By Nicholas Jason Lopez
So, this is just the week that keeps on giving and giving, huh?
The internet has practically broken itself three times in the span of four days.
First, The Shield reunited for a good 45 seconds with a Triple Powerbomb at WWE Payback. Then, NXT Champion Kevin Owens came out on Raw and dropped John Cena on his head after a memorable promo exchange.
Now, Samoa Joe makes his NXT debut in a standoff with Owens at the conclusion of TakeOver: Unstoppable, a show that was already delivering on all fronts with yet another excellent effort.
With Joe recently taking independent bookings, the sight of him in NXT also fell on the rumor mill, but seeing it for ourselves was almost like the heyday of WCW’s rise in the 90’s when main eventers jumped ship.
Coinciding on a day where TNA reportedly was cancelled by Destination America (still not officially confirmed), it only made sense one of its former top stars (and original Beat Down Clan member as recent as March) came to “the place to be.”
Over The Shoulder
– The opening video did a good job of making Sami Zayn’s main roster debut come across as a big, breakthrough moment for the former NXT World Heavyweight Champion in his hometown, taking John Cena to the limit in the United States Championship Open Challenge. Smartly emphasized here was his will to fight through the sudden shoulder injury and made his health status a hook for the episode.
Stamp Of Approval
– Good to see Emma trolling the crowd this time around, donning Bayley’s t-shirt and headband. The match between her and Charlotte was good for what it was. A lot of attention was focused on Emma’s newer aggressive style – more rough and gritty. Of course, that was all kind of done away as Charlotte finished her off with a Natural Selection, albeit on one leg. Bayley coming out to turn a hug for Emma into a Bayley-To-Belly was a nice change of pace, though it came off a bit heelish, but the crowd was fully behind her, so it was good.
Kevin Owens Is Not Impressed
– The opening video looked back at last week’s Kevin Owens-Alex Riley rematch, as Owens owned Riley yet again, doing everything except the Apron Powerbomb as Sami Zayn saved Riley, as the two rivals brawled, going back to interview sound bites from the two guys. This made Zayn-Owens feel like the big deal it is.
(Selfie) Stick It Out
– What perfect timing to bring Sami Zayn back into the mix – “fresh” in mind and eager to get back to competition. The former NXT World Heavyweight Champion addressed in his promo exactly what he needed to and vowed to get back from Kevin Owens what once was his. The crowd was firmly behind him, so the time off hasn’t affected his “overness.” The question is when will the rematch clause take place? Next TakeOver event?
– Rhyno – after a few weeks off the show – also re-emerged with a huge presence on this episode. He squashed a jobber and made a necessary claim to call out the rest of the NXT roster – Finn Balor, Zayn and Owens particularly – promising to become the next NXT World Heavyweight Champion. Two segments in and Owens has some more competition lined up, huh?
– Yet another Dana Brooke vignette that had her talking about her “perfect figure.” Cocky bodybuilder gimmick, for sure. Let’s see what she’s got.
– Showing highlights of the Owens-Balor NXT World Title match last week was a good way to set up Owens’ postmatch comments, which had him panting through deep breaths that he was better than everyone and the Title was still his and nobody else’s. Par for the course of what we’ve seen from him, but it works so well for him.
– The Bayley-Emma match had a decent backstory to it, but if we’re going to take Emma seriously as a heel, why is she still doing the ridiculous dancing? And what the hell is commentary saying she’s “making fun of herself” to progress her character? What the hell does that even mean? The “Bayley’s gonna hug you” chant was funny from the crowd. It’s just a little confusing though. Does Emma hate Bayley or is she rooting for her? It’s like she’s two different people. She should just stick with her newfound cocky heel side. Bayley getting the surprise pin was a decent finish, but where does this lead? The postmatch interaction needed an attack by Emma, but it never happened and left viewers likely disappointed.
– The Becky Lynch backstage promo was her complaining about not getting a title shot, which was all well and good, as it helped established that she was all on her own now. Her “N-Becks-T” comment was an okay, though corny way to put it.
