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Please click through for the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Rival.
Best: Tyler Breeze Is Half BroMan, All Model
In his continuing effort to be the perfect male model character, Tyler Breeze has added two new wrinkles to his entrance:
1. A selfie stick (which is a real thing), and
2. A crazed female fan jumping the rail and trying to hug him.
If you’re one of the 16 people in the United States who gets Destination America, you might recognize the selfie stick as the signature entrance prop of Impact Wrestling’s Robbie E. Feel free to click that link and spend about 80 seconds staring at your computer with a furrowed brow if you want to know why I’m fine with NXT yanking the one positive thing about Robbie E.
At least Tyler’s is covered in fur. It’s like he’s coming to the ring with James P. Sullivan’s dick.
As for fans jumping the rail, that’s a little trickier. One one hand, adding a little Ravishing Rick Rude to Tyler Breeze’s character is a great idea. He’s supposed to be a world-traveled male model but he doesn’t actually seem to affect anyone around him. He had that posse of assistants for a hot second, but they just kinda vanished. Tyler being dynamic and causing some sort of professional or sexual chaos wherever he goes could give him that edge you so desperately need when you’re a tiny Canadian guy in car wash boots.
Best: The Opening Match, Or
Worst: The Trouble With Being A Perfectly Fine Wrestling Match On An NXT Live Special
Breeze takes on Hideo Itami, and it’s perfectly fine. It’s good, even, with Itami showing the “we only watch the live specials” crowd that he’s found his footing as a WWE performer and isn’t just Finn Bálor’s pal anymore.
The strange thing is that perfectly fine wrestling matches seem out of place on NXT live specials. The first half of Rival felt like an okay weekly show. You had Bull Dempsey doing an unspectacular thing, you had a trainwreck tag team match and then Itami and Breeze spent 10 minutes being fine. It just needed Devin Taylor nodding at somebody backstage to fill it out. Normally, that’d all be fine, but they’ve created such a weird buzz and expectation for these things that you can’t just go out and do your job, you’ve got to create something physically and emotionally special.
The good news is that the second half of the show was that and more, and that compared to the rest of the first half, Breeze/Itami was Savage/Steamboat.
Worst: Ol’ Sandbags Dempsey
I wanted so much more from the Baron Corbin vs. Bull Dempsey no-disqualification match. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I wanted them to go full ’90s WWF “hardcore,” you know? I wanted trash can lids, fire extinguishers, people getting thrown through prop windows, hacky table spots, someone getting a bowling ball rolled into their balls, etc. I wanted Corbin hitting the End of Days into Lake Virginia. Like, replay this match in your head with Corbin wrapping Dempsey in a length of fencing and rolling him down a hill. Way better, right?
Bull just doesn’t have it right now, and I hope this is the end of the “throwback” experiment. He’s not a terrible performer, but he’s absolutely not a bad ass or a commanding physical presence. He’s not going to scare anybody by standing in front of them. Watching him mosey towards Corbin with a chair over his head and not be moving fast enough to make the End of Days work made me wish they’d stuff him in a crate and ship him back to OVW. Yes, I know they’re already in developmental, and yes, I know OVW isn’t WWE developmental anymore.
Worst: R.I.P. Lucha Dragons 2014-2015
Speaking of guys who need to go back into the oven, holy sh*t, the Lucha Dragons.
Here’s a truth that SOMEBODY at WWE needs to read and understand: Sin Cara is literally a garbage can. Hunico isn’t bad, but when he puts on the Sin Cara gear he becomes Sin Cara, and that’s nothing but falling down and sadness. Making a guy dress kinda like Sin Cara and stand NEAR Sin Cara only makes that guy a SIN CARA PROXY. You get matches like this, with a Sin Cara headscissors turning into a Steenalizer from an invisible man and the otherwise delightful Kalisto slipping on the middle rope and almost wishboning himself.
I think the problem is that the match was too ambitious. They went out there consciously trying to kill it, and just moved through everything too fast. That made them f*ck up a few things in a row, and that made the match impossible to salvage. The Dubstep Cowboys pulled out a lot of great stuff — the double-team neckbreaker was great, as was Wesley Blake’s unexpectedly beautiful frog splash — but you aren’t gonna remember that. You’re gonna remember Sin Cara’s dumpy ass tucking and rolling before he’s on somebody’s shoulders and Gronk spiking himself into the ground. You’re gonna remember Kalisto trying to do Fenix’s front flip rana and powerbombing himself.
