Few things go together like wrestling and weddings. And by that, I mean nothing makes more sense than a shirtless brawl breaking out during someone’s nuptials. Wrestling weddings don’t have the greatest track record, and WWE’s weddings have been uncomfortable to sit through even when the worst thing that happened was Bobby Lashley’s pre-Hurt Business suit.
To my surprise, NXT pulled off the seemingly impossible this past week, delivering a wedding that actually saw the bride and groom wed. The summer lovin’ storyline has helped bring both Dexter Lumis and Indi Hartwell to the forefront of NXT, and if Tuesday’s show is any indication, the brand is relying on the popularity of InDex to help carry them into this new, paint-splattered era.
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Lumis’ NXT gimmick—serial killer? Butcher? Your weird cousin who never comes to holidays?—has been a bit confusing, but he’s always been a fun time in the ring. The zombie match with Cameron Grimes last Halloween was the perfect kind of camp, mixing Party City and the boneyard match to produce something terrible enough to be fun. While he was putting on solid matches and scaring Grimes into running down the highway in his silly little jeans, Lumis was kind of meddling in the mid-card. The tortured artist thing was fine, and Lumis played it well, but it didn’t give him much of a spotlight. In a main event with guys like Balor, Cole, and Kross, Lumis didn’t quite fit into the same mold.
On the other hand, Hartwell has spent her NXT run partnering with the long suffering couple of Candice LeRae and Johnny Gargano. Hartwell is a talented wrestler and a charismatic character, and she fit in perfectly alongside Johnny and Candice as their wannabe fake daughter. Austin Theory was also there, but we don’t need to dwell on that part. After locking smoldering and slightly creepy eyes with Lumis last March, the girl was hooked. I certainly don’t blame her; the man wears the hell out of a leather apron. As their summer of romance winds down, their whirlwind love story managed to turn both wrestlers into the biggest thing on the formerly black and gold brand.
While WWE’s idea of relationships generally leaves a lot to be desired (shockingly, Vince McMahon and Triple H don’t have the greatest grasp on healthy romance,) the genuine chemistry and commitment to the weirdness of this pairing made it all work. Candice and Johnny’s disapproval of Dexter turned the whole thing very YA forbidden romance with an extra twist, and seeing a man in his late 30s show up to his coworker’s house to take their stablemate out on a date was one of the more unique things NXT has pulled out in a while. Gargano, who I’ve often struggled to enjoy during his Rebel Heart phase, has delivered excellent work since becoming the most obnoxious man you’ve ever met, and he relished stepping into these dad New Balances.
As the InDex love story grew, giving us the brand’s first “Love Her or Leave Her” match and the top Parental Control segment since 2004, the rest of NXT was floundering. Kross as champion left much to be desired, and we’d all seen Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly about four times. The relationship drama continued to take center stage even when it was shoved into the 8:55 time slot, and with good reason. Both Hartwell and Lumis were becoming draws in their own right, outpacing even Johnny and Candice while leading entertaining segments that broke up the NXT formula we’ve all become accustomed to.
The two teamed up to bring love and affection back to choking people out when they defeated Robert Stone and Jessi Kamea last month, which lead to a heartwarming proposal from Hartwell and a wordless acceptance from Lumis. Even the top cynic would have to admit the axe-throwing bachelor party that followed the next week was a very solid step above seeing Grimes and Knight run the same match yet again, and it produced a surprising result; the hard nut of Johnny Gargano was cracked by the silent axe skills of Lumis. This power couple can make out in the ring, win the approval of everyone’s least favorite father figure, and outsell any Kross main event. Love truly conquers all.
With the blessing of the captain of The Way, the new era of NXT surged forward this past Tuesday with InDex as the headliners. The unlikely couple had managed to turn a one off joke into a months long romance, culminating in Lumis’ first ever spoken words after two years on NXT TV. When he announced “I do,” in front of God, Beth Phoenix, and the locker room (only after choking out the previous priest and displaying an axe to anyone who objected, of course) there was a genuine sweetness to hearing that voice for the first time. The silent creeper was so enthralled with his bride to be, he was willing to break his biggest commitment from day one to proclaim his love for her.
It was the kind of feel-good cheesiness that NXT has lacked over the past few years, as they strove to produce match quality over all else, including the traditional storyline route. Kicking off the first episode of NXT 2.0 with a genuinely happy result, in a wrestling wedding that actually went off without a hitch, was a pleasant surprise. It was, hopefully, a sign of a markedly different show to come. It wasn’t the main roster vet returning to reclaim his glory days, or the indie star trying to earn the respect or his peers. It was just two weirdos who liked each other, and the silly, sweet things they did to prove it. And, I’ll be honest, that’s an NXT I can get behind.