Monday, April 17, 2017

Wrestling Review – NXT Live in Atlanta 4-13-2017

If you’re looking for a recap of who elbowed who and when this guy flippity-flopped over that guy, this isn’t the place. I have no talent for play-by-play wrestling recaps.

I like to talk about the impressions wrestling events leave me with – who was over the most, who worked hardest, and how well the overall, show kept my attention. In the grand scheme of things, who had the best-looking finish (Shinsuke) doesn’t matter as much to me as who truly had the crowd in the palm of their hand (the answer will surprise you). I can’t even remember who won all of the matches because, quite frankly, I didn’t care that much about that.

Also, I didn't take a ton of pictures because there was some sort of Very Serious announcement prior to the show before we got in about recording devices or something. And the Center Stage security guys were constantly flashing their lights at people and going to them and stopping them from doing whatever they were doing. I got a few pics just so I could remember who did what and when, but no action shots. I was mainly there to have fun with my son, anyway. I hadn't even planned to do a write-up, but after having so much fun I decided I wanted to.

The original plan was for me and Rad Ranger to attend, but mere minutes after he bought our tickets he remembered that he was going to be in Orlando for Star Wars Celebration (in case you hadn’t heard). I asked a couple of people if they were interested in going, but pretty quickly decided I wanted to just take my son.

Calling Phantom, Jr. a casual wrestling fan would be a massive overstatement. Every once in a while he might watch a bit of Jack Gallagher or John Cena, but for the most part he isn’t interested. I’m okay with that because I am not an insane person that insists my son share all of my interests. I like wrestling, he likes watching twee British millennials with arrested development squeal while they play video games on YouTube. We all have our own things.
But I wanted to take him to NXT because I felt like it could be fun for him and because no matter how much time we spend together it’s never enough.

To his credit he was good about going. His main concern was actually that it was on a school night. Otherwise he seemed reasonably excited for a kid that wouldn’t know Yoko Ono from Kassius Ohno.

We arrived at Center Stage just in time, taking our seats right before the ring announcer started her pre-show hype. I think the ring announcer was Charly Caruso. She had great energy and was pretty good at getting the crowd engaged. Her intros were pretty short and sweet, but still good. I could’ve learned something from the NXT intro style in my ring announcing days.

Kassius Ohno vs. Dan Matha

I didn’t catch Ohno’s opponent’s name, but a quick Google search makes me pretty sure it was Dan Matha. He was a pretty huge, ripped dude with backne that looked like it was about to erupt. He did a solid job of being the big, musclebound heel, but this was mainly a showcase for Ohno.

I haven’t seen a whole heck of a lot of Ohno prior to NXT, when he was known as Chris Hero, but I know him by reputation. The guy has a great presence and tons of charisma. His moves are tight and he knows how to work the crowd. But man, he needs to lose that gut. I could benefit from that same advice, but nobody is paying me to fake fight on TV in my underpants.

My hope is that he’s working on his look and that we’ll end up with a Kassius Ohno that looks like a Main Eventer, because believe me – once he trims down the guy has got “IT”. He’s tall and powerful and energetic and I think he’ll make lots of money. But not until he gets the right look.

Enough harping on the poor guy that is in way better shape than me. The match was a hot opener and my son, who didn’t know either guy, was chanting and clapping along with everyone. Ohno and Matha did their jobs and got the whole place fired up, even my nine-year-old non-fan. Ohno got the win with a brutal elbow shot to the back of Matha’s head  and set the stage for a big, fun night to follow.

A note on the live crowd – I expected to be thoroughly annoyed by the audience, only because I usually am on TV. Aside from a couple of instances of stupidity – a “Roman Sucks” chant during the Women’s Championship match and scattered CM Punk chants – Atlanta seemed to be there more to have a great time than to try and get their stupid shenanigans over. Maybe because we knew the event wasn’t for TV, but whatever the case, everyone was cool and into the matches.

Except, of course, for the two buttholes next to us.

