Mr. Itami Goes To WrestleMania
– We wouldn’t necessarily label this episode a “throwaway” show by any means – it was very cool to see WWE finally acknowledge the accomplishments of Hideo Itami during WrestleMania Axxess weekend, chronicling his rise to getting to compete in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale and the matches he fought through to get there. The ending video package was appropriate and emotional – showing his two younger sons backstage and his interactions with Triple H, The Big Show, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan and more, as they all spoke quite highly of him. This made Itami look like the international superstar that he is, and this was excellent because it had seemed his accomplishments had slipped under the radar and swept under the rug by a Show KO punch. Only complaint about this was the timing of the show. Being that the great majority of us already seen WrestleMania and knew Itami would win the tournament, it took the unpredictability out of the matches. This show would’ve been most effective say, three days after Mania.
– The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale Qualifying Tournament Semifinal match between Hideo Itami and Adrian Neville was a good lengthy match with offense galore from both guys – from the ground up to the air. Crowd was favorable for Itami and Neville took the reaction and used it to his advantage, playing the crowd at times. This was telling, with Neville in likely his last legitimate NXT appearance, groomed for the main roster, looking as sharp as possible in the ring, not missing a step, providing the perfect foil for the uprising Itami. The ending sequence was incredibly good, with Neville close to winning, only for Itami to pull out his finisher almost out of desperation, which came off very well.
– The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale Qualifying Tournament Semifinals match between Finn Balor and Tyler Breeze was the clash you’d expect – not just of personalities but also in-ring styles, one almost complimenting the other. Balor was a good choice to advance, given his popularity rise and would increase fan interest in the tournament finals. One minor complaint might be that the match was sort of short, but it’s not completely unheard of for Balor to decisively beat Breeze at this point.
– Dana Brooke continues to come off as the confident muscular blonde bombshell. Her debut next week is something to look forward to.
– Cool to see the video package that highlighted the house show at the San Jose University Arena filled with a crowd of 5,000 crowd. It shows the magnitude of NXT and how “over” it is, with a crowd that size. Would’ve also been cooler if they legit didn’t use TNA’s old “Adrenaline Rush, Adrenaline Rush” theme music, but we’re slightly nitpicking here.
– The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale Qualifying Tournament Finals match between Itami and Balor was great – would you expect any less from these two? Itami had his shining moments here, coming closer than ever to his goal, eventually getting there, moving past the fight of a relentless Balor. The finish did feel a little “empty” and it would’ve been appropriate for Itami to advance using his GTS, but that’s not how it went down. However, they did highlight his first GTS in the ending video package and the effect it had on social media, getting Itami to trend on Twitter during Mania weekend. He finally got his moment and that’s what this episode was all about.
– Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale Qualifying Tournament Semifinals – Hideo Itami def. Adrian Neville via pinfall to advance
– Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale Qualifying Tournament Semifinals – Finn Balor def. Tyler Breeze via pinfall to advance
– Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale Qualifying Tournament Finals – Hideo Itami def. Finn Balor via pinfall
New Era (No Problems)
– Following NXT Rival sounded like a mission in itself and the opening video defined that in every way.
– The opening William Regal promo set the tone to the show – declaring it a “New Era in NXT” and rightfully so. Most of the show focused on the future aspects of storylines and new feuds. It also properly hyped the Kevin Owens-Adrian Neville main event, which already had storyline background to it. It also confirmed that Owens was NXT World Heavyweight Champion by victory of referee stoppage.
– You had to start the show off with Owens of course. He’s a heat magnet just from how he won the belt. It’s evident the crowd was split down the middle for him. This was a confident. strong promo from him as he made bold statements, mainly calling Sami Zayn “the past” and wanted to fight Finn Balor anytime. It’s like he’s a fighting champion with moments of selected cowardice. Owens pulls it off excellently.
– Random, but always pleasant to see Rhyno appear from nowhere. Crowd understandably went wild and this kept up the “anything can happen” atmosphere. Never let your guard down while watching NXT. Elias Sampson had a short night, but it didn’t matter anyway. Rhyno won with the gore.
