2/11 NXT Takeover: Fantastic second half

NXT Takeover: Rival Review
February 13, 2015
Review by: Jason Namako of Wrestleview.com

It seems like a broken record at this point, but it bears repeating, NXT Takeover: Rival on Wednesday evening live on the WWE Network proved once again that NXT is a better complete wrestling product right now than what is taking place on the WWE main roster and has been for the last 6 months to a year, no matter what defense or excuses that people who only watch WWE RAW or Smackdown might pump their chest out and tell you. The future is indeed now with what has been taking place at NXT and if you ever wanted to peek into the crystal ball and see what Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s vision is for WWE programming once he takes the helm from Vince McMahon, then NXT is where you get to see that vision come out into the forefront. Takeover: Rival kept up the pace of consistently great NXT live specials since the first one took place 1 year ago, but at the same time, was a tale of two shows as well.

Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn delivers a compelling first chapter in their reborn rivalry to the mainstream

For fans of the former Kevin Steen and El Generico from their time on the independents, they knew what magic these two could deliver from their acclaimed year-long rivalry back in 2010 in Ring of Honor. At Takeover: Rival, WWE fans got to see the first chapter in this rivalry that now been rekindled into the mainstream and boy did they get a salvating and compelling sample of what these two can do. Owens & Zayn, while they didn’t go full-tilt with the match because they have a lot left in the back pocket for future matches down the road, put on a very well-done “first match in a feud” type of match. Owens did a good job on his control of getting a good chunk of the Full Sail crowd to boo him, which was something he had trouble with in his 2012 ROH heel run. And what more can be said about Sami Zayn as a babyface with his selling, honestly? Zayn is the best babyface in pro wrestling today, period. The finish with the ref stoppage due to Zayn banging his head off the rampway after the Arabian Press, followed by Owens delivering not one, but five powerbombs, was a unique way to go about doing a title change. There was some backlash to the finish from the live crowd and online, but to me, it totally worked. It protected Zayn in losing and gave Owens a backdoor way into winning the title, which helps the Owens’ character as a heel. Also saw backlash to Owens’ crying during his title celebration, which I don’t understand whatsoever. Kevin Owens is a multi-layered heel character. Yes, he does dastardly things, but at the end of the day, they have done enough backstory with him where as a fan, you somewhat understand his motives for his actions because of wanting to provide a better life for his wife and 2 kids and doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Storytelling was fantastic, finish was well-done, match was good and I for one, cannot wait to see the next chapter in the Owens-Zayn rivalry whenever that occurs.

NXT Women’s Title 4-Way delivers in spades

Going into this show, I had some definite qualms about how the NXT Women’s Title 4-Way match. While the women have delivered beyond belief in past NXT specials, those were all in singles matches. There was definite concern going in that this 4-way could become a convoluted mess, but thankfully, because of how good the 4 women in this match are, that did not occur in this match. In losing the title, this match was a sort of “graduation” for Charlotte as heading out of this show, her move-up to the main roster is imminent to say the least, she is no doubt about it, ready to go from an in-ring standpoint. However, in winning the title, from an all-around standpoint, Sasha Banks is the most ready of any of the NXT women to go up to the main roster. She was phenomenal in this match from her mannerisms to the nifty stuff she did, notably the double-decker double knee deal in the turnbuckles on both Becky Lynch and Charlotte. The “Boss” persona has been flushed out very well and while in the past, I thought Sasha was a solid in-ring performer, but not great, over the last 2 NXT specials, she has really stepped her game up in the ring to the point where it puts her over-the-top, even above Charlotte, in terms of being ready for a call-up. Bayley put on another impressive performance in this, but the most impressive performance went to Becky Lynch. From the new ring attire to busting out a bunch of different suplex variations, Lynch really opened up some eyes and brought to this match a lot of what independent fans remembered from her past work in the early days of SHIMMER as Rebecca Knox. There was no lull in action during this match and again, while the finish came off flat to the live crowd with Sasha rolling up Charlotte after not being able to make her submit with the Bank Statement, again, it worked to me because Sasha took advantage of wearing out Charlotte with the submission and being able to catch her in a flash pin to win the title was a very opportunistic way to go about things to enhance Sasha’s character. And for these 4 to deliver this kind of match and keep the crowd hot for it coming off the Finn Balor-Adrian Neville match, speaks to the talent of all 4, great stuff.

