Maybe I am listening to Jim Cornette too much, but I am starting to seriously question the WWE's booking decisions. Yes, #NXT Takeover featured some fantastic matches, with high drama, great nearfalls, and immense crowd reaction. The dynamic interplay between the fans and the wrestlers is unique to professional wrestling and the WWE. The WWE/NXT live experience is unlike anything in sports or entertainment.
That being said, Shinsuke Nakamura lost again, which is a tragedy of small proportions. Nakamura is the Andre the Giant of his generation; he should never lose on television, but for a giant match in the WWE. Nakamura is simply that good. No wrestler in the history of the WWE/NXT has ever enjoyed such fan adulation, and that includes Hulk Hogan, The Rock and #JohnCena. The fans, mostly male ones, hum and sing his violin-based theme song, like they were choir boys in church. Who remembers the crowd singing "I am a Real American, fight the rights of every man," back in 1987 after Hogan won his matches? No, no one remembers that — not even Mandela effect believers — because it never happened. It does happen, however, for Nakamura, and that means he should be the one guy the WWE protects with wins and losses. Nakamura should always win. He's that special. Let's watch his ring entrance.
NXT delivered again with several strong matches and unrivaled crowd heat. Let's glide into our NXT review with the smoothness of a Nakamura ring entrance. Josh Molina and Farbod Esnaashari offer their report cards for the show.
Erik Young def. Tye Dillinger
Dillinger is a #WWE superstar in the making. He is one of the few wrestlers who has been gifted with a marketing miracle, in the form of his "Perfect 10" character. The fans chant "10" every time he strikes his opponent, or anytime the referee counts the action that spills to the outside. Young, a member of Insanity has been looking to recruit Dillinger into his stable, but Dillinger has refrained. Dillinger's matches are strengthened by the intense crowd involvement, but Dillinger is actually a strong worker. Dillinger nearly had the pin after hitting Tye Breaker, but the constant meddling in the match from Young's Sanity partners Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dane cost him. Young won with a neckbreaker:
JM: Dillinger and his left hand are great. He's tall, gets great crowd heat and has a perfect gimmick. His loss here means nothing and Dillinger should feud next with Bobby Roode.
FE: About as good of a 6-minute match that you can have. The crowd was hot for Tye Dillinger all match. It told the story that it needed to, and I’m hoping they continue the feud with a true 1-on-1 match. I really liked the top rope Dragon Sleeper by Eric Young. A good paced match with some exciting spots, I didn’t mind the outcome at all.
Roderick Strong def. Andrade 'Cien' Almas
Almas' best match in NXT so far. He has embraced his heel persona and is wrestling with way more confidence. Almas put over Strong big in this match, taking all of his moves, including an innovative back-breaker on the top of the turnbuckle. Strong won the match with his sidekick finisher. Almas continues to lose, but good things are in his future now that he has embraced the hate in his character.
JM: These were two good workers enjoying wrestling, not a spot match. Strong has a Tully Blanchard-like work rate in him. He's not overly flashy and comes across like he's really trying to win the match, not sell the match. Dolph Ziggler pay attention.
FE: I really enjoyed Cien’s entrance, it made me care about him much more than I usually do. Other times that I’ve seen him on NXT, his presentation makes him come off a little bit like a jobber. I liked how hard hitting the match was early, with a little bit of strong style going on. Cien got some really good stuff in during the beginning of the match, but Roderick also had great fire in his comeback. I really enjoyed his whole initial comeback, especially the corner backbreaker.
The pacing slowed down in the middle of the match, but it did a great job of making the moves matter more. The whole match had great usage of the turnbuckle. While Roderick needed the win, I wouldn’t have minded the match ending in a DQ because I feel like Cien really needs a big win. Both guys looked great and got their stuff in.
The Authors of Pain def. DIY (NXT Championship)
The Authors of Pain won the tag team championship, overpowering DIY. DIY hit several of their big moves to set up a series of dramatic near falls as Paul Ellering looked on in anguish. DIY's Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa channeled The Fantastics and The Rockers with their tag team coordination. The story of this match was that they were the little engines who could. They constantly tried to chop down the big oak trees, but eventually, the trees fell on top of them. DIY hit all their moves and nearly toppled the AOP. It looked like DIY was going to pull off the victory, but the Authors of Pain hit their double powerbombs for the win.
JM: This was the wrong finish. This is NXT and the best wrestlers should hold the championships. The fans appreciate great wrestling and Gargano and Ciampa are great wrestlers. The AOP will enjoy a quick and swift death in the WWE because despite their size, they aren't workhorses. This was an exciting match, thanks to DIY. As long as we have DIY, tag team wrestling isn't dying.
FE: I really enjoyed the chemistry between these two teams. DIY does a great job of making every hit matter as the little guys versus the big guys. Every strike DIY went for was either an elbow, slap, or a knee, and I love that level of ring psychology detail. AOP could have been a little more brutal in their attacks, but they did a great job in making the hot tag matter for Ciampa.
