This episode of NXT was one of the most highly anticipated in recent memory, as a championship match and a debut were at both ends of an excellent episode. In the main event, Sami Zayn looks to bring a satisfying end to his Road to Redemption by taking the NXT Championship from Adrian Neville. Both superstars have a great deal of mutual respect, but Neville has professed his belief that Zayn cannot win the big one, especially at his expense. Can the popular redhead climb the mountain, or will the Red Arrow shoot him down?
Tonight also bore witnessed the in-ring debut of Finn Balor. The Irishman already made an immediate impact when he aided Hideo Itami in his feud with the Ascension. The manner in which they dispatched of the former tag team champions created a lot of buzz. So, he competed alongside his Japanese partner against the experienced pairing of Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel. With Kidd in particular making waves on the main roster, they would be desperate to put the newest additions to the roster in their place.
In other action, Sasha Banks looks to maintain form leading into her upcoming title match when she battle Alexa Bliss, and the tag team champions the Lucha Dragons take on the ever-improving Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy.
- Finn Balor and Hideo Itami defeat Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel
- Sasha Banks defeats Alexa Bliss
- The Lucha Dragons defeat Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy
- NXT Champion Adrian Neville defeats Sami Zayn
Finn Balor & Hideo Itami vs. Tyson Kidd & Justin Gabriel
The show opens with Finn Balor, the latest member of the NXT roster. Balor made an immediate impression by helping Hideo Itami even the odds and dispatch of the Ascension last week. A proficient high-flier and technically sound, he came out to let the fans know that he was in NXT because he is the future. At that point, Tyson Kidd decided to make his presence known to Balor, and let him know that he clearly shows no respect for those that paved the way for him, like Kidd and his ‘Hart’ family. He is then backed-up by Justin Gabriel, who shares Kidd’s distaste at the latest international star joining who thinks they are the big deal already. Irked by chants of ‘Who Are You?’ from the crowd, Kidd and Gabriel surround Balor, before his friend Hideo Itami appears to even the odds. By order of William Regal, this becomes a tag team match, and the night gets off to an exciting start.
Itami starts the match, but immediately gets his arm worked over by both Gabriel and Kidd, until he reverses to bring in Balor for his first match action. Kidd quickly retreats and brings in Gabriel, who looks bemused by his partner’s reluctance to fight. This is soon shifted to pain when his is dropkicked hard into the turnbuckle by Balor, followed by knocking Kidd of the apron. Kidd saves his partner from suffering a top rope move from Balor, but they aren’t safe for long as the Irishman flies over the top onto both opponents. When the action returns from break, Gabriel is under assault from Itami with some forearms in the corner into a rear chin lock. Gabriel fights back from the beating, but is only rewarded with a hard kick to the back. Balor re-enters the match with a hard chop to chest, before jumping over the rope to kick Kidd off the apron, but is then dropkicked to the floor by Gabriel.
Gabriel takes it to Balor on the floor, before returning to the ring with a Full Nelson. A hard kick to the back follows, and then Kidd feels confident enough to join the action. Both Kidd and Gabriel combine with simultaneous kicks to the back and chest, then keeping Balor in their corner with repeated strikes and chokes. Gabriel tags back in, hitting a suplex, floating over into an arm stretch. A knee takes the wind out of Balor’s sails, and Kidd enters the fray. Balor fights back with forearms, a swift kick by Kidd curtailing that, until a Pele kick gives the new superstar the opportunity to reach Itami. Itami fires up with kicks to the chest followed by a flying kick to the head. Kidd backs away into a tag, Gabriel springboarding into a kick to the gut, when Kidd has to break up the pin. Itami hits a dragon screw, tags in Balor who connects with a kick from the apron to the back of the head. Balor and Itami crossover into hesitation dropkicks in the corner, leaving Gabriel prone to Balor’s double foot stomp from the top rope to get a win on his debut.
An impressive opening match. Kidd and Gabriel put both of their opponents over in a big way, but their performances shouldn’t be discounted. They showed experience and strength on their side, but this match was built around getting Balor over in a big way, and that succeeded. Balor’s high-flying and range of kicks got the crowd excited, whilst Itami supported him with his own strong style. Although some reports have questioned Itami’s ring-work since joining NXT, he is learning and will look more convincing in time. And if this match is any indication, these two as a tag team will get them over both on NXT and soon on the main roster.
