The February 11 2015 NXT Takeover special, Rival, was a perfect example of excellent storytelling in wrestling. Each match had a purpose, and it wasn’t just so someone could have a payday. There were legitimate plots involved that simultaneously elevated the proper individuals. I am, as per usual, incredibly proud to be an NXT fan and can’t wait to see where Triple H and WWE take this particular branch of the company.
I have just a few notes before I jump into the matches. First off, we’re apparently going to be seeing Solomon Crowe back soon on NXT TV. There have been a serious of well-placed “interruptions” in the NXT show feed and the one we saw during Rival told us we would likely be seeing Crowe next week. Very interested to see if his character is still a hacker and who he will be feuding with. Also, very sad to see The Vaudevillains off of a show this big. With rumors that Kalisto is moving up to the main roster, I have hope Blake and Murphy’s next feud might be with the manliest of tag teams. And finally, I just want to say once more what a great job I think Corey Graves is doing on commentary. As much as his revolving door of co-commentators can annoy me, I think they are all elevating their positions by doing what we’ve always WANTED them to do, and that’s call the match. Thanks to Graves, Jason Albert, and even Rich Brennan for knowing the names of all the moves and that their job is to elevate the match.
1. Hideo Itami vs. Tyler Breeze (Hideo was attacked by Tyler last week after Tyler lost his #1 contender tournament match to Finn Balor)
This match had a nice build. Hideo had the upper hand at the beginning and then Tyler took over, attacking Hideo’s left leg. After a lot of torture, Hideo almost lifted Tyler up on his shoulders but ended up on the receiving end of a Supermodel Kick. Somehow, though, Hideo still kicked out. After a series of kicks (with the left leg, as he couldn’t stand on it and kick with the right which is beautiful continuity) Hideo makes a recovery and hits Tyler with the running kick and pins Breeze for the win. This was a great match, nicely built. Solid back and forth, excellent pacing.
2. Bull Dempsey vs. Baron Corbin, No DQ (following Dempsey keeping Corbin from beating Adrian Neville for a shot again Finn Balor for the #1 contendership)
Dempsey had the upper hand for most of the match. He hit Corbin with flying headbutt that is absolutely terrifying to watch, but Corbin kicks out. Watching a 270 lbs guy come flying off the top rope is the thing of nightmares, really. I always try to give credit to the baby faces in these matches, because they have to take a beating, which is rarely the easy thing to do. I would imagine assisting in the execution of someone else’s move set and then selling it requires a certain level of skill. Corbin, even for a big and intimidating guy, managed to sell Dempsey’s attack. In desperation, Dempsey even brings a chair into the ring, but never gets to use it. Corbin hits him with end of days and pins him for the win. I will say, however, that the crowd was clearly disappointed – they wanted something more graphic.
While it was technically a sound match, it was a pretty big let down for a no DQ match. Why have that kind of stipulation if you’re not going to use it?
3. Lucha Dragons vs. Blake & Murphy (c) for the NXT Tag Team championship
A lot of great teamwork throughout this match. Those moments show what a tag team division should be like – well-oiled pairs working in sync. For example, there was a nice toss into a neck breaker from Blake & Murphy. The whole thing came right off the rails towards the end, though. I’m not sure who was calling this match, but someone got confused about where they wanted to go. This slowed the pace down as well. Blake & Murphy retain with a really nice cohesive move set.
Not a bad match but not a display of their best abilities, either. Looking forward to seeing more from Blake & Murphy as they grow and work with other teams. Best of luck to Kalisto in the big time.
4. Adrian Neville vs. Finn Balor for #1 contender for NXT championship
Another excellent Balor entrance! I will never tire of his body paint, even if it is the same every time. It’s easy to believe that Balor really has an alternate personality that takes this Carnage-esque form and consumes him during these matches. As a whole, this match had really nice pacing. They understand each other, so the movements are very fluid. Sometimes wrestlers over-anticipate the movements of their opponent so it looks rehearsed.
