Back to the land of WWE PPV’s, and we’ve got a doozy here. It’s the 11th December 2014 and we’re in Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida for NXT Takeover: R Evolution! The main event tonight: NXT Champion Adrian Neville defends his title against Sami Zayn, where if Zayn fails to win he must leave NXT.
For the purposes of complete honesty, the random number generator actually fell on the previous NXT PPV, Fatal 4-Way, but I had watched that show recently and wanted to take in something else, and I decided to stick with NXT and go to the next big show. I haven’t seen R Evolution before now, but I am aware of the results, for the major matches anyway. But this is NXT, so I’m sure it won’t matter too much. This WWE brand has rarely put on even an average show, so I’m excited to take this one in, and will offer some thoughts on how I feel about the participants currently after each match.
Now, Then, Forever, and straight into a short video package hyping, among other things, Kevin Owens’ debut, various people “taking over” and Sami Zayn’s quest for redemption.
BECAUSE IT CALLS TO ME, CALLS TO ME. Oh, that takes me back. A raucous crowd in Full Sail opens proceedings. Alex Riley, Rich Brennan and, ugh, Corey Graves on commentary. I’ll get it out of the way now that I think Graves, a mediocre wrestler at best, is one of the worst people to ever sit at a WWE announce desk, with a heel persona that is from a by-gone era.
A, by-this-time, very familiar bit of throbbing guitar and drums, and NXT’s newest acquisition is here to make his debut.
Kevin Owens vs CJ Parker
Owens had signed only very recently, and his debut was a big part of the promotion for this show. It certainly gave NXT more indie cred, and invariably led to thoughts of a Steen/El Generico reunion (weeps). Huge reception for him, and he looks emotional on his way to the ring. Knowing him, not a bit of that is faked. “Fight Owens Fight” chants immediately. His opponent, the future Juice Robinson, on a very wasted run here, is probably a real “One that got away” for WWE. He was saddled with a rubbish eco-warrior heel gimmick that never got over, but I really like him in NJPW.
Parker out with a “My Fight Matters” sign, a riposte to Owens presumably, and KO responds by blindsiding him ahead of the bell. Charging corner clothesline, then a cannonball, and the crowd is into this. Owens picks up Parker’s sign and smashes it to pieces. Then a huge somersault senton over the top for a thunderous “Holy Shit” chant, followed pretty close by “This is awesome”.
Owens laying in the shots and chops back in the ring, but the ref interferes allowing Parker to get a few shots back. After a short beat-down Owens dodges a running senton, but then gets nailed with a palm strike for two, with the after-effect that Owens’ nose is bleeding freely for a bit. Some internet research tells me it was actually broken in this moment, and that’s on Parker. CJ with running knees to the corner, but Owens out quick with a big, stiff looking clothesline, perhaps a receipt. Pumphandle Driver from Owens to a huge reaction. Pop-Up Powerbomb and that’s all in less than three and a half.
Winner: Fight Owens Fight, Fight Owens Fight, Fight Owens Fight
Verdict: The nose break and blood may have resulted in this one being quicker than it was meant to be, but Owens doesn’t appear to have held any grudges over it. Still worked well as an introduction to KO, but boded poorly for Parker, who was gone in a few months. Probably better off though.
Owens’ celebration dampened a little by needing to have his nose seen to. You can tell straightaway that he’s more than his look, which could easily have seen him relegated to being the muscle for someone else. His in-ring and promo work would soon have him as NXT Champion, then beating John Cena clean and in a time when a lot of guys came up from NXT and floundered on the main roster, he has consistently stayed in or very near the top picture. Compare to some of other guys competing tonight for a fairly stark contrast. As for Parker, I genuinely think if given the right sustained push he could be at the top of the card in New Japan, and actually thought he might be headed that way at last year’s G1.
Riley congrats everyone for the fact that Takeover is trending, before Graves outlines how his concussion problems have led him to the announce desk. I have sympathy for him on that point, but I just don’t think he’s any good. Backstage Adrian Neville prepares for his match. A clip of a WWE.com exclusive interview with Neville plays, where he eschews all responsibility for the wider stipulation of tonight’s main even, saying “it’s my career too”. They did a really good job with him in the lead-up to this, with a very subtle heelish turn.
A brief video package for the Lucha Dragons. They ended the Ascension’s year long reign and are all flippty-do’s, all the time. Not a word on their opponent tonight. The Dragons were OK, and badly brought up a tag division that the Ascension had made a bit boring, but Sin Cara will never get away from his rep as a human botch machine.
