Tag Archives: NXT

WWE Mae Young Classic – Final (and more)

Mae Young classic finalists Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the opening round of the Mae Young Classic, WWE’s international women’s wrestling tournament.

Since then the second round, quarter and semi finals have all been aired leading to a live final pitting Japan’s ‘pirate princess’ Kairi Sane and her devastating flying elbow drop against MMA fighter, and one of Ronda Rousey’s ‘four horsewomen’, Shayna Baszler and her debilitating suplex into a rear naked choke style sleeper hold.

Like the first round the second had its fair share of great moments but it was the quarter finals where the tournament really began to come to life with all four matches being some of the best women’s wrestling I’ve ever seen.

Shayna Baszler and Mercedes Martinez

Baszler and Martinez

In this round my highlights came in the Kairi Sane/Dakota Kai match and particularly the contest between Scottish wrestler Piper ‘The Viper’ Niven and Progress Wrestling Women’s Champion, Australian competitor Toni Storm.

The semi-finals then upped things even further setting a par not just for women’s wrestling but for any matches within the WWE Universe (to use their phrase) this year.

Baszler faced off against her mentor on the indie circuit, Mercedes Martinez, in a match pitting fighter against fighter.

The match had that MMA crossover feel with stiff striking and legitimate looking submission holds with both women looking like contenders.

It was accumulated shoulder and knee injuries for the older Martinez though that were her downfall giving Baszler her place in the final.

Kairi Sane and Toni Storm

Sane and Storm

The second semi-final had a more standard pro-wrestling feel to it with Sane’s Japanese high-flying against the Antipodean Strong Style of Toni Storm.

Again both women looked like they could make it to the final and both hit big moves, including a top rope to the floor crossbody from Sane that saw her go headfirst into the metal ramp.

Despite that it was Sane who would connect with her diving elbow on Storm to get the win and set up a real clash of styles and personalities in the final.

Final round – Las Vegas, Nevada – 12/09/17
Kairi Sane (Japan) vs Shayna Baszler (USA)

When I first heard that the final was going to be taking place after a Smackdown show in Las Vegas, rather than sat the NXT Arena at Full Sail in Orlando, I was concerned.

If 205 Live has shown us anything it’s that the crowd following the two-hour Smackdown show can be pretty burnt out, especially when faced with less well-known competitors and, as the opening chunk of the show on the WWE Network rolled on, this was looking to be the case.

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Baszler gets the upper hand on Sane

After a look at the ‘red carpet’ for the evening, largely an excuse to further remind us of the building feud between the MMA and WWE horsewomen, as well as a nice little mention of Netflix’s GLOW, we headed back to the arena where commentators Jim Ross and Lita got a mild reaction and the challengers headed to the ring.

While Baszler got little response from the crowd on her entrance and Sane only marginally more, as they were announced in the ring by returning long time ring announcer Lillian Garcia it seemed the audience began to realise this was a special event, and as the lights dimmed more than usual for a big WWE arena show this continued.

The match itself was great with the size and style difference between the two women exploited to the full.

Kairis Sane hits an axe-kick on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits an axe-kick

With some fairly even back and forth wrestling it was Baszler, clearly playing the heel now, who took the upper hand with a stiff looking kick to Sane’s head that sent the Japanese fighter to the floor before Baslzer got the first real two-count.

From there Baszler focussed on the submission angle working on Sane’s right arm with a range of nice ‘joint manipulation’ style holds along with nasty looking versions of armbars and several attempts to apply the double wrist lock (aka the Kimura).

Sane came back with chops only to be derailed by a knee lift reminiscent of Kenny Omega’s V-Trigger, but on a third attempt she connected with her impactful spear injuring Baszler’s ribs.

This then became the story of the third act of the match, as Baszler aimed for the arm but Sane found the weakness in her opponent’s ribs. A top rope flying forearm was countered into a rear naked choke, Baszler’s signature hold across the tournament, but Sane escaped thanks to the rib injury.

Kairi Sane double stomps Shayna Baszler

Tree of Woe double stomp from Sane

The climax came following a forearm battle on the top rope leading to a tree of woe double foot stomp which garnered ‘this is awesome chants’ from the now fully invested crowd, and then an immaculate version of Sane’s spectacular take on the diving elbow drop giving her the three count and the trophy.

Given all the competitors in the tournament this match was a great final pairing as they combined storyline with the more sporting feel brilliantly and this was summed in a moment after the bell when the two hugged and Baszler, previously a vicious heel, clearly said thank you to the more experienced Sane.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits her diving elbow drop for the win

Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Sara Amato then presented Sane with the typically ludicrously oversized trophy in what felt like a genuine wrestling moment, possibly even more so than TJ Perkins’ win in the Cruiserweight Classic Last year and up with Tyler Bate’s win in the United Kingdom Championship tournament.

While this show felt a little short at barely 30 minutes – I’d have liked to maybe have seen tag match featuring Storm & LeRae against Niven & Mendez as they were all shown to be in attendance, the final was far from the great contest with a dead crowd I was expecting.

In fact it was a great match with a newly invested crowd and more than suitably rounded off what has been a great tournament featuring some of the best in ring work WWE is likely to see this year, regardless of gender, and I hope this becomes a recurring event like the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in New Japan or Chikara’s King of Trios.

Stephanie McMahon, Sara Amato, Kairi Sane and Triple H

McMahon, Amato and Triple H congratulate Sane

But I think it’s safe to say that in the end the right woman won and the whole tournament has done a great job of setting up some upcoming stories and characters for the regular TV shows while giving some future talent a place to make a mark and maintaining a certain legitimate feel often lost in WWE’s ‘sports entertainment’ product.

Photos from WWE.com

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NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III – Barclays Centre – 19/08/17

NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III logoOver the last two years WWE’s developmental brand NXT has made its big summer show, so far always held at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, into their annual focal point.

This seems to have been fairly organic, by WWE standards, with the first event headlined by the genre defining match between Bayley and Sasha Banks for the NXT Women’s Championship and acting as the confirming launch pad for the WWE careers of both Kevin Owens and Finn Balor with their main eventing NXT Championship ladder match.

Two years later and NXT is firmly into what could be classed its third wave and, so far, they’ve had an arguably bumpy ride. While there have been some great high moments there has yet to be a whole show that has stood out like some of the earlier TakeOver event.

On paper, while I was quietly optimistic, NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III looked like it might have its work cut out standing up to some of the past events in the way that was really needed to cement the new set of upcoming superstars.

With the main WWE stage in place this instantly felt like a bigger show with the 14,000 (approx) crowd clearly up for a lively show things kicked off with metal band Code Orange playing live in the arena with one of the edgiest feeling opening videos, intercut with the live band, in a long time before the announce team of Mauro Ronallo, Nigel McGuinnes and Percy Watson welcomed us to the show.

Johnny Gargano vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas w/ Zelina Vega

Almas and Gargano

Almas locked in the Gargano Escape

While Johnny Gargano was greeted by huge chants of ‘Johnny Wrestling’ it was hard to escape the feeling that, despite the great fan reaction, this match felt a little thrown together as the pair haven’t had a huge amount of interaction until the last couple of NXT TV shows.

Really most were expecting this be Gargano squaring up against his former tag partner Thomasso Ciampa before the latter was injured a couple of months back.

Added to this the artist formerly known as La Sombra has had trouble finding his feet with a consistent character, though the recent addition of Vega as manager has begun to help Almas with that.

From the opening bell though it was clear there was nothing to worry about as the pair went at it with fast paced chain wrestling, which showed why Gargano has picked up the Johnny Wrestling nickname, while Almas showed more of his side of things with a nice ‘Tranquilo’ pose during a head scissors (I just wish they’d capitalise a little more on the Los Ingobernables link in someway).

Almas and Gargano

Almas hits the running knees on Gargano

While the match was, largely, fast paced they kept a nice story going with Gargano in his traditional role of underdog babyface and Almas the cocky heel.

They threw in a couple of nice twists including Gargano countering Almas’ pose in the ropes with a superkick and getting on a role to hit a series of trademark moves including a tight slingshot DDT and the Lawn Dart.

A titl-a-whirl headscissor into the Gargano Escape crossface-armbar led to a sequence that got the crowd chanting ‘NXT’ for both men, but it was a distraction from Vega that allowed Almas to hit his hammerlock DDT and continue both men’s independent stories while acting as a great showcase for both and warming the crowd up excellently both in the arena and at home.

NXT Tag Team Championships
Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar) w/ Paul Ellering (c) vs Sanity (Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe) w/ Eric Young and Nikki Cross

Sanity and Authors of Pain

Wolfe flies at one of the Authors

This was another match where the set up had felt a little rushed and left the challenging team falling somewhere between face and heel, though the champs remained firmly the aggressors, meant again it was hard to know how this was going to work.

Once AOP rushed the ring and a pre-match brawl erupted though it was quickly clear this match was going to be as chaotic as can be.

While the brawl went back and forth it was the champions who came out on top at first and things settled down into the match with the Authors of Pain working on Alexander Wolfe on their side of the ring.

As expected Wolfe eventually reached his corner but, rather than tagging Dain, Eric Young tagged in and, as the big Ulsterman hadn’t yet been in the match officially the switch was allowed and things again went chaotic.

AOP again gained the upper hand, including a fearless Young taking a back drop into Dominator double attack, things again settled down before another hot tag to Wolfe after which the chaos returned and never let up.

With impressive suplexes on both champions Wolfe put in the best showing he has to date, before all four men ended up on the outside and even Nikki Cross got in on the action with a top rope dive before Dain drove one of the champions (and Cross) through a table, allowing Sanity to hit a double team attack and finally topple the previously invincible Authors.

reDRagon attack Wolfe

reDRagon attack Wolfe

As a whole the match told a great story through the chaos giving Sanity a win they much-needed to make them a legitimately powerful stable while maintaining the strength of Authors of Pain who only fell after all four members of Sanity got involved.

