Three Thoughts on NXT Live

From last night, courtesy of YouTube.

  1. My fiancee and I joined five thousand of our closest friends last night at NXT Live in San Jose. It was the first wrestling show either of us had ever seen. I've been a fan since I was twelve, while she grudgingly accompanied me after I promised that she'd get the chance to see Tyler Breeze, who she finds hilarious. Wrestlemania is in San Jose this weekend, so crowd was filled with fans who had traveled from all over the world and decided to spend three hours on a Friday night watching a series of full-contact passion plays. The fans were wildly enthusiastic but also pleasant and controlled - everyone was there first and foremost to have a good time and support the up-and-coming wrestlers they've been watching for the last several months and/or years. While WWE programming tends to be more soap-opera-like and vignette-based these days, NXT is about as close to an old-school wrestling show as one can get at the moment, and the talent level among the performers is sky-high. In short, it was an ideal introduction to live wrestling in that the crowd was great, the venue was intimate, and the product was exactly what one would hope it would be.
  2. There were two things that came across in the live experience that video simply doesn't capture.
    • The first is how much of the wrestlers' performances are reactive rather than pre-planned. Establishing and channeling the relationship with the crowd is essential to building a match, and being able to adapt on the fly to particular changes in mood is critical to performing effectively. Baron Corbin, a relatively young and still-inexperienced wrestling, showed a bit of positive growth last night when, upon being matched up against fellow fan-favorite Rhyno, he began to subtly tweak his mannerisms, move set, and contact points with the audience. The crowd was solidly behind Rhyno from the moment he entered the ring, despite Corbin being the up-and-coming babyface, and rather than fight that, Corbin went with the flow and played the heel without actually turning heel. Seeing the transition is one thing, but feeling it live is another.
    • The second is how structured a show or card is and why that structure matters. After leading off with a hot match between Hideo Itami and Breeze, the crowd was then treated to a relatively boring showdown between relative nobodies Bull Dempsey and Jason Jordan, which was then followed up by a tag-team match featuring San Jose's own Bayley (for whom the crowd went crazy). The Dempsey/Jordan match was slow, boring, and generally uninteresting, but it was also absolutely essential, because the energy-level in the building was so high for Itami/Breeze that the audience needed a chance to calm down before Bayley hit the stage. To try to sustain that early energy for three hours would have been impossible, so we were treated to the occasional rest match to prime us for the next big pop.
  3. There was a familiar feeling I had through the event that I couldn't place until we had left. The energy in the air was something I had felt before, but not at any sporting event or concert. I had felt at it PAX East in 2010 and 2011, and it's that pure positivity that comes from gathering a collection of committed fans in one place to celebrate something they love. It was like attending the midnight screening of a Marvel movie or standing in line at the Apple Store on a launch day, and I was just amazed at how positive the whole thing was. It's a beautiful sort of community that arises from shared passions and experiences that not everyone else will understand or want to understand. Wrestling may be pantomime, but the love that fans have for it and the community they've built is real, as real as any more conventional fan community. This was our first wrestling show, but it won't be our last.