Saturday, 20 December 2014

NXTweet 18.12.14

Just one week after the excellent Takeover: R Evolution show could the NXT crew put on another top notch night? Of course they could! They’re the best crew in wrestling.

Introduction

Tweet 1: So you want me to tweet about NXT, do you...?
Tweet 2: Straight into the credits. Bit weird. I assumed we'd be reminded of Sami Zayn's #epicwin
Tweet 3: Ahhhhhh... Rich Brennan's talking about it. Maybe they think that's enough.

Adrian Neville promo featuring Kevin Owens

Tweet 4: Subdued, understated even, standing ovation for Adrian Neville. Crowd people expected Zayn.
Tweet 5: Still, it does give us a chance to look at Nev's lovely little Orc ears.
Tweet 6: I say lovely…
Tweet 7: Kevin Owens is going to have to work hard to make people boo him in NXT.

Dramatic camera angle.

Tweet 8: Little recap. Nev wanted to introduce new champ Sami Zayn but can't because Owens injured him.
Tweet 9: Owens wants to get to the top and he'll fight anyone on his way there. Including Nev. Good segment. Simple, clear, logical.

Devin Taylor speaks to Becky Lynch backstage

Tweet 10: Becky Lynch is giving an Oirish promo. Expecting a "fella" an second...
Tweet 11: "... she can see the person that will end her career. Permanently." Because careers can be ended temporarily.
Tweet 12: Regal has apparently confirmed Neville v Owens for the main event. Corey Graves says it's a combustible situation. Must try harder, Corey.

Becky Lynch v Bayley

Tweet 13: "I have a question: I hope that knee is okay" - Lord A-Train, misunderstanding questions
Tweet 14: First Becky was doing an Irish jig and now she's awkwardly acting like a clichéd rocker chick.
Tweet 15: Just noticed we've got Charles Robinson refereeing this match. #littleNaitch
Tweet 16: Not commented on Bayley yet. She's being great, obvs.
Tweet 17: Kind of hoping Robinson busts out a cartwheel when he goes for a count.

New gear. New submission. New day. Just not The New Day...

Tweet 18: Becky has new gear. It's way better than that plaid stuff she had.
Tweet 19: Becky wins with her four-leg clover hold. It's called that because she's Irish!

The Vaudevillains speak to William Regal about getting a tag title rematch

Tweet 20: #Vaudevillainspop
Tweet 21: #Gotchvoicepop
Tweet 22: Legal man storyline in the tag division. You're not getting THAT on the main roster.

Bull Dempsey v Unnamed Jobber

Tweet 23: Bull Dempsey versus a guy in some rather fetching tights. They're green with what I think is a dragon on them.
Tweet 24: Bull finishing matches with the flying headbutt is so lol.
Tweet 25: Because, y'know, Benoit was a thing.

Baron Corbin v Another Unnamed Jobber

Tweet 26: Baron Corbin walking through spotlights on the stage and them flickering off? I'm a massive fan of that.
Tweet 27: Corbin versus Vanilla Ice here.

Natural position for the victim's legs isn't it?

Tweet 28: He should be called Baron Von Corbin. I'd find it funny.
Tweet 29: Laughing so hard at Dempsey giving Corbin a playground push and running off smirking.

Enzo Amore and Big Cass v The Ascension

Tweet 30: You may not be able to teach being "hot as hell" but you can buy it. As Carmella demonstrates.
Tweet 31: Not a natural look, is what I’m saying.
Tweet 32: Big Cass can hold a note. Sing-off with Aiden English. #bookit
Tweet 33: Anyone else spend long winter evenings reminiscing about The Ascension's Game of Thrones phase?
Tweet 34: Konor no-selling has cracked me up.
Tweet 35: Oh noes!! Enzo got pinned while he was trying to impress Carmella.
Tweet 36: Viktor and Konor want another match with Itami and Bálor? Maaaaaan, let the new lads face other people.
Tweet 37: In fairness that rematch will probably be Itami and Bálor beating The Ascension nice and quick before The Ascension go all main roster.

Adrian Neville v Kevin Owens

Tweet 38: You'll be pleased to know the crowd are back into Neville.
Tweet 39: Corey Graves just called Jason Bloom "Albert". Obviously an Attitude Era fan.
Tweet 40: Loving Owens mouthing off mid-match. I was worried that would be stopped in NXT.
Tweet 41: Really enjoying this Kevin Steen v PAC match.
Tweet 42: "I don't know if he's trying to win or beat 'im!" - Lord Bernard
Tweet 43: Neville does his top rope drop kick in a similar way to Finn Bálor. I'm beginning to think it's a British and Irish thing.
Tweet 44: Hammerlock UK thing, bruv.

Jake would be proud.

Tweet 45: Nasty fall off the top rope by Neville. Nastier DDT afterwards.
Tweet 46: I don't know about you but I'm satisfied by that double count out finish. #sarcasm
Tweet 47: Owens sending us home happy with a post-match apron bomb and a roar-screech. Excellent stuff. Good show.

Friday, 19 December 2014

EVOLVE 35 review


It’s tough coming up with introductory paragraphs sometimes. This is one of those times. So let’s just go with the facts. EVOLVE 35 took place at the hub of culture that is the Brooklyn Lyceum on September 14. It took place the night after EVOLVE 34. It featured an unbroadcast (“dark” for those of us who love our “insider jargon”) in which Jesus De Leon beat Donovan Dijak and Shynron. And I’ve only heard of one of those three men before writing that sentence.

Phew! That’s the opening sorted. Let’s get on with the recap.

For the second night in a row babyface Johnny Gargano kicked things off. Also babyface (even though he heelishly attacked Chuck Taylor to break up The Gentlemen's Club) but slightly less popular Drew Gulak was his opponent. The match was a bit of a slow starter, mostly due to the pair's decision to do more mat wrestling than features in the average Gargano match, but it was an interesting change. Once they got going it was a rewarding watch and showed 'The Whole Shebang's' versatility (not that seeing that a wrestler can do things you didn’t know they could necessarily makes a match worth watching). Gargano got the submission win with the Regal stretch.

Su Yung and Mr A rocked up after that to tell Gargano his win over Anthony Nese the previous evening was a fluke. Oh, and that there would be consequences if Gargano helped Rich Swann out again. Gargano tapped out Mr A with the Gargano Escape before retreating as Konley and Nese appeared.

Newcomer Tracy Williams faced Timothy Thatcher in match number two. They matched up nicely, Williams seeming happy to go with Thatcher's blend of joint work and striking. Thatcher was clearly the more popular of the two but Williams made a good first impression. If the roster were to be further fleshed out with guys working the submission style he'd be a fine fit. Thatcher won with a butterfly suplex followed by a Fujiwara armbar.

Match three saw Roderick Strong take on EVOLVE champion Drew Galloway. Despite his promise to be a fighting champion Drew did not put the title on the line. He acknowledged this before the match (after being introduced as Drew McIntyre by Heather Lynn), saying that he respected Strong and wanted to defend the title against him. The referee told him he wasn't allowed to defend the title because it would mess with EVOLVE's new rankings system. It seemed pretty clear this was designed to irritate the crowd, and it worked.

