NXT is a confusing show.

On one hand, I love it. In fact, I look forward to NXT more than any other weekly WWE show. I enjoy the old school studio feel, the intimate atmosphere, and the simple, no nonsense traditional wrestling storytelling. The crowd is always enthusiastic, and the show is almost never muddled with overdone WWE tropes like heel authority figures, long, boring in ring promos, or The Demon Kane. It’s an easy to watch hour of grudge matches, guys (and girls) fighting over titles, and old fashioned squash matches. If you aren’t old enough to remember the territory days, a lot of them had TV just like this.

Now on the other hand…

Look, I get that NXT is a developmental territory. I really do. There will be some hits, and I accept that there will be plenty of misses. When NXT is good, NXT is very, very good. But when NXT is bad, it is very, very bad.  The show tends to go through hot & cold periods, largely depending on what dozen or so people are currently being featured. Lately though, NXT hasn’t been hot or cold. It’s just been…weird.

On one hand, the Tyson Kidd/Natalya story line has been flat out tremendous, and I would argue that it’s the most compelling thing happening in the entire company right now. All told, considering the in ring & promos, Kidd is doing the best overall work in his entire career right now. Toss in the Justin Gabriel turn from last week’s show, and this thing just keeps adding interesting layers. And the fact is, NXT is the perfect place for a story like this, because it’s treated like the most important thing on the show, and gets plenty of time to breath & develop. On RAW, it would be reduced to one 6-minute segment per week, and would suffocate under the weight of a three hour show, and the awful Vince McMahon produced commentary that treats the viewer like they’re stupid and insists on banging you over the head with the WWE Subtlety Hammer.

Now on the other hand…

The rest of the show leaves a lot to be desired. Awful, goofy, Chikara level gimmicks like The Vaudevillains, CJ Parker, & Alexa Bliss that make the show feel more like Wrestling is Full Sail than a WWE developmental territory. I get that the WWE isn’t trying to replicate 1989 All Japan, and there is always room for fun undercard stuff, but lately NXT has featured a disproportionate amount of acts that have virtually zero chance of rising above prelims on the main roster. Do you realistically see Tyler Breeze, in his current incarnation, involved in main event programs on the main roster, let alone main eventing a WrestleMania?  Isn’t the Triple H stated directive of the vaunted Performance Center, and NXT, to create the next wave of stars? Instead, NXT is sending people like Adam Rose & Emma to the main roster, cutesy acts that would be better served doing thumb wrestling or playing charades (or whatever else passes for wrestling these days at the Palmer Center) with the likes of Arctic Rescue Ant or the Moldavian Thunder Tree, rather than failing to get over on RAW. I’m not sure if I completely agree with “funny don’t equal money”, but history shows that the serious, no nonsense ass kicker has a much better chance to become a star. Don’t believe me? Who has gotten over better on the main roster lately from developmental, Rose & Emma, or Rusev & The Wyatt Family? And that’s exactly what NXT lacks these days, serious ass kicking main event caliber characters. Only Sami Zayn shows serious potential as a future money drawing star (and possibly Charlotte, but women simply don’t draw in WWE, for reasons we’ll discuss on another day), but even he has been doing some of his least inspiring work lately, not to mention his new cringy looking dance entrance, which has the potential to kill his debut dead if he tries that shit on RAW in front of unfamiliar audiences.

The scary part about all of this? It looks like Zayn, Adrian Neville, and Charlotte will all be starting up on the main roster very soon, which has the potential of turning NXT into a full on Hee Haw comedy hour if they’re replaced with more lousy gimmicks.

Let’s set the negativity aside. I thought NXT was pretty damn good the last few weeks. The Kidd segments were fantastic. The Gabriel turn landed, and i’m very excited to see where it all goes. Bull Dempsey’s match & promo were pretty shitty, but at least he’s a breath of fresh air, because he’s the first new act in ages that isn’t trying to be cute or played for comedy.

Did the positive momentum continue this week?

1. It’s Bayley vs Summer Rae – This was a number one contender’s match. The original incarnation of Bayley was essentially an underage Perverted Justice trap gimmick, which was very creepy, but in recent months they’ve downplayed the childlike aspects of her character. NXT features much better women’s wrestling than the main roster, not necessarily because the talent is better, but because the matches are given sufficient time to tell a decent story. This match was a good example, as i’m pretty sure it went longer than every main roster Paige bout to date. Summer Rae takes good bumps and carries herself like a star, but her offense needs a lot of work. Bayley is a much, much better all around performer, and as far as in ring, she is ready for the main roster. The match was pretty good when Bayley was in control, but boy did the Summer Rae heat segment drag. Summer Rae won it with the Summer Crush. It was fine. **1/4

Sami Zayn & Adrian Neville are all heated & fired up about Kidd & Gabriel. Luckily Zayn did most of the talking.

We cut to Kidd & Gabriel, who are looking smug with the hottest woman on Earth, microphone holder Devin Taylor. HOLY SHIT is this woman right up the Lanza alley. Like, if I could create a woman with the gimmick in Weird Science, it would come out pretty close to Taylor. Gabriel’s promo & turn explanation is pretty great. “Hey, sometimes you just have to break the rules.” I agree. He goes on to put over NXT, implying that it’s not a demotion to be here. I think it’s important that the main roster guys say things like that. Kidd never speaks, but his facial expressions are gold. This team has some serious potential.