Rating – 3.5/5
Sasha Banks vs. Alexa Bliss
Sasha Banks has been on a roll recently, pushing herself closer and closer to her deserved title shot with Charlotte. Banks, alongside her newest ally Becky Lynch, looks to continue her run of victories against Alexa Bliss. Banks and Lynch defeated Charlotte and Bayley last week in tag team action, Banks in particular showing opportunism and aggression in her performance. As for Bliss, she is under threat of being lost in the shuffle in a crowded and exciting women’s division down in NXT. With Carmella having recently debuted, and the lower rung divas on the main roster making frequent appearances, Bliss will have to show the fullest of her athleticism to get back in the game.
Banks wastes little time with a kick to the gut of Bliss, hanging her across the turnbuckle dropping her knees down into Bliss. Banks senses the blood in the water, bouncing off the ropes before showing her contempt for her opponent with a slap to the face. She paints the canvas with Bliss’s face, before stretching her with a straight-jacket hold. Bliss forces her way out into a cover, fighting back with forearms into a headscissors. Bliss springs off the turnbuckle into a sunset flip bomb, forcing Banks to kick out at two. A clothesline knocks Banks down, but Bliss takes too long to celebrate, running into a dropkick. The knees into the back set her up for the Bank Statement submission, choking Bliss into tapping out. Banks continues her form leading into her title match, and Charlotte had better be on watch.
The right person won this short match, but it could have been more. They started out the blocks quickly with some aggression and Banks performing some of her signature moves. Bliss also played her part with some good maneuvers. But, the storytelling was somewhat lacking, which is down to time and lack of fluidity. It went from Banks on top, to rest submission, to a little flurry from Bliss to the finish. The crowd also fell away from this, chanting ‘ECW’ for little reason. Bliss needs to step up and show something soon on TV, especially when a lot of good things have been said of her at live events. Hopefully, like Lynch has done, she will get her opportunity to shine in recent months.
Rating – 2/5
The Lucha Dragons vs. Wesley Blake & Buddy Murphy
The Lucha Dragons sit atop a blossoming tag division down at NXT, and as champions have to constantly be tested against the best available competition. More teams are seemingly being developed by the month, tonight the masked pairing look to shine against Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy. One of the latest teams to step up in the past month in terms of their personality and teamwork, Blake and Murphy would be looking to provide at least a strong performance against the champs, and maybe sneaking a victory will push them into title contention.
The match begins with one of the hottest starts in recent memory. Blake begins with Kalisto in a test of strength, the luchadore bouncing off the ropes and acrobatically into an armdrag. Murphy blind tags in, Blake whipping Kalisto to spring off the ropes into an attempted tornado DDT, only to be blocked by the strength of Murphy into a suplex. The teamwork is apparent once again with a tag to Blake, a kick to the seated Kalisto from Murphy followed by a low clothesline. Constant tags keep the masked star in unfamiliar territory on his back, a high knee drop by Murphy keeping him grounded. Blake re-enters from the top rope with a double foot stomp across the arm. He then places Kalisto into a surfboard stretch, when Murphy jumps in with double knees into the back of the champion.
Kalisto continues to take punishment, and is whipped by both opponents into the corner. Blake charges in and gets a boot to the face, Murphy following up with a monkey flip that Kalisto turns into a sunset flip pin. Blake escapes but Kalisto kicks away both rivals, and sneaks under them to make a tag to Sin Cara. The experienced star springs in, but kind of misplaces his crossbody forcing Murphy to improvise. Sin Cara follows with a springboard headbutt on Blake followed by an acrobatic headscissors on Murphy. A springboard elbow brings about a near fall as Sin Cara gets the crowd chanting along, but he is then thrown by Blake into Murphy on the apron. Kalisto spots a moment to shine with a springing corkscrew plancha onto Murphy. A roll-up by Sin Cara is transitioned into powerful slam, leaving Blake open for the senton bomb to earn the hard-fought victory.