The match started when Roddy jumped Drew to try and get an early win (which, for the record, is how Galloway’s bout the previous evening began). It didn't work, obvs, but it did give the match a much-appreciated brisk start. They brawled around the ring. Strong did some apron-assisted back breaker stuff. Galloway channelled Sheamus, most notably with the ten punched in the ropes spot (which I personally can’t stand). Strong took control with a belly-to-back suplex and began stretching the champ. Galloway surprised him with a Sick kick and a tilt-a-whirl back breaker, moves usually in the Roddy play book.

They exchanged strikes and no-sell techniques before Galloway scored a spinebuster power bomb. Strong came back from that to hit a superplex, running strikes in the corner and an Olympic slam. Galloway survived that and the gutbuster that followed, then grabbed the ropes when he was placed in the Stronghold.

Galloway powered out of the Gibson driver and blasted Strong with a buckle bomb and a lariat. The cradle Tombstone piledriver that he hit after that could, and probably should, have been the finish. Not because what followed was bad, but because the Tombstone is one of the most legitimate match-ending moves you can use. Instead Strong kicked out and got a second Sick kick and a Gibson driver. Galloway kicked out so Strong hit him with another. That was kicked out of too. After they’d exchanged some elbow strikes Galloway used the Sick kick again. Then he got his double arm DDT for the win.

After the match the two shook hands before Strong grabbed the title belt and smacked Galloway with it. It's possible it was the beginning of something significant but not definite. Roddy's character is pretty well established as a guy who does stuff like this from time to time. It doesn't have to mean anything so it probably doesn’t.

Biff Busick versus Zack Sabre Jr looked like something of an awkward prospect on paper. Sabre Jr wrestles a very junior heavyweight style and Busick goes in for the American strong style more than anything else. Happily they worked well with one another. They took the route of hold exchanges, submission holds and occasional strike flurries and high spots that we'd seen in the first two matches of the card but set a brisker pace doing it. Busick won after Sabre Jr passed out in the rear naked choke, but not before he'd managed to escape it a few times. Other highlights of the match were a wonderful high angle kimura and a would "soccer" kick from Sabre Jr and a particularly impressive snap dragon suplex from Busick.

An Open the United Gate championship match followed that. Harlem and Lancelot Bravado defended against AR Fox and Rich Swann and The Premier Athlete Brand unit of Anthony Nese and Caleb Konley. Not that this was the advertised match. Fox cashed-in his "any title match at any time" clause to add himself added to the match alongside Swann. He said something about earning a shot at the Open the Freedom Gate title at a later date but I couldn't make out specifics because of the poor audio system. Just to make things worse Fox then broke the microphone.

It would be unfair to call the match a spot-fest because there was psychology on display. It was very heavy on big spots though. I’ll concentrate on them. Fox hit a series of dives onto all of his opponents. Swann tried to do the same but got caught by Moose, who power bombed him into Fox. Swann was isolated and worked over by heel teams. After a couple of minutes he fought them off with a pair of Lethal Injections. Moments after that he scored a Springboard Codebreaker before being given the buckle bomb-enziguri combo move by the Bravados.

Harlem tried to German suplex Nese but ‘The Premier Athlete’ landed on his feet and gave the champion a double stomp. The action moved to the apron, where Harlem recovered and gave Konley off the apron onto Nese. From there everyone brawled awkwardly to a spot beneath a gantry so that AR Fox could do a “balcony” dive. The audience loved it. I thought it was good, but I would like to point out that it’s not 1999 anymore. Guys shouldn’t be doing such risky moves in front of small crowds. If it’s going to be done do it on a bigger show.

The first team eliminated were the Bravados when Fox got a rollup as they tried to give him the Gentlemen’s Agreement (which I’m aware sounds filthy but whatevs). Naturally the brothers were unhappy with that turn of events so they attacked Fox and successfully gave him the Agreement, while the Brand gave Swann a kicking outside the ring. Moose stepped in the way of the Brand getting their hands on the Bravados but got smashed with a spinning heel kick by Mr A.

The Bravados finally left and Fox sold the “mugging” for a bit. Swann kicked out of Nese’s one arm buckle bomb and Konley's Death Valley bomb so they gave him a double team move: a pump handle (Nese) and neck breaker (Konley) at the same time. Obviously Swann had to kick out of that too. Because he’s just so darn resilient.

Su Yung chose that moment to provide a distraction, tottering up onto the apron and shouting at Swann. She ended up taking an enziguri intended for Nese.

Konley halted a Lo Mein Pain attempt on Nese and took out Fox with an insane Death Valley bomb onto the apron. Nese then got a 450 on Swann for the win and the titles, ending a great match.

The crowd chanted "EVOLVE" after the match. I thought that was a nice touch. It's not a promotion that gets the name chant treatment all too often.

The main event saw Ricochet defend the Open the Freedom Gate championship against Uhaa Nation. After some stalling and posing the match got underway with Uhaa quickly grabbing the initiative, the story being that he not only had the obvious size and strength advantage but also the speed advantage. He hit a very high back body drop, a belly-to-belly, and a gut wrench before slapping on a sleeper to tire ricochet out early. Ricochet avoided the moonsault to the outside and hit the challenger with a springboard Shooting Star Press then began targeting his leg.

Several minutes passed before Nation managed to fire back properly. After a clothesline and a big(ger) boot he flattened Ric' with a cross body from the second rope and then floored him with a spinebuster. He missed a corner splash allowing Ricochet to attempt a Benadryller. He wasn't strong enough so he gave Uhaa an Ace crusher and a standing 450 instead.

Moments later a Ricochet springboard attempt was halted by an enziguri. He followed that up by suplexing the champ from the apron back into the ring via the second rope. Because power!

Ricochet slipped out of gorilla press and went for the Regalplex. Uhaa escaped and German suplexed Ricochet, who landed on his feet and got a northern lights suplex and a brainbuster then a top rope SSP for two. He once again tried the Benadryller. This time he managed to pick Uhaa up but found the kick to the head blocked. Uhaa fired back with two power bombs, a pop-up and a sitdown, for two. Scooping Ricochet up he started the Uhaa combination but Ricochet pulled him down to the mat and applied a leg submission before he could finish the sequence. Uhaa got to the ropes and the pair returned to their feet to trade punches and uppercuts.

Ricochet faked a super kick, causing Uhaa to cover his head (something which tends to annoy me because guys never got to block super kicks). The created an opening for Ricochet to kick Uhaa's knee, but Uhaa stayed on his feet and grabbed Ricochet for a Tombstone. Uhaa went for a splash. Ricochet rolled away, dropped him with an enziguri and rushed to the top rope. There he hit a 630 splash to retain the championship.

After the match, which was a belter, Uhaa handed the title to Ricochet and they slapped hands. Ricochet cut a show-closing promo which was incredibly muffled. The gist seemed to be that we should carry on buying iPPVs and going to shows. Fair enough.

EVOLVE 35 (and 34 for that matter) continued the trend of rejigging, elevating new names and preparing things for future events. Of particular note on that last point was the conflict between The Premier Athlete Brand and Johnny Gargano, which I suspect will come to head at the WrestleMania weekend shows, perhaps in a tag title match pitting The Brand against Gargano and Swann. It will also be interesting to see where the whole thing with the referees being zealous about adhering to rankings system goes.

