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NXT Redux (January 13th, 2016): A Fabulous Start to 2016

As if making a pledge to Diva fans that the advancements made in 2015 won’t be forgotten, NXT has bestowed their first main event of the year on the Divas. In a Battle Royal, several Divas will face off for the right to challenge Bayley to the NXT Women’s Championship.

Competing in this Battle Royal will be Alexa Bliss, Aliyah, Asuka, Billie Kay, Cameron, Carmella, indy wrestler (and member of the 2015 Diva Dirt Five to Watch list) Deonna Purrazzo, Emma, Eva Marie, Liv Morgan and Peyton Royce

Will this match follow the tradition of the Diva Battle Royals of old, with awkward action and forgettable eliminations, or will it put the NXT shine on an old strategy? We’ll have to wait until the end of the show to find out, because it is our maaaaaiiin event!

Our first Diva sighting came from NXT Women’s Champion Bayley, who spoke to Rich Brennan about her successful title defense against Nia Jax at TakeOver: London and the number one contendership Battle Royal taking place later in the night:

Bayley says she didn’t “win” the match as much as she “survived” it. She says she never faced anyone like Nia and didn’t know she had it in herself to defeat her. She did know, however, that she needed to stay champion.

Bayley says she wishes she could compete in tonight’s Battle Royal. She says, depending on who wins, she may give the victor a hug.

Next, NXT revealed the winners of it’s first-ever Year-End Awards:

Bayley won Female Competitor of the Year and her match against Sasha Banks at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn won Match of the Year. Well done, Bayley and Sasha!

Before we get to the night’s main event, we checked in with each of the competitors for mini promos:

Billie, all dominatrix-like, promises to bring the division “to its knees.” Deonna says everyone will forget she was KOed by Asuka when she wins the Battle Royal. Emma promises to do what she always does: make it all about her.

Carmella says 2016 is about to become a whole lot more fabulous. Peyton complains that she hasn’t yet gotten many opportunities in NXT, so tonight she’s going to make this opportunity hers. Alexa says she doesn’t just want to win – she will win. She says she has her eyes on Bayley and will get another shot at her belt.

Cameron is here to answer the question “Where’s Cameron?” and prove that she’s more than a Funkadactyl. Aliyah is hyped about making her debut tonight, musing that there would be no better way to debut than to win the number one contendership. Liv promises to win the Battle Royal for her family, friends, New Jersey and…Instagram? Asuka, ever succinct, simply predicts that she will become the number one contender.

Nia Jax, however, isn’t quite ready to go, judging by a last-minute physical assessment:

William Regal and Eva Marie are by Nia’s side when it’s revealed that she’s not medically cleared to compete tonight, thanks to the lingering effects of Bayley’s TakeOver: London chokehold. She’s frustrated, but Eva is practically ecstatic, grinning behind Nia’s back. She tells Nia that she’s “got this” for the both of them.

Next, it’s match time!

Aliyah, Billie, Cameron, Deonna, Liv and Peyton are already in the ring. Alexa, Emma, Eva and Asuka make individual entrances. Asuka’s is particularly memorable, as it interrupts Eva’s and sees her storm past the Total Divas star like she’s Lady Gaga and Eva’s Leonardo DiCaprio.

Once everyone’s assembled in the ring, the bell rings and the mayhem commences. Asuka kicks things off quite literally with a spin kick to Eva’s face, sending her rolling out of the ring under the bottom rope. She’s still a legal participant!

Meanwhile, Asuka squares off with the rest of the Divas, and only Emma seems bold enough to attack her, albeit sneakily. The rest of the Divas pair off and attack one another. Emma immediately tries to toss Asuka over the top rope, but it’s no good. Alexa pummels Peyton in the corner while Billie and Cameron square off and the pair of Deonna and Liv do battle. Carmella and Aliyah round out the pack, Carmella taking control over the rookie Diva.

When we leave for a commercial and return, things are pretty much the same, save for Alexa and Liv switching places. Aliyah earns the distinction of being the first woman eliminated, Cameron sending her over the top rope. Deonna targets Cameron next, brining on a double-team attack from her and Alexa.

On the other side of the ring, Emma and Peyton have joined forces to try to eliminate Liv, but the new Diva slips free. Cameron then earns her second elimination of the match, dodging an attack from Deonna and pulling down the top rope so she goes sailing over it to the outside.

The action shuffles, Liv taking on Cameron while Carmella and Alexa square off, Asuka and Billie battle and Emma and Peyton struggle for control. Carmella soon joins Peyton to help in her attempt to eliminate Emma, but they don’t get the job done. Meanwhile, Liv lifts Cameron in a powerbomb position, possibly looking to drop her over the top rope. However, Cameron crashes down on top of her, thwarting her hopes.

Undeterred, Liv tries again, lifting Cameron up and dangling her outside the ropes. Cameron hangs on, though, impressively latching onto Liv. Alexa sees this and seizes the opportunity to get a double elimination, lifting Liv over the top rope and sending both her and Cameron crashing to the outside.

