I know it’s a week late, but I had to get my thoughts about this event out in writing. Besides, it’s giving me something to do while I wait for this week’s episode of NXT…so here it is, my NXT Takeover: R Evolution review.
For the past few months, NXT has been doing these Takeover special episodes, which are equivalent to PPVs in the main roster. All these events have been amazing, and R Evolution, silly name notwithstanding, is no exception. I’ll be breaking the event down match by match, to make it easier. On a side note, one of my favorites in early NXT, Corey Graves, has now retired from in-ring competition (BOO!), but he now joins the NXT announce team (YAY!). I still miss having Regal on the announce table, but Graves taking up announcing duties will be great.
And now, on to the matches!
Kevin Owens vs CJ Parker
Not even five minutes in, this show has got me glued to the edge of my seat. The indy standout formerly known as Kevin Steen makes his NXT debut as Kevin Owens! (I’m well aware that the KO initial’s been used previously with Kassius Ohno/Chris Hero, but I sincerely hope Owens won’t be as wasted as Ohno)
From the get-go, the NXT arena practically exploded with ‘FIGHT OWENS FIGHT’ chants and Owens was visibly tearing up. The match itself took all of three minutes with Owens all but squashing Parker, but it was a nice showcase of Owens’ arsenal, including a cannonball splash you wouldn’t expect from a man his size and a VICIOUS neckbreaker that I think would make a great finisher. Granted, his actual finisher was a pop-up powerbomb, but it was no less fierce.
But what set this apart from a good debut to a great debut was an errant palm strike from Parker that might have broken his nose and made him bleed all over his face. I don’t know if it was an accident or not, but it just added to all the intensity surrounding the match and to the intensity of Owens himself. Well, that and the ‘OWENS GONNA KILL YOU’ chants filling the NXT Arena. A great way to kick off a show that will only get better and better.
Result: Kevin Owens def. CJ Parker
Lucha Dragons vs The Vaudevillains for the NXT Tag Team Championships
I admit I might have been biased going into this match as I am a huge fan of the Vaudevillains, but the Lucha Dragons are also amazing talents and I can see them being WWE’s top luchadors just a little bit down the line. The Vaudevillains came into this match looking strong after running several gag clips about them beating (Mini-)Lucha Dragons the past few weeks on NXT.
A solid match through and through, with the crowd mostly being behind the Vaudevillains (as am I) with golden chants like ‘THAT WAS MANLY’ and ‘PUT YOUR DUKES UP’. Great heelish teamwork on the part of the Vaudevillains, and the way Kalisto flies with the greatest of ease still impresses me to no end. One of my favorite moments was when English pushed Gotch out of the way of a double Lucha Dragon top rope dive and took the hit himself. Chivalry is still very much alive!
Only for Gotch to eat a Salida del Sol moments after but still, a glorious display of chivalry that was the very definition of manly.
Result: Lucha Dragons def. The Vaudevillains to retain NXT Tag Team Championships
Baron Corbin vs Tye Dillinger
When the crowd starts counting up right after the opening bell, you know you’re in a squash. Granted, Dillinger got a little bit of offense, which is more than I can say for Corbin’s previous opponents. And we did get a little bit more of Corbin’s moves, which amounted to a solid 42 seconds of match, by my count. We got a pretty good staredown between Corbin and fellow NXT monster Bull Dempsey at the end, which more than makes up for the squash and quite possibly putting these two men in a collision course soon.
Result: Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger
Finn Balor & Hideo Itami vs The Ascension
This is the match I know a lot of people are waiting for, and for good reason. International superstars Finn Balor and Hideo Itami take on former NXT Tag Champs The Ascension, and it did not disappoint. But before I get ahead of myself, Balor’s entrance is pure AWESOMENESS. I’ve heard of him wearing comic-inspired bodypaint into the ring numerous times, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in action with it, and to be honest, I got chills. Decked out in Carnage-inspired body paint, he stalked up to the ring accompanied with one of my recent favorite entrance songs and a chorus of ‘HOLY SHIT’ chants, it was surreal. Strong candidate for the best entrance in NXT, hell, even the WWE as a whole. There was a ‘MARKING OUT’ chant shortly after the entrance, which I think was probably an NXT first.
The match hasn’t even started yet when the two international superstars unloaded on The Ascension and scored a stereo hesitation dropkick on them, and it only got uphill from there. And when it starts, it’s just what I’ve come to expect from all four men. Hard-hitting action and superb display of athleticism from all parties involved. The Ascension’s teamwork, as always, look very strong and they looked great dominating Itami for the bulk of the match. On the tail end of the match, Balor’s athleticism was on showcase as he uses Viktor as a platform to dropkick Konnor and a pretty sick enzuigiri to Viktor on the second rope. At one point, Balor also did his signature move Bloody Sunday and Itami was /this/ close to doing a GTS.