Balor-Neville brings the carnage and gives the Rumble 3-way a run for its money as an early WWE MOTYC

Much like Owens-Zayn, people who followed the pre-WWE careers of Adrian Neville and Finn Balor knew about their prior match with one another from back in 2012 as part of New Japan’s Best of Super Juniors Tournament under their PAC and Prince Devitt personas, which funny enough, was what led to both of them securing WWE contracts. So, there was a good amount of expectations heading into this match. These two exceeded those expectations to a great degree. Finn Balor, when he dones the warpaint for these NXT specials, has the best entrance in all of WWE currently, from the lighting, to the music and most especially, Balor being completely engulfed in the dark persona he puts out there for the entrance and then, the match itself. Structure of this match was very well done with the first half being worked out a slow and steady pace, so that when we got to the big moves in the second-half, the audience was clamoring for it and came alive once Balor hit a Mushroom Stomp for a close nearfall. These two have great chemistry with one another and busted out some new things, notably Neville’s 2nd Rope Phoenix Splash and the fantastic counter by Balor of the Red Arrow with the inside cradle. Neville showed a lot as well from a mannerism standpoint in this, from showing no intimidation to Balor’s entrance, to showing just shock and disbelief when Balor kicked out of the Phoenix Splash, to finally, sheer disappointment and despair after losing to Balor in the post-match. For someone who was still lacking in the “everything else” department, Neville made some great strides in this match. Balor is more than ready for the main roster from an overall standpoint and I will go on record to say that he has a very good chance to become one of WWE’s most successful international stars because he has the in-ring down, he now as the character and showmanship down with the entrance and he is universally loved by the crowd, which is rare for a WWE babyface these days. This was a sensational match and an early canadiate, right underneath the Royal Rumble 3-Way in the 2015 WWE Match of the Year discussion.

First half of Takeover: Rival unfortunately disappoints

While the second half of Takeover: Rival made this yet another great NXT special, the first half did not at all get this show off to a good start. While Hideo Itami vs. Tyler Breeze was solid and a decent way to kick-off the show, Baron Corbin vs. Bull Dempsey was very underwhelming and the Tag Title match was disappointing to say the least.

Itami is starting to get more comfortable working the “WWE-style” and getting to bust out more of his kick-based offense, including another GTS tease. Breeze coming out with a furry selfie stick was such a dumb in a good way thing for his character, as well as the apparent inclusion of a groupie for the act going forward.

There was absolutely, postively, no reason whatsoever to make the Corbin-Dempsey match No DQ when there was no real use of any things relating to a No DQ match, except for one tease with a steel chair. Corbin is starting to lose some steam with the crowd by going longer in his matches, which is unfortunate for him because of coming in with the deal of wrestling 15-30 second squashes. Unfortunately, don’t know what the future holds for Dempsey, who I thought had promise, after losing 3 straight matches to Corbin. Finish with the End of Days was impressive in showing Corbin’s power, but that is the only praise I can give to the match.

Tag Title match disappointed due to the fact of a lot of screw-ups by both teams that unfortunately, lost the crowd. I had been impressed by the work of Sin Cara in recent months, but on this show, it seemed like the original incaranation took over the current incaranation’s body because he went back to messing up a lot of things. Kalisto was off on this night and with the Lucha Dragons not having a great night, that domino effect led to Blake & Murphy not being able to keep things together and concluded with a very sloppy mess of a match. I will take as an off night for all 4, but it unfortunately was a setback for Kalisto’s ascension to the main roster to be WWE’s next Latino star and at the same time, not a good, first impression for Blake & Murphy on their first live NXT special.

Overall, NXT Takeover: Rival was a tale of two shows, a disappointing first half and a fantastic second half. Go watch the final 3 matches on the WWE Network, highly recommend it and continue to watch what will soon to be the future of WWE under the regime of Paul “Triple H” Levesque. As much as the WWE main roster stuff is not clicking right now, the future of the company, from watching NXT and the live specials, is in good hands.

Jason Namako recaps NXT every week here on Wrestleview.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Namako or e-mail him at Jason@wrestleview.com.