How do these guys do it? How do you follow-up a great show like NXT Takeover: [R]Evolution? How does this NXT crew continue to out-do themselves on the biggest stage? Stop asking questions and just enjoy the ride. There’s no point in doubting or questioning these guys anymore, once the bright lights of an NXT special are on, these guys deliver and deliver big. When it was all said and done, NXT Takoever: Rival may be the best of the five NXT specials. Trust me, that’s saying a lot. Sure, you had a few duds but everything that delivered… delivered big. Hideo Itami finally broke out of his shell, the women put together as compelling a four-way match as you’ll ever see, Finn Balor and Adrian Neville got our blood flowing and Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens created a masterpiece. Man are we spoiled.

NXT Takeover: Rival
February 11, 2015
Full Sail University
Winter Park, FL

Tyler Breeze vs Hideo Itami

Rich Kraetsch: On the pre-Rival conference call Triple H said Hideo Itami was having issues transitioning to NXT’s style but that he encouraged him to be open himself up and be more like the guy they hired (NOAH star KENTA). Welp, Itami listened to his boss. If you were a fan of KENTA, you finally got what you were looking for with Itami here. A flurry of stiff kicks, great facials and a beautiful finishing sequence topped off with a picture perfect boot. Breeeze did a hell of a job bumping his ass off for Itami, flying all over the ring and making Hideo look like a million bucks. Itami helped himself with some solid selling of the leg throughout before finally “Hulking” up to finish Breeze off. This was as good of an opener as you can ask for. ***1/2

Larry: A FURRY SELFIE STICK DEBUTS.  This ended up becoming a nice little match.  Itami is starting to get a little more comfortable and his style merging with the WWE style is starting to look a little more natural.  Breeze, too, looked good here.  Opening flurry by Itami that mostly misses, mid-match control for Breeze as he works over the leg, leading to a nice go-home where Itami hulks up…seriously.  Breeze did a nice job eating a lot of Itami kicks that weren’t exactly vintage KENTA in their accuracy.  This pairing should be a very nice opener to a trios of Superstars-like matches that pops Joe Lanza as they could develop a nice little back and forth on the mid-card scene for the next taping or two. ***

Warren Taylor: Breeze’s selfie stick needs to be rechristened “The Ugly Stick” and used as a signature weapon. Speaking of the vain one, Breeze working over  Itami’s legs to take his kicks was a nice touch. Personally, I thought Breeze controlled the match a little too long. However, the payoff was worth it because the spirit of KENTA roared back to kick the literal and figurative stuffing out of Breeze. Credit to as well Itami for his sell job on the leg before and after the match. *** ¼

No Disqualification
Baron Corbin vs. Bull Dempsey

Rich Kraetsch: C’mon, what’d you think you were getting here. Corbin is no good, Bull has more potential but he’s not great. This is about as good as these two can probably ever do, it was actually interesting for a few minutes before regressing hard with a few botches at the end. Corbin won again and I’m not sure where either go from here. Meh! *1/2

Larry: Baron Corbin didn’t get the memo.  This is Bunkhouse Stampede Season and he left his blue jeans at home.  Anyway…they did some stuff and tried to tell as good of a story as they could with these two guys and progress Corbin’s character, if even a little.  Both of these guys stink.  /shrugs.  *3/4

Warren Taylor: Listen children and you will hear of the battle between Fat Adam Cole and Angst’s Child. Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. At the risk of losing credibility I will admit to digging the feud between these two and you know what this match was a nice blow off. It was short and masked the obvious limitations of both competitors. ** ¼

NXT Tag Team Championship
Blake & Murphy © vs. The Lucha Dragons

Rich Kraetsch: This match was a tribute to Murphy and Blake’s EDM theme music: it was a mash-up of a thousand things lumped into one gigantic spotfest. Dives, rolls, pins, crossbodys, kicks, punches, reverals, you want wrestling moves, folks YOU GOT ‘EM~! If I of all people call out a match for being too much of a spotfest, you know it’s pretty bad. My head was spinning towards the end of this match and nothing really clicked. Good effort by everyone but this match desperately needed some pacing. It didn’t help that in an effort to use every move they know, there were numerous botches. Good job, good effort, better luck next time. **

