The show started with WWE’s standard Then, Now, Forever signature. Only it wasn’t standard. It bled into the NXT intro, a nice way of presenting the brand as the future of the company. Noticeable in the NXT intro were shots of KENTA. The video team didn’t waste any time there.
The opening match was for the NXT tag team championship. The Ascension, who’s reign length was slimmed down from 364 days to 344 by the commentary team because of delayed air dates), defended the gold against Kalisto and Sin Cara. The Ascension were put over as the most dominant team anywhere in wrestling during the past ten years (which briefly made me wonder who WWE considered more dominant ten years ago). The crowd was into both teams in a big way.
After some high-flying at the start of the match Sin Cara was grounded and worked over by the champs, setting up the inevitable hot tag. Kalisto cleaning house on his massive opponents looked a little strange, but not so much that it seemed unbelievable. That he used a lot of flying moves probably helped there. He was literally throwing himself at the champions.
|Sin Cara and Kalisto look pretty good in blue.|
Cara stopped selling fairly quickly and hit a couple of planchas. Kalisto’s hot streak was cut off with a Viktor lariat. Cara halted a Fall of Man attempt, pulling Konor from the ring and leaving Viktor to take a Salida del Sol from Kalisto, ending The Ascension’s long reign (it was exactly the same length as second ROH tag title reign of The Kings of Wrestling, fact fans). The commentators all agreed that they'd never expected to see The Ascension lose. It was nice that they were trying to boost The Ascension in defeat but it was a silly thing to say: they were very obviously going to lose developmental tag gold at some point.
After the match Renee Young asked Kalisto and Sin Cara how it felt to have won the titles. Cara volunteered nothing of interest and was very obviously out of breath while doing so. Kalisto announced the pair were to be known as The Lucha Dragons. That’s a cool name.
The title change was due. The Ascension (who I’ll discuss below) had nothing left to do as champions. The Lucha Dragons have a number of fresh matches waiting for them and they can make the division a little more competitive by working more competitive matches. The Ascension gimmick didn’t really allow for that.
That was followed by the first of four videos for the fatal four-way competitors. This one focused on NXT champion Adrian Neville. He said he's adaptable and that while he’s never been in a four-way match before he'd never been in a ladder match and he won one at ArRIVAL. Also mentioned was that Neville is undefeated in 2014 and the fact that he held victories over all three of his opponents. That was a very simple little thing but it meant so much and made Neville seem a far more credible champion. If the writers of RAW and SmackDown understood how to make wins and losses mean more I think the main WWE product would be in better shape. Very good video.
CJ Parker v Baron Corbin was the second encounter of the night. It was a squash. CJP took a shoulder block and a move not unlike Sister Abigail then got pinned by the new boy. It was a good segment: Corbin looked strong while Parker was dealt a humiliating loss which can fuel the petty bitterness of his character.
The Tyson Kidd video followed that. It was basically the same as the one that was shown of him on NXT. The one where they tricked you into thinking he was putting his three opponents over but he was actually talking about himself (because heel). There was a bit about Natalya mixed in too, just to remind us that Kidd gets upset about his wife’s success.
The hair versus hair match followed that. Sylvester Lefort entered to some new technopop. It was great. Sly controlled most of the match with headlocks and basic wrestling. It was standard stuff but it was so spirited, and the audience was so into it, that that wasn’t a problem.
Towards the end of the bout Marcus Louis leapt onto the apron and tried to distract Enzo. Cass took him down. Sly started shouting and got caught with a rollup for the loss. The audience chanted ‘To the chair!’ as Sly was cornered and floored him with a Big Cass clothesline. Enzo shouted that Sly was an idiot as he writhed on the ground. I found that much funnier than I would have expected. Marcus Louis attacked the New Jersey boys as Sly was carried up the ramp, allowing his tag partner to run off and leaving him to get a bucket of allegedly corrosive liquid dumped on his bonce by Enzo. How we laughed.
The Tyler Breeze video consisted of shots of Breeze doing a Zoolander impression interspersed with shots of him taking selfies and calling his opponents ugly. It was another solid piece of work, ending with Breeze telling us all his outfits work with gold (because title belts are gold, dig?) then pulling a hilarious Zoolander face. After that some random women appeared backstage to offer coats to ‘The Gorgeous One’. He said he was busy so they left. Breeze then went back to looking at himself on his phone.
General Manager William Regal came out to put over NXT as the place all wrestlers want to compete and to introduce KENTA. We got an introductory video for “the international sensation” before the man himself walked to the ring to a pleasingly spirited reaction from the crowd. The video featured comments from Kofi Kingston, Renee Young and Big E. While I’m sure all three meant what they said about KENTA moving to WWE being a big deal they did seem like a rather odd bunch. The obvious guy to contribute was Daniel Bryan. Perhaps WWE doesn’t want to show him while he’s injured, or they feared a ‘Yes!’ chant overshadowing KENTA’s big moment. If so then it’s understandable, but they still had Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Seth Rollins and other guys who could have voiced opinions. Kingston made sense as he’s a guy who will probably have a great match with KENTA. I don’t think as many people will be excited at the prospect of KENTA versus Big E.
