By Scott Strandberg
Sami Zayn def. Adrian Neville by pinfall to win the NXT Championship
Match Grade: A+
The match began with a nice mat-based exchange, with each man countering each other’s attempts at wrist locks and submission holds. Neville gained the upper hand with a series of submission holds, followed by a suplex transitioned into an armbar. Zayn responded with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker that sent Neville out of the ring. Zayn hit a springboard moonsault to the outside, and Neville teased accepting the countout before getting back in the ring on the nine-count.
Zayn hit an enziguiri for a near-fall, but Neville hit a basement dropkick to the back of the head for a two-count of his own. Neville hit a huge uppercut for another near-fall, following up with repeated knee drops. Neville used a missile dropkick to earn yet another near-fall, but Zayn rebounded with a series of clotheslines and a dropkick.
Neville hit a hurricanrana, but Zayn responded by dumping him over the top and hitting a plancha on the entrance ramp. Back in the ring, Zayn climbed up top and hit a flying crossbody for two. Both men reversed each other’s suplex attempts, until Zayn transitioned an electric chair into a blue thunderbomb for a near-fall. Neville hit a jawbreaker and an uppercut to regain the upper hand, as Alex Riley commented that Neville is 5-0 in matches longer than ten minutes.
Neville bridged a German suplex for a very close near-fall and followed up with a sitout powerbomb. Zayn again kicked out at the last second, Neville hit Zayn with repeated forearms, which only fired Zayn up. Both men exchanged stiff shots in the center of the ring, and Zayn connected with a huge clothesline. Zayn missed on a Helluva Kick, and Neville hit an enziguiri.
Neville climbed up top and tried for a Red Arrow, but Zayn got his knees up and transitioned into a Koji Clutch. Neville got his foot on the bottom rope to break the hold. Zayn tried for an exploder suplex, but Neville hit a sunset flip for a near-fall. As Zayn kicked out, Neville bumped heads with the referee. Zayn went to check on the ref and Neville took advantage.
Neville hit a superkick and an unbelievable inverted frankensteiner for a very close near-fall. That looked like it snapped Zayn’s neck in half. Damn. Zayn and Neville again exchanged stiff shots. Zayn hit two consecutive German suplexes, followed by a facebuster suplex. Zayn came up empty on another Helluva Kick, and Neville rolled out of the ring.
Zayn followed Neville out of the ring and hit his between the ropes tornado DDT on the floor. Zayn got Neville back in the ring and hit a Helluva Kick, but Neville pulled the referee in toward him, resulting in the referee taking the brunt of the kick. Neville grabbed the NXT title belt, but Zayn kicked him in the face before he could use it.
Zayn looked at the title belt and picked it up. He looked at the ref, then back at Neville. Zayn squared up to hit Neville with the belt, but couldn’t get himself to do it. Neville rolled up Zayn for two, but Zayn responded with an exploder suplex into the turnbuckle. Zayn hit a Helluva Kick and covered Neville for the victory, and the crowd absolutely erupted.
The NXT locker room emptied out into the ring and Kevin Owens embraced Zayn in the center of the ring, then raised his hand in victory. Enzo Amore, Bayley, Pat Patterson and many others flooded the ring to celebrate with Zayn, as confetti rained down on the arena. Neville and Zayn stared each other down, and Zayn set down the title belt, extending his hand. Neville kicked his hand away, but then gave Zayn a big hug and raised his hand.
The show ended with Zayn and Owens again embracing at ringside…until Owens slammed Zayn onto the entrance ramp. Owens picked Zayn up and powerbombed him viciously into the ring apron. William Regal came out to break it up, and Owens walked back up the entrance ramp as medics attended to Zayn.
Scott’s Thoughts: Zayn’s road to redemption could not have had a more fitting conclusion. The match — and the aftermath — was an emotional rollercoaster, filled with incredible feats of athleticism. Stories and matches like this are why we watch wrestling in the first place. Takeover [R]Evolution will go down as one of the very best wrestling shows of the year, and this match was a big reason why.
The ending couldn’t have been any better either, with Owens turning on Zayn, to rejuvenate one of the great wrestling feuds in history. Andrew actually predicted this exact finish earlier today, but that didn’t make it any less completely awesome.