Larry: Bobby Heenan would best describe Blake and Murphy as ham’n’eggers.  They scream of “in the corner to my left” WCW Saturday Night fodder for The Cole Twins.  I guess that is what happens when you debut generic white meat babyface tag teams in 2015 (FWIW, I have no idea if that is a good or bad thing).  Anyway, I have no idea how NXT has such a shallow tag team division at this point.  This ended up being pretty sloppy despite what looked like some good structure.  The best part was the promise of Solomon Crowe next week.  **

Warren Taylor: One win can change anything in a career”, Blake and Murphy lived those words the last couple of weeks after their surprising title win. I like the story of the new champions needing to legitimize themselves. Apart from the story, the match itself is nothing to write home about. There were a few cool spots but not much of a story or flow. The NXT tag division has potential but at the moment it feels like the next few months will be teams swapping the belts in dry feuds. **

#1 Contender for NXT Championship
Adrian Neville vs. Finn Bálor

Rich Kraetsch: Well, this delivered. It wasn’t MOTY level, it may not even be February’s Match of the Month but it was a lot of fun with believable near-falls, fun high-spots and both guys pulling out all stops and all of their signatures. Balor just gets it, man. This match looked and felt like a WWE main event from the pacing, the control spot, the signature moves at the right time and of course the entrance. Balor has a rocket ship attached to him and IS, yes IS a future star. The best spot of the match was Balor putting his knees up on the Red Arrow attempt from Neville. Balor then transitioned this into a cradle and got a heart-stopping 2.9999. Twitter exploded and I jumped out of my seat. ****

Larry: Finn Balor was upsold by Jason Tensai on the Pre-Show as DEE-MOAN Balor.  I popped.  Minstrel Show Balor entrance is always buys.  Lost in the usual NXT discussion is Neville finally coming into his own on the backend of his title run to today.  The first half of 2014 saw an Adrian Neville that was fine, but always seemed underachieve in regards to match quality.  Once that Zayn feud kicked into high gear, Neville has become the guy everyone thought he should be.  Balor is a star right now, anywhere in the world and has a mastering of his craft in the WWE that is just on another level.  Between the bells, it was a complete match.  Both guys came to perform and really delivered, yet left enough on the table to build on.  More, please.  ****

Warren Taylor: Neville and Balor were wedded to the idea of making the match slow and steady and in the process infuriated many fans on Twitter. In this reviewer’s humble opinion they did the right thing. Both men made up for the lack of wanted high flying with scintillating strikes. I also enjoyed how the inevitable string of kickouts were from signature moves and not finishers. With the finishers protected the close two counts were *gasp* dramatic. So by the time Balor seized victory with the Double Stomp the crowd went bananas. A great match and a flawless match layout. ****

NXT Women’s Championship
Charlotte © vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Bayley

Rich Kraetsch: I gotta give it to these ladies. I didn’t think they could put together a compelling women’s match at the level of the previous NXT specials. Boy, was I wrong and I couldn’t be happier. Shame on me for doubting them. Every participant showed something here and added their own flair to the match. Bayley showed fire and hit some beautiful Bayley-to-Belly suplexes, looking great in defeat. Becky was fiery and showed some personality in distancing herself from Sasha. Charlotte was definitely the worst of the four but that’s no fault of her, everyone else was great here. Sasha impresses each time she steps in the ring. She’s progressed at such a rapid pace, she would instantly be one of the best female wrestlers in WWE history. Sasha got the victory and did the Hug It Out spot with Charlotte at the end. This wasn’t my favorite of the NXT special women’s match but it was damn good anyway. ***1/2

Larry: Becky Lynch’s caped gimmick attire, devil horns, and head banging has overtaken Sami Zayn’s skanking as the leader in the clubhouse in the Shit That Annoys Me In NXT Open Championships.  This was something else…I’m no chick graps historian, but can someone tell me if there has been a better four-way chicks match in America?  Shit was great.  This really was compelling between the hard hitting, big spots, and the mystery of the result.  I really popped for the go-home.  A legitimate, decisive win for the overly deserving Sasha Banks.  I’m a real sucker for the post match CODE OF HONOR by the ladies every special.  ****-

