Before They Were NXT Superstars Vol. Two
Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens) vs AJ Styles House of Hardcore 6/7/14
Maybe this is cheating a bit since it is so recent, but it seems like it could be a pretty dope match. AJ has been one of the best in the world since leaving TNA. I'm iffy on it being at a Tommy Dreamer show, though. For as much as people shit on Steen adopting MMA shorts as Owens, it was a good choice. The shirt and singlet look isn't very good for his body type. Of course, Steen is a cunt and knocks AJ off the apron to start the match. Lots of guardrail work. It takes about 4 minutes before the match gets in the ring at all. In the ring, AJ controls the pace with his athleticism. Steen hits a nasty rope hang DDT. I hope internet fans realize the irony of loving a guy who blatantly ripped of Cena shirts and Orton moves for years. He even takes the time to shit on some Cena fans in the crowd, which gets a...FUCK JOHN CENA chant. Lol. If these fans only knew what John Cena would be doing for KO about a year later. That's some pandering ass shit on the indies to get heat on John Cena during your match, though. I guess Steen really knows his audience, at least. And people on the internet pretend John Cena isn't over. Dude is the biggest heel in this match! This headlock goes on long enough that it gets THIS IS AWESOME chants. Hard to be a heel when fans will literally cheer anything you do. The more you try to be a heel, the more they cheer you. AJ applies his own headlock for a while. Once Steen gets free he...goes back to the headlock, which brings MATCH OF THE YEAR chants. The AJ combo is so rad. SO mean. AJ hits it again, corner suplex, springboard forearm, and then eats a Flapjack Norton on the apron for all of his troubles. Cannonball! I hope he pays royalties to Quebecer CARL for that. Stunner OUTTA NOWHERE. After chanting for headlocks, John Cena, and Steve Austin, these fans are still shitty enough to do YOU FUCKED UP chants. Steen hits the fisherman suplex to counter a superplex. This all looks familiar. Steen gets the fans to chant YOU FUCKED UP at the ref. F5 OUTTA NOWHERE. Half of Steen's move set is made up of famous WWE finishers. AJ gets free of the package piledriver and hits the Pele, Bloody Sunday, and wins with the Styles Clash. I don't know about this. Indie wrestling in America is such a weird thing, because it is so steeped in irony. Everything is so wink wink, isn't this cool/funny/we're all in on the joke. There is zero ability or chance to have even a second of suspension of disbelief. The crowds want the wrestlers to know they're smart, and the wrestlers want the fans to know how cool/funny/smart/good they are. It's too weird. Anyway, KO is exactly the same, just without the bad language.
Sami Callihan (Solomon Crowe) vs Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose) CZW Championship CZW 4/10/10
I questioned counting Crowe as a NXT star considering he hasn't done anything. Dean technically wasn't in NXT, but FCW history seems to be included with NXT, so this is kind of a bonus selection. Crowe has put on a ton of muscle. Dean has as well. Crowe is so small. He's like...Rey Jr. height. This is CZW, there is no Zandig, no light tubes, and mat wrestling. This isn't what I signed up for. I want JEEEEZUS shit. Both have the same questionable hairlines and balding spots. Crowe spits in Dean's face. Gross. And that leads into...lucha spots? Lots of highly choreographed reversals. Then they decide to have a strike battle. Lots of submission work and stuff, but none of it is focused and it isn't going anywhere. Another strike battle. I'm not impressed with this at all. Their wrestling is smooth and fine, but it isn't interesting, and they certainly aren't telling a story with their work. What I gather is that they were a tag team and now are bitter enemies. But they aren't wrestling like that. Even on the floor, there really isn't any intensity. Dean now doing a STF on the floor. This is dumb and bland as fuck. If I'm watching this, neither of them are inspiring me to hire them. Crowe especially is just entirely unimpressive on every level. Which is what I would expect, because he's been entirely unimpressive on NXT as well. Dean is more surprising in how unimpressive he is. He's shown no personality at all. Just bland shit all over the place here. Let's do chain wrestling that goes no where, and then lets do a strike battle, and then lets do 10 reversals, and then lets go back to the strike battle. Uh, why is Dean calling Crowe a "little faggot"? Crowe is busted open via being bitten in the head. This is terrible. "THIS CROWD IS COMING ALIVE" I mean, clapping for a few seconds is coming alive at a CZW show I guess. Crowe has this stupid neck submission where he has no leverage at all. This is so shitty. I hope it ends soon. Ambrose wins with a full nelson face slam. This was trash. I wish I hadn't watched it. Title retained. What the fuck was the point in blading with 4 minutes left in the match and it not playing any part of the story? Why did these dudes that hate each other spend most of the match slapping chests or mat wrestling?
