NXT aired brief highlight packages of each of the first-round matches from the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Qualifying Tournament matches from Wrestlemania Axxess, before airing the semi-finals and final in their entirety. It was a bit anti-climactic to watch matches that culminated in Hideo Itami’s brief, forgettable run in the battle royal at Wrestlemania. While NXT is usually pre-taped, spoilers are easy to avoid. With this show, every viewer knew exactly what was going to happen, and the complete lack of drama definitely worked against the epidose’s entertainment value, despite a stacked card full of NXT’s top superstars.
Hideo Itami Travels the Road to Wrestlemania
Following Hideo’s victory over Finn Balor, NXT focused on Hideo’s journey from Japan to Wrestlemania. Starting in Osaka in July 2014, viewers got to experience Hulk Hogan introducing Kenta at a WWE house show, where Kenta signed his contract and became Hideo Itami.
Hogan addressed Hideo’s rough start in NXT, saying that he had met a high learning curve, but had managed to adapt. Hideo discussed how thrilled he was to be going to Wrestlemania, saying that it was a dream come true for him.
Next up was Friday’s San Jose house show (read our in-person review here), where Hideo finally hit the GTS on Tyler Breeze in front of a crowd that absolutely lost its collective mind. Hideo’s wife and two sons seemed to be just as excited as any of the fans in attendance to see him finally unleash his finisher in NXT.
The day of the show focused on Hideo’s preparation for the battle royal, as well as highlights of Hideo’s extremely brief appearance in the match. Immediately upon getting back behind the curtain, Hideo broke down, falling to a knee.
Instead of following the narrative of Hideo’s disappointing performance, the show instead abruptly ended, after several main-roster superstars congratulated him.
Scott’s Thoughts: This was mostly excellent, but I didn’t really like the way they glossed over the fact that Hideo was a total non-factor in the battle royal. The show closed with Triple H saying that Hideo had won at the end of the day, which was kind of odd seeing as he was one of the very first people eliminated from the match. Still, this was another example of WWE’s production team telling stories as only they can do, and I thoroughly enjoyed following Hideo on his Wrestlemania journey.
Hideo Itami def. Finn Balor by pinfall in the finals of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Qualifying Tournament
Finn and Hideo showed off their chain wrestling skills, with neither able to gain a significant advantage. Hideo hit a legsweep, but Finn immediately recovered and hit a dropkick. Finn rolled through a sunset flip and hit a basement dropkick.
Hideo tried for a tornado DDT, but Finn countered into a step-up enziguiri for a near-fall. Hideo hit a running knee into the corner, followed by his tornado DDT onto the top rope. Hideo used a flying clothesline to earn a two-count, then tried for the GTS.
Finn countered the GTS and hit a Pele Kick, before exchanging stiff strikes with Hideo. Hideo managed to hit a corner dropkick, but Finn regained the advantage with a Sling Blade. Finn hit a dropkick into the turnbuckle and climbed up top.
Hideo caught him and tried for the GTS, but Finn countered with a schoolboy rollup for a very close near-fall. Hideo hit a single-leg dropkick to finish off Finn.
Scott’s Thoughts: This was shorter than I would have liked, as the match lasted less than ten minutes bell-to-bell. Still, Finn and Hideo put on an entertaining show, as they ratcheted up the intensity early on and kept it high. This made up for the somewhat short timeslot they were given.
Hideo Itami def. Neville by pinfall in the semi-finals of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Qualifying Tournament
After going back and forth with mat-based exchanges, Hideo earned the advantage with a hip toss and a stiff kick. Hideo clotheslined Neville out of the ring, and Neville heelishly waited until the nine-count to return to the ring. Neville used a knee drop to earn a two-count, following up with a gorilla press slam.
Neville continued his dominance with a snap suplex, but Hideo responded with a single-leg dropkick and clotheslines. Hideo hit a legsweep, following up with a tornado DDT onto the top rope. Hideo used a flying clothesline to earn a close near-fall.
Hideo locked in a dragon sleeper, but Neville reached the ropes. Hideo hit a fisherman’s suplex for two and teased the GTS. Neville wriggled out of the way and hit a massive superkick, but Hideo managed to kick out. Neville went up top, but came up empty on a Red Arrow.
Hideo responded with a corner dropkick and a single-leg dropkick for the pinfall victory.
Scott’s Thoughts: It’s fun to watch wrestlers play against type a bit, and Neville’s heelish demeanor in this match was a good example of that. Hideo and Neville match up well, and this was a smooth, well-executed encounter.
Finn Balor def. Tyler Breeze by pinfall in the semi-finals of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Qualifying Tournament
Finn opened up the offense with a dropkick, then taunted Breeze by laying across the top ropes. Breeze landed a clothesline and a leg drop, but Finn rolled through a sunset flip and hit a basement dropkick. Breeze caught Finn with a big boot, but Finn answered with a step-up enziguiri for a near-fall. Finn followed up with a Sling Blade and a running dropkick, then climbed up top. Finn hit Coup de Grace for the quick victory.
Scott’s Thoughts: Way too short. As soon as Finn and Breeze started to pick up the pace, the finish had already arrived. This was quite underwhelming.
– A promo package aired with highlights from NXT’s Friday night show in San Jose, which we attended and reviewed. The segment included brief backstage interviews with Triple H, Scott Hall, Bayley, Kevin Owens, Stephanie McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Hideo Itami, John Cena and Sami Zayn.