22nd August 2015.
We’re in New York City at the Barclays Center and it’s a SELL OUT, meaning the WWE’s little feeder promotion sold 16,000 (15,589 officially) tickets to a show. The NXT title headlined a show in Tokyo recently but it was partially sold on Brock Lesnar wrestling; the show was even called “The Beast In the East”. This is NXT selling out a venue the size of the main roster. Triple H’s little side project is paying off in ridiculous fashion. Remember when the WWE tried to force a brand split where the fans could choose between two almost identical products? NXT is swiftly becoming a genuine alternative to the WWE, produced by the WWE. You can watch this show and see different styles, new characters and different booking. There’s still a degree of rebranding but you’ve got Samoa Joe and Jushin Liger alongside Apollo Crews and Finn Balor. What a time to be a wrestling fan.
A word on the pre-show. Several, in fact. Firstly it’s amazing to hear the crowd chanting twenty minutes before the show even starts. You can’t buy crowd participation like that. You have to earn it. Secondly; the shill video for Sasha Banks vs. Bayley is wonderful. The way they faded Bayley out of the picture of the Four Horsewomen gave me chills. I’m the biggest Sasha Banks mark in the world but if Bayley wins I may legitimately weep.
Interesting that they tease a few things too. Like suggesting Lita may take Alexa Bliss down a notch and showing Cesaro and Neville arriving with Finn. Even when they have a killer card, NXT teases delivering even more. Which is the difference between themselves and the main WWE roster. They’re not satisfied with delivering a ‘good’ card. They won’t take excuses either and despite suffering losses with Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami, both seriously injured, they’re prepared to push on. Every time an NXT card rolls around I’m excited about it not just because it’s good on paper but because they always deliver.
Hosts are Rich Brennan, Byron Saxton & Corey Graves.
Promo Time: Triple H
He basks in a spotlight and has a radio mic, which is pretty cool. So he can talk normally. “The future is now” and the lights come up and HOLY SHIT, I’m getting chills. That is incredible. Best Hunter promo…ever. It reminded me of Paul Heyman’s pure joy and sense of achievement when ECW hit PPV with Barely Legal.
Tyler Breeze vs. Jushin Liger
Tyler’s entrance is incredible as models dressed as major New York landmarks flank him on his way to the ring. Liger gets a knock-off version of his song, which is unfortunate. Regardless of that or his veteran status, he’s probably the greatest cruiserweight wrestler of all time. It is surreal seeing Liger in there. Liger of recent years doesn’t do all the high-flying stuff but his mat skills are superb so he can still win the crowd over unusual stretches. Liger even stops off to mock Tyler with turnbuckle poses and stealing the selfie stick. It’s easy to forget that Liger is old, like Undertaker old, and yet can still go at about 70% of his prime. That Koppou Kick is as sharp as ever but he can’t do the high risk stuff like he did before. Breeze isn’t quite sure how to sell the shotei, 360 side flipping it. Another shotei leaves Breeze stunned and the Ligerbomb finishes! For those counting at home the WWE just put a New Japan wrestler over one of their developmental guys. What universe are we in? Did I fall through into a parallel one?
Final Rating: ***
Ringside: Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and X-Pac! The Kliq is in the house to back up Triple H’s project. Elsewhere Charlotte hugs it out with Bayley and Becky Lynch offers an apologetic handshake. Bayley is getting the rub from the locker room. Will Sasha Banks be so nice? Video Control then gives us a shill for Nia Jax (that’s a Star Wars name, surely). Debuting soon. Nia is one they have big hopes for. Why? Because she’s from the famous Samoan family. She was working NXT under the name “Lina” as enhancement but obviously they have some top women’s talent they need to replace so she’s getting repackaged.
NXT Tag Team Championship
Blake & Murphy (c) vs. The Vaudevillians
The challengers bring the old-timey circus act. The champs bring Alexa Bliss. My support is torn. Brooklyn’s is not; they hate the champs. Clearly they don’t have the same crush on Alexa that I do. #BAMF. The challengers come out without backup to offset Alexa. “We want Blue Pants!” chant the crowd and here she is! That entrance music kills me. Brooklyn enters into a chant of “Blue Pants city”. It’s astonishing how just about everyone in NXT gets over. Another thing it shares with the old ECW. Gotch’s old timey offence is great. It’s something different. The WWE’s main roster has too many samey talents doing ‘Main Event Style’. English’s bicep pose armbar is pretty awesome too. Incorporating your gimmick into your move set is some next level shit. People who fail in wrestling generally fail because they can’t do this. I have great difficulty paying attention to the match because every now and again they cut to Alexa walking around ringside and, damn it, I have a Jerry Lawler level of issue with this girl. The match focuses on heat from the champs on English allowing a great hot tag to Gotch but bizarrely he then tags out again. Alexa and Blue Pants get into a catfight, thus preventing Blissterference and the challengers hit the Whirling Dervish for the belts. Blue Pants pointing and laughing at Alexa is perfect. Blake & Murphy did a lot of good double teaming but their miscues didn’t work for me. Otherwise a well booked overall experience that the fans were into from the start to the finish. A little surprised it was the Vaudevillians who won the belts not Enzo & Big Cass. I can only assume the latter group are heading to the big leagues.
