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NXTBT: The Bo-ginning


Welcome, fellas, to the first-ever NXTBT!

This week, we’re kicking off a series of throwback reviews covering the early era of NXT. For those of you who don’t know, WWE recently uploaded a majority of early NXT to the WWE Network, making this era of the yellow brand a lot easier to watch. Enough time has passed that the guys from this generation of NXT are now all over RAW and SmackDown Live, meaning that this is going to be one hell of a nostalgia trip. Names such as Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Bray Wyatt were the early cornerstones of NXT, and this is where we'll revisit their origin stories. We’re going to see a ton of the guys on the main roster starting out, and even some guys who chose a path outside of WWE—so expect a couple of other promotions being referred to here and there.

Anyway, let’s get right to it with NXT 122!


Wait, why are we starting with NXT 122 instead of 1?

Ah, yes. Time for a brief history lesson.

The original NXT television show began as a competition where wrestlers from WWE’s then-developmental territory FCW sought to become the next big breakout star. It featured veteran mentors from the WWE, decent physical challenges, and utterly bizarre segments (How does kissing Hornswoggle prepare you to become a main roster star?), with contestants being eliminated by fan voting. The wrestlers could even earn Survivor-esque “immunity” from the next elimination by winning certain challenges, giving everyone something to fight for each week.

The early seasons were solid, and NXT produced a number of notable names. We were introduced to wrestlers such as Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, AJ Lee, and Naomi through NXT, alongside a ton of other wrestlers that we still encounter today. Some have gone on to wrestle in other companies, while others went on to fulfill other roles in the WWE. Great feuds and storylines also began here, such as the Season 1 contestants forming the Nexus and the Daniel Bryan/Miz rivalry.

Only one of the guys attacking Cena is still an active wrestler in the WWE.

Through time, however, the quality of NXT slowly went down. By the time the fifth season of NXT, Redemption, came around, nobody gave enough of a shit about it that it went on far too long. It seemed as if even the higher-ups didn’t care, because the whole show was just meandering around with no real purpose. NXT: Redemption continued on for so long that it outlasted the four previous seasons combined, and yet it never had an actual winner! Imagine being Derrick Bateman, Titus O'Neil, and Darren Young in that scenario.

So, to sum it all up, that means we had 121 episodes of the original format of NXT, until the reboot launched in Full Sail University with the 122nd episode. That’s where we’re picking up.


A New Era Bo-gins



Right away we’re treated to the debut of Bo Dallas. Dallas is presented as your typical energetic babyface from a wrestling family, which is how he would be for the first half of his NXT run. This was a quick match as Bo pounded away on Rick Victor before hitting a Spear for the win. Not much to say here, as it just served to put Bo on the map. He may be languishing on the main roster right now, but Bo Dallas was a very integral part of this generation of NXT.



The Ascension had a similar match, picking up a quick victory over the team of CJ Parker and Mike Dalton. No, this isn’t the Ascension that we know and love (and JBL hates, but fuck him)—this is the dark, brooding version of Connor O’Brian and Kenneth Cameron. The two proceed to beat up Parker and finish him with the Downcast, meaning that poor Mike Dalton doesn’t even get into the match. Like Dallas, this served as a quick way to establish who the major players are.

Oh, and a note on the losers of these two matches—they may have looked like jabronis here, but they eventually find their place. The beauty of the developmental system is that we get to see people grow and change, trying out different things until finding something good and sticking with it. You're already seeing Rick Victor and Mike Dalton on SmackDown Live as Viktor and Tyler Breeze, respectively, and CJ Parker (now Juice Robinson) has recently been picking up some big wins in NJPW.

Finally, the first main event of NXT gave us Tyson Kidd against Michael McGillicutty. It’s notable that as much as NXT promised to showcase the young, developing stars of the future, their main event was a match between two guys who already had main roster exposure. McGillicutty was a tag team champion with the New Nexus, while Kidd also won tag team gold as part of the Hart Dynasty. At this time, they were establishing themselves as singles stars, and had spent the dying days of NXT: Redemption feuding because McGillicutty told Kidd that he would never be a “true Hart”.



In contrast to the quick matches earlier in the show, this was a solid match that was given enough time to shine. It’s your classic tale of power vs. speed, with McGillicutty grounding Kidd as the latter tried to use his speed to catch the bigger man by surprise. McGillicutty trying to win with the Sharpshooter was a nice dick move to do, firing up Kidd enough to make his comeback and force McGillicutty to tap with the Dungeon Lock. It’s the kind of match from a weekly WWE show that is solid, but tends to get overlooked because it’s not on the flagship shows. I highly recommend that you go on the Network and look for the whole match, especially now that Tyson Kidd is unlikely to wrestle again (*insert ugly crying here*).


The Rest:
  • The Intellectual Savior of the Masses, Damien Sandow, refused to compete in a match against Jason Jordan (with 100% more hair!) Yes, this is exactly the gimmick Sandow started out on SmackDown with, and as early as now you can see just how obnoxious he could get.
  • Derrick Bateman went looking for trouble, but instead he found Johnny Curtis in the bathroom. This was a set-up for the next week’s main event, continuing on their rivalry from NXT: Redemption. Curtis looks like he deserves a couple of tickets from the Fashion Police, though.
  • There’s a lot of guys to introduce but only one hour to do so, so NXT relied heavily on vignettes to show off their roster. Aside from Bo Dallas and the Ascension, we were also introduced to these guys through a series of videos:
    • Seth Rollins. More blonde and less jacked, Rollins’ vignette talked about how he wanted to “be his own man.” That's actually timely considering he just accomplished that when he beat his former mentor Triple H—and by extension, the Authority—at WrestleMania. Rollins makes his debut on the next episode, which we’ll cover (duh!) next week.
    • Antonio Cesaro. I keep forgetting that they initially branded Cesaro as a former rugby player who got banned for “excessive aggression,” and had Aksana escort him to the ring. We wouldn’t see Cesaro much on NXT as he was already on SmackDown, but his matches here were very memorable.
    • Bray Wyatt. When people said that the Wyatt gimmick was similar to Waylon Mercy, this is what they meant. It's actually really jarring to see how different this Wyatt is from the one we have now. Sure, the hillbilly swamp cult leader vibe was already there, but everything else was much lighter. Instead of maggots, dead sisters and arson, we get shots of rural American towns and woods. Also, Wyatt was still in his Lito Atienza phase of wearing Hawaiian floral polos.
  • It's also worth noting that the original commentary team was none other than Good Ol' Jim Ross and William Regal, and they're absolutely fun to listen to. Hell, even the opening theme is amazing, since it's Coheed & Cambria's Welcome Home welcoming us to Full Sail.  It's been nearly five years, but we have yet to have an NXT theme that is as good as this one.
Overall, this episode went exactly how you expected a reboot to go. A lot of time was spent on introducing the wrestlers, setting them up for their matches and debuts in the weeks that followed. The first two matches were rather short, but the main event between Kidd and McGillicutty more than made up for it. 

What did you guys think of NXT's reboot? Let us know your thoughts through the comments section below!


*****

Anthony Cuello is an HR and training practitioner. When he’s not sleeping or reading the Harvard Business Review, he covers Lucha Underground for Smark Henry. A psychology nut, he tends to watch wrestling looking for these small nuances of in-ring behavior. He dreams of a wrestling business with good people management practices, and hopes to help make that happen one day.


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