In the span of a month, WWE will have churned out two Network Specials — Payback and Elimination Chamber — but after tonight it’s clear they’ll both be vying for a distant second place after another spectacular NXT two-hour special. It’s becoming almost expected now — when the NXT roster gets a chance to shine on a live special they’re going to deliver and surpass expectations of those who keep hearing great things about the promotion and want to see what the fuss is all about.
Rich Breenan, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton welcome us to the show with a bit of breaking news. Hideo Itami won’t be competing in the three-way No. 1 contender’s match due to an injury in the parking lot. In a welcome old school throwback, we get an on camera reason for Itami going on the shelf as a NXT film crew chats with Enzo, Kas and Carmella in the parking lot before hearing Itami screaming in agony clutching his shoulder. Kevin Owens walks by saying that’s too bad, which the commentators (save Corey Graves) immediately take to mean Owens was responsible. Owens gets blamed for everything going bad in NXT including Bayley’s missing headbands.
So now it’s just Tyler Breeze vs. Finn Balor for the No. 1 contender spot. The ring entrances instantly signal that this is not the standard NXT show as Tyler has four models decked out in his normal getup admiring themselves on their cell phones. You know it’s special as Breeze is wearing a cape and not his trademark furry hoodie, but good grief did Finn make his entrance look like a Wrestlemania debut albeit with a far shorter ramp. This time Finn came out like he could be Daenerys’ fourth dragon complete with some well synched up smoke and the eye of Balor painted on his back.
The thought of Breeze fighting Owens seems laughable so the outcome was never really in doubt in this one, but both guys deliver exactly what was needed for the opener. Saxton has been infected with the main brand style of commentating focusing more on the stories than the actual in ring action and Graves — the best color commentator in the business — instantly shoots down his suggestion that Finn doesn’t have the same amount of big game experience as Breeze. Finn hits a double stomp off the apron onto Breeze, a move so similar to his finisher I wondered why Finn didn’t drag Breeze back in for the win. Back in the ring, Breeze exposes a turnbuckle and tosses Finn into it before hitting the Beauty Shot for a two-count. Breeze doesn’t need to get the win, but the Beauty Shot has been established in the build as a major knockout shot so combined with Finn hitting the turnbuckle, it was asking a lot to go along with Finn kicking out here.
Finn rolls out the ring and the ref so blatantly doesn’t begin counting him out the fans chant ‘You’re not counting.’ Some smark crowds are annoying, but the NXT fans are interactive without hijacking what they paid to see. Finn hits a Sling Blade outside and climbs to the top of the NXT podium as the fans chant ‘please don’t die.’ Finn connects with his dive, then brings Breeze back in for the coup de grâce and the win.
Rating: 3 out of 5. This match couldn’t get to the next level as the opener so Balor and Breeze did what was necessary to get the crowd going even if there wasn’t a lot of suspense for the match result.
Backstage, Owens watches Balor celebrate. That ‘Game of Thrones’ reference proved timely as Stephanie McMahon is hanging with
My GOT reference was timely. Stephanie hanging with Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, the guy who plays The Mountain on the show. Does this mean Cersei will be joining The Authority because the WWE already has its quota filled on emasculating female heads in powerful positions.
Clips from NXT in Philly. Aging Joey Styles makes me sadder than looking at my waistline these days…
Emma and Dana Brooks vs Charlotte and Bayley
I love Bayley’s entrance. It doesn’t have the cool music and bells and whistles of Finn’s, but it’s just as well-suited for her character. Since losing the title to Sasha Banks, Charlotte has loosened up and considerably shown more personality and relatability making me more concerned she won’t be much longer for NXT. Like the opener this was a match where the winners seemed immediately apparent. Dana and Emma showed enough chemistry and solid teamwork that I wonder if Triple H has considered an NXT women’s tag team division. Team BC gets the win after Charlotte locks in the Figure 8 and what looked to be a miscue with Dana, Bayley prevents a double team allowing Charlotte to hit Natural Selection on Emma for the win. Poor Emma has just been floundering since returning to NXT and she’s the one directionless character that gets regular screen time on the show despite constantly losing. She’s the C.J. Parker of the women’s division. Charlotte and Bayley celebrate with a hug and a Flair strut.
Rating: 3 out of 5. Again, nothing extraordinary, but this pairing was fun enough to see them getting more time and headlining a regular weekly show as the main event to really explore the possibilities.
Baron Corbin vs Rhyno
The fans are over Baron and are all over him to the point the commentators have to address it. We caught a smattering of that last week during his match against Solomon Crowe, but now the turn is complete. Corbin seems a bit rattled by it, but better in NXT than on RAW. This one didn’t do a whole lot for me as we knew going in Rhyno had to lose to the guy they’re building up and after some OK-ish brawling, Corbin hits the End of Days for the win.
Rating: 2 out of 5. There’s no one in WWE or NXT as intense as Rhyno, but I’m still puzzled as to his role here and not on the main roster where he could be losing to guys like Rusev and Seth Rollins to help get them over.
