This was the week for WWE NXT; we hadn’t seen either NXT champion in action since Takeover: Respect and they’ve hardly been on NXT TV for the past month. Tonight, however, Apollo Crews challenged Finn Balor for the NXT Championship in what was an excellent match between two of the most exciting names in NXT.

Asuka vs. Cameron

“It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Cameron,” Byron Saxton said. And this is about as unceremonious a return as you can get.

Asuka destroyed Cameron and Cameron looked rightfully terrified of Asuka’s offense.

The little offense that Cameron did get in was very splits-oriented, but looked OK enough. She was certainly miles better than she was before her hiatus. Asuka wins with the Asuka Lock.

Carmella has a short promo about Big Cass’s condition following the Dash and Dawson beat down last week. She’s interrupeted by the aforementioned Dash and Dawson. Carmella calls them George Costanza and Danny DeVito, which would be funny if it were true, and leaves. Dash and Dawson say they’re moving on to the NXT Tag Team Championship and they leave a wheelchair with Tom Phillips to deliver to the Vaudvillains.

After a Wrestlemania commercial we get the main event, the thing we all came for: a backstage promo with Jason Jordan and Chad Gable. They talked about how they’re trending upwards, but Jordan had to cut Gable off before before he called them the World’s Greatest Tag Team. The pair put out a challenge to the Ascension and Gable said they would begin to “ascend” to the top of NXT and congratulated himself on yet another exceptional pun. I’m all for as many puns as Gable can add (and acknowledge) to any and all promos. These two are the New Day of NXT right now; they can do no wrong.

Speaking of Jordan and Gable, how did you monsters not vote last week’s NXT tag team match featuring Jordan and Gable against the team of Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano into Voices of Wrestling’s October Match of the Month? C’mon, guys. Disappointing.

Bull Dempsey vs. Angelo Dawkins (w/ Sawyer Fulton)

Bull Dempsey, according to the well-sourced Corey Graves, is on an all-carb diet. It appears to be working. Angelo Dawkins is wearing double headbands that read “THE CURSE OF GREATNESS.” What a curse indeed, Dawkins.

Dempsey still hits like a feather for a wrestler who is supposed to be, and is shaped like, a cannonball. At least he’s entertaining now, though. Dempsey makes relatively quick work of Dawkins and Fulton waves Dawkins off before leaving him at ringside.

Backstage, the Vaudvillains say they’re going to going to add their name to the pantheon of NXT greats when they beat Dash and Dawson next week, which doesn’t quite add up since Dash and Dawson are hardly gatekeepers for that NXT pantheon.

Bayley chats with Tom Phillips after a Survivor Series commercial. She introduces her tag team partners for next week’s 6-person intergender tag team match. Fittingly and disappointingly it is the Hype Bros. At least she has a reason to lose the match now…

Marley (Gionna Daddio) vs. Eva Marie

Eva Marie gets proper hate (and one person dressed up like her elbowing Izzy out of the way. Apparently being mean to Issy is the new way to get heat. Whole thing felt contrived, but it may not have been since the camera didn’t linger the way it does on most plants.

Marley is, apparently, our second NXT woman with a New Jersey gimmick. Shades of gray in NXT, I guess. Unfortunately for Marley, she’s both in the way of the Eva Marie Era and she didn’t get an entrance.

Let’s play Five Questions:

  • Was Eva Marie better than she had been since coming back to NXT?
  • Did Eva Marie botch another closing stretch by seemingly forgetting whether she was delivering a superkick or a big boot?
  • Did Full Sail University chant “what was that?” when she botched it?
  • Did she finish the match with a sliding…thing…that actually lightly pressed Marley’s face into Eva Marie’s arm?
  • Did Marley outshine Eva Marie with next to no offense in her first match in NXT?

The answer to all of these is “yes.”

After the match, Emma and Dana Brooke compensate for something by over-selling the idea that they aren’t afraid of Asuka. Quick note: when Brooke spoke my 8-month-old puppy RAN to the sound bar and cocked her head to the side the whole time Brooke was speaking.

Apollo Crews vs. Finn Balor

Wow. Now NXT doesn’t always go the full hour, but Apollo Crews hit the ring at 7:33. Almost a full half hour for one match on NXT is relatively unheard of. These two, however, are two of the most well-conditioned athletes on the entire roster. They could go for days.

A little bit of extra time makes sense though, because NXT did a fantastic prizefight-style in-ring introductions for both wrestlers with just one spotlight in the ring. Fantastic touch. Every title match should have it.

Quick commercial just as the match kicks off, which isn’t a big deal but there was a natural break point after the introductions were finished and before the bell rang. The commercial 4 minutes later after Balor dove out of the ring was far more unconscionable, but that Randy Orton movie (The Condemned 2) sure looks like it has a lot of explosions.

We talk relatively frequently about how the international and indie darlings in NXT start out sluggish or lackluster, even with their vaulted positions on the NXT card, but that’s because WWE Style (patent pending) is a real thing. WWE Style doesn’t preclude great matches, but for guys who have been outside of WWE for years still have a learning curve.

This match, however, was arguably shaping up to be the best match Balor has had in NXT and certainly the best match that Crews has had since coming to NXT.

Balor was far more intense and physical than he has been in the past. He finally looked like a champions and a man on a mission. Balor pulled out a lot of the spots we became used to in Japan including a reverse Bloody Sunday. A must-see exchange followed that resulted in a Full Sail “HOLY SHIT” chant that WWE graciously left in the broadcast.

Baron Corbin ran in, however, to ruin what was a great match. Corbin put the boots to both Crews, who was the main target, and Balor before Samoa Joe ran out to make the save.

The save was short lived, however, because Joe turned around and blasted Balor with a clothesline after running Corbin off. After a brutal, personal Muscle Buster, Joe got the NXT Championship and laid it across the demolished champion.

Final Thoughts

What a match this main event was shaping up to be. The prospect of what will follow the schmozz, however, is arguably as exciting. Corbin has shown he has promise going up against powerhouse opponents and there aren’t many that fit the bill better than Crews.

More importantly, however, Samoa Joe might be the perfect guy to take the title off of Balor to allow him to move up to the main roster without having to duplicate the double-shots Kevin Owens was doing over the summer. For his part, Joe might be the perfect gatekeeper champion for NXT. The scuttlebutt is that Joe may not ever go to the main roster. He can, and probably should, be the unstoppable force in NXT that Owens was supposed to be before he skyrocketed to the main roster.

Before the schmozz, the title match would’ve been the 2nd match in as many weeks worth giving a proper star rating to. Looking ahead to next week’s 6-person tag and Tag Team Championship matches, there may very well be more to come soon. Consider the talent on the roster that isn’t involved in any of the aforementioned matches (Gargano, Ciampa, Jordan, Gable, Rhyno), and it is clear that NXT is taking off once again.