It's time to review the December NXT special. I don't normally review NXT, but I watch it every week and I love it. Maybe I love it more because I'm not reviewing it. I think I just like it because it's more of a traditional wrestling show that's one hour long with better storytelling week after week.
I will review it in the same way that I do the Raw Deal and PPVs. That means a recap of the matches with mostly play by play of the moves, then plenty of analysis of the match and star ratings out of five stars for them too.
I'm going into this one knowing the results beforehand because I was watching my St. Louis Rams lose last night in the NFL game, but that won't ruin my enjoyment of it. It's two hours long with no commercials. Let's get to it.
This show took place at Full Sail University in Orlando (Winter Park), Florida.
The opening video package focused on a number of different people saying it was their redemption. Kevin Owens was at the start of it and also the end as he said that tonight is when Kevin Owens takes over.
After a wide shot of the arena, Kevin Owens (Steen) made his first appearance on WWE TV. He wore a black t-shirt that says KO on it in white letters. There was a big ovation for him. The announcers mentioned that he had been waiting 14 years for this opportunity.
The announce team of Rich Brennan, Alex Riley and Corey Graves welcomed us to the show. Graves had been out with a serious concussion with a long time, so he retired before the show. He is staying with WWE as an announcer, though. Smart move because he is a good talker.
Kevin Owens vs. CJ Parker
Owens hit him with corner clotheslines and a cannonball against the turnbuckle. Owens ripped up a Parker sign that said "My Fight Matters." Owens did a dive over the top that took out Parker on the ramp. You don't see 300 pounders do that. Crowd is chanting "this is awesome" already. Parker got some light offense in, but not much. Parker did a palm strike to the nose of Owens that bloodied him. It may have broken Owens' nose. Owens came back with a huge clothesline. He wiped off some of blood off his nose. Owens picked up Parker, cradled him and dropped him onto his knee. Owens hit a popup Powerbomb for the win after three minutes. His nose was bleeding a lot, so the ref tried to stop it for him.
Winner by pinfall: Kevin Owens
Analysis: *1/2 It was basically a squash match with some very impressive move by Owens. He showed off his athleticism, power and charisma all in the same match. The crowd loved him. Great debut for Kevin Owens, who is a guy I've watched for many years. He's immediately one of my favorites in WWE. Have to support this talented Canadian that loves this business and is finally working for the company he meant to be working for.
The announce team talked about things. Graves said he's part of the NXT announce team going forward while Riley said he was looking forward to working with him.
NXT Champion Adrian Neville was shown stretching. They showed clips of Neville saying he didn't want to be put into a position where he ended Zayn's career, but that this is his life and his career too.
There was a video package about The Lucha Dragons, who are Kalisto and Sin Cara (former Hunico). Kalisto is a phenomenal performer that's similar to a young Rey Mysterio. This team is a great babyface duo.
If you don't watch NXT regularly, you really should. The entrances for both of these tag teams are awesome. What's great is they are actually teams in every way and not just singles wrestlers paired together because they have nothing else to do.
NXT Tag Team Titles: Lucha Dragons (Kalisto & Sin Cara) vs. The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch)
Sin Cara started with Gotch. Kalisto did a senton splash onto Gotch after Sin Cara slammed him down. Sitout slam by Sin Cara for two. The heels took advantage of a mistake by Sin Cara and they isolated them in the corner. The Vaudevillains did a bunch of quick tags as well as double team moves to work over Sin Cara. Good spot by English rolling Sin Cara outside the ring, then knocking him down and also tripping up Kalisto. That's what I like to see. Classic heel moves. Kalisto received the hot tag. He hit a corkscrew cross body on English and a kick. Sin Cara took out Gotch with a cross body block. The Dragons gave English a back body drop over the top onto Gotch. The Dragons hit dives over the top to take out English. Back in the ring, Gotch tried a move, but Kalisto flipped out and hit the SDS (Salida del Sol) for the win after 7 minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Lucha Dragons
Analysis: ** That was a solid tag match that was good for the time given. It would have been cool if they had more time, but there are other matches on the show and only so much time they can get, so it's understandable. Hopefully they get to work together again soon. Kalisto's an incredible athlete. He's going to be a breakout star even though he's a shorter guy. I like the Vaudevillains a lot although they weren't really able to show all that they can do in this match. It was more about putting over Lucha Dragons.
Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch were shown getting ready backstage.
Next week on NXT, Kevin Owens will be interviewed by Renee Young.
Baron Corbin vs. Tye Dillinger
Corbin wins matches quickly, so the crowd counts for his matches. He's got a very intimidating look about him. The crowd was chanting as Dillinger got in some punches, but Corbin sent him into the top rope with snake eyes and then hit a boot to the face. Corbin hit End of Days for the win. It went about 40 seconds, which is long for a Corbin match.
Winner by pinfall: Baron Corbin
Analysis: No rating for such a short match. Corbin continues to look dominant although that was longer than his other matches with the announcers saying the longest one was 22 seconds.
Right before the finish, Bull Dempsey was at ringside for a staredown. Nothing happened. They just stared at eachother.
Analysis: They are doing a good job of building a showdown between those two. They have been both been dominant for several months now.
Sami Zayn was shown in the locker room with other wresters around him wishing him luck. They showed Kevin Owens sitting in there too. They are best friends although it wasn't mentioned here.
There was a video package to set up the match with Hideo Itami & Finn Balor taking on The Ascension.
The Ascension did their intro first. They're the heels while Itami came out first for the faces as the announcers mentioned that in Japan they are watching live on J Sports.
Balor's entrance was incredible. The lights went out for him. For the first time in his WWE career, he entered with full body paint. That's something he did for years in Japan and elsewhere as Prince Devitt, so it's great to see that in WWE as well. He also had on some headgear as well. It's really eye catching (the pic is below). He doesn't look like everybody else in the business when he does stuff like that. That's what we want to see. Different is good. The crowd was really into it as they should have been. Prior to the match, Devitt was promising something that we have never seen before. That body paint is it. At least we haven't seen it in WWE.
The teams started brawling before the bell even rang while Balor & Itami hit dropkicks.
The Ascension vs. Hideo Itami & Finn Balor
Balor was aggressive early against both members of The Ascension as I marvel at his attire. It must take a long time to get ready with a look like that. Konnor hit a flapjack on Itami after he tagged in. Itami hit a nice spin kick to the gut of Konnor, but Viktor tagged in to cut off Itami from tagging in. Lots of quicks tag by The Ascension while Graves said he had no idea how to beat The Ascension since he lost the tag titles to them. That was funny, but also honest. Viktor applied a chinlock on Itami to wear him down. After a two count, more chinlocks by Viktor. Itami fought out with an arm drag. He wasn't able to make the tag, though. Viktor missed a corner charge. Konnor missed an attack. Itami went for the tag, but Konnor tripped up Balor to prevent it. Back to the heel corner for Itami. Itami hit a kick on Konnor and he made the hot tag to Balor.
Balor was on fire with a dropkick and then a neckbreaker variation on Viktor. Balor hit an enziguiri kick while Viktor was on the top rope. Balor hit an impressive dive over the top to take out both Ascension members. Balor hit a reverse DDT/suplex for two. Itami took out Konnor. Viktor came back with a STO on Balor for two, but Itami made the save. Itami put Viktor on his shoulders for a GTS...but Konnor broke it up. The crowd wanted it that's for damn sure. Balor hit a Pele Kick on Viktor while Itami hit a running knee on Konnor. Both babyfaces went up top and they each hit double foot stomps on the Ascension members. Balor covered Viktor for the win after 12 minutes.
Winners by pinfall: Hideo Itami & Finn Balor
Analysis: ***1/4 That was a very good tag match. It was very traditional in that there was a long sequence where the heels were working over Itami. The Ascension were terrific in everything they did in terms of the timing of their moves, getting their heat back when they needed it and doing cheap tactics as well. They're a smart team that really knows what they are doing out there. That GTS tease spot was fantastic by Itami. The crowd exploded for it, so I really hope he gets to use it since CM Punk isn't in WWE and Itami is the one that did the move in the first place or at least popularized i. Balor's entrance was amazing. His mannerisms in the ring are perfect. People are going to get excited just for his entrance, but when you watch him in the ring you can see he's an amazing all around talent. The Ascension should be on WWE's main roster soon while Balor & Itami won't be in NXT that long. Those two especially are special talents.
There was an interview backstage with Renee Young talking to Roman Reigns. She congratulated him on winning Superstar of the Year. He said he was there to watch a great show especially the main event since Neville & Zayn are part of the future. Reigns said his goal is to be the first NXT alumni to be the first WWE Champion.
