Thursday night, WWE’s “minor league” promotion, NXT, presented their fourth live special on the WWE Network. Like the other three before it, it was a rousing success, a spectacular show from start to finish, contained a legitimate match of the year candidate and has already blown Sunday’s TLC pay-per-view out of the water.
Let’s find out what happened and what we learned:
Kevin Owens def. CJ Parker
Kevin Owens made his highly-anticipated WWE debut in front of a rabid crowd, bringing his intensity to a short quasi-squash that was competitive and impressive. Parker broke Owens’ nose with a palm strike in the last third of the match, so Owens won his debut match with a face full of blood — AS GOD INTENDED.
What we learned: Kevin Owens confirmed to both everyone who already knows him and to everyone who kept hearing the hype that he is the real deal. He also confirmed that, last name aside, the WWE is going to give us pure, 100 percent undiluted Kevin Steen. Nothing could be better. It seems strange to say that based on a squash match, but here we are.
And the end of the show set him up as even more of a major player, but more on that later.
NXT Tag Team Championship Match: Lucha Dragons (c) def. The Vaudevillains
After a fun, decent match, Kalisto delivered the Salida del Sol on Simon Gotch for the pin, allowing the Lucha Dragons to retain the titles.
What we learned: The Lucha Dragons will continue their reign and continue to be good at being a baby-face team that flies around and does flips. It’s okay. Sometimes you need that. The Vaudevillains continue to be good at what they do, but it’s not their time to be champs (nor may it ever be). Certainly, the seeds of something were sewn when Aiden English gave Gotch a chivalrous shove out of harm’s way of a big double-plancha late in the match, but we’ll have to wait until Thursday to see what becomes of that.
Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger
Corbin, as is his modus operandi, crushed Dillinger in a sub-one-minute squash match, then stared down Bull Dempsey, who apparently paid for a front-row seat just so he could sarcastically clap. We’ve all been there, honestly.
What we learned: After teasing it for several weeks, we are now starting a for-real feud between Corbin and Dempsey, two NXT wrestlers with essentially the same gimmick, but one of them (Corbin) does it much better and is far more beloved as a result. It should be fun. Part of me is fearful of Corbin (or Dempsey, for that matter) in some longer matches, but we’re going to have to see it at some point. I, for one, am excited about NXT’s two hosses hossing it up against one another for a while.
Finn Bálor & Hideo Itami def. The Ascension
This match was notable for two things: the debut of Finn Bálor’s completely bonkers big-match entrances and the ability for him and Hideo Itami to look like a million bucks even when the match or their opponents aren’t that great.
What we learned: Finn Bálor is going to be a for-real megastar within two years if WWE has any sense at all (so it’s about 30/70 that he won’t be). The crowd absolutely lost their minds over his entrance — over an entrance! And it was warranted. Sadly, the Ascension are somewhat plodding heels, so the match wasn’t terrific — until the end, when Itami and Bálor took over (and Itami teased a Go 2 Sleep that made every wrestling fan in the world freak the hell out). Itami is still finding his way, but Bálor is ready to set the world on fire. Get in on the ground floor, now.
NXT TAKEOVER R EVOLUTION
NXT Women’s Championship Match: Charlotte (c) def. Sasha Banks
After a long, terrific match, Charlotte retained her title after hitting a top-rope Natural Selection for the pin.
What we learned: NXT’s Women’s Championship matches continue to be unstoppable. Long, competitive matches that tell great stories. We’re ready for this level of women’s wrestling on a national stage, WWE. Don’t be afraid.
NXT Championship Match: Sami Zayn def. Adrian Neville (c)
Zayn, who has come up just short of winning the title again and again, promised if he couldn’t defeat his friend Neville and win “the big one” in his last match, he would walk away from wrestling. At the end of a dramatic, emotional 20-plus-minute match, Zayn finally hit the Helluva Kick to pin Neville and become the fifth NXT champion.
The locker room came out and celebrated his win with him. Zayn’s best friend in life and in wrestling, Kevin Owens, gave him a big hug and shared the moment with him. Finally, the ring cleared and Zayn started heading to the back … when he was viciously attacked by Owens and powerbombed onto the ring apron (which is the hardest part of the ring). NXT general manager William Regal tended to Zayn as Owens walked away.
What we learned: Sami Zayn is still the best all-around performer in NXT and the only true baby face in North American pro wrestling. He’s been the MVP of every one of NXT’s live specials and is another WWE Superstar with the-sky-is-the-limit potential. Seriously, he has the tools and the ability to be the next John Cena if they play their cards right. Neville will likely be heading to the main roster soon, as there’s nothing left for him to do or prove in NXT. Zayn should have a dynamite run as champion — and there’s no better way to begin than with an instant blood feud against Kevin Owens, the one person in the world he has the most history with.
It’s going to be a wild, wonderful ride. If you’re not doing it already, start watching NXT every week. You won’t be sorry.