4/1/16 – Scott Strandberg – @wrestlerosters
Finn Balor def. Samoa Joe by pinfall to retain the NXT Championship
Match Grade: A
As Joe made his entrance, the camera cut to Bobby Roode in the audience, implying his inevitable NXT debut. The demon Balor entered with a chainsaw, swinging it all over the place while he made his way to the ring. An early strike from Finn busted Joe open badly, following up with a plancha.
A blood-soaked Joe fought back by throwing Finn into the audience. Finn dove back out of the audience with a forearm, but Joe answered with a between the ropes dive. Doctors continuously attended to Joe, who was clearly upset by the officials trying to keep him clean.
Joe hit a sideslam and an enziguiri once the referees allowed him back into the ring. The fans chanted “bullshit” as the doctors again tended to Joe, but a blood-soaked Joe kept fighting. Joe hit a Broski Boot, an atomic drop, and a knee drop for a close near-fall.
Finn responded with a dropkick, as the officials paused the match yet again to clean Joe’s wound, while the crowd chanted “Let Joe bleed!” Finn hit a step-up enziguiri and then landed a Sling Blade, but Joe hit an overhead belly-to-belly. Joe transitioned a powerbomb into a Boston crab, then transitioning into a crossface.
Finn fought out with a double stomp and a corner dropkick, but Joe fought back with a Musclebuster. Finn shockingly kicked out, hitting a Pele kick to even things up. Finn hit another Sling Blade and a Coup de Grace, but Joe reversed a Bloody Sunday into a Coquina Clutch. Finn powered out and hit Sliced Bread, bridging into a pin for the win.
Scott’s Thoughts: It is absolutely inconceivable that any promotion could put on a PPV like this. This wasn’t just one of the best special events in NXT history, this was one of the best shows in wrestling history. What a phenomenal match, especially following the two unreal matches that came before.
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Sami Zayn by pinfall
Match Grade: A+ (Match of the Year)
Shinsuke entered with one of the greatest themes in WWE history, and with his entire NJPW gimmick intact. The look on Zayn’s face before the match started was one of pure awe. Very rarely in wrestling history has there been an introduction of this magnitude. Jericho’s original defection from WCW to WWE comes to mind, but that’s about it.
Nakamura and Zayn traded counters early, with their mannerisms matching each other to perfection. Nakamura hit a big knee drop, followed by two enziguiris. Zayn hit a vertical suplex to even the odds, adding a heel kick for two. Shinsuke fought back with a Pele kick from the apron and a guillotine knee drop off the apron.
Zayn answered with a plancha and a flying crossbody for a near-fall. Nakamura responded with repeated knees to the face, but Zayn answered with an incredible falcon arrow out of nowhere. The two hit each other with the stiffest strikes in recent WWE history — Zayn clearly broke Nakamura’s nose, but it didn’t stop there.
Nakamura floated through a clothesline into an armbar in an absolutely stunning spot. Zayn hit a legsweep into a Koji Clutch, but Nakamura hit an enziguiri from a seated position, which I’ve never seen before, as the crowd chanted “Fight forever!” Nakamura answered with a single-leg dropkick, but Zayn countered with a stunning blue thunderbomb.
Nakamura rolled out of the ring and Zayn tried for his tornado DDT between the ropes, but Nakamura met him with an incredibly stiff kick to the chest. Shinsuke repeatedly blocked an exploder suplex with elbows to the back of the neck. Nakamura climbed up top and hit a flying knee strike to the back of Zayn’s head. Nakamura hit a spin kick to the head to win the match.
Nakamura and Zayn hugged after the match, with Zayn raising Shinsuke’s hand. Zayn took a curtain call, indicating that this will be his last appearance in NXT, other than maybe an occasional guest appearance a la Cesaro.
Scott’s Thoughts: Match of the year. There is no question. I can’t recall the last time I saw a match that compelling. This is the easiest A+ grade I’ve ever given. One of the best matches I have ever watched.
Asuka def. Bayley by referee stoppage to win the NXT Women’s Championship
Match Grade: A
Asuka hit an early hip attack, but Bayley fought back with a diving back elbow. Bayley followed up with a flying crossbody and a knee drop. Asuka caught her in an armbar, but Bayley made her way to the bottom rope.
Bayley hit a springboard elbow, then a hurricanrana into a pinning maneuver for two. Bayley locked in a guillotine choke, but Asuka countered into an ankle lock. Asuka went outside, but Bayley hit her with a hurricanrana between the ropes.
Asuka hit a dropkick back in the ring, followed by a missile dropkick. Asuka hit a shining wizard for a near-fall, but Bayley reversed a hip attack into a side suplex. Asuka answered with an enziguiri and tried for another, but Bayley amazingly countered into a kneebar.
Bayley repeatedly hit dragon screw leg whips, but Asuka rolled through her into an armbar. Bayley followed up with a snap suplex, bridging into an armbar of her own. Asuka responded with a double-hunderhook suplex, bridged into an armbar.
Asuka caught Bayley in the Asuka Lock, and the referee had no choice but to announce a stoppage.
Scott’s Thoughts: “Oh hey, you’re following Zayn/Nakamura,” says NXT. “So?” respond Asuka and Bayley. What a breathtaking match. This is very easily the best NXT live special ever.
Austin Aries def. Baron Corbin by pinfall
Match Grade: B+
Corbin entered looking like a villain from Mad Max, which was a tremendous look. Corbin went on offense early with a bruising brawler mentality. The action spilled outside, and Aries hit a dive between the ropes, but Corbin responded with a massive Deep Six spinning side slam on the floor. Aries returned to the ring at the nine-count, and reversed an End of Days into a schoolboy for the pinfall.
Scott’s Thoughts: The match got off to an understandably slow start, but they picked up the pace in a major way as they reached the finish. For a relatively brief match, Aries and Corbin did a wonderful job. Aries is obviously one of the best wrestlers in the world, but don’t overlook how much Corbin has improved.
American Alpha def. The Revival by pinfall to win the NXT Tag Team Championships
Match Grade: C+
Jason Jordan hit an early dropkick on Scott Dawson, and Chad Gable added a springboard crossbody. Gable and Jordan hit tandem dropkicks, and Gable hit a double DDT on The Revival. Dash Wilder and Dawson botched a Doomsday Device on Gable in a way I’ve never quite seen before, and the crowd rightfully chanted “Botchamania.”
Jordan tagged in for another dropkick, then hit a beautiful T-bone suplex on Dash. Another awkward maneuver led to a Jordan rollup on Dawson, and Jordan followed up with an overhead belly-to-belly. Gable and Dawson traded rollup near-falls several times, before Jordan blindly tagged himself in. Gable tagged back in for a bridging side suplex to earn the pinfall victory and the tag team titles.
Scott’s Thoughts: Too bad the match started off so rough, because the finish was fantastic. American Alpha deserved the titles, and it’s about time NXT stopped the “jobber heels as champs” movement. Good booking, uneven execution.