The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto and Sin Cara) (c) vs the Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) (NXT Tag Team Championships)
The Lucha Dragons theme tune is the same as the Lucha House Party, which is kind of sad. I love the Vaudevillains and their silent movie shtick, they never got the proper shot on the main roster that they deserved. Their presence here tonight allows me to relate the amazing Gotch shoot story that they were asked to record a promo that was to be shown silent movie style: grainy footage, title cards in place of dialogue, etc. As such, they mumbled the dialogue thinking it would never be aired, but of course the WWE production team used the mumbled audio, so they sounded ridiculous.
Gotch and the Botch to start. Sin Cara with repeated springboard spots early, then a double rana to both Villains. Kalisto in, and a Wheelbarrow Senton with Kalisto gets two. Sin Cara back in and a trip leading to a drop-kick. Sin Cara hits a Driver, which Riley calls a “powerbomb”. Yeesh. Crowd big behind Gotch though, despite the Dragons’ cool offence. Sin Cara’s momentum broken up by English dragging him out of the ring, to “That was manly” chants.
English beating down Sin Cara. “Put your dukes up” chants, love it. Gotch in for some rest-holds and pin attempts. English in and dumps Cara out and then follows up with a Baseball Slide. The heels continue to beatdown the face-in-peril, while the crowd showers them with praise. Cara gets a flip and almost gets the tag, and the crowd actually boos this, so this is a confirmed smark audience. More beatdown and rest-holds.
Sin Cara with an awesome flip from the top off English and gets the hot tag. Kalisto with a springboard crossbody to English, kick to Gotch on the apron, corkscrew crossbody, then a handspring enziguri to English, man that was good. Sin Cara hits Gotch with his own crossbody, then Kalisto adds a roll-through kick. The Dragons throw English out on top of Gotch, then dueling topes, but English pushes Gotch out of the way and takes them both. “Chivalry” chants. Back in, Gotch walks into the Salina del Sol for the 1, 2, 3 in just over six a half.
Winners (and still NXT Tag Team Champions): Scene Missing (fine, the Lucha Dragons).
Verdict: NXT would get better with its tag matches bit by bit, but this was fine for the time and place.
The Vaudevillains are so super-over they’re practically faces, but it would take the better part of a year for them to get the belts. The Dragons are OK, but they have a problem where the crowd just wants to see spins, dives and spills, and don’t really care enough for them otherwise. Both teams would end up wasted and broken-up too soon on the main roster (English would go through the same thing again with Rusev) and only one, Kalisto, is still employed by the Fed at time of writing. It’s a recurring problem with the NXT tag team call-ups, and Vince McMahon’s lack of care for tag team wrestling.
Backstage, Sasha Banks prepares for her NXT Women’s Title match later, with the assistance of Becky Lynch. You genuinely wouldn’t have thought that Lynch would, out of the Four Horsewomen, become the biggest star if you were looking at the four now, but just one of those things.
Tye Dillinger vs Baron Corbin
This is pre-“10” Dillinger who was still only just beyond the role of enhancement talent and mostly plodding around the tag division. Corbin, getting a refreshingly positive reception, is being treated as a quasi-Goldberg, mowing through people in seconds. To wit: when the bell rings, the crowd starts counting.
Lock-up, Corbin takes the advantage, Snake Eyes into the corner. Corbin suddenly distracted by the sight of Bull Dempsey at ring-side. Doesn’t bother him too much, as he then hits the End of Days to get the pin in just about 40 seconds.
Winner: The future inheritor of X-Pac’s throne
Verdict: Early Takeover’s routinely had these short matches, and at least they serve to play up certain guys.
Corbin and Dempsey stare each other down in the aftermath.
Dillinger I always liked, and he seemed to be pretty over when he turned up on the main roster (that Rumble pop was pretty big). Then he just hit a wall and vanished. I’m not sure he will, in the long-run, get on much better over in AEW either. As for Corbin, well, I think he’s a convenient punching bag for people who dislike the product recently. He’s a good worker and cuts a decent promo, and he’s not afraid of re-invention. But he’s suffered from some bad booking – how long was that Reigns feud, five months? – and has long since passed the point between “Super-over heel” and “I am sick of this guy”. But he’s nowhere near as toxic as some people make out. Oh, and Bull Dempsey was here too. Honestly I barely remember him, I know he got foisted with some bad gimmicks and is now an indie journeyman.
Sami Zayn prepares in the locker room. In a WWE.com exclusive, he says he needs to win the title before he moves on to the main roster, and it’s weird seeing a time when NXT guys openly talk about looking for promotion.