Overall, it was another successful weekend for EVOLVE.

***

Results summary:
Johnny Gargano def Drew Gulak
Timothy Thatcher def Tracy Williams
Drew Galloway def Roderick Strong
Biff Busick def Zack Sabre Jr
The Premier Athlete Brand def The Bravados and Rich Swann and AR Fox for the Open the United Gate championship
Ricochet def Uhaa Nation

Thursday, 18 December 2014

EVOLVE 34 review


Back in September EVOLVE returned to New York City for its thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth shows. This was necessitated by the lack of available Dragon Gate stars (due to Visa issues, apparently), something which had plagued the company since WrestleMania weekend in April. That’s something that’s still effecting them at time of writing, and judging by the line-up of announced WWN shows over next year’s WrestleMania it’s an issue that doesn’t seem likely to be sorted out any time soon.

Booker Gabe Sapolsky has worked well within these limitations. Across the August weekend of shows (including EVOLVEs 31, 32 and 33) he fleshed out his roster of “home” stars and started to work at building up some new names to replace the imports he can’t access. A logical thing to do and something he continued across these shows.

EVOLVE 34 kicked off with a Johnny Gargano promo in which he officially became a face again. He claimed he’d had a moment of clarity at EVOLVE 32 when Konley said he wasn't the man he once was. He acknowledged he’d gone mental while Open the Freedom Gate champion and said he understood that and regretted it. He’d asked to open every card over the weekend as a penance for his behaviour, because wrestling logic. In fact Gargano being in both openers was a good idea. It ensured a significant name kicking off each card.

Surprisingly Anthony Nese, Su Yung, Mr A and Trent Baretta (on crutches because of his broken leg) didn’t offer an opinion on Gargano’s revived good guy persona. They simply walked out and posed a bit before Nese got ready to wrestle. I was a bit disappointed. I’d hoped one of them would diss Gargano a bit so he could make some generic sexist comments to Su Yung.

The match was the ideal opener. It featured two guys the fans wanted to react to, was worked fast. and included lots of signature spots to keep the crowd rowdy. ‘The Whole Shebang’ won after a blistering series of kicks, rolling through a one arm power bomb to get a schoolboy.

The Brand hit the ring after that. Gargano smacked Konley but then got smacked himself by Mr A. Rich Swann dashed out to return the favour from EVOLVE33 and took out Mr A and Trent Baretta then grabbed Su Yung. Naturally she was saved by Nese. Gargano brawled backstage while Swann lay limp on the floor. He was helped backstage by a referee, selling that he’d been knocked loopy by the Brand’s attack.

Zack Sabre Jr versus Timothy Thatcher was match number two. The crowd gave the pair a "British wrestling!" chant to begin with, even though Thatcher has himself announced from Sacramento before matches. Another British note: Canterbury was referred to as a suburb of London. This is in no way true.

The match was heavy on holds and counter holds. Arm locks were the order if the day. It was a satisfying match that did a good job of showcasing both men. That said it would have been nice to see Sabre Jr perform some of the flying moves he’s capable of, to add some variety and alter the story a little. Sabre Jr won with a particularly vicious armbar and some kicks to the head and shoulders.

The first ever meeting of Roderick Strong and Uhaa Nation was next. The early going was characterised by Roddy bring a prick, taking cheap shots and mocking Uhaa's posing. He was the first to get the advantage for an extended period, shoving Uhaa from the turnbuckle to the floor after using the referee as a distraction. He targeted Uhaa’s arm and neck, peculiar considering his signature submission hold is a high angle Boston crab.

Uhaa caught Strong as he attempted a cross body and gave him a fall away slam to start his comeback. He followed up with a belly-to-belly, rolling Germans, and an Asai moonsault off the apron. Uhaa missed a top rope splash and took a series of forearms in the corner and a jumping knee in the middle of the ring. Strong got a gut buster and tried a hurricanrana but Uhaa turned it into a sitdown power bomb.

Uhaa got the better of a punch exchange so Roddy hit a Sick kick, a Gibson driver and then applied the Stronghold. Uhaa forced a break with the ropes. Roddy might have won there had he softened up Uhaa when he’d had the chance. What a mug! Uhaa performed his ever impressive Uhaa Combination for the three count to win a very good match.

A non-title came next, Open the Freedom Gate champion Ricochet facing Caleb Konley. It was actually one of the match I as most looking forward to seeing. Konley was one of the guys selected to have his standing in the company beefed in the absence of Dragon Gate stars and I think he’s done a great job with everything he’d been given.

The early going got over the fact that Konley had Ricochet scouted, countering his regular moves and getting in more of his own than would have been expected. It didn’t last: Ricochet turned the tide with an axe kick and a springboard clothesline. He tried a Regalplex but Konley fought out and floored him with an enziguri, then countered the running Ace crusher and nailed the champ with a bridging German suplex. Ricochet scored an alarm clock and a running SSP for two. He followed up with a floatover Northern suplex then a release suplex. ‘The Obsession’ countered the kick of the Benadryller and gave Ricochet the Regalplex, one of Ricochet’s own preferred moves. That got him a two count and momentarily riled the audience. Ricochet avoided the double jump moonsault. Konley escaped the Benadryller and got a Death Valley bomb for a convincing near fall.

‘Mr High Fly’ hit a springboard 450 but Konley kicked out again, surprising the audience. Ricochet went for a top rope springboard but Konley sprang to his feet and caught him, giving him a Death Valley bomb from the top rope to earn the clean pinfall victory. Another contributing factor to the elevation of Konley.

After that Heather Lynn introduced AR Fox to the ring. She reminded the audience he had the right to book himself in any match he wanted once he's recovered from injury. He ran down his DG USA and EVOLVE credentials (first ever EVOLVE champ, former Style Battle winner, and a former Open the United Gate champ) and said he wanted the Freedom Gate belt. Fox versus Ricochet would have been great but it wasn’t to be.

What we got instead was the Bravados brothers wandering out. They took exception to Fox saying he was one of the best United Gate champs ever. Subpar mic work followed, ending with the Bravados introducing Moose for an impromptu match with Fox.

Moose hit some power moves. Fox sold the arm and did some flying. It didn't go very long so they were able to string some spots together for a decent match. Unsurprisingly, with it being his comeback match, Fox won. But only by DQ: Lance Bravado interfered just as ‘The Whole Foxin’ Show’ was about to hit Lo Mein Pain. They gave Fox a Gentlemen's agreement before The Colony made the save, taking us into the Open the United Gate match.

It was a standard Bravados match. Lots of cheap heat, particularly in the form of mask-tugging. That actually led to the Bravados win. As Harlem was trapped in the CHIKARA Special Lancelot grabbed Silver Ant's mask, forcing him to break the hold and allowing legal man Harlem to roll Silver Ant up with a schoolboy. The match was decent enough but unspectacular.