Charlotte def. Sasha Banks by pinfall to retain the NXT Women’s Championship
Match Grade: A
Charlotte hit a Thesz press to gain the early advantage, before exchanging chops with Sasha. The action spilled to the outside, and Sasha drove Charlotte violently into the ring steps. Back in the ring, Sasha draped Charlotte across the second rope and hit a double footstomp for two. Sasha mocked Charlotte with a Flair strut, but Charlotte rolled her up for two.
Charlotte tried for a gorilla press slam, which Sasha reversed into a hurricanrana, which failed to take Charlotte off her feet. Sasha took her down and locked in Charlotte’s own figure-four headlock. Charlotte fought her way out, picking up Sasha in an electric chair and pounding her with a backdrop. Charlotte hit several stiff forearms, followed by a suplex attempt, which Sasha tried to reverse into a Bank Statement.
Charlotte blocked the Bank Statement and hit a neckbreaker for a near-fall. Sasha dumped Charlotte from the ring and hit a dive through the ropes, taking Charlotte out on the entrance ramp. Sasha got Charlotte back in the ring and the two exchanged stiff forearms and chops, before Charlotte took Sasha out with a massive spear out of nowhere.
Sasha fought back with a big boot, then hit a drop toehold that sent Charlotte face-first into the turnbuckle. Sasha tried for the Bank Statement again, but Charlotte countered into a figure-four. Sasha rolled Charlotte up with a small package, but Charlotte kicked out. Sasha hit a neckbreaker of her own for another near-fall. Charlotte hit an amazing pumphandle suplex, prompting a “This is wrestling” chant.
Charlotte climbed up top and came up empty on a moonsault, but immediately hit a running senton. Sasha broke the pinfall by getting her foot on the rope. Charlotte tried for a Razor’s Edge, but Sasha countered with a knee strike that sent Charlotte into the turnbuckle. Both women went up top and Charlotte hit a facebuster from the top rope. Charlotte hit Natural Selection from the top rope for the pinfall victory.
Scott’s Thoughts: Going on right after Finn and Hideo vs. The Ascension was a tough spot to be in, but Charlotte and Sasha were more than up to the task. In my opinion, they actually managed to top the seemingly unbeatable match they followed. This isn’t just a women’s match of the year candidate, it should be in the conversation for match of the year, period.
Finn Balor and Hideo Itami def. The Ascension by pinfall
Match Grade: A-
Hideo entered in a golden robe that matched the drops of melting gold on the video screen behind him. The lights went out, and the sound of a heartbeat began, as red lights flashed intermittently in time with the heartbeat. Finn climbed through fog to reach the middle of the stage, before revealing his incredible body paint, with his neck and upper chest painted to look like a gaping mouth of shiny teeth.
Finn slithered his way to the ring, like some sort of amphibious creature. Each time he raised his arms, blinding white light bathed the arena. This is one of the greatest entrances I have seen in my entire life. Finn took off his tentacle hat and posed in the middle of the ring as I marked out hard in my living room. Finn and Hideo took it to The Ascension, hitting dropkicks in unison as the crowd started chanting “Marking out!”
Finally the match began, with a Hideo dropkick on Viktor. Finn tagged in, but Viktor hit a high knee and reached Konnor. Finn hit a dropkick and tagged in Hideo, who ate a huge flapjack from Konnor for two. Viktor hit an uppercut for a two-count of his own as The Ascension wore down Hideo. They hit a double shoulder-tackle, earning a near-fall for Konnor.
Hideo finally hit a snapmare and sent Viktor flying into the turnbuckle. As Hideo tried to tag Finn, Konnor pulled Finn off the apron. Viktor pulled Hideo back to their corner, and they continued the two-on-one assault. Finally, Hideo fought back with a kick to Konnor and reached Finn as Konnor reached Viktor. Finn hit clotheslines on Viktor, followed by a sitout sleeper slam.
Finn hit a step-up enziguiri, sending Viktor from the ring, then took out The Ascension with a plancha. Finn got Viktor back in the ring and came up empty on a diving double footstomp, before hitting a brainbuster, forcing Konnor to make the save. Hideo took out Konnor, but Viktor hit an uppercut and an STO, forcing Hideo to make the save.