A video package for the Ascension vs Itami/Balor is next opening with footage of ….Hulk Hogan. Sigh. Itami was revealed at the last Takeover with a great deal of fanfare, but got jumped by the Ascension who were pissed after losing their titles earlier that night. Itami rallied back and beat the crap out of the two of them. This lead to beatdowns on NXT and, tired of the 2 to 1 disadvantage, Hideo brought over a friend from Japan: Finn Balor. “You better bring all you got” says Balor, “because I’m bringing you something you’ve never seen before”. I’ll say. Decent set-up for this, and I’ll never forget that sight of Itami daring the Ascension to come take him on. But, even like this video package makes clear, he was already getting the spotlight taken off him by Balor.
The Ascension (Konor and Victor) vs Hideo Itami and Finn Balor
Itami out in a golden martial arts robe, to a big reception. Huge “Hideo” chants, but bigger for Balor who is out in Demon form. “Holy Shit” chants. Really is nothing quite like it, and he certainly upstages everyone else. You can talk about WWE’s use of the Demon King and how there are pluses and minuses to it, but here and now it’s a stunning look and entrance. The Ascension look bewildered at ringside. “That was awesome”. “Marking out”.
Brawling to start, and the faces get the advantage with stereo corner drop-kicks. The Ascension take a brief powder, before Itami and Victor hook-up. “Finn is going to kill you”. Huge chop from Balor, but Victor getting some offense in after and here comes Konor. Big drop-kick from the Demon for two. Itami in, and the crowd remembers he’s there too. Big kicks to the chest, but then walks into a flapjack for two.
Heels taking over on offence with Itami the face-in-peril. Beatdowns, and Balor knocked off the apron. Ascension taking turns with chops, strikes and near-falls. Weird seeing the Demon waiting for a tag. Itami trying to fight back but put down again, and Victor with an elbow drop for two. Not sure being the guy getting beatdown is the best for Itami right now, but it continues with corner splashes and restholds. “We want KENTA” chants from the back, that get booed and replaced by a louder “Hideo”, NXT crowds are fun.
Eventually Itami, after a few near-tags, dodges a corner charge and throws Konor out of the ring, but Balor taken off the apron before he can get the hot-tag, to big boos. The beatdown recommences, but only for a little bit before Itami gets free and makes the hot-tag. Slingblades and drop-kicks for all. Big enziguri to the top-rope where Victor had set himself, then a somersault senton over the top to both opponents. “N-X-T”. Back in, Victor prone, but rolls out of the way of the Coup de Grace. Finn rolls, and hits that lifting reverse DDT, but Konor breaks up the pin. Itami tumbles out of the ring with Konor while Balor circles Victor. Misses a spinning kick to the head, and Victor nails an STO, but now Itami in to break it up. Really enjoyable frantic stuff now.
Itami gets Victor up for the G2S, and the crowed goes mental, but then Konor stops him to huge heat. Itami out again, Ascension lining up the Fall of Man to Balor, but Itami pulls Konor out, those two are just in and out constantly now. Victor misses a charge on Balor, the Demon hits a Pele Kick. Itami and Konor back in, and Itami nails a running knee. Both faces to the top-rope, and stereo Coup de Grace with Balor getting the pin on Victor in just over 11 and a half.
Winners: Prince Devitt and KENTA
Verdict: As a match it was fairly standard stuff, but did its job to make the faces look strong. The last three minutes was manic fun. Might question the disproportionate spotlight placed on Balor over Itami, but can’t deny the crowd was on fire.
Itami and Balor pose together in the ring.
How has it worked out for these four guys? Well, there’s little to be said about Balor, who went on to become one of WWE’s most valuable talents bit-by-bit, enough that they considered him a big enough deal to put him back on NXT when the show went live. In a way he probably took the run that was meant for Itami, whose momentum was stopped dead with that shoulder injury. When he eventually came back he was dumped with a heel gimmick that amounted to him saying “Respect me” over and over again, and while he may have had a number of great matches on 205 Live, he was never going to be happy on the D Brand. When he left for NJPW it wasn’t a surprise, and he looked great there in the G1 last year, able to play up his viciousness in a way they never allowed him to do in NXT or WWE.