The action shifts again, Alexa targeting Peyton, and Carmella fighting Emma while Asuka and Billie continue their battle. Carmella sends Emma into the corner, only to be caught in the Dilemma. Emma maintains the hold briefly before hitting an Emmamite Sandwich. This sends Carmella rolling under the bottom rope to the outside. She’s still in the match! Keep an eye on her…

Alexa attacks Emma, only to be scooped up and nearly tossed over the top rope. Alexa slips free, though, and leaps onto Emma’s back, locking in a sleeperhold. Alexa is soon seated on the top rope, doggedly holding on to Emma but in a very precarious position. Emma grabs her and carries her over to the ropes, dropping her onto the apron and finishing the job with a blow to the face. Alexa has been eliminated!

Before Emma can celebrate, she’s attacked by both Peyton and Billie. They lift Emma up onto the top of a neighboring corner as Corey Graves reminds us that these three Divas are familiar with each other, having all started out on the Australian wrestling scene. Yay for acknowledging the indies!!

Emma fends off both Billie and Peyton, but Asuka gets the job done, springing up and kicking Emma in the side of the head. Emma drops, but manages to hold on to the top rope. A few kicks from Asuka is enough to force her to let go, though, and she’s soon eliminated.

Billie and Peyton again go for a double team, lifting Asuka over the top rope. Asuka frantically holds on and manages to stay in the game. Billie soon tires of the partnership, attacking Peyton. She charges at Peyton, only to be vaulted over the top rope and onto the ring apron. A blow from Asuka drops her to the apron. Meanwhile, Asuka manages to send Peyton onto the apron as well, and both Australian Divas find themselves at Asuka’s mercy. Asuka runs the ropes and sends them both flying off the apron with a single hip attack.

Asuka would appear to be the winner, but just then Eva reappears, swiftly eliminating Asuka. She too thinks she’s the winner, but little does she know another Diva has employed the same strategy… After a few fleeting moments, Eva’s ambushed by Carmella and is quickly tossed out of the ring. Carmella is your winner and the number one contender to the NXT Women’s Championship!

Carmella is soon joined in her celebration by the champ herself. Bayley enters the ring and embraces her friend, setting up our next Women’s Title bout: Bayley vs. Carmella. Will things stay this friendly? We’ll see!

Carmella talked about her win in a online exclusive interview:

She stops short of saying she never expected this moment to come, because she’s been working towards it her whole NXT tenure. She says she’s “so excited” to face her best friend for the Women’s Title.

Thoughts: It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Battle Royals, but I appreciate NXT’s effort to make this one more than the usual clusterfuck, placing it in the main event slot and hyping it throughout the night. It was especially nice to see those individual promos, because while some weren’t that great, they served to push an angle for each competitor. In that way, the match avoided the biggest thing I hate about Battle Royals: the feeling that it’s a half-assed free-for-all, the Divas disposable and the action often sloppy. More often than not, Diva Battle Royals feel like they’re meant to be done with as soon as possible so the end game – usually predictable – can be achieved. They’re used as a shortcuts, and they have a long history of making Divas look foolish. Surely, you can see why I’m not too crazy about them.

This Battle Royal, for the reasons listed above, was set up to avoid those pitfalls, and thus transcended the genre, so to speak. The match itself was really fun, the spots not too spotty, unique enough to not feel cookie-cutter and not really all that sloppy (save for the first powerbomb botch). It was a Battle Royal the way they’re meant to be done – with exciting exchanges, narrow saves and twists. It was smart to leave Nia out, as it killed two birds with one stone: preventing another loss for her and allowing a new Diva to step up. Overall, I really enjoyed it, not the least because it didn’t give me the overwhelming feeling of secondhand embarrassment Battle Royals often do. I would have liked to see a bit more suspense drawn out of it – the action was much too quick for fans to be on pins and needles – but I suppose the two twists ate up time.

It’s interesting that the heroic winner (Carmella) and villainous almost-winner (Eva) were booked similarly, sitting out of a lot of the action and picking up sneaky eliminations. Eva’s was perfectly done, angering the audience and planting the seeds for a feud with Asuak. I’m really intrigued by the possibilities that feud. In my mind, it’ll be a win-win: fans will surely love seeing Asuka beat up Eva, and whenever Eva manages to get the upper hand on Asuka (like she did by eliminating her tonight), she’ll get great heat. It’s definitely not a feud I expected to see (so soon, at least), but I can’t wait to see it take shape.

Carmella, with her not-quite-noble-but-feel-good-anyways win, got the crowd on her side while still maintaining the kind of slippery ethics she, Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady have long embraced. I wonder if she’ll try to do the same against Bayley. That would make sense – she’s outmatched by the champ, after all – and would put an interesting wrinkle on what otherwise could be a sickly sweet match between friends. I have nothing against heel vs. heel and face vs. face matches – the more the merrier! – but Carmella is always most interesting when she skirts the line between heel and face, her self confidence bordering on arrogance and her style not exactly clean. I’m looking forward to her getting her moment in the spotlight and a chance to expand her character in this title match.

We’ve got a few weeks to go until then, so it should be interesting to see how this feud between friends shapes up. 2016 is indeed looking f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s.

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