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Smark Hen-XT (1/8/16): Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning’s End


Welcome back to Smark Hen-XT, your weekly NXT review, and on our first column of the year 2016, we take a look back at the year that was and relive the highs and lows of 2015 as we gear up for another year.

What a time to be alive


NXT has a come a long way from when it started in 2012. What was supposed to be just a developmental system had slowly transition into a much beloved brand—hell, it’s own damn fed—within the WWE corporate machine. In 2015 alone, the brand recruited the brightest stars and brought them not just to Orlando, but all over America and even across the pond. Let’s run through the biggest reasons Paul Levesque has to feel like the proud dad he is.


  • The real revolution: While we might look at the Divas’ Revolution as a failed experiment in the large schema of things, one cannot deny that its roots hold true. Women’s wrestling in WWE had taken leaps forward in 2015, and much of that has to be attributed to the work of the great ladies down at Orlando. With talents like Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Bayley anchoring the division—and backed up by equally talented women like Emma and Asuka—we’ve seen a rejuvenation and repurposing of women’s roles in wrestling. Yes, there are still Divas who are shoehorned in a particular trope, but the women of NXT proved that when given the opportunity and support, they can go as hard as the boys do.


  • The Kevin Owens show: Ever since his debut back in December of 2014, Kevin Owens has proven his dominance within the yellow ropes of Full Sail Arena. After decimating his former friend and NXT Champion Sami Zayn, Owens had become the unquestioned king of the NXT jungle and reigned upon the brand with a combination of merciless offense and an equally sharp tongue. The Prizefighter has that ever elusive it factor that makes or breaks potential superstars, and he wasn’t afraid to show it to everyone. Thank God Triple H had the sense to let him loose down at Orlando. With his stint on the main roster only months old, it’s easy to see that the World’s Most Dangerous Dad has greatness written all over.


  • A renewed Samoa Joe: No signee from the past year brought hype more than Samoa Joe. After floundering and wasting away his prime years in TNA, the Samoan Submission Machine brought his talents to the happiest place on Earth and decided to wreak havoc. I remember making a joke once that when Joe’s theme would be heard, it was like Hip-Hop Godzilla was coming and going to lay a beating on someone, and lo and behold, there he was doing just that and more. Coming in as a face, we were already seeing a reignited fire in the eyes of Joe, but his heel turn really just brought out a blaze, with him delivering the stiffest strikes you’ve seen and the most painful beatdowns. This is the best we’ve seen the Samoan since his epic run on ROH and his early tenure on TNA. Suffice to say, this renewed Samoa Joe is promising to be one of the best damn thing NXT—and the WWE—has going for them.


  • Quite the Classic it was: The Dusty Rhodes Classic was just that, a classic. For over 6 weeks, we were treated with some of the greatest tag team wrestling we’ve seen in WWE, culminating in a win by two of the best active wrestlers on the roster, NXT Champion Finn Bálor and his would-be rival Samoa Joe. But more than that, it shined a spotlight on two of potentially the best tag teams NXT produced: the team of amateur wrestling standouts Jason Jordan and Chad Gable, and current NXT Tag Team Champions, The Mechanics, Dash and Dawson. This has been the first time in a long time that I’ve been so invested in the tag team division, so it’s great to see them slowly climbing the ranks and getting the support the two other parts of the brand have been enjoying.


  • Taking over the world: NXT is slowly turning itself into a touring brand as it started hosting shows all over America and the UK. Beginning with stops at Ohio to show some love for the Arnold Classic, to heading down to San Jose to join the WrestleMania festivities, to a sold out show at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for some summer fun, a tour of Texas in the fall, and finally landing in England’s Wembley Stadium to close out the year, the young brand has taken steps to becoming a worldwide figure in pro-wrestling. Notwithstanding their blossoming relationship with Florida-based independent federation WWN, NXT is making waves in the world of pro-wrestling, easily becoming a realistic prime destination for the who’s who of the wrestling world.

