WE ARE WIIIILD AND YOUNG AND WE HAVE JUUUUST BEGUUUN AND I already hate this show.
Please welcome this season’s lovely Rookies and the Pros who were thrilled to discover they’d lost a day off for this!
Skip Sheffield, the guy from Tough Enough Season 4 who suffered from bronchitis, a rib injury & a bottomless stomach. Also failing steroids tests. He’s been going back and forth between FCW & OVW but one of Regal’s first jobs in the business was picking up Giant Haystacks’ food orders so he should be OK deadlifting this guy.
Darren Young had wrestled across various Mid-Atlantic indies like ECWA, ECPW, USA Pro and other companies that barely kept a tape library together and may as well not exist in 2020. CM Punk was really, REALLY happy about doing this show.
Justin Gabriel’s life pre-WWE was far more interesting than anything he’d do on TV. After training to wrestle as a young ‘un in South Africa by his dad The Pink Panther, he moved to the UK after witnessing his father getting shot in front of him (!) to go train with Alex Shane in FWA in the early 2000s. After returning to South Africa a few years later he got signed by WWE in 2008 and I’m not sure how one lead to the other but I want to sit down and get high with this man.
Wade Barrett wrestled in various early 2000s pre-boom UK companies like Real Quality, Dropkixx & All Star before getting signed on a try-out in 2007 and bouncing between OVW & FCW. His trainer Chris Jericho is the WWE Champion and I’m surprised he’s doing this.
David Otunga went from TV acting to FCW with no experience wrestling beforehand but you could barely tell.
Michael Tarver went from Ohio indies straight to FCW and luckily he has Carlito to teach him how to stay motivated.
Heath Slater was a big deal in FCW winning numerous titles but thanks to WWE doing diddly-squat with the footage that’s kind of like having a really successful Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain save-file.
And finally, the completely against-the-odds success story that would continue to generate amazing TV moments years later: Rookie Daniel Bryan with eleven years experience being taught by Miz with seven years experience.
The show starts with them all lined up trying to get their limited gimmicks over with mannerisms like the intro to Wacky Races. The Miz puts over Bryan as an “internet darling” and how much bloggers love him…but THIS IS THE WWE and you need to expect anything so Miz makes him go to the ring and give the fans a reason to watch him. Oh and get a good catchphrase. Bryan heads to the ring and Miz tells TV that Bryan’s personality is as dry as The Mojave Desert so if he doesn’t show us something he’ll slap it into him. OK.
We head to the ring as Michael Cole introduces the show with “who will be the next WWE Superstar? Who will main event Wrestlemania? Could it be Daniel Bryan?” which is amazing to hear a decade later. I mean the story is more “Bryan accidentally became the most over guy in the company to the point where they had to push him” rather than “we had this plan all along!” but still.
Cole’s commentating with Josh Mathews, and Matt Striker is the backstage interviewer so he’s kept away from anybody important. Bryan gets the mic and sucks up to the crowd by crapping on The Miz and apologising for not having William Regal as a pro. Crowd digs it. Bryan introduces his catchphrase “I’m Sorry” for being taught by Miz which causes him to come down and yell at Bryan for not having charisma. Bryan apologies for not going on a reality show and growing a faux-hawk. Miz does his catch-phrase so Bryan says OK here’s mine…if he wrestled Miz he’d either “tap or snap.” Miz gets the crowd to cheer if they approve like it’s a Punch & Judy show but he doesn’t care what they think so he slaps Bryan and leaves. Bryan tells the crowd that there’ll be a time when he slaps back. When I watched this ten years ago I was caught up in the real life negativity of DANIEL BRYAN WAS ROH WORLD CHAMPION WHY IS HE GETTING SLAPPED BY THE MIZ RAAAARRRRRRR but watching it more calmly it’s clear this is to get the crowd to cheer for him and it worked because the crowd cheered for him.
Thanks to American Bang for recording the theme for NXT before immediately re-naming themselves The Cadillac Three to avoid the shame.
After the break, Striker asks how it feels to have been slapped by his mentor. Bryan responds he’s been wrestling twice as long as Miz but Matt tells him that that doesn’t matter in WWE and asks if he wants to actually be a WWE Superstar or not. Bryan trips over his tongue responding but still sounds like a young underdog (that clean shave un-aged him by five years) but Striker did absolutely nothing to help him here and was more interested in coming across like a grizzled veteran which is hilarious because even he had less in-ring experience than Bryan.