The real ongoing story though happened after the match as recently debuted pair of Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, aka former Ring of Honor tag team reDRagon attacked both teams leaving them all laying in a genuinely shock moment that feels like the beginning of something big to come.

Hideo Itami vs Aleister Black

Black and Itami

Black with a stiff knee on Itami

Following Itami’s natural feeling heel turn after his return from long-term injuries and matches for the NXT Championship, his feud with relative newcomer Aleister Black has had a fairly organic feel based around the fact everyone knows these two men are two of the best striking fighters in WWE today.

It’s nice to see Itami in what feels like a more natural heel role, while Black is still running on the energy of his debut, combined with the unique look and feel of his character and all this has combined to make this bout simply about who is the better and more honourable fighter.

With that in mind the pair wasted no time going straight to the stiff kicks that are their trademarks and as guest commentator JR pointed out this match is all about who can kick their opponent their hardest.

The combination of a Japanese and Dutch fighter squaring off really adds to WWE’s recently developed international feel (continued throughout the weekend with Sanity earlier and of course Nakamura vs Mahal at SummerSlam) which is something that often felt missing from a company with ‘World’ in their name in the past.

Back to the match and with Black’s nose busted early on it had a real fight feel that grew as Itami settled into the heelish antagonist role and more pro-wrestling than striking for the middle section – before the big moves came into play.

Black Mass

Itami feels the Black Mass

Highlights came with Itami’s tornado neck snap and flying clothesline spot, a top rope Falcon Arrow and a Falcon Arrow in the ring before Itami went for his GTS fireman carry knee strike.

After Black’s escape an angered Itami got distracted by the crowd giving Black the chance to hit his Black Mass heel kick, which is one of the most devastating looking strikes in WWE, for the hard-fought win.

While Black got the duke both men came out of this looking great with Itami’s angry heel character developing nicely in a way that solidifies him in the roster in a way he has struggled to find for the last two years, while confirming Black in the NXT top flight.

NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka (c) vs Ember Moon

Asuka and Ember Moon

Moon hits a step up Enzugiri on Asuka

With a longer build than usual thanks to a shoulder injury suffered by Moon, combined with Asuka’s 504 day title reign (and even longer undefeated streak) this match probably felt like the one with the most story going into it with a real sense of importance.

With a quick start from Moon this feeling was brought into the match and stayed throughout as Ember got the early advantage before Asuka took control on the floor with a hammer lock suplex on the ramp.

That move alone shows how far women’s wrestling has come in WWE in the last couple of years as we head toward the screening of the Mae Young Classic tournament in coming weeks.

The mid section of the match saw Asuka focus on Moon’s previously injured shoulder in brilliantly effective fashion that even got a Minoru Suzuki comparison from McGuinnes (I know I’m a sucker for references to wrestlers outside the WWE universe).

This led to a great sequence based around the Asuka Lock that drew duelling chants from the crowd despite the now clearly defined heel/face dynamic.

With Moon hitting the Eclipse top rope twisting stunner it felt it could all be over but, thanks to the injured shoulder, Asuka fought free and again the ref came into play as had happened in their past match back in Orlando.

Asuka and Ember Moon

Moon dives over the referee onto Asuka

Unlike that match though, Moon survived this to hit a superkick that again looked set to defeat the Empress of Tomorrow but didn’t getting a huge reaction from the crowd.

Another nice sequence of submissions led to an extended Asuka Lock that eventually led to the tap out from Moon and, while I thought this might be the night, once again raises the question, who can beat Asuka?

After the match Moon received a standing ovation and ‘thank you’ chants as the pair delivered one of the best women’s matches since that Bayley/Banks bout two years ago and provided one of the true highlights of a show packed with great moments, though I’m once again left unsure where the NXT Womens’ Division goes from here.

NXT Championship
Bobby Roode (c) vs Drew McIntyre

Throughout the show various past NXT performers had made appearances in what seemed to be an attempt to give the event more of a special feel that, as i referenced earlier, it had developed of its own accord and leading into this match we saw Kevin Owens in the crowd. While I get the point of these they always feel a little false and unneeded when what’s happening in the ring is what really matters in NXT and is as on point as it was here.

Anyway onto the main event.

Roode and McIntyre

McIntyre with a clothesline on Roode

With a story that while only short harks back to the challenger’s past time in WWE as ‘the chosen one’ along with Roode’s ever present arrogant, Glorious, persona it had all the makings for something great.

This was only added to as McIntyre made his entrance to a live ‘pipes and drums’ accompaniment.

The match itself was a more traditional WWE main event style affair than the evening’s earlier bouts but, with Roode so good at playing the kind of arrogant heel that Ric Flair made his name with and McIntyre being such an imposing force, it was instantly engrossing as power stood up to psychology.

A deadlift release suplex gave McIntyre the momentum for a time before a pair of neck breakers switched it back to Roode and the two men went back and forth throughout before a Future Shock DDT led to the match’s first legitimate feeling near fall.

Drew McIntyre

Drew McIntyre wins the NXT Championship

This was followed by a Claymore from McIntyre that left Roode too near the ropes for the win. The Claymore has been an interesting move for McIntyre but here for the first time felt like a legitimate winning strike, possibly down to Roode’s selling but also, I suspect, given the higher stakes of the match.

After a moment entirely out of character for a perfomer of his size as McIntyre delivered a Tope Con Hilo to the floor, Roode took the advantage back with a spinebuster and Glorious DDT for a near fall.

McIntyre survived a second of the implant style DDTs and escaped a third to hit a second equally impressive Claymore kick to secure his first NXT Championship in fine style that would have made for a great ending to the show, but…

Adam Cole attacks McIntyre

Adam Cole attacks McIntyre

With speculation running rampant about a big new signing to NXT there was hope he might appear and, as reDRagon made their second appearance of the night distracting the new champ, now was the moment for former ROH World Champion Adam Cole to attack.

He delivered a devastating superkick, laying out the new champ in an echo of his firing from the Bullet Club, and ending the show with Cole and his new team mates standing strong and setting a whole new set of wheels in motion that I can’t wait to see turn.

As a whole NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III did exactly what it needed to do solidifying the new crop of performers as genuinely players in the WWE Universe with one of the strongest shows NXT have put on in sometime, probably since last November’s TakeOver in Toronto and once again setting the bar high for SummerSlam.

Photos from wwe.com

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NXT Takeover: Orlando – Amway Centre, Orlando, Florida – 01/04/17

NXT TakeOver OrlandoIt’s amazing to think it’s only a year since NXT first officially staged a Takeover show on WrestleMania weekend. Since then NXT has evolved considerably with new talent taking it in different directions while the Cruiserweight Classic and UK Championship Tournaments have given WWE’s product as a whole a different feel away from the main Raw and Smackdown shows.

This year a lot of the performers weren’t even on the show a year ago, or if they were it was in a rather different capacity but with a bar set high the new NXT team had just as much to prove.

Sanity (Eric Young, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe, Nikki Cross) vs Tye Dillinger, Roderick Strong, Ruby Riot and ?

Following an attack earlier in the day it was announced No Way Jose would not be in this match, so things started out with a brief mystery moment before recent returnee to NXT, Kassius Ohno, came through the curtain and both teams hit the ring at pace for an initial, all in, fight.

Killian Dain dropkicks Roderick Strong

Killian Dain dropkicks Roderick Strong

Things ‘calmed down’ with Cross and Riot squaring off and they instantly had a great chemistry with characters custom-built to oppose one another. The fact this was Ruby’s real NXT televised debut match did not pass me by and she more than passed muster instantly.

Things continued with Ohno showing off his talent in front of the big crowd again before Strong became subject of the matches most sustained beat down. With Dain showing off his scary big man attack along with a hugely impressive dropkick.

Tye got the hot tag before it all went a bit chaotic with everyone at least looking good before Sanity got the upper hand and Dain hit his version of the One Winged Angel, the Ulster Plantation, for the win.

Sanity

Sanity

While Sanity picked up the win, continuing their establishment as a top-level faction, everyone came out looking good and it’s hard to think Dillinger isn’t going to be elevated soon (though that might be the NXT mark in me.

It was also great to see Strong and Ohno finding their feet while Riot and Cross could become NXT’s premier long-term women’s feud as we move on in 2017.

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs Aleister Black

The last few months have seen Andrade Almas develop from a bland babyface performer into a cocky heel more reminiscent of his time as leader as Los Ingobernables in Mexico and Japan so, the fact he was set to square off against the biggest debuting character NXT has had in sometime fit perfectly.

Andrade Almas takes a kick from Aleister Black

Almas takes a kick from Black

Rising like Nosferatu on the entrance ramp, Aleister Black (previously known as Tommy End) has appeared as complete package from the start of his hype building and this only continued as he moved from his entrance and into the ring, taking in the atmosphere, crowd and his opponent from a cross-legged position in the middle of the squared circle.

Things started out with a good back and forth between the two competitors with hints and suggestions at what was to come with Black accentuating the strikes and Almas the cocky side of things as well as more holds.

After a faster paced middle section that saw Black hit a nice triangle type moonsault reminiscent of Kota Ibushi’s Golden Triangle the pace slowed and Almas got the upper hand. 

A series of stiff kicks from Black turned the tide culminating with the Black Mass heel kick getting him his debut win.

In many ways this was reminiscent of a slightly lower level version of last year’s Nakamura/Zayn match but it did a great job showcasing both men and I don’t think it’ll be long before both could be involved at the top of the card as the inevitable post-WrestleMania shake up occurs.

