If you have $9.99 and the bravery to watch RAW every week, you know for a fact that WWE’s best show is NOT on Monday nights, and hasn’t been for a while. If you hadn’t quite figured it out, NXT provided a hell of a hint last week. NXT Takeover 2 (review here) was the company’s best show of the year to date in terms of the stuff that matters. You know, the stuff in the 20-by-20 box. (Photo gallery here)
NXT has the benefit of quarterly special events, meaning there are about 12 weeks to build to each event. So how do we follow up such a great event?
With Titus O’Neil, of course!
Hold up … Superstars isn’t for another hour! Eh, maybe he’s just early. Nope, he has an actual reason to be here and honor us with his presence. The rationale here: NXT showed up on RAW last week? He’s gonna “take some of y’all’s time.” Very well.
Sami Zayn puts this to a merciful end. Or so we believe.
After some gimmick infringement (who doesn’t mock the Omega sign and the bark), he kicks some knowledge.
I’m so glad you’re here, because you really are filling a giant void of what we need here in NXT, which is a giant buffoon who couldn’t win a match to save his life. And hey, news flash, OK? While you’re busy getting beaten up by bunnies, we’re here in NXT STEALING. THE. SHOW!
That would qualify as shots fired, right?
Titus offers to steal this show by offering the beating of a lifetime in a match.
Did someone suggest wrestling?
The champ can’t wait to join in the debate here. Because if anyone wants to challenge NXT, he’s the one to defend it. Sami makes sure we’re clear Neville’s the only man to defend the show because he’s the champ (well, duh, Sami), and the man who may have actually stolen the show at Takeover 2 makes sure he has a say as well.
Tyson Kidd calls Zayn and Neville losers, with the only difference being one has a belt and the other doesn’t. Kidd then brings up a valid, shall we say, fact: Wouldn’t you do what Neville did at Takeover 2, pull the ref out of the ring to prevent a 3 count and do whatever it takes to keep the belt? Sami gets it, but said it wouldn’t really fit his moral compass. Neville informs Sami that’s why the belt will NEVER really fit on his waist.
That DOES qualify as shots fired.
Titus doesn’t care about all this — nor should he — so he turns the attention back to himself, just in time for the General Manager to call out a tag team match, playas!
Sorry, wrong GM.
Or is it?
“Gentlemen, please. This is a fighting show, not a whining show. So I suggest we somehow get to fighting.”
William Regal then tells us what’s best for business: All four men competing … O’Neil and Kidd vs. Zayn and Neville. Holla holla holla!
Obligatory Teddy Long joke aside, Regal has a point. NXT has been more about fighting than whining. But it was refreshing and interesting to see how some of the top NXT guys would fit in a RAW or SmackDown setting by leading off the show with promo time, and there really were no weak spots in the nearly-10-minute opening segment.
Three matches and a video package later, it’s main event time.
Good thing Titus brought his trunks and boots, or else that could’ve been awkward. Though if Cody Rhodes can defend the Intercontinental Championship in a suit, and if heel Jeff Hardy can defend a world championship in a tie with a cigarette …
(I swear I was the only mark for heel Hardy in TNA in 2010-11. Just an angsty, vicious human being. I even didn’t mind that purple custom belt until it went elsewhere.)
Anyway, back on topic. We’re still hammering home the “Zayn hasn’t won the big one” angle. After all, he hasn’t. Luckily, his partner has.
TYSON KIDD & TITUS O’NEIL vs. NXT Champion ADRIAN NEVILLE & SAMI ZAYN
Zayn starts … and Neville tags himself in after maybe 15 seconds. He’s already having a much easier time getting into the ring than last week. Armdrag and quick cover from the champ, and after he pulls Kidd into the corner, Zayn makes turnabout fair play in two forms — blind tag AND a standing moonsault as a “Better than Neville!” chant breaks out.
Neville tags in and responds with a corkscrew Shooting Star Press. A STANDING corkscrew Shooting Star Press. Damn, son.
