I’ve been to a ton of wrestling events in the past two decades, including key RAWs during WWF’s Attitude era, ECW (before it was bastardized by Vince McMahon), TNA house shows and massive Ring of Honor events at Rexplex. I can spend hours arguing for and against the changes in the wrestling industry over the past few years, but there’s one thing that I know for sure — NXT is the best wrestling product on television today.**
For those living under a shell, NXT is WWE’s minor league or developmental territory, which, in most cases, has surpassed the main roster in terms of quality of wrestling, storylines and character development. In many cases, fans pray wrestlers don’t get called up to the big leagues because the track record for killing character momentum is enormous. I became a fan of NXT after seeing all the buzz over the NXT talent facing off against John Cena in the U.S. title open invitational matches. The level of madness generated by Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens when they appeared on RAW was insane and I kinda felt left out.
NXT Asbury Park
Flash-forward 10 months and I am psyched for NXT every week like a 9-year-old boy on Christmas morning. The product and storylines on NXT are so entertaining that and I couldn’t wait to see a live event when it rolled into town. Our chance came on February 19, when NXT came to Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, home of some of the best ECW events in the tail-end of the 1990s. I somehow snagged eight floor seats and we were on our way.
First things first, I haven’t been to a wrestling event this intimate with WWE’s logo on it since I saw Shotgun Saturday Night at the All Star Cafe in early 1997. Convention Hall can pack in 3,600 for concerts, but this was all seated, so there couldn’t have been 1,000 people in the room. Unlike the lo-fi ECW events, NXT brought huge LED screens and strange smoke shooters to help enhance the entrances. Not that the show needed the bells and whistles. For two and a half hours, NXT fans got to see pretty much every major wrestler sans American Alpha, Blake and Murphy and the Hype Bros.
Asuka and Alexa Bliss jerked the curtain open with a brilliant match that solidified why NXT has the best women’s division in professional wrestling. The two worked beautifully together and the only knock against the match was that due to the two women’s small statures, it was next to impossible to see their mat work from the floor (if you weren’t in the front row).
It was great seeing Apollo Crews battle former TNA regular Alex Riley one-on-one. Crews has that intangible something that makes you realize that he will be a superstar when he hits the main roster. Riley got a split reaction from the crowd calling for Let’s go Riley and Riley sucks a la John Cena.
How You Doin?
The highlight of the evening was easily hometown heroes Enzo and Cass taking on the Vaudevillians in a flawless match from all four participants. Enzo and Cass tore the house down with an introduction that included Cass belting out his version of Frankie Valli’s “Sherry Baby” and namedropping the Boss. The match featured a brutal back and forth with everyone involved looking awesome and tons of near falls and excitement.
The weak point of the night was Bayley’s less-than-stellar bout with Eva Maria, which really showed how not ready for primetime the Total Divas star really is. Bayley gave Eva a ton of offensive, but Eva seemed to be working in slow motion, hesitating after every move and failing to generate any excitement beyond the initial heel heat. Bayley did her best, but by the end of the match the crowd could care less.
Also on the card was Austin Aries going over Elias Sampson in an okay match that didn’t really highlight just how good Aries is. Sampson got some heel heat with his Assbury comment, but Gwar made that joke back when Asbury actually was a shithole.
Carmella beat Peyton Royce in a solid showing. Royce has a terrible gimmick involving some weird power she gets from a flower. I have no idea what that’s all about.
The show closed with the return of Fin Balor, who had been on the injured list for a few days due to an ankle injury. Balor tagged with Sami Zayn against Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin in a solid match that showcased how great Zayn, Balor and Joe are live. Corbin did his best but came off like wallpaper against the other three super-over wrestlers. Zayn, in particular, had the typically jaded Jersey crowd eating out of his hands with numerous chants and a deafening ovation. Balor won with Bloody Sunday (probably due to his healing ankle) and the place went nuts. The event closed with a cute back and forth between Zayn and Balor swapping jackets and goofing around.
In the end, all the good guys won, the show was sold out and everyone went home happy. A clunker match didn’t hurt the evening and it was so cool to see the NXT roster working a room this small. If the rumors are true and NXT will be touring in bigger markets this year, I’m pretty sure this is the last time we’ll see NXT in Convention Hall or any venue this intimate.
One side note: A huge “boo” to WWE for not selling any women’s-sized shirts at the event. The place was packed with women, yet every shirt for sale was a men’s large or XL. The Diva’s Revolution shouldn’t just be about in-ring performers; respect the women that support the event and want to spend money on march, too.
** The only exception is Lucha Underground, but I can’t give it the thumbs up over NXT since the El Rey network is not available on Fios or any other cable network in the area.