NXT Tag Team Championships
Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar) (c) vs The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) vs DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa)

Given the two out of three falls match two of these teams had late last year and the smash ’em up run Authors of Pain have had since their debut, the NXT tag team championship match had all the components to steal the show.

Tommaso Ciampa flies at one of the Authors of Pain

Ciampa flies at one of the Authors of Pain

Starting off with the two smaller teams joining forces to combat the monsters it was frantic from the start and never really let up. We quickly got the first hints of what was to become the story of the match; that, despite their best efforts, DIY and The Revival would be unable to keep any kind of solidarity going for long enough to totally negate the size and strength of the AOP.

As expected it wasn’t long before Johnny Gargano was left alone with the AOP, giving him the chance to do what he does so well in DIY, gaining himself and his partner sympathy and building to the inevitable hot tag to Tomasso Ciampa. Ciampa capitalised with a stiff flurry of offence that was the most sustained solo assault doled out to the Authors yet and, with Revival and Gargano back in the action, Rezar was sent through a table to the floor.

At this point the action came down briefly to four on one with Akam holding his own for a moment before Dawson and Gargano locked on a double submission hold that was split up just as it looked like the champions might be the first eliminated, creating a huge moment of drama.

DIY drive Rezar through a table

DIY drive Rezar through a table

The foursome then hit shared versions of their double team finishing attacks, again to no avail, before action spilled to the floor once more and a pile up spot culminated with Dawson suplexing Ciampa from the top rope onto AOP on the floor.

With the team work now broken down AOP capitalised to eliminate DIY following a Last Chapter legsweep/lariat combo on Ciampa to a less than impressed response from the now feverishly hot crowd.

While The Revival attempted a flurry of double team attacks they were quickly out powered with Authors of Pain retaining their championships, after a Super Collider powerbomb combo, and collecting the newly redesigned tag team title belts in what was a strong early contender for match of the weekend and should progress all three teams as they move forward with Revival in particular looking ready to make the move to Raw or Smackdown.

NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka (c) vs Ember Moon

A year ago to the day Asuka began what has become a legendary reign as NXT Women’s Champion when she defeated Bayley by knock out at NXT Takeover Dallas. Since then contenders have come and gone and of the current crop only Ember Moon has looked anything like a threat to the Empress of Tomorrow‘s position.

Asuka delivers a running kick to Ember Moon

Asuka delivers a running kick to Moon

Following the unveiling of another new belt to replace the now slightly dated previous model, the match started off as a story of two equals as the pair went back and forth with holds and strikes and it wasn’t until Ember Moon took a fall on the steel guard rail that anyone was able to gain the upper hand.

Despite this, Moon continued fighting giving us not only her best display to date but also trading strikes with Asuka like no one else has yet, leading to close falls for both parties.

Following a great dive to the floor from Moon and an extended Asuka Lock survival spot, Moon looked to get the upper hand following a cradle suplex and set up for her Eclipse, flying spinning stunner, finishing attack. Unable to directly counter this Asuka pushed the referee into the ropes causing Moon to lose balance and allowing the champion to connect with a stiff kick to the head for the win.

Finally moving Asuka more into a heel role only serves to broaden her character as it has been heading that way already anyway. This ending also showed she is potentially vulnerable, positioning Ember Moon as possibly the stronger of the two and giving Asuka a real challenge for the first time since her debut. This should lead to the pair developing a rivalry to move the NXT women’s division even further forward in what looks set to be a hard-hitting and intense feud that could become a classic.

NXT Championship
‘Glorious’ Bobby Roode (c) vs ‘King of Strong Style’ Shinsuke Nakamura

With their match at NXT Takeover: San Antonio ending in somewhat controversial fashion, with an apparent injury to Nakamura’s knee, the stakes were high going into this rematch that could see Nakamura become a three-time NXT champion in less than 12 months.

This gave the whole affair a big match atmosphere from the start that the inclusion of the new belt only heightened as Roode hoped to cement his ‘new era’ of NXT.

Shinsuke Nakamura hits a strong strike on Booby Roode

Nakamura hits a strong strike on Roode

The pair started out slow with holds and lighter strikes traded along with a great show of ‘mind games’ from both men, particularly around Nakamura’s trademark ‘come on’ posturing which, if Roode never bested, he certainly equalled.

While the pace remained relatively slow Roode kept the upper hand grounding Nakamura and taking his kicks and elbow strikes out of the equation very effectively, largely focusing on the arm after Shinsuke hit the guard rail with it.

With some fast striking flurries Nakamura remained on a level with Roode, but it was a missed Kinshasa knee strike that saw the champion really take the upper hand, switching strategy to attack the previously injured knee and maintain the near three-month long story centring on this injury.

Despite this Nakamura came back with a great armbar and triangle sequence building a hold for hold aspect to the story. After a sly low blow with the ropes Roode attempted his Glorious DDT but was countered and the former champion connected with a sliding knee strike for a near fall.

Bobby Roode fights out of an armbar from Shinsuke Nakamura

Roode fights out of an armbar from Nakamura

The general slow burn saw the crowd’s excitement build and build as Roode, frustrated, got the ring bell, looking for a desperate disqualification to save his title reign, before pulling out a last-minute spinebuster counter to the Kinshasa for another near fall.

With both men showing exhaustion it was Nakamura who let his guard down first allowing Roode to connect with an tornado-like version of the Glorious DDT and retain his championship in a truly epic match packed with all the drama and both longterm and in-match story you could hope for, while also being different enough to their past encounters to keep it fresh.

While this saw three heels leave NXT Takeover: Orlando with the gold, the show wrapped up a few stories satisfyingly while setting wheels in motion for the next chapter without anyone coming off as a real loser in a series of closely fought, dramatic contests that will give WrestleMania itself a high bar to live up to.

The main event and tag matches were certainly the matches of the night but all stood up strongly and let’s not forget Drew McIntyre was shown in the crowd, just like Bobby Roode was this time a year ago…

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Royal Rumble 2017 – The Alamodome, San Antonio – 29/01/17

Royal Rumble 2017 logoWhile there’s no denying that WrestleMania is the WWE’s, and all of pro-wrestling’s, biggest event of the year, what comes second could be debated, is it NJPW’s January fourth show (this year WrestleKingdom 11), is it SummerSlam (WWE’s WrestleMania of the summer) or is it the Royal Rumble where WWE kickstarts its year and the ‘Road to WrestleMania’?

If be hard pressed to argue against the Rumble, not only is it a launching off point for WWE’s hottest season its name has entered the pop culture lexicon like few things from pro-wrestling ever have and, with supposedly more than 50,000 in attendance the 2017 edition of the show could well confirm my argument.

Even in the pre show it was clear that The Alamodome was a vast arena and a far better scale of this was given than in the 1997 event which also took place here and even as the warm up matches got under way the crowd was already huge.

Kick Off Show

Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella and Naomi vs Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya

While a women’s six-man tag match screams throwaway warmup match it was clear that all six competitors, Superstars if you will, didn’t want this to be seen that way as all were obviously giving it their all.

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

Seeing Mickie James back on the main shows was great and gives a boost to the Smackdown roster that is otherwise made up of many lesser experienced performers or those moving out of the Diva-era into new WWE women’s wrestling.

As the match went on several storylines were developed or set up that could all feed into WrestleMania but it was the startlingly athletic Naomi pinning the Smackdown Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss after a split legged moonsalut that was the biggest story moment and I expect to see this play out as we head toward April.

WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (aka The Club) vs Cesaro & Sheamus (c)

Following a bit of a flat run in the middle of 2016, the new year has started with former IWGP Tag Team Champions, The Club, on great form while the development of the tag team champions has been equally great to watch so this felt like a natural match about who of these two rough and tough teams is the best.

The Club win the gold

The Club win the gold

As expected the action was hard-hitting throughout with The Club playing the classic heels and Sheamus and Cesaro’s teamwork growing to new heights, including some nice tandem attacks.

The gimmick of the second referee of course came into play in the conclusion as one ref ate a Brogue Kick from Sheamus allowing The Club to hit their Magic Killer finisher in the Irishman before Anderson rolled up Cesaro with a handful of tights to capture the gold.

This left stuff nicely open for the feud to continue on to Mania and showed The Club as they should have been all along, hard-hitting, dastardly heels of the old school.

Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax

While this match felt like it had come a little out of nowhere over the last few weeks Banks’ history shows she is rarely less than a good performer and Jax has developed into a solid, if slightly one-dimensional performer and that about sums up how the match went.

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

With a typical big wrestler vs small wrestler story it wasn’t anything special but Sasha is great at getting sympathy as Nia beat her with size and strength at every turn.

Sasha got a brief comeback after Jax went shoulder first into the ring post including hitting a nice double knee dive. Like Nakamura last night at NXT Takeover though this was Bank’s downfall and her knee injury allowed Jax to hit the pop-up Samoan Drop for the win.

While it’s no surprise to see Nia Jax get pushed (she is after all both an imposing presence and a cousin to The Rock) I’m not sure where she can go now as a dominating heel and Charlotte Flair also sitting atop the mountain as a dominant heel of a different flavour.

Main Show

As I’ve said previously the Royal Rumble is arguably the second biggest show in the pro-wrestling calendar and with an opening hype video like this it really got that across. Unlike many other shows which focus on all sorts of things it was clear that this was all about champions and contenders.

All the matches before the Rumble were for a title and then, of course, the Rumble itself is for a shot at the WWE World or Universal Championship at WrestleMania and from the off its clear this huge crowd was an excited for the show.

WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Bayley vs Charlotte Flair (c)

As her music hit and she made her way onto the stage in her ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage colours and tassels the crowd erupted for Bayley, showing the ongoing potential she has to be a top-level babyface like few female performers her.