Cole tells us Bryan will be wrestling Chris Jericho in the main event tonight and we’re two segments in with no idea about how this show actually works.
Carlito & Michael Tarver vs. Christian & Heath Slater
Tarver gets an introductory video package with FCW clips of him sparking people out. His Dad was a sparring partner for Mike Tyson, and he’s gone from everything to sleeping in his car to getting paid $20 for shows and it’s nice for AIW to get a plug on the air. Slater’s is less impressive as it’s just him rocking out and having a good time but he’d manage to turn that into a career so well done.
Carlito wants Slater to start and Heath gets a cheeky school-boy for two followed with a YEAHHH BAYBAYY so Carlito smacks him daft and tags him Tarver. Mr. 1.9 gets him in the corner and assumes a boxer position with a few shots to the body before taking a flying something from Slater. Carlito gets a sneak attack to even the odds and Heath gets stretched while the commentators talk about Bryan. Slater gets a quick powerslam to get the mild tag to Christian who goes through a nice sequence with Carlito which ends with a two-count off the springboard Sunset Flip. Carlito tries to Irish Whip Tarver into Christian but he gets the wrong idea and reverses it to send Carlito into a Christian elbow, Slater takes Carlito out the ring leaving Tarver alone to take the Killswitch to end it.
Winner: Christian & Heath Slater (The FCW guys wrestled exactly as you’d expect two unfamiliar wrestlers thrust on TV with two veterans staring holes into the back of their heads. The video packages before the match summed up the Reality Show feel they were aiming for.)
Darren Young vs. David Otunga
Darren Young The South Beach Party Boy is shown not gelling with The Straight Edge Society and Punk gets a video-in-video promo where he says “I don’t know why I’m here.” With this mix of Tag Partners Who Don’t Get Along and This Is A Shoot Brother, Russo would have put the tag titles on them immediately. David Otunga’s video package tells us he’s been to Harvard Law School, Hollywood and the White House twice this year. This didn’t answer the question of “yes but…what do you do?” that we’re still asking years later. R-Truth’s introduction gets the biggest pop of the show so far.
Young gets a fore-arm before getting knocked down and quickly pinned with a Badger’s Arse Spinebuster.
Winner: David Otunga (The best highlights were in Darren’s hair.)
Raw Rebound: Yes, not even NXT is safe from the threat of Rebound. Vince McMahon gets Batista to run-in after John Cena’s title-winning Elimination Chamber match to win the title after a minute. Vince says Cena can get a rematch against Batista at Wrestlemania if he defeats his opponent tonight…Batista. Batista then immediately kicks Cena in the dick to lose the match and beats him up afterwards. 2010 would only get weirder for WWE’s booking.
Chris Jericho and Wade Barrett “from Manchester” (even though he was raised in Preston, dammit. I’m sorry Americans get their exact GPS position for their hometown and Europeans get whatever’s closest) head to the ring. Jericho demands Wade introduce him instead of the NXT ring announcer and Barrett talked about this in an interview years later as he completely blanked on what he was supposed to say, so just kept on talking about himself until Jericho interrupted to tell him “I just want you to introduce me.”
“…have it your way.”
Chris Jericho vs. Daniel Bryan
Bryan runs past his Pro to get to the ring, drawing the ire of Cole. Bryan’s first proper WWE match being against the current Smackdown World Champion is almost as crazy as this being one of only two singles matches he against Jericho. Bryan takes Chris down immediately with a fancy dropkick but comes back with his own. Mathews explains all the other Rookies have heard of Bryan and his indie career but Cole plants his seeds by saying he’d never heard of him but he needs to show respect to Miz because he’s the Unified Tag Champion. Bryan counters a Kitchen Sink to a roll-up for two but the larger Jericho twats him down. Striker decides to interview Wade while the match is on and asks what he’s learning. He gives him a response and Striker asks him again so Wade gives him the same response, followed by Mathews mocking Wade. Ahhh there we go, there’s the memory of me watching this in 2010 going “what the hell is going on in this show?” Bryan takes out Jericho with a Dragon Screw that goes better than the Orange Cassidy ones and follows it with a running knee. Cole continues to mock the idea of someone getting a reputation wrestling in high schools as Bryan backflips out of the corner to land a flying knee for two. Jericho gets sent outside and Bryan follows him with a dive right into the announce table.
