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    Thursday, July 19, 2018

    Smark Hen-XT (7/18/18): Ladies' Night

    Howdy ho! As Ardelle Costuna mentioned in last week's NXT review column, she'll be stepping back from this space for a while as she moves on to do NJPW coverage for the site. The G1 Climax can be a tricky time to cover. So in the meantime, I'll be taking over to write about the Black and Yellow Brand—something I initially wanted to do when Smark Henry was founded three years ago! Alright, let's see what we've got.

    The biggest highlight from this week's episode of NXT was how important it made the women's division feel. With all due respect to SmackDown Live and how stacked its women's lineup is—along with my undying love for Ireland's favorite daughter, Becky Lynch—there isn't really much going on over there outside of the Carmella/Asuka/Ellsworth brouhaha and Becky's winning streak. For some reason, the writers must've forgotten all about The IIconics and Naomi, while Lana only got 30 seconds of TV time alongside Aiden English.

    And then there's RAW, whose storylines for the women have been complete headscratchers from Ronda Rousey getting rewarded with a title shot from jumping the barricade as a fan, to Kurt Angle's toxic mismanagement of Sasha and Bayley's hurt feelings, to Ember Moon's constant rematches with individual members of The Riott Squad.

    Contrast that with NXT, where the women's division isn't just some palate-cleanser or afterthought. It's as much of a building block of the show as the NXT Championship. You've got Shayna Baszler, who's getting built up as an unstoppable champion the same way Asuka was during her own reign of terror. And then you have three top names in Nikki Cross, Candice LeRae, and Kairi Sane vying for #1 contender status in the main event. All three had interactions with the champion in previous episodes and all three wanted to step up to the plate to take the Queen of Spades down a peg. They didn't need long-ass promos or silly run-ins to accomplish this. NXT has done a great job filming vignettes that barely last a minute, and yet are able to plant the seeds for a meaningful encounter.

    The match itself was hot from the get-go, like they started at second gear and only went up from there. Its frenzied pace only accentuated the big fight feel, which was palpable all throughout. I loved the chaos and urgency that all three women bared on display from bell to bell. It probably also helps that I've been trying my best to avoid reading spoilers, so I was legitimately surprised when each woman would break a submission or cover to save the matchup. Needless to say, Kairi Sane's Insane Elbow made me mark the fuck out, and I couldn't argue with the result. 

    Kairi and Shayna are 1-1 since last year's Mae Young Classic. And now that it seems like Shayna Baszler has the upper hand as the champion, it'll be fun watching the Pirate Princess play the role of plucky underdog for the build to TakeOver: Brooklyn IV. I've also come to really hate everything about The Queen of Spades since she became a permanent fixture on NXT, so I'm going to have the time of my life rooting for Kairi Sane throughout this feud.

    On a related note, another pair of women in Lacey Evans and Dakota Kai opened this week's episode with a solid bout. I thought it was going to be one of those throwaway matches that lasted only five minutes, and then I remembered I wasn't watching an episode of RAW. Commentary did a great job in layering both women's intentions in picking up the W in the match. Dakota Kai is trying to get back on the winning track to prove that she deserves respect in the women's division, while Lacey Evans was out to establish her dominance as one of the stronger and more imposing female Superstars on the roster.

    These beautiful women weren't afraid to get ugly in a match that had me cringing with the hard strikes and painful contortions that they resorted to. As Dakota Kai made her comeback, I couldn't help but think about how far women's wrestling has come since I first started watching wrestling some 15 years ago. I didn't think this would be the norm someday, let alone actually be existing. 

    The way Dakota Kai is being written reminds me of Peak Bayley, back when she captured the hearts of most everybody on NXT. For that reason, I want two things for the Captain of Team Kick. (1) I hope she reaches the same heights story-wise and popularity-wise that Bayley eventually did, and (2) I hope she doesn't end up on RAW when she does get called up to the main roster. I don't mind seeing Dakota Kai falling flat on her face for now. In the immortal words of Jessy Mendiola Puto, "Sometimes, a setback is a setup for a comeback." B+.

    Not-So-Full Sails

    • Is Kassius Ohno turning heel? I liked the intensity with which he just destroyed Rick Ramirez. It was no-nonsense for The Knockout Artist, and if he's going to add a mean streak to that, then it could be just what he needs to grow out of the gatekeeper role he'd been wedged in lately.
    • On the flip side, I'm all in on EC3 as a smarmy, arrogant babyface. Let's face it. He's incredibly popular and difficult to root against. I'm glad NXT is doubling down on how charismatic he is and just allowing him to go up against heels like Kona Reeves, while allowing him to maintain his Ric Flair style for, ehem, the finest things.
    • I can't wait for Aleister Black vs. Tommaso Ciampa for the NXT Championship. I have a lot of thoughts about Black's run so far and how it's been akin to CM Punk's WWE Championship run from 2011-13, but I'll save that for next week.
    • The intro of Lacey Evans' theme song reminds me of the heel remix of Vintendo's theme. Appropriately, they both got reboots. 
    • I don't understand why The Undisputed ERA's promos are filmed and produced that way. It's not a TV show, but it's also not just some random conversation being filmed backstage. And why is their theme song playing in the background? This is as illogical as WWE ending backstage segments by focusing on the interviewer's face as they look off-camera. Why can't these interviewers throw back to the announcers? What's the logic behind all this?!
    • I don't get what the plan for the Street Profits is. I don't really care for them anymore.
    • I dig this War Raiders video package. Explained their gimmick and backstories very well. If you've never seen War Machine Raiders before, then this should give you a reason to get invested in them. I think I've found my new favorite tag team.
    Images from WWE


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXTLucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.

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    Item Reviewed: Smark Hen-XT (7/18/18): Ladies' Night Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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