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

Charlotte was greeted by a similarly loud reaction but suited to her heel persona as she has, over the past year, really grown into her role as a Flair to great effect.

As the heel champion Flair set the tone with a slow and steady pace, working down her faster more exuberant challenger before Bayley came back with speed and pace including a baseball slide hurricanrana, springboard cross body and Savage style diving elbow drop, before Charlotte regained the advantage with some brilliantly heelish use of the ring apron and steel stairs.

After that it was nearly all Charlotte as she continued to build her dominant persona culminating in a Natural Selection cutter on the ring apron. While this wasn’t the stormer I thought it might manage to be it was still a good, classically paced, contest and it remains great to see the women’s matches given the same level of importance and respect now as the men’s.

WWE Universal Championship
Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens (c)
No Disqualification with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage!

While the gimmick may sound ridiculous it has its history back in the old territorial days and WWE have recently revived it with the same being used back at NXT Takeover: Toronto in November with Paul Ellering in the cage. Now it was Jericho’s turn to stop him from interfering in the match.

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

Owens and Jericho’s arrival got a very positive response (despite their heel role) while the reaction was typically very mixed with the lower, louder boos winning out.

The match itself was a great brawling affair starting with a walk and brawl through the crowd before Owens got the upper hand with a cannonball into the barricade and attempting to powerbomb Reigns throw a pyramid of steel chairs.

Back in the ring the pace slowed as Reigns took control in a far more heel way than anything Owen was really doing before ‘The Big Dog’ headed out the ring and set up a table. It wasn’t long before the table came into play with Owens getting the upper hand and hitting a top rope frog splash on Reigns through the table on the floor to a huge reaction.

After some more back and forth as Reigns survived the table splash Jericho dropped some brass knuckles into the ring and Owens attempted to use them to no avail before taking a Samoan drop onto a steel chair but coming back with a Stone Cold Stunner.

Roman sends Owens through the table

Roman sends Owens through the table

In what felt like the climax of the match Reigns again returned fire driving Owens through the announce table after sending him flying from the top rope through the pyramid of chairs as the crowd continued its mixed response to his every move.

As it looked like the win was secured though Braun Strowman appeared from nowhere chokeslamming Reigns through the table before powerslamming him through another allowing Owens to retain the Universal Championship.

While this felt like a great high stakes match it was once again a strange one with Reigns role as something of a ‘tweener’ still not really working in a satisfying way, though he is constantly putting on decent matches now. With most of the big bumps being taken by Kevin Owens really showed him as the more dedicated worker and the input of Strowman felt like it didn’t totally make sense given what came later in the night.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Neville vs Rich Swann (c)

Another match that had a great build through both Raw and the 205 Live show it was no surprise it got off to a fast start with Neville reinvigorated as the heel and Swann far more on the warpath than we’ve seen to date.

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

Neville looks like a beast now and after Swann getting the upper hand early the Geordie came back with a powerful missile dropkick from the top rope before slowing the pace down and using his strength to take the advantage.

Swann came back with a series of stiff kicks, showing he can play Neville’s game too, and hit his spinning heel kick finisher too close to the ropes to get the win.

The end came with a nasty looking superplex (it shows why smaller people doing this move is more dangerous) before Neville locked in his Rings of Saturn style double armbar to claim the Cruiserweight crown.

While the math was decent it didn’t sizzle quite as I thought it might but with the crowd in recovery mode from Roman/Owens and gearing up for Cena/Styles that’s not too surprising and with a solid heel at the top of the Cruiserweight roster now it can only help elevate the 205 Live brand further.

WWE World Championship
John Cena vs AJ Styles (c)

The build up to this match has been bubbling away since last summer and really hit a final burst in the last couple of weeks with an intense war of words between the pair that saw Cena take a darker turn than we’ve seen in a while and Styles’ role as well-travelled legit ‘world champion’ elevated even further.

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

As the pair were announced both received a mix response (showing how well tweener characters can work) before Cena got the early advantage with a, for him, vicious and physical attack.

For the whole match the crowd were loud and animated as the pair went back and forth time and again with both hitting their big moves early for near falls.

In a very nice sequence the pair traded holds from Cena’s AA to Styles Calf Crusher then STFs from each man and finally a figure-four leg lock from Cena referencing the fact that if he won this Cena would equal Ric Flair’s record number of world championships before AJ revered again into a cross arm breaker.

From there it was a flurry of big moves from both including powerbombs, an avalanche AA, the Styles Clash twice, an Ushigoroshi and more.

The crowd was going nuts for all the near falls as Styles set up for another Phenomenal Forearm before Cena countered, hitting a pair of AAs for the win to equal Flair’s record and, in a nice touch, the referee was long time Flair compatriot Charles Robinson.

Cena hits the AA on Styles

Cena hits the AA on Styles

While the match was very good (I don’t think it was ‘the best WWE Championship match ever’ as some have claimed) the logic of putting the belt on Cena again is lost on me.

He is a star with or without the belt both in the ring and out and he can’t be elevated any further in the wrestling world by having the championship again. While I respect his work and work ethic I will admit to never getting Cena but I am, as if it wasn’t obvious, a wrestling nerd not a casual fan, though I would have thought keeping the title on Styles going into WrestleMania would have helped elevate him while Cena remains the same star level he has been for the better part of a decade.

Royal Rumble
30 Man Battle Royal For A World of Universal Championship Match at WrestleMania

With more than 50,000 fans singalong to Enzo Amore and Big Cass the Rumble this year got going with the 7-foot New Yorker squaring off against the WWE United States Champion Chris Jericho.

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

With this being one of the most star-studded Rumbles in its 30 year history there was a real sense of anticipation and as Kalisto and Mojo Rawley entered the pace picked up and it got a nice flow going.

UK cruiserweight Jack Gallagher was a nice highlight early entrant and got up to some fun with his umbrella but was sadly the first man out at the hands of a returning (again) Mark Henry before the arrival of ‘The Monster Amongst Men’ Braun Strowman.

Strowman cleared most from the ring with Jericho sneaking away to hide with the announcers like the classic heel he is. It was clear at this point the first ‘story’ in this year’s Rumble would be based around Braun Strowman but his recent rival Sami Zayn survived the initial attack to stay in.

Entry number 10 was, as many had predicted and hoped, NXT’s ‘Perfect Ten’ Tye Dillinger and he and Zayn took the attack to Strowman while James Ellsworth provided a nice amusing moment leading to a nasty landing getting sent over the top rope by the monster.

The Wyatt Family explode

The Wyatt Family explode

Things became a battle of the big men as Baron Corbin hit the ring and after a flurry from all, including a stiff looking Helluva Kick from Zayn, Corbin sent Strowman out in something of a shock moment.

With Kofi Kingston’s usual survival spot not living up to past efforts the next part of the match saw Sheamus hit the ring in stiff mode battering his way through everyone before his tag team partner Cesaro arrived and hit his Giant Swing on anyone that got too close.

The pair soon eliminated The New Day, reinvigorating their rivalry, before being eliminated themselves by Jericho.

The next section of the match was built around the ongoing collapse of The Wyatt Family with Randy Orton hitting RKO’s on many before Luke Harper turned on Bray Wyatt and the feud hit a new high.

At this point it was clear the big name part timers were all coming late in the match and the crowd were getting impatient for it with regular Goldberg chants filling the Alamodome until Brock Lesnar’s music hit and the crowd erupted. The presence of quite so many part timers getting quite so much glory here is something that irks me a bit but I can see the draw they have to more casual fans, especially the three big names here Lesnar, Goldberg and The Undertaker.

Goldberg spears Lesnar

Goldberg spears Lesnar

Lesnar did what he does with multiple eliminations, suplexes and F-5s before the comparatively tiny Enzo Amore hit the ring all brash bluster and did one of the best sells on a clothesline I’ve seen in a long time before going over the top rope at the hands of the Beast.

With the field clear (or at least all downed at the hands of Lesnar) the epic music of Goldberg blared and he stalked to the ring face off with one of his greatest rivals. In a repeat of Survivor Series in November there’s a spear, a clothesline and Goldberg sends Lesnar packing in another shock moment that looks to be leading to a rematch at WrestleMania.

With an open moment Orton and Wyatt attack Goldberg before Goldberg gets the upper hand but the lights go out and The Undertaker appears in the ring attacking and eliminating Goldberg in another shock.

The final man out is, of course, Roman Reigns to another unbalanced reaction and he and Taker face off and go at it before Reigns sends Taker to the floor and I can only assume that WWE is finally pushing Reigns as an all out heel as the crowd chanted ‘bullshit’ at quite some volume.

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

With Reigns, Orton and Wyatt remaining Roman fought back eliminating Bray before Randy countered a spear into an RKO and got the, to me, surprise win to get a shot at John Cena at WrestleMania.

While I will admit to not being too hot on the idea of Cena vs Orton again at Mania the end of the match was nicely delivered but as a whole the match felt unbalanced.

The presence of the part timers in the final chunk added little to the overall match while their interactions with the main performers did nothing but make them look weaker leaving things on something of a downer

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

That said I remain hopeful that WWE have some good things planned heading into WrestleMania  as, while this whole show was certainly good, it lacked the magic thing to take it to the next level – maybe its too much hype that could never be lived up to?

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NXT Takeover: San Antonio – Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio, Texas – 28/01/17

NXT Takeover: San Antonio logoWWE’s developmental brand is starting 2017 in an interesting place. After years of being undeniably the best part of the wider wrestling, sorry Sports Entertainment, company’s output it finally seems as if the ‘main roster’ shows have started to catch up as the performers from NXT have moved up to the bigger shows.

