7th October 2015.
We’re in Orlando, Florida at Full Sail University. Hosts are Rich Brennan, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton. NXT specials have a tendency to be just that. It really helps the feeder promotion that big events are so far apart as it allows wrestlers to plan out big matches. I imagine Sasha Banks and Bayley have been working on their 30 minute match tonight for some considerable time. Probably since Takeover Brooklyn, over a month ago.
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Semi-Final
Finn Balor & Samoa Joe vs. Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson
It makes sense to open with the tag tournament as the winners will need time to prepare for a second match. Also it allows a massive opening pop by having Finn and Joe in the opener. Dash & Dawson are upset merchants, having overturned a few crowd favourites to get here (including the tag champs the Vaudevillians), which makes them defacto heels. What they are is a tag team, whereas Balor & Joe are just two excellent singles guys paired up. If you’re following wrestling logic, the tag team wins but WWE logic has always been that star power wins so it’ll be interesting to see where NXT goes with it. Dash & Dawson are a classic team too, cutting the ring off finding ways to dominate Joe. Balor gets a comeback but then Dash & Dawson work heat on him too, working the leg especially. It’s competent tag-teaming. I’m not sure I ever really buy heat but Dash & Dawson are good at it. Balor’s babyface in peril routine is quite fantastic, which makes the heat better. The crowd are into it, which is good news for all involved. Joe is perfect at cleaning house too, with great intensity. Musclebuster/Coup de Grace finishes but Finn hurts his leg on the last spot, thus giving them an ‘out’ when they lose in the finals. Good showing from Dash & Dawson, as the classic tag team.
Final Rating: ***
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Semi-Final
Jason Jordan & Chad Gable vs. Rhyno & Baron Corbin
Jordan had a story a while back where he couldn’t find a worthwhile tag team partner. Gable is it and he’s over huge in Full Sail. This is another team vs. two singles guys match up. I can’t help but feel both superteams are heading towards singles feuds. Due to this my pre-show pick was JJ & Gable to win the whole thing. Corbin is more of a main roster guy. I’m surprised he’s not been called up to work as a monster heel against someone. He’s very basic but he’s a lot better and more seasoned than Braun Strowman. Crowd love Gable so much they bring back Kurt Angle’s “you suck” chant to sing his name. JJ & Gable use the same tactics as Dash & Wilder to isolate Rhyno and work his arm, only as babyfaces not heels. They swap around and Gable eats heat to the same positive reactions that Balor had in the opener. “Save the Gable” is a brilliant chant by the way, Full Sail. Jason Jordan reminds me of Rocky Maivia. He’s got that slight edge where you can tell there’s more about him than the happy babyface he’s playing and he’s got a lot of a natural athletic ability. The sky’s the limit for him. The ending of the match is seriously hot as the fans get rapidly into Jordan & Gable and all the guys hit big spots. Gable hitting Chaos Theory on Corbin has me marking out like crazy. Gable goes for a satellite DDT but it’s countered in mid-air into the End of Days for the deflating heel win. My pre-show pick might have been wrong but honestly, it’s a little disappointing they went this way. Corbin and Rhyno don’t need to be in the finals, the crowd didn’t want them to be there and now a tag team tournament features precisely zero tag teams in the final. Good match though. Jordan & Gable looked great.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Dana Brooke vs. Asuka
This is Asuka’s in-ring debut for NXT. She brings a big reputation with her and generally Hunter’s hand-picked stars-of-the-future tend to get that respect in the Takeover matches. Dana Brooke is not as bad as some people have suggested but she looks really poor when put against Asuka. She’s completely outclassed. Asuka’s basics are phenomenal. Her switches and transitions are on point. Dana slaps Asuka and the crowd chants “you fucked up”. Awesome stuff. Asuka beats the piss out of Dana and stops off to do Brooke’s entire entrance as a taunt. Amazing work. Asuka is so smooth and her moves are so pretty that she just goes from one approach to another and the crowd eat it all up. From the strikes to the counters to the submissions. It’s a near flawless debut. It’s almost a pity it’s wasted on Dana, who is pretty much beaten from the first Asuka strike sequence. Asukalock finishes. Asuka was HUGELY impressive here. She made Dana look borderline useless and, as I said at the top, Dana isn’t that bad. For an extended squash this worked. The prospect of Asuka vs. Bayley, Sasha, Charlotte or Becky is mouth-watering. I sense she’s going to become the NXT women’s division.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control tells us that Nia Jax is debuting next week. The women’s division is hotting up, despite Sasha leaving tonight.