Commentators sell it like Bryan got countered into the table but Bryan acts like it connected just fine and drags Jericho back in only for Chris to try to Walls. However, Bryan reverses beautifully out of it to snap in a sweet-looking ankle lock as the crowd goes nuts. Jericho sells it like Chinese Water Torture but manages the ropes. After landing a Codebreaker, Jericho puts him in The Walls Of Jericho (with knee on the head for good measure) to get the win.
Winner: Chris Jericho (As good as it could be considering the time allowed and the fact that Jericho The World Heavyweight Champion was selling like crazy for some indie guy.)
The Miz immediately attacks Bryan after the match while yelling YOU’RE THE ROOKIE YOU’RE THE ROOKIE.
The show ends with Striker and the other NXT lads declaring we’d just witnessed history. I mean, he’d end up being right but he didn’t know that. Shut up Striker.
Overall: OK, this ended up not being as horrible as I remembered after a decade of the WWE style slowly dissolving into American indie style. Cole’s anti-Bryan commentary would carry on (and on and on) but the biggest issue on the debut episode was having Miz & Bryan start off the show arguing. Surely it would have made sense on a production level to have Tarver & Slater out first getting along with their Pros with their video packages before going to The Guys Who Can’t Get Along to show how their dynamic is different to everyone elses? Also, after one 45 minute episode there was no mention of what’s going to happen on the show or how it works or if there’s a reward or anything. It’s also bleak seeing how many Rookies would be out the business ten years later while so many Pros are still around.
Having said that, it’s interesting watching this now and realising this would all somehow build to The Greatest Segment To Air On WWE TV many years later.
As a bonus, here’s Jericho’s thoughts on the first episode (from The Best In The World: At What I Don’t Know):
Vince decided he wanted to put some of the younger talent languishing down in the developmental territory in Tampa on TV, quick, so he devised the idea of pairing some of the new guys with established veterans in a pseudo reality show called NXT. If he was playing Wheel of Fortune he would’ve needed to buy a vowel for NXT, but he liked the cutting-edge froot factor of spelling it wrong. He also liked the idea of having me involved as one of the vets. I balked at the idea as I didn’t think the Chris Jericho character would care enough about anybody else to be their mentor. I also had no desire to increase my schedule, since I was already working four shows a week. Now with the NXT taping, I’d have to do five shows a week, not something that I saw in the cards. I talked it over with CM Punk, who’d also been asked to do the show and hated the whole idea as well. We decided we’d go to Vince separately so he wouldn’t feel like we were ganging up on him (you never got what you wanted that way) and try to talk him out of selecting us. When I told Vince my concerns, he smiled and told me he wanted the show to be a hit and needed my “star power.” He also promised me I wouldn’t have to work every Tuesday (I pretty much did anyway) and wouldn’t have to do much on the show (which he was right about). Bottom line was he pulled his Jedi mind trick once again and I left the office feeling happy about doing NXT instead of hating the whole concept. Not sure how he always did that, but he did.
A tall, tough-looking Englishman named Stu introduced himself and shook my hand, but I was too preoccupied with finding Wade Barrett and kind of blew him off. I couldn’t find him anywhere and was starting to get pissed off at the audacity of this guy making himself scarce on his first day of work. I asked Christian if he’d seen this Barrett character anywhere and he pointed at Stu, which was Wade’s real name.
I also had to wrestle on NXT once in a while, which I never wanted to do as I was in a bad mood from having to be there in the first place. Call time for TV days was usually two P. M., but I was getting there at five P. M. (or later) and didn’t care. I couldn’t be bothered getting there on time just to sit around all day doing nothing. On the days I did have to wrestle, it was a piece of piss to put together a short match against a guy with very little experience. I’d lay out the whole match and nobody had any better ideas anyway, except maybe Daniel Bryan, who I thought was excellent from the moment he walked into the WWE. We wrestled each other on the very first NXT show, and even though we only had six minutes, it turned out pretty damn good, highlighted by Bryan overshooting me on a dive outside of the ring and slamming into the announce table at full speed. The wipeout looked vicious but because we were under a time constraint, I threw him right back inside and continued on like it didn’t happen instead of teasing a count-out or changing the finish all together. It still bugs me that I made the rookie mistake of following along with the script instead of capitalizing on the moment. But I chalked it up as a lesson learned.
Anyway, that was a lot more words than I was expecting but it’d be cool to read your thoughts on this show. If nothing else, I want to see if it wasn’t just me that hated this bizarre hazing ritual disguised as a TV show or if I was just a grumpy sod back then.
Until n(e)xt week, I’ve been Maffew.