Three months into the WWE Network Era and we already have our second live NXT special. Perhaps someone in WWE realised NXT is their most consistent and enjoyable weekly programme and decided to treat us. More likely it was simply felt that the NXT stars warranted another live airing. Whatever the reason it was certainly welcome.
The commentary team for the evening consisted of Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and William Regal. It was a relief not to have Alex Riley clogging things up with his insipid comments. And I wasn’t sad that Jason Albert (formerly gaijin warlord Tensai) was sitting things out either. He’s far easier to take in the role than A-Ry but he’s still not close to being amongst WWE’s verbal elite.
Before I talk about the wrestling I’d like to mention William Regal. He’s always entertaining and knowledgable when providing commentary but he was particularly good here. He continually and tirelessly put over the efforts of all performers on the card, enhancing everyone with his comments and pushing NXT as the important part of the WWE machine it is. Particularly good was his commentary during the main event, during which he discussed British wrestling and the difficulties of making a name for oneself in the US as a foreign star
And he danced to Rusev’s music. The guy can do it all!
The show opened with Adam Rose entering Full Sail through the front door with his Exotic Express in tow. He came through the crowd. That simple little difference and the reaction he got made him look like a star. It’s a pity he’s not been given anything better to do since turning up on RAW because the characters very enjoyable (and is also facing a struggle because it fits better in the smaller NXT Arena than in the cavernous lairs RAWs held in every week.
By contrast Camacho didn't even get to ride out on his tricycle. And he was called a party pooper by the fans. He looked like the bit part player he is.
|"Is that a lollipop in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?"
Rose played around for the first minute before Camacho took control. He kept control until the end of their five minutes, at which point Rose hit a spinebuster, an Exotic Express (formerly the heat-magnet-when-performed-by-Sean-Waltman Bronco Buster) and his Ace Crusher DDT for the victory. In this environment Rose is tremendous.
A video package recapped Sami Zayn's feud with Cesaro and how hard he worked to get to WWE. Also mentioned was his personal dislike of Tyler Breeze. Personally I like both guys. It was an effective video package that demonstrated Zayn’s passion for wrestling, as well as the much-vaunted heart and desire that are an integral part of his appeal.
After that ring announcer announced 'Prince Pretty' had entered the building.
And then The Ascension came out. They were loudly cheered, as has become the fashion. It would be nice if WWE made an NXT tag division a priority. Konnor and Viktor are over but they can only go so far without any meaningful opposition. People like them squashing jobbers, but it won’t do them any favours in the long term.
Challengers Kalisto and EL Local (the masked identity of ring announcer extraordinaire Ricardo Rodriguez) jumped the champions before the bell, sending them to the outside of the ring. A pair of suicide dives were met with elbows. That put things in the champions' favour and things stayed that way for a few minutes. Kalisto was kept in the ring for a while. He mostly took clotheslines and punches but there was a fair bit of getting rammed into turnbuckles too.
|The Legion of Ascension.
Eventually he tagged in El Ricardo. That sparked off a frenetic sequence involving all four. It didn't take long for The Ascension to isolate Local and drop him with Fall of Man for another successful title defence.
Tyler Breeze was shown in the back looking from a phone to a mirror and back again. Just in case it wasn’t clear from his general gimmick that he’s a narcissist, presumably. A video about him was shown. It was far more gimmicky than Zayn's, because Breeze is more of a wrestling character than an extension of a real life personality. That said they did have Breeze say that being pretty isn't all he can do. For the record Breeze is still doing his Zoolander voice all the time. And it's still fun.
Zayn v Breeze followed that. It was a number one contendership match. The winner would progress to a match against the winner of the NXT championship main event. ‘Prince Pretty’ debuted new music. It featured the line “Part man but all model” and was as great as that should imply.
They wrestled. For fifteen minutes. Non-stop. It was pretty great. After starting out with some counter wrestling they got the story underway: Breeze shoved Zayn off the top rope to the floor, which put Zayn on the back foot and played into his recent (storyline) concussion trouble. After Breeze had controlled the pace for a bit the pair broke into the big spots.
|Zayn v Breeze: match of the night.
Highlights there included a sitdown moonsault to the outside by Zayn; Zayn's blue thunder bomb; a high power bomb from the corner by Breeze; an exploder suplex into a turnbuckle from Zayn; a perfect super kick from Breeze, which earned him a scintillating near fall; and a suplex into a blue thunder bomb from Zayn (which was a really convincing false finish). It was ‘The Gorgeous One’ who got the win when he gave Zayn a Beauty Shot after a low blow during a Helluva kick attempt. Regal claimed he was just getting his hands up to protect himself. Phillips didn't seem convinced.
Backstage we saw Bret Hart having a chat with Tyson Kidd and Natalya. I’d like to think he was praising Natty for wearing pink and black and encouraging Kidd to do the same.
