by Frank Lucci
In Preparation for the inevitable crowning of Roman Reigns as Universal Champion, Spaceman Frank has taken it upon himself to go back and look at some events that happened around the same time WWE tried Brock vs. Roman. He will look back at the last WrestleMania to take place in New Orleans, WrestleMania 30, as well as WrestleMania 31 and the first encounter between the two men. But first The Spaceman will check out the very first live wrestling event ever streamed on the WWE Network, NXT Arrival!
Nowadays it is taken for granted that TakeOver shows will be the better show going into big event weekends. But in the early days of the WWE Network heading into WrestleMania 30 there was no such hype. As a slightly younger Spaceman still in the infancy of my superfandom I watched the weekly NXT shows and while they were fun they were far from must watch television. Honestly I think the biggest draw for me was that they were just one hour long and they featured characters that you would never see on Raw or SmackDown. But with the launch of the Network it seemed the developmental brand was poised to take off, and when they announced a live special weeks before Mania it was hard to not get at least mildly excited. But how does this experimental and primordial TakeOver feel four years later? Let’s find out.
Now to get it out of the way, yes there was some technical bugs that plagued NXT Arrival. I was one of the many people who were stuck watching Tyler Breeze posing on the turnbuckle as the stream froze. WWE later apologized for the interruption to this “special episode” (as Wikipedia describes Arrival as if the roster would host an intervention for Mojo Rawley over his caffeine pills), but I was nervous that, if a lowly NXT event could get messed up, how would WrestleMania fare? In addition WWE overbooked Full Sail University, leaving about 200 people who bought tickets in a lurch and unable to watch the show. All in all, not the best showing for NXT and WWE. I watched this program live (until being forced to watch Breeze over and over again), and while I have fun it just felt like something to do on a Saturday night rather than something equal or surpassing a PPV. At just under two hours this should be an easy watch, so let’s dive right into it.
The intro to the show jumps right into the darkened arena as Triple H hypes the crowd. He does his standard “the future is now blah blah blah” stuff before we get the regular NXT into video. Our announce team is Tom “check out my bulge” Phillips, Byron Saxton, and William Regal (JBL is GM at the time, which is something I completely forgot about). Considering two of these guys are black holes of charisma the commentary throughout is not great. No special video package and two minutes in Sami Zayn’s music hits. Kind of a lame opener, but again I do not think Triple H was thinking to himself “these kids are gonna sell out Brooklyn three years in a row.” Speaking of Sami…
Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro
Sami won an epic 2 out of 3 falls match against a moonlighting from the main roster Cesaro, which lead to this match. I wish WWE would occasionally bring in ringers again for NXT, if only to give some floundering people some touch ups or a chance to try a new character. Sami is out first to his weird and super generic first theme song. It sounds like music from a menu screen for a Street Fighter clone on the PS2. We the People Era Cesaro is out with his garter belts on his thighs and Tea Party track jacket out. Crowd is hot for both these guys, and we get “match of the year” chants before the bell rings. Lockup and Cesaro smacks Sami in the back of the head, which is something all heels should do 100% of the time. Immediately shows your the bad guy and works for wrestling machines like Cesaro. Commentary seems to hint that big things are going to be happening for Cesaro which, um, may happen still. Much of the early portion of the match is Cesaro using his efficient Swiss engineered strength to counter Zayn’s high flying offense. The big highlight is Cesaro turning a crossbody into a tilt a whirl backbreaker. Nice.
Things slowwwwww down as Cesaro constantly throws Sami to the outside and bounces him off the guardrail. Epic uppercut counter to the diving corner DDT and we slow things down again. This was probably more exciting at the time, but now this feels like a Raw match. Cesaro works the leg as Regal provides insight into the little things that make Cesaro into a world class wrestler. Sami almost gets his comeback until his “bounce off the ropes backworks plancha” (which he needs to bring back and find a better nickname for) is caught and turned into a massive titing slam on the ramp. Awesome spot. Zayn sells like his leg is broken but crawls back into the ring to deliver his exploder suplex that everyone has stolen from him at this point.
