As much as I hate to admit it, Baron Corbin and Dana Brooke looked like absolute stars at NXT Takeover: Respect.
I hate to admit this because, like just about everyone, I hate modifying my opinion, especially when it comes to pro wrestling. There’s this phenomenon where, when you sit with people and watch wrestling and yell things at the screen, you feel like you have to hold this position because you’ve given your disgruntlement shape and form by saying “Man, they suck.” It’s probably one of the reasons I hated Gravity: I didn’t watch it in a theater where I had to be quiet until the movie was over, and I was free to yell things at the screen at home, which prevented me from reserving judgment until the movie was over. (I also hated it because it was a bad film, but there’s no accounting for taste-no, fuck it, Gravity was very bad film and I’m objectively right about this, specifically.)
But there Dana was, keeping up with Asuka and putting her over magnificently in Asuka’s debut match. Asuka can’t wrestle a match by herself, and in order for her cartoonishly cool moves to land the way they did at Respect, she needed a competent hand to sell the moves and have the timing to get in place for them. No matter how great our indie darlings are, their match is only going to be as good as the person they’re wrestling, and Dana made Asuka look like an absolute monster.
And Baron Corbin (who looks like the next Pokemon evolution of Glenn Danzig) pulled off some properly cool moves out there, and he kept up with Samoa Joe and Finn Balor, for chrissakes. He was by no means the MVP of the night, but the difference between the tag match at Respect and the botchfest that was Corbin vs. Bull Dempsey was enormous, and I found myself actually enjoying a match because the man with the saddest abdomen on the planet was in it.
Now, the reasons that Dana and Baron have been my erstwhile keyboard punching bags is that 1.) their characters are weak, and 2.) they’re not very good wrestlers. It’s worth noting that they’re both heels, but they weren’t getting heel heat from me — it was pure X-Pac Heat, and I was annoyed that they were on my TV even though I didn’t want them there. They’re on a card with Kevin Owens and Sasha Banks, and I’m supposed to care about them when they suck so horrifically? Why are they there?
And then a small voice whispered: yeah, they ought to go back to developmental or someth-OH WAIT
They still suck, don’t get me wrong. They do not suck as much as they once sucked, but their characters and ring psychology and promos still go over like a lead balloon. And that’s okay. They’re where they need to be, because if Respect is any indication, they just need the space and live atmosphere to hone their skills until they don’t suck as much.
You know who absolutely stunk the joint up when she first started? Bayley, everyone’s favorite technicolor underdog. She had a lot of heart, obviously, and she desperately wanted to be good at what she did, but she clammed around the ring and missed loads of spots and had a deeply boring character. Becky Lynch, who had one of the best matches of 2015 with Sasha, had a Riverdance gimmick when she started in NXT that still makes my toes curl in mortification when I watch her entrance from that period. Before his current run as WWE Champion, Seth Rollins’ mic skills were like watching a fingerless man attempting to play “Chopsticks.” But we’ve gotten to watch them all grow and develop, and when Seth won the championship at Wrestlemania, it gave me the deep-down fuzzies because I kept yelling “MY BOYYYY.”
If you’re only watching NXT to watch people who are already good, you’re only getting half of the experience. The beauty of NXT is that we get to watch greener-than-goose-shit newbies like Dana Brooke and Baron Corbin becoming better by locking horns with indie sensations pre-loaded with charisma and technical genius. If you watch developmental wrestling with your viewfinder the right way around, you’ll get the joy of being wrong about a wrestler.