Cover for 2, because he mostly connected with the lower body. Damn him for not being perfect. Headlock time, and Titus is super impatient. OK, not really. But it looks like he wouldn’t mind getting into the ring.
Neville’s ready to go outside to dive on Kidd, but Zayn cockblocks him and hits the springboard moonsault. This happened in reverse last week. Break time after a stellar 3 minutes.
Sheamus with an entertaining Be A Star spot, then Titus finally gets into the match as we return at 3:40.
One backbreaker. Two backbreakers. One nonchalant toss of his 200-pound foe. One tag to Kidd. You know, if they wanted, they could have Titus in NXT as just a freaking monster. At his size, against a top card that averaged 199 pounds in last week’s main event, he’s downright gargantuan. Anyway, Tyson works a headlock as Neville wants a tag …
… then shifts to the front facelock.
Titus gets a tag, and he continues to just manhandle Sami. Abdominal stretch at 6:20; Neville still calling for a tag. Zayn tries to elbow his way out, but Titus hits a forearm and elbow drop to the back. Then he stands on Sami’s face. Some people probably wish that would happen to Tyson’s pretty face.
Tyson gets in, applies the Tree of Woe and works away, including a headlock. Goes for a guillotine legdrop, but Sami escapes. The quintessential face in peril crawls to no avail.
Ever notice how heels ALWAYS work better in a thrown-together situation than faces? It’s like they’re so evil and bad, but they’re so much better at the whole teamwork thing. He slams Sami, drags him to the corner and tags. Tyson all about working the neck, this time with his foot, then back to the headlock. Armdrag escape, but a back kick from Kidd stops him in his tracks. Legdrop to the back of the neck, and Zayn finds a neutral corner. Titus with a slap to the chest, then charges the corner twice and misses. HOT TAG TO NEVILLE at 10:50.
Kidd’s in, and he’ll get the brunt of this fast-paced attack. Standing moonsault, but Titus makes the save. Sami goes after Titus. Neville up top, but Titus pushes him off right into Tyson’s knees. All Kidd needs to do is cover, and the champ is pinned.
Technical Merit: All four men brought it, with even O’Neil getting scientific and buying into the team concept of trying to break Zayn’s neck. Kidd is the best all-around mat grappler you’ll see in WWE besides Brock Lesnar, and Zayn and Neville’s one-upmanship not only furthered the story, but was great from a maneuver standpoint. The last guy on the main roster who could’ve probably hit that standing corkscrew Shooting Star was John Morrison, and he’s been gone for years.
Artistic Impression: The friends are fighting, and the heel(s) have the upper hand as we start the three-month build for the next Takeover. Tyson Kidd really has found himself as a cocky heel chameleon who can mesh with anyone, and it’ll be interesting to see where they go with his end of the story going forward. The aftermath of this match HAS to build toward Neville v. Zayn, which is the best fresh singles match NXT could provide right now. It feels like Neville’s in a slow turn at the moment, while Zayn will be the aw-shucks babyface until the day he dies. He played the bumbling face in peril beautifully, which helped one of the better WWE tag matches you’ll see.
TOTAL SCORE: ***1/4
Call me a traditionalist, but I have a problem with a champion coming out first in any situation. Even if it’s for a surprise Emma appearance. Also, welcome back, Emma!
NXT Women’s Champion CHARLOTTE vs. EMMA
Emma dances around a bit …
… but Charlotte ain’t got no time for that. She does have time to grab the belt and inform us she is, in fact the champ.
Emma takes one look and swats it away. Within a minute, that earned her a figure-four headlock combination. Emma gets rolled around, then bridges into a cover. Emma continues to use her unorthodox style, then hits an orthodox kick from her back. Charlotte responds with an orthodox shot to the back, then goes up top. Emma puts a stop to that, hits an elbow, ducks a charge and rolls up. Some more dancing, and some pushes to the ground. More dancing and an Emmamite Sandwich until the champ grabs her while she’s between the ropes. The yank of the head ends up sending Emma’s feet into Charlotte’s face, then Emma hits a crossbody for 2. This displeases the champion, who hits a neckbreaker, then Darwin’s favorite finisher: Natural Selection.
