Welcome to NXT Future Five on Last Word On Sports, where each week we analyze the latest episode of World Wrestling Entertainment Network’s hottest program, NXT and rank the five performers who made the biggest impact.
This week’s episode was a homecoming of sorts, as the NXT crew returned to Full Sail University in Florida. It was nice to have a few episodes of NXT on the road to offer up a little variety, but much like when you go on vacation, it always feels good to come home where you are comfortable and familiar. The format returned to usual as well, and we got a very wrestling heavy episode, perhaps to balance out the video package heavy episode from last week.
- CJ Parker vs Solomon Crowe: It was déjà vu all over again for the NXT universe as the aggressive earth crusader CJ Parker once again did battle with Solomon Crowe. The crowd was pretty into the match, as we got to see some fire from Parker and some new moves from Crowe, including a brand new leg submission finishing maneuver, which he used to defeat the eco-activist.
- Baron Corbin vs Steve Cutler: These days it seems like if you’ve seen one Baron Corbin match, you’ve seen them all, and that certainly felt like the case for this quick encounter with Steve Cutler. The crowd started with their usual count but it fizzled out quickly into the 15 second mark. Sadly if they had continued their count, it wouldn’t have been long before the match was over anyways as Corbin put Cutler out of his misery with an End of Days shortly thereafter.
- Sami Zayn Promo: Catching up with the former NXT Champion, Sami Zayn had a few words about his main event match with Rhyno, where he made sure everyone knew he would not be used as a stepping stone any longer and that he was ready. A little unnecessary, but perhaps helpful for anyone just tuning in for the first time, or for anyone unsure of who they need to be supporting during the main event. It was kept short and sweet, so no complaints.
- Enzo Amore & Big Cass w/Carmella vs Sawyer Fulton & Andelo Dawkins: Amore, Cass, and Carmella were back to their entertaining ways this week as they took on the relatively new duo of Sawyer Fulton and Angelo Dawkins. Fulton and Dawkins used their rough amateur style to bully Enzo Amore, but Enzo was smart enough to make tags when needed and not try to play hero for Carmella, probably a good thing as their rivals and NXT Tag Team Champions Blake & Murphy stopped by to drop off a bouquet of flowers for the Statin Island Princess Carmella. In the end, it was the team work of Amore and Cass that would lead them to victory, finishing off Dawkins with a Rocket Launcher splash for the victory.
- Alex Riley Promo: Alex Riley was out to send a message that although he might be down, he is far from out. Riley is #Raging and looking to redeem himself after losing to NXT Champion Kevin Owens. He called out the champ for a match next week, claiming that he wouldn’t be leaving the ring until he gets another match with Owens. Riley showed fire but he needs wins to get me to believe that his fire is more than a flicker.
- Blue Pants vs Dana Brooke: If there was any doubt that Blue Pants was a full time gimmick for Leva Bates, her full fledged entrance (including the Big Cass cover of the Price is Right theme) and crowd reaction would lead one to believe that she is here to stay. Her opponent was the debuting Dana Brooke, who had a considerable amount of hype heading into the match after being built up with vignettes for weeks on NXT. Dana used a strong power offence and even showed off a new move that can only be described as a headstand choke in the corner. In the end, it was a sit out slam that finished off fan favorite blue pants, earning Brooke her first victory in her NXT television debut.
- Next Weeks Matches: NXT announced two big matches for next week’s edition of the program. First, Alex Riley will in fact get his rematch with Kevin Owens next week. This will be a true test for Riley. If he hopes to be taken seriously in NXT, he needs to focus on winning, not revenge. The other match announced has major implications for the NXT Women’s Division as Bayley, Becky Lynch, and former NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte will do battle in a triple threat match to determine the #1 Contender to Sasha Banks’ title. This one is a little too close to call, but if I have to pick a winner, my money is one the Irish born bombshell to come out victorious.
- Sami Zayn vs Rhyno: With future championship match opportunities implied, there was a lot more going on in this match than just two men trying to climb the ranks in NXT. It was a battle of old school versus new school, with veteran Rhyno trying to prove he can hang with the new generation, and Sami Zayn trying to prove to the NXT Universe, himself, his opponent Rhyno, and possibly Kevin Owens that he still belongs in the main event hunt. Although Rhyno would dominate the match, Zayn would prove to be just a bit hungrier on this night, avoiding a Gore and scoring a Helluva Kick for the pin fall victory to close out the show.