So NXT Takeover: San Antonio comes with slightly less of a hype filled feel than some of the past events and sharing a weekend with what is often WWE’s most anticipated event for dedicated fans, the Royal Rumble, means I went in with slightly lower expectations than I might usually, though given the performers on the card this is slightly odd.

Tye Dillinger vs Eric Young (with Sanity members Killian Dain and Alexander Wolf)

It’s safe to say that starting the show with Tye Dillinger, aka The Perfect Ten, was a great way to get the audience excited from the start and, with his current feud with Sanity stable leader Eric Young having had a nice build there was some anticipation for the match to see if Dillinger could break his losing streak and to see Young making his first real appearance at a Takeover event.

Tye Dillinger and Eric Young

Tye Dillinger hits the Tye Breaker on Eric Young

As ever Dillinger was firmly in the underdog babyface role with Young getting the advantage early on thanks to outside interference from the recently arrived Northern Irish monster Killian Dain (aka Big Damo).

A nice comeback sequence was highlighted by a running top rope belly-to-belly suplex from Dillinger before outside interference really kicked in and The Perfect Ten cleared the ring hitting a Tye Breaker Ushigoroshi neckbreaker on Wolfe and a superkick on Dain. Further focus on the men outside though led to Young having the chance to hit his Youngblood wheelbarrow neckbreaker and get the win.

This match perfectly set the tone to open the show with a fast pace and the ever popular Dillinger really continuing to make a mark. Young came off as an excellent deranged antagonist and I can only see him moving up the card from here as Dillinger’s opponents tend to do.

Dillinger’s future though is still looking uncertain, he seems stuck in a perpetual cycle of losing out to the new bigger indie names in NXT. I hope this is rewarded as he has become one of the most reliable and popular performers on NXT and I can only hope that he moves up in the Royal Rumble tonight.

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs Roderick Strong

Both Almas and Strong have had a bit of a bumpy introduction to NXT, despite both being stars on the independent scene or in Japan and Mexico, it certainly felt like both had something to prove here.

Roderick Strong and Andrade Cien Almas

Strong delivers a backbreaker to Almas

From his entrance Almas looked better than ever with his new (to NXT) heel persona really coming across and seemingly suiting him far more than the bland good guy he had portrayed previously and moves like his Tranquillo rope counter now making far more sense.

The match itself was stiff and athletic from the start with both men showing their best and getting in a great set of moves and seemingly doing their all to make each other look as good as possible.

With a nickname like Messiah of the Backbreaker it was not surprising that Strong got in a few nice variations of the move. Almas meanwhile mixed his famed highflying (including a very nicely done double moonsault reversal moment) and some more body part focussed attacks to create a nice story around injuring Strong’s arm and leading to a nice looking armbar submission spot.

With the whole match being a back and forth exhibition the ending came with the best looking Sick Kick single leg dropkick we’ve seen from Strong since he joined NXT, which looked like a real finishing manoeuvre at last, but really it should be both men who win here as they were given a chance to shine and, arguably, stole the show.

NXT Tag Team Championship
The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar with Paul Ellering) vs #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) (c)

Following the build of #DIY in feuds with the likes of The Revival as well as the Cruiserweight Classic across 2016 this felt like a big shift in things for them as they defended their NXT Tag Team Championships agains the monstrous winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, The Authors Of Pain.

Authors of Pain and Tommaso Ciampa

Ciampa with a stiff kick

Coming to the ring bedecked in battle gear and masks made the Authors look even more terrifying and set the mood for the match with the question of ‘how can Gargano and Ciampa combat this?’ firmly established.

Despite initial attempts the Authors soon got the upper hand, though throughout #DIY kept making impressive comebacks which built and built. Once again Gargano proved himself to be terrific at getting sympathy as he was subject to the most prolonged attack before finally outsmarting the bigger duo to tag in Ciampa leading to a stiff series of attacks that looked to be making a difference.

Hitting a double slingshot spear and redoing the climax of their epic battle with The Revival from Toronto in November it looked like #DIY might do the unimaginable. The power game of the Authors proved too much though leading to a Super Collider double power bomb and then The Last Chapter Russian leg sweep/lariat combination on Ciampa giving the titles to The Authors Of Pain.

Seth Rollins

Rollins is escorted from the ring

I have to say while I hoped to see #DIY get the win there really wasn’t any other way this match could go, but it was far better handled than I expected. Akam and Rezar showed a lot more than they have to date and Gargano and Ciampa proved why they are two of the best in NXT at the moment giving the match a great balance of story and action and hopefully setting up more great stuff to come from both teams.

Following this there was a genuine surprise moment as Seth Rollins hit the ring from the crowd and called out Triple H, who, in typical Authority heel fashion sent out security to throw Seth out of the building to a reign of ‘Let them fight’ and ‘Bullshit!’ chants from the lively crowd.

While this went exactly as I’d expected it did a great job of bringing back some of that sense of surprise that has been a hallmark of NXT over the years and added something different to this show.

NXT Women’s Championship
Nikki Cross vs Peyton Royce vs Billie Kay vs Asuka (c)

On paper this looked like a strange one with the champion, Asuka, and Cross having genuinely formidable fighter personas (of a sort) and Kay and Royce being more traditional WWE women’s wrestlers, but the build and story had made it into something with a lot of potential.

Asuka, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay

Double German Suplex!

From the start it was clear, as previously said, this would be a match of two halves and as Royce and Kay left the ring Cross and Asuka started out with Nikki really looking like a real contender to the champion – something there hasn’t been in a while.

Once all four got back in Asuka hit a great double German suplex on Kay and Royce before Cross got the upper hand with an elevated spinning neckbreaker on the floor to Asuka.

She followed this up with a top rope to the floor dive onto the Australian duo before the three fought their way to the announcers position leading to Cross crashing through a table in one of the biggest spots I’ve seen NXT women do in a while.

Asuka and Nikki Cross

Cross hits a spinning neckbreaker

With the two on one format established it looked like Asuka’s unbeaten run would be in trouble but she came back to overcome the dual assault with her startling array of kicks.

While this did nothing for Kay and Royce individually their work as a team was great and the match left things open for Cross and Asuka to face off one-on-one which, at the moment, is the only way I can see Asuka facing a convincing challenge – one for Wrestlemania weekend I would imagine.

NXT Championship
‘The Glorious’ Bobby Roode vs ‘The King of Strong Style’ Shinsuke Nakamura (c)

In less than a year its fair to say Shinsuke Nakamura has done everything its possible to do in NXT with several NXT match of the year candidates and two reigns as champion.

Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode

Nakamura flies at Roode

Roode on the other hand has arrived and made a big splash in his modern-day Ric Flair, ‘glorious’, heel persona, so the build to this match felt entirely natural and like the two best in the company facing off (something that may well have been planned since way back in the summer when I saw them face off at a live event before Roode’s official debut).

Starting with some very nice chain wrestling and mind games the match had a very classic ‘American’ wrestling feel largely led by Roode but with Nakamura showing his talent by matching it and revealing, if not a new side, then more developed side of the Champion’s performing than we’d seen before in NXT.

This was followed by more faster paced striking which is Nakamura’s game but in great storytelling and psychology Roode seemed to have an answer for all of Nakamura’s trademark attacks even leading to The Glorious One hitting a double knee lungblower of his own.

Nakamura and Roode

Roode locks in the half Boston crab

Nakamura came back with his classic comeback moves including both his rolling armbar and triangle choke (slightly less seen in NXT) before hitting a Kinshasa on the apron and seemingly injuring his knee.

This was the story of the final third of the match with the wrestlers and officials doing a great job selling it as a legitimate injury (I’m hoping it wasn’t).

Despite the injury Nakamura still survived a first Glorious DDT (which he sold like Finn Balor’s Bloody Sunday/1916) and a single leg Boston crab.

A second big DDT though brought about the end, crowning Roode as new champion but in a way that there’s still a story to tell.

Bobby Roode

Roode is the new NXT Champion

This had a slightly different feel to many of the recent NXT Championship matches but was refreshing for it and did a great job of culminating the establishment of Roode as the ‘top guy’.

While I can see the feud with Nakamura going on to Wrestlemania weekend, I could also see this as being the change to move The King Of Strong Style onto the main roster, and with the Royal Rumble we all know anything can happen!

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NXT Bournemouth – Bournemouth International Centre – 16/06/15

NXT view

My view at the show

A couple of days removed from the event this isn’t going to be a definitive blow-by-blow account of NXT’s recent show in Bournemouth, but a bit of a run down and my thoughts on the show.

Arriving at the BIC I wasn’t sure what to expect given my previous experience of live WWE shows was a Monday Night Raw taping at the O2 in 2015, a much larger crowd and, theoretically, broader in scope as ‘sports entertainment’ and prior to that a non-televised show at the Royal Albert Hall in early 1994!

Instantly it was obvious the crowd here was slightly different, more black t-shirts, more males aged 18-35 (thankfully I’m still just in that demographic) and much more ‘serious’ wrestling chat, giving it the feeling of many of live music shows I go to and a bit of a hint of WWE’s (somewhat inexplicably) revered Attitude Era of the late 1990s, just a bit less drunk and raucous.

That said, there were still some families there and, after the men in black t-shirts, the largest contingent was youngsters in purple Bayley t-shirts (and some of the adult men proudly rocking them too). I thought this might make the crowd a bit imbalanced but it didn’t as throughout, from what I could see and hear, everyone was polite and respectful (both in terms of language used and phrases chanted) and clearly out to have a good time, which it seems everyone did, to a huge degree.

Entering the venue’s Windsor Hall and finding my seat, fifth row from ringside and facing the entrance way, I realised I’d struck gold as I had a great view of everything from the ring to the entrance way while also feeling part of the energetic crowd.

