To say that NXT had a tremendous 2015 is a gross understatement; arguably the most interesting of the WWE brands, the developmental wing turned super indie sold out shows across the United States as well as the United Kingdom and presented what I consider to be the best WWE event of 2015, TakeOver: Brooklyn, during SummerSlam weekend. With so much buzz, so much hype, and most importantly so much goodwill heading into the new year it's going to be interesting to see where NXT goes.
Commentators: Tom Phillips and Corey Graves
Promo Time: Sami Zayn
The first NXT of 2016 starts off in style as GM William Regal makes his triumphant return following neck surgery. He thanks the fans for a great 2015 then announces that the main event tonight will be a battle royal to decide the #1 contender to Bayley's NXT Women's Championship. Regal then proudly introduces Sami Zayn, making his return to Full Sail for the first time since returning from his injury last month.
Zayn soaks in the adulation and plays to the crowd a bit, who obviously eat it up because it's the Full Sail crowd and they love nothing more than being reminded that people love them. Zayn announces his intent to become the first ever two-time NXT Championship which causes Samoa Joe to interrupt. Joe says he appreciates Zayn's ambition but doesn't understand by Zayn thinks he deserves a shot at the championship considering the last time Zayn even had a shot he had to come and save him (NXT TakeOver: Rival). Baron Corbin of all people jumps into the fray and says that since Zayn's been injured and Joe came up short in his bid for the championship at NXT TakeOver: London while he won his match that he's somehow the uncrowned NXT Champion. I don't follow the logic, but okay. Joe reminds Corbin that he choked him out at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn and tells Zayn to know his place before leaving the ring. Corbin attacks Zayn from behind but Zayn Helluva Kicks him right out of the ring. Joe teases jumping back in but decides not to and Zayn stands tall. Really good opening segment, with a great return promo from Zayn and an immediate storyline to start the new year. Not entirely sure Corbin deserves to be in the third spot but hey somebody's gotta get pinned when these three inevitably meet, right?
We go backstage where Rich Brennan is standing by with NXT Women's Champion Bayley. Bayley puts over how tough Nia Jax was last month at NXT TakeOver: London then says she's looking forward to seeing who wins the #1 contendership battle royal, saying she may even hug the winner. That's nice. I wish Brock Lesnar would say stuff like that.
A video package plays highlighting the winners of the first-ever NXT Year End Awards. Winners are as follows: NXT Champion Finn Bálor (Male & Overall Competitor of the Year), Bayley (Female Competitor, not 'Diva', of the Year), Bayley Vs. Sasha Banks from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (Match of the Year), and Enzo Amore & Big Cass (Tag Team of the Year). Each winner says a little something and takes a picture with Regal and Triple H. Triple H is the proudest papa outside of Papa Briscoe.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Danny Burch
Hey look, a match! Ciampa isn't actually signed to NXT so he's just sorta hanging out and wrestling randomly. Burch is looking as mean as ever, almost Dynamite Kid-like. We start with some chain wrestling and then Burch takes over for a bit following a second-rope front-facing missile dropkick. Ciampa eventually bounces back with a hanging reverse STO. Burch goes for a backslide but Ciampa slides through and locks in a bridging Fujiwara Armbar for the tapout victory. Decent stuff here but I'm not really sure what to expect from Ciampa overall since he's not really an NXT guy. I'm not gonna turn my nose at him randomly appearing though. (3:42)
Final Rating: **
Enzo Amore & Big Cass cut a backstage promo on NXT Tag Team Champions Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder, saying they found out how boneless they were at NXT TakeOver: London when they hid behind Carmella. Personally I find that move brilliant, but hey that's just me. Big Cass promises to soon conclude their unfinished business with the champs.
Billie Kay, Deonna Purrazzo, and Emma all promise victory in the battle royal tonight. Purrazzo has the most Italian name I've ever heard in my life.
Cut to William Regal's office, where the GM announces that Zayn, Corbin, and Joe will fight it out for a shot at the NXT Championship in two weeks time. Nice.
Dash & Dawson vs. The Ascension
The NXT Tag Team Championships are not on the line for this one. The Ascension get a loud ovation from the Full Sail crowd due to their history in the territory (longest-reigning Tag Team Champions and all that). Nice to know someone cares about The Ascension...well besides Stardust anyway. Dash shoves Viktor to start and Viktor peppers him in the corner with chops and European uppercuts. Soon enough the tag team champions take over with constant tags and abuse towards the smaller of the two Ascension members. Viktor manages to take Wilder down with an STO and makes the hot tag to Konnor, who 'YAH's his way through some jabs as the crowd chants along. His schtick is weirdly reminiscent of Dusty's dancing Bionic Elbow barrage. Konnor whips Dawson into Wilder which apparently counts as a tag and the champs finish Konnor with the Shatter Machine for the 1,2,3. Seeing The Ascension work babyface was strange given their main roster placement but it made sense given Full Sail's apparent love of the duo. I like the idea of the former dominant team of NXT coming in to job for the new hotness, which in this case is Dash & Dawson. The current tag team champions are a definite step up from Blake & Murphy in the heel team department. (4:16)
Final Rating: **
We go backstage where Regal is with a trainer, Nia Jax and Eva Marie. The trainer says that Jax will not be able to compete in the battle royal tonight due to injuries suffered at NXT TakeOver: London which Marie celebrates behind her friend's back. Luckily for Marie no one in the WWE Universe actually watches the weekly TV shows so Jax probably won't find out about that.
