The March 15, 2017 edition of NXT featured Kassius Ohno’s in-ring return to the WWE against NXT Champion Bobby Roode, but this week’s #NXTMVP had probably already changed clothes and packed their bags before the main event. In spite of occupying the show’s very first segment, the NXT Tag Team Champion Authors of Pain (Akam, Rezar and Paul Ellering) were easy winners of this week’s #NXTMVP award.
While it may seem strange to give three men a singular MVP award, the Authors of Pain are worthy of joint consideration because they function as a single hard-hitting, fear-inspiring unit. While Akam and Rezar are still relatively inexperienced in the ring, and Ellering is cutting promos in a very narrow lane, the three of them come together to form a unit that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Like the Midnight Express with Jim Cornette, the Authors of Pain and Ellering function as a tight act with main event potential in spite of lacking a single star with main event potential.
This week’s show opened with the Authors asserting their MVP-caliber in-ring dominance against the Ealy Brothers. Even before the bell, AoP entered the ring with championship swagger and a clear desire to dominate. Unlike any number of hulking superstars who came to the WWE during the John Laurinaitis era, the Authors of Pain understand how big, boisterous, mean guys treat people. Akam and Rezar jawed in the faces of the Ealys and raised their title belts with equal gusto, establishing that they’re not just bullies who are there to make people feel bad about themselves – they’re bullies who are there to make people feel bad about themselves and win championship matches.
The opening moments of the match immediately highlighted a key way in which the Authors of Pain have grown since their debut in June at NXT TakeOver: The End. In traditional fashion, the match began with about a minute of “shine” for the Ealys as they worked over Rezar before he turned the tide with a huge clothesline. Six, or even three, months ago, the Authors of Pain simply wouldn’t have been able to give anything to the babyfaces. Their need to establish themselves as dominant and their risk of self-exposure as green wrestlers were so great that they needed to smash every opponent. This week, however, AoP asserted themselves as a main roster caliber act, capable of having the high-energy back-and-forth match that WWE fans have come to expect.
However, when the time came to go over strong, the Authors of Pain delivered in true #NXTMVP fashion. Their clanging Super Collider twin powerbombs and Last Chapter lariat were both crisply executed, giving them a dominating victory. From bell to bell, the entire match displayed the Authors’ incredible improvement as storytellers and monster wrestlers who only have to do a few, highly impactful things to win. In fact, just three months into the year, the AoP may be the most improved act of 2017.
After the match, the third man in – Paul Ellering – displayed why, even after two decades off television, he is still an MVP level manager. His confidence on the microphone is undeniable, and his propensity for delivering quotable sound bites (“I created the algorithm for greatness in tag team wrestling, and my Authors of Pain are my team of destiny!”) makes him a natural fit for the WWE environment, where “creating moments” now gets equal billing to promoting wrestling matches. Ellering also allows the Authors of Pain to be part of great promotional segments, even if all they do is shout occasional monosyllabic words off-mic, because he comes from the era of the true “money promo.”
When the dust had settled on this week’s opening segment of NXT, William Regal had booked a Triple Threat elimination match for the NXT Tag Team Championship match at NXT TakeOver: Orlando, pitting the Authors of Pain against DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa) and the Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder). While that match certainly wont be in the main event position WrestleMania weekend, it may ultimately wind up being the best match on the show because it features two of NXT’s anchor acts over the last year and one team of rising stars who seem ready to live up to their #NXTMVP potential.