In my time since I began covering more modern wrestling, I’ve not actually had the opportunity to review an NXT event. The closest I’ve come so far is covering The Beast in the East, which saw the NXT title victory of Finn Balor over Kevin Owens. With the rematch scheduled for the main event of this show, alongside two other big title matches, a debut of an indy darling and the surreal opportunity to see a Japanese legend lock horns with an up-and-comer from the roster, the card was definitely stacked to make the most of the biggest NXT event to date – and the crowd (along with the viewers at home) couldn’t complain with the veritable feast of wrestling that NXT offered up.
Tyler Breeze vs Jushin Liger
I am an unabashed, unashamed Jushin Liger fan ever since I was six years old and could watch dubbed NJPW shows on Eurosport. The man has done it all in his almost thirty years in the business except wrestler in a WWE ring, so this was a great nod to a true legend of the business. Tyler Breeze has a lot of upside in terms of ability and character and it made a lot of sense to give him time in the ring with a man of such experience.
You know what you are getting with a Liger match these days, essentially boiling down to a ‘best of’ style run through of his best moves and spots. It is the charisma and character that Liger injects into even this pared down offering that makes his matches at this level at least worth watching. The koppou kick, the shotei and the running cannoball senton are all there, whilst Liger’s parodying of Breeze’s laying on the top turnbuckle and the use of a selfie stick were legitimately funny.
It was surprising to see Liger pick up the victory with a running Ligerbomb, but this does perhaps suggest more dates in Liger’s future with NXT/WWE. Breeze doesn’t look bad in being beaten by a legend, and it could be built up, either in terms of a rematch or a storyline built around Breeze’s struggle to get it done at Takeover events, leading up to a big victory in the future.
Blake and Murphy (c) vs The Vaudevillains for the NXT Tag Team Championship
The first of the big title matches see the team of Blake and Murphy defend against The Vaudevillains. In my limited opportunities to watch NXT, I’ve never seen Blake and Murphy, though the Vaudevillains are an easy candidate for my favourite gimmick coming out of the company. It was an unsurprising choice to turn them face due to the likability factor of the old-time gimmick, and the crowd are fully behind them in their quest for the gold. The biggest pop of the night, however, goes to the introduction of Blue Pants to counteract the presence of Alexa Bliss in the corner of the champions. It speaks volumes about the nature of NXT that a jobber without a real name has become as over as some of the bigger acts from the Indy scenes, truly highlighting the more playful nature of some of the booking.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I liked Blake and Murphy. Someone suggested they come across like an 80s territory tag team, which is an apt comparison. They are no frills, but it works because of it. They do need a more varied offense as the match does drag a little during the extended heat sequence, though I did enjoy the assisted neckbreaker double team. A collision between the tag team champs sees English eventually tag in Gotch for the hot tag, but outside of a big knee strike, his section of being ‘on fire’ is sadly shorter than I would have liked to see from someone with such a unique offense.
Unsurprisingly, Bliss and Blue Pants are involved in the ending, as a fight between the two almost see the champs regain with a roll-up. However, the Vaudevillains land the Whirling Dervish double team move to pick up the victory and the tag team championships. A big victory for the team and a real chance for them to have a run at the top of the company. Where they go with Blake and Murphy will be interesting, and I feel that they have a lot of potential if they are kept together and developed into the future.
Apollo Crews vs Tye Dillinger
The debut of ‘Uhaa Nation’ Apollo Crews was always designed to be a showcase for Crews’ personality and athletic ability. What makes it a little strange is their feeding of a character such as Dillinger, who seems to be over with the crowd, to Crews, as well as the relative amount of offense Dillinger got. I’d have argued for someone lesser on the roster, and a real squash. In the end, Crews hits a couple of impact moves, before laying Dillinger out with the military press followed by a standing moonsault. Crews is an exciting new prospect, and I look forward to seeing what plans they have for him going forward.
Samoa Joe vs Baron Corbin
Someone I’m less excited about is Samoa Joe. Already, I get the feeling that he is a little lost in the shuffle in NXT, as more exciting names sit in and around the title picture and are being added to the roster at all times. Joe just doesn’t feel special anymore, and would be pretty far down my list in terms of wrestlers to be challenging for the title or moving up to the WWE roster. That being said, he was able to create a watchable match with Baron Corbin, a guy who hasn’t really had many opportunities to go long due to the nature of his squashing jobbers gimmick.