That just left the EVOLVE champion Drew Galloway to defend his prize against Rich Swann. The story going in was that Swann was injured from earlier in the night and Galloway didn't want to defend against him at less than one hundred per cent. Swann insisted on the match because it was his first time getting a chance at a singles championship in either EVOLVE or DG USA.

Swann tried to get the match finished early, jumping Drew at the bell and going for a series of flash pins. Drew put a stop to that with a stiff strike and spent several minutes muscling the challenger around. But he did the "I don't want to do this" routine to remind everyone that, hey, he's a babyface!

After several minutes Swann managed to get a hurricanrana, a DDT, and a tope. Galloway turned a cross body into a back breaker but Swann kicked out at two. Galloway attempted his double arm DDT but Swann countered into a pin for a close two then cracked out a super kick for another.

By this point the crowd were going crazy, perhaps believing a title change was on the cards. Galloway avoided a 450 and booted Swann in the face, sending him rolling out of the ring. At which point the PAB wandered out to stand over Swann and gloat. Galloway wiped them out with a tope and then gave Swann a cradle Tombstone piledriver back in the ring. Swann still wouldn't stay down, giving the crowd a surprise by kicking out just before the three count. He went for the Lethal Injection but Galloway countered it into a sleeper, which quickly became a rear naked choke. That proved the final straw for the referee who, tired of seeing Swann suffer, ended the match in Galloway’s favour.

Galloway closed the show with a promo. He said Swann deserved a rematch and then put over the fans and EVOLVE. The standard stuff really. As by-the-numbers as the ending was the show itself was top notch. The opener, Konley Ricochet, and the EVOLVE title match were all terrific and while nothing else stood out as being particularly great nothing was actively bad. It was well put together and well-paced, and everyone gave it their all. You can’t ask for more than that.

***

Results summary:
Johnny Gargano def Anthony Nese
Zack Sabre Jr def Timothy Thatcher
Uhaa Nation def Roderick Strong
Caleb Konley def Ricochet
AR Fox def Moose via disqualification
The Bravado Brothers def The Colony
Drew Galloway def Rich Swann

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ring of Alberto

Last Friday Ring of Honor made the surprise announcement that Alberto El Patron, formerly WWE’s Alberto Del Rio, would be appearing for them in 2015. So far he’s been confirmed for the January 3 television taping, the 13th Anniversary Show on March 1, and a pair of house shows in between. I would assume he’ll make an appearance or two in February too.

With or without further appearances this is a big coup for ROH. El Patron himself stated a few weeks prior to the announcement that he wanted to work for multiple US-based promotions with a television presence, naming Lucha Underground and TNA. It made sense that those companies would go for such a deal. Lucha Underground is based around the lucha style that Patron is familiar with and TNA is a company with a noted predilection for former WWE wrestlers. That ROH were the ones to procure Alberto’s services says a lot about the state of TNA, and ROH’s willingness to open the chequebook for the right name.

I’m interested in the logistics of Alberto’s new deals. While I can imagine Lucha Underground and ROH would be willing to cooperate on their use of El Patron it seems unlikely they’d be comfortable with him appearing for both at the same time. My guess is that Alberto will flit between the two throughout the year, doing a stint of a few months before leaving for the other league.

But for now all that’s confirmed is his deal with Ring of Honor. There’s a good chance he could bring some new fans in with him thanks to years of exposure in WWE (a number of which were spent at the top of the card) and I’m sure that’s a factor in why ROH have signed him. But that’s not all they’ll have signed him for. ROH still prides itself on being a company where wrestling ability comes first. And Alberto has ability.

El Patron pointing. Classic stuff.
That said I can imagine tweaks being made to his repertoire. His signature moves from WWE are taken in ROH. O'Reilly uses the armbreaker, while the super kick and the back cracker are general transition moves used by anyone and everyone. Seeing him upgrade his move set will be part of the experience of seeing him in a fresh setting.

El Patron versus pretty much anyone on the ROH roster could be good but there are a handful of guys I’m particularly interested in seeing him face. I imagine AJ Styles would top most lists, a pairing many would probably label a “dream match.” They could have a cracking match, particularly if they took the cross armbreaker versus Calf Killer route.

He could have a solid match with Roderick Strong too. They’re not entirely dissimilar in terms of character. One may be a Mexican aristocrat and the other a frat boy, but they both have a degree of arrogance to them that could blend nicely.

El Patron versus Michael Elgin could have a great climactic exchange of signature moves. It's a strength of Big Maggle's. The combination of Alberto’s new moves and a few of his WWE ones (which could be deployed in select longer matches) should give him quite an arsenal to draw on. It would be nice to see a babyface Alberto against stocky heel Elgin too. I think it would be an interesting dynamic.

Personally the match I’d most like to see is El Patron versus Kyle O'Reilly. As Del Rio he worked as much of an MMA inspired style as was realistically possible. I expect he'll go further with it now he's working elsewhere. It's something O'Reilly already does, and does well. The two could do a really good strong style submission match.

Then there are guys like ACH, Matt Sydal,  Bobby Fish, Jay Lethal and Adam Cole. All of them could have a good match with Alberto. As could ROH champion Jay Briscoe. In fact I’d go as far as to say that ROH should strongly consider El Patron v Briscoe for the main event of their anniversary show. It’s easy to imagine Briscoe interrupting El Patron’s debut promo to say he wants to be challenged by the best before offering the newcomer  a March 1 title shot.

Whatever Ring of Honor end up going with it’s good to see them get a signing of this level. They put on a good product and deserve someone with that extra bit of star power. In TNA he’d have been ruined within months. In ROH he can help attract new eyes and wrestle matches suited to his style. Works for me.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Tables, Ladders, Chairs... and Stairs 2014 review

This year's TLC had a tough time of it. Not only did it feature a bevy of matches that didn't follow logically from the previous month's supershow, it also came just three days after NXT's Takeover: R Evolution event (a review of which can be found here). That may have been presented as a lowly Network special featuring developmental talent but it was the best WWE show of the year. Comparisons between the two events are inevitable. Sadly, it was also inevitable that TLC wouldn't measure up.

Following a pre-show on which Big E and Kofi Kingston defeated The Dust Brothers the supercard (which Michael Cole described as WWE's version of a demolition derby) officially kicked off with the Intercontinental championship ladder match. Dolph Ziggler, as the hometown boy, got a massive ovation and immediate chants of "Let's go Ziggler!" at the bell. It helped Harper get some heat too.

Four time IC champ Dolph Ziggler.
The match didn't reach the heights of the famed Razor Ramon v Shawn Michaels ladder clashes or Hardys, Dudleys and Edge and Christian spot-fests but it was a great choice for the opener. They spent the opening minutes throwing ladders at each other, gradually progressing to more impressive stunts. Highlights included a Harper suicide dive (which came close to breaking Harper's arm), a Ziggler drop kick onto a ladder, a Harper power bomb onto a ladder, a ladder-assisted pendulum by Harper, a Ziggler X Factor onto a ladder (which pretty much confirms Ziggler wants a monopoly on all signature moves of former DX members), Harper busting out the Terry Funk special, and, finally, a super kick from one ladder to another by Ziggler. That last was enough to stun Harper long enough for 'The Show Off' to grab the belt for his fourth reign. Both men left bloodied and bruised. They did everything they could to give us a worthwhile match.