2. Sin Cara vs Wesley Blake – Welp, I wasn’t expecting Sin Cara to show up, especially against a jobber. Blake gets a decent amount of offense, and works over the arm for the meat of the match. It says COWBOY UP on Blake’s tights. Because he’s a cowboy, you see. Sin Cara eventually takes over, does his wacky flying, and wins with a top rope senton. I liked this. It felt like an old WCW Saturday Night or WCW Worldwide match where one guy is clearly higher on the pecking order than the other, and you pull for the other dude to make things interesting, but he comes up a little short in the end. Blake looked good. **1/2

Kidd & Natalya do some bickering. Smarmy Kidd is great.

Summer Rae talks some shit about Charlotte to Sasha Banks. She says she’s going to beat Charlotte for the NXT Diva’s Title, while applying some lip gloss. Multi tasking.

CJ Parker, who I dislike strongly because he stinks in the ring and I think his gimmick is the pits, comes to the ring and calls out Xavier Woods. Woods, who has a PhD, is wearing a garish suit. Woods talks about his PhD (of course). Nobody cares about his PhD, but this is one of those Vince McMahon insecurity deals, like Chris Nowinski graduating from Harvard, or David Otunga being a lawyer, where it is shoved down your throat to show how wresting is smart & sophisticated or something. Anyway, for some reason these guys are feuding. After Woods babbles about his PhD, he immediately contradicts his point of how smart he allegedly is by falling for the oldest heel trick ever, the old fake apology, and promptly turns his back and gets attacked. What a dummy. This did not make me want to see them fight.

The Vaudevillains talk about winning the tag titles. Hey, anything is better than The Ascension. Aiden English looks like Cesaro doing his ROH “Very European” HDNet era gimmick. I personally think Gotch is the one with the upside, and the act is fun, but this gimmick is so Chikara and would die on the main roster.

3. Bull Dempsey vs Angelo Dawkins – Dawkins is a big dude, paying his dues doing  jobber duties. Hey, Dempsey was doing TV jobs not that long ago, too. I always though Dempsey was pretty shitty on the indie scene, and I was shocked when they signed him. Look up his match vs Carlito on YouTube (as Smith James), it’s one of the worst things you’ll ever see. His (pushed) debut last week wasn’t much better, but as I said before, at least he’s different. This was pretty stiff and featured more action than last week. It helped that Dawkins is a big hoss himself. Dempsey won it with a powerslam variation. He cut a short promo, but called himself the “wrecking ball” this week instead of  “the last of a dying breed”. Probably a good idea to not remind people of Eddie Kingston, who is awful. Dempsey goes on to say he wants the NXT Championship. He came off a little better this week than last, but has a ways to go before he conveys the same level of danger as the top WWE hoss these days, Rusev. **

4. Sami Zayn & Adrian Neville vs Tyson Kidd & Justin Gabriel – I can’t decide what’s worse, Zayn’s dancing or Renee Young’s commentary. Zayn really, really, really needs to stop dancing. Kidd comes out hand in hand with Natalya. I’d like to see this match in Dragon Gate at 1,000 MPH, but i’m more than happy to settle for it here. The faces dominate Kidd early, and then Neville does a corkscrew moonsault off of Zayn’s back onto Gabriel. That was cool. Neville was looking great here, like vintage Dragon Gate era PAC. The face domination continues, until Zayn is tossed outside from behind by Kidd. You know what that means. Commercial, and when we return, RESTHOLD. Kidd & Gabriel cut off the ring and use all sorts of old school heel tag team tricks to control Zayn.  Zayn & Neville are like the perfect face tag team, because Zayn is a tremendous face in peril, and Neville is perfect for explosive hot tags. And a hot tag it certainly was, as Neville cleaned house. Kidd was a fraction of a second late on breaking up a pin on a sit out powerbomb on Gabriel, which was the only minor flaw in this match. Gabriel was smart enough to kick out. Neville went up to the top, but Kidd kicked him off and hit his old WWECW springboard elbow drop finish, but Zayn broke up the pin. Here’s a little tip for you guys. In WWE, each tag team is only allowed to break up one pin attempt per match. That’s 100% true and something they teach in developmental. Count next time, you’ll see. Gabriel & Zayn fought on the outside, isolating Neville & Kidd. Neville did a dive on Gabriel, and Zayn came out of nowhere with a top rope flying cross body on Kidd for two. Jason Albert astutely pointed out that Zayn never tagged in and wasn’t the legal man. Zayn did his big flip dive on all three guys on the ramp. He rolled Kidd back in, and Kidd did the fake knee injury deal. Natalya hopped up on the apron to check on him, and ended up getting knocked to the floor when Zayn collided with Kidd. Kidd acted concerned, but rolled up Zayn for the pin after duping him to check on Natalya. This was the best WWE TV tag match in ages, but it may have seemed better because i’m so tired of watching the Usos and Wyatt’s have the same average match every week. This was also the best Neville has ever looked in WWE. He may be best suited as one half of a fiery babyface tag team. ***1/2

This was another good show. I loved the main event, and nothing else was offensive aside from the CJ Parker/Xavier Woods nonsense. The Bull Dempsey match wasn’t great, but it was better than his debut. The Tyson Kidd stuff just keeps getting better & better.