Analysis: I guess Daniel Bryan doesn't count even though he was in NXT too. Bryan wasn't in developmental for long and was known for work elsewhere first. Reigns actually started in NXT, so in that sense he is right.
Charlotte was shown getting a hug by her dad Ric Flair backstage.
The video package aired to set up Charlotte's NXT Women's Title match against Sasha Banks. They are former friends. Charlotte is now the face while Banks is still a heel with Becky Lynch.
NXT Women's Title: Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks
Charlotte was aggressive early on, but Sasha was able to outsmart her and then she sent Charlotte into the stairs outside the ring. Banks hit some shoulder tackles as well as a double knee smash onto the ribs of Charlotte. Fans were chanting "Sasha" for her as she got a two count. Banks did a mock Ric Flair walk, but then Charlotte got a rollup on her. Banks grabbed Charlotte's arms and then hit double knees to the back leading to a submission move. When Charlotte tried to fight out of it, Banks yanked down Charlotte by her hair. After a submission, Charlotte broke free with the electric chair drop leading to both women selling as if they were out. Suplex, then a reversal and a neckbreaker by Charlotte. That was an excellent transition. Charlotte was sent out of the ring, so Sasha took her out by hitting a dive between the top/middle rope. Fans were chanting "NXT" for that. Awesome move. Banks rolled her back in for a two count.
Charlotte ran the ropes and hit a very impressive Spear to take out Banks. It was a great move that Banks sold by doing a flip after it. That just shows how athletic both are. Banks got an inside cradle for two for a nearfall. Neckbreaker by Banks for two as she started freaking out because she couldn't put Charlotte away. Fans were chanting "this is awesome" again. Charlotte hit an overhead suplex while fans chanted "this is wrestling" for them. Charlotte went for a moonsault, Banks moved, Charlotte landed on her feet and then hit a senton on Banks. That's incredible. What an athlete. Banks drove Charlotte face first into the turnbuckle. Charlotte fought off a superplex by giving Banks a front suplex off the top rope. Charlotte grabbed Banks and gave her the Natural Selection (flipping neckbreaker) for the win after 13 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Charlotte
Analysis: ***1/2 That was a fantastic wrestling match for men or women. It's just wrestling. That's the point. Give them time and they can perform lik this. It just shows how talented some of WWE's divas are, but if you only watch the main roster then you won't see a match like this. Charlotte is as good as any diva in WWE already, which is a testament to how quickly she has learned because she has only been wresting for a couple of years. She really is a tremendous athlete that is learning all the little things about wrestling and has shown she's able to work well as a face or a heel. Banks really impressed me too. She's been a breakout star in NXT this year and it's only a matter of time until she wins the Women's Title in NXT. She's only 22 years of age (just like Paige), so she is somebody people really need to watch because she is on the way up. I liked Charlotte vs. Natalya from Takeover in May more than this one, but this was excellent and one of the best women's matches in WWE history. I'm not sure when Charlotte will lose the Women's Title. She should be on Raw/Smackdown soon although I hope she stays on NXT because this match was outstanding. If she's on Raw she will just be in three minute matches like the other divas, which is a damn shame.
When you watch a match like that and listen to the crowd react to it with an appreciation for great wrestling, it makes you wonder why WWE can't do matches like that on the main roster. Believe in your talent and the fans will too.
There was a long video package to hype up the main event match with a focus on Sami Zayn's inability to win the big one, which means the NXT Title. The clips focused on Zayn's journey throughout the year where he was really close to winning. During a NXT Title match with Neville, he was duped into thinking Neville was hurt and then he lost on an inside cradle. The focus was on how Zayn lacked a killer instinct to get the win. Zayn's career is on the line although not a traditional "if you lose you must retire" kind of thing.
Sami Zayn made his entrance first followed by the NXT Champion Adrian Neville. I don't write about NXT, but Zayn is my favorite here and on the entire roster. The crowd loves the guy. The song is catchy. Neville is damn good too.
