Thursday, March 4, 2010

TV Review: WWE's NXT is A-OK

The Miz speaks with his "trainee" Daniel Bryan.

When the WWE decided to cancel its ECW promotion and replace it with a Tough Enough-esque reality show, I didn't have high hopes for the new program. Frankly, it sounded kind of weird and gimmicky and stupid, like the entire Divas division and past promotions giving away $1 million to viewers.

Lo and behold though, NXT has actually been pretty decent in its initial two episodes, as it has given a chance for raw wrestlers and performers new to the WWE scene to get some television exposure. The show's focus on just eight performers certainly helps, as does the inclusion of established pros like Chris Jericho and The Miz to help them out with promo work.

In my opinion, there have been two stand-out performers on the show so far. The first one, Daniel Bryan, shouldn't be that surprising to anyone who follows wrestling regularly. He has been wrestling regularly for years, mostly for independent promotions and Ring of Honor, under the name Bryan Danielson. While the WWE has downplayed this, acknowledging only that he has been wrestling for a decade, his polish in the ring comes through as compared to the other raw talents on the show. In the debut episode, he almost pinned World Heavyweight champion Chris Jericho, and except for a botch on a springboard in the second episode, he has been near perfect in his ring action.

(Side note: The Miz is Bryan's mentor, and he is shockingly good on both this show and regular WWE programming. Seriously. Bill Simmons mentioned it in a column or chat the other week, but we are at the point where The Miz is now probably the most successful Real World graduate. Simply stunning. He will probably be a world champion within the next three years; he is dynamite on the microphone, like a young Chris Jericho, and his ring-work is now very good as opposed to just passable.)

Justin Gabriel also impressed in his tag match, which pitted him and Matt Hardy against William Regal and his hick trainee, Skip Sheffield. Gabriel is a big guy, but he hit a 450-degree splash from the top rope after Hardy laid out Regal with his finisher. He didn't hit it as easily as Evan Bourne nails the Shooting Star Press, which worried me a bit, but still, the finisher has definite star potential.

The other wrestlers featured prominently in the second episode, which I saw all of, were a mixed bag to me. At best, Sheffield seems like a hick comedy act; Santino Marella with muscles. Darren Young is a more athletic, thinner version of ECW and Smackdown flame-out Ricky Ortiz. David Otunga has a monstrous physique, and he clearly has an "all-star" pedigree in that his fiancee is apparently Jennifer Hudson; the WWE has a weakness for celebrity connections like that. However, he is clearly the rawest performer of the bunch.

Overall, NXT was a fairly entertaining hour of TV, and I'll check back with it from time to time - It had some fresher storylines and more wrestling than Raw and TNA Impact, which is kind of damning it with faint praise right now. However, it lacks the "pop" of the Smackdown storylines, at least in its two initial episodes.

Grade: B

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