KENTA said hello in English and then switched to Japanese. It was the first NXT show to be shown live in Japan so presumably he was putting the brand over and encouraging people to sign up to the Network (for just $9.99!) to watch him compete. Switching back to English he said it was a dream come true to be in WWE. After announcing a name change to Hideo Itami as a tribute to his hero (failing to say who this hero was or is) he stated that his goal is to be NXT champion.
|The newly minted Hideo Itami taunting The Ascension there.|
Then The Ascension stormed out. They chucked Itami out of the ring and barked at Regal to give them a rematch for their tag team titles. Itami was back in the ring before Regal could respond. He ducked a clothesline from Konor, booted Viktor in the face, then punched Konor out of the ring and kicked both men off the apron. I was concerned that he was going to look weak when he grabbed a chair and slid back into the ring but I realised that wasn’t an issue when he calmly sat down and beckoned the former tag champs to join him. They walked out.
It was a great introduction for Itami. He expressed his passion for the company (and NXT in particular) and saw off a pair of men who have been built up as practically unstoppable in a straight fight. Presumably he’ll work singles matches, and perhaps a tag match, with Konor and Viktor before they depart permanently for the main roster. If so, good. It’s the right time for The Ascension to leave as they’ve advanced as they can in a developmental environment (including making the tag titles mean something, no small task). They’ve been built up so well that it would be wasteful for them to leave NXT without putting someone over on the way out. They may have lost their titles to The Lucha Dragons but there wasn’t much of a rub there: they were the dominant force in the tag title match. I’m hopeful that they get the same strong treatment in WWE, but not before they’ve helped to get Itami off to a strong start.
A recap (in stills for some reason) of the Mojo Rawley v Bull Dempsey feud preceded their match. In case you’ve forgotten it consisted of the two teaming up to lose in the opening round of the number one contendership tag tournament and Bull turning on Mojo in frustration. That’s as deep as it’s gotten. In fairness Rawley doesn’t really deserve anything more and Dempsey’s new enough to only need simple booking for now.
Bull Dempsey, the supposed bad guy, came out first to a pleasant reaction. Mojo came out to a mixture of light jeers, disinterest and a smattering of polite applause. They battered each other around the ring, Bull quickly got the upper hand with a rough body tackle and then finished Mojo off with a top rope head butt. It was shorter than I'd expected, and all the better for it. Bull, the man whose character the crowd have taken to, looked impressive. More treatment like that and he could be a believable challenger in a title match. Meanwhile Rawley, who very few people seem to have any time for, could take the CJ Parker route and tweak his character into a bad guy. Maybe he and ‘The Moonchild’ could form a team. That would be… something.
Backstage Enzo and Cass discussed Sasquatch and finding The Legionnaires. They stumbled across them almost immediately. Marcus Louis had his head covered with a towel and was being tended to by Lefort and what seemed to be a medic. Hey, he had had his dunked into some pretty nasty liquid earlier in the evening.
Sly ran off again, leaving Marcus to be carried out to the ring by Cass (helpfully clutching the towel to his own head so as not to spoil the reveal, which I thought was helpful of him). In the ring Enzo whipped the towel off to reveal that Louis’ eyebrows were gone along with most of his hair. The babyfaces had a good old laugh as Marcus ran off. Then Enzo, who was dynamite during all of these exchanges, said he's B-A-W-L-D.
Bayley v Charlotte was referred to as a main event before its hype video was cued up. That gave the NXT women’s league a much deserved boost. The vid began with a clip from a post-show interview where Charlotte was asked who she was looking forward to defending against. The crowd chanted Bayley’s name chant so Charlotte said ‘Well Bayley, I guess.’ The video showed Bayley as a happy, enthusiastic babyface. It really got over her character and explained why we should care about her, and did a good job recapping her journey to feeling as though she belonged in NXT well. That was contrasted with Charlotte feeling she has a legacy to uphold and telling Bayley to give up. It ended with Bayley saying she wanted her title win to be a Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII moment. The package as a whole made me genuinely want to see Bayley win the title.
Bayley wore streamers to the ring and, channelling Bret Hart, gave her headband to a girl in the audience. I loved how popular she was. During the in-ring introductions Bayley was cheered while Charlotte got a mixed response.
|Figure four headlock! Woooooo!|
The champ began by offering a handshake, something she’d refused several times before. Bayley didn't fall for the trick, ramming Charlotte into the corner. Charlotte fought back and quickly applied the figure four headlock. Bayley flipped back into a pin to force Charlotte to kick out and break the hold. Charlotte stayed on offence with chops and knees and put the figure four on a time or two more. During one application of the hold she rolled over on to her front and did a forward roll, sending Bayley back-first into the mat. Young Flair is great at milking that hold and making it look legitimate.
