does.”

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It’s understandable to feel bad for Eva Marie if you do, but look at her track record—or lack thereof—in WWE. The argument for her is usually that she was thrust into the main roster without any training, but to solely put the blame on WWE and not her is absolutely naive. If you’re thrown into a high profile position with no experience, you do everything possible to gain experience. Eva Maria is just now doing that by training with Brian Kendrick. And nothing from her Instagram videos of her doing various wrestling moves showed if she could work a match or speak (and move) like a human being yet. The few words she gets out in her “interview” with Greg Hamilton certainly don’t sound like she’s much better of a talker, but there’s also the added fact that she clearly loses her train of thought because of the boos… which is also a bad sign. I’m honestly surprised WWE even aired the footage, instead of just giving her a re-shot backstage interview, but if the belief is that she’s going to re-debut in the ring a changed woman and a super wrestler, then this is perfect footage for her Miz-esque “Hate Me Now” video package come next TakeOver. And, more importantly, for Total Divas.

Stray Observations:

  • RESULTS: Tyler Breeze defeated Adam Rose; Alexa Bliss defeated Carmella; Vaudevillains defeated Jason Jordan and Marcus Louis; Finn Balor defeated Rhyno
  • William Regal is inserted in to announce that the Owens/Balor Championship match will be July 4, live on the WWE Network from the live event that’s happening in Japan. Amazing.
  • Imagine a world where Enzo/Big Cass feud with New Day. You’re welcome.
  • Alexa Bliss’ weakly-applied cravat on Carmella would have disappointed Chris Hero. But it caused Blake or Murphy to say “Rip her neck off!” Different strokes.
  • Rhyno not taking the Coup de Grâce reminded me of Michael McGillicutty (Curtis Axel/AxelMania) not taking Kaval’s double foot stomp back during NXT season two.

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