– The Balor promo made him sound tough in response to Owens and the disruption by Rhyno who smirked was appropriate. Perhaps a match between them next week?
– The Vaudevillains-Enzo Amore/Colin Cassady (w/Carmella) was a subtle way to get Amore/Cassady over while reminding us The Vaudevillains still exist. It’s hard to not crack a smile with how over Amore/Cassady are with the crowd. The promo by Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy after the match set them back to being sleazy heels. Smart move, considering the popularity of Amore/Cassady.
– The Neville promo was decent as he set himself as a “hunter” and was focused on the personal side of his match with Owens later. He’s out with something to prove.
– The Bayley promo was short and sweet in how close she was to winning last week. She definitely has the crowd’s support.
– The Becky Lynch promo was also decent in that she expressed her disdain for Bayley and Charlotte. Odd that she wouldn’t be upset with Sasha Banks winning being she fought with her many times over the belt. The absence of Charlotte on the show was also obvious here at this point.
– CJ Parker taking the show “hostage” with police caution tape was an attention-grabber, but ultimately a great way to debut Solomon Crowe. Seems like Crowe will have some kind of cheesy, punkish character, but no complaints, as it fits his look.
– The Banks-Blue Pants match seemed like an odd way to kick off Banks’ reign as Champion. Blue Pants’ “Right Off The Clearance Rack” gimmick is oddly amusing right down to the “Da Da Da Da” Price Is Right theme music. Banks was clearly playing with Blue Pants and won by submission with the Banks Statement. Her promo was all Sasha confidence, being the “queen bee” and all.
– Showing the footage after “Rival” went off the air of Zayn being helped up after the match and word of his update from Dr. Chris Amann saying Zayn was ready to go soon was all good. His return promo should be something to watch.
– The Neville-Owens match was more of showcasing Owens’ brash style mixed with Neville’s aerial fighting spirit. This turned into a really good match as it went on. The 450 splash by Neville off the apron was impressive and the near falls were believable towards the end where it seemed that Neville could actually win. The story told was that Owens is a force to be reckoned with and things aren’t done yet with him and Zayn. With Balor also in line for a Title shot, NXT has some great main event matches set up for the near future.
– Rhyno def. Elias Sampson via pinfall
– Enzo Amore/Colin Cassady (w/Carmella) def. The Vaudevillains via pinfall
– Sasha Banks def. Blue Pants via submisison
– Kevin Owens def. Adrian Neville via pinfall
Say what you want, but NXT knows how to shake things up and with two Titles changing hands and an incredible match between Finn Balor and Adrian Neville in the #1 Contender’s Tournament Finals, “Rival” lived up to its namesake.
Every match brought something different to the table and delivered, par for the course for these NXT live specials.
– The opening video put over the true excitement brought about by the past specials and it’s downright hard to deny. The video also succeeded in hyping the Divas and Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn matches, with background and insight from sound bites from its competitors.
– The Hideo Itami-Tyler Breeze match already had some simple storyline background to it with the attack on Itami in the locker room by Breeze. Being that these two had a great #1 Contender’s Tournament match a few weeks ago, there were no complaints to see them go at it again. This was more of the same evenly matched affair. These guys work well together. Great use of the ring post by Breeze and Itami can cook up an emotional comeback like no one else. Good opener as both guys had time to shine and Itami keeps his roll going. Breeze has lost a good amount lately, but hasn’t lost much. They need to get him back on the victory wagon soon though, while his “narcissistic novelty” still shines.
– The Bull Dempsey-Baron Corbin No Disqualification match retained the intensity of their feud right from the start, which was necessary given the stipulation. Dempsey being a Brooklynite was emphasized to make him sound tough, but lately, he’s just been a sad man in a singlet, having now lost three straight matches against Corbin. He should just switch to pants at this point. The two men didn’t break new ground in terms of in-ring action, but at least Corbin is looking good from it. The post-match action with Corbin sitting on the chair, kicking at Dempsey was a bit cocky, but fit for the “Lone Wolf” character. Let’s just hope these guys don’t have yet another match. Let’s move on.