Sin Cara needs to go. Turn him back into the fourth member of The Crew if you want, but make a big pile of everything Sin Cara-related and set it on fire. As for Kalisto, I still think he’s a special athlete. You aren’t going to see that when he’s part of a set. In WWE he needs to be “the guy in the mask,” because apparently there’s only room for one at a time. Let him be his own thing, play him up as the second coming of the Biggest Little Man or whatever and never ask him to try Fenix’s moves again. Ever. You’re a lot of things, Kalisto, but Fenix ain’t one of them.
Best: HACK THE PLANET
There’s nothing I’m looking forward to more on NXT right now than the debut of Solomon Crowe, Elite 90s Hacker. I want him to ride out on a skateboard sipping a Big Gulp like he’s Fisher Stevens in Hackers. I want him “hacking” his opponents by putting floppy disks in their mouths and saying “one seconnnnd … ONE SECONNNND … THERE, WE’RE IN!” There needs to be at least one scene of him backstage at Full Sail on a payphone, and nobody else knowing what a payphone is. If his catchphrase isn’t MESS WITH THE BEST, DIE LIKE THE REST I’m demanding a refund.
Best: The Announce Team
Two quick bests before I forget.
1. Referencing “Mulkeymania.”
2. Finally calling Sin Cara’s top rope victory roll a victory roll and not a “sunset bomb.” If there’s no other reason to love the announce team, the fact that they’re interested in being good and getting better instead of just calling everyone haters and marks should be enough.
Best: The Demon Finn
My favorite thing about the WWE version of Prince Devitt is that his body paint equates to him “leveling up.” If you wrestle Finn Bálor as a regular dude, you’ve got a chance to beat him. If he shows up cosplaying the walker version of Michonne, you’re toast. There’s literally nothing you can do to beat him.
I think Demon Finn Bálor is the most overpowered character NXT’s ever created. He just doesn’t fit with the rest of the roster. Can you imagine anybody pinning him clean? Hideo Itami couldn’t do it, Adrian Neville couldn’t do it … if the guy’s kicking out of second rope Phoenix Splashes there’s no WAY a damn Helluva Kick is putting him down. Right now I can’t even imagine him losing dirty. Like, if somebody tries a distraction rollup he’d just snap their arm off and double-stomp their throat.
Best: It Might Actually Be Impossible For These Guys To Have A Bad Match
This match is where the show stops being a show and becomes the NXT Live Special.
What I loved most about Bálor/Neville is that it had a big match feel and was the blowoff to the #1 Contender tournament, but they didn’t do too much. Honestly, go back and watch the match. This is where a WWE context sometimes helps spectacular independent wrestling. If this had happened in PWG or Ring Of Honor, they would’ve kept doing falsies well past the reasonable end of the match. That’s not an insult, necessarily. It’s what people who go to those shows want, so there’s no reason not to give it to them. Here, though, they hit all the right spots and give us just enough to tell the same story as a billion falsies without compromising the point or pace. Bálor is tough, so he kicks out of the second rope splash. Bálor is smart, so he gets his knees up on the Red Arrow. Neville is tough, so he isn’t instantly crippled for life when he gets stomped in the neck. Neville is resilient, so he kicks out of the Red Arrow counter. The performers are able to show how exceptional they are, and someone’s there to say, “you’re there, take it home.” It’s why ‘Twin Peaks’ was so good. You had David Lynch’s impossible, wonderful weirdness, and someone there to moderate it.
On top of that, it was just a great wrestling match. We tend to not give Adrian Neville enough credit for the work he does and the growth he’s made since joining NXT because he showed up before everybody else and never really got to be the “hot new indie signee” to this new crowd of fans. “Adrian Neville” is better than PAC ever was, and that’s not an insult to PAC. PAC was great. Adrian Neville is a workhorse ace.
Best: The Goddamn Boss
And now Brandon stops trying to analyze pro wrestling and starts jumping up and down.