– The Wesley Blake/Buddy Murphy-Lucha Dragons match was good in the way the two teams’ styles meshed together well, and Lucha Dragons sort of had an out with losing by dirty tactics from the Tag gold-sporting heels, but did we need to see the team that just had a successful Raw debut lose here on NXT? It was tricky here, being that Blake/Murphy are on a push too, but with their conflicts with Enzo Amore/Colin Cassady, why not have them interfere and cause them to lose the match? Would’ve been a better outcome, quite frankly.
– Perhaps a possible number one contender’s match between Rhyno and Zayn is certain down the road, telling by their backstage interaction. Rhyno in NXT is no pushover and needs to be presented that way.
– The Solomon Crowe hype video was short, to-the-point and the broadcast team actually acknowledged it. Who knew?
– The Tye Dillinger-Jason Jordan match was a squash in Jordan’s favor, who emphasized his amateur background with some tough takedowns, but it’s hard to see any depth to Jordan’s character at the moment. He came off as a cocky heel from his yelling, but he didn’t play the crowd too much. Dillinger mounted some offense, but this was mostly Jordan. A step in the right direction for him if anything.
– The hype video for the Hideo Itami-Tyler Breeze feud was quite solid in explaining their progress and showcasing their athletic affairs and ambush-style beatdowns.
– The 2-out-of-3 falls match between Itami and Breeze had a decent quick first fall with Itami getting the nod, and Breeze’s second fall victory had him outsmart Itami by playing possum. Can’t help but feel this match was being rushed in a sense. The third and final fall was the usual sleek exchange of near-falls, kicks and flips that we’re used to from the two. Very good action that appeared to set up a win by Itami perhaps using the TKO, but Breeze went over here and that shows a good sign for the New Age Narcissist with a main roster call-up supposedly in Itami’s future. Breeze could use this rub to move on to bigger opponents. We know he’s got the look and the gimmick – let’s see him take it up a notch with someone else.
– Rhyno def. Unnamed Jobber via pinfall
– Bayley def. Emma via pinfall
– Wesley Blake/Buddy Murphy def. The Lucha Dragons via pinfall
– Jason Jordan def. Tye Dillinger via pinfall
– Two-Out-Of-Three Falls – Tyler Breeze def. Hideo Itami two falls to one
Battle Without A Demon
– The opening video solidly put over the success of NXT’s first-ever road trip to Ohio, with highlights from all the matches and happenings, setting up what we’d see here on this show.
– The NXT Divas Championship match between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks was a fair follow-up to last week’s match. It’s hard to get behind somebody like Bliss. While she has the look of a wrestler and the blue/blonde hair color combo is unique, her skills are still muddy and need improvement, as the difference between her and Banks in the ring is almost scary. Bliss did pull off a cool flip powerbomb spot for a decent near fall and we’ll give her an honorable mention for that, but we knew going in that Banks was likely going to win this. The story was getting Bliss to the Championship match and now that she lost decisively, who’s next for Banks? Nobody else has really risen up to a Championship shot recently.
– There was excellent hype for the Kevin Owens-Finn Balor NXT World Heavyweight Championship match. Having Owens and Balor cut backstage promos on each other followed by hype videos for each guy throughout the show was smart. It showed the stark difference between the two men: Balor was hungry for a chance and sought to solidify his rise in NXT, even claiming he didn’t need to dress like a demon to do so, while Owens was confident in that he’d destroy Balor like everyone else he had barreled through, as nobody would get in the way of him, his championship or his family. Brilliant, simple storytelling time and time again, which makes NXT a wrestling highlight of the week.
– The Bayley-Emma backstage segment did one simple thing: it made further enemies out of Bayley and Emma, with the story of Emma trying to guide Bayley to her more aggressive side. As for who they’ll push out of this remains to be seen, but we might guess it could be Bayley, as she’ll likely pull off her “aggressive” side on Emma to get to a shot at Banks in the near future.
– We already know next week’s show looks decent with a two-out-of-three-falls match between Tyler Breeze and Hideo Itami, as their backstage segment set up. Itami didn’t exactly deliver his lines with passion, but it was understandable and he made the best of it. Breeze on the other hand – holds enough charisma to fill for both himself and Itami.
– Dana Brooke continues to look like an interesting character. The question is when will she debut and what kind of role will she play? She sort of comes off as an overconfident bodybuilder.