– If we’re watching the WWE Network advertise subscribing to the Network on the Network, wouldn’t that mean we already subscribed?
– The Tag Team Championship match between The Lucha Dragons and Wesley Blake/Buddy Murphy wasn’t without its sloppiness as it almost seemed both teams were going faster than they could keep up with, but they settled down towards the end and Murphy/Blake recovered and seem to be the recipients of a new push. Being Champions, it wouldn’t make sense to change hands now. Had to also love the Solomon Crowe hype signals for next week in there as well.
– The NXT Title #1 Contender’s Tournament match between Adrian Neville and Finn Balor was preceded by an excellent hype video that included sound bites from studio interviews. As usual, Balor’s “war paint” would be cool to be pulled out every bout, but picking it for “big battles” also makes the match itself feel more special. This was downright fantastic and arguably match of the night, if not one of the best of the year in wrestling to this point. The dropkick spot through the barricade was memorable and this match had some pure “omg” moments as each men kicked out of each other’s finishers and even more. The finishing exchange was downright awe-inspiring with the best near falls you could possibly see. If you didn’t watch this show, at least watch it for this. Balor had a career night here. Him going over was ultimately the smart move as he has grown immensely popular. Where does Neville go from here though? We know his character wanted the match bad.
– The 4-way divas championship match between Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Charlotte (Champion) made good use of the “fatal four” dynamic with some inventive spots and even had all women going to the top fearlessly. Bayley looked good in particular almost appearing to be the fan favorite at a point. That said, Banks was the smart choice to go over as Champion if it wouldn’t be Charlotte because this allows Bayley to chase her and also sparks a potential Bayley-Charlotte feud. Plus of course, Lynch will probably stand there and headbang. The post-match interaction between Charlotte and Banks was well-done as they teased a moment of embrace only to shove each other away.
– The NXT Championship match between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens definitely had some streak of controversy, but the actual storytelling of the match itself was great from Owens’ methodical dominance to Zayn’s comeback spirit. The story of Owens basically ignoring the medical concern of Zayn to get himself the NXT Title by Referee Stoppage made him look like an absolute beast. Zayn may had first appeared to be legitimately hurt from that steel ramp bump, but they took it and made it work towards the finish. Note that Zayn did lose without being pinned or submitted and the fallout from this should make great television.
– Hideo Itami def. Tyler Breeze via pinfall
– No Disqualification Match – Baron Corbin def. Bull Dempsey via pinfall
– Tag Team Championships – Wesley Blake/Buddy Murphy def. The Lucha Dragons via pinfall to retain
– NXT World Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender’s Tournament Finals – Finn Balor def. Adrian Neville via pinfall to earn Title Shot
– Divas Championship – Sasha Banks def. Bayley, Becky Lynch and Charlotte (Champion) via pinfall to become new Champion
– NXT World Heavyweight Championship – Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn via referee stoppage to become new Champion
Final Pieces Of The Puzzle
– Colin Cassady and Enzo Amore are an entertaining act to watch and definitely over with the crowd. Their introduction of Carmella was about right, although her entrance song sounds too much like Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” Probably on purpose. Carmella has got great mic skills too. On the other hand, Emma has got a weird entrance – as she came out doing some Power Ranger impressions possibly. The Carmella-Emma match itself was pretty good, but a bit short. Carmella’s submission finisher is brutal-looking. A forgettable return for Emma as the astoundingly better version of the Bro-Mans stole the spotlight.
– The Adrian Neville-Baron Corbin #1 Contender’s Tournament Round 2 match looked like an exciting match even beforehand. Neville was arguably the favorite here and Corbin could also look good in defeat. The obvious size advantage was smart to emphasize and having Bull Dempsey play a part in the finish meant those two weren’t done and Neville gets to moves on. You had the feeling that Corbin officially moved on from Dempsey before the interference finish, but dragging him back to this feud may do more harm than help for him.
– The Sami Zayn promo set things in perspective for his next week’s match with Kevin Owens that he was manipulated and it provided good hype. It’s going to be a good match when these two finally go at it. Their feud was a big spotlight on the show.
– The announcement of Corbin-Dempsey in a No DQ match for next week was also expected.