You can go to a wrestling show and have fun and get caught up and enjoy the hard work that the men and women in the ring are doing to entertain you. Or you can go and try to show how “smart” you are and do dipshit things like criticize every little thing and shout out the wrestlers’ real names or names they have previously worked under.

What do these guys think is going to happen when they shout “KENTA” at Hideo Itami? Do they think he’s going to stop and wave at them? Or leave the ring and come give them a dollar? What the heck is that?

These guys were also yelling at Dash and Dawson to hold onto the tag rope. While I agree that the boys should be conscious of such things, it’s not these guys’ place to be yelling that. I’m sure somebody will give them grief backstage, and if not, maybe that detail isn’t as important to today’s product as you think it is. WWF went years not even having tag ropes on the rings.

MVP – Kassius Ohno

Mandy Rose & Daria Berenato vs. Kimberly Frankele & Ruby Riot

I can’t remember seeing Mandy Rose before, but she came out first and the crowd was definitely into her. Then her partner, Berenato, arrived and things got heelish.

Kimberly Frankele debuted under this name on the most recent episode of NXT and immediately impressed me. She carries herself well, looks good, and from the little I’ve seen knows her business in the ring. I’m excited about seeing more of her.

Ruby Riot has been solid so far. In-ring she’s good, but her looks are definitely her gimmick at this point.

The match was another hot, crowd-pleasing affair. All four women did their parts, with Mandy Rose and Kimberly Frankele standing out. Berenato blew an arm drag, which the crowd jumped on with a “You fucked up” chant, somewhat unfairly in my opinion. Nobody got hurt and it didn’t interrupt the flow of the match – she just didn’t quite connect with the initiator (I can’t remember if it was Riot or Frankele). Otherwise she did a great job with her striking and looked good.

This was another opening crowd-pleaser, so Riot and Frankele went over, but I can’t remember how. Riot’s Ramones-esque theme played at the end, so she got the win, whatever it was.

MVP – Kimberly Frankele

Kona Reeves vs. Aleister Black

Kona Reeves came out first and I have to tell you that I expected nothing out of him. My first impression was that he was a jocko guy with a good body but nothing but generic cocky heel going on upstairs. He proved me wrong by having a great feel for the crowd and, in my opinion, being 90% of why Aleister Black got over.

I won’t deny the coolness of Black’s character and the visual appeal of how easily he transitions into Criss-Cross Applesauce, but otherwise the guy does nothing for me. He doesn’t seem tight in the ring and if you took away the trappings he doesn’t seem to have any natural gravitas. That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be awesome, but in the few times that I’ve seen him wrestle, I haven’t seen it yet.

In my opinion, Reeves’ selling of Black’s mystique is what got this whole match over. He did a great job playing the chickenshit heel who was too weirded out by Black’s gimmick to be able to focus on winning. Black won with the best roundhouse kick I’ve seen him hit yet. There was much acclaim for his Black Mass finish, but this was the first time it impressed me.

Side Note: There’s a whole other post to be written about why some kicks to the head finish matches and some allow the recipient to hop right back up.

MVP – Kona Reeves

Patrick Clark vs. Tye Dillinger(!)

I remember Patrick Clark appearing on an episode of NXT at some point in the recent past. He has a great look, but he also carries some pretty strong charisma. In this day and age, coming out dressed like Prince isn’t necessarily going to grab the instant heat it once would have, but before Clark even grabbed the mic it was clear he was going to be an effective heel. Once he did start talking he got the crowd hot fairly quickly. He received what I thought was a somewhat unusual amount of time for a guy I’d only seen once, but it was all to get the crowd fired up for the surprise appearance of
Tye Dillinger!

I like Dillinger and his shtick quite a bit, but I’ve had some reservations about his charisma. Sometimes he comes across as being a little plastic. That was nowhere in evidence Thursday night. Dillinger was electric as soon as he walked out on the stage. And the crowd went BANANA. Phantom, Jr. was immediately into him.