The Future Five
5. Solomon Crowe (Last Week – Not Ranked): Solomon gets ranked this week, but just barely. I had given some thought to placing the team of Sawyer Fulton and Angelo Dawkins in this spot because their very impressive showing against the #1 Contenders despite their inexperience as a team, but in the end Crowe did show just enough growth this week to round out the bottom of the list. His saving grace was the introduction of a few new moves that will likely lead to greater success in NXT, including the top rope leg splash and his new Stretch Muffler submission hold. Despite his spring board splash being a flashier move, his stature makes this new combo a more effective offensive attack. If Crowe wants to move up the rankings he needs to move up the competition ladder. He beat CJ Parker in his debut. He needs to challenge some bigger names or risk becoming stagnant. You can’t hack your way out of mediocrity.
4. Dana Brooke (Last Week – 4): Dana Brooke made her in ring debut this week with arguably the most hype a non-independent wrestler has ever received in NXT. That should be a big indicator of how much faith WWE has in Brooke as a future star. After this week’s performance, it isn’t hard to see why. Brooke was dominant in her match, and although her level of competition wasn’t of the highest caliber, she had me believing that she could be a major threat to the NXT Women’s Championship in the very near future. She managed to live up to the hype, in her first week at least. It will be interesting to see if she plays a part in next week’s triple threat #1 contender’s match. If she does, it could see her move up in next week’s rankings. For now, she’ll have to settle for staying put in the number 4 slot.
3. Rhyno (Last Week – Not Ranked): It may be strange to see Rhyno ranked so high on the list after a losing effort this week, especially since this was his first real test since arriving on the scene in NXT, but one must consider not only the level of competition Rhyno faced, but also how he performed against said competition. In both cases, the results were favorable for the Man Beast. Sami Zayn is the former NXT Champion, and Rhyno was absolutely dominant against him, taking control of the match for the majority of the contest. Rhyno was also utilizing a more methodical strategy against Zayn, showing that there’s a brain beneath all that muscle. Rhyno was pacing himself in the ring against one of NXT’s best conditioned athletes. This demonstrated Rhyno’s experience edge over Zayn, and one of the reasons Sami’s victory over him could almost be classified as an upset. Sometimes there is victory in defeat, and Rhyno looked incredible this week, despite walking away with the loser’s share of the prize money.
2. Enzo Amore & Big Cass (Last Week – Not Ranked): The Certifide G and the Bonafide Stud looked real good this week, and not just because Carmella was by their side either. Let’s start with the reaction they received from the NXT Universe. If this was a homecoming episode, then Amore, Cass, and Carmella were the Kings and Queen of the prom respectively. There were still some boos for Carmella, but it looks like the Statin Island Princess ditched her fur coat for more humble attire this week, which is a step in the right direction to getting her on the fan’s good side. Once in the ring, Amore and Cass showed a renewed focus. Enzo was no longer worried about impressing Carmella instead of winning matches, and it showed. Although he was in trouble more than a few times against his more burly opposition, Amore showed great presence of mind by tagging out when it was needed instead of trying to be the hero. Big Cass was a house of fire this week, dismantling their opponents and using team work to score a decisive victory that I’m sure caught the attention of Blake and Murphy.
1. Sami Zayn (Last Week – Not Ranked): After two months away from in ring action on NXT, Sami Zayn had lots to prove this week and he managed to turn a few heads and turn more than a few doubters into believers that he could still be NXT Champion one day. He had a gargantuan task in front of him both figuratively and literally in the form of the Man Beast Rhyno. Normally, an opponent of Rhyno’s stature would be a challenge in and of itself, but in this case Rhyno also has over a decade of experience behind him and a goal of becoming NXT Champion himself. Those seemed like odds Zayn would not be able to overcome heading into the main event this week, but Zayn once again managed to prove his detractors wrong by taking a tremendous beating at the hands of the former ECW and NWA World Heavyweight Champion to come out victorious. He not only avoiding the devastating Gore maneuver, but was quick enough to capitalize on the small opening presented to him and secure the victory. Because of their similar builds and powerhouse style, Rhyno served as a very good tune up match for a future rematch with former friend Kevin Owens. Perhaps it was smart planning on the part of Zayn to accept Rhyno’s challenge after all.
Sami Zayn came back in a big way this week, and it was nice to see some faces that have been absent from our televisions for a few weeks, as well as some fresh ones. Some of the matches this week felt like reminders to fans that yes, these talents are still here, which is a sign that WWE needs to kick things into another gear next week. Thankfully, they have a potentially huge match with the triple threat #1 contender match for the NXT Women’s Championship. With arguably three of the best women performers in the industry today, I’m hoping WWE will #GiveDivasAChance and let those ladies headline next week’s show. Some will argue that the NXT Champion is a more prominent figure and deserves that spot, but there is just too much talent and importance in that triple threat to be anything but the main event. My guess is that come next week, either Bayley, Becky Lynch, or Charlotte will be our new #1 contender, and our new #1 in the Future Five.