The NXT Report Card (5/24/17): Wesley Blake Appreciation Night

So tonight is the night. The champagne is at the ready, there’s a playlist of BAMF’s greatest moments running and NXT theme songs are playing proudly. Tonight we witness one of the greatest comebacks in sport’s history and one of the biggest matches the world has ever seen. Tonight we watch an industry titan return to reclaim what is rightfully his. Tonight Wesley Blake aka ‘Beautiful’ Blake aka the best wrestler ever will shock the wrestling world. In celebration of this momentous occasion, I will be scattering some indisputable facts throughout this report in honor of the great man as we all sit back and witness history.

DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.

Aleister Black

After a video package recapping TakeOver and the traumatic Tommaso Ciampa heel turn, we begin by seeing Aleister Black’s insanely cool entrance. It’s important to note that the Chicago crowd responded amazingly to Black which is a great sign for his immediate future in NXT. This was almost absolute perfection as far as properly showcasing a talent goes. Black came across as a star in almost every way here, he was cool, explosive and extremely over. I wasn't a huge fan of the way Hawkins cut him off with the rolling in and out of the ring shtick but that’s only because I felt it slightly detracted from Black’s aura. Other than that though, this showed why Black could be a major star in NXT and someone that can headline multiple TakeOver events sooner rather than later.

Grade: A

Curt Hawkins

I’ve said this before but seriously, I have a lot of time for Curt Hawkins and what he brings to this role. He goes out of his way to make the opponent’s offense look great and brings a goofy gimmick that goes perfectly with what he’s trying to achieve. Whether it be on RAW, SmackDown or NXT, Hawkins is the perfect enhancement talent and I mean that as a tremendous compliment. I feel there’s a cap to what grade I can give someone filling that role but nonetheless, Hawkins did a great job here.

Grade: B

NXT Report Card Fact: Wesley Blake was originally supposed to headline the first NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn event and was set to defeat ‘The Demon’ Finn Balor to claim the NXT Title.

We next get another reminder of Ciampa’s turn because apparently I haven’t shed enough tears already. Just leave me alone now guys, all I want to do is watch DIY matches on loop and pretend it never even happened.

Ember Moon

Since arriving in NXT, I feel like Ember Moon has been in a constant battle to really find her voice as a character. Who is she and why? Unfortunately, that question still remains as Moon’s struggles continued here. Sitting in the stands Moon seemed to be trying to take a more considered approach as she pondered her thoughts and feelings. That is all fine and good but the result just felt rather flat and weak. It didn't really make her all that endearing or sympathetic either, just somewhat uninteresting. I don’t want to be overly critical of Moon as frankly, there are few women under contract that I enjoy to watch more from bell to bell. I believe that she shows genuine charisma inside the ring too but outside of it, there’s a clear disconnect.

People’s cadence can be different and their delivery shaky but regardless of all of that, the key is making someone believe. If the words coming out of someone’s mouth sound sincere then it will work, even if the content is weak. Whether it be due to the slightly confusing characterization or a lack of confidence, right now I just don’t believe what Moon is saying. I really hope this can change soon because down the line, I still see Ember as a potential superstar on the main roster. Hopefully it will come eventually.

Grade: D+

NXT Report Card Fact: Many industry experts, myself included, believe that Blake’s position as the NXT Tag Team Champion was the sole reason for NXT’s sudden surge in popularity in 2015.

We get a recap of the women’s title match that took place at TakeOver next and Asuka then cut a brief promo that was previously released online. I’m not going to rate it as there was really nothing to it. For all of her absolute brilliance in the ring, there’s a reason that Asuka is seemingly an NXT only talent. The only way she gets really over on the main roster is by beating everyone just like she has here and frankly, that would be absolutely obscene decision-making when you consider the audience that RAW and SmackDown are trying to reach.

I’m sorry but as great as she is, you can’t be sacrificing women like Charlotte, Alexa and Sasha to get over a soon to be 36 year old Japanese women that can’t cut promos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for her being up there but her usage would be and should be very different. Anyway, sorry about that completely unnecessary rant guys, I’m a little bit edgy about the upcoming Wesley Blake match. The tension is palpable.

Roderick Strong

After a recap of his win over Eric Young, we get a short Strong promo. I will probably always see Strong as the arrogant heel that he always played so well but I actually thought that he did a pretty good job here. He was a little robotic early but when talking about his family seemed to find a more natural flow and even ended up sounding like a functioning human being which immediately puts him above most speaking segments we see on TV every week. Seriously though, this was a very solid showing on the mic for Roddy.

Grade: C+

NXT Report Card Fact: Though RAW Women’s champion Alexa Bliss gets a lot of credit for her promos, most feel that Blake really taught her everything she knows.