– The Bayley-Becky Lynch match was an interesting clash in styles. The idea of Sasha Banks coming out to “motivate” Lynch seemed fishy and it was proven when she shoved Lynch into the ring to be “fed” to Bayley, who hit her finisher and won. The interaction between Banks and Lynch was good and NXT Divas Champion Charlotte coming out had all four women within feet of each other, which hyped next week’s four-way Divas Title match excellently.
– Owens’ promo was pretty standard for his character to feel confident and him pointing out next week’s show was two months to the day of his debut was interesting and noteworthy of his quick push.
– The “Solomon” cryptic message appeared again during a match graphic. Maybe he debuts next week?
– Making a Tag Team Championship rematch between Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake-Lucha Dragons was an easy way to fill up next week’s card.
– The Tyler Breeze promo had him show off his good mic skills as he was obsessed with his phone and watching the finish of the tournament. Where will he go from here?
– The Hideo Itami-Finn Balor #1 Contender’s tournament Round 2 match already also looked good on paper, though Balor was probably the favorite. Having Neville out on commentary “scouting” also made sense and made the match feel important. Itami and Balor were given plenty of ring time and the evenly matched dynamic with them being former tag partners and just watching them break each other down in a technical affair made this pleasing in terms of in-ring psychology. Good match. Balor going over was the right move. The match finish was well done as they emphasized Balor’s kick that sent Itami into the turnbuckle. The stare down between Balor and Neville afterwards was also simple, but effective.
– The Owens-Zayn feud hype video set up the emotional highs and lows of their complete history. They’ve established this very much as a personal feud. Even if you’re not familiar with both guys’ work before NXT, how could you not dig it? Great way to end the show. It’s amazing how great television can be when it’s simple and to the point. No overbooking can do wonders.
– Carmella (w/Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady) def. Emma via submission
– NXT World Title #1 Contender’s Tournament Semifinals – Adrian Neville def. Baron Corbin via pinfall to advance
– Bayley def. Becky Lynch via pinfall
– NXT World Title #1 Contender’s Tournament Semifinals – Finn Balor def. Hideo Itami via pinfall to advance
Signed, Sealed And Delivered
– Giving the Tag Team Championships to Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy so quickly may hurt them – even if they looked good, as they defeated Lucha Dragons in shocking fashion. The idea is revolved around “newcomer’s success” per se, but we haven’t seen what Blake and Murphy can truly do when under pressure. The Dragons were over as Champions too and losing them so quickly hurts them too. These two teams are due for a rematch, so this might be the time for Blake and Murphy to solidify themselves as serious in the tag team picture, now that they lead the division. Blake and Murphy are quick and energetic – if one had to draw a comparison to another team, it might point to Paul London and Brian Kendrick. While they seemed to come off heelish last week, Blake and Murphy appeared to be humbled faces.
– The Bayley-Charlotte backstage segment played up the ongoing tension between Charlotte and Bayley, with Charlotte not pleased about Bayley coming out to save her last week. From a storyline perspective, it’s easy for us to see why Charlotte would be upset with Bayley, since her interference pretty much set up the reason why Charlotte has to defend her belt against three Divas. If only Charlotte had better mic skills, it would have been even better. She just didn’t sound threatening, though she made an attempt.
– After coming so close to victory in a great match last week against Hideo Itami in Round 1 of the NXT World Title Number-One Contender’s Tournament, Tyler Breeze established that it didn’t affect him and was ready for more competition. This was good for his “narcissistic” gimmick perhaps, but maybe they should’ve had him be a little bothered by it. This was his chance to go for the NXT Title. Isn’t that what everybody wants?
– The Adrian Neville-Tyson Kidd #1 Contender’s Tournament match was filled with good action. Some kind of cryptic message also popped up during Neville’s entrance. Interesting. Based on Neville’s previous spot in the Title picture and Kidd not really going anywhere in NXT, Neville was the favorite here. The good thing was Kidd was someone who could make this fun, and that’s what happened. Even in defeat, Kidd looked strong. With the exception of Dempsey/Corbin, they’ve booked this tournament just right and haven’t rushed any matches either.
