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Smark Hen-XT (11/7/18): Waking Up From A Good Dream


Smark Hen-XT returns this week after a busy long weekend, in which your humble scribe was unable to review the show. That's what happens when you turn a long weekend intended for rest into a working weekend. Hey, you've got to do what you've got to do to advance your career, right?

With NXT TakeOver: WarGames being less than two weeks away, it makes total sense that NXT would be kicking the hype for the big show into the next gear. Now that these TakeOver specials have a fixed schedule attached to WWE's four tentpole events (plus the June show), NXT fans should already be conditioned to expect five storylines to be built for the upcoming PPV.

I feel the buildup for the NXT Championship match between Tommaso Ciampa and Velveteen Dream, the grudge match between Aleister Black and Johnny Gargano, and the WarGames match between The Undisputed ERA and the alliance of Ricochet, Pete Dunne, and War Raiders.

I don't feel it for the NXT Women's Championship match, which has been turned into a two-out-of-three falls match. And we still don't know what the fifth match is going to be.

It's a shame that there seems to be little in the way of pushing the feud between Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler forward. I would've wanted Kairi to at least attack Marina Shafir or Jessamyn Duke, knowing full well that either of the latter two might not be ready for a full match just yet. The backstage video from Evolution that aired on NXT last week and this week's backstage vignette just isn't doing anything for me right now. I'm supposed to be invested in Kairi getting screwed out of the title and being bullied by three of MMA's Four Horsewomen. But I'm not. I'm hoping that gets addressed during next week's go-home show.

As for the fifth match, I'm going to guess it's either Kassius Ohno vs. Matt Riddle—as part of Ohno's current storyline angst against NXT GM William Regal's "shiny new toys"—or a match from the NXT UK division. I'm having a hard time catching up to NXT UK as is. I can imagine it'll be much more difficult for most wrestling fans with full-time jobs. So I highly doubt it'll be any of the NXT UK feuds, at least, for now.


Whoever made the call to turn Velveteen Dream face deserves a raise. It was only a matter of time until NXT fans would cheer Dream on, regardless of what he did or who he went up against. Sure, he would probably get nuclear heat if he kicked a baby or shoved a living thing onto an incoming vehicle. But other than that, wrestling fans know that Dream is crazy talented and they're ready to get behind him, alignment be damned.

Velveteen Dream's match with Lars Sullivan was a great way to get Dream over as a babyface, while also pushing the story of Dream proving his legitimacy as the #1 Contender to the NXT Championship. Unlike Johnny Gargano, who was once had to fight and claw through other hopefuls to win his title shot, Dream was just awarded his—something commentary kept bringing up throughout the match. The Sullivan match sought to prove that he belonged in the championship picture, while also painting sympathy for him against a behemoth of a man.

It was a bit unnatural seeing Dream get manhandled like that, but the visual worked because it allowed fans to see him as a vulnerable character, who had to overcome the odds. While he didn't win, the Ciampa run-in towards the end was a nice touch to reinforce that Velveteen Dream is absolutely the man you should be cheering for. Plus, that moment at the end where Dream hit the Purple Rainmaker and celebrated with the championship was a nice little tease of how the pop would be if he actually won the title. Consider that a litmus test, Dream. I can't wait for the real thing.


Meanwhile, the storytelling in the Aleister Black/Johnny Gargano saga continues to be masterful. I have to applaud whoever wrote Gargano's promo this week because it incorporated the lyrics of Black's theme song—as well as his own personal mantra—to Johnny's state of mind in an apropos manner. It's clear that Gargano is the heel here. He's passively-aggressively defending his attack on Aleister Black by calling the latter "collateral damage," but in justifying an action that's morally wrong (in a vacuum), he's employing cognitive dissonance to try to convince viewers—and probably himself—that he's only human and that he's only showing his shades of gray. No man is ever truly good; and no man is ever truly evil, right?

What the Johnny Gargano character is obviously not seeing is that in embracing the darkness, he's allowing himself to succumb to the temptations of evil acts. And while no man is ever truly good or evil, it's much easier for people to judge others based on what they see—a person's actions—rather than the entirety of their being. For most people, perception is reality, so even though Gargano continues to think of himself as the hero, he only looks like a prick asserting his ascendancy by getting on his high horse and being self-righteous.

I'm excited for this year's WarGames match because its configurations are different from last year's, where we had three teams of three men going against one another. This time, we have two teams of four, with the babyface team having a tenuous connection, at best. There are two things I'm not high on here: (1) that the alliance between Ricochet, Pete Dunne, and War Raiders was barely explained—much like how odd it was to see Roderick Strong suddenly throwing down alongside The Authors of Pain AOP last year, and (2) that all the other championships on NXT were crammed into this match just to make space for another match on the card.

That said, I'm a fan of all eight men in this match, and I'm really pumped to see them destroy one another inside the WarGames structure. I just wish there was a stipulation in place. After all, both teams each have two members who are holding a championship. Why not have the winning team receive a championship opportunity against the champions on the losing team? Is that not simple enough to include into the booking?

Not-So-Full Sails

  • I didn't expect Heavy Machinery to pick up a win against The Forgotten Sons since the latter is the newer team that needs to be built up. However, I do see Knight and Dozovic getting a push so they can get to The Undisputed ERA before War Raiders ultimately take the tag titles. I still think The Forgotten Sons fly too much, though, for characters that are unhinged, resentful, and angry.
  • Candice LeRae and Renee Young should be juxtaposed against one another in light of their husbands' heel turns in recent weeks. It's interesting how Renee, as a broadcaster, just fades into the background and goes silent whenever Dean Ambrose appears, whereas Candice is visibly shaken by all of this and is looking to take it out on Nikki Cross. It makes me wonder if Candice will follow suit and turn to the dark side, too, while taking Nikki out of commission in the latter's farewell match. I hope Mrs. Wrestling remains babyface, though. We need more heroes to root for in the women's division.
  • It's amazing how confident Taynara Conti looks now over a year since we first saw her on the WWE Network. She carries herself with the same "sassy bitch" aura that Alexa Bliss moves with, but she's also equally capable of breaking your arm off as a black belt judoka. Dakota Kai is also looking impressive now that she's on the comeback trail. I really think they're pushing her in the direction of Bayley 2.0, which isn't bad—at least until she eventually ends up on RAW.
  • Mia Yim vs. Bianca Belair next week on NXT? I'm. Ex. Ci. Ted.
This week's episode did its job in pushing the major storylines towards TakeOver: WarGames, while also advancing the arcs of the other Superstars who won't necessarily be at the big show itself. There's one more week to iron out the kinks that I laid out above; and I hope the Yellow Brand uses it well so that all relevant questions are answered by the time we enjoy the actual matches come TakeOver. It was a solid episode, but it wasn't spectacular, so it'll have to settle for a B.

Image 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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