Carmella, Peyton Royce, and Alexa Bliss all cut brief promos proclaiming victory in the battle royal.
Elias Samson vs. Corey Hollis
Samson debuted his new 'Drifter' gimmick last month in England and for me at least it comes off super lame. Plus I thought Corbin cornered the market on the 'silent, brooding loner' gimmick already. The match is a total squash as Samson plays with his food for a bit before dispatching the tiny Hollis with a spinning neckbreaker. Did what it needed to do I guess. (2:22)
Final Rating: N/R
After the match Samson gets on the mic and says what he is is what NXT needs. For some reason I doubt that. Samson carries around an acoustic guitar so you know one day that's gonna come into play Jeff Jarrett-style. Can't wait, I loves me a good guitar shot.
Alex Reyes is backstage with NXT Champion Finn Bálor, who puts over Samoa Joe and their match at last month's NXT TakeOver: London. Bálor isn't concerned about who wins the number one contender's triple threat in two weeks because the NXT Championship is staying with him.
Cameron, Aliyah, Liv Morgan, and Asuka all boast heading into the battle royal. Aliyah mentions this is her NXT debut, Morgan does some weird hand signal thing because Jersey, and Asuka speaks in broken English but still comes off tougher than pretty much anyone on Earth except Haku. No one is tougher than Haku.
Battle Royal for a Shot at the NXT Women's Championship
Alexa Bliss, Emma, Carmella, Eva Marie, and Asuka get the TV entrances. Asuka comes out after Marie, who's wearing a baller Ric Flair robe, and shoulder shoves her as she makes her way to the ring. Asuka is the best. Bell rings and Asuka adds insult to injury by dropping Marie with a kick to the mush. Emma then goes after Asuka while the other ladies brawl and we go to commercial.
Back from break in time for Aliyah to be the first one eliminated. Purrazzo is out second courtesy of Cameron. Liv Morgan tries to power bomb Cameron shortly after but they fall over instead. But hey there's a spot to be done so they try it again and Bliss shoves them both out to the floor to the joy of the crowd. Carmella gets knocked out as well but she falls through the bottom rope so she's not eliminated. Bliss is taken out by Emma, Emma is taken out by Asuka, who is then double teamed by best friends Peyton Royce and Billie Kay. Asuka is a monster though and fights back, sending both to the apron. She eliminates both with a running Butt Butt (Iceman King Parsons would be proud) and think she's won but in comes Eva Marie who hasn't been around the whole match to toss her out. Marie plays to the crowd thinking she outsmarted everyone but Carmella, who was never eliminated, runs in and tosses her out for the victory. Your normal run of the mill battle royal with a surprising victor; Carmella is an interesting choice to go with for sure. I guess they're saving Bayley/Asuka for WrestleMania weekend. (8:02 shown)
Final Rating: *3/4
After the match Bayley runs down and hugs Carmella because they're friends. She made good on her promise, phew! Asuka is briefly shown smirking at them from the entrance ramp which is awesome, then we end the episode on Carmella celebrating some more in the ring.
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Asuka. Her aura and mannerisms are tremendous and give the women's division a much-needed ass kicker. I want to see her wreck everybody on the roster, men included.
Least Entertaining: The Women's Battle Royal. Outside of Asuka and the fun ending this was just your usual battle royal shenanigans which either work or don't. For me it didn't completely.
Match of the Night: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Danny Burch, if I really have to pick one.
Summary: With it being the first episode of the year I'm going to give NXT a pass for spending most of it building new storylines in lieu of any really standout match-ups. The opening segment was tremendous and did a great job reintroducing Sami Zayn back into the mix proper and while I'm still not entirely sold on Baron Corbin being tossed into the mix alongside Zayn and Joe I will give NXT props for putting someone new in the spotlight. The wrestling on the show was okay for what it was but it was nothing short of average down the line but we did get a surprising Women's Championship contender in Carmella so that's cool. I've never been the biggest NXT fan on the planet, at least when it comes to the weekly show, but this was a solid episode and it's got my interest piqued for at least a little while. I'll tell you right now though if Enzo Amore isn't champion by the end of the year I may just start pouting instead of reviewing.