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Smark Hen-XT (8/8/18): Limitless


As someone who doesn't have a lot of time to consume wrestling outside of my diet—that being WWE TV and Lucha Underground—I really appreciate NXT as the show that exposes me to new talent. I'll be the first to admit to not having seen the likes of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Finn B├ílor, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, and Aleister Black outside of their WWE tenure. But through NXT, I've got an accessible avenue to see these stars and find out why the rest of the Smark Henry group chat goes gaga over (insert indy standout here).

This brings me to Keith Lee's much-anticipated debut on this week's episode.

He got a video package before his match, and he didn't get a squash match. Instead, he got a match with Marcel Barthel (formerly known as Axel Dieter Jr. of wXw), which wasn't all that predictable. Think back to Kevin Owens' debut match against future Juice Robinson CJ Parker at NXT TakeOver: R-Evolution. Barthel got to show us bits and pieces of his classy, uptight snob character, while also showing us what he can do in the ring. I particularly enjoyed Barthel's theme music, which really complemented his gimmick, as well as his yelling of, "Nein!" when he'd try to put Keith Lee in his place.

Make no mistake, though. This match was a Keith Lee showcase from start to finish. If you were a newcomer to his work much like I am, you'll find yourself with an entire list of reasons to support this guy and want nothing but success for him.

For starters, this is a dude who looks like he belongs in the Territorial Era—think of him as a spiritual successor of someone like Junkyard Dog. What makes Keith Lee different is how limitless he truly is. This is a dude who's billed at 6'6, 320 lbs. We've all been conditioned to think that he shouldn't be doing leapfrogs and dropkicks like a member of 205 Live. And yet, he does it with such skill and grace that it leaves you hooked to see if he can do more of that. Yes, I'm well aware of his highly regarded match with Donovan Dijak (now known as Dominik Dijakovic on NXT) from PWG's Battle of Los Angeles last year. And by the time you've read this, I may have already caught the match for the first time myself.

Keith Lee is also the type of dude who you would not want to fuck with. If I saw this guy at a bar and he told me to jump, I'd simply ask, "How high?" I would not want to make this man angry. And yet, he possesses a natural charisma that just makes you want to cheer for him. "Bask in my glory," which is sewn on his vest, sounds very much like a heel catchphrase. But he somehow makes it work for himself as a smiling babyface with an edge that he can easily tap into. And, goddamn, that Pounce. And that Jackhammer! I'm still reeling off the force with which he hit those moves.

I've bought my tickets and I'd like to get on the Keith Lee bandwagon. I need to see this man succeed in WWE.


This week's main event match/segment was supposed to formally set up the main event of TakeOver: Brooklyn IV. I've talked about this at length in previous weeks, so let me just talk about how NXT has adjusted, given the news of Aleister Black's injury being so severe that he needs to be pulled out of TakeOver.

I love how they shot a vignette that shows Black getting laid out at the Full Sail parking lot. You've got Johnny Gargano nonchalantly walking past NXT GM William Regal, The Undisputed ERA hurriedly driving away from the scene as Regal walks past them, and then you have Heavy Machinery stupidly taking selfies and videos right by the incapacitated former NXT Champion. It's an entertaining segment that immediately establishes multiple suspects in a "Whodunnit?" kind of way. Yeah, we were robbed of what would've been an awesome Triple Threat NXT Championship match in two weeks, but I'm willing to see how NXT rewrites the story and refocuses on the Gargano/Ciampa blood feud—this time, over the title.

Overall, this episode was a bit all over the place given everything that was going on—from the promos and segments, to the vignettes, to the matches that took place. It felt packed like every hour that NXT cranks out each week, but it wasn't as smoothly paced as it was in previous weeks. This episode gets a B for "Boy, I need to see more of Keith Lee, stat!"

Not-So-Full Sails

  • Adrian Jaoude looks like a generic CAW. I'm going to wait until he drops "Adrian" and starts going by just "Jaoude." Way more badass than "Neville." On that note, I'm starting to get annoyed with Mauro calling a newcomer's NXT career "embryonic." 
  • I'm also unsure now of what Kassius Ohno's alignment is. People still love him and he isn't necessarily evil, per se. But seeing him mouth off at a fallen Adrian Jaoude, as if he were about to froth at the mouth and pounce on the guy, was pretty uncomfortable to watch.
  • Speaking of Brazilian Superstars, why did both Jaoude and Taynara Conti come out in a gi? Do all Brazilian Superstars have to be well-versed in martial arts now? On the real, I love that Taynara got the win over Vanessa Borne. I enjoyed her work in the Mae Young Classic, as well as during her cameo in the SaniTY vs. Undisputed ERA feud. I see her as a more talented, though unpolished, version of Alexa Bliss.
  • That "Experience the Dream" vignette was lowkey homoerotic in a way that reminded me of how Sable and Torrie Wilson tried to one-up each other during their May 2003 feud. I'm not sure we actually needed this segment because it also seemed awkward, and not in the way that Creative may have intended it to. I didn't need the Velveteen Dream to also display a lavish home. We already have EC3 and supposedly, Kona Reeves, for that. Does every boastful NXT Superstar reside in a huge-ass mansion?!
  • It was nice seeing Nikki Cross in action again, but what's the plan for her going forward? It seems like she's just running in place at this point.
  • I really wanted to enjoy "ATM," the Street Profits' talk show segment, but NXT's mixing should improve. They ought to bring down the volume of the background music and let me hear Dawkins and Ford talk trash. Jeez.
Images from WWE

*****



Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXTLucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.

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