Graves also had some commentary gold here, with “Itami doesn’t even speak English, neither does Balor, he’s still on the Gaelic alphabet!” Itami and Balor also showed a refreshing genre-savviness sorely lacking in most faces. It’s the little touches like Balor taking a step into the ring every time Itami is being pinned as if to bail him out when things get hairy and Itami taking Konnor out of the ring after he broke up a pin attempt by Balor. However, the best moment of genre savvy was when Itami pulled Konnor out while The Ascension was setting up for Fall of Man to Balor, punctuated with stereo double foot stomps to give Balor and Itami the win. All these things really sell the point that these two aren’t here to play nice, they’re here to kick ass and take names.
Result: Finn Balor & Hideo Itami def. The Ascension
Charlotte vs Sasha Banks for the NXT Women’s Championship
Only in NXT, can a women’s match be as looked-forward as the main event of the show. The dueling chants of ‘LET’S GO CHARLOTTE/SASHA BANKS’ really shows how these two women has connected to the fans, and for good reason. The ‘SASHA’S RATCHET/NO SHE’S NOT’ dueling chant still amuses me to no end, btw.
The match is, I dare say, better than any women’s match the current main roster (save for standouts like Paige and AJ, natch. See what I did there? Natch, Naitch….okay, I’ll stop. Charles “Lil’ Naitch” Robinson is refereeing, by the way) has put on, and even better than a lot of men’s matches, to boot. Lots of mind games being played by Sasha, from chopping to Flair struts, even using Charlotte’s own Figure-Four Headlock against her. One shining moment of pure cool from both women was a suplex from Charlotte reversed by Sasha, setting up for a neckbreaker before Charlotte reverses again, with a neckbreaker of her own. Besides, when was the last time you saw a WWE women’s match where the competitors break out suicide dives and superplexes? One of my personal favorite moments was Charlotte’s missed moonsault, lands on her feet, and follows up with a somersault senton. A top-rope Natural Selection gave Charlotte the win after an amazing match.
Result: Charlotte def. Sasha Banks to retain NXT Women’s Championship
Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville for the NXT Championship
And here we are, the main event. A feud brewing for months comes to a head here, in one last match. Do or die for Zayn. If he loses, he leaves NXT. The stage is set and the crowd is hot. These two men has had amazing matches in the past, and I expected nothing less this time around. And boy, did they deliver.
As per usual, the arena was filled with ‘OLE’ chants and the crowd was almost 100% pro-Zayn. The match started out very strong, with a chain wrestling showcase filled with one-upmanship, which really sells their rivalry. Lots of showing off from both men at the start, and the match only gets better and better from there. Graves’ commentary added an extra dimension to this feud, by selling how these two men went from the best of friends to bitter rivals who can’t even stand being in the same room together. At one point in the match, a sudden ‘POKEBALL’ chant broke out, which to be fair….really does describe Neville’s trunks for the night.
As the match got more heated, the high-flying moves get pulled out, and the desperation of both men to win kept increasing, the HSQ kept getting higher. Of note was the electric chair drop transitioned into a Blue Thunder Bomb, superb athleticism from both competitors. The glass jaw referee trope was amazingly used in this match, almost costing Zayn the match after Neville’s head bumped with the ref’s and Zayn’s checking on the ref being taken advantage of (with a great reverse hurricanrana) for a very near-fall. The Tornado DDT through the ropes this time was masterfully executed, and resulted in well-deserved ‘HOLY SHIT’ chants from the crowd.
Did I say glass jaw referee? I stand corrected, this ref is wholly made of glass. He ate a Helluva Kick (which elicited a ‘THIS REF SUCKS’ chant, definitely one of the night’s highlights), and almost had Zayn having a literal title shot courtesy of Neville. After a brilliant moment of censored words-laden internal conflict whether to use the title belt on Neville or not, the match soon ended on (finally) a Helluva Kick landed on Neville’s jaw, and Zayn has finally won the big one. In a match of the year candidate, to boot.
In my opinion, the post-match celebration is a strong contender for feel-good moment of the year, rivaling Daniel Bryan’s title win at ‘Mania. There was a short ‘THANK YOU NEVILLE’ chant, which was rather heartwarming, and Zayn’s celebration was just adorable. Top that off with the whole locker room coming out to congratulate him, and you have a championship win celebration for the ages. Despite being a jackass to Zayn during the whole feud, Neville ended up showing respect to the new champ, which made it all the more heartwarming.
Result: Sami Zayn def. Adrian Neville for the NXT Championship
Owens even stayed until the end to celebrate personally with Zayn!
All in all, this show w—WAIT, WHAT WAS THAT?
Owens powerbombed the hell out of Zayn on the apron and his heat was NUCLEAR. Cementing himself as a heel and quite possibly the next threat to Zayn’s title down the line.
Okay, nothing else? I think we can get to wrapping this up. All in all, this event was one of the best wrestling events I’ve had the pleasure to experience, from any promotion. Great matches, great booking, and the crowd makes it all the better with their hilarious chanting. NXT R Evolution is exactly why I love wrestling.