Tyler Breeze vs. Apollo Crews
Tyler’s record on NXT specials is not good (he did beat Sami Zayn once, to be fair to him) but he’s constantly been a solid attraction on the shows. The failure train may be stopping again here, with the outstanding Apollo opposite Breeze. An unfortunate downside of Tyler Breeze is his whole persona screams ‘midcard’, regardless of how good he is. It’s very hard to get invested in someone who’s never going to hit that top level of the business. With Apollo you feel he’s capable of so much more, even if his all-round game isn’t at Breeze’s level yet. Prince Pretty’s character is better defined. The crowd seems less interested in this and I must admit, for reasons I can’t clearly define, I’m not that into it either. Breeze works the back to slow Apollo down and that’s the story of the match. Crews does some good selling of his discomfort. Back injuries are hard to sell because if you’ve got a bad back, you really can’t move or do anything. The story makes me believe that Tyler can actually get a win as Apollo can’t get any of his big spots together, thanks to the back problem. Tyler ends up lying down for a powerbomb, because he (almost) never wins on these things. Even with a cavalcade of teases.
Final Rating: **1/4
Ringside is a miserable looking Hideo Itami and his buddy Funaki. Itami is not enjoying being injured. Hopefully he’s been working on his promos.
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Final
Rhyno & Baron Corbin vs. Finn Balor & Samoa Joe
As I said earlier, it’s a shade disappointing that a tag team tournament ends up with four singles guys working together. It shows that the tag division in NXT isn’t quite where they want it to be. A more logical final, for me at least, would have been Enzo & Big Cass vs. Balor & Joe. Then an actual tag team could win and you don’t lose the star power. In fact, you’d probably have better reactions. The storyline here is Finn’s bad knee, which makes it strange that Joe allows him to start. Joe seems to bring the best out of Corbin, which gives me hope that the Baron can compete against the bigger and better wrestlers when his time comes. Like the two earlier matches there’s a heat segment with Joe picked off. It’s fairly uninspired stuff. Finn soon suffers a similar fate, thanks to his bad knee. Joe gets the second hot tag only to fall to the Gore. Finn saves on that and shows genuine star power in clearing out Corbin. Joe punts Rhyno to avoid a second Gore. Musclebuster/Coup de Grace with the bad leg and Balor wins for his team. That’s a bit of a surprise. I had Balor & Joe teaming to set Joe up as the number one contender but instead we get two top singles guys crushing the NXT tag division and standing triumphant. Odd.
Final Rating: **3/4
Post Match: The Rhodes Family get in there, including Cody (not Stardust) to pass their congratulations on to Balor and Joe. “There are some things a man can’t run from” – Cody. “But we can remember, we can respect”. “Tonight, we are all Rhodes”. Dusty Rhodes has left one hell of a legacy. He has dozens of NXT kids that will continue his legacy for years to come.
Video Control takes us to a shill for Steve Austin’s next podcast; Brock Lesnar and the Hell in a Cell PPV. Ringside: Stephanie McMahon, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Lita. This draws a “women’s wrestling” chant and there’s Steph clapping along like a mark! Wonderful.
30 Minute Iron(wo)man match
NXT Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks
I’ve seen video packages for this feud all over the Network for the past week or so and they never get old. I’ve seen the one in particular from this show a good three-four times and I’m still riveted to it every time. That’s how good the Takeover Brooklyn match was and how important it was. It’s strange to say, because it’s never been true in North America before, but this is the most important feud in North America this year. Bayley’s entrance is special by itself. The arm-waving tubemen, hugging Izzy, flashing the four horsewomen signal at Becky and Charlotte. Everything she does is so perfect for her character. I never thought I’d see the day where a WWE crowd would be chanting “women’s wrestling” for two women main eventing a show. We’ve come a long way, baby. “You deserve it”.
The two ladies take a deliberate pace because thirty minutes is tough to do full pelt, even for the guys with the best cardio. Despite this there’s bags of effort when they hit the mat, both looking for a quick pin. It’s an interesting tactic as they’re both attempting the same thing. Things start to go wrong when Sasha takes a bump on her neck and shoulder off a whiffed armdrag but they turn that into a positive. It adds to the drama. From there it’s finisher countering before a stand off so we can see Sasha get dumped on her neck again. That could have been very nasty. Bayley does, sort of, target that area with strikes. This draws the despicable side out of Sasha and she starts trying to take shortcuts. First getting her feet on the ropes before raking the eyes behind the ref’s back to get a roll up for 1-0 inside 9 minutes. It’s a good storyline as Sasha was content to go back and forth with Bayley on the mat until it looked like she might lose. Then she turned back into the nefarious heel she’s outstanding as.
