lease forgive me, oh nerd brethren, but I have a sin to confess: I haven’t watched ANY of the weekly Wednesday night NXT show since the last Takeover in November. I know, I know, everybody jokes about how it’s not as good anymore, what with the talent dump that occurred around the time of the WWE brand split that saw the loss of Bayley, Balor and a handful of others that came to define the brand and make the weekly, hourlong show (even pre-taped, as it was, and is, and as packed to the gills with commercials, video packages and montages as every WWE program is) appointment viewing.
Which means I was relatively unfamiliar with half of the names on the card last night, or at least the NXT incarnations of those names: SAnitY, The Flair-riffic and super over NXT version of Bobby Roode, Paul Ellering’s Authors of Pain now fully formed into an even sillier and more Bane-esque version of The Shield that’s still kind of cool looking despite the ridiculousness, and ROH mainstay Roderick Strong looking poised to rocket to the top of the yellow brand, the fans behind him 100%.
The point I’m trying to make is that NXT hasn’t broadcasted a bad Takeover yet, and they weren’t starting last night. It was kind of refreshing coming in as something of a neophyte and still being able to thoroughly enjoy an extremely well put together wrestling show despite not having much emotional stake in the current storylines.
There’s always Nakamura though. The enigmatic, charismatic former NJPW phenomenon, now beloved NXT champion is one of the names most heavily rumored to be in tonight’s Royal Rumble (alongside an “in my mind, I’m already gone” Samoa Joe, who could be seen sitting ringside in a suit last night), and if this was his NXT farewell match then it was a great one, going toe to toe with TNA staple turned “Glorious” meme factory Bobby Roode.
Which isn’t to say that Roode is just an awesome theme song and increasingly preposterous entrance with nothing to back it up. The former Beer Money, Inc. member gave The King of Strong Style quite possibly the best match he’s had in NXT since his debut against Sammy Zayn, and his best match overall since the instant classic against A.J. Styles that saw the Phenomenal One bid farewell to NJPW at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Roode worked Nakamura’s knee relentlessly in an excellent display of old school psychology, to the point where Shinsuke’s usually deadly Kinshasa knee strike did more harm to him than Roode, allowing the Glorious one to pick up the win and his first NXT Championship.
Seth Rollins also did a “run in through the crowd” thing to further his burgeoning feud with NXT head honcho and main roster heel extraordinaire Triple H, which was wholly unexpected and initially very exciting but ultimately didn’t amount to much.
Speaking of other Japanese legends turned American sensations, Asuka was able to retain her NXT Women’s Title (and her undefeated streak) in a Fatal 4 Way match against Peyton Royce, Billie Kay and SAnitY’s Nikki Cross. Royce and Kay’s mean girl shtick (didn’t Charlotte and Dana Brooke just do this) isn’t doing much for me, but Cross looked great, being able to match Asuka in intensity, before taking a brutal looking double powerbomb (and selling it beautifully) through a table from Royce and Kay.
Elsewhere on the card, SAnitY’s Eric Young took down Tye Dillinger (also incredibly over with the fans and heavily rumored to feature in the Rumble) with the help of stablemates Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain (formerly WCPW’s Big Damo) and the aforementioned Roderick Strong made short work of Andrade “Cien” Almas, formerly the awesome La Sombra in CMLL, still sort of languishing in NXT with a boring, nebulous “I’m kind of a douchebag” gimmick and ripping off Tetsuya Naito’s “Tranquilo” taunt to boot. Boo.
I’ll close on the night’s lone head scratcher, indie heroes Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano losing their hard earned NXT tag titles to the supremely silly Authors of Pain. The match itself was great, if a little ridiculous in and of itself seeing blue collar, salt of the earth dudes like #DIY in the ring with early 90’s reject cartoon characters characters like the AOP.
It’d be like if The Mountie faced off with Taz or if Doink The Clown had a program with The Sandman. It’d be like Goldberg squashing Brock Lesnar! Wait, scratch that last one. Having AOP go over #DIY, especially for this titles, and this early in their run, is indicative of the kind of bonehead booking that plagues the main roster WWE product, and that our formerly perfect black and gold baby used to be refreshingly devoid of. Oh well, nothing lasts forever.
Rumble predictions? I’d love to see AJ go over Cena and Owens beat Reigns. At least one of those, though any are doubtful. Rumor has it that Finn Balor has been cleared to return as well, so seeing him show up in some capacity or another (hopefully in full “demon” regalia) after a lengthy stint on the injured list will be a definite treat.
As it pertains specifically to NXT? Tye Dillinger, Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe all making main roster debuts in the Rumble would be great to see, and if I had my way I’d have Joe winning it all, going to Raw and facing Owens for the Universal Title at Wrestlemania. But what the hell do I know? I guess we’ll find out together tonight.