Look back at Owens’ confrontation with Cena, which I so wish was saved until this coming Monday so the Zayn title match wouldn’t become a subplot to his Elimination Chamber match against Cena. The U.S. invitational challenge has been a great booking asset to WWE to the point they should keep the belt on Cena until the current round of NXT rookies are ready to get called up to the main roster. Uhaa Nation perhaps? We get a glimpse of them at ringside — the new Divas are going to get someone fired as they are going to easily replace someone on RAW/Smackdown — and Uhaa gets a big cheer from the crowd.
Owens gets interviewed in the dressing room and says he’s going to teach his son a lesson about finishing what you start so he’s going to finish the job of retiring Zayn tonight. There’s no one on Raw or NXT that has a promo delivery like Owens, who is cutting some of the best in the business currently.
NXT Tag Team Titles: Blake & Murphy vs Cas and Enzo
See also the match where Carmella finally turns. I really need NXT creative to come up with some team names for these guys. Enzo has a nice promo comparing the tag champs to toilet paper cause they’re SAWFT. I’m convinced Blake & Murphy have changed their hairstyle so people would stop telling Sheamus he looks stupid.
The tag team division needs more work as these two are the extent of it and we’ve seen this matchup too often. To both team’s credit, they bust out some new moves to keep things interesting. The champs isolate Enzo who gets the hot tag after hitting a launching DDT. At least in this case there was the possibility that Enzo could have gotten the pin instead of B&M popping right up after taking the move. After clearing house, Cas wants Enzo to hit the rocket launcher, but Alexa Bliss attacks Carmella and sends Enzo off the top rope making him easy prey for the champs who retain. Alexa really looks like Trish Stratus here in the T & A valet role here.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. The match was competitive and the ending was a real surprise thanks to veering away from the predictable Carmella turn. This should result in some fun six-person matches and evil heel Alexa Bliss is even more appealing.
Speaking of appealing, Eva Marie is hot…er here!
NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch
An excellent video package recaps Sasha and Becky’s history. So that’s what it looks like when the divas match is actually built up. The cameras follow both as they are backstage just before heading out to the ring, which I’ve always felt gave the matches a sense of real importance.
Becky debuts a fiery orange red dye job, which Graves wonders is some sort of shot out to ‘The Fifth Element.’ I preferred her more natural darker red hair coloring. The fans are in Sasha’s corner to start, but as the match progresses, Becky earns their respect and wins some over. Since Becky’s finisher is an armbar submission, Sasha attacks Becky’s arm to limit the That’s outstanding psychology and something that was desperately needed in the Rusev/Cena ‘I Quit Match’ at Payback. Sasha has terrific mean-spirited body language as she tries for the submission while Becky does a better job selling the arm injury than 98% of the Raw roster. When she gets the upper hand, Becky goes after Sasha’s arm so the match becomes a question of who was more effective in breaking the other down. I heartily support the ‘This is wrestling’ chant. Yes it is and it looks amazing to see in 2015 in a women’s title match.
Becky is able to get her armbar, but Sasha makes it to the ropes for the break. Becky goes up top and Sasha catches her and hits the Banks Statement for a grueling and hard-fought submission win. Extra kudos for Sasha for making the ref raise her right arm after the abuse her left arm received throughout the match. Becky is sitting in the ring crying over her loss (showing that the title meant everything to her) while the fans give her a legit standing ovation and want to embrace her as she leaves out. This is how you get someone over in a loss.
Rating: 5 out of 5. This is another show this match to people who think women’s wrestling can’t be as good as their male counterparts.
Triple H was feeling their effort too:
— Triple H (@TripleH) May 21, 2015
NXT is the only company where I wonder if there needs to be a cool down match after the women’s match?
NXT Title: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
Owens comes out wearing a Cena ‘The Champ is Here’ shirt. Learning from his previous encounter, Zayn is far more aggressive in attacking Owens as they go around the ringside like an old school ECW/Stone Cold Steve Austin WWE match. The fans haven’t set back down after the women’s title match. Whoever put this match together must have been a big fan of the Sting/Vader feud as their first encounter left Sting battered and beaten for his WCW title, but their subsequent matches featured Sting far more competitively.
Zayn dominates as they brawl all around ringside, but a moment’s separation proves costly and gives Owens enough space to hit his pop-up powerbomb on the ring apron. Trainers and refs come to check on Zayn while Owens tries to sneak in random cheap shots. NXT General Manager William Regal comes to try and pull Owens off Zayn just as I’m wondering if an NXT special is really going to end with John Cena saving the day.
Not so much. Some unfamiliar music plays and Samoa Joe (!) comes out. This just got real. Joe backs Owens out of the ring and while he considers saving face, Owens says now’s not the time. I love Owens’ backing down bully shtick.
Rating: 4 out of 5. This was more angle than match, but Zayn showed exactly the kind of intensity needed in battling a guy who took them out and this still doesn’t provide a definitive answer to the question if Zayn can beat Owens.
Overall: NXT consistently delivers great main events and buzz-worthy women’s title matches. It may be predictable, but this was another home run where it mattered most as NXT is sandwiched between two big shows from big brother. Owens continues to be the most fascinating champ in North America right now and his interactions with Cena and Joe are going to be tremendous. NXT would outshine WWE if it had monthly specials making these semi-regular events all the more exciting. If you were on the fence before, go check this out on WWE Network. It’s definitely worth watching for the final two matches.
Pics credit: WWE.com