– Neville’s post-match comments made him sound tough and eager to face more competition and get back to where he once was. Neville looked good on this episode. He’s going to go far. He’s an all-around kind of competitor.
– The backstage interview with Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch appeared to set up tension between them because of how the NXT Divas Title is in play. Lynch obviously won’t help Banks in this case.
– The backstage interview with Murphy and Blake had them again appear as humbled guys who respected the Lucha Dragons and just wanted to take on anybody. Fighting champions? We’ll see.
– The Charlotte/Bayley and Banks/Lynch tag team match disappointingly ended in a no contest, but it hyped the fatal four way for next week some more and followed up on the tension between Bayley and Charlotte headed into the match by having them fight. Having no finish in the match also prevented anyone from looking weak.
– The Finn Balor backstage interview played up his history with Itami, whose comment about having to take Balor out if he had to was good. Nothing too convincing here though as both guys lack good mic skills at the moment, but this was necessary to hype their match. What they lack on the mic they more than make up for in the ring.
– The Emma backstage interview set her focus on a “restart.” More hype for next week, but this was just random. What exactly will she do?
– Was it smart to have Baron Corbin defeat Bull Dempsey in such quick fashion in their match in the #1 Contender’s tournament? Albeit, Corbin came out looking like a beast. This may be in advance if he will lose to Neville next week, but this was all at poor Dempsey’s expense. He’s 0-2 against Corbin in a “personal” feud and just got dominated here. Dempsey has decent mic skills and that can help him, but he needs momentum back pronto.
– The backstage segment with Corbin and Dempsey furthered their feud some more, even though Dempsey got pushed away again, looking weak. Maybe Dempsey ties it up or costs Corbin when he faces Neville next week?
– They’ve spiced up the Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn encounter for February 11 as good as they could, with it now being for the NXT Title. The contract signing segment with them and William Regal was intense and entertaining. To Zayn, this was personal going back to their 12-year friendship and to Owens, this was business. Owen’s comment about it being “for his wife and kids” may had come across as sympathetic but with his laid-back demeanor and intense stare, Owens was definitely a bad-ass heel here. You had to love the tension between the two and Owens got the “first shot” by throwing the pen at Zayn’s face, clear disrespect. With some time left between now and February 11, how will they keep this feud hot? It seems WWE wants to keep the Belt on Zayn, but with Owens on the rise, this could be the time for Zayn to drop it and be in chase mode again, as Zayn’s character is completely investable in that way and Owens could be a dominant Champion.
– Tag Team Championships – Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy def. The Lucha Dragons via pinfall to Become New Champions
– NXT World Title #1 Contender’s Match – Round 1 – Adrian Neville def. Tyson Kidd via pinfall to advance
– Charlotte/Bayley and Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch to a No-Contest
– NXT World Title #1 Contender’s Match – Round 1 – Baron Corbin def. Bull Dempsey via pinfall to advance
– It was disappointing to see Finn Balor without the bad-ass face paint but that aside, the match between him and Tyson Kidd set a good pace to the show, and the Kidd-Natalya storyline was furthered by her absence at ringside. The broadcast team also did a good job of making both competitors sound credible, emphasizing their “never say die” work ethic. Balor looked like the eager rookie and Kidd played the overconfident heel perfectly. Balor’s finisher didn’t look too menacing initially, but it was still believable. Good opener.
– It was a good idea to show the highlight video of the intense rivalry between Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville. This is the prime example of a perfect feud; both guys have come out of it looking better and the NXT Title is the equivalent of a diamond at this point. It’s that prestigious.
– The Bull Dempsey backstage promo on Baron Corbin was pretty straightforward. He’s got a good conversational tone to his voice, but news flash: there’s a wrestler out there who already has the nickname, “Last Of A Dying Breed,” which he referred to himself as.
– The Dempsey-Corbin match felt more like a brawl, but for an intense feud, it was expected. What wasn’t expected was the fast, fierce finish where Corbin pulled off the End Of Days on Dempsey. Way too short to truly feel like a payoff by any means.
