Tag Archives: Antonio Cesaro

NXT Greatest Matches: Volume 1

NXT Greatest Matches blu-rayOver the last four years NXT, WWE’s ‘super-indie’ (to quote Jim Smallman of Progress Wrestling and the Tuesday Night Jaw podcast), has gone from being a training ground for stars of the future to one of the most respected and interesting wrestling brands or promotions in its own right.

Taking a lot of the conventions of the independent wrestling scene and marrying it to WWE’s big budget look and highly formatted approach has created something different to both, that now not only allows new WWE performers to learn their craft but is providing a new route for already established indie stars to transition to the somewhat different ‘WWE style’ of wrestling and (whisper it) sports entertainment.

With all that in mind WWE have put out a DVD/Blu-ray collection of highlight matches charting NXT’s development from the crowning of their first champion in August 2012 to their Takeover: Respect event in October 2015. Most sets like this WWE release would be described as a mixed bag, but here is a solid collection of more than 8 hours at least good and predominantly pretty great matches, as has become NXT’s stock in trade.

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

The first disc charts the brands evolution from internet based show watched by a handful through the arrival of the WWE Network and up beginnings of NXT’s evolution into its own entity.

So we see a few matches from Seth Rollins that show just why he was to become the star he now he is. His championship match with Big E Langston may be the better of the two here but the tournament final for the first championship with Jinder Mahal is, of course, the more historically significant.

With this we also see Bray Wyatt, before he made it to the ‘main roster’, in a match with Chris Jericho that is again interesting. Notable in these early matches is the commentary team led by ‘JR’ Jim Ross and often featuring William Regal, that is exceptional and really serves to elevate and highlight all the performers strong points – if only the commentary on Monday Night Raw and the monthly WWE specials would do the same!

One of the most talked about early NXT matches, that set the reputation not only for the brand but for one its stars who came in from the indies is included, as Sami Zayn (who some say previously performed under a mask as El Generico) goes to war with Antonio Cesaro in a 2-out-of-3 falls match that is fantastic.

Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro

Zayn with the Koji Clutch on Cesaro

Zayn is the performer who’s path most tracks alongside NXT’s so we see him develop with his journey to the NXT championship in a classic against Adrian Neville and the renewal of his storied feud with Kevin Owens in a brutal show stealer. As I write this Zayn’s time in NXT has recently culminated with a match destined for Volume 2 of this collection (should it happen) as he tore the house down in Dallas against a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura.

Alongside the story of Sami Zayn we get potentially the even more influential story of NXT, its Women’s Division. While WWE was still mostly focusing on models ‘wrestling’ under the banner Divas, NXT was breaking this mold with some of the best female wrestlers in the world, including one as their lead trainer, leading to the revolution of the form that has come to the main shows at with the return of the WWE Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania 32.

Here we get the beginnings of this with Paige and Emma clashing for the NXT Women’s Championship followed by the emergence of the ‘Four Horsewomen of NXT’ Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley (the last of which is essentially a female Sami Zayn within NXT).

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

Disc one features classics pitting Charlotte against Natalya Neidhart and the Horsewomen squaring off in a Fatal-4-Way match for the championship, before on the second disc we see the Sasha Banks and Bayley feud highlighted with their show stealing performance from Takeover: Brooklyn that even eclipsed that night’s main event between indie heroes Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.

Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set sees NXT grow into an internationally touring brand as we see the Florida based show move out to the Arnold Classic sports expo, Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose, Beast in the East in Tokyo and Takeover: Brooklyn.

With this the third generation of stars come to the fore with Owens and Balor squaring off in a Japanese classic, Hideo Itami showing his credentials in San Jose and the aforementioned face off between Sasha Banks and Bayley in Brooklyn.

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

As well as the string of great matches we get an insight into the show from not only the wrestlers but the man leading the show, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and heir apparent to the WWE as a whole, Triple H, aka Paul Levesque.

These are an interesting set of largely out of character talking heads that shed a light on the organic approach taken to NXT’s development and the apparent surprise and genuine appreciation for its growing popularity.

Notable here as well is the respect shown to the late Dusty Rhodes who seemed to steer the NXT ship in its early days and lay a lot of the groundwork for what it is now. As a parting gift from The American Dream, they don’t come much better or more suitable given his long-held hard-working, common man character.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Owens and Zayn continue their epic feud

The Blu-ray comes with five bonus matches which, while more curios than essentials, are all at least very good and its nice to see CM Punk and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero) featured given their less than great relationships with WWE today and the chance to see Corey Graves in the ring before his concussion issues is also appreciated.

While many of the matches contained here are available on the WWE Network, what this collection does, and does well, is present a potted history of NXT and its best moments in one easy to find place. Along with that are the early matches not currently available elsewhere which make this a real must own for fans of the brand, and especially fans of British wrestler William Regal as his last televised match (a stormer with Antonio Cesaro) is also included.

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Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes!

