I watched NXT 2.0 last night. No, no, hold your applause and save your medals; I, like all of you, am human, and humans tend to fuck up from time to time. It is no secret that NXT 2.0, once a jewel in the crown of WWE’s unquestioned dominance over professional wrestling, is a barren wasteland — the transition from Triple H’s ROH fetishism to the current regime’s focus on colorful gimmicks and an obvious developmental style saw the brand decline from reasonable competition for AEW Dynamite to its current position as maybe the worst wrestling show on broadcast television.
Still, I watched it. The show still has talent that I’m interested in, and if there’s a blow-away great match on it, I want to be the only wrestling journalist who knows. There weren’t any great matches on NXT 2.0 this week. I’m not sure there ever will be. A great match requires stakes, and NXT 2.0 doesn’t have any. Its titles are just metal and leather, its talent literally call the show minor league.
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But there are some wild gimmicks on this show. That’s been the tale of 2.0 since the reboot, but I stopped paying attention early into the paint splatter era and only fully reckoned with what Joe Gacy is doing yesterday, where gimmick after gimmick that will never, ever in a million years work on the main roster outside of the 24/7 Division passed before my eyes.
Say what you want about Raw and SmackDown, but WWE has largely, outside of characters like Bray Wyatt, the resurgence of ethnic monsters, the 24/7 Division, and its continued attempts to position Logan Paul as a babyface, favored legitimacy in its presentation of wrestlers. In WWE, that is code for “boring,” but high concept wrestlers are so outré at the moment that all Karrion Kross had to do to be labeled a failed experiment was show up to Raw in Spartan garb.
So I sat there, mystified, wondering who, exactly, NXT 2.0 was for. It’s not fun, it’s not engaging, and it’s difficult to get the sense that what you’re seeing is the future of the WWE. Let me tell you what I saw last night.
You know how some malls were big enough to have stores like Pacsun and Hot Topic, and how sometimes they’d put the two of them next to each other to capture the attention of two kinds of teenager who were adjacent but not entirely friendly? Last week, Cora Jade took a bold step over from Pacsun to Hot Topic. She’s going to buy Jack Skellington pajamas. She’s going to get really pale. She may never skate again.
A group of people who are good at every aspect of wrestling except one: friendship.
The D’Angelo Family
Briggs & Jensen & Henley
A crew of folks who wear mysteriously un-broken-in denim to their local Logan’s Steakhouse once a week, where they shoot the shit and throw peanut shells on the floor until “Friends in Low Places” plays, ushering everyone into the parking lot of an establishment that does, in fairness to them, sit right on the midway point between the sticks and a small city that voted for Trump.
Man, I don’t know. I guess they’re hot guys from England, but I think even “conventionally attractive” is pushing it a little. Wade Barrett said that they looked like extras from Brokeback Mountain, which was maybe a touch homophobic and certainly unaware of how few extras a movie that’s mostly about two dudes on a mountain would require, but sure, “extras in a movie that does not require them” is about as hot as they get.
Joe Gacy & Schism
Okay, so. Joe Gacy was initially a snowflake, the same way Retribution was the Black Lives Matter movement, meaning disingenuous and evil. He started out by vaguely talking about things like inclusivity, right? But he’d do things that weren’t very inclusive, like tie a co-worker’s dad up in a cage. Then he got an acolyte, Harlan, who was fired because WWE isn’t very inclusive, then he got two more acolytes, who dressed in leftover Undertaker’s Druid robes.
So now he’s, like, quasi-satanic, only yesterday he baptized his acolytes like an Evangelical minister, and those two dudes came out of their little dip looking like vampires. And Gacy still cares about tolerance. So he’s an Evangelical minister concerned with making the world a better place and turning tag teams like the Grizzled Young Vets into vampires through the healing waters of baptism. I think I have all of that right. It’s a simple gimmick, really.
Axiom is, to quote NXT 2.0 analyst Vic Joseph, “A modern day mathematical superhero.” I have no idea what the fuck that means, but sure.
A bunch of people who are so gullible they’re paying to go to wrestling school for the second time. Wrestling school doesn’t give out terminal degrees, y’all.
The NXT Women’s Division
Lip gloss. Urban Decay eye shadow palates. The movie Mean Girls. If, like in the intro to The Powerpuff Girls, you threw these things into a vat and then took that vat to a series of “fashion meetings,” the resulting explosion would birth the NXT Women’s Division. That’s not automatically a bad thing, mind you, but outside of stellar characters like Wendy Choo, so little thought has gone into some of the women in NXT that one of them is smart because she’s wearing glasses. Still, in one show, NXT 2.0 probably featured more women than Raw, SmackDown, and Dynamite will, combined. Congratulations, NXT 2.0.