Let me catch you up on some of the cool shit that’s been going down in The Armpit of the Universe.
A couple of months back, I scored tickets to see NXT Live on February 19th, and I basically forced Dinosaur Dracula to come with me. I didn’t give him much of a choice at all – it was like, “Dude, I got tickets to NXT, don’t make plans that day.” Matt was on board for it and I was extra pumped. It wasn’t only momentous for the fact that I’d be seeing an NXT house show virtually in my backyard, but there was a little more to it.
Before I go further, keep in mind that, in essence, NXT is where the WWE rookies are. Not all of them make it to the big time, but they’re all hungry for it. It’s their life. They all bust their asses. They put up the ring, put on a spectacle inside of it for several hours, and they tear it down at the end of the night. You know those mats around the outside of the ring? They get them clean, fold them up, and load them into the trucks after everyone leaves. They do it all. I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes. These young women and men are bent on WWE stardom, but they aren’t being spoon fed. Of course, it’s not as “hard knocks” as it was 30 years ago when a wrestler would compete all around the country for different promoters until, maybe, just maybe, they’d get called by Vince McMahon to work in the big leagues.
Much of the NXT roster already has indie cred under their belts. But, consider that in a relatively short time, NXT has carved out such a stellar reputation for itself within the landscape of pro-wrestling that I’d imagine a lot of indie wrestlers wouldn’t mind parking their asses in NXT for a while to enjoy the ride and gain some serious notoriety. For a near-mainstream entity, NXT is about as pure as it comes. Their product goes back to the basics. It’s fairly free of cringeworthy storylines and ridiculous antics. Not that I don’t condone ridiculous antics, it’s just that even many wrestling fans who expect that type of stuff are looking for a wrestling show that they can be proud to be a fan of. Despite stock doldrums and ratings slumps, WWE is still the big time no matter what, so fans like me suck it up. Now, each WWE Superstar’s journey begins in NXT. It’s the inception of what the WWE will be in years to come. If that doesn’t add some fuel to the roster’s fire, nothing will.
Demand is high for NXT. Ever since the WWE’s “little brother,” started gaining steam and making its own stars a few years ago, I’d started to dream up scenarios where they would travel around the country and put on live events. Up until last year, NXT only ran shows in Florida, their home base (tied to their roots from FCW.) Fortunately, last year, I had the chance to see an NXT show in The Sunshine State, and I had a freaking blast. From that moment, I just kept wishing that they’d come up and do a show in Jersey, where an immense amount of their fan base is located.
2015 saw NXT finally announce their long awaited first live shows outside of Florida, called The NXT Road Trip. They traveled to Ohio and Philadelphia, but New Jersey was not on their TripTik. I was convinced that Asbury Park was an absolutely perfect locale for an NXT show, yet it seemed that WWE did not agree. Or did they? Fast forward to January 2016 and Triple H, the mind behind NXT, announced another Philly show, an Albany show, AND a show in Asbury Park! See, apparently good things do come to those who wait! What was more mind blowing is that I not only wished for NXT to come to Asbury, but I also had a conversation with Miss Sexy Armpit almost a year prior about how perfect it would be if they ever ran a show at the historic Convention Hall in Asbury Park. While Convention Hall is way too small to host a large scale WWE Live event, it’s pretty much a perfect spot for NXT in NJ.
After looking back, it was all pretty uncanny. I’m not going to sit here and boast about having a crazy premonition, but there are a shit ton of venues in the state of New Jersey, yet they went with the one that I thought would feel like the perfect fit. Not only is it a short drive for me, but it’s also one of my favorite places to be in the whole state. It didn’t get much better. I’ve stated many times that Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City is my absolute favorite venue in the whole state, but Asbury Park is one of my favorite cities. I always reminisce about when I first got my license, the first place I drove to on my own was Asbury Park. It wasn’t because it was a glorious place at that time, but more because it was glorious at one time long ago. Even though it was literally in ruins then, the ghosts of it’s former grandeur still inhabited the boardwalk.
I’m sure the fact that Asbury holds other significance in the world of pro-wrestling did not escape Triple H and the NXT big-wigs. The late Bam Bam Bigelow hailed from Asbury Park and one of my favorite movies of all time, The Wrestler, features dramatic scenes on the Asbury boardwalk that give me all the feels every time I watch it. It was fitting that the very first NXT show in New Jersey went down in this very special place, adding to the wrestling lore of the Jersey shore. (THAT RHYME! I couldn’t help myself. That should’ve been the title to this post!)
Throughout the existence of The Sexy Armpit blog, I’ve always loved to dig up old WWF match cards that I had (Scroll through THESE posts!) These were the one page sheets that listed the matches from events in New Jersey that I attended. I never finished posting all of them by any means, but it’s really cool for me to be able to type this to you after all these years and add this NXT match card to my repertoire.