Sami starts his classic comeback moves of Blue Thunder Bomb and Koji clutch but Cesaro powers out into a stretch muffler, which IMO is one of the most underrated submission moves in wrestling. Someone in WWE pull this move back out instead of everyone using the Rings of Saturn nowadays. Zayn reacts to the Cesaro Swing like my roommate’s cat stuck in her pop up cat fort which made me laugh so hard my chest hurt. Swiss Superman repeatedly tries to give Sami CTE with strikes until an attempted top rope powerbomb is turned into a hurricanrana. Helluva Kick isn’t enough and at this point Cesaro starts to feel bad…but not enough to stop giving Sami uppercuts and trying to get the win via TKO. Sami sells head injuries like no one else, and a final rally by Sami leads to hockey punches being thrown into the “pop up reversed code red powerbomb” thing that only these two guys seem to be able to do. Great spot, but literally I think these two are capable of doing that move. It is not enough to get the win for Sami, who eats a pop up uppercut and kicks out at one. This freaks Cesaro right the eff out, who hits a running uppercut into the Neutralizer (such a great name) for the win. They hug it out for fans of sportsmanship/ WWE shippers.
Overall: The longest match of the night was pretty good. Crowd proclaims it match of the year, and it has its moments especially at the end. But the middle section is pretty bland and features lots of walk and brawl. Sami does a lot of moves he never does anymore, which retroactively reminds me of what a great babyface he was in NXT and how poorly he was booked on the main roster. Cesaro meanwhile looks like the boss he always has been, and I am still waiting for a main event Cesaro run. Nowadays Sami is the Martin Prince to Kevin Owen’s Nelson, and Cesaro is with the admittedly awesome The Bar. Cesaro would win the first Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale at Mania 30, but that is a tale for another time…AKA part two.
Mojo Rawley vs. CJ Parker
We get a literal hype package for Mojo before the match, and it is pretty hilarious how much faith WWE had in the guy this early on. CJ Parker is out first, who dances and spins around in what probably was Dusty Rhodes’ best guess as to what hippies were like back in the day. Mojo comes out already peaking on a combination of preworkout powder/ Molly as what appears to be his entire family in custom made Mojo shirts cheers him on. It’s pretty adorable. Crowd for some reason chants for Mojo instead of praying for Mojo. Big dirty squash match to show off Rawley’s “explosiveness” AKA the four moves Triple H knows he can’t mess up as Regal talks about his SUV. Mojo wins with the Hyper Drive (a move I personally cannot stand even when done by guys like Yokozuna) in about three and a half minutes. “We just saw a star being born tonight!” proclaims Regal in a call that made me grab a beer.
Overall: I forgot this match happened to be honest. Mojo would fart around in NXT before farting around on the main roster. He did win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (just like Cesaro!) and then feud with Zack Ryder, so you know his family probably regrets those shirts. Meanwhile CJ Parker was doomed from the start with the hippie gimmick, especially because Daniel Bryan was the hottest guy in wrestling at the moment and was actually a God Damn hippie. He would ask for his release and now has a fairly prominent spot in NJPW, which makes him the real winner here.
Hype package for Emma before her title match with Paige. I miss bubble popping fun Emma and it is hard to not fall in love with her. Of course Bayley would perfect the goofy but super talented female wrestler, but I think Bubble Emma should have gotten a better shot. We then get a package for The Ascension who have the tag titles and the next match on the card. They face a mystery team which turns out to be a Florida Swamp person and his parole officer. Oh wait it is just Too Cool.
The Ascension (C) vs. Too Cool (NXT Tag Team Championship)
Weird to see the crowd make noise for The Ascension. Scotty 2 Hotty looks pretty good considering he is 40 here. Meanwhile Grandmaster Sexay is…himself. Once I found out he was Jerry Lawler’s son it is hard not to unsee it and shower afterwards. Ascension work the vets using locks of head/chin locks and occasional power moves. Hot tag to Scotty who admittedly has some great strikes. He does not do much else until it is time to tease the worm, which Heavy Machinery’s Otis has now perfected. Konnor decides enough is enough, flattens Scotty, and they hit the Fall of Man for the win.
