WWE NXT held their latest TV taping at Full Sail Live yesterday on the campus of Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL (just outside Orlando). I was in town to cover the WWE Performance Center Grand Opening and WWE invited everyone who had come down to the taping as well, as a way to showcase their developmental talents that will make up the "next generation" of the company. Shrewdly, WWE loaded the taping with legitimate main event talents from Mark Henry to Paul Heyman to the Shield all making non-advertised appearances on top of the already advertised AJ Lee and Dolph Ziggler.
Full Sail Live reminded me immediately of the old TNA Impact Zone, except it was smaller, looked nicer and unlike TNA, WWE has cracked the code on taking the energy of the room and translating it to TV broadcasts. TNA was never able to do that and it always hurt their PPVs and tapings. The venue is small, sitting less than a 1,000 fans or so, who surrounded the ring on bleachers and a few ringside rows, with the exception of the side of the ring featuring the NXT entrance ramp, where fans sat on fancy NXT chairs similar to the ones WWE sells for PPV ringside seats. The crowd was hot all night. Even with four hours of TV being taped, the company lost very few fans over the course of the evening.
The venue has no real food concessions, since it's really a studio used for all sorts of projects at the University, so instead local food trucks were brought in. Fans could exit, get their food and return to the venue. No merchandise table, except one selling the NXT logo shirts. That surprised me, considering how much WWE pushes the merchandising at their house shows.
The taping itself was excellent. I've said this a number of times but the show really reminds of what a modern day equivalent of the old Jim Crockett Promotions TV shows taped at Techwood Drive would be like today. Back then, you really got a lot of wrestling for your time investment and that's how I feel about the NXT shows. Most weeks, the placement of the show is good. They have some talking segments but the backbone of the show is guys working longer matches as they hone themselves and their personalities. It's far and away the destination for the best balanced in-ring product right now and last night was no example.
Four shows were taped, so if you've been watching the show on Hulu Plus, SPOILER WARNING!
I arrived a few minutes into the first taping and was told I missed a Wyatt Family promo where they basically said farewell to NXT. I also missed a Divas bout won by Ric Flair's daughter Charlotte, which bummed me as I have been really interested in seeing how she is in the ring.
*NXT Tag Team champ Corey Graves defeated Scott Dawson via submission. A really solid back and forth match. Dawson shows some really good aggressive heel work and Graves has a pretty cool charisma to him and is really over. The Shield came out unannounced on the stage, which the crowd popped huge for. They told NXT Tag champ Adrian Neville, who was with Graves, that he didn't earn the NXT Tag title because he just took Kassius Ohno's spot (Ohno was "injured" in storyline), so to them, that is an injustice and they are coming for him. Neville took the mic and said they could fight right now, but said Dean Ambrose should make it for the United States title. Ambrose agreed but said they would do it on his terms, next week. Neville promised that he would destroy the Shield starting with Ambrose. Neville is still finding himself as a talker but it was fine.
*Leo Kruger & Antonio Cesaro defeated NXT champ Bo Dallas & Sami Zayn. Dallas is beyond hated here. The crowd really rags on him sort of how the main roster crowds rag on John Cena. I get the impression part of it is that he's getting put over people they like more but for the most part, it's the crowd having fun by booing the babyface as opposed to any legitimate disgust. Everyone around me was laughing at Dallas' smile and goofy babyface antics. The match itself was solid. Dallas is a natural in the ring. The storyline here is that three of them are battling over the NXT title and Cesaro and Zayn hate each other so Zayn was pulled into this. They had a solid bout. Zayn and Cesaro battled to the back late in the match. Dallas had Kruger on the run (and at point, kept him from running off) but Kruger nailed him and scored the pin.
*Backstage, Renee Young was interviewing Tyler Breeze, a Lance Storm trainee who may be my new favorite developmental talent. He plays his narcissistic model who is obsessed with admiring himself on his cell phone, almost like he was Facetiming himself. He was going on and on about himself and in the background, CJ Parker, who plays a hippie, was behind Breeze mocking him. The crowd got into this.
Episode 2 -
*Adrian Neville defeated WWE United States champ Dean Ambrose by DQ in a good match. They went back and forth. Neville had Ambrose beat afyer a twisting dive off the top but Seth Rollins attacked him to cause the DQ. Corey Graves and Xavier Woods made the save and the Shield backed off.
*They held the first-ever NXT Dance-Off with Summer Rae and Emma. Rae shows a lot more of a heel personality in NXT so I think a lot of people will be surprised when she gets the chance to cut loose on the main roster. Emma's theme music has been trapped in my head since this segment. The crowd really loves the silly Australian girl with her goofy dance and bubble-popping entrance. The idea here was that they each did a dance routine and Emma's was just complete goofiness, so the crowd loved her and hated Rae. Rae finally demanded they play her real music and the crowd went nuts doing the Fandango-ing. Emma's music then played and she did her entrance dance. The audience decided Emma won. Rae attacked her and laid her out.
