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NXT Houston: The art on display amidst the farewells

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On Saturday night, the NXT brand brought their artform to the Revention Music Theater in Houston for what truly was performance art.

Sometimes pro wrestling is portrayed as being some form of morality play, displaying the struggle between good and evil. Really, it is more about drawing crowds that will spend their money on the product. Nevertheless, it can still be art, especially with NXT.

Being subsidized by WWE as developmental, the need to make money off NXT is not first and foremost. The development of the artform itself can take precedent over financial gain, but that artform can still draw crowds.

The audience in Houston was a youthful crowd with likely more women among them than a typical wrestling show. Most of the women seemed like genuine fans of the product too, as many wore NXT branded merchandise to the event, and they knew the characters just as well as anybody else in attendance.

As far as merchandise being sold at the show, the Bayley headband appeared to be a popular choice by many females, and males alike for that matter. The Bayley character is so over and many people were cosplaying as her whether they were male of female.

Among the crowd as a whole, lots of folks showed up wearing Finn Balor t-shirts. Possibly equaling that was the number of Shinsuke Nakamura shirts. As mentioned earlier, Bayley was strongly represented as well. So, the art sells.

A large portion of the crowd arrived very early. The heat outdoors tortured them and teased surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with the heat index pushing it beyond that. The humidity was thick as if the sky was a lid covering a giant crock-pot, slowly roasting. Yet the NXT faithful lined the sidewalk en masse around the block, waiting for the doors to open.

They withstood the sweltering temperatures to see the arts. Their kind of art. It would be so worth it when the artwork unfolded later on.

To escape the heat outside, they packed the restaurants adjacent to the venue, which was in Houston’s theater district. The non-fans in the area dressed in formal attire, seemingly for more sophisticated happenings in the theater district, mixed with NXT fans casually wearing their favorite wrestling shirt was quite the contrast.

Art has no real dress code. NXT proved that on this night.

By the time the event began, the fans were hyped. They stayed hyped. Fittingly enough, the “Hype Bro” opened the show.

Mojo Rawley defeated Buddy Murphy

Mojo really connected with the crowd from the start. They loved him. He could do no wrong. They chanted things like “he’s not hype” at Buddy.

They built to Mojo sidestepping a charge and Buddy posting himself, hitting his shoulder on the ring post. Moments later, Mojo ended up getting posted. Buddy shined him up for a comeback that led to an elbow smash in a corner by Mojo and a lariat for the pinfall.

Andrade "Cien" Almas defeated Wesley Blake

The formerly-masked La Sombra did wear his suspenders, pants, and fedora to the ring, but that was only for his entrance. He took off that attire and wrestled in gear more resembling his Sombra persona. He even displayed tranquilo, so the spirit of Los Ingobernables still lurks within him and didn’t escape with his unmasking.

Almas and Blake did some Americanized lucha. There were some “si, si, si” chants. At one point, Blake took Almas to chinlock city. After a backbreaker, Blake went for a cover with his feet on the ropes, only for Almas to kick out for a close near fall. Almas made a comeback and got the pin after a swinging DDT.

Already masterful in the art of lucha libre, American style wrestling is still a new medium for Almas, yet he continues to improve in his transition to WWE style.

Before the next match, someone else was also working on the art of the promo. But first, it’s Bayley! She held up a fan’s artwork during her entrance. The crowd just absolutely adored her to no end. The entrance of her tag partner, Carmella, followed.

Carmella got a very warm reception. Fans chanted “How you doing?” She began with a promo that sounded similar to Enzo. Carmella said she wanted to change things up, so she did a different promo that was probably more similar to what her new character will be on SmackDown.

Bayley & Carmella defeated Mandy Rose & Daria Berenato

Bayley and Carmella had a hug-off with the full-of-herself Mandy and the shadow boxing Daria. Voting with their cheers, the fans overwhelmingly picked Bayley and Carmella as the better hugging duo. Mandy couldn’t even. *ugh*

Mandy and Daria powdered out and cut a promo at ringside. Mandy talked about being a bikini model and whatnot. Being heels, they went to storm off before starting their match. Bayley and Carmella chased them down and dragged them kicking and screaming back to the ring to start the match.

