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    Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    The Smark Henry 2017 Midyear Report: NXT

    The Smark Henry Midyear Report is a new series where we take a look at the wrestling we watch around the world and assess each show/brand/company's performance in the first six months of 2017.

    So far, 2017 has been an uneven year for NXT. They’ve spent the first quarter of the year trying to find their footing while preparing themselves for looming inevitability of losing yet another big name in Shinsuke Nakamura. Post-WrestleMania, things started clicking into place. They were able to build up new stars like Roderick Strong, bring in a major indy pick-up in Drew McIntyre, string together solid episodes, and deliver on entertaining episodes most of the time.

    That said, the brand still suffers from its usual faults: incredibly rushed build-ups for all their stories (including their championship angles), the widening gap between the indy signings and the Performance Center products, and shallow divisions composed of underdeveloped talent. Still, NXT marched on despite their shortcomings and had been entertaining for the first half of the year. You can tell the product is in an upswing right now in terms of quality, and while the pendulum will have to swing in the opposite direction, let’s take time to appreciate NXT’s year so far.

    Rookie of the Midyear

    NXT is putting a lot of their support behind Aleister Black more than anyone in the roster. The Dutch striker debuted in the United Kingdom Championship Tournament against a recently-turned Neville, and he easily impressed in the match. He cemented his must-watch status with great outings against names like Andrade “Cien” Almas, Kassius Ohno, and Bobby Fish. He didn’t have any major feuds in the first half of the year, but look for that to change before the year ends.

    A close second has to be the British duo of Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne. Both are the clear stars of the young UK division, and have put up great matches. It’s disappointing that they’re not around enough. It appears talks about a show centered around the UK division have stalled, and I just hope WWE hasn’t completely given up on starting one by year’s end.

    Most Improved So Far

    As I’ve said a couple of weeks back, nobody expected the Authors of Pain to be this good, this fast. The young, bruising duo have shined as one of the few bright spots in a weakened tag team division. It helped that they’ve been paired with great teams like The Revival and #DIY for much of the year. They know how to use their size and strength, and their experience against quality opponents will only help polish the few kinks in their game. The future is bright for Paul Ellering’s new team.

    The Struggle

    There was a time when Andrade “Cien” Almas was one of the big names that jumped ship from the international scene to Florida, and now, how the mighty have fallen. After a failed babyface run to kick off his career, I thought a heel turn would have revitalized his run. That wasn’t the case, and he hasn’t been able to build up any momentum. He lost to Roderick Strong, got fed to Aleister Black, and got saddled with a poor translation of his ingobernable gimmick. He’s recently paired with a new valet, so at least there’s an attempt to turn things around.

    OMG Moment of the Midyear

    Arguably, the best moment of NXT in the first six months of 2017 was the #DIY break-up at TakeOver: Chicago. Everything about it was perfect. They’d just gone through one hell of a match. Emotions were already high, and then Tommaso Ciampa broke all our hearts when he turned on Johnny Gargano. I know it’s a bit depressing to choose a heartbreaking moment as the best moment of the year so far, but that’s the reason I chose it. This was the best example of storytelling from NXT since Kevin Owens powerbombed Sami Zayn at TakeOver: R Evolution. The biggest moments are the ones that make you feel something, and I tell you, we were all aboard the feels train when this happened.

    WTF Moment of the Midyear

    This feels like a copout, since technically this wasn’t an NXT storyline, but I’m choosing Seth Rollins hijacking TakeOver: San Antonio. At some level, it made sense for Rollins to look for Triple H in the one place he’d be sure he’ll be: NXT. That said, there are so many holes in this logic that it’s an ineffective storytelling beat. Why not do this in Toronto, or in Full Sail? Why not just fly off to Stamford? I get that NXT means a lot to Triple H, but did he really need a reason to go after Rollins again? It reeks of the the poor writing of RAW, and I don’t want any of that in NXT.

    Story of the Midyear

    Asuka’s reign of dominance is the best storyline in NXT right now. The championship reign of the Empress of Tomorrow has been tested on all fronts. Between the multi-person matches to credible opponents, NXT’s done a good job of putting the NXT Women’s Champion in believable positions to lose the title, only to let her continue her winning ways. They’ve also done well to plant the seeds of her eventual downfall: her hubris. It hasn’t always resulted in the most polished of matches, but Asuka’s 15-month reign as NXT Women’s Champion has been memorable. Whether it all comes to an end at TakeOver: Brooklyn III remains to be seen, but surely I’ll be watching closely.

    Wrestler to Watch Out For

    Again, this is a cop out, but keep an eye on the Mae Young Classic competitors. WWE’s all-women tournament is stacked with great wrestlers like Kairi Sane, Candice LaRae, and Toni Storm. NXT’s already locked down a number of them with contracts, and expect them to pick up one or two more before the tournament is over. These women are the future of women’s wrestling in the WWE, and the MYC will be your first taste of that future.

    Superstar of the Midyear

    Without a doubt, NXT’s top guy is Bobby Roode. He has perfected his role as arrogant heel champion, and is one of the most consistent talents on the brand. Yes, he’s not the most exciting worker, but he has his psychology and characterization on point. He’s also the best mic guy in the brand right now. He’s easily the most fully developed character on the roster, and there are a few better storytellers in the ring right now than the Glorious One. He sells his opponent’s offense like it’s his death, and he knows how to play the crowd so well. I doubt he’s keeping the title past TakeOver: Brooklyn III, but this title run has been one of the best in ages.


    So what do I want from NXT for the rest of 2017? I hope they become more consistent. Most of the episodes have been good, if not great, but there are still some bummers. I don’t expect them to reach the heights of 2014-15, but if we can get solid episodes week in and out, it’ll be fine. I’d also wish they’d start rounding out the tag team and women’s divisions. Outside of two or three pieces in each division, the rest are filled up by underdeveloped talent. We’re running out of believable opponents for the the Authors of Pain and Asuka, and they’ll need to build new stars for the division.

    There’s still a lot of work to be done, but 2017 is turning out to be a good year for NXT. Here’s to hoping they can keep it up for the rest of the year.

    Photos from WWE.com

    Jocs Boncodin (@caboncodin) is a Managing Editor of Smark Henry. He answers tweets by day and watches wrestling by night. An aspiring writer, Jocs spends most of his idle time fantasy booking angles and overthinking wrestling storylines. A big fan of the WWE, his introduction to the local online wrestling community Smark Gilas-Pilipinas has opened his eyes to the wonders of puroresu and lucha libre. He currently handles Smark Hen-XT, smarkhenry.ph's weekly NXT review.
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry 2017 Midyear Report: NXT Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Jocs Boncodin
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