The Usos pulled an Owen Hart after that and carried their Slammy awards (for tag team of the year, believe it or not) with them to the ring. They lacked Owen's charm though. Miz pulled the same trick, carrying Damien Mizdow's prestigious LOL Moment of the Year Slammy. Mizdow had a toy version, natch.

As you'd expect the focus of the match was, for the most part, on the antics of Damien Mizdow. ‘The A-Lister’ effectively wrestled a handicap, freeing Mizdow up to lark about and give people what they wanted. Naturally this extended to 'The Awesome One' teasing a tag to Mizdow which he had no intention of making.

Eventually Miz decided he wanted to leave. After grabbing his titles (and his stuntman’s Slammy) Miz sacrificed Mizdow to an Uso dive and then lamped the Uso with a title belt. Yes, they went for a DQ finish and Mizdow never tagged in. This aside it was a decent enough match.

Backstage Seth Rollins recapped The Authority's removal from power and dedicated his match to them. He also mentioned Sting and said he wouldn't leave Cena be until Triple H and Stephanie were reinstated. I imagine this will turn out to be foreshadowing rather than generic heel rambling.

Quality took a dip after that. After the commentary team took a ridiculous look at the "anatomy" of ring steps we were treated to Big Show v Erick Rowan. In, yes, the first ever stairs match. It may very well be the last ever too. Basically it was a stunt match in the vein of table and ladder efforts. But with stairs. As stairs are heavier than chairs and nowhere near as flimsy as WWE’s tables there was little that could be done with them. All the lads managed to muster up was wedging them between ring ropes, stacking them up, and placing them on the announce table. They gingerly bumped into them and the audience got bored. Show won when he used the stairs to pin Rowan down to the mat.

Surprisingly it was the Rollins versus Cena tables match that that followed. Mercury and Noble accompanied Rollins to the ring, allowing their man to control the first several minutes fairly easily with copious interference. Cena, being Cena, got tired of that quickly and disposed of them with a suplex onto a guardrail and, less dramatically, an AA into the timekeeper's corner. That left just the two men officially in the match. Rollins immediately set up tables at ringside and tried to suplex Cena through them. Cena countered and suplexed him back into the ring. Rollins hit a standing Sliced Bread and tried to whip Cena through a table propped up in the corner. Predictably Cena halted that and back dropped Rollins out of the ring.

Look at the state of that briefcase.
'Mr Money in the Bank' returned with his briefcase and gave Cena a walloping with it. Cena kicked Rollins in the head as he was bent over mocking the Five Knuckle Shuffle taunt then tried to AA him through a table, accidentally taking out the referee as he did (oh no!). Rollins landed on his feet from the attempted AA, vaulted back over the table and Cena, and hit an enziguri that just happened to send Cena sprawling onto the table. Rollins headed to the top rope for a Curb Stomp but Cena caught him and AAed him through the table.

Cole announced Cena was victorious but (shock!) the ref was still slumped at ringside. Noble and Mercury returned to clean up the broken table and then gave Cena a kicking. Cena quickly escaped a Shield-esque power bomb and put the stooges through a table with a double AA. Seconds later Cena and Rollins locked up on the apron and leapt through a table at ringside. So much for tables matches being a way to give us a decisive winner without anyone doing the job, right?

Two referees showed up to argue about who'd won. Match official Mike Chioda couldn't decide on a winner so he restarted the match, rendering the entire double finish exercise pointless. Cena and Rollins began hammering at each other and spilled out to the commentary desks, where Cena AAed Rollins onto the English table. It didn't break so Cena got back into the ring to setup up yet another table.

Big Show returned to put a stop to that. Then he teased choke slamming Cena through a table. It seemed designed to rub our noses in the fact that Cena and Show would have been natural opponents for this show (see here for more on this). The choke slam didn't happen. Instead ‘The Giant’ was distracted by the music of Roman Reigns, he stormed through the crowd (to a healthy response), cracked Show with a Superman punch and speared him through a table. Rollins got a Superman punch too, then took an AA through a table to give Cena the victory.

As table matches go it wasn't bad. What it lacked in spots it made up for in interference, which is a viable way of making these sorts of things exciting. That said it didn't really do Rollins any favours. Even with The New Stooges and 'The World's Largest Athlete' watching out for him he couldn't get the win. The Reigns interference did little to offset that. He was very portrayed clearly as a man not in Cena's league.

After some pointless babble from Alex Riley and Booker T we were shown Byron Saxton interviewing the Bella twins. Nikki declared AJ was jealous of her. Brie said she was sick of people judging their relationship. Basically they're back together and we need to deal with that. No logical plot developments here. Move along.

Nikki Bella: too fabulous to sweat this match.
Nikki dominated the match. Brie was pretty much a non-factor for the most part, which was a pleasant surprise. The match was dull, with another finish designed to show us Nikki goes for the cheapest win possible: as Brie was being sent backstage (for her first real bit of interference in the match) Nikki pulled a bottle from her sock, sprayed AJ with it, and then hit the Rack Attack. 

Tom Phillips then had a chat with Roman Reigns. ‘The Empire’ stumbled over his words, then briefly forgot his words, then told us he was officially entering the Royal Rumble. If he didn't take acting lessons while he was off he should have done. If he did they didn't have any effect.

The chairs match between Kane and Ryback was boring and clumsy. 'The Big Guy' pinned Kane via Shellshock. That was followed by the United States title match. They didn't go for as long as they did in their Battleground or SummerSlam matches. This was perhaps because it was a rehash and Rusev needed to be shown to have improved since August. He won after Swaggalag passed out in The Accolade.

Then a Royal Rumble ad aired, focusing on the WWE title match that will take place between challenger John Cena and champion Brock Lesnar. Odd considering the match had been confirmed less than an hour before. It's almost like wrestling's fixed.

Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt had the honour of closing the show. For the second month in a row the hype video made the rivalry look far more layered, interesting and entertaining than it has been. WWE's production team earned their money with that one. Ambrose sauntered to the ring with a ladder slung over his arm, a ladder he lobbed at Wyatt as soon as the lights came on after his entrance. They brawled in the aisle, over to the announce area, and into the audience.

They finally entered the ring several minutes into the bout. Ambrose introduced kendo sticks and chairs. Not to be outdone Wyatt punched Ambrose off the top rope through a table set up at ringside, then used the kendo stick himself. In time ladders were used too. But none of it really meant anything. They were progressing through WWE's established hierarchy of weaponry to escalate the stakes but they were doing it because it was expected, not because it made sense for the story the match was telling. This is not to say the pair were going through the motions because they weren't. It's just that they didn't have a sufficient number of ideas for the gimmick and time they had.

One of many elbow drops.
The big tricks (if you can call them that) they had were saved for the final third of the bout. 'The Lunatic Fringe' twice leapt off a ladder to elbow drop Wyatt through a table. Wyatt came back with a flash Sister Abigail back in the ring. Ambrose responded with Dirty Deeds. When that failed Ambrose grabbed Jeff Hardy's Super Tall Ladder™ and propped it up near the announce desks. Wyatt, who'd had several minutes of recovery time, attacked Ambrose with a chair, only to get laid out on the good old Spanish announce desk. Which Ambrose elbow dropped him thorough, obvs.