Sasha’s control of the pacing and her ring awareness is uncanny. It’s the work of a veteran grappler. They do some nice stuff in the corner before Bayley hauls Sasha off the ropes into a Bayley to Belly for the equalising pin around 11 minutes. 1-1. That’s a wee bit disappointing as the first two falls were too close together to create any drama behind Bayley chasing the match.
To buy some time Bayley takes a nasty spot into the ring steps, head first into the corner. The execution on this stuff isn’t quite where it was in Brooklyn but the personalities are still strong enough to cover for that. Bayley gets run into the LED board and gets counted out. Sasha is meanwhile rocking the GREATEST FUCKING HEEL HEAT, EVER by stealing Izzy’s head-gear, wearing it in the ring, pretending to cry and Izzy bursts into tears. Making children cry makes you the best in my book. Total heel dickery from Sasha on a level that would make Chuck Taylor jealous. 2-1 Sasha. 15 minutes left.
Sasha gets in some more hand stamping in a Boston crab, which is appropriate because she’s from Boston. Then she stomps on Bayley’s head too. It’s sensationally evil stuff. With Sasha focusing on her heel persona Bayley gets a fluke pin for 2-2. Again, it’s a touch disappointing that Bayley hardly spends any time chasing the lead and they’re back level almost immediately for the second time in the match.
They manage to work some nice familiarity spots like Bayley slipping out of Sasha’s double knees. As we hit the 20 minute mark both ladies are looking a little tired. This is foreign territory and until you wrestle for 20+ minutes you don’t really know how it’ll effect you. Bayley changes tactics, gets nasty, and goes after Sasha’s hand in a call-back to Brooklyn. They do some fun stuff with the ring steps, again a call-back to Brooklyn. Sasha goes for a tope but Bayley catches her; BAYLEY TO BELLY! That’s just a great spot. This leads to an “Iron Woman” chant. The early signs of fatigue have not gotten worse and both ladies look tired but capable. Sasha tries to get something going off the top but gets caught in a super Bayley to Belly only for a sensational rope break to stop the count. They didn’t land anywhere near the ropes but the double roll from Banks was entirely believable. Another call-back to Brooklyn follows with the super rana but Sasha flips right over onto her feet. BAYLEY TO BELLY! She took the whole sequence off Bayley! BANK STATEMENT! Two minutes on the clock, Bayley can’t just hang on. Sasha’s hand injury is what saves Bayley as Sasha has to reapply and they counter and COUNTER BACK AGAIN. Sasha’s selling in the hold is genius and Bayley is able to go after the hand to get out. As the clock runs out Bayley has a submission and is STAMPING ON SASHA’S HEAD and with seconds left the ref calls for the bell. Sasha submitted! 3-2 Bayley! What a match! They’ve done it again!
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post Match: the whole roster is out here to show their respect for that match. Sasha gets presented with a bunch of flowers, on what’s probably her final NXT match, and breaks down in tears, just collapsing exhausted between Triple H and Stephanie. The crowd again launch into a chant of “you deserve it”. The story these women have told over these two title matches has been special beyond belief. I’m tempted to boost the rating for intangibles, like I did in Brooklyn, but the post match wasn’t quite so special here as it was last time. Although I must admit I got a bit misty eyed at the sight of Sasha breaking down. I doubt little Izzy feels the same way. Phenomenal heel work from Sasha in the match. Best heel work all year long, outside of Kevin Owens.
Tangent: Sasha is slightly nicer than Kevin and went over to Izzy after the show to give her the bouquet of flowers she was presented with. They made up with a fist bump. Seeing as Sasha is leaving the territory she needs to finish up all her storylines.
Summary: NXT does not disappoint. This is one of their mantras. They want people to remember these shows and go home happy. I’m certain everyone will be, at the very least, pleased with how this panned out. I was thrilled with how the main event developed. Perhaps 30 minutes was too long for the story they were telling but everything about the match worked and there was no dead time. You can’t ask for much more than that. All the call-backs to Brooklyn were appreciated and it’s a pity they’ve moved Sasha on because a title change and a rubber match would have been interesting. At least Sasha has done the time-honoured tradition of putting someone over on her way out. Bayley is set, thanks to her. The emotion that I’ve felt watching these two Bayley-Sasha matches is a cut above anything else the WWE have done in 2015. When I’m really feeling the emotion of a feud it makes everything seem better. The in-ring for this second match wasn’t quite clean enough to be a MOTYC but it’s still very much worth your time for the story alone.