This was a very natural match – even the newer things came easy to them. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them each give and receive a thousand kicks – it’s never enough for me! Also credit to the kids running the video cameras down at Full Sail. That was a great shot underneath of Balor delivering a double foot stomp off the top rope to the back of Neville’s head. There were some great tableaus in the match, as well: a beautiful dup of suplexes, followed by a bridge from Neville, as well as his corkscrew from second rope. Of course, just as we think Neville’s headed back to the championship picture with the red arrow, Balor gets his knees up. After an attempted rollup, Balor gets Neville with a running drop kick in the corner followed by the Coup de Grace for the win. Congrats to Finn Balor on being #1 contender for the NXT championship! Wouldn’t want to be you right now, buddy.
This was a great match. I don’t know how Finn Balor is still standing, though, to be honest. He may actually not be human.
5. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte (c) for the NXT Women’s Championship
This match was the match of the night for me. This had to be the best women’s match I have seen in WWE in over a year. The entire match was well-plotted and told an amazing story. Every one of those women looked strong when the match was over. Right in the beginning there was a beautiful suplex to Sasha Banks from Becky Lynch that made Banks look like a ragdoll. Nice back and forth, and barely any silence which happens during matches with this many participants. Sometimes there’s a lull while everyone tries to remember what comes next.
There were many pins, which is appropriate – you have to fake people out! Bayley had several powerful moments, not the least of which was Bayleycanrana (as Brennan called it) off the top rope to Charlotte. In the end, though, Sasha Banks caught Charlotte in a submission after Bayley hit Charlotte with a Belly to Bayley suplex off the top rope. After Charlotte was weakened, Sasha rolled her up and took the win. Congrats to everyone involved – you all made me proud to be a woman tonight!
This was a great match. Fatal Four Ways are so hard to keep interesting, but I really enjoyed this. I am not into Sasha Banks, though. Her mic skills are not nearly where they need to be for her to be a good champion. I know other people like her a lot though, so I’m not surprised this was the direction they went in.
6. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn (c) for the NXT Championship
Okay, there’s very little assessing I can really do here. This wasn’t a match, this was an annihilation. Sure the beginning of the match had a few moments. I’m sure we all enjoyed it when Sami Zayn jumped over the ref and out of the ring to take Owens out after Owens climbed out of the ring for the second time. But then it all starts to collapse. My notes actually contain the sentence “this is violent to the point where I don’t know if I should stop watching”. Owens is just beating the stuffing out of Zayn. Now, back at SummerSlam, there was something similar happening when Brock Lesnar basically decimated John Cena (through the cunning usage of German suplexes) but as a friend pointed out to me, at least THAT match ended in a pinfall. This became so horrific and potentially damaging to Zayn that the ref actually stopped the match, thus declaring Owens the winner and awarding him the title. Now I’m sure that particular part of this will lead to a lot of discrepancy about whether or not Owens really IS the new champ, but suffice it to say he just became the big dog in town regardless of his status as champion.
As I mentioned earlier, I really feel for Finn Balor. I can’t imagine he will be the man to beat Owens, which means he’s going to take a Zayn-style beating himself when it comes time to face off against the new champion. All in all, I think putting the title on Owens for a while is a great choice and gives him a lot of momentum for the future, while still giving Zayn something to focus on/obsess over, whether as a babyface OR a heel.
Kevin Owens is going to be nigh on impossible to beat as the new NXT Champion. Rusev could have done it, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone of substantial enough size to make a Owens loss look believable. This match happened the only way it could have, but I worry they may have accidentally booked themselves into a corner.
Overall, I would say NXT Takeover Rival was a great special and a fantastic way to kick off this new leg of the NXT TV product. Best of luck to all those moving on to the main roster (don’t let them change your gimmick) and I can’t wait to see what’s still to come in NXT!
all images via WWE
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