*Tyler Breeze defeated Danny Burkes. Breeze has a top level entrance, where he's looking at himself on the phone and the image is simulcast live onto the Titantron. Great use of technology there. Breeze is a mix of the old Rick Martel "Model" personality with some of the Shawn Michaels swagger from Michaels' initial heel turn in the early 1990s. This was the first bout where the crowd knew who was going to win once they got into the ring. After, Breeze did a bit where he admired himself on the phone while disrespecting his opponent. They simulcast that on the Tron. It was an awesome old school heel jackass move. There was a good throwback 1980s dastardly heel feel to Breeze, who looks like a million bucks. You can see this act making a splash down the line.
*NXT champ Bo Dallas defeated Leo Kruger. Kruger is really good as the sick madman. He reminds me a lot of the Cactus Jack we'd see in Memphis, World Class and the earliest days of WCW - not in terms of his bumps but in terms of playing a believable nutter. The crowd really wanted to see Dallas lose here and when he teased tapping to Kruger's finisher, the place was ready to explode. In the ring, Dallas won by submission. The audience was chanting "No more Bo" afterward.
Episode 3 -
*Paul Heyman came out to one of the bigger reactions of the night. The place chanted "ECW." Heyman took the mic and said he was stepping out of character and thanked everyone, but he didn't want to live in the past, he wanted to come to NXT and scout for the next Paul Heyman guy. He put over how blown away he was by all the talent here and then went into his shtick.
*At some point, they must have gone "live" because Heyman was then ripping on Florida fans. WWE Intercontinental champ Curtis Axel came out. They declared no one deserved a title shot. Out came Big E. Langston, who is a total badass babyface here. He and Axel had a good match. Axel feels more like a guy who means something by the week. Langston won via DQ when Heyman got involved. Langston pounded Heyman but was attacked by Axel. Langston made his own comeback and scored a "five" count (his gimmick here) on the champ.
*Mason Ryan, who looks every bit of a star now, defeated Garrett Dylan. Enzo Amore (who's work on the mic as the excitable, sleazy guy from Jersey improves every time I see him) and Colin Cassady came out to distract Ryan but it didn't work.
*NXT Women's champ Paige defeated Summer Rae. Paige's charisma is even better live than it is on TV and I was already impressed with that. After she beat Rae, Emma hit the scene to attack her and get revenge.
*The Shield won a six man tag over NXT Tag champs Adrian Neville & Corey Graves & Xavier Woods. This was awesome. The finishing sequence with Seth Rollins nailing a running powerbomb into the corner, followed by Reigns decimated him with a spear was just great.
Episode 4 -
*WWE Divas champ AJ Lee pinned Bailey. Bailey does a deal where she is this naive, shy girl who is so excited she's on the roster (and may even be a little bit of a simpleton) that the audience is behind her as a sympathetic character. She got a lot of offense and near falls in early and looked really good. AJ finally scored the pin. Good match.
*The Ascension won a quick squash over two talents I couldn't make out.
*CJ Parker defeated Darren Corbin (at least that's what the name sounded like). Parker does a complete zoned-out dreadlocked hippie deal. He's got some charisma to him and the crowd liked it. Renee Young came out for a post match interview. She asked Parker where he had gone and why he's changed since the last time we had seen him. Parker said, "I'm just a guy going with the flow and having a little fun." Tyler Breeze came out, ripped Parker for destroying the photos of himself a few weeks back when Parker was goofing off behind him. Breeze had an almost effeminate delivery that added to the role. Parker finally teased a punch after telling him it was all clean fun. which led to Breeze acting like he wanted to fight, only instead
*Antonio Cesaro defeated Sami Zayn in one of the best matches of the year so far. This was a Three Falls bout. Zayn hit a flip dive on Cesaro as he came out, tossed him in the ring and slammed him forward into the buckles for a quick three count. Cesaro powered over the smaller Zayn in the second fall and finally make him tap to a submission. The third fall was all nuts, including Zayn hitting his dive through the ringpost/buckles into the corner and nailing a tornado DDT on the floor. That was awesome. Back in the ring, Cesaro cut him off while he attempted a dive and muscled him into the uppercut as Zayn came down, then destroyed him with the Neutralizer. This match was just awesome. The crowd chanted, "Match of the year" and gave Zayn a big ovation as he was helped out.
After the taping ended, Dolph Ziggler (who received a completely mind-blowing reaction and played babyface) defeated Alexander Rusev. Rusev is a throwback in how he physically looks and works. He's an Ivan Putski like squat powerhouse of a beast. Solid match.
Mark Henry came out to do a promo to close the show, announcing he would be back here on 8/27 and would bring the WWE title with him. His promo was awesome.
Overall, a great taping.