As for the Ascension, they never really recovered from being booked the way they were in this feud. They moved up right after R Evolution, and might have had the worst main roster run of any NXT call-up. Whatever momentum they had was finished after only a few weeks of going after old tag teams and being run-down on commentary, and they then spent the better part of four years being an afterthought, save for the “Fashion Files” skits. It’s amazing they were kept around as long as they were, and while their Title run on NXT wasn’t all that exceptional really – mostly consisting of non-title squashes of jobber opposition – they deserved more, and I hope they find some traction on the indie scene.
Renee Young is backstage with a Roman Reigns, and for a moment I was surprised when the crowd didn’t boo. He’s just a month and a bit away from his super unpopular Rumble win here. He’s recently been voted Superstar of the Year, and is at Takeover to enjoy the show. But says he wants to be the first NXT alumni to win the World Heavyweight Championship, which gets cheers. It was Seth Rollins who got that honour in the end. Reigns was only in NXT for a few months (he was in FCW, which was merged in with NXT, for longer) and I don’t think they ever made a big deal out of his Black and Gold connection later. First time we’ve seen Reigns on this series and I’m not afraid to say I’ve always been a fan of his, and I have very little time for the ridiculous smark hatred.
Ric Flair is backstage with his daughter ahead of the NXT Women’s Championship match, which is next. Flair won the title in a tournament after Paige vacated, with some help from dad. Video package sees her play up her “genetic” advantage. Former “BFF” partner Sasha Banks, heel, is the challenger, and she is “meanest, prettiest, baddest Diva”. Always hate being reminded of that word. Charlotte as the heroic face, who defends Bayley from beatdowns, feels very wrong in hindsight. Video package doing Bayley few favours either, showing her as an easily beaten-up prop in this feud, which is crazy considering the run she was to go on imminently enough.
Charlotte (c) vs Sasha Banks (NXT Women’s Championship)
The Boss out first, wearing a shirt mocking Charlotte’s current “Do it with Flair” slogan, and there’s that opinion that you can always tell whether she’s been booked to win or lose depending on her demeanor in her entrance, but I don’t spot any tell-tale signs here. Pushing and shoving ahead of the announcements, with Little Naitch Charles Robinson in-between. Crowd divided pretty evenly.
We open with Banks throwing her shirt at Flair that leads to brawling. The commentator parrot the “genetically superior” line, that is rather heelish for a face. Banks lays in some chops, then gets some back. To the outside, and Banks flings Flair into the ring-steps. Back in, and a two count off a pin. Banks with corner spears, then hangs Charlotte on the ropes for vicious double knees to the mid-section. We skipped to “heel-on-top” pretty quick.
Louder chants for Banks from the crowd. Banks mocks Flair with the Nature Boy strut, then has to kick-out from a roll-up. Banks with a necktie backstabber into a necktie hold, looked awesome. First major commentary mess-up when Brennan mixes the two up, and that’s the first time I’ve really noticed the commentary, so you need a personality like Mauro Ranallo or Nigel McGuinness on there. I note that we are before Graves’ insane hate for Sasha Banks. Banks locks in a figure four headlock, which at the time was a Charlotte signature. After a while Charlotte manages to lift Banks up into an Electric Chair Drop. Good rhythm to this one so far.
Both women up at a count of seven. Charlotte rallying back with forearms and chops, hits a suplex-into-a-neckbreaker for two. Banks dodges a charge and Flair goes outside. Banks goes for a diving crossbody through the ropes, and only just about gets the distance, could have been bad. Crowd grants it an “N-X-T” chant though. Back in, dueling strikes, then Charlotte with a spear that folds Banks up. Banks comes back with a kick to the face and drop toehold into the corner. Going for the Banks Statement, Flair brushes it off, goes for the Figure Four, Banks counters into a roll-up for two, then a neckbreaker for two. Great sequence. “This is awesome”.
Banks getting frustrated as both get to their feet. Flair with a sort-of throw-suplex. “This is wrestling”. Banks prone, Charlotte to the top but lands on her feet when Banks dodges the moonsault and hits a senton instead. 1, 2, and the foot is on the rope. Flair gets Banks up, going for a Razor’s Edge but Sasha out of it and shoves Flair into the corner. “Like a Boss”. Banks setting Flair up on the top, going for a second-rope superplex, Charlotte knocks her off, waits till Banks is back up and grabs her for a Natural Selection off the top. That awesome finish is enough for the pin in just over 12.
Winner (and still NXT Women’s Champion): Wooooooo
Verdict: Really great match. The women’s division generally at this time was top-notch. I’m not sure either has had a match this good in a few years, mores the pity.