– So it seems that Carmella may soon dump her SAWFT-mates in Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady to get with Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy. It could make for an interesting switch and the Amore/Cassady team wouldn’t lose any of their popularity, so why not go for it? Having Blake/Murphy do something like buy Carmella jewelry was a good place to start.
– The NXT World Title match between Balor and Owens was an excellent bout, with the continued story of Owens being obsessed with the Championship and doing anything to keep it. It was the equivalent of Balor taking on a freight train and he still put up his best fight, with it coming pretty close to a win on his end, but it was only a matter of time until Owens’ powerbomb ended it all. Owens targeting Balor’s knee was excellent technical work and while he broke him down, he didn’t do enough where he could be sidelined, but nevertheless, Owens has been built up extremely well in this time and you have to wonder just who’ll take him down.
– NXT Divas Championship – Sasha Banks (Champion) def. Alexa Bliss via submission to retain
– NXT World Heavyweight Championship – Kevin Owens (Champion) def. Finn Balor to retain
Ohio Is For Wrestlers
– If we picked anything up from this episode, it’s that NXT is transitioning from “developmental territory” to “legitimate brand” and live touring helps to ease that. We’re used to the warmth and intimacy of Full Sail University for NXT shows, but taking it out of that setting and seeing it on the road provides a whole new experience for both talent and fans alike. If the reaction on this show revealed anything, it’s that Ohio couldn’t get enough of NXT. The opening video more or less highlighted this moment, as NXT came to the Arnold Sports Festival, and also hyped Alex Riley finally getting to face Kevin Owens and Ohio’s own Alexa Bliss taking on NXT Divas Champion Sasha Banks one-on-one.
– Already see Brock Lesnar guy in the crowd. Oh boy.
– The Kalisto-Tyler Breeze match first seemed like a throwaway in Breeze’s favor, but was given a lot of time, which changed the dynamic completely. Kalisto showed some great athleticism, flipping and flopping all over the place and making this an evenly matched affair. This also allowed the Ohio environment to set in, as the crowd was very much into things. Breeze was the right guy to go over. It still remains to be seen what his character will do next, as he seems to be in a holding pattern, but his in-ring skills sharpen with every week.
– The Owens-Riley feud hype video more or less did its job; showing how Owens’ got under Riley’s skin and antagonized him to his breaking point. Riley showed some fire last week, but had his work cut out for him here. Either way, the story here was a simple, yet good one.
– Bliss’ promo had her excited to be in her hometown and she set up her match well, calling out Banks.
– The Finn Balor-Riley backstage interaction was interesting, as Riley was set to destroy Owens, and Balor warned not to overlook Owens, which made sense on his part.
– The Colin Cassady-Wesley Blake match started with the much over mic work with Amore and Big Cass, bringing a rise out of the Ohio crowd. The match was okay while it lasted, nothing special, but the finish was well-done, both letting Carmella be involved in the finish and having Blake beat Cassady by pulling on the tights, letting the feud progress further.
– Dana Brooke comes off as a muscle-bound, blonde bombshell who is honored to be in NXT. What will she bring? Guess we’ll have to see.
– The Bliss-Banks match was decent, but didn’t have enough time to develop into anything worthwhile. A countout win was the best they can give Bliss? Sort of weak, but hopefully a second match would be better. Guess we’ll also find out next week.
– Owens’ promo showed off his confident, straight-forward attitude as a Champion, selfish family man. He’s eager to eliminate everyone. His mic skills have even somewhat improved as he’s settled more into this character, which doesn’t stray far from his “classic” indie persona.
– The Banks-Bliss-Regal backstage interaction was necessary in setting up next week’s Divas Title match, though pretty predictable. You get a sense that the two ladies don’t like each other, but yet, it still feels as if something is missing between them.
– The Riley-Owens match was a good main event match that had strong crowd reaction throughout, very pro-Owens with some funny chants like “Rest Owens Rest” while he put on a rest hold. Riley brought the intensity from the get-go, but going up against Owens so soon, falling victim to his powerbomb sort of squashed whatever he gained in his brief buildup. There’s still room to improve though, and the interaction between Balor and Owens was solid – Balor saves the day and gets physical when Owens refuses to quit and Owens has just enough in him to run away, easily making their match next week something to watch.
