Special Events

WWE's NXT Shows Even the Development League Can Bring It

A lot of folks in the crowd couldn't believe this move.
A lot of folks in the crowd couldn't believe this move. Photo by Camilo H. Smith

NXT Takeover: WarGames
Toyota Center

The WWE's four-day run in Houston comes to a close on Tuesday night. But they kicked it off Saturday night with their lesser named wrestlers doing big things, like fatal-four-way matches and humongous caged match wars.

Professional wrestling fandom seems so intricate these days. It's not as simple as it used to be when there was just a small stable of super stars and your wrestling allegiances were split north and south. You were either down with Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair (Which I have to say that "30 for 30: Nature Boy" is just excellent.)

You feel sort of left out the loop if you don't know all the chants and hand signs or can mouth the words to every entry song. It feels like church. And in many ways it is, a church of violence and testosterone that's equal parts rock show and circus. It's really entertaining stuff.

The NXT brand of the WWE Universe is special for the hard-core fans because to become a regular watcher you need a subscription to WWE's streaming channel, unlike SmackDown or Raw which you can watch with basic cable. Either way, the producers know the art of the build.

Two early matches were forgettable, but things got good when Aleister Black took on Velveteen Dream. It was the most homoerotic thing that night. Dream is a metro-sexual wrestler modeled after Prince and Little Richard and Black is some heavily tattooed bruiser from the Netherlands.

The introduction of the two wrestlers brought the crowd to their feet following a promo video that displayed their rivalry. The gimmick between the two was that one of them gets wrapped up in the ropes while the other slaps him. It was hard to make sense of it unless you were fanboying out on WWE's development league, which is basically what NXT is. Still there was a lot of action and Black ended up winning the match.

Then things got really good with a four-way match between female wrestlers that included Ember Moon, a wrestler from Texas and Kairi Sane, a wrestler from Japan. Sane's off-the-top-rope game was incredible. At one point during the match that also involved Nikki Cross and Peyton Ross. Sane ended up giving a flying elbow that seemed to keep her in the air for a full minute. 

The match was lightning fast and really entertaining. In the end Moon, the hometown favorite won and ended up being given a belt and crowned the NXT Women's Champion.

The momentum grew with the headlining match that featured former lucha libre performer Andrade "Cien" Almas against Drew McIntyre for the NXT Championship belt. The buildup for the match was straight telenovela style.

The gimmick for this rivalry played out right from the start as Zelina Vega, the manager for Almas attacked McIntyre a couple of times, event helping to seal his fate when Almas went for the pin for the umpteenth time.

Given its scrappier nature as the development art of the WWE, NXT was able to do a no-holds barred multi-team cage match that's branded as War Games. It was impressive.

click to enlarge
Photo by Camilo H. Smith
A siren whaled before a giant cage, covering two rings that were side-by-side slowly lowered down. A whole litany of rules was explained on the giant TV screens and only the nerdiest of wrestling fans would really care about.

But basically, the premise was this: There were three teams, only one member from each team got to enter the ring at first before a time clock starts to run down. The team members waiting inside smaller cages while they waited to enter the main ring. Once the time runs out, the remaining members of each teams gets released from their individual cages.

It was intense and exciting. Seeing all the action going on inside the cage was difficult, unless you're craning your neck to watch the monitors above. But people in the crowd were blood thirsty and wild. At one point, after all the teams were inside the caged ring folks were calling out for tables to be used and garbage cans and chains.

The Undisputed Era team, with Adam Cole, who was looking like a poor man's Shawn Michaels took on Roddy Strong and The Authors of Pain and Sanity. It was wild beyond belief with Cole climbing the to the top of the cage only to get suplexed into a crowd of wrestlers. It was amazing no one died. But that's the beauty of WWE choreography.

Overall it was a good outing and a great kickoff to the flurry or pro wrestling events to hit Houston for Thanksgiving week.

Personal Bias: Man, I loved wrestling as a kid. But I probably fell off regular consumption once it went all telenovela on us. But the kayfabe is just part of the whole spectacle. I seriously can't understand the people who have disposable income to cop those ringside seats which cost big money. Still, you see the work the wrestlers put in even from the mid-range seats. And fake or not, that shit looks like it hurts.

The Crowd: If you want to see a good cross-section of Houston, go to a marquee wrestling show. Latina moms with two kids in tow, saw a couple of those, and WWE bros of every shade.

Overheard in the Crowd: "You gotta crush his head like a coconut," screamed one guy who was squealing at the top of his lungs the entire three-hour-plus show. It's like, bro, do you know this isn't even real?

Random Notebook Dump: Damn, they play a lot of commercials during this thing on the big screens at the top of the stadium. They want me to buy the Marmozets' War Games theme song on my iPhone now, too?

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Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.