Final Rating: **3/4
Tye Dillinger vs. Apollo Crews
Apollo Crews, the former Uhaa Nation, a future WWE champion if ever there was one. He has everything. The look, the personality and the skills. His agility is insane. He won’t be in NXT long so make the most of him. “Whoa, that’s a lot of people” – Crews. Apollo marking out for his entrance shows the man’s humility. Tye gets his gimmick over nicely as he’s the Perfect 10. It’s easy to chant. Apollo promptly steals it with his ridiculous Dragon Gate regular move set. Gorilla press and the standing moonsault finishes for Crews in short order. Once the brief heat segment was over this was brisk. Crews has a massive future. But then, we knew this.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where William Regal puts over the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. In honour of the fallen legend there will be a Dusty Rhodes Memorial Tag Team Tournament that will culminate at October’s TakeOver show. A big months spanning tournament. It’s almost as if they were listening to the fans who were into the G1. Ringside the Tough Enough finalists get booed. New York is a tough town. Don’t get used to any of these guys, they’ll go nowhere. Well, maybe the blonde girl (Amanda Saccomanno) will get on TV. Sara Lee looks a bit like Emma Stone so she might have a shot an interviewer gig or something. With NXT being so good, did they even need Tough Enough? It’s never worked before. Even Maven got abandoned and cut loose in the end.
Baron Corbin vs. Samoa Joe
This is an interesting match up as Joe is the big unstoppable Indy star and Corbin is the WWE’s version of the same guy. He’s been squashing people in NXT since Day One. When Corbin hit End of Days on Joe on an NXT episode recently I freaked out a bit. Corbin has ridiculous power. That’s clear but his in-ring has always been a bit shaky. Joe doesn’t do subtle so that works in Corbin’s favour as they can just batter each other. Because of Corbin’s dominance he’s perhaps not accustomed to a longer match. This is evident in his early penchant for stalling, which isn’t in line with the NXT mentality. Corbin is the kind of guy who’s always been in WWE’s Developmental System. The hand picked muscular big man. Joe has a vast array of moves that Corbin has never even seen and he chains his submission attempts. To counter this Corbin gets a heel hook out of nowhere, showing he’s not one-dimensional, and then following that with power as Joe’s mobility is limited. This leads right into a beautiful strikefest, which is what I came for. Joe’s spinning backfist is fantastic. Corbin’s lack of experience counts against him during this as his strikes are way inferior. Joe sees his chance from a sloppy pin and hooks the Koquina Clutch to send the good Baron to sleep. Corbin’s best match in NXT thus far.
Final Rating: **3/4
Ringside: Ric Flair and Sgt. Slaughter. Plus Kana (not “Kanna” as the graphic reads) and Team BAD. The stars are out for this one. Sarge looks so thin I thought it was someone cosplaying Sarge.
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon
They just can’t let the whole ‘talking on PPV’ thing go can they? The McMahon-Helmsley’s just love a natter. NXT is one of the few places where people don’t hate Triple H and Steph because the crowd is very aware of how much they’ve put into creating their own Indy promotion. “We are all making history, right here, right now”. She talks about the diva’s revolution and how it began in NXT where they earned the main events. Video Control gives us another look at that Bayley video package from earlier, which gave me chills. Same again here. The Bayley story is one of the best I’ve seen booked in any promotion in years.
NXT Women’s Championship
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bayley
Bayley’s entrance, with the inflatable wacky arm waving tubemen, is great. It works so well. She is a hugger. Sasha’s entrance suits her too as she’s accompanied by four security guards and arrives in an Escalade. Sasha gets a little more heat than usual because she’s from Boston. The rowdy crowd give this a big match feeling from the go with duelling chants. The action doesn’t even need to be that good because this match has a killer storyline and yet the action is good. Bayley accompanying her underdog routine with big bumps that make it look like she’s got no chance. They have similar experience but Sasha desperately wanted it more. Bayley wanted to be nice and people love her for it but she’s always been in Sasha’s shadow. Bayley is like your little sister. You want her to be safe. Sasha, I greatly admire but Bayley is like family I’ve never met. Bayley dodges the double knees a couple of times so Sasha does them on the top rope, switching up the offence. From there Sasha goes after Bayley’s hand, which she broke in June and it’s vicious. While Bayley is recovering Sasha hits a dive over the ref to the floor and it’s the “NXT” chant. “This is awesome”. This is emotional.