NXT Title: Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn
The crowd was really loud for this one, mostly in support for Zayn. Neville isn't fully a heel, but he's more of a heel in this match because the people want Zayn to win. There was a slow pace early on as they told the story that they are so familiar with eachother. Zayn hit a backbreaker, so Neville rolled out to the floor and Zayn hit a springboard moonsault to take out Neville outside the ring. Zayn hit a big kick to the face for one. Neville came back with a forearm smash. Dropkick to the back by Neville followed by a chinlock to wear down Zayn. Nice running uppercut by Neville for two and he slowed the pace down with another chinlock. After Zayn got up, Neville knocked him down again with a missile dropkick. Zayn came back with a clothesline out of nowhere and then a dropkick. Headscissors by Neville. Zayn back body drop sent Neville over the top. Zayn hit a flip dive over the top to take out Neville. There have been a lot of flip dives on this show, but I don't mind it. Still a great move.
Back in the ring, Zayn hit a cross body block off the top for two. Zayn caught Neville on his shoulders, then spun him around into a powerbomb for a two count. Amazing move. Fans were chanting "this is awesome" for that. Neville connected with another running uppercut and then a boot to the face. Neville hit a bridging German Suplex for two. After another fast paced sequence, Neville hit a sitout Powerbomb for two. He was shocked that it wasn't enough for the win. They did a slugfest spot where they exchanged blows in the center of the ring. Zayn won that battle with a clothesline leading to Neville doing a flip bump. Neville kicked Zayn in the face to knock him down. Neville went up top for the Red Arrow, but Zayn got the knees up! Crowd loves that. Zayn applied the Koji Klutch submission, but Neville got the ropes to break the hold.
Neville got a rollup on Zayn. When Zayn kicked out, Neville's head hit the ref so the ref was bumped. That led to Zayn checking on the ref. Neville used that to hit a superkick. Neville hit a reverse hurricanrana (or Frankensteiner) that dropped Zayn right on his head, but Zayn kicked out. That was an amazing move! The crowd chanted "Ole Ole Ole" in support of Zayn while Neville was frustrated. Zayn hit a German Suplex and then a second one. Instead of a third one, he hit a one arm Dragon Suplex that Neville took by flipping onto his stomach. Very impressive. Neville was outside the ring, so Zayn did his amazing diving DDT move where he jumped between the bottom/middle ropes to hit a DDT on the floor. He did it earlier in the year on Cesaro. It was just as good here. Zayn hit his Helluva Kick (running high boot to the face while opponent is against the turnbuckle), but the ref got a piece of it too.
With the ref down, Neville grabbed the NXT Title. Zayn kicked Neville in the face to knock the title out of his hands. Zayn held the title and thought about using it. It looked like he said "alright motherf**ker" to just put over the intensity of this. He swore again. Neville capitalized with a rollup, so the ref counted for two. Zayn hit an overhead suplex that sent Neville into the turnbuckle hard. Zayn hit Helluva Kick again and he covered for the win. The match went 23:17.
Winner by pinfall and new NXT Champion: Sami Zayn
Analysis: ****1/2 What an amazing wrestling match that was. Wow. One of the best matches of the year. I was marking out for a lot of it, especially at the end. It was a decisive win by Zayn, who was conflicted about how to get the win. That's what I loved about it. It was more than just a classic wrestling match. This was an excellent story that was built up from months of Zayn fighting to reach this level and he finally got there. Neville was perfect in his role as a fighting champion that wasn't fully a heel, but he was willing to go the extra mile to get the win. It's just that he couldn't get the job done. This time he was able to do it. It's an easy story to tell as long as you give it time, have a series of matches to build it up and then do the big payoff in the end. The ref bump really didn't bother me either. It was all part of the story because Zayn was conflicted about what to do when the ref was down. It helped tell their story and the match wasn't hurt by it at all. As soon as I post this I want to watch it again just so I can enjoy it. That's what pro wrestling needs to be like. Every wrestler can't wrestle as well as them, but this is what wrestling is like at its best.
Post match, Zayn held the NXT Title in his hands. The crowd was going wild for him. Zayn reacted in shock as if he couldn't believe that he won the NXT Title finally. The crowd was chanting his name while Zayn looked so happy. The announcers mentioned that Neville held the NXT Title for nearly 300 days, so he was a great champion. That's why this win meant so much.
They aired replays of all the big spots in the match. That reverse hurricanrana spot was incredible.
The NXT locker room emptied out with a lot of the babyface wrestlers coming out to hug Zami and greet him in the ring. Kevin Owens led them out and he gave Zayn a big hug. The announcers mentioned that they were best friends, which is true and not just a storyline. Even Hall of Famer Pat Patterson was there. There was confetti for Zayn as he was put on their shoulders as part of the celebration.