PAC (Neville) vs Ricochet Dragon Gate 2011
Flippies and floppies. First off, Neville has put on a TON of muscle. Like..a questionable amount of muscle for his frame. From the very start, this is nonstop "let's show how athletic we are" back flips and running and bouncing. And they both are very athletic. No doubt about that. Neville does his twisting tope and looks like he lands knees first on the floor. These two are generally talked about as two of the best high flyers in the world, so I expect at least a couple of really crazy shots. In the ring, Ricochet hits a nasty reverse rana. What the fuck, space tiger flying drop from Ricochet doesn't even make sense. How the fuck did he just bounce in the air like that at the end? Is there a god damn trampoline on the apron? That's bonkers. So many back-flips. These dudes are going to have the worst knees later in life. Handspring elbow is countered into a tossing backdrop. These dudes look so young. Snap German from Neville. Second rope phoenix splash! Why do it off the second rope if you could do it off the top rope? Neville misses a 630. Puma hits his and then hits like a...snap backslide driver? Neville kicks out. Neville recovers with a super German suplex and a Ligerbomb. Red Arrow for the win. Because of the length (a little over 9 minutes), this reminded me of a cruiserweight match on Nitro. Zero story, but tons of cool movez. If it was spaced out to 15 minutes or more, I probably would not have liked it. But because it was short, I'm able to digest the nonsense spot fest. Neville is EXACTLY the same. He was most definitely hired as is. Same spots, same gear even. The only difference between him here and in 2015 is 15-20 pounds of muscle.
Tyler Black (Seth Rollins) vs Bryan Danielson ROH 5/9/08
The big AOTF/Tyler Black push is right when I dropped out of indie wrestling for good. I hated everything about it. That match with Bryan and Nigel headbutting ring posts is when I started to give up, so I missed pretty much all of Seth's indie run. He starts this match by swarming Bryan, slamming him over the top rope, and then hits a suplex on the floor. The physical change of Rollins in 2008 and 2015 is crazy. Crossfit is 4REAL, apparently. Rollins is controlling this completely. He's a bit of a dick, although not the slimy piece of shit he is today. Bryan is Bryan and now it is weird seeing him without the beard and with muscles. He's also a dick head. His strikes are legit. After several teases, Bryan finally gets the Romero Clutch. He transitions that right into cattle mutilation. Also weird is seeing Bryan not doing his "aw shucks" routine and corpsing every few minutes. I really think he was just more comfortable and at home in front of small crowds. Seth trying to get into a strike battle is just not working out for him at all. So much Regal in Bryan at this stage. More than he really ever got to show in WWE. Just stretching and pulling noses and shit. Kicking the shit out of young Rollins. It's a good thing Seth started off hot, because he's not had much luck since then. The flying is what changes the momentum for Seth. Of course. No idea why he was trying to out wrestle and out strike Bryan. Bryan's dive sends him into the crowd. Into the unwashed masses. Well, masses is probably a little excessive for a ROH show, but you know what I'm saying. Seth hits his fire up spots, which are pretty much the same as today: enzuguri -> buckle bomb -> mafia kick. He's able to avoid a back superplex. He lands on his feet from a phoenix splash and is immediately taken to the mat. He gets out of the cattle mutilation and the elbows, then Bryan turns a Pele into an inverted knee bar and wins with a half crab with an ankle pick. Pretty enjoyable, although definitely more of that goes to Bryan than Seth. I wish Bryan got to be this guy in WWE. Seth is better at everything today. His body is better, his movement is better, he's far more crisp, he's far more confident. I can't really see this Tyler Black as the top heel for a year and WWE Champion, but I also can't really see this Bryan being the top face and WWE Champion anymore than you'd see Regal in 1996 and be like "Well yeah he's obviously going to be world champion". Bryan wasn't really hired to do this kind of match. As great as Bryan is/was, it's kind of hard to understand why WWE hired him if they almost never actually used him for the type of matches he was best at. All of these other guys, you can see what they were hired for and it plays out in how they've been used. Bryan seems like he was hired just to be the "technical" mid card filler guy that puts on a good match on Nitro every 3 weeks and never makes it to PPV. It's a testament to him that he ended up headlining WM, although as a completely different type of wrestler and character.