Both these women have gone onto already iconic status on the main roster, and there’s little more to be said. Flair I can generally take-or-leave as I find her long-standing heel character a little dull, but Banks I quite like. Whisper it though…Bayley is better than both, and Lynch is better than all three.
After a break it’s time for the main event, and there’s still 45 minutes left in the broadcast so this one is going to go for a while.
Video package time: Sami Zayn has been trying to win the NXT Title for ages. Neville was initially a face champion, but the longer he’s held the strap the more he’s been willing to do whatever it takes to retain it – pulling ref’s out, faking injuries – to the point that he’s verging on outright heel. Zayn, desperate to redeem his failures, has gotten this last chance by putting his career on the line. He won’t get caught up in respect for his opponent this time. I love this story, it was so gradual and subtle with Neville, and Zayn is the perfect NXT underdog to face him. You could say that the stipulation kind of ruins the result, but they could always have framed it as a call-up if he lost.
Adrian Neville (c) vs Sami Zayn (NXT Championship) (If Zayn loses he will leave NXT)
Good reception for Zayn, though we haven’t gotten to the chorus of “Let’s Go!”. Neville booed. It’s amazing what a choice between tied up or loose hair can do to make you look like a face or heel, because Neville looks face here but PAC looks completely evil. Big “Ole” chants for Sami. “Big fight feel” says Riley, like this isn’t a main event match for the brand’s top title.
A few beats while the two soak in the chants from the very pro-Zayn crowd. Opening with waist/wrist/headlock chains. Dueling snapmares and break. Back to the lock-based chains, milking the crowd reaction. Neville taking the advantage with a back body-drop and then back into the locks. Zayn trying to counter back, but Neville out of it with a kip-up and a finger wag. Breaking away from the chains, whips and charges back and forth, and Zayn hits a Tilt-A-Whirl Backbreaker, following up with an apron moonsault to Neville on the outside, to a huge reaction. Took a bit too long for Zayn to hit it though, as he made his position perfect.
Neville takes a seven count on the outside while Zayn waits for him. Walks into a heel kick for two. Snapmare and a crucifix pin for two. Neville rallies back with a forearm smash for two. Another snapmare, a dropkick to the back of the head, a two-count and then into a resthold. It’s nice and simple so far, but these two can make simple moves look great. Back up and Neville maintains the advantage with a big uppercut to the corner for two.
Knee drops to the chest from Neville and into a sitting crossface. Dropkick for two, and Neville getting frustrated now. Zayn trying to rally back, and nails a clothesline OUTTANOWHERE, then another, then a drop-kick. Looking for a tope but Neville back in quick with a rana. Charge, Zayn back body drops Neville out, now hits an over-the-top rope tope, a thing of beauty. “This is awesome”. Back in, Zayn to the top, nails a crossbody, but only two. Looks for a suplex, series of reversals, Zayn catches Neville in a leap, manouvres him into a Blue Thunder Bomb! Amazing. But only a near-fall. Crowd marking out big-time.
They point out that Neville is 5-0 on NXT matches that went over ten minutes, I wish they’d pull out stats like that more. The champ fighting back here and hits a German Suplex, with a bridge, for two. Looking for a powerbomb, but can’t get Zayn up. Some more reversals, and now Neville hits a sit-out powerbomb, and it’s an ugly one where Sami’s head looks like it hits the mat hard. Only two though.
Both men up, and now a rapid exchange of strikes. Zayn nails a running clothesline that sends Neville spinning. Neville in the corner, but dodges the Helluva Kick. Zayn prone, Neville to the top, but Zayn with the legs up on the Red Arrow, and then locks Neville in the Koji Clutch. Loud “Tap” chants, the crowd thinks that could be it, but Neville gets to the rope. As Zayn looks for the Exploder into he corner Neville wraps him up for two, and in the kick-out the ref gets bumped. Zayn hesitates then goes to check on the ref while the crowd screams objections. Neville blindsides him with a super-kick, then a Poisonrana, but Sami kicks out at two. Huge “Ole” chants.
Trading forearms, Zayn dodges a heel kick, hits a German Suplex, holds on, another and then the Exploder. Neville in the corner, but out of the ring before the Helluva Kick. Zayn out, and then hits a diving Tornado DDT through two lines of ropes. Unbelievable. Back in, and now Zayn hits the Helluva, but Neville had the ref in close and he takes another bump. “This ref sucks” chants. While Zayn checks on the ref Neville grabs the title, but Zayn with the big boot before he can use it. Zayn considering using the title belt while the crowd yells one way or the other. Has it in his hands, but can’t bring himself to do it. As he puts it outside, Neville sneaks up for the roll-up, but only two. Exploder into the corner! Helliva Kick! 1, 2, 3, in just under 23 and a half.
