By Ryan Pike
Key Takeaway —
The journey of WWE hopefuls through NXT is profiled in this new WWE Network program. The first episode, while a bit unfocused and sanitized, is a pretty strong debut, showcasing several new faces with dreams of WWE stardom.
Show Recap —
We open with a monologue from Triple H, who lists off the attributes that are necessary to be a WWE superstar. But he notes that without an “it factor,” even the best might not make it. He welcomes viewers to their glimpse inside NXT and the journey of their aspiring superstars. “They’re all just one step away from realizing their dreams. But for some, that one step might as well be a mountain. Some will make it. Some don’t. This is WWE Breaking Ground.” (A tad hokey, but for what they’re going for, this was the perfect opening to frame the series.)
The first NXT superstar we meet is Bayley, as she drives to work. She muses on her journey from being a dreamy 10-year-old wanting to wrestle to being the NXT Women’s Champion. “Sometimes if I’m driving, I’ll look at the person next to me in their car and just wonder, I wonder what they’re doing with their life, if they’re living their dreams?” She arrives at the Performance Center at the same time as Tough Enough winner Josh Bredl, who’s there for his first day and signs his contract. We then transition to a training montage and some WrestleMania clips, and get a glimpse of Adam Pearce shouting encouragement to WWE hopefuls.
From this point, Breaking Ground focuses on five individuals: former NFLer Tino “Sabby” Sabbatelli, former NFLer Baron Corbin, 19-year-old female wrestler Nhooph, NXT interviewer Devin Taylor and former independent star Apollo Crews. It doesn’t spent a ton of time on any one of them, particularly given that it’s a 30-minute show, but they do their best to paint a picture of each.
Sabbatelli, real name Sabatino Piscitelli, played college football at Oregon State and spent time with Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Kansas City before turning to pro wrestling following the end of his football career. He signed with NXT in 2014, and is adjusting to being a rookie and having to prove himself after being an established NFLer. He opens the show sidelined after a concussion in his second NXT match.
Corbin, like Sabbatelli, is a former NFLer who spent time with Indianapolis and Arizona. He’s been in NXT for three years and based on his experience and his resume, he thinks he should be on the main roster already. Jason Albert, interviewed extensively about Corbin, notes the challenge is keeping Corbin focused and motivated.
Nhooph began training for wrestling at 16 years of age, and recalls having to lie to her parents about going to her job when heading to her first training sessions. We’re told she’s not improving, and get a wonderful montage of her taking awful-looking hip-tosses. She’s been in NXT for awhile, but the coaches don’t think she’s good enough yet to get a match on a live event yet. Finally, she takes a hip-toss properly and the coaches praise her.
Devin Taylor is NXT’s ring announcer, who is trying to transition from holding a microphone to actually wrestling. However, we’re told she’s had a few injuries that have slowed down her progress, and she’s been leap-frogged by several other females in the mean-time. We get another hiptoss montage as she trains with Nia Jax. (And they’re awful.)
Apollo Crews is the former Uhaa Nation, though that name isn’t mentioned on this show. He tells a story about his father, who grew up poor in Nigeria and emphasized the importance of needing an education to be successful – the story’s interspersed with clips of Crews on the indies. He shares a story about his dad saying the only way to be successful was by getting an education, and then getting a nice message from his dad after his NXT debut saying how proud he was.
William Regal leads promo class at the Performance Center, emphasizing the importance of connecting with the camera. We get a montage of NXT kids doing quick promos, and Mojo Rawley does a strong promo and is praised by Regal. The majority of the promos we’re shown aren’t very good.
Sabbatelli goes through the WWE’s concussion protocol this episode, which we’re given quite a bit of detail about – basically it’s three weeks of no work, followed by them being eased back into ring-work and getting repeatedly monitored for recurring symptoms. He does a mock match at the end of the episode as part of the evaluation.
Norman Smiley rides with Corbin and his girlfriend to the Gainsville, FL show and we get this exchange: “We do you think you’ll be out of here, NXT?” “The reality is, I don’t know. You’re the coach, you tell me.” Then it’s quiet in the car. Corbin discusses how he’s not well-liked. Mojo jokingly praises Corbin as he eats food. He replies: “Go do some more workouts while I enjoy this. It sure as hell isn’t his wrestling that’s getting him over.”
We see some clips from the Gainsville show. Nhooph doesn’t get a match and is bummed out. Bayley has a tag match and is praised by Shatner’s voice-over for her efforts regardless of the size of the crowd – and how that’s a good example for the rest of the performers on each show. Corbin is in the main event, teaming with Tyler Breeze in a losing effort against Finn Balor and Samoa Joe.
The nextday, Nhooph arrives at the Performance Center. Sara Amato chats with her about card adjustments and apologizes for her match getting bumped from a prior show. Amato and Albert chat about Devin, and about whether she has a future after two major injuries in less than a year. Sabbatelli goes through the concussion protocol in the ring. If he fails it, he could be done. Canyon Ceman appears. He’s the recruiter, and notes that the hardest part of the job is when they have to let talent go, leading into a meeting with a talent in which somebody will probably get cut. The cliffhanger is which NXT talent gets the axe: Devin? Nhooph? Sabbatelli? (I believe Devin got released recently in real-life, but I suppose that all three performers could be released next episode.)
This was a really strong premiere episode. It provides a really fascinating glimpse into the backstage goings-on and challenges facing aspiring WWE performers. That said, it could’ve been stronger had it spend more time with fewer performers. They never really follow up with Apollo Crews or Bayley, and spending that time with the lesser-known performers might’ve established better connections given how the episode ended.