Before the show started host and ring announcer Dasha Fuentes headed to ringside to chat with a few fans, it was clear that despite this being near the end of the tour the difference between American and English crowds hadn’t quite sunk in and people were a little more reserved than it seems Fuentes expected but it was still all fun and then, to warm us up for the in-ring action, we got to vote on which classic NXT match to watch highlights of.

With the options being Seth Rollins vs Jinder Mahal, Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville and Bayley vs Sasha Banks the crowd picked the Bayley/Banks face off from Takeover Brooklyn which just goes to show the way this pair have helped build the reputation of women’s wrestling in WWE and NXT to being on a level with the men’s matches as this is an indisputable classic.

No Way Jose vs Angelo Dawkins

No Way Jose

No Way Jose

With the crowd warmed up the lights went down and we got the WWE TV intros on the big screen, both the ‘Then, Now, Forever’ ident and NXT opening titles which finished setting the mood perfectly before No Way Jose hit the ring and had everyone clapping and singing along to his excellently catchy theme.

Jose is a character I thought I was really not going to like before his debut, dancing gimmicks are very much not my thing, but something about his enthusiasm and the innocence with which it is delivered really works and I was instantly onside with him as babyface and that just grew seeing him live.

His opponent was one of NXT’s roster of unfortunate jobbers, Angelo Dawkins who got little reaction until someone noticed he looks like a low rent version of Attitude Era stalwart D’Lo Brown. From that point on the crowd got on his case about this and he played up to it excellently as a heel should.

The rest of the match was more good fun, all very loose but that’s to be expected in the opening match of a non-televised show and really didn’t spoil things as Jose danced rings around Dawkins before hitting his cobra clutch slam finisher for the win leading to more chanting, dancing and singing and setting the tone nicely.

Bayley & Carmella vs Nia Jax & Alexa Bliss

Bayley

Bayley

As Alexa Bliss made her way to the ring for a tag team match it seemed like we were going to get to see some big names early, and we did as Bliss and Nia Jax (a genuinely imposing presence in person), both greeted to a suitable level of good-natured heat made their way to the ring followed by Carmella, who did her whole Enzo style entrance, and Bayley completely with walking waving inflatable tube men and one of the biggest pops of the night.

Getting to ‘sing-along’ with Carmella was a great moment as we all joined with her ‘My name is…’ schtick complete withe ‘Bada-bing, hottest chick in the ring!’ and just feeling the positivity Bayley brings to the arena is amazing and she is a credit to the WWE. I’ve heard people suggest she could be the female John Cena and on the basis or a response like this I could see her being even more than that and the crowd was all on side in an entirely genuine way.

Bayley and Bliss lock up

Bayley and Bliss lock up

The match was a good back and forth with the heels beating down on both faces, all the great Bayley chants (which she seemed genuinely enthused by) and lots of ‘How you doin’’ chants. it was mostly Carmella suffering at the hands of the heels building to a hot tag to Bayley which again got a huge response.

With all four competitors involved Carmella and Bliss headed to the floor distracting Jax and allowing Bayley to hit the monster heel with her Bayley-to-Belly Suplex finisher for the three. This move was a big surprise and probably amplified the winning pop even more and it was sustained as Bayley made her way around ringside giving out hugs to anyone with an ‘I’m a hugger’ t-shirt.

Tye Dillinger vs Hugo Knox

Tye Dillinger

‘The Perfect 10’ Tye Dillinger

Being from Manchester it was clear that Knox was expected to be the hometown hero in this match as he is English, unfortunately for him and despite the best efforts of both Dillinger and WWE, Tye is getting huge reactions for his perfect 10 gimmick and this continued here, with his work in the ring and natural charisma coming through despite his best efforts to play the bad guy.

The match was good, with newcomer Knox coming across well with some great athleticism for a bodybuilder type guy but he succumbed to Dillinger’s Perfect 10 fireman’s carry neck breaker and the imbalance of the heel/face work did spoil it a little, but Dillinger is just too good at what he does to boo and chanting ’10’ along with his is a great crowd moment.

Austin Aries vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas

Austin Aries

Austin Aries

As Aries stepped out, complete with a cape that should be an instant heat winner, he was getting cheered hugely.

As he picked up the mic in the ring though he proceeded to cut an excellent heel promo that did a great job of getting across the cocky side of ‘The greatest man that ever lived’ and almost totally counteracted the initial cheers to set the stage nicely for a fast paced match with NXT newcomer (but seasoned performer elsewhere) Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas.

While having a reputation from CMLL in Mexico and NJPW in Japan as La Sombre (amongst others) Andrade hasn’t quite found his place in NXT yet but, working with a veteran like Aries, it was clear the two brought out the best in each other.

This was the first match to feel genuinely competitive with both men looking for big moves and feeling a bit tighter than what had come before.

Austin Aries vs Andrade Cien Almas

Cien reacts to a dropkick in the corner

Andrade’s springboard moonsault feint into a standing moonsault is hugely impressive as was pretty much everything Aries did, even if he didn’t hit any of his big high-flying trademarks (again fairly expected these wouldn’t be used on a non-televised show).

With a great back and forth and both men playing things excellently the end came with Cien countering what looked like it would be a brain buster and connecting with his running double knee in the corner. This looks far more impactful in person but with Shinsuke Nakamura’s range of knee strikes being present on the same show it feels like an odd choice of finish.

While on paper Aries doing the job sounds strange it worked in the context of this show with everything being very feel good and this was one of those matches where both men came out well regardless of who took the fall.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs Bobby Roode

Bobby Roode

Bobby Roode

To start the next match, scheduled, of course, for one-fall (ONE FALL! – I’ll never quite get why the UK crowd shouts this each match but its fun) some unfamiliar music hit and the screen displayed some nondescript lights so, as former TNA standard Bobby Roode headed out the crowd were initially caught off guard before popping pretty big for this long teased newcomer to NXT.

As Roode entered the ring, looking like a classic wrestling heel a la Ric Flair in his sequined robe, his cocky heel persona really came through and without even taking the mic the crowd was already accepting him as a bad guy when the lights went out and Shinsuke Nakamura’s already familiar theme hit and crowd exploded at the proposition of this ‘dream match’.

Being relatively new to Nakamura I’m already a huge fan but as the lights came up and he strutted his way to the ring it was clear that his charismatic presence is even bigger in person than on-screen and he received the biggest reaction of the night.

Nakamura hits the Kinshasa

Nakamura hits the Kinshasa

With the crowd chanting for both men the duo circled each other but eventually the Nakamura chants (along with ‘Shinsuke Bomaye’ and singing of his theme song) won out and the pair put on the match of the night going back and forth and hitting the fiercest looking strikes and some of the biggest general moves of the show.

Throughout occasional shouts of ‘BEER!… MONEY!’ in reference to Roode showed that this crowd knew they were watching something special and, for a non-televised show we were not disappointed and both men hit a series of big spots culminating in Nakamura’s inverted exploder and Kinshasa/Bomaye knee strike that was the move of the night and rounded off the first half of the show in a huge way that wasn’t to be bettered.

NXT Tag Team Championship
American Alpha vs The Revival (c)

American Alpha

American Alpha

With the crowd re-energised after the emotional drain that was Nakamura/Roode the second half opening with a rematch from last week’s Takeover: The End as American Alpha headed to the ring to challenge The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championship.

Despite their all American gimmick the work of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable has endeared them well beyond the US and they got one of the biggest reactions tonight as they made their way out and it was clear both they and the crowd were ‘Ready, Willing and Gable’ (sorry I couldn’t resist).

While not such a big reaction Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder were greeted as heels should be with  good-natured negativity that continued throughout the match with many different ways of playing up to the running joke that no one knows who is who out of the two.

American Alpha vs The Revival

Gable arm drags Dawson

It wasn’t all Revival heckling though and Alpha got many renditions of 2-Unlimited’s Euro-pop classic No Limit as reworked with Jordan and Gable’s names – I’m not sure if this chant makes any sense outside of the UK, or even to the two wrestlers, but they seem to love it as much as the crowd does.

Despite it being pretty obvious the belts weren’t going to change hands here both teams did a good job of selling that it might, putting on an excellent exhibition with Dash and Dawson being excellent at playing the old school heels, distracting the ref so cheating could occur, engaging with the crowd and generally being a great modern-day versions of classic teams from the NWA in the 1970s. American Alpha on the other hand are their antithesis being excellent ‘pure wrestlers’ like a more sane version of the Steiner Brothers crossed with Kurt Angle (we got another ankle lock tease spot from Gable), giving the two teams a perfect chemistry together.

The Revival

The Revival – victorious

Of course The Revival came out on top but, with it being thanks to some foul play from Wilder helping Dawson get the pin it left American Alpha looking good and strong and was as pitch perfect a tag match as your likely to see, even if we didn’t get to see the Shatter Machine or Grand Amplitude.

After the match American Alpha stayed in the ring and appeared genuinely touched by the huge reaction they got from the crowd which was great to see.

NXT Women’s Championship
Peyton Royce vs Asuka (c)

Asuka

Asuka

As soon Royce was announced as the challenger here it was clear where this was going which spoiled it a bit as a contest but, despite that she put on a good show and we got to see more from her than we have so far on TV and she worked effectively as a heel including a nice referee distraction spot leading to a tarantula-like hold in the ropes.

Asuka on the other hand was excellent in her silent killer kind of role, despite which she is a face, but she still let the match go back and forth a little before unleashing her ranger of strong style strikes and holds, including a great looking Shining Wizard, before getting the expected win with the Asuka Lock.

NXT Championship
Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe (c)

Finn Balor

Finn Balor – 2 Sweet!