Back at ringside Lana strutted out into the entranceway. She introduced Rusev, as she tends to, who came out waving a Russian flag very aggressively. Rusev has, according to Lana, expanded his power across RAW and SmackDown. Putin was shown on the big screen and got booed. That's a great little gimmick. Rusev spoke in Russian then waved his flag like a madman again.
Mojo Rawley, who I still don't see the appeal of, came out and reminded Rusev and 'The Ravishing Russian' they were in America. Babyfaces tend to assume foreigners forget where they are all the time. 'The Hype Man' rushed the ring, got knocked down, and placed in the Steiner Recliner (or, if you prefer, The Accolade). That didn’t satisfy ‘The Ravishing Russian. She had Rusev chuck Mojo out of the ring and placed in the hold on the entrance ramp. Afterwards Rusev did a lot of hilarious fist-shaking. I want that to become a regular part of his act.
The pro-Russian shtick can, in the context of WWE, be ended by only one man. I'll give you a hint: he sells a lot of merch. I still think that could be a significant match at SummerSlam.
Another backstage scene was shown. Charlotte was walking around with her dad. That segued into a video showing the Charlotte v Natalya feud. Natty said she wants to be the best Hart ever and how she's proud to be the first female wrestler of the family. Charlotte said she's improved and keeps improving. The whole thing was given a Harts versus Flairs vibe. That didn't help Charlotte, because she’s nowhere near as charismatic as 'The Nature Boy' and she never will be. It was also inaccurate because the Flairs are not a wrestling dynasty as the Harts are. Only one Flair has achieved anything of note in wrestling, and that’s ‘The Nature Boy’. You can’t get a one man family dynasty, not even if you’re Ric Flair.
Paige strode out to the ring before the women's championship match. She thanked the fans and said the next champion needed to exhibit strength, character and grace. Yes, the NXT women’s champion needs grace. Also, she made the point that holding the NXT belt can lead to bigger things and brought attention to her Divas championship. Talking's not her strong point but she didn’t do too badly. It helps that she’s basically playing a regular woman and so can more easily draw on her personal experience and beliefs.
Charlotte entered to an enjoyable techno ditty featuring samples of the Space Odyssey theme no wrestling fan can hear without thinking of her dad. Flair looked better than he had in years. Natalya got her regular boring music. Bret was wearing jeans. He looked like he’d been sleeping rough. His insistence on hanging on to his raggedy ponytail didn’t help there.
The two were presented as an even match for the most part. Charlotte was the first to enjoy an extended period of control, impressing with her figure four headlock. Natty came back with a snapmare and a dash across Charlotte's neck, which looked dangerous (an indication of how good Natalya is). Charlotte busted out a top rope moonsault. As was usually the case for her dad the move to the top didn't pay off as Natalya rolled out of the way. Still, it was a good move smoothly performed.
|The first championship of sixteen?
Flair went nuts at ringside (he kept his shoes on luckily) and then the two women hugged in the ring. Ric and Bret shook hands and then congratulated the other's charge. It was a nice moment for all involved and emphasised once again that NXT is the wrestling show, not a storyline show.
The final video of the evening was a look at the build-up to Tyson Kidd versus Adrian Neville for the latter’s NXT championship. Kidd talked about being hungry and wanting to get back to the big time. Neville discussed being undefeated in 2014 and facing a variety of opponents. It was an approach I'd like to see WWE use more: they used wrestling to create a story and made the men relatable through their aspirations within their field.
It was another match that started with counter wrestling. They put a twist on it by casting Tyson as the cocky veteran who was underestimating his foe. This was best shown when he decked Neville with a big elbow shot and ruffled his hair. They exchanged the advantage throughout the match but they never seemed to quite click with one another. It wasn't a bad match, it's just that they set a relatively sedate pace when you consider they're both known for being fast high-fliers.
|Neville's still the champion. The belt's still ugly.
Highlights included a big power bomb by Neville; a Russian leg sweep countered from a second rope springboard by Kidd; Neville suplexing Kidd over the top rope and tumbling over with him; and Neville’s match-winning top rope hurricanrana and Red Arrow. One the subject of ‘The Jumping Geordie’s’ repertoire he could do with adding one or two key or setup moves. That would give fans more to react to beyond his (admittedly impressive) corkscrew shooting star.
Kidd hung around in the ring after the match. When Neville had finished celebrating (after about two minutes) he offered a handshake. Kidd barged passed him and walked out. Perhaps he felt irked that it took the champion so long to acknowledge him. If so that’s understandable. If they do a rematch, and I suspect they will, I hope the pair gel better than they did here.
There wasn’t a single duff performance on the show. The forgettable segments (Rose v Camacho and the Rusev beatdown) were inoffensive and there were two very good matches in Charlotte v Natalya and Zayn v Breeze. The main event was a tad siappointing but it was still a decent match. NXT Takeover is not going to go down as WWE’s finest show of the year but it will go down as an enjoyable one. I think that’s good result.