Overall: The Ascension were as hot as they ever were going to be here, but it is telling they have them work with the jobber team for a bygone era instead of another tag team in NXT. They would eventually lose the titles to the Lucha Dragons later in the year. 2014 was a strange, magical time. Scotty would turn this performance into a job at the Performance Center and is a firefighter/EMT so good for him. Sexay meanwhile probably retreated back into the Florida swamps, only occasionally appearing to be drunk in public or add further shame to the Lawler name.
Hype video for Paige who is in the middle of her run as the first NXT Women’s Championship. Cut to Ric Flair and proto-Charlotte in the crowd. It’s weird how Charlotte having darker dirty blond hair makes her almost unrecognizable.
Paige (C) vs. Emma (NXT Women’s Championship)
Ah, the old school NXT Women’s belt complete with glittering pink jewels and My Little Pony style sound effects for the logo animation. Thank God WWE treats women more seriously now. Stephanie Mcmahon the inventor of women is here to take credit for the success of this show, gender equality, and the universe in general. Crowd chants “you still got it” at her and she replies “ I never lost it!” Ya better still have it Steph you got Rousey coming up! Emma is out first as Steph and Regal imitate the bubble popping dance like lizard people attempting to act humans. Paige is out and she is OVER. She gets a loud sustained pop despite being the heel.
Match starts with Paige trying to physically intimidate Emma, who responds by getting the jump on the Brit. They start hot as Paige goes for the Paige Turner early and Emma tries for her setup to her finisher as well. Pure fire to start with some stiff kicks and even their headlock rest spot is more entertaining than usual as Emma flails trying to escape and Paige yells and constantly adjusts the hold. Fast pace to start as Emma tries to get the Emma Lock and Paige does her best to wear down the Aussie with kicks and strikes. Regal claims to have been married 17 times in the meantime. What the hell? where did that come from??!!
Emma in control with a bow and arrow which looks vicious when she plants a boot on the back of Paige’s head and starts cranking her arms. Paige is crying and looking like the good guy here as we see a glimpse of Dark Emma. Emma stomps away and I am pretty sure she may be possessed by the Phoenix Force. Top rope powerbomb from Emma only gets a two and I LOL when Paige makes sure to get her hair out from in front of her face before the spot hits. Paige starts her comeback with kicks leading to a superkick to Emma’s womb before hitting the Paige Turner for a two count. She debuts her quickly abandoned PTO submission to get the win.
Overall: Paige has always been one of those people (especially after this latest injury) who I debated if she was as good as advertised or someone who just looked good because her competition was not up to par. Here at least she looks phenomenal, as does Emma. WWE made a big mistake releasing Emma, and hopefully she does some good starting up Ring of Honor’s women’s division. It blows my mind when WWE looks to cut corners they start at the women’s division like they did with Emma and recent releases Abbey Laith and Sage Beckett when they need every talented women they can get their hands on right now. The fact that they did a Royal Rumble match with only 18 women available on the main roster says it all about the shallowness of the division. Anyway this probably was my favorite match of the night as it closely follows the pace and style modern WWE matches now use and both women bring it with little breaks. There is some definite hints of “THEY ARE HITTING REAL MOVES! LIKE REAL PEOPLE!” from the commentary team, but if you tune them out it is not particularly aggravating.
Video for Neville which makes me sad. Please come back Neville. We Need you. I need you. Dusty and Pat Patterson are in the crowd which makes me even sadder. Angel Grove/Somebody Call my Momma theme song Xavier Woods come out for a match. Woods really overcame some bottom of the barrell booking when he first debuted on Raw. Tyler Breeze is out with his wordless original them which still works for him. Can they bring back the selfie video thing again? At this point this is where my original watching of the show in 2014 froze up. This match lasts half a minute before (Alexander) Rusev and Lana show up and he murders the men in the ring. It is crazy to think how over and beloved all three of these guys would become years later, but here they are just here to kill some time and get over Rusev as a killer.