When the day arrived, we left early so we’d have some extra time to get some food, stop in a few junk stores, and play pinball. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to elaborate on that part of our trip real soon. What I can tell you is that it was Freezy Freakies type weather outside. Not the best time to walk around on the boardwalk, but the sky was gray which added to the ambiance. The show was sold out, yet there must have been a handful of single tickets left because a guy in front of me was able to score one. The Internet service all around Asbury went out that day so the people who were lucky enough to score the last few single tickets received a piece of ripped notebook paper with their seat info scrawled on it with a fine tip purple marker. It wound up that the theater was so packed that they had to literally bring in more chairs for these Johnny come latelys.
Instead of making this post quadruple the length by critiquing every match, I’ll tell about some of the highlights:
The first match, and possibly my favorite of the evening, featured Alex Bliss vs. Asuka. As a babyface, Alexa Bliss was cute and innocent, but in her current role as a heel, she’s hot, nasty, and egotistical. She parades around perfectly, oozing this rotten swagger. She’s the best female heel in the entire NXT and WWE right now. There was a reason why she opened up the event – because she has command of the ring and her character in a very natural way that some other members of the roster haven’t mastered yet. It will be sad to see her go, but I can already envision her being called up to the main roster very soon. After the event, I was driving home discussing the matches with Matt and we both agreed that the opening contest was one of the best of the card because of how Alex Bliss just “gets it.” The next day I logged on to my Instagram to witness it blowing up. I was dumbfounded when I saw that Alexa used the photo I took of her on Instagram and referenced me. This was such an amazing exclamation point on an already outstanding night!
Matt had been waiting to see Apollo Crews ever since I told him I got the tickets. I’d only seen some of the Crews video montages early on and some snippets of his matches. His skills in the ring and charisma are off the charts. He can easily be a top guy before we know it. He beat Alex Riley, who’s really become a glorified jobber.
On this night, The Princess of Staten Island, Carmella, claimed to become the Princess of New Jersey for one night only. She faced off against Peyton Royce. This forgettable matchup showed me that Carmella needs to polish up some of her move set. In the vein of Poison Ivy, Peyton Royce is a heel whose gimmick is prancing around smelling a flower that she walks to the ring with.
Ever since he debuted in NXT, you can’t get me to shut up about how awesome Enzo Amore is. Both he and Big Cass are naturals on the mic and in the ring. They have the same level of charisma that the old school WWF guys did. They are physically gifted entertainers and they make it known that they are there to knock everyone’s socks off. In Convention Hall that night, they knew the NJ crowd wanted something special and they came correct. Before their match with the Vaudevillians, they cut the undisputed, most Jersey promo ever. They were dropping references to Springsteen, memories of the Jersey Shore, and Big Cass even sang Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons “Sherry.” The crowd went nuts and gave them a well deserved, electric pop.
After the intermission, former TNA and ROH star Austin Aries defeated Elias Sampson. While on the mic, the bearded, guitar playing Sampson grabbed the low hanging fruit and went for the old ASS-bury Park joke. Good for him. Gotta love the cheap heat. It was an entertaining contest, both guys are the real deal.
After having to run outside to put more money in the parking meter and beg them to let me back inside, Bayley defeated Eva Marie. Regarding Eva Marie, other than Roman Reigns, I don’t think I’ve heard more boos for a any wrestler associated with WWE out of the hundreds of live WWE events I’ve been to in my lifetime. She was literally booed out of the building. If it wasn’t for her looks, I have no clue how she maintains such a huge fan base. Judging by her scenes with her husband on Total Divas, they make it clear that they leverage her appearances in WWE to advertise her own “brand.” Give me a break. Leave the wrestling to the ladies who really want to be there please. Matt even mentioned that Bayley might be the most over entity in all of WWE and NXT. He’s probably right too, since the entire crowd seems to be undeniably on her side. I will support anyone whose mascots are giant neon versions of the flailing HOT PIZZA GUY.
In the main event, Finn Balor and Sami Zayn defeated Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin. This one was an attraction to say the least. Fans already know how great these guys are. They’re mostly all shoe-ins for the main WWE roster, but for now they still love mixing it up in the NXT ring. Corbin didn’t do much to generate heat from the crowd, and Joe didn’t either, but it was still a fierce and competitive battle on all fronts. It was a true throwback and that feeling was continued after the match as well. Celebrating their win, Balor and Zayn goofed around in the ring and mimicked each others entrances and wore each others ring attire. It reminded me of that lighthearted finale you used to get at the conclusion of a house show, almost like the modern NXT equivalent of the Hulkster posing in the ring after a big win. I’m sure some of you will hate that comparison, but I’m sure you catch my drift. They sent the house home happy and wanting more. I know I sure do.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we witnessed history. This night needed to be commemorated here at the blog. From the standpoint of this lifelong Jersey guy, having the opportunity to see the wrestling superstars of tomorrow light up a jam packed Convention Hall on a Friday night felt like I got hit with a flying elbow drop of exhilaration.