The match was about two heavyweights dropping bombs on each other, and that is pretty much what they did. I preferred Joe’s transition into the single leg crab during this match from a pin (having always though the powerbomb/pin/crab spot to be a horrible spot), and we even got to see Corbin lock in a heel hook to show that he isn’t just big moves and slams. The match built to a trading of strikes, which felt like it went a bit long for the sake of showing how tough each man was, but at least continued to make the match feel interesting and not the slog I’d expected.
Corbin eventually came close to picking up the victory with a two handed choke bomb, only for Joe to use the kickout to transition into the Kokina Clutch. Considering the nature of Corbin’s gimmick, he passes out rather than gives up, and we have a fourth face victory. A match that was better than I expected, but I do worry about where they go from here with both Joe and Corbin. There just doesn’t feel like there is an obvious spot for each guy to slot into. Maybe, in the absence of something better, the feud might even continue – stranger things have happened.
Sasha Banks (c) vs Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship
There is arguably no bigger face in wrestling than Bayley at the moment. There is arguably no better WRESTLER than Sasha Banks (if you incorporate moves, gimmick, character – the lot). The two women went out there and pulled off what some people are describing as a current match of the year candidate. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, it was an excellent match, which truly showcased the ability of the next rung of women wrestlers in the WWE.
Due to the ability of Bayley to garner sympathy with relative ease, the match was always going to be built around Banks setting out to dismantle the challenger. The aggressive nature of what Sasha does in the ring is what makes her so brilliant to watch, whilst Bayley more than held her end up in the early going, struggling in each move to try and fight out or fight back. The double knees in the corner by Sasha from the top turnbuckle showed the extent Banks was willing to go to to retain the title, as did the assault on Bayley’s hand at ringside. Even then, Banks showed her ability to mix violence with breathtaking agility by nailing a huge somersault plancha to the outside.
When Bayley did eventually fight back, her offense was occasionally sloppy but enjoyable nonetheless, as we got to see her fire and heart against a dangerous opponent. Sasha almost regained her title with a Bank Statement, coupled with several brutal stomps on Bayley’s injured hand, only for Bayley to cleverly reverse it into a Bank Statement of her own. A blocked reverse rana attempt from Bayley saw her land awkwardly in a spot that looked a little on the dangerous side, though it did set up the finish as Bayley was eventually able to hit the reverse rana before landing the Bayley to Belly suplex (for the second time) to get the three count and win the title. It was a huge feel good moment, and the crowd responded appropriately. Charlotte and Becky Lynch joined the celebration, as all four women posed in the ring to celebrate a potentially huge moment in the resurgence of the WWE Women’s Division.
Bayley could be huge – a natural babyface beloved by both women and men. Whether the WWE handle her correctly on the bigger stage is still a huge question mark. Bayley could be a female John Cena, a hero for children and a huge merch seller if they utilise her the right way. Only time will tell if that is the case. In the short term, I’ll be intrigued to see who NXT chose to match her up with in her first title defense/feud.
Finn Balor (c) vs Kevin Owens in a ladder match for the NXT Championship
The quality of the women’s title match almost overshadowed the main event. Indeed, the crowd took a long time to get into what was a very good match, a general emotional drain following the outpouring of joy at Bayley’s title victory. Eventually though, Balow and Owens were able to drag the fans back into their contest and put on an enjoyable and hard-hitting rematch that was a notch below their match in Japan, yet well worth watching.
It felt akin to Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins’ recent ladder match at Money in the Bank insofar as the match not relying heavily on too much in the way of ladder spots, which can only be a good thing. Following too many ladder matches being thrown out for no real reason, and using contrived ladder spot after contriver ladder spot, a move away from this style within this gimmick is pleasing respite. That is not to say that there weren’t a few big ladder spots, but they meant more due to their general sparsity. Balor spent a lot of time trying to stop Owens getting to the ladder, and when they did finally grab it, they spent a lot of time brawling around the ringside rather than heading straight to fighting over the ladder and the title.
Owens in particular took a couple of nasty looking bumps on the ladder, with a backbody drop onto the edge of a ladder a particularly painful looking move. Each wrestler hit their finishing move, before Owens took a second big bump onto a ladder wedged between the rungs of the upstanding ladder and the turnbuckle. After a fight atop the ladder, Owens fell to the floor, leaving him prey to the Coup de Grace double foot stomp off the top of the ladder. Balor then repositioned the ladder and grabbed the title, regaining his championship. Not on a par with the Women’s title match, but due to a well-constructed structure that highlighted the biggest spots within the bout, a match that was able to rise above the emotional drain and end a very good show with a competitive and entertaining main event.