Prince Devitt vs Kazuchika Okada NJPW IWGP Championship 10/27/13
Now, I've never been impressed with Balor. He just hasn't done it for me. In WWE, the only good match I think he's had was against Owens in Japan. From what I've seen of his NJPW work, he was a very generic indie junior type, and then Bullet Club trash brings down everything. But I do love Okada, so lets hope for the best. I would love to have my opinion on Balor changed. I want to like him. I want to see what everyone seems to see in him. Hopefully I can see some of it in this. First off, I'm struck by how much of a weirdo Balor seems like here. Not in the "dress up like a Rastafarian and do interpretive dance entrances" weird, but more like a weirdo zombie serial killer weird. Too many stand offs for my liking. Balor seems to be pretty well scouted. Fale holds Okada in place for a double stomp TO THE DICK. How rude. Red Shoes, why are you letting the Bullet Club interfere? Why are you letting Balor take off the buckle pad? Why are you letting him use the exposed buckles? You're better than that, friend. Balor seems to be focusing on the ribs/chest of Okada. Rainmaker pose...from Balor! That dick. Charlie Brown Anderson hits an apron powerbomb. Man, fuck Karl Anderson. Okada gets back into things with a neck breaker and goes to work from there. I feel like he played a lot of Fire Pro games, because so many of his moves look just like Fire Pro animations. Rainmaker POSE. Rainmaker itself is countered. The story is pretty clear: Balor working the ribs/mid section, Okada working the head/neck to set up the Rainmaker. It's basic, logical, they both stick to their plans, and it is good. Balor hits his huge tope. He over shot most of it. In the ring, he hits a top rope double stomp to the back of the fucking head. God damn. Fucking harsh. Bloody Sunday 123HEGOTHIMNOHEDIDN'T. Strike battle ensues. Corner dropkick from Okada! A huge tope wipes out the Bullet Club. 4REAL. Okada is feeling himself. He's feeling himself. Oh no, Red Shoes has been bumped. Balor uses a chair, only to get it kicked back into his face. Anderson and Tonga get involved and are quickly disposed of. Bad Luck Fale hits the ring. Gedo distracts him enough for Okada to get rid of him. Balor reverses the tombstone. Chair assisted double stomp. How many double stomps you gonna do, bro? Okada kicks out! After about 10 counters, Okada finally hits the Rainmaker for the win. Title retained. I'm happy to say that Balor impressed me a lot here. I really enjoyed this match. He showed so much more personality here than he does on NXT, which is weird because that's what people always talk about him showing the most in NXT. His psychology was signficantly better here than in NXT. His mannerisms were better here. Everything was better here. This was dope. I think the BC interference was mild enough that it din't kill the match like it so often does. I'm into it. I'm in the Balor Club if he can be this good in NXT/WWE. Maybe he's just not interesting as a face.