It seems as if Sasha has a counter for everything Bayley brings, strapping her in the Bank Statement and STAMPING ON THE HAND! Glorious. Bayley kicks off the ropes and gets her own Bank Statement and the crowd are losing their minds. We’re seeing something very special. Bayley to Belly doesn’t get it done and Bayley then takes a SICKENING bump off the top rope, landing on her head. Bayley refuses to stay down though, manages a ridiculous reverse super rana and the BAYLEY TO BELLY finishes! Bayley wins the NXT title! Sasha was great in defeat here, constantly focused on the body part story and looking like the slick and indestructible champion she always has. Bayley just wanted it more this time. The hand stomping bit on the Bank Statement was the best. I found it hard to do this match justice in writing because I was so busy being into it.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Post Match: Becky Lynch and Charlotte come out to hug it out with Bayley and Sasha Banks, who’s never, ever shown anyone any respect, ever hugs Bayley. They throw up the Four Horsewomen sign in a call back to the MSG Curtain Call. They may have feuded over the last two years but they’ve done this together and they’ve made it together. This was one of the great moments in wrestling history, never mind NXT. It’ll be replayed many times over. The revolution has begun. The WWE happen to have four of the greatest women’s wrestlers in recent memory and they’re all on the same page. I love these guys. They need to let these wrestlers take over on the main roster because none of the main roster girls can live up to this level of talent and emotion. The post match stuff is the intangible that changes this from a great wrestling match a genuinely important historical occurrence. We’ll be looking back on this night come the end of the year. This is likely to be WWE’s MOTY, never mind NXT’s.
Final, Final Rating: *****
Video Control takes us to Triple H earlier on when he announced NXT are going to tour the UK in December. Sold! They’d better bring some Horsewomen.
Finn Balor (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Owens is mega-over in the heel friendly New York area. It’s the first time he’s ever looked like being anything approaching a babyface on an NXT show. Balor’s entrance is amazing as there’s dry ice everywhere and multiple fake Balor’s making it look like Finn can teleport. It’s clearly acknowledged that NXT are doing great things with their in-ring but what is not so frequently acknowledged is how great their entrances are. Think about it. Breeze, Bayley and Balor all have better entrances than anyone on the main roster. That can’t be a coincidence. They start out sans ladder working a decent match, a mini-version of the Tokyo contest. Double stomp, cannonball, Slingblade all feature. As soon as the ladder comes into play they start to tease big spots with Owens intent on deliberately not doing sick spots. The stuff around ringside is brilliant with Owens mixing creativity with carelessness. Owens hurling the top of the announce table at Finn in particular amusing the locals. It gives the match a different feel to the standard ladder match and both guys are keen to avoid doing ladder spots too early, bringing logical counters to prevent ‘slow climbing’.
When they do bring ladders into play they’re intent at avoiding those climbing spots, instead doing battle with the ladders. This includes Owens taking a nasty backdrop onto a set up ladder and a missed Cannonball. Coup de Grace puts Owens down but not for long enough and he pulls Finn off the ladder to hit the powerbomb. The way that Owens is far from careful how he hits stuff reminds me of Vader in his prime. It makes everything so much more impactful. It also adds to the structure of the match to the point where my usual ladder match criticisms are simply invalid. Owens frustrations are superb. “STAY DOWN. STAY DOWN!” Balor’s fighting Irishman will not give up. So instead of appearing to set up spots in awkward sequences Owens deliberately sets stuff up intent at ending Balor so he has time to climb. Owens takes a nasty spill into a ladder and Finn is in position, but can’t reach. He’s so close. Instead he opts to give Owens the Coup de Grace off the ladder. That’s enough for Balor to pull the belt down and continue on as champion. Another great match with both guys eager to have a fine showing in the ladder environment while not running through a list of clichés. Everything made sense during this one, which makes it one of the finest ladder matches I’ve seen in years. And yet it was still eclipsed by the ladies storyline.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Summary: I am so pleased I discovered the joys of NXT when I did because as a promotion within a promotion it’s unparalleled in its brilliance. Watching the progression of the women and the respect they’re deservedly getting is particularly rewarding. The culmination of the last couple of years is Bayley finally getting the women’s title, although there remains a feeling she’s only getting it because everyone else is leaving. Interesting to note Becky Lynch still has no title win. That could easily be transformed into a main roster storyline when either Charlotte or Sasha inevitably wins the Divas title. The overall show was very strong but the main topic of conversation coming out was Bayley vs. Sasha Banks and the story they so beautifully told. We’re in the midst of a renaissance for women’s wrestling, reaching levels not seen since the heady days of All Japan Women’s promotion in the mid 90s.