Sara Del Rey should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the NXT Divas. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have an actual functioning, popular thing I can point at and say, “this is why I support women’s wrestling. This is what it can be. This is what it SHOULD be.” When these women walk down the ramp you don’t think of them as “Divas,” you think of them as wrestlers. They are Divas and maintain all the things that make Divas popular with average wrestling fans, but you don’t have to qualify them. You don’t have to say, “this is pretty good for a Divas match.” You say “this is pretty good.” This is as good as any combination of four dudes on the roster, and that includes the amazing Zayn/Neville/Kidd/Breeze match at Fatal 4-Way.
There’s so much going on. There are the showcase moves, like Sasha Banks’ stacking version of her corner knee drop and Bayley throwing suplexes off the second turnbuckle. You’ve got women throwing suicide dives and sick submission holds. There’s also a story going on, building on the year-long history between these four and moving forward without selling anyone out.
Charlotte is the dominant champion but she’s never had to face three competitors at once, and she’s either beaten them up or sold them out in the past. Bayley’s in there and you’d assume Bayley would want to help out the cool daughter of Ric Flair, but Charlotte’s been casually cruel to her on a regular basis and brought out a confident “mean” streak she’s never had before. Bayley is inspired by the hard work and triumph of the only other nice person on the show (Sami Zayn) and is here to win, even throwing through-the-ropes dropkicks to emulate him. You’ve got Sasha Banks, blood rival of Bayley and former subordinate of Charlotte, a woman whose actual confidence is starting to catch up with her fake confidence. She keeps getting better and better in the ring and the crowd’s getting behind her. She’s caught somewhere between being a detached “mean girl” and a homegrown cult hero. And then you’ve got Becky Lynch there as the possible friend or foil to Sasha, the wild card that could give her an unfair edge or pull the rug out from under her at last minute.
Notice how none of those character descriptions are “she has a boyfriend” or “she’s jealous of the prettier girls.” There’s none of that. These are fully-formed characters (mostly) who are professional wrestlers and competing on a big stage for a good reason. They want to win.
As for the actual story, I love Bayley going nuclear and having the match won several times, but Sasha always screwing it up for her. I loved Sasha doing her homework and locking in the BOSSFACE~ on Charlotte, but stopping momentarily to kick Bayley into Becky and prevent any interference. I especially loved Sasha wearing down Charlotte with crossfaces but knowing she can’t tap out a gymnast with stretching and turning it into a crucifix at the last second. Most of all, I love that Charlotte, Becky and Bayley were all wearing silver, but Sasha was wearing gold. Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. Even if your job is THE BOSS.
People often ask me what my favorite NXT women’s match has been, and I’ve never had a definitive answer. I do now. It’s this one. Very few wrestling matches have had me screaming TAP THE F*CK OUUUTTT at a television in my adulthood, and this is one of them.
Best: Shove That Respect Hug Up Your Ass
When Charlotte went in for the Code Of Honor hug at the end of the match, I was disappointed. You can do some of that stuff backstage, Charlotte, you don’t have to break kayfabe every time you have a good match.
This was saved when it turned into a shoving match, and Sasha shoving Charlotte so hard she flew backwards across the ring. The Boss is the champ, and she deserves it. Keep your respect hugs.
(Now let’s run the greatest Sasha/Bayley program of all time.)
The best thing a wrestling match can do is surprise you.
When Brock Lesnar squashed John Cena with 16 German suplexes and pinned him to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam it was one of my favorite matches of the year. Not because I hate Cena, not because I liked the work in the match, but because it surprised me. I watched the entire match with my mouth open, expecting the other shoe to drop. That shoe’s in orbit right now. When the show went off the air, I had nothing but good things to say about it. It made me feel something, and WWE doesn’t do that as often as it should. WWE’s built on fulfilling lowered expectations and making sure everybody’s kinda okay with everything.
In our Rival predictions (NXT OUR RIVAL) I wrote about how hard it was to call this match. Sami’s missing the next set of tapings to go on the Abu Dhabi tour, but Kevin Owens has only been there for two months. He COULD take the title, but there’d be something shifty happening. Maybe Sami would retain but get injured again and they’d blow it off at a live special around WrestleMania. Maybe Owens would get really slimy and cheat to win, and Zayn would chase.