By this point it was clear what the main event was going to be but the greeting for Irish grappler Finn Balor was immense as he stepped through the curtain and threw the hand signal for the Bullet Club/Kliq to be greeted with most of the crowd returning it.

Another unassumingly charismatic performer Balor had the audience in his hand throughout and the positivity of his reaction was matched only by Nakamura tonight and, from a heel side, his opponent Samoa Joe.

Joe in person is genuinely fairly terrifying when he wants to be. Built like a tank the so-called Soman Submission Machine is a real monster and played the part to a tee here as he seemed impervious to much of Balor’s offence in the early going. Both guys hit a lot of signature spots, most of which looked nice and tight continuing the story of their ongoing rivalry brilliantly and the crowd, though somewhat divided in their support, were engaged throughout.

Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe

With Finn starting to make a come back on the champ, Joe bailed from the ring and found a steel chair and, after a bit more offence from Finn, Joe smacked him with it in the gut, then the back leading to a disqualification. This, of course, saved his championship, but felt anti-climactic until Balor retaliated and went back and forth with Joe leading to a Coupe De Grace from the top rope sending the champ to the back.

After the match Finn got on the mic and cut a great promo, initially it felt like a standard, ‘thanks for coming, this was the best night of the tour’ kind of thing, but as we all started chanting ‘Thank you Finn’ it seemed to change to something more heartfelt as the Demon said we shouldn’t be thanking him or any of the others wrestlers, they should be thanking us for supporting them and coming out to see the shows.

Samoa Joe vs Finn Balor

Joe with the facewash on Balor

Coming from a guy who’s truly worked his way up from the bottom (including moving from his home to the UK, then Japan, then America to pursue his dream) this was genuinely quite something and as this maybe Balor’s last tour before he moves to mainstream WWE it gave it something of an extra special ‘farewell tour’ moment and ended a great show on a real high, even if Roode and Nakamura put on the best match of the night.

For me, other than reenforcing my love of pro-wrestling, what this show did most was show just how fun wrestling shows can be and that it takes everything from the dancing of No Way Jose to the ‘strong style’ fighting of Shinsuke to Nakamura to the genuine, heartfelt performance of Finn Balor and Bayley to make a wrestling show, making it about as close to variety as you really get in this day and age.

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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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NXT TakeOver: Dallas

NXT Takeover Dallas logoSince I last looked at an NXT event here, TakeOver: Fatal Fourway, the brand has developed beyond any reasonable expectation to, in a way, rival the main WWE brand by bringing a fresh, modern take on pro-wrestling to a more mainstream platform (and I speak as someone who really only closely follows the mainstream in this regard).

So, on Friday 1st April 2016, NXT reached a new height as it opened WrestleMania weekend and set the bar for what was to follow very high.

The show started off with a package that, once again, drew parallels between the past and today. It highlighted some of the most famous wrestlers to come out of Texas, from The Fabulous Freebirds and the Von Erichs to Stone Cold Steve Austin and JBL and then hyped what we were about to see which, on paper and in the minds of many dedicated fans, is the best show WWE has put on in a long time and surpasses even the WrestleMania to come.

NXT TakeOver Dallas arena

View of the NXT Dallas arena from ‘the crowsnest’

Cutting into the arena we were greeted by the now standard NXT announce team of Tom Phillips and Corey Graves. Graves has grown from an awkward former wrestler to a great heel colour commentator and, while his relationship with the straight play-by-play man Phillips is far from perfect, it is growing and both men did a fine job across the show.

The arena was set up, like all NXT shows in larger arenas so far, with a lower level screen and set that allows the character of the arena to come through. For my money this is far superior to the now all but identical sets we see over and over again on the main WWE shows.

Without much ado as soon as we cut to the arena the theme music for American Alpha hit leading into the opening match…

NXT Tag Team Championship
The Revival: Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder (c) vs. American Alpha: Jason Jordan & Chad Gable

Double German Suplex

Double German Suplex to The Revival

Looking every bit the new Team Angle (for those who remember the glory days of Kurt Angle) Jason Jordan and Chad Gable were greeted like heroes by the Dallas crowd while their opponents, aping the likes of The Brainbusters, got a more subdued but suitably negative welcome.

Early on it was clear this match wasn’t going to follow the standard path of seemingly all WWE tag team matches these days as it was genuinely back and forth between the two teams. In this both had their moments but, while Dash & Dawson are impressive both in moves and character their style, harking back to the past, is less flashy so what stuck with me really in this segment was the work of Jordan & Gable.

Gable, as always, broke out some excellent ‘amateur’ style moves before a fantastic set of double team moves including a double dropkick, double German suplex spot that was a highlight.

The Revival did eventually get the upper hand and, despite a couple of blown spots, worked things well. Even these blown moments were quickly forgotten and glossed over thanks to great work from both teams, though a ‘Botchamania’ chant from the crowd was a special moment.

American Alpha

American Alpha

As the match neared its conclusion we were treated to series of genuinely hot back and forth near falls, but it was some excellent smooth action from American Alpha that led to their finishing combo-suplex giving us new, and very popular, NXT Tag Team Champions to kick of the show on a high.

Despite losing The Revival very much came into their own here as well, finally starting to fulfill on the hype surrounding their ‘throwback’ style.

As the teams left the ring we got a shot of non-WWE/NXT Japanese performer Ibushi in the audience which got a big pop from the crowd and was the first of several appearances hinting at possible things to come.

Baron Corbin vs Austin Aries

Aries flies at Corbin

Aries flies at Corbin

While Corbin’s entrance was largely un-memorable (save for a Mad Max-esque twist on his usual vest) the arrival of Austin Aries, the first of two major debuts, got a huge reaction. Once the match began though there seemed to be a genuine mix of chants for both men in the opening moments.

Very much built around the size difference between the two men, Corbin played the hard-hitting monster heel while Aries had the more interesting and varied offence though his style and hype didn’t really fit the underdog role that seemed to be needed.

This gave the whole match a slightly off-balance feel to it, like many of Corbin’s have had in the past, as his inexperience and what seems to be a limited move set, means all opponents have to work within that. Despite this Aries did his best and got a few nice moves in, including a great looking low suicide dive clothesline, but from either side little has stuck in my memory even six hours on.

Austin Aries

A victorious Austin Aries

The closing spot of the match was a nice one as Aries reversed Corbin’s End of Days ’finisher’ into a roll up, but I couldn’t help coming away from this one thinking it was somewhat hobbled before it even started.

Bringing in a new star like Aries he had to win, but with Corbin being built into a monster he had to stay strong in the eyes of fans, unfortunately this meant that whatever happened would end up somewhat disappointing and lackluster.

Thankfully this was the only match on this show to suffer from this problem while it could be argued that almost every match at WrestleMania could be faced with this.

From the end of that match, that certainly didn’t feel like the end of the feud between the two, but thankfully the sense of excitement suddenly skyrocketed as we saw a great video package hyping the first of three main events…

Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Nakamura and Zayn

Nakamura hits a stiff knee on Zayn

After the video the one man confirmed to be pulling double duty this weekend, Sami Zayn’s, music hit and the crowd sang along like I don’t think I’ve ever heard. The man dubbed ‘The Heart and Soul of NXT’, was coming off an epic series with Samoa Joe and has staked his claim on the so-called ‘main’ WWE shows as part of the match for the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania.

Here though part of the excitement could certainly be down to the anticipation for the man he was facing, the second big debut of the night.

As the lights went out a chant of ‘Nakamura’ began and an excellently pitched new piece of entrance music hit, heralding the arrival of the ‘King Of Strong Style’, former IWGP World and Intercontinental Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura.

As he made his way to ring, all his trademark poses and postures flew off the screen and as he let out his ‘Yeaoh!’ cry against the ring ropes I genuinely had goosebumps. A lot is made of Nakamura’s uncanny ‘charisma’ and I had been skeptical of how it would translate outside of the rather different confines of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. But, even before the match began it was clear that it was translating just fine, and even during the match, where he silenced the crowd with a gesture or taunted Zayn as only he can, it was clearly working just fine.

Zayn swan dives at Nakamura

Zayn swan dives at Nakamura

The match itself was as near to perfect as your ever likely to see with both men delivering at a top-level and Zayn in particular upping his game to match that of Nakamura. The contest was back and forth for 30 minutes with the crowd electric and engaged throughout, but it was an extended series of traded forearms, on paper a rather basic moment, that elevated it to a new high.

As Nakamura’s ‘strong style’ approach took its toll Zayn sold it masterfully and gave as good as he got, but the match was booked to perfection with Sami hitting some signatures but, crucially, missing others, while Nakamura eventually hit several of his culminating in the renamed Bomaye knee strike (now seemingly called the Kinshasa) to pick up the win.

After the match Nakamura approached Zayn and the two men shook hands and embraced in a moment that signified, and truly felt like, the ‘passing of a torch’ as Sami heads up to the ‘big’ show and Nakamura comes into NXT.

Nakamura and Zayn

Respect between Nakamura and Zayn

In the end I can’t find the words to quite describe how good this match was so I would advise anyone with even a passing interest to give it a watch as it is clearly going to be a candidate for match of the year, not just in NXT but in all of pro-wrestling, taking Nakamura up to two on that list already, following his clash with AJ Styles at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom back in January.

With very little time to recover another excellent video package cut in to hype the following…

NXT Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs. Asuka

Asuka and Bayley

Asuka with an armbar on Bayley

No one could envy Bayley and Asuka having to follow Zayn and Nakamura but the women put on a great show from their arrival in the arena, with a new mask and robe for Asuka’s mysterious entrance, to the upbeat positivity of Bayley.

While Bayley has been involved in some of the best women’s matches in recent memory (if ever), for her NXT career so far Asuka has predominantly squashed opponents in relatively short and repetitious order.