Adrian Neville was still recovering from the loss when he went face to face with Zayn. Zayn put the title down and he extended his hand. Neville kicked the hand away. Then he gave Zayn a big hug. Awesome moment. That's why they didn't go ahead with the full turn for Neville. They had to keep him face by the end of this. Fans were chanting "NXT" for it. Everybody left the ring while Zayn was left to celebrate with the NXT Title by himself.
Analysis: I really like how they made a big deal about the celebration. It makes matches like this matter a lot more. Fans remember moments like that.
Zayn sat on the ring apron looking at the NXT Title as Kevin Owens walked up to him. Owens raised his hand one more time. They looked like they would walk away together, but Owens slammed him on the ramp. Owens picked him up and gave Zayn a Powerbomb onto the side of the ring! Damn! Heel turn. That was vicious. The announcers didn't say a word. NXT GM William Regal came out to ask Owens what he was doing while Regal checked on Zayn and told some refs to check on Zayn. The show went off the air right before it hit the two hour mark.
Analysis: Great heel turn by Owens. It wasn't a total surprise because he has a long history with Zayn both as a friend and as a foe, but the fans were really happy for Zayn so when they saw what Owens did it pissed them off big time. That's why it worked so well. Zayn just won the biggest match of his life and then his best friend turned on him. It makes me want to see what happens next, which is the sign of excellent storytelling.
Five Stars of the Show
1. Sami Zayn
2. Adrian Neville
3. Kevin Owens
5. Finn Balor
A lot of others deserve praise like Sasha Banks, Hideo Itami and Kalisto to name a few too. I'm limiting myself to five.
It gets a 9 out of 10. I'm not going to rank it with the PPVs because those are three hour and this is two. Different brand too. I just think it was outstanding and one of the best shows WWE has put on this year. All four NXT specials were between a 7.5 to a 9 for me. They are great.
That was an amazing wrestling show. It's hard to find things to complain about with this one and that's something I wish we could say more often about these types of shows.
I wrote a lot about the main event already, so it's hard to really add more to it. Whether you watch NXT all the time or you never do, you need to see that match. It was epic. Even if you really didn't know their backstory you should be able to appreciate the moves they were able to do and how it fit with their story. Zayn and Neville are amazing performers. They both should be on the main roster, but honestly I'm not going to complain about it because of how great they are in NXT.
Kevin Owens was a huge star from the moment he got out there. He had a dominant win to start the night and he ended it by showing us that he wasn't playing around. He's there to fight. I'm really looking forward to this new rivalry with Zayn.
I'm constantly impressed by Charlotte. She's a superstar. If she's this good this early in her career there's really not telling how awesome she is going to be. Sasha Banks had the biggest match of her career and she also delivered the goods. There are other NXT women that I like a lot including Bayley and Alexa Bliss, so I'm excited to see who can beat Charlotte for the Women's Title because that will likely happen soon if she's on the main roster in early 2015.
The commentary team did a good job. It's no surprise that Corey Graves transitioned well as an announcer because he's a smart guy that can talk. Riley is fine in his role, but I wouldn't mind it if he supported the heels more. Rich Brennan does a good job of calling moves, then stepping back to let the other guys talk at the right time. He's got a bright future as a play by play guy.
Go watch this show if you missed it. If you don't have WWE Network that's fine. Here's a link to a site with the show. Watch it. That's the kind of wrestling show that WWE needs to have on Raw, Smackdown and PPVs on a more regular basis. I know that it's a different thing because NXT has less shows, but it's still a lot of basic storytelling and building things up the right way. Plus, nobody wrestling in a Bunny costume either.
Finally, I think Triple H deserves a lot of credit. He's the guy that runs NXT. Vince McMahon doesn't book this show. I really hope Vince watched it and has an understanding of what worked on the show because Raw, Smackdown and PPVs need to be better. If this is Hunter's vision then the future of wrestling is in good hands, but as long as Vince is around the main roster shows probably aren't going to change that much. This felt like more of a pro wrestling show. That's what we want.
Kudos to everybody associated with NXT Takeover R Evolution. The fans were right all night: This is awesome.
Thanks for reading.
John Canton - email@example.com