Dillinger and Clark proceeded to have an absolutely hilarious back-and-forth. Clark claimed that Dillinger’s “10” sign was a weapon and made the referee confiscate it. Then Clark gave up his scarf for the same reason. Dillinger then produced a smaller “10”, which Clark sold like a gunshot. This went on with increasingly smaller tens and scarves for a bit, then the match started.

I fully expected a flash Perfect 10 to end the match immediately, but much to my surprise – and everyone’s delight – the two went on to have a thrilling, fun-filled match. Dillinger did eventually get the crowd-pleasing win and after some celebrating with the ref got a standing ovation and a “thank you” chant from the crowd.

MVP – Clark and Dillinger were both on fire

Going in, I didn’t expect any of the recent main roster call-ups to be at what was ostensibly a house show, so Dillinger showing up was a great surprise. Phantom, Jr. got way into this match and loved doing the “10” hand sign, which we all had plenty of opportunity to do. I had told him I’d buy him a shirt and when I asked during the match if it was going to be a Tye Dillinger shirt, he said it would.

William Regal

Regal is my favorite wrestler of all time. Seeing him on that stage was awesome (I was even wearing my William Regal “Born Naughty” shirt). He came out and spoke briefly about being back in Center Stage where his career in America had begun so many years ago. He was clearly emotional and it was a big moment to witness.

Naturally, all kinds of thoughts went through my head as to how I might convince people to let me backstage to meet him, but in the end it was more about enjoying the show with my son, so I stayed put.

After Regal spoke the ring announcer said that there would be a triple threat tag team match for the NXT Tag Team Championships when the show returned after intermission. I asked Phantom, Jr. if he was having a good time and if he was ready to go, but he enthusiastically wanted to stay. He knows who DIY are and I think wanted to see them wrestle. He was also intrigued by the concept of a three-way tag team match. He seems to prefer it when there are lots of people fighting in the ring. He loves the Rumbles.

DIY vs. The Revival vs. Authors of Pain for the NXT Tag Team Championship

The crowd popped huge for Tomaso and Ciampa, but the response to Revival was massive. I don’t know is anyone else knew they were going to be there or not, but I was thrilled. When they got called up I was actually bummed out because I assumed that meant I wouldn’t get to see them live. Same thing with Dillinger and Nakamura.

Dash and Dawson still played the heels, but there was just too much love in the room for them to get real boos. Normally that would bother me, but this was played up like a special night.

Side Note: There are a few non-televised house shows scheduled and I’m sure the call-ups are appearing at all of them and I’m sure they treat it like their last NXT appearance every time, but it totally worked. And for all intents and purposes, this was their last appearance to us. We won’t see these people working NXT live again.

AOP got a solid heel reaction, but I think everyone is starting to respect them, too. They still seem a little green, but are doing a great job as big men. If they can develop personas – like the incredible Heavy Machinery already have – they’ll be players for a long time.

The match itself was very similar to the Takeover match. DIY and Revival teamed up against AOP initially, which led to some sweet spots outside of the ring, including what I think was the spot of the night – Tommaso Ciampa diving off the stage of Center Stage onto either Akam or Rezar. It took everyone’s breath away and definitely got the biggest pop of the night out of Phantom, Jr., possibly because it was right in front of us and we saw it happen.

I tend to have terrible seating luck where wrestling is concerned. I get the spots opposite where the talent is playing to, on the wrong side of the out-of-ring-action, and the ref is always in front of what’s going on. But we had solid seats that night. Whatever else happened, witnessing Ciampa flying like a missile off of that stage was tremendous.

Everyone got some great spots in and The Revival got to pull out some classic heel chicanery. But in the end, this is still a house show and nobody was toppling the monster champs. AOP hit their double team move on (someone) and retained.

After AOP cleared out, DIY and Revival had a Curtain Call of sorts where they hugged in the ring and did a variation on the Too Sweet finger thing. After DIY bailed, Revival graciously received a standing ovation and “thank you” chants. This was a badass match to see live.

MVP – The Revival

Ember Moon vs. Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship

Phantom, Jr. is big into werewolves, so Ember Moon’s quasi-lupine gimmick is a hit with him and he is familiar with and likes Asuka for being colorful and weird. I daresay this was our most anticipated match of the night.

