Last night’s NXT special on the WWE Network, NXT Takeover: R Evolution, was arguably the best wrestling show of 2014 and the Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville main event for the NXT Heavyweight Championship should be at the top of any list of the best matches this year.
No other WWE match in 2014— not Team Cena vs. Team Authority, Charlotte vs. Natalya, Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan, John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar, Shield vs. Evolution and Bryan vs. Batista vs. Orton— captured the raw emotion on display when Zayn achieved his dream of becoming champion.
Here are my thoughts on the show:
-I arrived home at the conclusion of Kevin Owens vs. CJ Parker. I heard it was an impressive debut for Owens. All I saw was Owens standing in the ring bloodied, which is a visual you don’t see much of today.
-The Lucha Dragons retained the NXT Tag Team Championship against the Vaudevillians. This match was more heated than I expected. The Vaudevillians are cult favorites to the Full Sail University audience. Lots of Simon Gotch chants.
-Baron Corbin won another squash match. Corbin’s been on a winning streak for the last several months. Bull Dempsey was at ringside and the two had a stare down afterwards.
-Hideo Itami and Finn Balor beat the Ascension. This was great. Balor has the best entrance in wrestling today. Seriously, his entrance was on an entirely different level than anything I’ve seen in years at WrestleMania. The crowd instantly took to him as a major star. The final moments were all action with Itami teasing a GTS, but using his running knee instead. Itami would’ve gotten the biggest reaction of the night had he hit the GTS. They won with a double foot stomp off the top rope.
-Charlotte retained her NXT Women’s Championship against Sasha Banks in an excellent match. This was only a tad below Charlotte vs. Natalya. NXT continues to prove that attractive women can wrestle with just as much passion and athleticism as the men.
Sasha was really something else here. For all the praise Charlotte gets, Sasha deserves just as much for her abilities. There was so much I liked about this match, but the two spots that stood out most were Sasha’s tope to the outside and Charlotte’s moonsault/senton combination. Charlotte nailed her finisher from the top rope to win. Just tremendous.-Sami Zayn beat Adrian Neville to win the NXT Heavyweight Championship in a legitimate match of the year contender. The crowd was hot from start to finish, which was no small feat since they went nearly 30 minutes. About midway through the match, the two executed what may have been the most creative dive sequence I’ve seen. The finish saw multiple ref bumps, but each one told a story. Zayn had ample opportunity to take a shortcut but never did so. He scored the pin following an exploder suplex into the turnbuckle and Helluva kick. The reaction to his win was epic with the crowd chanting so loudly that it nearly drowned out his theme music at times.
The post-match was as emotional as anything I’ve seen since the Chris Benoit-Eddie Guererro celebration at WrestleMania in 2004. The entire babyface roster, led by Owens, came out to congratulate Zayn. Owens’ embrace of Zayn was as real as it gets. They started their careers together on the independent scene and are now performing their craft on the biggest stage possible. There was even an appearance by WWE legend Pat Patterson. Although I don’t watch NXT on a regular basis, Zayn comes off as the most likable guy possible and I was personally happy to see him achieve this milestone.
This didn’t feel like a typical championship win, but more like a changing of the guard. A key reason why this felt so monumental is because the NXT faithful have watched Zayn’s rise from the very beginning. He always came up short in major matches against Cesaro, Neville, Tyler Breeze, and others. Despite these losses, he forged a genuine connection with a fanbase that desperately wanted him to succeed. Last night was their reward.
Daniel Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in front of 70,000 fans at WrestleMania 30 was a huge deal, but last night’s atmosphere one upped it. None of Cena’s 15 championship wins came remotely close to this. Roman Reigns will be lucky if his WrestleMania 31 title win (Reigns is winning the belt, like it or not) garners 10 % of this reaction.
Although it was Zayn’s night, one cannot overlook Neville’s importance. Both have benefited immensely from working with each other and are in a much better position to succeed as a result. Neville also deserves recognition for being a spectacular champion for the much of the year.
The show concluded with Zayn being attacked by Owens as both made their way up the ramp. Unlike the majority of wrestling swerves (i.e. Big Show at Survivor Series), this one left a lasting impression for the following reasons:
1. There is a genuine relationship between the two. Even fans unfamiliar with Owens’ history could sense the camaraderie between them during Zayn’s celebration. This made it all the more shocking.
2. Zayn is in need of a fresh opponent and Owens is as close to a perfect match as you will find. While he’s had outstanding chemistry with Neville, he and Owens have a history that goes back over a decade. They debuted as a tag team with Ring of Honor in 2007 before engaging in a blood feud that lasted for most of 2010. Zayn-Owens has all the potential to be the 2015 feud of the year. Starting Owens off in such a high profile position shows that management has the utmost confidence in him.
The Verdict: Charlotte vs. Banks and Zayn vs. Neville are worth going out of your way to see. Really, there was not a bad thing on the show as every match and angle served a purpose. NXT Takeover: R Evolution gets my highest recommendation at 10/10.