As the match progressed Charlotte would retain the upper hand but Bayley would keep coming back and refusing to quit. Bayley cut off a moonsault and hit a hurricanrana from the top. She waited a while to make the cover to sell fatigue but unfortunately that made it clear Charlotte would be kicking out. Charlotte countered the Hug-plex into a pin. Bayley kicked out. Charlotte schoolgirled Bayley into the bottom turnbuckle, knocking her dizzy and leaving her prone enough to absorb an incredibly safe-looking moonsault (it was very clear Charlotte landed feet first on the move). Bayley kicked out and gave the champion a defiant glare. Charlotte then floored her with Natural Selection (formerly Bow Down to the Queen) and pinned her.
It was a great match that told a very good story. Charlotte’s offence was crisp throughout the match and she interacted with the crowd more than she has been recently (a good thing, obvs). Bayley bettered her in that department though: she excels at drawing people into her performance and at looking vulnerable.
Bayley was left lying in the ring as Charlotte wandered up the aisle holding her title belt in the air. Sasha Banks walked out and started giving the exhausted Bayley a beating. Charlotte returned to scare her fellow BFF off before holding the title up and exiting again. There was still no handshake but the idea was that Charlotte has gained respect for Bayley.
The Sami Zayn video featured a Chris Jericho audio clip. Because ‘Y2J’ invented audio clips. Daniel Bryan also commented on Zayn’s ability (which destroys my theory about his omission from the KENTA video intro) and clips of Zayn v Cesaro at ArRIVAL were shown. Zayn said he wants to be the face of NXT and that he will win the NXT championship, it's just a matter of when.
Then it was main event time.
Breeze was out first, mostly to boos. Zayn was next. Very loud ‘Olé!’ chants started before his music had cut. Kidd wore some blocky headphones to the ring to “block out crowd negativity” which, to be honest, there was a fair amount of. He’s done a better job getting over as an irritant than I’d thought. The champ was out last, looking, as always, like an orc. He didn’t get as loud a reception as Zayn.
A ‘Breeze is gorgeous!’ chant rang out as soon as the opening bell rang. That left Kidd as the clear cut least popular man in the match. The heels teamed up at the start of the match, Breeze targeting Zayn and Kidd going after Neville. They brawled around ringside and up to the top of the ramp where Nev took a double suplex from the heels. That left Kidd and Breeze to work over Zayn back in the ring. After a couple of minutes of that Kidd super kicked Breeze to the outside, leaving himself alone with a weakened Zayn.
|He's not called 'The Man That Gravity Forgot' for nothing.|
Neville got back into the match and threw Kidd out of the ring. Breeze returned and got wiped out by a fired up Zayn who went for a dive but got cut off by ‘The Man That Gravity Forgot’ stepping into his path and hitting a springboard moonsault onto Breeze and Kidd from the apron. With them out of the way we got Zayn v Neville, something which had been teased briefly earlier before getting shut down by the heels. They got a short sequence together before Kidd dumped Zayn outside and worked over the champ. When Zayn got back into the ring he was tossed into Neville, sending the champ to the outside and busting him open at the same time.
Zayn escaped a sharpshooter and went for the Helluva kick but got blasted with a Beauty Shot from ‘Prince Pretty’. Kidd and Nev each took a Supermodel kick. Both kicked out. As everyone gradually recovered Breeze and Kidd attempted a double superplex on Neville. They got it, but not before Zayn had slipped in to “power bomb” them as they did so.
Zayn channelled his inner ‘Stone Cold’ and stomped a mud hole in Kidd. He went for a Helluva kick on Nev but got kicked in the mouth. Neville hit the Red Arrow on him but got thrown out of the ring by Breeze. Zayn kicked out of the immediate cover. That was a great near fall, because the Arrow has been established as something people don’t kick out of. Breeze sold the hell out of the kick out, which only made it a sweeter moment. Moments later Zayn staggered to his feet and Breeze targeted him with a Beauty Shot, but Kidd shoved him out of the way and caught Breeze in a Sharpshooter. After making it to the ropes and being dragged back to the centre of the ring Breeze went to tap but Neville slid back into the ring and grabbed his hand to save his championship. This was included for a reason: we needed to know that Neville was desperate to retain the title.
|Adrian Neville. Still NXT champ.|
Nev and Zayn went at it again, with Nev being back dropped out of the ring. Zayn hit an exploder suplex into the corner on Kidd. He charged in for a spear but changed course at the last second and did a suicide dive on to Neville instead. He followed up with a dive between the first and second ropes into a tornado DDT on ‘The King of Cuteville’. Back inside he finally got a Helluva on Kidd but Neville pulled the referee from the ring, breaking up what would clearly have otherwise been a winning pinfall. Zayn, incensed, got out of the ring shouting. Neville floored him with a super kick and shot up to the top rope to hit a Red Arrow on Kidd. Zayn got back into the ring to break it up but didn't have the energy: he brushed Neville just after the three count was completed.
Neville posed for several minutes while Zayn looked dejected. Breeze and Kidd were nowhere to be seen, leaving the focus firmly on NXT champion Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn, the man who’d come so close to taking the title from him. Aside from being a little light on Tyler Breeze the match was excellent and a fitting main event to another great NXT special.