The heels got heat on Carmella. Fans chanted “Hey, hey, we want some Bayley!” Eventually, Bayley would get the hot tag and run wild. With their chants, fans called her performance a “10”, so she spoofed Tye Dillinger doing the “10, 10, 10” hand gesture. She even did a cartwheel like Dillinger does.

Bayley ran wild some more, with Carmella joining her. To score the deciding pin, Bayley executed a Bayley-to-belly on Mandy.  

Bayley is truly ready to take her art to the next level.

Hideo Itami defeated Austin Aries

With chants of “welcome back” along with chanting his name, Itami was well received. A chant of “this is awesome” started even before the bell. This kind of felt like a match from ROH with the dynamic between the two, the way the match went, and the way the crowd reacted. Though Itami was over, Aries had his supporters.

Despite Itami being sidelined for some time with an injury, he and his GTS move were still over with the crowd as well. The even chanted for the move. Itami went for it, but Aries countered. Itami won with his old KENTA finisher, the Busaiku (running) knee. Maybe he will use that as a finisher again since Daniel Bryan is retired.

Itami and Aries are indeed artists. Itami seemed moved by the fans' appreciation for him and the art they created.

NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival defeated Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa to retain their titles

While some people might argue that the art of tag team wrestling is dead, this match proved it is alive and well. The crowd was super hot, and rightfully so as this was arguably the best match on the show.

A chant of “which one’s Dawson, which one’s Dash” got a lot of laughs. Revival relied on more old school tag team psychology than most contemporary teams. They got heat on Ciampa for a while, finally leading to Gargano running wild off a hot tag.

The babyfaces got several close near falls. Gargano thought he had won the match at one point, and he and Ciampa started to celebrate. Dash then rolled up Gargano with a schoolboy, cheated by putting his feet on the ropes, and got the pin.

The art of tag team wrestling is indeed not dead. It lives on.

NXT Women's Champion Asuka defeated Nia Jax to retain her title

Asuka was over like a million bucks. The size difference made no difference to the fans as they chanted “Asuka’s gonna kill you.” Nia would use her size to gain the advantage, but Asuka would counter. She is truly an artist in the ring.

Nia used a Jackhammer for a near fall, prompting a “Goldberg” chant. Nia did an ode to The Rock when she spoofed doing the People’s Elbow, except she did a legdrop instead that was preceded by a crotch chop. There was a double down then Nia used a Death Valley Driver for a near fall.

Eventually though, Nia fell victim to the violent artistry of Asuka, as she used a roundhouse kick to score the pinfall.

Before the main event, ring announcer Andrea D’Marco told the crowd this would be Finn Balor’s last night in NXT. After the show, Balor tweeted “'IF' that was the last one.. It has been a beautiful 2 years. #NXTHouston #ThankYouNXT”

Balor did his entrance, receiving a thunderous ovation. “Thank you Finn” chants started immediately after his theme song ended.

Then, a deity arrived. Shinsuke Nakamura is more than likely not a messiah, though one might think he is after witnessing the reception for him. As his charisma filled the theater, fans sang along with his theme song and generally lost their minds over him.

Finn Balor & Shinsuke Nakamura defeated NXT Champion Samoa Joe & Bobby Roode

The crowd was aware of the team’s previous employers as a dueling “TNA/New Japan” chant rang out. Quickly, those chanting for New Japan drowned out any support for TNA.

Joe and Roode got heat on Balor, leading to Nakamura cleaning house after a hot tag. Nakamura was cut off and worked over a bit, leading to another hot tag. This time Balor cleaned house. Balor finished off Roode with the Coup de Grace and covered him for the pin.

In a post-match celebration, Bayley hit the ring and addressed the audience. She talked about the night being not just Balor’s farewell to NXT, but several others were saying goodbye as well.

She one-by-one called out Mojo Rawley, Nia Jax, and Carmella for one last hurrah before the crowd. The fans gave them all a great responses and chanted “Thank you Finn” some more.

Finn thanked the fans. He put over the entire NXT roster, many of which had gathered in the aisle by this time to watch the proceedings. Finally, he put over Matt Bloom as basically being the unsung hero of NXT. He talked about him being a mentor and teacher.

The talent, the teachers like Bloom, and all involved really created art with NXT. Sure, it is developmental. It is still performance art, though. That was on full display in the theater in Houston where the artform came to life.