Instead of any of that, we got one of the most glorious, straight-forward brow beatings I’ve ever seen, especially on NXT, especially in an NXT Championship match.
The NXT Championship is built around these long reigns where guys prove themselves worthy of the main roster. Seth Rollins, Big E, Bo Dallas, Adrian Neville. They all reigned for hundreds of days and took on all comers. Sami Zayn just worked for 18 months to get that championship, so there’s no way they’re taking it from him now, right? Powerbomb. Powerbomb. Powerbomb. Powerbomb. After a great back-and-forth match, Owens just starts dropping Zayn on his head and causing severe brain problems, and you start to realize that Sami’s not only losing the championship, he’s getting his ass beaten.
That’s the surprise of this match. They didn’t just do a big dramatic title change, they changed the landscape. They brought in a man who lives and dies by his connection to the crowd and worked to OBLITERATE that connection by bucking every expectation we had. Owens just massacred the conquering hero and kissed the belt over his dead body. The same guy who nonchalantly kicked it a few weeks ago. The worst person in the world. The guy who won’t make eye contact with William Regal or the referee backstage. The guy who says it’s “nothing personal” and puts you in the hospital. That guy killed the hero. That guy is getting cheered by a chunk of the crowd because as grotesque and heartless as he is, he exists and can’t be denied. He’s an irresistible force, and poor Sami’s just a little too easy to move.
That’s the best thing a wrestling match can do. Surprise you. Make you talk about it in a hopeful way because you’re excited to see where it goes, not in those awful argumentative Internet tones where you McMahonsplain wrestling to each other and associate all your flawed, real-life attitudes to the show. NXT doesn’t depress you and make you lose hope, even when the most gentle, beloved guy on the show’s getting broken in half by the meanest. You know Sami will be back, and there’ll be hell to pay. And now you know he should probably wear a helmet when he wrestles Kevin Owens.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
I would have liked Breeze’s entrance more if Seth Rollins hadn’t have already debuted his “selfie stick” earlier this week.
The Perfect Tim
[Rob Lowe walks out in pressed jeans, Finn Balor t-shirt, sport coat, and a plaid newsboy hat]
NXT Rob Lowe: Hi, I’m NXT Rob Lowe, and I’m on the WWE Network.
[Another Rob Lowe walks out, doing a comically exaggerated strut, wearing an ill-fitting suit with his hair slicked back]
RAW Rob Lowe [in gravelly voice]: And I’m Monday Night RAW Rob Lowe, and I’m on cable!
NXT Lowe: On NXT, we tell multiple compelling stories, based on logical motivations and acknowledging history, all while only having an hour a week!
RAW Lowe: On RAW, we have an ultra-talented roster disinterestedly wrestle the same match 50 consecutive times, all leading up…something, maybe?!
NXT Lowe: On NXT, we have a full roster of excellent performers – heels and faces, men and women – get over with the crowd based on hard work, defined characters, and extraordinary ability.
RAW Lowe: On RAW our top heels are two big dudes with a combined 50 years in the business, our top babyface is a guy whose sexually harassed multiple female co-workers on national TV, our second-spot babyface is a super-green big guy who can’t speak but he’s sorta-cousins with our top star from 15 years ago, and all our women’s characters are some slightly varying combination of tits, ass, and crazy bitch!
NXT Lowe: [looking on with a mix of horror and disbelief] Don’t be like this me, watch NXT Wednesdays on the WWE Network.
Finn: I’m sorry but I had to win whoever lost was getting promoted to Raw
Neville: I understand, remember me as I was not what I’ll become
Sasha Banks is the boss and I’m Maggie Gyllenhaal.
“You can’t by a women’s title in Hot Topic” PUSH COREY GRAVES Y’ALL
“I didn’t say the alliance would work” – Albert
“Yeah, we could have told you that” – The WCW/ECW alliance.
Only thing this match is missing? Bella commentary.
OWENS: F*ck you, Davey Richards! This is my belt!
REGAL: You just wrestled Sami Zayn.
OWENS: I know that!
That’s So Raylan
Owens 3:16- “I just broke your neck.”
Save us, Finn Bálor, you’re our only hope!