It is Wrestlemania weekend, so what better time to be talking about the incredible… NXT TakeOver: Dallas. The card was an absolute dream. Finally, the Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe feud will see spectacular, main event closure. Finally, Bayley, the final horsewoman of NXT, would face the final boss of women’s wrestling – Asuka. Finally, Sami Zayn would graduate from NXT, in a grand finale face-off with a man that no one could have dreamt would come anywhere close to WWE – Shinsuke Nakamura.
The potential for legendary moments were all there, but did they deliver? Well, of course they did. Still, there are holes to pick at. This is a ranking of all five matches of the fantastic Friday show.
5. BARON CORBIN vs AUSTIN ARIES
This match was relatively disappointing, and for the most part was a beatdown of Aries, before a comeback out of nowhere. However popular Aries might be (what with being ‘the greatest man who ever lived’), the quick roll-up pin wasn’t very pleasing. Still, this did a relatively good job of portraying Baron Corbin as a monster in a better way that his countless traditional one-minute beatdowns on the weekly shows, especially down to his Kevin Owens-esque mid-match banter, while attempting to make Aries submit (though even this section felt as though it lasted forever).
That’s not to say that there weren’t any notable spots though, with special mention going to a horrifying looking Deep Six to the arena floor. This match needed a couple more memorable spots like this, and would have been better had Corbin won. A good and relatively harmless shocker as to date, nobody has lost their big debut. This suggests that Corbin will get a good win over Aries in the near future, but this step of the tale wasn’t as much fun as it could have been.
4. AMERICAN ALPHA vs THE REVIVAL
Was there ever any doubt that American Alpha would win this match? After a lengthy reign by Dash and Dawson, upon a night so focused on a Japanese invasion, it was no wonder that the American Alpha would leave triumphant. That sounds cruel and daft, but it’s about as much of a compromise in patriotism as WWE is known for. Corey Graves stating “Texas wasn’t known for its intelligence” says that he might just agree.
Besides all of that, this was energetic and great fun, though at times it was more than anything, a montage of ridiculous double-team spots, as if to get them out of the way before the most eagerly anticipated matches of the night. Special mention goes to Dash’s crawl underneath the ring to prevent a hot tag, Dash and Dawson holding hands to try to prevent ‘stereo suplexes’, and a great chain of countering pins by Gable and Dawson.
3. FINN BALOR vs SAMOA JOE
It felt not as though this was a sequel to Balor and Joe’s match at TakeOver: London, but as though they were picking up exactly where they left off, with desperate moves such as Balor being thrown over the barricade, and staff bringing the match to a stop several times, after Joe’s face was heavily bleeding, and his ‘crimson mask’ needed to be cleaned up. “Let him bleed!”, so requested the crowd. This happened within the first five minutes. As this match was stopped once every couple of minutes, however planned it was, alternated between fury, and a game of chess when staring each other down as blood was mopped up, planning what their next moves would be. Organised chaos.
The result was slightly disappointing, on the grounds that Finn Balor is bordering on a Cena-style Superman figure. However popular he is, the closing minutes were again a bit of a beatdown (Samoa Joe pointlessly and evilly changing submission holds, just because he could), a kick-out of a protected finisher, before a primal scream from Balor, shocked expressions from Samoa Joe, stunned that there was still life in a man he had been destroying for the last ten minutes, and a quick win. It is a rare occasion where this clean ending seems quite hard to justify without a win for Joe, a heel turn by Balor, or a surprise interference (a lot of people were anticipating the appearance of at least one member of Bullet Club), making it a bit anti-climactic. This should probably have been second-to-last on the card, so to justify one of the above.
Either way, the match was still fun, brutal and for all of the medical intervention, strangely intriguing.
2. BAYLEY vs ASUKA
Asuka had already been the victor in what I argue was the best match of NXT TakeOver: London, and now she was to face the Women’s Champion. This is a match that would have no excuses for any flaws. It’s just as well that this match was as fantastic as it was – and entanglement of strategy and counters.
The pass-out ending was a great idea, as it is a kind of ending that we have no seen from the women before – reduced to unconsciousness. Also, bear in mind that Bayley’s day in NXT are numbered. It is apparent especially due to the massive focus on how important Bayley is in the rise of women’s wrestling (many female wrestlers shrugged off their kayfabe personalities to talk about how great she is), the upcoming rebranding of the WWE Divas Championship, as well as the inevitable appearance of Stephanie McMahon (caught on camera booing herself). To see the forever-jolly Bayley in an aggravated journey to her rematch to claim what she believes is her will be a great closure.
Besides the ending, showing a destroyed Bayley, staring daggers post-Asukalock, it might not have had quite the sentimentality of her matches with Sasha Banks (though nothing ever will), but it marks the centrepoint of something destined to have a grand finale.
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs SAMI ZAYN
Have we just seen the match of the year? Amongst all of the tired “this is awesome” and irrelevant “YES!” chants, Dallas chanted “fight forever!” at these two men. And for good reason. There have been moments over the course of NXT TakeOver’s rise to prominence that one never thought would happen under the WWE name, but try this for size – Shinsuke Nakamura (as ‘Shinsuke Nakamura’) just wrestled a five-star, twenty-minute match (only the third match on an amazing card) against Sami Zayn at a WWE event.
Sami Zayn has been referred to at Bleacher Report as ‘the godfather of NXT’, which comes as no surprise considering him being the victor of the legendary headlining match at NXT breakthrough event TakeOver: R Evolution, and he is now on his way to the main roster. He needed a proper opponent, to sentimentally draw a line underneath his NXT phase, and damn did they find one in The King of Strong Style. From the beginning, Dallas were immersed with “Shinsuke’s gonna kill you” and “we want strong style”, and the performers delivered with forearms, running knees and stomach-turning Michinoku drivers. To see Zayn taunt the infinitely charismatic Nakamura back, and Nakamura’s reactions to his nosebleed, made this match feel like a grand finale to a non-existent feud. Incredible for their first meeting.
And to think that so many big NXT debuts have been short squashes (see Asuka, Kevin Owens, Apollo Crews), and to see twenty-minutes that kept everyone guessing from the first jab to the last Kinshasa (the move formerly known as the ‘Boma Ye’) it is impossible not to be impressed.
As WWE have no trouble reminding us – #ThankYouSami