It’s kind of disappointing how overplayed Emma’s quirkiness is, especially in terms of her moveset. As Emma proved at NXT ArRIVAL, she’s a great wrestler. Let her dance around and be weird before and after the bell, but let her actually compete! When you have two solid athletes and only 4 minutes, they should be athletic, not being all … Emma-like.
You know how some shows try to make you believe things are happening live? WWE is throwing that out the window this week, because Justin Gabriel is pulling a Thursday night double. To his credit, he’s wearing the same gear on both shows. To his detriment, he’s jobbing on both shows.
OK, confession time: I’ve never seen Hideo Itami wrestle. And not just because that’s been his name for a week. I never saw him as KENTA, mainly because it took me until about May to watch anything outside WWE, WCW or TNA. Hell, I just watched the first like half-hour of my first (non-WWE) ECW show earlier this week. Thanks to a dissenting Roku 3, I’ll have to either start over or do some fast-forwarding later to finish the show.
HIDEO ITAMI vs. JUSTIN GABRIEL
Gabriel with an early headlock, then some acrobatics from Hideo. Nice leapfrog and elbow, and when Gabriel goes for a leapfrog, Hideo puts on the brakes, leaps and hits a one-footed kick to the jaw. OK, I’m on board. Hideo tries to pull Gabriel back into the ring by the hair, but Gabriel takes out the legs, re-enters and hits a double underhook suplex for 2. Hooks the arms from behind, and when Hideo tries to escape, Justin hits a knee to the side. A second double underhook attempt blocked this time, and Hideo’s kickboxing skills are on display.
Then he taunts Gabriel by kicking him in the head while imploring him to get up. Some more kicks, one from inside and one from the apron, then a springboard short dropkick. Hideo comes into the corner with a boot, then a running short dropkick. Up top, and Hideo hits the two-foot stomp for the win.
Soon after, he has company. Some vicious high-impact offense and one Fall of Man later, the former NXT Tag Team champions are angry AND satisfied.
Would YOU want to mess with The Ascension right now?
Anyway, Hideo’s debut? Decent. Maybe it’s because how much force would actually be applied to the point of impact, but he only got about a third of that stomp. Besides that, if you want some good, martial arts/kickboxing-based offense, he’s your man. He’s apparently quite busy in this set of tapings, so maybe we’ll get to see more.
Also, sign me up for more Justin Gabriel. If this were WCW, TNA or Ruthless Agression-era SmackDown, Gabriel would be a top heel in a cruiserweight/X Division capacity. In WWE? He’s enhancement talent with a vicious side.
I hoped we saw the last of CJ Parker at Takeover 2, courtesy of one Baron Corbin. But here the hippie with the X-Pac heat is back.
Oh, thank God. So is Corbin.
BARON CORBIN vs. CJ PARKER
How tall does Corbin have to be to weigh 285? Like, he doesn’t look jacked or anything. Just tall. Alex Riley informs us the answer is 6-foot-8. Parker actually gets about four punches in after a corner charge from Corbin, but the End of Days comes quickly and without remorse. Hey, at least CJ lasted longer this time!
Corbin will be a star, and within 3 months of making the main roster, I’ll probably be dissing all the fangirls gushing about how ridiculously good-looking he is. To be fair, though, he has the look.
I may have to get my Twitter bestie/NXT and indy guru (Hi, Heather!) on the horn to discuss the extent of Corbin’s ability, since she’s seen him work more than 40 seconds at a time and she’s high on him. But, even in this tiny sample size, he’s much more vicious and believable in his couple moves so far than, say, Mojo Rawley.
Also, I LOVE the fact that he hasn’t said a word. Not like he’s had time, but you get the point. Arrive, kick ass, depart.
After some shaky Big Cass camera work, we meet Carmella, a skinny Jersey girl type who wants a job. She wants to be “a fighta,” and she proves it by huffing a medicine ball into Enzo Amore‘s gut. How you doin’ indeed.
What did you think of NXT and the direction it appears to be headed? Comment below or drop a line on Twitter @jpetrie18.