The ending came straight from the Wacky Finish Handbook. Ambrose rolled Wyatt back into the ring and grabbed a TV monitor which was plugged in beneath the ring (it's standard practice for WWE to have televisions showing their live pay-per-view stashed below the ring according to Maggle Cole). When he ran across the ring with it to thump Wyatt it "shorted out", causing some sparks and a small amount of smoke to puff out near Ambrose's ear. 'The Eater of Worlds' got up and scored with another Sister Abigail for the win.

The match would have benefited from being ten minutes shorter. They didn't have the material to fill half an hour and they couldn't keep the fast pace needed to hold attention for that long. Credit to WWE for putting them on last though.

TLC wasn't awful but it was the worst WWE pay-per-view in a while. Opener aside nothing stood out as particularly good. But it was at least more rewarding than the average RAW, and considering the emphasis WWE place on TV over pay-per-view nowadays that should probably be chalked up as an accomplishment. Coming so soon after Takeover: R Evolution, to which it couldn't measure up, definitely didn’t help either. It makes you wonder why WWE is sticking with the approach that led them to TLC when the approach that led to R Evolution has proven far more creatively satisfying. It's time for them to get out of their rut and so something new. The NXT formula writ large is the way to go.

***

Results summary:
Dolph Ziggler defeated Luke Harper for the Intercontinental championship
The Miz and Damien Mizdow defeated The Usos
Big Show defeated Erick Rowan
John Cena defeated Seth Rollins
Nikki Bella defeated AJ Lee
Ryback defeated Kane
Rusev defeated Jack Swagger
Bray Wyatt defeated Dean Ambrose

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Tables, Ladders, Chairs... and Alternate Universes

At the end of last month’s Survivor Series it looked like things had been set up for an interesting TLC pay-per-view. Looking at the card we’ve ended up with I wonder where it all went wrong. And, to be clear, something definitely has gone wrong, because tonight’s show is not what’s “best for business.” It doesn’t come close to being what’s “best for business.”

I mean, they’re doing John Cena versus Seth Rollins in a tables match, with the stipulation that Cena will lose his world title shot if Rollins wins. I’m sure it will be a decent enough match but there’s little to get excited about with it. The same goes for Harper versus Ziggler. The less said about Kane v Ryback, Big Show v Erick Rowan, and the revival of the Swagger v Rusev feud the better.

This isn’t the worst show WWE could be putting on. But it’s not the best either. I understand that they want to just keep things ticking over until doing the really important stuff at Royal Rumble but they could have done that and presented a better card. Completely disregarding continuity between pay-per-views does nothing for anyone.

Why didn't they give us this beard battle?
Harper and Rowan are the obvious guys to mention at this point. As I’ve written before, they got a promising reception when they squared off with one another at Survivor Series. It made me think that people could be convinced to emotionally invest in a singles match between them, and the exchanges they had made me think they could actually make a match work.

In addition to that both have recently been “set free” by Bray Wyatt, giving them a logical plot reason to clash: they each want to prove they can be the breakout star of that group. Like a sort of sibling rivalry thing, without them being actual siblings. Harper has become one of the go-to heels for WWE since his return. Facing a man of a similar size would have allowed him to demonstrate that he could do something other than throw Dolph Ziggler around and it would have allowed Rowan to progress by association.

It could have been for the Intercontinental title but I think that would have been a step too far. It’s not that Harper’s not a credible champion, but I think the title would be better attached to someone else on the roster. Specifically Ziggler or Rollins. With WWE champion Brock Lesnar absent from television (until he rocks up on RAW after TLC, anyway) the IC champ is the top title holder. That status, emphasised or not, could have helped to boost the standing of Ziggler or Rollins because they’re already positioned as guys close to the top. On Harper the IC title looks like a middle of the card prize. On Ziggler or Rollins it would have been given an enhancement that would have lasted once the WWE championship returned.

There have been plenty of Harper v Ziggler bouts since Survivor Series so it’s obvious WWE isn’t shy about giving us that match. They could have easily had ‘The Show Off’ regain the Intercontinental title in one of those meetings. Done in the right way it could have drawn the Harper v Ziggler series to a close, leaving Ziggler to defend his title against Seth Rollins. In fact it could have even had Rowan interfering, adding to the necessity to have a Harper v Rowan match and keeping Harper strong in defeat. Ziggler v Rollins in a ladder match is a more attractive proposition to pretty much anyone. It would have made both men and the championship mean more, and would have stood more chance of shifting some tickets for the show.

These changes would have left both John Cena and Big Show free. Which is fine, because they were set up as opponents at Survivor Series when ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ punched Cena in the jaw. A Cena v Show match is not the most exciting thing in the world but it would at least have a reason for happening and keep Cena from harming the momentum of a Rollins or a Harper or a Ziggler. They could even have kept the tables match stipulation, which is (I think) a match they’ve never done in any of their many previous meetings.

Better than Kane v Ryback.
Although it wasn’t directly hinted at at any point a Rusev v Ryback match would have made a great deal of sense. Rusev is undefeated and unsubmitted. Since returning at the end of October ‘The Big Guy’ has been (sloppily) pushed as a dominant babyface, similar to his run in 2012. Although Rybers had suffered pinfall losses he was being presented as “back on form” and could have been built up after Survivor Series as a contender to Rusev’s US championship.

In fairness it’s unlikely that a Ryback versus Rusev match would be as good as a Swagger versus Rusev match. But it would be something new for pay-per-view and wouldn’t be such an obvious re-tread of a rivalry wrapped up just four months earlier. Ryback stood a better chance of convincing people he could defeat ‘The Super Athlete’. Swagger has shown that he can’t get the job done.

It’s also worth noting that Rusev doesn’t generally get the credit he deserves for being able to put together a good match. He’s not afraid to sell, his offence is always on target and looking good, and Ryback can, when the stars align, put on a decent showing. They may have been able to do a better match than expected, especially if they’d been afforded a shortcut-enabling chairs match stipulation.

Tag match, playa!
If creative had really wanted to push the boat out they could even have tweaked the Divas scene. Since failing to regain the championship from AJ at Hell in a Cell Paige has done nothing but work a limp series opposite sometimes-face-sometimes-heel Alicia Fox. With the Bellas reuniting (for reasons still not revealed) at Survivor Series a segment could have been set up where the sisters attacked AJ and Paige came out to even the odds. A Bella twins versus Paige and AJ Lee match would have been a far more interesting prospect than another Divas title match added to the show as a token gesture. It would have allowed for some actual story to be injected into the women’s division too, especially with if they’d stuck with AJ and Paige being uneasy allies working against common foes.

The rest of the card seems promising enough without any changes being made. Wyatt and Ambrose being in a TLC match makes sense. The New Day lads clashing with Goldust and Stardust is, if nothing else, a desperately needed fresh match. With a spot free on the main show that match could have been bumped up from the pre-show. The tag title match has had more storyline progression than anything else on the show thanks to the involvement of Naomi. It’s the most admirable thing WWE have done over the last three weeks.