Daniel Bryan - Just Say Yes Yes YesEver since I first caught a few glimpses of ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson in his ‘indie’ days in Ring Of Honor I was intrigued by this mild-mannered seeming grappler from Aberdeen, Washington who came across as this generation’s ‘Man of a thousand holds’ but with the speed and athleticism of an HBK thrown into the mix as well.

So, when he appeared on the scene in WWE (after a bit of a misfire in the original version of NXT) I was excited to see if those glimpses could pay off in the longer term and in the so-called ‘land of the giants’ of pro-wrestling.

Well, the new Blu-ray/DVD collection from WWE demonstrates that, across his tenure with the company, the renamed Daniel Bryan certainly lived up to the hype. He took whatever was given to him and did it to the best of his ability so, whether it was the laughable angle with Kane in Team Hell No or the more serious feuds with John Cena and The Authority, Bryan was consistently worth watching in the ring.

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

This set then seeks to put that across over 8 hours of interviews and action. Initially I was skeptical as what appeared to be the ‘main feature’ documentary was barely an hour-long and glossed over a lot of Bryan’s history, though references to his days in Japan, England and Ring of Honor were nice to hear.

Largely though it focused on his path to WrestleMania 30 where he walked away with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, marking a high point for his 15 years in ‘the industry’. A lot of this was interesting and featured input from many superstars, most notably John Cena (who came across as a very nice guy and genuine Bryan fan) and Bryan’s wife, then fiancé, Brie Bella along with long time friends and rivals William Regal and Seth Rollins and Bryan himself.

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Though brief, this section did offer some interesting insight into the life of a ‘main eventer’ as it followed Daniel and Brie to the various media appearance in the build up to WrestleMania.

This made me wonder how WWE expects its performers to deliver like they do in the ring and shows why so many wrestlers get burned out by the schedule (I may not be a fan of him in the ring but John Cena must be a superman to have been doing this for a decade).

The other aspect that made this a fun watch is something that spans the set, that being how it straddles ‘real life’ and so-called ‘Kayfabe’ (wrestling lore) to keep up aspects of Bryan’s character while still showing us something more of the real man than we see in the ring. That said this approach can work for Bryan who’s character has developed (like many of the best of them) as an extension of his real self – this approach would be unlikely to work for The Undertaker for example.

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in Ring of Honor

CM Punk and Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor

Ending with Bryan’s win at WrestleMania 30 and a title card explaining his subsequent injury the feature documentary portion of this collection is ok but nothing spectacular.

It is in the rest of the set that things really come into their own.

Across 14 matches spanning Bryan’s career from his first, un-televised, tryout match in February 2000 to his clash with Roman Reigns in the build up to WrestleMania 31 in 2015, we see the development of a superstar and pro-wrestler – and Bryan makes no bones about the fact that what he loves is pro-wrestling and I don’t think once utters the words ‘sports entertainment’.

Between the matches we get further insight from Bryan as to where they fit into both his real life and ‘sports entertainment’ life and every one demonstrates his ability in the ring excellently, even when in the ring with far less experienced and, dare I say it, less talented performers.

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Highlights of this include the early tryout and ‘jobber’ matches for curiosity’s sake, a match with CM Punk that shows two former ROH legends performing on the world stage and of course Bryan’s triumph at WrestleMania 30.

However a couple of matches are real standouts. First is a ‘gauntlet’ match from Raw in 2013 that goes beyond the 30 minute mark and sees Bryan go up against Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro and Ryback. While the sections with Swagger and Ryback are some of the best of those two men, it is the middle portion with Cesaro that really stands out as the two wrestle like the WWE Universe rarely sees, especially on the weekly TV shows, and tell a hugely dramatic story packed with great moments.

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Secondly is Bryan’s match against John Cena from SummerSlam 2013 that I didn’t remember as being a classic, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I think really could be described as such. Across a long match (for WWE) the two deliver everything that is the essence of pro-wrestling; drama, varied maneuvers, and a genuine sense of breaking down the boundaries of sports and entertainment.

Throughout it is hard to tell where the match might go and the crowd are invested throughout whichever side of the ‘Lets go Cena… Cena sucks’ divide they might fall, or whether they are out-and-out American Dragon fans. The conclusion makes for a genuinely triumphant moment that is astonishing to relive, despite what comes after.

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Across the collection the ever-present WWE propaganda machine is, as always, in effect, but it seems less obtrusive here than in other sets, but, knowing where Daniel Bryan is now there is a bittersweet tone to the whole thing.

The collection ends with Bryan returning from a nine month absence due to a neck injury and sets up the beginning of another great run (something that seemed to be happening at WrestleMania 31 where he won the WWE Intercontinental Championship), but of course, we now know that injury has caused further complications, once again putting Bryan’s career and health in jeopardy.

Whether we see Bryan back in a WWE ring or not, and while his career hasn’t been as legendary as some, what Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes! shows is a man with a real passion and love for what he dedicated his life to and a man with an uncanny talent in the ring, showing that, even in the land of the giants, skill and in-ring, pro-wrestling, ability still has a place and can shine through.

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