From the off this match had a legitimate and scrappy feel between the two fan favourites (though undeniably Bayley was the stronger ‘face’ of the two). In this both women showed a greater range than previously with Bayley really showing a new side to her game to match Asuka’s style. In many ways this was reminiscent of what Sami Zayn had done in the previous match with Nakamura and there are several parallels that can be drawn between the two.

As the pair traded holds and strikes it came down to Asuka’s self named hold (a version of the crossface chicken wing) that after much fighting finally ended Bayley’s reign as champion. In a well judged piece of booking though Bayley didn’t tap out to the hold, instead ‘passing out’ to its sleeper like properties, maintaining her reputation as a ‘never give up’ style hero.

Asuka is NXT Women's Champion

Asuka is NXT Women’s Champion

With the so-called Diva’s Revolution seemingly back in full swing Asuka taking on the mantel of champion offers a potential new freshness to the NXT women’s division, but I can’t help but think a rematch to this will be coming up in the not too distant future.

Before the promo video for the NXT Championship match begins we get a shot of another non-WWE/NXT wrestler in the crowd, former TNA star Bobby Roode who is currently a ‘free agent’ and rumour has suggested might be coming to NXT – unsurprisingly, this was greeted with great enthusiasm from the crowd.

NXT Championship
Finn Balor (c) vs. Samoa Joe

Finn Balor attacks Samoa Joe

Finn Balor attacks Samoa Joe

Having already fought for the title at Takeover: London in December, since then Samoa Joe has grown into even more of a monster heel through a great series of matches to determine the number one contender against Sami Zayn (and Baron Corbin) while Finn Balor has continued to develop his character as a hard fighting good guy and leader of his ‘Balor Club’ of fans.

Here though it was Balor in Demon mode who made his way to the ring referencing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to a great reaction and genuinely turning up the intensity of his character from the start.

Very early in the match Joe and Finn clashed heads, splitting open Joe’s eye in fairly spectacular fashion. This looked worryingly set to derail the main event as, given the WWE’s now PG rated content this needed to be cleaned up and the cut sealed as quickly as possible.

However, credit goes to both performers for working this into the match as much as possible and Joe really using it to feed the anger of his character while the crowd, in a somewhat disturbing (but suitable given the emotions going on) moment, chanted ‘Let them bleed!’.

Joe gets patched up

Joe gets patched up

While blood used to be a major part of wrestling main events it is far less predominant now, particular in WWE, for two reasons. First is the aforementioned PG rating, that can be debated until the cows come home, secondly, and to my mind far more reasonably, is the potential health issues blood injuries can lead to for everyone involved. I would however be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I think a bit of ‘colour’ can really add something to a big match like this, and it sure did here.

Again the match was back and forth with the crowd invested throughout and the two showed why they were headlining with every signature being hit (with the exception of Finn’s 1916/Bloody Sunday DDT) and a great story being told across the bout that further elevated both men’s characters to new heights.

Much like the Wembley match from December this ended with Balor retaining the belt but in less than dominating fashion. While this may be the end of their feud for now (its been going on for the best part of the last six months) it made both men look great and cemented Samoa Joe as a monster heel in WWE circles that can wrestle and fight like few others.

Finn Balor retains the NXT Championship

Finn Balor retains the NXT Championship

While Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn certainly was the show’s centerpiece and highlight, it would be hard to argue with the overall quality of the whole show (with the arguable exception of Corbin/Aries).

This has set WrestleMania weekend off on a real high point that I think will please the dedicated fans more than the big show itself, though of course the product of both is vastly different, but no matter how you look at it, I’d be very surprised if anything this weekend comes close to Zayn and Nakamura.

YEAOH!

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NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way

nxt takeover logoI don’t usually do full reviews for pro-wrestling events, preferring to ‘live’ tweet them as I watch over at @TomGirard, but as this is my first proper taste of NXT I thought it would be worth it.

Coming in, I had heard all the hype about NXT being where the best of WWE’s output now is and, for the most part, its hard to disagree as this show combines the small arena vibe of an indie show with the high budget and high concept that has become WWE’s trademark along with some great in ring action.

Onto the actual show and its all action straight from the get go, as the NXT Tag Team Championship is defended by The Ascension against Sin Cara (mk.2) and Kalisto. As the luchadores come to the ring, with a great reaction from the crowd, we get a nice quick recap of their tournament wins to get here before the Ascension come out looking every part the big, tough, mysterious guys they want to.

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

The match itself is pretty non-stop with the big guy heels getting to show some power, but the lion’s share of the impressive moments going to Sin Cara and Kalisto with a bunch of high-flying offence you’d expect from a lucha-gimmicked team.

It was also nice to hear the masked men get some mic time and good to see Sin Cara (or Hunico as I guess this now is) getting some good time to work and not just get squashed or ridiculed.

This was a great way to start the show with action throughout and set up exactly why NXT has been so hyped for a newcomer like me. It also saw the first of a few botches of the night but none were really so much as to detract and mostly came off as the guys trying to impress rather than sloppiness or laziness like botches on the ‘main roster’ often appear.

Next was the first of four promo packages focusing on the guys in the titular main event of the show. All four of these do an excellent job of hyping both the match and the wrestlers letting us know who they are, what they do and why this is an important match for each of them, while not giving away so much we know what’s going to happen in the match.

Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin

The second match is the first squash of the night with the debuting Baron Corbin destroying CJ Parker in seconds. Corbin seemed over and Parker looked interesting but as the match was two moves long it was hard to get much out of it, other than Corbin sure has a look, but it will be interesting to see what they can do with it.

More main event hype (that is actually making it feel like a ‘main event’) before the hair vs. hair match. With a French team here, a pair of Mexican luchadores earlier, a British champion and the upcoming debut of Kenta, I was amazed at how international the NXT roster feels, especially for WWE who are usually a very ‘USA, USA’ kind of organisation.

The hair vs. hair match itself is ok but the promos before outshine it a bit as Enzo Amore and Big Cass are very over and have something of Shawn Michaels and Diesel to their characters that is good to see again. The match tells a good story and, even if they bottle out a bit on the actual head shaving, it does save us from the often slow, crowd killer moment, of trying to shave someone’s head on live TV.

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Now its time for one of the big moments of the night as new ‘General Manager’ (and wrestling legend) William Regal comes to the ring to introduce ‘international superstar’ Kenta.

Its clear here, if it wasn’t before that this crowd know their stuff as they give Kenta a great reception, although they quickly seem to tire when he delivers the first half of his promo in Japanese – though I liked that, especially as this was going out live on Japanese TV.

Once he’s speaking English the crowd are back into it though and we find out he’s now going by the name Hideo Itami, an odd choice after hyping Kenta, but I’ll go with it for now. He gets ambushed by The Ascension but then cleans house and physically says, to quote the Undertaker, “this is my yard” and the crowd seem to get the name change with a few Hideo and Itami chants amongst the Kentas. This was a nice segment and got Itami over big, although I’m not sure how good it will be for The Ascension as they just got bested by one guy…

Bull Dempsey's flying headbutt

Bull Dempsey’s flying headbutt

Another squash match next which pretty much just fills the space after Kenta’s appearance but manages to give some heat to Bull Dempsey and show that NXT isn’t afraid to be hard-hitting as some of the shots here look stiff. Then we get a follow-up to the hair vs. hair match with Amore and Cass finding Marcus Louis and revealing his newly shaved head and again being generally entertaining.

Now its time for what the commentators refer to as the first part of the double main event. It’s first mention of that but its nice to hear and generally the commentators are on much better form than I expected – they don’t really call moves a lot but they help tell the story and don’t just talk about Twitter and the Network all the time and having a female voice adds a nice new dynamic too.

Charlotte's moonsault

Charlotte’s moonsault

The match in question is for the NXT Women’s Championship (I was very pleased not to hear Diva’s used in that context) with underdog Bayley going up against the daughter of Ric Flair, Charlotte.

Bayley does a good job playing the enthusiastic underdog, but it was hard to tell whether she’s actually a bit green or was just playing the part, while Charlotte has all the arrogance you’d expect from the offspring of The Nature Boy and clearly got a lot of the wrestling talent from her dad that David didn’t.

The match is good, and up there with the best main roster Diva’s matches I remember seeing in years, so, while it’s not perfect, it is entertaining, has some nice spots and tells a good little story, that builds in the post-match.

And now its time for your main event…

The titular fatal 4 way pitting high-flying face champion Adrian Neville against hard-working face Sami Zayn, arrogant heel Tyler Breeze and comparative veteran heel Tyson Kidd.

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

This is a match of two halves as the first half is something of a boring ‘schmoz’ (thanks OSW review) on the outside of the ring, followed by an extended beat down from Kidd on Zayn. There’re a few good spots here but mostly it drags and had me wondering if these four would pull off a fatal 4 way that could live up to the hype.

Once they properly get back in the ring though it really picks up with Zayn on the receiving end of pretty much everything and building a huge amount of face sympathy from the crowd that is perfectly worked for his character.

With some great spots, including the always scary looking four man superplex/powerbomb from the top rope, the match manages to get all four men over well with signatures moves from each of them, though I felt Breeze lost out a bit compared to the others and the cameras cut away from Zayn’s Helluva (Ole) kick.

Top rope superplex powerbomb

Top rope superplex powerbomb

The ending was equally well done so as not to have anyone come out looking weak while not being a ‘bullshit finish’ and launch a new angle with Zayn and Neville.

With Itami booked for the next NXT show and a bunch of interesting angles being developed here, I certainly intend to keep watching and, while there were a few botches and the squash matches weren’t up to much, this was a much more consistently entertaining show than pretty much any WWE shows so far this year.

Photos by WWE.

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