NXT 2.0 has its WarGames show coming up this Sunday. The show itself has been a mixed bag since it’s re-branding; there have been good moments, but those have been overshadowed by green workers learning to wrestle on live television every week.
The growing pains are certainly showing, but it is worth noting there have been some good things to go with the bad. Here are some examples of what NXT 2.0 has done right lately, and some things that could be improved.
Cameron Grimes’ work in his angle with Duke Hudson
The buildup to the Cameron Grimes-Duke Hudson Hair versus Hair match has been strong. A good build to a match on any brand in WWE is a rare sight, but Grimes has pulled it off. After a few silly poker sketches, Hudson attacked Grimes and hacked off some of his trademark hair and beard.
The following week, Grimes came to the ring with a more subdued promo. He didn’t do his usual grinning strut. Grimes didn’t play to the crowd with catchphrases. Instead, he got on the microphone and stated clearly in a lower tone that he’d never been so humiliated in his life. He put over what the heel did to him, and why his hair and beard mattered to him as part of his identity.
His body language and promo conveyed this was no ordinary situation. He was furious and he wanted revenge.
All of this sounds like Wrestling 101 (and I don’t mean the ridiculous classroom sketches done by Andre Chase). In fact, it is one of the most fundamental principles in the business. The heel does something that angers the babyface. The babyface wants revenge. It’s basic, but WWE rarely gets this right anymore.
Heels do horrible things to good guys all the time in WWE. They love heat. They love it so much they’ve booked their babyfaces to be so ineffective the fans don’t believe in them as heroes anymore. Part of the reason is the good guys never project the idea they are truly angry. They still do their signature poses during their entrances and their usual catchphrases. They rarely act as though the “grudge” match means any more to them as any other, and the fans pick up on that.
Grimes took what could have been a silly gimmick and made it work. The idea of a country bumpkin striking it rich would fall flat with a lot of workers. Grimes is skilled and charismatic enough to get the fans on his side. His tone since the hair cutting incident is a good example for others to follow. If you want to put a grudge match over, you have to behave as though it means more than other battles.
Von Wagner and Kyle O’Reilly outsmart the heels
This is a small thing overall, but again, it’s something rarely seen on WWE TV. In a match pitting the team of Kyle O’Reilly and Von Wagner against Legado del Fantasma (Raul Mendoza and Joaquin Wilde), the babyfaces did something to out-wit the heels to get a win.
First, they had Xyon Quinn brawl with Santos Escobar to remove him from the equation. From there, the story was the teams were in a fair fight. When Legado went for their finishing move, Wagner had it scouted and moved to low-bridge them in order to break it up. Soon after that, O’Reilly and Wagner hit their finish for a victory.
One of the biggest issues with the way WWE pushes heels is they consistently outsmart the babyfaces. Even worse, they don’t necessarily cheat to do it. It’s one thing for a heel to sink to devious lows to win. But in WWE, they often seem to be simply more intelligent. Fans won’t get behind a dumb or gullible good guy, and unfortunately that’s how many are portrayed.
This is just one week and one match. Still, seeing WWE tell a story in which the fan favorites find a way to get even odds, then capitalize on it and win clean it a refreshing change. They should do more of this.
Who’s good? Who’s bad?
Bron Breakker was getting over as a babyface, right? He was cheered against LA Knight, got good crowd responses and acted like a good guy while teaming with Tommaso Ciampa. Despite the loss Ciampa in the title match, the fans supported him. Babyface, right?
Then suddenly, he’s joining up with a group of heels so he can fight four veterans in the men’s WarGames match. Breakker has all the traits of a wonderful, fresh babyface. That’s something WWE desperately needs. Throwing him in with bad guys to force a silly generational angle, putting him in a position for the fans to boo him, will only hurts his progression. It makes little sense.
The Diamond Mine faction were heels, right? Malcolm Bivens was doing pretty good heel promos. The members attacked from behind and interfered one another’s matches. Heels, right?
Well, maybe. Maybe not. Seemingly out of nowhere, Joe Gacy began running down Cruiserweight Champion Roderick Strong. He began using terms like “toxic masculinity” to refer to the group. Now they’re going to wrestle for the Cruiserweight title. Is Gacy remotely 205 pounds or under?
Who are we supposed to cheer here? It seems Diamond Mine were acting sort of babyface-ish during the confrontation on Nov. 30th. Perhaps they’re babyfaces now. Perhaps this is just heel versus heel. The fact we’re not sure shows this story is at best half-baked.
Kay Lee Ray won a ladder match over Dakota Kai on the 30th to get the advantage for her babyface team in the women’s WarGames match. It really should go without saying the heels should have the advantage in these matches.
There’s a reason J.J. Dillon won every coin toss back in the 80s when the Horsemen were battling Dusty Rhodes and company. The obvious story is to give the heels the numbers advantage in WarGames, putting the good guys’ backs against the wall. This makes their triumph look even better if they win and gives them a bit of an excuse if they lose.
Putting the advantage on the babyfaces does the opposite. It makes it look as though they should win. Why wouldn’t they? They got to have extra numbers in each round of the match. It diminishes the victory since it puts the odds in their favor and makes them look even worse if they lose.
This backward booking only hurts the story they are trying to tell.