Bo Dallas is seen resting his head some lockers before a Bo montage begins. God, Dallas was such a great character in NXT. His face is just so punchable. It is a real shame how butchered his character became on the main roster, and you would think a guy who made a name for himself on the mic would get more chances to talk. I blame his white trunks. Seriously, White/grey trunks are one of my most hated things in wrestling. It looks like you are wearing a diaper and grey trucks show off your swamp ass pretty well. Larry Zbyszko and Steve Keirn are in the crowd as we get the second video package in three minutes explaining the build to the championship match. Long story short they both are ready for their first ladder match, which Triple H made because something something HISTORY. HBK shows up first to ramble through a promo and plug his DVD. Woo?
Finally after all the stalling Neville comes out first. Dallas is out second to some generic rock music instead of the instrumental music he had during his Bo-leve days. Bo’s hair is already dripping wet, which is gross as hell. Neville starts off strong with some explosive offense until Bo takes control and slows things down with forearms every 30 seconds. Neville gets caught in the ropes and Bo causally gets a ladder instead of sprinting to get one and win the match. Not sure why everyone does not try hog tying their opponents during ladder matches. Almost as if they want to fall off ladders repeatedly. Neville tries to take control with a baseball slide and plancha, but Dallas counters with some generic offense. Pretty sure Bo has the same moveset as a default create a wrestler. Back and forth spots of people trying to climb the ladder only to be knocked off. Bo takes perhaps the safest fall of the ladder possible as he jumps off and lands on his feet. Shows the difference between a guy like Dallas and a guy like Neville who has flown repeatedly off the ladder and taken a few hits from one as well.
The action begins to pick up finally as Neville hits an awesome tornado DDT off a ladder wedged in a corner that Dallas sells like a champion. Neville loses control again and takes an inadvertent ladder shot when it falls on his head. Look like it was the most painful bump so far. More generic ladder spots until Dallas shoves Neville off the ring post and he hits his back again the ring apron. Bo is about to climb the ladder the ladder but Neille leapfrogs him. Its all for naught as Neville takes a buckle bomb on the wedged ladder. Dallas finally takes a serious bump with a slam onto the ladder and then the Red Arrow on the ladder. The Red Arrow is just as spectacular as I remember. This is enough to put Dallas down long enough for the Englishman to grab the ladder and win the belt. Dry ice shoots down as Neville celebrates on the ladder, the ring, and a golf clap from John Cena as the broadcast ends.
Overall: Decent match. Not a whole lot of crazy ladder spots due to the smaller size of the arena if I had to guess as to why. Neville is a way better wrestler than Bo and it showed here. As much as I liked Dallas’ character he was always a C+ wrestler in the ring. Putting the belt on Neville started the template of NXT champs who were the best wrestler in the company over cartoon characters like Bo. This title run has been the highlight of Dallas’ career as soon after his main roster debut he was treated like a jobber. R-Truth of all people snapped his winning streak. Neville meanwhile would be a reliable workhorse for the company until they decided to have him lose to Enzo Amore. Considering how terrible that decision has proven to be it is easy to see why Neville walked out of the company. Hopefully we see him return to a WWE ring eventually,as his King of the Cruiserweight run was a highlight of 2017.
Final Thoughts: When I watched this event live it really blew me away. Now with the main roster filled with high quality workers this feels like a typical episode of NXT. The opening match and the women’s match were highlights and the NXT championship match was ok in places. The rest was a bunch of filler. NXT did not really become the hottest brand in WWE until Sami Zayn’s chase for the title, and this very much felt like the first attempt to start taking the brand more seriously. At just shy of two hours this was an easy watch, and even the slow portions of the event were not bad. I watched this in two chunks and the matches flew by for the most part. I’d say this is a solid B, with the big matches worth a watch and everything else being skippable.