I don’t think this proposed card (summarised below for simplicity and ease) would have been the absolute best thing ever. Nor do I think it would have been the best possible Tables, Ladders, Chairs… and Stairs show possible. But I do think it would have offered more than what WWE have cooked up.

***

Proposed card summary:
Bray Wyatt v Dean Ambrose in a TLC match
Dolph Ziggler v Seth Rollins in a ladder match for the Intercontinental championship
Erick Rowan v Luke Harper
John Cena v Big Show in a tables match
Rusev v Ryback for the United States championship
The Bella twins v Paige and AJ Lee
Damien Mizdow and The Miz v The Usos for the tag team championship
The New Day v Goldust and Stardust

Saturday, 13 December 2014

NXT Takeover: R Evolution review


There’s something depressing about watching the NXT Network specials, of which this is the fourth. They’re good. Really good. Arguably the best shows WWE has promoted all year. And what’s depressing about that is that it shows that there are people within WWE who know how to create interesting characters that work in the wrestling environment, script wrestling in the long term, and structure a show to give matches time to breathe and make them mean something, yet none of this knowledge is ever utilised when putting RAW or SmackDown together. It’s frustrating.

R Evolution is the best of the four specials. By now WWE have had time to work out what works on them and what doesn’t, and they’ve moved away from including main roster talent. It’s clear that the NXT roster is trusted enough at this point to put on a great show by themselves, which is nice to see. And it makes for a more satisfying, self-contained experience.

The show kicked off with a great video package in which everyone featured on the show (bar The Ascension for some reason) talked about taking over. It was the general “Our time is now” sort of thing you’d expect, but done in an effective, enjoyable way, and not overstaying its welcome.

That video was heavy on Kevin Owens, who made his in-ring debut in the show’s opening match. He got a huge “Fight, Owens, fight!” chant as soon as the crowd saw his name flash up on the screen, which was heartening. The commentary team, here consisting of Rich Brennan, Alex Riley and Corey Graves (who announced after the first match that he’d retired on doctors’ orders but would be staying with WWE as a commentator), talked up Owens’ fourteen year journey to WWE. Because of peculiar company policies they didn’t acknowledge where he’d been on this journey, but it’s still something that they mentioned how much time he’s dedicated to getting signed by WWE.

The match was fairly one-sided in favour of Owens. He smashed CJ Parker’s sign (this evening reading “My fight matters”) and hit a senton dive to the outside. After taking a palm strike and a few other basic moves Owens got the win with a fisherman’s neck breaker and a pop-up power bomb.

Backstage, Adrian Neville was shown stretching and prepping for his match. This was accompanied by an insert of him saying he wouldn’t take responsibility for the scenario Zayn had created for himself, a promise that he’d leave NXT if he failed to win the championship on the show. Neville’s reasoning was that he needed to think about his own career, and he had to show he could beat Zayn to continue to be considered a top prospect for advancement to WWE proper.

Match number two was the tag team title match, champions The Lucha Dragons defending against The Vaudevillains. Sin Cara and Kalisto were decked out in gold gear. Because they were the champs, presumably. The match started off with some high-flying offence from the Dragons, Gotch being isolated for the first couple of minutes.  When he made the tag English slipped out of the ring and tugged Cara underneath the bottom rope to sling him to the floor, earning himself a "That was manly!" chant, one of the most amusing of the night.

Gold Dragons. Because... ahhhhhh, you get it.
The challengers remained in control for a longer stretch, before Kalisto managed to tag back in. The crowd were into his high flying clean-up but not as much as they could have been. I suspect that was because Gotch and English were the more over team despite being cast as the bad guys. The Dragons wiped out English with a pair of dives, Gotch avoiding them at the last moment. He immediately grabbed Kalisto and got him back into the ring to attempt one final, match-winning move. It backfired on him. Kalisto hit him with a Salida del Sol for the win.

That was followed by a Baron Corbin squash win over Tye Dillinger. In deference to the fact that Dillinger is a pseudo-featured performer on NXT Corbin was not permitted to continue his streak of twenty “second” victories. He instead beat him with snake eyes, a big boot, and End of Days in about forty seconds or so.

The most notable thing about the match was Bull Dempsey applauding at ringside after Corbin had won. They spent a lot of time staring at each other. Then Corbin left. Then he came back and they stared a bit more. I’m into the build-up to their eventual match in a big way, but even I found this much staring unnecessary. Although it was a bit erotic.

Sami Zayn was shown in a locker room, staring into space. That was presumably meant to be him mentally preparing for his title shot in the main event. Enzo and Big Cass showed up and offered him some water. He declined. In an insert Zayn talked about taking away the safety net with his promise to leave and stated he wanted to be the NXT champion before progressing to the main roster. It was a good speech, making it clear that the championship means something to Zayn, which in turn made the match with Neville mean more.

Up next was The Ascension v Hideo Itami and Finn Bálor. Itami had some new, vaguely Goku-esque, ring gear. Bálor topped that with ease. He did one of the elaborate, face paint entrances he’d been doing in the few months before he signed with WWE. Here he crawled to the ring painted up like Carnage (though with enough difference to avoid any sort of legal action) with dreadlocks. I assume it was part of the plague demon thing he mentioned in relation to the Bálor name. It was nice to see him allowed to do this in WWE. I’d hoped they’d let him do it for special occasions (like these live Network shows and pay-per-views) but hadn’t gotten my hopes up. It’s nice to see them trying something that is clearly out of their comfort zone. And good work to Bálor for pulling it off and making himself stand out. It was one of the many highlights of the show.

Bálor and Itami controlled the match for several minutes, kicking The Ascension around and generally showing that they’re a pair of hard cases. A flapjack from Konor turned the tide and Itami was isolated. That led to lots of kicks, punches and sleepers. This went on for some time, but they kept things lively with some good hope spots for Itami. One saw Hideo fingertips away from making a tag as he was held in a bear hug. Another saw Konor chucked out of the ring by Itami where he yanked Bálor from the apron just before Itami reached him.

Eventually Itami did make the tag. Bálor took care of both guys, hitting the pair with a tope, giving Konor a stiff kick, and going for a double stomp on Viktor. He moved out of the way so Bálor hit him with a brainbuster inverted DDT. Konor made the save but Itami appeared to throw him out of the ring. Viktor got an STO on Bálor and Itami again appeared to stop the count.

Definitely not Carnage.
Seconds later the audience erupted when Itami hoisted Viktor up nto his shoulders for a Go 2 Sleep. That was followed by massive boos as Konor helped his tag partner escape. They setup for The Fall of Man on Bálor but Itami pulled Konor out of the ring, leaving Viktor to attempt his clothesline part of the move alone. Bálor ducked and hit a Pele kick. Itami returned to the ring with a drop kick, and then the pair hit stereo double stomps onto both Konor and Viktor with Bálor pinning Viktor for the win.

It was a good match. It’s easy to praise Itami and Bálor. They don’t have the reputations they do for nothing. What deserves attention is how well The Ascension worked together as a team. They’ve learned how to work as a big, bruising tag team that knows how to isolate people. If WWE had a better stocked tag division I’d say their upcoming promotion to the main roster seemed promising. But that’s not the case, so we instead just have to hope they can survive together.