Seeing Asuka work in person is something special, as she bumps like crazy and has this powerful vibe that permeates the whole building. When her music hit, everyone went bonkers, but when she actually came out from behind the curtain, everyone went double bonkers.

Both of these women are awesome. The match kicked ass all over the place and wasn’t just a rehash. It was fast-paced and exciting and kept everyone engaged. Obviously Asuka retained, but it left me wanting to see more of these two going at it as opposed to feeling like I’d seen enough.

MVP – Asuka edges Moon out just for being so damned electric

Andrade Cien Almas & Bobby Roode vs. Hideo Itami & Shinsuke Nakamura

This was a HOT Main Event.

Almas is finally getting the chance to be himself, and it turns out himself is pretty entertaining. Roode was played as a surprise, as prior to the intermission the ring announcer had shown some mini-posters autographed by Roode and Nakamura, sort of playing it up like neither one was there. This felt like an old school tactic to heat up a later pop and it totally worked. The crowd popped huge for Roode.

Itami was first out for his team (naturally) and got a very respectable response. I’m hoping he can really get involved in a program soon because I like the guy and feel like his injury resulted in him getting overshadowed by Nakamura. And that’s no knock on Itami – anyone would be overshadowed by Nakamura.

When the violin hit, the live audience turned into pure noise, but when Shinsuke walked onto the stage, everything just exploded. I got chills down my spine, a reaction I’ve only had a couple of times watching wrestling live. Part of it was the fact that his presence was a surprise, but part of it was just pure rock star. That guy has power. Like Asuka, just being in the same room with him was electric. He owned that place.

I don’t want to downplay Roode here, but maybe I should briefly explain my feelings on the guy – I was watching the ten dollar TNA Wednesday night shows from around the second or third episode. I was watching when Roode debuted and the whole time he was there – from Team Canada to Beer Money to when he won the Championship – I never got it. People would talk about how he was on a guaranteed path to WWE and how he had “It” in spades and how great he was and I never saw it. Not even a little. I thought he was bland and, at best, very good in the ring. Not great.

But as soon as he debuted in NXT, I saw something different. I don’t know if it was washing the stink of TNA off of him (I loved TNA dearly for years and was an avid supporter, but for me the company died almost a decade ago), or if he really did up his game, but he seemed different to me. Maybe I’m just that big of a mark for NXT. I dunno. Whatever the case, while I do think his rebirth is Glorious, I am not totally in the Roode camp yet like everyone else is.
Everyone else includes, of course, Phantom, Jr. He loved Bobby Roode. He said that he seemed like the king of the show and he loved the theme song. He was singing it all the way home. Oh, and he didn’t end up getting that Tye Dillinger shirt:

Dammit, son.

He asked me when the match started who the good guys were and I told him that Itami and Nakamura were. He gave me a funny look and then scrunched his face up like he was thinking really hard. Then he started booing Hideo Itami and cheering Bobby Roode. I feel like there was a slight anti-Asian racist bent at play. We’re going to have to discuss this. That’s not how I raised my son. If you’re going to boo anyone, you boo Canadians.

The match was as fantastic as you’d think, with Itami and Cien bumping all over the place and making Nakamura and Roode shine like diamonds. It all ended when Andrade ate a sick Kinshasa (finish of the night and it looked way better in person than I’ve ever seen it look on TV).

MVP – Andrade Cien Almas – everyone did their part, but he was the heat

After the match Nakamura got the ol’ “thank you” standing ovation and we bolted for the door to beat the traffic out and also because I had told Mrs. Troublemaker we’d be home by 10:00 and it was 10:45.


All in all we had a wonderful time and every single person involved in the show was clearly putting forth their best effort to entertain that crowd. I checked with Phantom, Jr. several times to make sure he was still having fun and wasn’t getting too tired and he was thoroughly engaged the whole time. If you can make it out to an NXT house show – or any WWE house show – I recommend it.

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