WWE NXT has bailed on us for the remainder of 2015 (and the first week of 2016). There is no new weekly show, instead Corey Graves and Rich Brennan hosted the first of two “year in review” episodes of NXT.
In response, we won’t have much new to say about things we reviewed all year, so I’ll be handing out year-end awards for NXT performances and I’m guessing our in-person reception rate will be about the same as the Slammy’s. And so, without further ado, the first annual NXTies. NeXTies? Whatever.
Graves and Brennan throw us to our first feature profiling the Sami Zayn-Kevin Owens feud after a short introduction. Obviously, if you read these reviews, you know all about the Zayn-Owens bad blood. The exciting part about this feud was that it was a clear extension of things that happened, as part of storylines in multiple independent promotions, before either wrestler got to NXT.
To end the segment, we catch the Zayn-Owens match from NXT Takeover: Rival already in progress. This match was so much more even than I remembered before the Zayn concussion angle and subsequent brutality from Owens. Even that though, the fact Zayn’s aggressive, fast paced style caused a self-inflicted injury, is next level storytelling that just isn’t on the main roster. This is anti-climactic, but this was a perfect place for the NXT producers to start, because this was the best feud of the year in NXT.
NXT Feud of 2015: Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
At the conclusion of Owens’ demolition of Zayn, we find out that there is some surprise new content coming tonight – Neville vs. Cesaro from the Arnold Classic will be on tonight’s show!
Next, Graves and Brennan explain the saga that has beset Hideo Itami since coming to the United States and tie it into the entire upper-midcard story in NXT, showing the No. 1 contender’s match from Takeover: Unstoppable, Finn Balor vs. Tyler Breeze.
WWE has signed so many major independent talents this year, they range from as green as Apollo Crews to the veteran expertise of Rhyno’s rejuvination. No NXT debut has been as necessary to the direction of the NXT brand, or as cool, as the one that came at the conclusion of Takeover: Unstoppable: Samoa Joe.
NXT Debut of 2015: Samoa Joe
Before getting into this exciting never before televised match from the Arnold Classic, Graves and Brennan take an opportunity to shill the NXT Greatest Matches Vol. 1. blu ray coming in March. In their defense, tis match is on the blu ray set.
(Some of) Neville vs. Cesaro
I say “some of” because the match is clearly well underway when they throw from the studio and Brennan says that the match has been going on for awhile before they picked it up.
It’s pretty much not worth watching. There’s no chance to get into the flow of the match before it ends and the whole broadcast happens without context because, you know, they didn’t show the start of the match. I’m sure the first 10 minutes are great and explain the story they were looking to tell, but this was a glorified commercial for the blu ray set.
Moving away from untelevised matches, there’s only one real choice for the best televised match on NXT (excluding Takeover events)…
NXT Televised Match of 2015: Chad Gable and Jason Jordan vs. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso (Oct. 28)
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks
Graves and Brennan jump directly into the Bayley vs. Sasha Banks Ironman match from Takeover: Respect. They start the match with 5:37 remaining, but this time showing just the final sixth of the match works because, you know, we’ve seen the match before.
There was a lot of debate following this match, and it will undoubtedly kick up again during Match of the Year discussions, about whether this match or their first bout at Takeover: Brooklyn was better. In the grand scheme, it probably doesn’t matter, but I’ve always fallen into the Brooklyn camp.
Somehow, in just five minutes, Bayley and Banks are able to hook you into their final stretch and exhaust the viewer as if they watched all 30 minutes. Maybe it’s because I was doing a live review last time as well, but I don’t remember being that invested, that quickly.
Still, I can’t jump ship after watching five minutes of one match.
NXT Match of 2015: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks from Takeover: Brooklyn
The next video feature profiles the litany of debuts on NXT this year: Zach Ryder, Rhyno, James Storm, Samoa Joe and their ilk. Sorry, but we already did that award. Graves and Brennan however, use that to lead directly into Samoa Joe vs. Baron Corbin from Takeover: Brooklyn.
If you read some of my earliest reviews for NXT (don’t), you’ll find me relentlessly bashing Corbin. He was boring. He didn’t move. He didn’t do moves. He didn’t understand what his character was supposed to be. His torso looked like a frowny face.
In just a couple of months, however, it started to click for Corbin. He was having longer matches and, as a result, had the opportunity to do more moves. He also cultivated a personality and it turns out he isn’t horrible on the mic.
NXT’s Most Improved of 2015: Baron Corbin
Before heading into John Cena vs. Kevin Owens from Elimination Chamber, a recap of Sami Zayn’s crack at the US Open Challenge from May 4 begins unannounced. Even with Zayn’s injury this was one of the best matches on RAW in 2015. First, it was in Montreal. Second, Bret Hart introduced Zayn in their home country. Finally, having NXT’s biggest star show up on RAW out of nowhere was absolutely fantastic – and this was the first time it had happened. Whether is was for one match or 100…
NXT’s Best Call-Up of 2015: Sami Zayn
John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
The Owens-Cena match from Elimination Chamber picks up with Owens’ Five Knuckle Shuffle attempt that was reversed into an STF by Cena.
This was a great match, far better than the matches that followed in their series. The spots were fresh and the whole thing felt like a clash of universes. On top of all that, with Elimination Chamber being a WWE Network exclusive so the match was only available online, somehow this felt like a home game for Kevin Owens. Of all the great spots, counters and moves, there was one spot that had me jumping off of the couch – and it had nothing to do with the conclusion of the match.
NXT’s Spot of 2015: Kevin Owens Fallaway Package Powerbomb/Package Piledriver Tease
NXT’s Year in Review Part One effectively ends with John Cena’s shoulders pinned to the mat. If that isn’t a metaphor for everything we love about this program, I don’t know what is.
What’s in Part Two of NXT’s Year in Review? What will we put in this review next week? Can I make up more fake awards? Find out next week.