Winner (and new NXT Champion): Ohhhhhhhohohohohoh. Ohhhhohohohoho. Ohhohohohohohoh. Ohhohohohohoh LETSGO
Verdict: Absolutely brilliant. Perfectly paced, served the feud narrative and told a good in-ring story. Best match of this series so far.
Neville was called up after this, and is another in a long list of “What might have beens” for WWE. Kicking around the mid-card for a bit he had a not-too-bad spot as the top guy on 205 Live, but he understandably wasn’t happy with that placement. His last feud was with Enzo Amore of all people, and it’s not surprising if that was the final straw. I remember some of his promo work in the lead-up to his departure, and I’ve rarely seen a wrestler look more unmotivated. He’s fun on AEW, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the Fed, or NXT, someday if they could promise him a decent run. Zayn, he’s rarely put in a bad performance on his run with the company since, and his feud/alliance with Owens has been great. I like him as a heel, and of all the former NXT Champs his lack of belts is the most surprising.
Zayn celebrates in the ring, and close the book I don’t want to read any more. “You deserve it”. The roster comes out to congratulate Zayn, led by best-friend Kevin Owens. They embrace, and everything is hunky dory. Zayn raised up on their shoulders as the ticker tape falls. If I had watched this on the time, I like to think the fact that the show wasn’t ending would tip me off as to what is about to happen. The music ceases as Neville confronts Zayn to “Hug it out” chants. A beat, and they embrace. Wow, things couldn’t get any happier right? Just rip the bandage off! Zayn lifted up yet again, and then the roster begins to disperse as Zayn holds the belt up for the crowd. He stares at the belt sitting on the apron as Owens comes down to embrace him again, and they even have the copyright symbol in the corner like the show is ending. Not the last time they’d pull that.
Here it is. The two are walking out when suddenly Owens attacks! Powerbomb onto the apron! Crowd is legit stunned. Owens walks out as refs and William Regal check on Sami. Fade out. I’m always torn by these endings because they serve a larger story-telling purpose, but in the moment they feel so off-kilter and ruinous. But you have to give props to NXT for immediately setting up the next NXT Championship narrative.
Best Match: The main event. Brilliantly paced, excellent facial expressions, told a good story, was a nice ending to the feud and had a lot of well-earned “Holy Shit” moments.
Best Wrestler: Combining presentation with in-ring presence and being able to go, has to be Finn Balor, who took the ball and never looked back.
Worst Match: I suppose the Corbin/Dillinger squash, which could have been an NXT TV thing.
Worst Wrestler: I suppose I’ll regretfully give this to CJ Parker, who legit broke Owens’ nose and might have shortened their match considerably.
Overall Verdict: Excellent show. No bad matches per-say, and three great ones, capped off by a mesmerising main event. NXT was a bit of a gamble for WWE, but shows liked this showed that it had paid off in spades. Give it a watch.
Bonus Content: Quick Thoughts On NXT Takeover XXX
-Triple Threat Tag: Expected manic action, though probably should have been on TV with an actual title match in its place. Legado should have won for variety’s sake. Skippable.
-Balor/Thatcher: Nice change of pace for NXT, and Balor did well to keep up with Thatcher. You do worry about how many people they can put Thatcher against though, in terms of getting his style across. Check it out.
-North American Title Ladder Match: Good fun, even if it couldn’t match the height of the first ever match for this championship. The Gargano/Grimes botch was a bit scary, and Priest winning was a tad predictable, but otherwise this was well-paced entertainment. Recommended.
-Cole/McAfee: The widely expected UE shenanigans never appeared. Instead we got a pretty standard match that was elevated by its story. Not sure I like how strong McAfee, allegedly a total amateur, was booked to look against someone like Cole, but the content was decent. Worth watching.
-Shirai/Kai: Could never escape the feeling of it being a transitional feud for Shirai, but the two brought their A-game and made something fun out of it. Gonzalez really benefited too. An unexpected highlight.
-Lee/Kross: A good hoss-fight, but both have had better matches recently I feel. Kross’ finisher is very unimpressive, which reduced the impact of the pin. Having Lee’s reign be so short is either a gutsy or foolhardy move, depending on what happens next. Pulling the trigger on Kross this early hearkens back to the way NXT operated a few years ago, which was a very good time, so we’ll see how it goes. Required viewing for the story, but not on the quality of the match alone.
To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.