I liked the little bit where Gargano hit an enziguri, but AOP just kept going and made a tag through it. Fantastic late kick out by Ciampa from the double team powerbomb, I legitimately thought the match was over right there. I didn’t like Ciampa giving a German Suplex to both members of AOP, because it didn’t look good and it also undercuts the big vs small psychology. I also loved the throwback to NXT Toronto, but giving us a reminder that AOP is a different tag team than The Arrival.
Great finish and I’m hoping DIY gets a chance to have a big payoff match where they finally take down the giants. On a side note, that match didn’t give me any reason on why I should care about Paul Ellering or what he does for AOP.
Seth Rollins Challenges Triple H
Congratulations, Seth, you care more about Triple H than you do the WWE championship. Rollins called out Triple H, the latest chapter in their feud that will culminate in a match at Wrestlemania. Rollins, wearing a CM Punk-like sweatshirt, called out Hunter by saying, "you took my life from me." Easy Rollins. Triple H came out but brought security guards with him and nothing really happened.
JM: Seth Rollins should be winning the Royal Rumble and wrestling for championships, not calling out Triple H in NXT. Rollins is probably the third best wrestler on the WWE roster after AJ Styles and Sami Zayn and should be treated as such. This was a lame, unnecessary segment. A waste of time.
FE: I really liked this segment. It was what the whole Rollins/HHH feud was missing and what Rollins should have been doing the last couple of months. Everybody was fantasy booking this to happen, so it was crazy to see it actually go down. I enjoyed how raw it felt with Rollins dropping curse words and wearing street clothes. Great staredown between the two, although I was hoping HHH was going to slap Rollins in the face and play more of a heel after security brought Rollins down.
Asuka def. Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, and Nikki Cross (NXT Women's Championship)
Asuka retained the championship in a solid match that once again showcased her amazing workrate. Asuka won with her patented leg kicks. Nikki Cross shined here, displaying a raw, unpolished toughness. Kay and Royce delivered a great double suplex on Cross onto a table. Four-way matches are tough. The believability of this match was a little goofy. If any of these women wanted to take the title from Asuka, they could have pinned each other, especially Kay and Royce, who were friends. The match was a little bit slow, but these four women are all way more entertaining to watch than Nikki Bella.
JM: Asuka needs to jump to the main roster. In fact, she should smash Alexa Bliss to win the Smackdown title, then challenge Charlotte in a title vs. title match at Wrestlemania. Asuka vs. Charlotte is the best women's match the WWE can make right now.
FE: There were a lot of different storylines in this match that I enjoyed: the multiple teases of an Asuka vs Nikki Cross 1-on-1 match, the friendship between Billie Kay & Peyton Royce, and the idea that Billie Kay & Peyton Royce were these two girls who were in slightly over their head. When Billie Kay & Peyton Royce were holding hands as they ran down the ramp I was actually laughing. Fantastic table spot at the end of the match, but overall the match didn’t feel like anything special. I personally thought all of Asuka’s other Takeover matches had more significance to them.
Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
JM: Bobby Roode wore a Ric Flair-style purple robe that made him look like a combination of Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Terry Taylor. He came to the ring with eight women and soaked up every moment of the entrance. The fans sang his theme song and chanted "This is Glorious," a fresh take on the "This is Awesome" chants. Nakamura has the best entrance in the business. He is live theater and athleticism combined.
This was Roode's best WWE match to date. It looked several times like he was going to win, but Nakamura survived for awhile, kicking out of pin attempts. The crowd went back and forth with "Nakamura-Bobby Roode" chants. The dramatic ending came after Nakamura hit Roode with the kinshasa, but injured his knee. An NXT trainer came out to help Nakamura, but the Japanese wrestler insisted on continuing. Roode put Nakamura in a half-Boston crab and hit two DDTs to get the victory and win the championship.
JM: Roode is awesome and he is certainly title-worthy, but Nakamura shouldn't lose. This is his second loss in recent months and every loss chips away a bit at his mystique. There's no reason why the WWE can't treat Nakamura special and let him go as far as he can go with his incredible, sizable fan base. As for Roode, he is a great wrestler who deserves the title. He has the second best entrance in the business.
FE: The battle between the two best entrances in NXT. Both men looked like rock stars during their introductions, and the intros themselves were almost like a mini match to me.
There was some great, early mat work to start the match off. These two guys have a much different chemistry than some of Nakamura’s other opponents. Roode doesn’t match Nakamura’s strong style tit for tat, but he does match the taunting & charisma. For all the theatrics Nakamura had, Bobby Roode would fire right back. Roode got in some great stuff that showed his mean streak.
To me, the match’s climax came when Nakamura went in full NJPW mode and started hitting Roode with some stiff looking kicks. Nakamura hits a jumping knee on the apron, but then ends up injuring himself. In both NXT and the CWC, they seem to do this spot a lot, where a wrestler goes for a high-risk move, and they try to make it look like he may have actually hurt himself. Personally, I’m not a fan of that because it ruins the pace of the match and makes it much more predictable.
But here, they executed the "fake injury" spot very well. The amount of drama at the end of the match, when Nakamura kicked out of the first DDT, was spectacular. It didn’t stop there, though. I was on the edge of my seat when Nakamura didn’t tap out during that single leg crab. But eventually, the injured king ended up falling. I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of Nakamura in NXT.