The best matches can sometimes come out of nowhere, and this was one of those occasions. The champions were their usual mix of high-flying prowess and rapid action, and despite a slight mistake by Sin Cara, they showed why they were champions. Kalisto in particular is going to be a huge hit when he moves to the main roster. But, the real surprise highlights was the teamwork and personality shown by Blake and Murphy. Murphy in particular looks like a potential star, but as a team they could soon be making a massive impact. This could easily become a championship match in the future. When they finally get a team name and show more character on promos and backstage segments, they could become a big deal in the future.
Rating – 4.5/5
NXT Championship: Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn
Now for the match that everybody was waiting for, and Sami Zayn had been waiting his entire career for. Zayn has been pushing for redemption and to get his one-on-one title match. In the past month he has dispatched with Tyson Kidd, Titus O’Neil and Tyler Breeze, and William Regal felt that merited a title opportunity. But, he faces a tremendous challenge in the form of Adrian Neville. The sometime allies have respect for each other’s ability. But, Neville has been vocal, along with a number of superstars and commentators, in stating that Zayn cannot win when the pressure is at its highest. Yet, with the crowd on his side and the prize on the line, Zayn is determined to keep up his run of momentum and capture the gold.
The pair lock up with the crowd eager in anticipation, Neville wringing the arm before Zayn escapes and flips the champion onto his back to the approval of the fans. Neville comes back with a firm headlock, until Zayn whips him against the ropes and connects with a deep armdrag. Neville again backs up to the ropes, and as he returns, Zayn locks up his arm. Neville whips him, Zayn leaps from the ropes over Neville, the Brit rolls under him and attempts a dropkick, only for Zayn to grab the ropes and avoid it. Zayn connects with a dropkick of his own and looks set to fly over the top rope, but shows off with a springboard moonsault back into the ring, as the crowd get behind the popular Canadian. Zayn sits on the middle rope to let Neville in, so the champion responds by flipping in over the top rope. Zayn knocks him down with a shoulder tackle, Neville nips up and reacts with a flurry of kicks followed by a low dropkick.
As the action returns from commercial, Neville has Zayn firmly grounded on the mat in a tight headlock. Zayn fights out but a low spin kick takes him down to his knees. Neville strikes his rival repeatedly, but when he charges off the ropes he is met with Zayn’s own punch to the face. They trade blows before a hat-trick of clotheslines sends the champion to ringside. This time Zayn does take the plunge, soaring through the air onto Neville on the floor. He ascends the top rope, attempting a high crossbody, but is caught with knees to the gut by a quick-witted Neville, followed by a running shooting star. Neville beats on Zayn, setting him up for a piledriver, but Zayn fights out. He elbows Neville from behind, but the champ springs up onto Zayn’s shoulders into a sit-out powerbomb for a near fall.
The crowd are on their feet, Neville responding with kicks, but misses the shot to the head and gets caught in two German suplexes, followed by an exploder suplex that turns the champ inside out. Zayn charges for the corner, meeting a high boot by Neville, but when he looks set to be thrown into the turnbuckle, he reverses into a pinfall, scoring a two count. A hard kick to the skull knocks Zayn to the mat, as Neville gets ready to finish it up with the Red Arrow. But, Zayn avoids it to the crowd’s delight, as Neville seems to have blown his knee out. Zayn gets set for the victory, eagerly awaiting the Helluva Kick, but Neville doesn’t look like standing up anytime soon. The referee goes to check, as does Zayn, and when he leans over Neville catches him in a small package to retain the championship. Zayn sits stunned, as Neville goes to congratulate his opponent’s performance before seeking treatment in the ring. Zayn is just left mulling over another missed opportunity, and the method that Neville employed to win it.
An excellent match between the two stars the WWE is clearly looking at pushing onto the main roster in a big way. Neville’s skill, ability and acrobatics could make him one of the biggest stars of the next decade. Zayn’s travels and emotional connection to the audience will push him into a spot on the top of the card also. As for tonight, they showed some moves that they hadn’t displayed before, making it an interesting new experience, and the crowd was definitely invested. They were almost entirely behind Zayn, but I hope this doesn’t mean Neville will be turning heel anytime soon. NXT seems to have this knack from having a face win, have them turn with the belt and pass it on to the new popular star. Zayn may win the title soon, but Neville should be a babyface leading into the main roster. But, with these two set to do battle at the next Takeover, it will be a perfect time for Zayn’s feel good moment, and perhaps the debut of his greatest rival from Ring of Honor.
Rating – 4.5/5