Warren Taylor: I’ll keep this simple: the four way for the women’s title was fast paced and had drama a plenty. The quartet of ladies worked extremely hard and justified every angry thought directed at the pitiful shape of the Divas’s Division. Sasha Banks getting the win was a nice surprise and is a much deserved honor for the hardest working woman in the WWE today. *** 1/2

NXT Championship
Sami Zayn © vs. Kevin Owens

Rich Kraetsch: I expected a brutal match from these two but this exceeded the brutality I thought possible. The finish will be questioned heavily as Kevin Owens won the NXT Championship via ref stoppage. It’s an interesting, very un-NXT way to book a main event but it worked and it will work well. Kevin Owens will never be a bigger heel he is now for nearly killing his former friend who was suffering from an apparent concussion. Once Owens smelled blood, he went in for the kill. He never let up, never showed an ounce of sympathy for his friend. Kill Owens Kill. Anyone who’s familiar with Sami Zayn knows the role he excels in is the chase. Whenever things are looking up for Zayn, it feels empty and hallow. He needs pain, he needs suffering, he thrives off of it, we thrive off of it. In the moment I had hoped for a pinfall win but thinking about it more, I love the idea of a ref stoppage. Now Zayn has a legit claim to a rematch and to a second chance. I’m falling in love with this match all over again. No, it wasn’t the Match of the Year epic I was hoping for but it was a story-heavy match that will pay off down the line. Better yet, I haven’t talked about the first 25 minutes which were great back and forth between two of the best and two of my personal favorites. ****1/4

Larry: I take it back, Sami Zayn Skanking hits an eagle on 18th hole to re-take the lead in the Shit That Annoys Me In NXT Open Championships.  At least he was angrily skanking, I guess.

The lead up to this match was something else.  The pre-match promo would sell any Titan Shill on this attraction.  Despite Kevin Owens appearing in only two matches on NXT TV, he is a major threat to the champion and is actually a long time rival.  That takes some skill, and they didn’t even need to use the subtlty hammer.  Onto the match…Owens has the rare ability to do the smallest shit to make crowds hate him no matter how much they love him…its Bubba Dudley-like (which means he’s great, nerds).  The grind of the opening 2/3 of the match was a meaningful and really expounded upon the brutality of the closing segment.  While not epic, the match was a very good Chapter One to the latest edition of the Steenerico rivalry.  ****1/4

The show ended up being very good.  Nothing quite hit the highest end of the some of the previous Clash of the NXT Champion shows, but another special without a real stinker and definitive, quality performances that exude a real emotion.  The wrestlers MADE IT and its awesome to see that raw emotion in front of our very eyes.

Warren Taylor: Zayn/Owens is going to be a divisive match much like the main event at SummerSlam. Before I get to that I want to say that the beginning of the match was perfect. Owens leaving the ring and daring Zayn to come fight was brilliant. Making the fans wait for Zayn’s eventual dive was another brilliant move. Any knowledgeable wrestling fan will agree with that statement. You make the fans wait for what they want. Wrestling logic dictates that Zayn makes the occasional fiery comeback in the match and either gets a fluke win or frustrates Owens to the point where he loses his mind and gets the fight thrown out. WWE decided to defy logic.

Going back to the formula of Lesnar’s victory in August, Kevin Owens took a sociopath etic route to his eventual title win. Slowly and surely he destroyed Zayn with offense targeted on his head (more on that later) and timely rest holds with an extra crank that made them look brutal. Zayn made a few comebacks but nothing close enough to deter Owens. In fact, the comebacks hurt Zayn more than anything. They made Owens more determined. So determined that he threw down on an obviously concussed Zayn with punches and a plethora of powerbombs.

Again, logic dictates Owens gets the pin. Nope. No logic this time folks. The match ended on a referee stoppage. I applaud the bold move by bookers. The finish had an edge of reality in a faux sport that it has lacked it for decades. Why would the ref. not stop the match? Zayn would not quit and was on his way to permanent injury. In a way the official came away looking like the biggest hero of the match by take a huge risk in stopping a title match.

Love it hate it, the finish of the main event of NXT: Rival will have the wrestling world talking for a long time. **** ½