The Velveteen Dream

Last week, I scoffed at the descriptors “Captivating, Dominating and Intoxicating” but seven days later and here I am. Wow. Firstly, we need to discuss this theme music. It currently consists of the Dream himself simply saying his own name in a calm and assured fashion, this is incredible. I was immediately struck by Dream’s (am I allowed to call him that?) clear commitment to this character. Everything from his facial expressions to his way of walking was meticulously considered and really brought this sports entertainment package together in an instant. Moreover, when the bell rung he was sharp, crisp and seemingly very athletic too.

I liked the sudden snap into an aggressive side also and it works particularly well in this case simply because Velveteen is actually built like a big, strong and very physical athlete. Though I’m uncertain as to why, Velveteen (is that better?) immediately garnered heat from the Chicago crowd which is definitely a good sign all things considered. Oh and as if I needed any more reason to be impressed, Dream’s (sticking with that) elbow drop finish looked absolutely awesome. I’m not sure about The Velveteen Dream as an actual name rather than just a nickname but that’s probably more due to the fact that it has left me very confused when recapping this segment.

Either way, as far as what we actually saw on this show, this was the perfect debut in my view. What I’m saying here is that The Velveteen Dream may in fact be the best wrestler walking earth and I’m willing to fist-fight anyone that disagrees.

Side note: Apologies for not grading Robert Anthony but I was too distracted by Dream’s greatness. I’m sure he was great.

Grade: A*

NXT Report Card Fact: Blake was once set to play the role of Wesley Helmsley, Triple H’s kayfabe son.

Up next we got more TakeOver recaps as well as interviews with both Pete Dunne and Bobby Roode. Dunne was evil and Roode was arrogant, not much to discuss here. They were short heel promos that served their purpose.

Folks, it’s finally main event time. I can feel the ground shaking beneath my feet. Flair and Steamboat. Hogan and Andre. Rock and Austin. Blake and McIntyre. Let’s get this thing going.

Drew McIntyre

I fear I’m going to be writing the same thing every week about McIntyre whilst he operates in this role. His work is great. His offense is diverse, looks super cool and is all the more effective considering his size. The issue for me always is that I just feel that he’s so better suited to being a heel, especially with the way he carries and represents himself. McIntyre certainly has an aura of real intensity too him though and is a major player regardless of his character’s disposition.

He won here anyway and now moves on to…….hang on, he won? But I thought we were heading to a Blake title run no? What about the Murphy blow off match that I had expected for next year’s Brooklyn event? This kind of inconsistent hotshot booking is what’s killing the business, I’m so distraught right now.

Grade: B+

Wesley Blake

Ok so I’ve had some fun throughout this report but in all seriousness, I think Wesley Blake is actually a highly underrated talent due to a lot of reasons out of his control. The response to Blake’s theme song playing was telling and I don’t think he is to blame for it at all. This wasn't a wrestler having heel heat, this was a crowd outright dismissing someone’s presence. Unfortunately, as NXT exploded in popularity the team of Blake and Murphy went from champions to trusted performers that made others look good. That says a lot about their ability but it didn't help the way they were perceived, especially with Alexa Bliss shining like such a star next to them. It seems they’ve never recovered from that relegation sadly.

This match showed what Blake is capable of though. His offense looked good and had a ruggedness befitting of this latest characterization, as did his work on McIntyre’s arm which I particularly enjoyed. I also really liked the way Blake bumped here, he wasn't over the top but still clearly was giving it his all in order to make his opponent look great. I really have no complaints. I even appreciate the way he persevered with wearing extremely tight ring gear because that’s what any old school good brother would do. In a different era, Blake would be one half of a highly respected tag team and the talking would be handled by his partner or a manager.

That isn’t a joke about what BAMF was either as though they obviously fit that bill, it simply wasn't the right product to maximize such an act. Unfortunately, in a glossy and flashy setting Blake seems slightly out of place but that isn’t a knock on him. Blake’s solid in-ring work alone would make him a versatile part of any roster in another era but sadly, options on the national scale are limited. I feel as though they gave Blake enough offense to elevate him here though so I hope that he’s given some more opportunities as variety is the spice of life and not everyone should be an acrobat playing an over the top character. He has a role to play, it’s just a case of finding it.

Grade: B

Final thoughts

This was like all post TakeOver episodes but with a little more in-ring action than usual. It was a hot crowd but nothing happened with any real substance which is absolutely fine as it’s episodes like this that allow NXT to maintain consistency without throwing away key matches and moments every week. This was a fine episode and achieved everything it needed to but wasn't must-see for understandable reasons. I had no issues with this show but when grading the episode in comparison to what’s likely to come, there’s a limit to how high I can really go. What we did see hit the spot perfectly though.

Grade: B-

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