In the back Renee Young asked Roman Reigns what he was doing at an NXT show. He said he wanted to see an awesome show, especially the main event. Yeah, because Reigns is all about great wrestling. He also announced his goal is to be the first NXT alum to win the WWE championship. I know he meant the current, developmental version of NXT, but it still needs pointing out that Daniel Bryan debuted on the original NXT format and he’s a three-time champ. Unlucky, Reigns.  

The video that preceded the Sasha Banks v Charlotte women’s title match saw Charlotte telling us that she's genetically superior and Banks saying Charlotte is genetically basic. Both are heel statements, but because Charlotte’s dad is Ric Flair her comments were taken as those of a babyface. Sasha also claimed that she taught Charlotte everything but that she’d kept a few tricks in reserve. Naturally Charlotte refuted this. Set to highlights of their interactions since Takeover II (though strangely omitting their time together as part of the BFFs) it was a great video.

You can tell this is a grudge match because Sasha's using Charlotte's move.
Sasha started out aggressively, shoving Charlotte and giving her some chops before taking several in return. Sasha came back with a very technical throw into the steel stairs. Then she worked targeted the champ’s abdomen, including a great back stabber into a straitjacket dragon sleeper. Then she switched things up and used Charlotte’s own figure four headlock.

Charlotte powered her way to her feet and fell back to give Charlotte an electric chair drop. Sasha was the first to her feet but Charlotte was the first to go on offence with chops and a neck breaker. Sasha threw her outside and hit a suicide dive.

They traded blows before Charlotte gored Sasha with a big spear. ‘The Nature Girl’ went for the traditional figure four, the one on the legs, but found the it reversed into a small package by Sasha for a count of two. Sasha got a neck breaker. Charlotte went for a moonsault, landed on her feet as Banks rolled out of the way, and hit a senton splash for two of her own. Charlotte attempted to his a Razor’s Edge but Sasha escaped and sent her face first into the turnbuckle. ‘The Boss’ tried to hit the champ with a superplex but was pushed off and hit with Natural Selection, putting her down for the three count.

As is generally the case with women’s matches in NXT, this far surpassed anything the Divas have done on the main roster all year. Both Banks and Charlotte continue to improve as performers. I’m sure both would love to get onto the main roster and start working RAW and pay-per-views because that’s what signifies progression in WWE. From a creative perspective they’re better off in NXT. There they get to wrestle lengthy, satisfying matches for a title that means something.

The story going into the main event was that NXT champion Adrian Neville was convinced Sami Zayn couldn't win “the big one” and that Zayn was seemingly beginning to doubt himself. They reminded us of his losses to Cesaro and Bo Dallas and Neville saving the title for himself at Takeover II by pulling the referee from the ring as Zayn seemingly had their four-way match won. It was a vvery effective reminder of their history with one another.

The audience was not into Neville as the match began. He received a scattering of boos when he entered and outright hostility when he was introduced. By contrast Zayn was the most over man on the show. Everyone wanted to see him finally win the championship.

They started off evenly exchanging holds. Zayn was the first to score a big move several minutes in when he hit a back breaker and followed with his seated moonsault to the outside. Nev slowed the pace down with a rear chin lock and knee strikes. When he only got a two count off a drop kick he had a word with the referee. Apparently he felt a drop kick was enough to put Zayn away, even though it’s no longer 1985.

Doesn't Neville's hair look exciting in this picture.
Zayn hit a clothesline and a drop kick of his own when Neville turned around, then blasted him with a suicide dive. He went for what I suspect we were meant to think was a brainbuster but Neville countered it and the pair went through a series of reversals, culminating with Zayn catching Neville in mid-air and giving him a Blue Thunder bomb.

The champion came back with a jaw breaker and a running uppercut, followed by a German Suplex and a sitdown power bomb. When Zayn kicked out of that Neville started blasting him with forearms. That fired Zayn up and the pair traded blows, Zayn getting the better of the exchange when he walloped Neville with a lariat.

Zayn missed the Helluva kick, hit the turnbuckle full force, and slumped down to the mat. This left him in perfect position for a Red Arrow. Neville went for it but met Zayn’s knees on impact, and then found himself put in the Koji Clutch. That was met with loud chants of “Tap!” Neville didn’t. Instead he put his foot on the rope to force a break.

Sami went for an Exploder suplex but Neville dead-weighted him and got a small package. Zayn’s kick out sent Neville up into the air and onto the referee. Being a caring guy Zayn checked the referee to see if he was okay. When he turned around he was super kicked in the face and given a reverse hurricanarana. He kicked out for a very good false finish.

Zayn took forearms, ducked kick and hit two rolling German suplexes and a half Nelson suplex. It was around this point he started loudly using expletives that were edited out of the broadcast, which someone would definitely have had a word with him about. ‘The Pride of Montreal’  went for another Helluva kick but Nev left the ring. Zayn followed him and did the dive through the ropes tornado DDT. Back in the ring he finally got the Helluva kick but Neville pulled the referee in front of him as he took it. Nev again left the ring as Zayn tended to the ref.

When the champion returned it was with his title belt. Zayn booted him and he dropped it. That gave Zayn the chance to pick up the belt and take the easy way out, a guaranteed title victory. The audience gave a booming chant of “No!” as Sami went back and forth on what to do. Ultimately he turned around and dropped the belt outside the ring. But that left him open to a schoolboy from Neville.

Zayn just kicked out for another searing two count. Back on their feet the challenger nailed the champion with a corner Exploder suplex and another Helluva kick before finally pinning him the middle of the ring to win the title.

Within minutes a random assortment of lads and lasses from the locker room had wandered down to the ring to congratulate Zayn on his victory. Most prominent among them were Enzo and Big Cass (presumably because they’re the most over guys on the roster not booked for the show) but Hideo Itami, Solomon Crowe, Kalisto, Sin Cara, Pat Patterson, and, of course, Kevin Owens were also among the group. The long-time friendship between Owen and Zayn was acknowledged.

After a few minutes Neville, who had been slumped dejectedly in a corner, returned to his feet. He continued teasing a full blown heel turn and kicked Zayn’s hand away when he offered it for a handshake. But then he gave him a hug instead and everything was fine.

The end to a great story.
Well, fine for a few minutes at least. After some more celebrating and the commentary team signing off Zayn was left alone in the ring. He left and was joined by Owens for another embrace and a friendly walk backstage. But as they walked up the ramp Owens grabbed Zayn and slammed him backwards into the steel, then dragged him back to the ring and gave him an apron bomb. It was a great way to close the show. A surprise and the kick-off for a brand new main event feud that anyone who watched Ring of Honor in 2010 knows will be very, very good.

R Evolution could not have been better.

***

Results summary:
Kevin Owens defeated CJ Parker
The Lucha Dragons defeated The Vaudevillains
Baron Corbin defeated Tye Dillinger
Hideo Itami and Finn Bálor defeated The Ascension
Charlotte defeated Sasha Banks
Sami Zayn defeated Adrian Neville to win the NXT championship