– Tyler Breeze def. Kalisto via pinfall
– Wesley Blake (w/Buddy Murphy) def. Colin Cassady (w/Enzo Amore, Carmella) via pinfall
– Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks via countout
– Kevin Owens def. Alex Riley via pinfall
The Boss Does It With Flair
– The opening video highlighted Kevin Owens’ looking forward to the future against Finn Balor and how he threw Alex Riley over the announce table over comments he made during the main event. This set up everything on the show excellently. Also announced was the Balor-Owens match for the NXT World Heavyweight Championship on March 25. Could only mean good things.
– The backstage segment with William Regal and Riley made sense as a follow up but Riley saying he’s in “the prime of his career” was kind of laughable. At the same time, the intrigue of Regal making Riley have to choose between commentating and announcing was a good hook for later in the show.
– Adam Rose on NXT is a groan now. He actually let the Exotic Express catch him, so he was probably playing the face with his opponent as Tyler Breeze. The two had decent chemistry and Rose was definitely over with the NXT faithful. Smart way to get Breeze back on the winning trail as he hit the Beauty Shot to win. Him using the selfie stick as a shield to get through the Rosebuds was kind of funny.
– The Enzo Amore/Colin Cassady/Carmella backstage promo was their usual charismatic stuff. This is a great act and it was clear they were out for blood to get Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy. What more could you want? Simple and straight forward.
– The Alexa Bliss interview promo made it clear she wanted Sasha Banks. Good time for her return as she could add some more fire to this already raging inferno that is the NXT Women’s Division.
– The Blake/Murphy-Angelo Dawkins/Sawyer Fulton match was clearly made to enhance Blake/Murphy as they won quickly and could use a squash win. Nothing memorable.
– The backstage segment between Bayley, Charlotte and Emma was interesting in showing how Emma was developing her new “mean streak” and maybe planted seeds of doubt in Bayley to get in her head. Where will it lead? Likely a match between the two.
– The Rhyno hype video was solid and showcased his biggest career moments and they played Paul Heyman’s sound bites. Awesome.
– The Baron Corbin-Tony Briggs match continued the trend of squash matches with Corbin out on top. Having Kevin Owens appear behind Riley at the announce table taunting him and eventually pouring water on his head was also really good. They’re making Owens look like a big badass heel with his mannerisms. He barely uttered a word and garnered a strong reaction. Not many could do that.
– The Sami Zayn taped promo was strong in terms of storyline perspective, for Zayn to feel discouraged and walk the streets of Montreal on the 13th anniversary of his wrestling career. Everything here made you want to see him come back to the ring and eventually get payback on Owens.
– The segment with Regal, Riley and CJ Parker was a good way to show Riley’s confirmed return to the ring and also gave him an out to face Parker. Regal allowing Riley to face Owens when he feels he is ready also makes sense, for the logic of a manger allowing a commentator to come back to compete.
– The Bull Dempsey-Solomon Crowe match continued the streak of predictable matches, where it was almost obvious Crowe would win. Crowe has a unique look, style and gimmick to him but the dude looks like the recipient of a bad sunburn. Not the best outing, but we can only hope this leads to better things for him. How far can a “hacker” gimmick go though?
– It says a lot about the state of women’s wrestling in NXT when the ladies can main event a show and it doesn’t feel out of place. That’s something you will never see on the main roster and that’s a shame. The Charlotte-Banks match for the NXT Women’s Championship was everything it was hyped up to be. Very physical and technical match and both ladies looked good, even if Banks used the ropes to win. Charlotte particularly looked great in defeat, red in the face like a tomato and still carried on in the match. Will this be Charlotte’s official sendoff or will she stick around a little longer? Either way, Banks still has a lot of worthy opponents to go through, so there is definitely no drought in the division.
– Tyler Breeze def. Adam Rose (w/The Exotic Express) via pinfall
– Wesley Blake/Buddy Murphy def. Angelo Dawkins/Sawyer Fulton via pinfall
– Baron Corbin def. Tony Briggs via pinfall
– Solomon Crowe def. Bull Dempsey via pinfall
– Women’s Championship – Sasha Banks (Champion) def. Charlotte via pinfall to retain
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