– The Divas tag match between Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch and Natalya/Charlotte was nitty and gritty, but moved a bit more fluidly than a general divas match. Banks/Lynch pulled out the win where Banks pinned Charlotte, the current NXT Divas Champion, which sets up a potential future match.
– The rematch between Neville and Zayn certainly had high expectations going in. Neville’s character has taken more of a face turn or tweener territory, as he even checked up on Zayn at one point. There is no doubt that these two create magic when in the ring together and the energy was high like their previous encounter, but there were times in the match where this felt like a movie sequel trying to live up to the box-office smash original. Down the stretch, things became great and Zayn came out with the win looking tough, as he recovered just enough from two quick-style hurricanranas. Kevin Owens’ post match attack on Zayn was also solid, maybe expected. This ended the exact same as the NXT Takeover: R-Evolution show, which was fine, but it didn’t have the impact of the original moment. This however – may lead to a future match for the NXT Title between Zayn and Owens.
– Finn Baylor def. Tyson Kidd via pinfall
– Baron Corbin def. Bull Dempsey via pinfall
– Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch def. Natalya/Charlotte via pinfall
– NXT Championship – Sami Zayn def. Adrian Neville via pinfall to retain
– The NXT theme and montage perfectly sums up the feeling of the show as it is now; the future of wrestling.
– Sami Zayn got a killer reaction when he came out. He’s hot stuff right now, even after a four-week absence. The “ole” chants have even kept up. He clearly soaked it up going into the crowd. His promo maybe was too close to a CM Punk style promo, where he said the NXT Title is important to him, where in anybody’s else’s hands, it was just a Title. His bit about the crowd and him as a band was a bit of a stretch, but it got his point over. He sent a message to Kevin Owens at the same time. Adrian Neville’s interruption was just to show that Neville had a respect for Zayn. Zayn alluded to an eventual rematch, which General Manager William Regal said would happen. Hard not to look forward to it, but we had to wonder where Owens would come into the equation.
– The Vaude Villains promo style was quite unique, using a “1920’s” style camera shot.
– The Hideo Itami-Curtis Axel match was more back and forth than expected. Axel had more of the spotlight and he actually may benefit from the NXT environment as a tough guy heel who had actually been in a WWE ring and held belts. Itami ended up with the victory but the crowd was quiet at the finish. Never had time to truly take off.
– The Natalya/Tyson Kidd backstage promo showcased their on/off-relationship as they argued about cats. Kidd threw his name as a potential NXT Title contender and he professed his love of cats. Sounds about right.
– The Hype video between Bull Dempsey and Baron Corbin’s feud was decent in introducing them, but by no means is it a blood feud. Both guys also appeared generic, as they could use a different look.
– The Alexa Bliss-Sasha Banks (w/Becky Lynch) match had a good quick pace to it and had athleticism that you just don’t see on Raw. Banks won by submission and it seemed the story was about Bliss on a “slump” after losing to the NXT Divas champion, Charlotte. The Banks statement is also a killer finisher for a Diva.
– The Tyler Breeze-Chad Gable match put Breeze over from his “vacation stint.” His entrance was also unique, with his cell phone camera shown on the big screen, focused on him. He is essentially the new age narcissist. The human figure that appeared on his phone in the back was also something interesting.
– The Finn Balor backstage promo on Kidd was short and to the point. Nothing extra.
– The Tag Team Championship match between The Lucha Dragons (champs) and The Vaude Villains was evenly split, with the Dragons providing the athletics and the Villains providing the mentality. This clash of styles actually worked. The finish was sleek, as the Dragons retained with a sick-looking springboard powerbomb double-team move. The match capped off a show, while with no “show stealers,” continued the trend of arguably the best hour in wrestling currently.
– On that note, the absence of Owens besides being mentioned by Zayn at the start of the show was head-scratching. Even a hype video would have sufficed here.
– Hideo Itami def. Curtis Axel via pinfall
– Sasha Banks (w/Becky Lynch) def. Alexa Bliss via pinfall
– Tyler Breeze def. Chad Gable via pinfall
– Tag Team Championships – The Lucha Dragons def. The Vaude Villains via pinfall to retain