Back in the early 90s, Tom Zenk was enjoying his career peak in WCW as The Z-Man. He’d had a successful reign as TV Champion (defeating none other than Arn Anderson for the title) and had a great run as one half of the U.S. Tag Team champions with Flyin Brian. No one in WCW decided Z-Man was a big-time main event player and they certainly weren’t short-changing Sting, Lex Luger and The Steiners to dedicate more TV time for him either.
Fast forward a few decades and we come to the somewhat puzzling hour that was this week’s episode of NXT, which shone the spotlight not on Finn Balor, Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, Sasha Banks or Charlotte, but NXT’s version of The Z-Man — Alex Riley.
The big storyline for tonight was Riley was making his comeback after a two-year absence from the ring to begin the first step in securing a match against NXT champion Kevin Owens. Owens by the way, will be defending his title March 25 against Balor, whom we haven’t seen much of during what should be the prime buildup to this potential Match Of The Year title defense.
And while Riley had a showcase to prove why he should be a major force not just in NXT, but the WWE as well, he did little to win over any skeptics that have written him off as glorified enhancement talent. Z-Man at least had a number of good to great matches from 1990 to 1992.
We kick off from Full Sail with a No. 1 contender’s match for the tag team titles with Cass and Enzo (sans Carmella) taking on the Lucha Dragons. It’s crazy to consider how far the LDs have fallen since knocking off the untouchable Ascension to win the tag titles. Now they’re in a match they’ve got no chance of winning. That the LDs are in this match considering they’ve already lost their rematch against Blake & Murphy (who really need a team name) is a bad indictment of NXT’s tag team division at the moment.
The fans are all in with Cass and Enzo happily picking up on their great line of calling the Dragons the Geico lizards. I wasn’t initially sure, but Corey Graves has fit in great at commentary. He leans a bit more to the heel side and has great timing for lines like “Enzo’s beard looks like he has mange.” While this face vs face matchup should have the fans divided, they’re solidly with Enzo and Cass. The Dragons have to lose though even though they’re exhibiting better teamwork and skill set. Cass makes the hot tag and hits his East West Crossing sidewalk slam type move and Enzo gets a diving rocket launcher for the win.
Coming up: Riley vs CJ Parker. That’s a hard sell. Parker is the designated NXT elite job guy and Riley should make quick work of him. Someone at the Network jumps the gun and rolls a commercial for Riley vs. Owens next week. So one match is good enough for the comeback. Oh-kayyyy.
Carmella battles Alexa Bliss. Instead of the tired Jersey Shore type gimmick, I’d love to see the writers give Carmella an Iggy Azalea gimmick with an exaggerated promo style and constantly flaunting her figure. Course, the writers are always a decade behind pop culture so there you go. Alexa looks like a Barbie Princess Power doll [Barbie in Princess Power Butterfly Doll Blue] come to life. It’s a cool look and seems like it would go over well with the younger girl demographic big time. And a little like Trish Stratus’ little sister, which definitely helps. The competitive match ends with Alexa hitting a Sparkle Splash (midair twist from the top rope) for the win. Alexa is a fun character and hopefully she’ll be a regular in upcoming weeks.
Riley gives an interview. This has always been his strong suit and his time as a commentator only helped his promos. Now to see if he can deliver in the ring.
Riley vs. C.J. Parker
For a guy who wants to take on Owens, Parker is giving him too competitive a match. If I’m GM William Regal, this wasn’t impressive. The problem Riley’s always had since arriving in WWE as The Miz’s lackey is he’s decent, but he never shows anything to make you feel like you’re watching the next John Cena, Randy Orton or Batista. His best move is a dropkick and in 2015 that’s just not enough. Riley picks up the win with a Blockbuster. Owens comes out and mocks Riley’s silly back tattoo and basically says Riley’s something to occupy his time for the moment before he faces off with Balor.
Main Event time: Tyler Breeze vs Hideo Itami
The way the show has been built, Riley/Parker probably should have been the main event, but then again Riley didn’t do anything to warrant the top spot. NXT is running the risk here of giving us too much Breeze vs Itami and Breeze really has to get the win here by any means necessary to remain a featured player since their feud thus far has been decidedly one-sided. Fans are still begging for the GTS and this time, Itami doesn’t even tease it. Certainly seems like they’re building that up, but I’m curious when we’ll get the payoff. Itami misses the corner hesitation dropkick and that’s all the opening Breeze needs to hit the Beauty Shot for the clean win. While the clean finish was a bit surprising, the result was absolutely the right way to keep this feud interesting. NXT doesn’t throw out a lot of specialty matches, but maybe a 2 out of 3 falls match would be the best advancement of this rivalry?
This episode felt a bit off largely due to the focus on Riley and his “epic” quest to impress Regal for one week before getting a shot at Owens. Itami and Breeze was the best match of the show while Alexa Bliss already seems polished enough with her character to take a Divas spot on the main roster. No need to go out of your way to catch this one though.