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While we have a lot to be thankful for, let’s remind everyone that it’s not always rainbows and unicorns down at sunny Orlando. There were some ugly spots there and we would be remiss to not go through them.


  • That damn injury bug: Honestly, injuries didn’t hurt the brand as much it did the main roster, mostly because of the fact that NXT’s smaller roster had a less delineated hierarchy to it, that is to say, it’s pretty fucking stacked that even midcarders are believable top-tier talents. Still, injuries did hit two of the most important cogs in the machine, former champion Sami Zayn and would-probably-have-been-champion Hideo Itami (admit it, that big match at Beast in the East should have been Hideo’s moment if not for the injury). But with Zayn having already returned during the brand’s foray to UK and Itami hopefully returning soon, we’re very much excited to see both guys work their respective ways back to the top.


  • That death sentence called a call-up: While not quite something you could blame on Trips and Co.’s shoulders, it’s still admittedly sad to see great talents who’ve proven themselves down at Florida getting lost in the shuffle that is the main roster. Looking at this year’s biggest call ups, everyone’s so mismanaged and badly booked that part of me wishes they stayed at NXT. Neville lost his first name, and with it, momentum. Owens had been stop and go, every push never really coming to its stride before being booked to lose. The Divas’ Revolution, as we’ve said, failed miserably, with Sasha Banks, the women who carried a whole damn division on her back, being hit worst. Here’s to hoping these great talent find their place on the main roster and the upcoming call-ups don’t face the same problems.


  • The Demon’s not too scary: OK, this one was something I debated heavily with myself, but with much thought, I’m going to put Finn Bálor’s reign as NXT Champion as a low point. Not that it wasn’t good, the matches were good, but there’s a lot of things going against him during his reign. Between the rise of the NXT Divas, the discovery of the wonder that is Jordan & Gable, and the great number of spotlights being pointed at guys like Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin, and Samoa Joe, the champ seems to be shrinking in the background. NXT is experiencing its renaissance, and this current run isn’t helping him stand out from the rest. He doesn’t have that commanding presence like Owens, the unadulterated support from the NXT faithful like Zayn and Bayley, nor the menacing aura like Joe, so he’s being overshadowed by other stars. Something’s lacking from Bálor, something the theatrics and mystique of the Demon can’t compensate for. Maybe he needs a bit more of an edge. Maybe he just needs to bite the bullet and get a club. Just saying.

*****

So that was NXT in 2015. It was a lot of things, brilliant being one of them. Yes, there were some low points, but it never truly stopped the brand from delivering great shows. The TakeOver specials are still some of the best-produced shows by the company. The roster is the most balanced it has been. The brand is growing at such a great rate that the idea that it overshadows the main roster isn’t so preposterous as it was two or three years ago.


So what do I want to see in 2016? I heard there were a couple of free agents from Japan ripe for the picking. In all seriousness, though, NXT’s in a pretty exciting place right now, but I want to see more consistency from it. There were a number of times that it felt like RAW-lite than the NXT we know it could be and love, so them figuring out the balance of sports-entertaining and pro-wrestling is key for their continued success. I want to see more development from promising guys like Gable, Jordan, Corbin, Dana Brooke, and Nia Jax. I want to see bigger stars working on bigger audiences. Basically, I want NXT to be better than it had ever been.

That’s it for our year-end review of NXT. Any stand out moments for you from the past year? Any wishes for the new year? Let us know and drop us a comment!

Photos from WWE.com


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Jocs Boncodin (@caboncodin) is a Managing Editor of Smark Henry. He answers tweets by day and watches wrestling by night. An aspiring writer, Jocs spends most of his idle time fantasy booking angles and overthinking wrestling storylines. A big fan of the WWE, his introduction to the local online wrestling community Smark Gilas-Pilipinas has opened his eyes to the wonders of puroresu and lucha libre. He currently handles Smark Hen-XT, smarkhenry.ph's weekly NXT review.

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