I haven’t found a reason to care about NXT since early April. Even with a wealth of debuting wrestlers, surprise appearances from former TNA stars, and a few cool match ideas, the WWE developmental brand seemed to run on fumes for the last couple of months. This could be due to several key factors:
- Several NXT starts were called up to the main roster.
- WWE is waiting things out until their mid-July brand split.
- Writers and/or creative leads for NXT were also brought over to the main roster.
- Raw and Smackdown have been consistently good.
- Shows are taped months in advance, and spoilers for shows leak out well before they air.
Whatever the reason, my drive to watch every episode of the show on Wednesday at 8 p.m. waned in the last several weeks. Yet here I am, reviewing the culmination of those shows, and I couldn’t be happier.
Last night’s event had yet another match between Samoa Joe and Finn Balor (though, to be fair, it was the first cage match in NXT), a superstar debuting with little on-air hype, another match between American Alpha and the Revival, and rookie Nia Jax taking on an established wrestler. While I could thumb my nose at these highlights and say the card looked like a glorified episode of NXT, the end result was an enjoyable two hours that reminded me what sets the brand apart from the main roster. Better yet, it helped me appreciate wrestlers I had little-to-no interest in, get excited for rematches, and look forward to the brand’s future.
Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor
This was the fourth major bout between Joe and Balor, or so I’ve been told. They’ve fought over the last several months so many times that it’s hard to keep track of it. But Finn lost the title at a house show after the last Takeover, which was only seen through a couple of video clips, so it only made sense to broadcast this rematch. And while the addition of a cage stipulation only seemed to marginally increase interest in the match, it helped tremendously in the end. The various spots teasing escaping from the cage or using the cage as an advantage helped tell a magnificent story, and the brutal end of Samoa Joe’s Super Muscle Buster off the second rope had me legitimately concerned for Finn’s well-being. It wasn’t the best match they had together (I personally enjoyed their match at the last Takeover, blood and all), but it was a great way to end the feud.
American Alpha vs. The Revival
The tag title match was by far the most entertaining of the evening. It highlighted the distinctly different styles between both teams, had several near-finishes, and ultimately left anyone watching on the edge of their seat without any idea of how it would end. Having The Revival win the titles for the second time (a first for any singles or tag title in NXT) was a pleasant surprise, as it was the absolute last outcome any fan expected. But the spots in the match, particularly those with the charismatic Jordan and Gable on the offense, kept getting better as the match progressed. I look forward to see where the tag division goes from here, especially with a formidable new team managed by legend Paul Ellering entering the fold.
Asuka vs. Nia Jax
If there’s one thing that I enjoyed over the last couple of months, it’s Nia Jax’s drastic improvement as a wrestler. She only started wrestling less than two years ago and is already featuring in high-profile matches. While her performance around her debut was a bit less than stellar, her recent matches, including the one from last night, prove that WWE’s developmental system works. Considering that she held her own in an impressive fight against a veteran like Asuka, I’m actually looking forward to the day when she finally becomes champion. Her loss last night made sense, as Bayley’s story is far from done in the Women’s Championship picture, but when Bayley finally gets her well-deserved call-up to the main roster, Nia Jax will deservedly be there to take her place as a main draw.
Austin Aries vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
I never watched much TNA or Ring of Honor, so I never got to see anything of Austin Aries until he came to NXT. At first, I didn’t get him. He was another guy who could do flips, high risk moves, and, to me, didn’t differentiate himself from your average NXT competitor. But his match with Nakamura proved that not only is he a skilled wrestler, but he’s a hell of a heel. He’s cocky, egotistical, and often times downright violent. So, sure, I never paid attention to his career until a couple of months ago. But after he was able to match Shinsuke at Takeover last night, consider me a fan.
Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Tye Dillinger
Add La Sombra to the list of wrestlers I knew nothing about until now. After last night’s performance, however, “Cien” proved that, even with a ridiculous entrance outfit, he offers a style that hasn’t been featured on NXT before. While it was his debut match to put him over and highlight his abilities, it’s hard to deny that Tye was just as captivating to watch. After spending over a combined decade in WWE’s developmental system, Tye has become the person to go to for both training (as per Seth Rollins’ recent interview on Talk Is Jericho) and introducing a new addition to NXT (see Apollo Crews’ debut, etc.). But with the audience behind him and the ability to get in some killer offense, Tye was just as much of a draw as the debuting cruiserweight. I look forward to seeing what both these men do in the coming months.
We just sat through a two-hour-long Takeover two months ago, but The End didn’t seem abrupt. It was the logical end of a few feuds, the start of a few new ones, and the introduction of several wrestlers (hello, Bobby Roode!) that are guaranteed to shake things up with the NXT roster is culled for the brand split in July. And as someone who scored tickets to NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, I definitely look forward to what WWE’s best brand has in store in the coming months.