Kota Ibushi vs El Generico (Sami Zayn) DDT 5/4/12
Ole! At the time, I thought Sami dropping the mask was a terrible and stupid idea, but god damn if he hasn't been the best WWE wrestler for the past 2 years and one of the best promo guys. So perhaps my opinions don't mean dick. Very fluid, fast paced mat stuff and counters to begin. Generico is caught off guard with ranas and dropkicks and bails to the floor. Generico kind of has a bit of a heel edge to him. It's strange. Ibushi lands awkwardly on his shoulder during a tiltawhirl back breaker and Sami takes advantage by beating the shit out of that arm. This is kind of fascinating. Generico is working as the mean dude against a plucky scrappy face. It's like seeing Sting beg off from Ric Flair or something. Not that Generico is a full heel here, but he is extremely aggressive and deliberate. He's trying to get a count out win, so maybe he is full heel. Ibushi's selling is great. Top notch. Like Sami's. Helluva kick misses and this is Ibushi's chance to get back into things. Handspring Pele OUTTA NOWHERE sends Generico falling from the top to the apron and bouncing to the floor. Springboard moonsault. So much air. Good thing Ibushi really doesn't need his arm for most of his big moves. Reverse rana OUTTA NOWHERE. Blue Thunder Bomb! Ibushi kicks out! Helluva kick is again countered. JESUS FUCK that Michinoku Driver. Fucking SPIKED Ibushi. Even Ibushi can't believe he kicked out. Shit is getting real. Ibushi is so fast. What the fuck. How is a human that fast? It's like watching Tiger Mask matches and the dude is like a blur when he gets going. Ibushi has given everything he has. Generico is frustrated and just can't keep him down. Helluva kick is countered two more times. Great build up to that move. Oh shit, he hit it! Ibushi slips out of the brainbustaaaaah and takes a terrible fall to the floor. He recovers, somehow, and hits a springboard reverse rana. SAMI KICKS OUT! ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THE DDT! THE BOYHOOD DREAM WON'T DIE! Ibushi attempts the Barry White Driver. Sami has that move well scouted and gets out, hits a half and half suplex, follows that with the Helluva kick, and then hits the BRAINBUSTAAAA for the win. This was great. This was like the Cesaro/Sami match, but with Sami in the Cesaro role. Really great stuff. I really had no idea Sami had that in him. He was great in it. Ibushi was great. Just a lot of great. Kind of hard to compare this particular El Generico to Sami Zayn. What this did was convince me that Sami Zayn is one of the top wrestlers in the world. Again. And so is Ibushi. This was dope. Watch it. Not hiring Sami Zayn would have been the biggest mistake WWE could have made in 5 years in either direction. How could you NOT hire this dude? He's amazing. He can do literally everything. Steamboat level face, surprisingly great heel, lucha, mat wrestling, brawling, flying, incredible selling, great promos. There is nothing he can't do. Sami Zayn is amazing.
The NXT scouts, (I think mostly Regal), really know what they're doing. You can see that all of these people they've hired have a specific thing they do that others don't, and they are hired to fill that role. And, for the most part, they haven't changed anything about those men and women except for trimming some of the more dangerous moves. 12 wrestlers that I've watched, and all of them were hired for their specific talents and were used as they are with only the most minor of changes. A big departure from the days when every woman hired was a model with big fake tits and no wrestling background, and every male hired looked like an Abercombie model with the same tights and moves. All of these people definitely deserved to get a shot at the big time.
Although, Ambrose and Crowe did not have good showings. Really can't see the point of hiring Crowe if they already have Ambrose. I also think WWE probably should have tried to poach Ibushi instead of KENTA. I think Ibushi appeals to more demographics, is significantly bigger, and also has a style that blends with WWE style much, much easier than KENTA kicking the shit out of people a foot taller than him. I say this with love in regardes to KENTA.