Hideo set up for the GTS on Viktor, but Konnor dumped Hideo out of the ring. The Ascension set up for the Fall of Man, but Hideo pulled Konnor away and hit him with a Busaiku Knee. Hideo and Finn climbed up top and hit diving double footstomps in unison, earning the pinfall for Finn.
Scott’s Thoughts: That. Was. Awesome. The entrance alone had chills running up and down my spine, and Hideo finally showed what he can do in NXT. The crowd popped huge for the GTS setup, and for the successful Busaiku Knee. Finn and Hideo were both wonderful here (especially Finn), but The Ascension deserves plenty of credit for holding their own to create such an entertaining match.
Kevin Owens def. CJ Parker by pinfall
Match Grade: B-
Owens appeared to be fighting back his emotions as he entered a WWE ring for the first time to open the show. Owens started out hot with repeated clotheslines and a cannonball into the turnbuckle. Owens picked up Parker’s hilarious “My Fight Matters” sign and tore it to shreds, then hit a huge plancha to the outside, earning a “Holy shit” chant and a “This is awesome” chant less than five minutes into the show.
Parker fought back with a spinning heel kick that knocked Owens to the mat, but came up empty on a senton. Parker hit his Third Eye palm strike finisher for a very close near-fall, clearly breaking Owens’ nose. Owens hit a huge lariat and — with blood gushing down his face — a brutal backbreaker, followed by an insane pop-up powerbomb for the pinfall victory.
Scott’s Thoughts: Wow. Wow. That is how you make a debut. Owens looked incredible from bell to bell. I have seen so many of his matches — as I’m sure many of you reading this have — but this performance was still impressive as all hell. Also, while clearly an accident, the fact that the match ended with Owens gushing blood (and referee Drake Wuertz trying to stop the bleeding) felt rather appropriate.
I’ll put it this way: Owens looked so good that I gave a CJ Parker match a B-.
The Lucha Dragons def. The Vaudevillains by pinfall to retain the NXT Tag Team Championship
Match Grade: C
Sin Cara hit a springboard moonsault on Gotch, tagging in Kalisto for a wheelbarrow senton, earning a two-count. Sin Cara tagged back in and hit a dropkick, followed by a sitout inverted powerbomb for another near-fall. English tagged in and dumped Sin Cara onto the floor. Back in the ring, English hit an elbow drop for a two-count.
The Vaudevillains kept Sin Cara isolated in their corner, trading frequent tags. Gotch hit a sidewalk slam for a near-fall, but Sin Cara finally reached Kalisto, who hit a springboard corkscrew crossbody. Sin Cara hit a leaping crossbody on Gotch when he tried to interfere, then landed a dropkick on English. Kalisto hit an enziguiri that sent Gotch to the outside, then the Dragons tossed English onto him.
The Dragons tried to take out English and Gotch to the outside, but English shoved Gotch out of the way, taking the impact of both men himself. Gotch got Kalisto back into the ring, but Kalisto immediately nailed Salina del Sol for the pinfall victory.
Scott’s Thoughts: I was a bit surprised by the finish, but this match was fine. It just didn’t quite feel like a tag title match on a PPV. No “big match feel”, if you will. I was expecting more from these two talented teams.
Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger by pinfall
Match Grade: D-
Corbin planted Dillinger face-first into the top turnbuckle, then hit a big boot. As Bull Dempsey watched from ringside, Corbin hit the End of Days to finish the match. Corbin and Dempsey stared each other down as Corbin exited.
Scott’s Thoughts: The slow build on Corbin/Dempsey is moving at a snail’s pace, and not in a “I’m sure glad they’re taking their time on this hot feud” kind of way. Just get it over with already.
Corey Graves retires from in-ring action; joins NXT commentary team
Graves said that all he had ever wanted to be was a WWE Superstar. He finally achieved his dream when WWE signed him, but he’s had some bad luck with concussions. Graves said that he was retiring from in-ring action, but that he would be joining the NXT announce crew. It’s sad that he can no longer wrestle, but it’s very nice to see WWE continue to support his career goals. Graves handled himself very well all night, adding insight to the announce crew with Rich Brennan and Alex Riley.