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NXT Title vs. Career
Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn
I've often spoken of rare moments that justify the amount of bullshit that wrestling fans endure thanks to stubborn and utterly clueless carny promoters. Marginalization of potential mega-stars, endless go-nowhere talking segments that are stretched too thin, angles that lack a truly climatic, emotionally satisfying conclusion, and devaluing the importance of titles as well. Add in that this came shortly after CM Punk finally broke his silence on his abrupt departure, as well as considering the other seedy underbelly portions of the business, and this particular match couldn't have taken place at a better time to remind us all why we keep enduring.
Speaking of Punk, the atmosphere in this at the beginning is somewhat similar to his work of art against Austin Aries at ROH's Death Before Dishonor III, with Zayn playing Punk's role, the crowd completely behind him as the sentimental challenger, while the champion is playing the default heel simply based on the circumstances. In a career that is drenched with MOTYC performances, Zayn gave perhaps his greatest babyface performance to date in this instant classic. He was on fire in this one busting out his flippy shit, and more than held his own with the outstanding technical wrestling sequence at the beginning of the match. A standout spot early to display Zayn's focus was when he countered a head-scissors attempt with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, then hit a followup Asai Moonsault on the outside.
Neville took his time getting back in, clearly flustered just like Aries in the match I mentioned. Zayn used this to his advantage, but that would get cut off by the champ to take control. Zayn would find himself in a headlock and chinlock to wear him down, and the crowd broke out "Ole Ole Ole" chants to give him fire to make a combeback, but Neville would cut him off after a brief hope spot. Neville paintbrushes Zayn's head with his foot, then follows that up with some Kawada kicks. Zayn then makes a comeback with a clothesline and the crowd is happy. But Neville then cuts that off with a head-scissors, only for Zayn to toss him over the rope and then hit a running front flip over the top rope to the outside.
Zayn counters a reverse hurricanana attempt with a Blue Thunder Powerbomb for a fantastic nearfall. Neville hits a chinbreaker when picked back up, then does a running uppercut. Neville runs to the corner and knows Zayn is coming with the Yakuza kick, turning around and planting a big boot on Zayn's face, then throwing the challenger to the ropes to hit a German Suplex for another awesome nearfall. Zayn dead-weights a powerbomb attempt, but a corner move is evaded and Neville hits a sitdown powerbomb for another quality nearfall.
Neville is becoming frustrated and they exchange forearms. Neville hits a spinning kick to gain the advantage, only to get clotheslined. Zayn goes for another Yakuza kick but that's evaded and he's kicked in the head for his trouble, collapsing on the mat. Neville goes for the Sky Twister, only to have Zayn's knees planted in his gut. We have another fantastic false finish as Zayn immediately locks on the Koji Clutch, but Neville's foot reaches the ropes. Neville counters an Exploder Suplex attempt with a rollup for another nearfall, and when Zayn kicks out, the ref is accidentally struck by Neville's body and it's a genuine accident.
Zayn checks on the referee's condition and gets a superkick and reverse hurricanrana by Neville for yet another excellent nearfall, Zayn almost losing the biggest match of his career thanks to his compassion. Crowd is going apeshit for Zayn at this point, knowing they're watching something magical and a special moment may finally arrive. Both men are fatigued and exchange blows. Zayn ducks a roundhouse kick and hits multiple German Suplexes, followed with a half-nelson suplex, but Neville takes a powder when Zayn goes for the Yakuza kick. Zayn pulls out the through-the-ropes tornado DDT on the outside to catch Neville off-guard, which the champ should've known was coming.
Back in the ring, Zayn hits the Yakuza kick but Neville puts the ref in harm's way, further reminding me of Aries in the match I mentioned as well as Samoa Joe's feet on the ropes in the trilogy finale against Punk; a champion that has become desperate to hold on to what he cherishes most. Neville brings the belt in the ring and gets another Yakuza kick; Zayn teases using the belt but decides to uphold his integrity to the crowd's approval. Neville goes for a rollup but Zayn kicks out, plants the Exploder Suplex, and with pure focus in his eyes, finally hits the Yakuza kick and capturing the NXT Title, capping off his self-proclaimed road to redemption!
The Orlando crowd is fucking APESHIT like they just watched their hometown Magic win their elusive first NBA Finals Championship. Their mood is something to behold, pure bliss, joy, and celebration for one of the most lovable babyfaces in the history of the business reaching the developmental mountaintop. Much of the roster comes to congratulate Zayn, specifically Owens who has tears in his eyes. Neville refuses a handshake, instead opting for an a hug based on friendship, respect, and love for the game.
As Zayn is leaving ringside, Owens comes back out to help his fatigued colleague, the man he is most connected to in his career, walk back up the ramp, both men about to celebrate how far they've come, one reaching the mountaintop, the other having debuted tonight in the big leagues. But in a moment that Zayn should've seen coming based on the events of ROH's Final Battle 2009, Owens ambushes the champ and leaves him laying with an apron powerbomb, making it clear what his goal is in NXT.
This entire segment is one of the defining reasons as to why I will always be a fan of pro wrestling. It was rewarding with an emotionally satisfying conclusion, a twist-and-turn nailbiter that had many wondering if Zayn would end up failing after all to achieve his goal. And then we get a program that is both fresh and familiar, one that has worked in every single federation that has showcased it. This isn't my favorite match by any means, but it's one I will never get tired of watching. ****1/2
I think this was the defining match for the NXT brand. When i think NXT, i think of this exact match. To me Sami Zayn will always be the #1 NXT guy, who defines the whole brand. This was his crowning moment as NXT champion, after a very long chase. I think this match is the single greatest moment to come out of NXT, and thus this has a huge historical significance in my eyes. I feel like this exact match turned NXT from developmental, and to the next level as a standalone brand that can compete with the best. As for US matches, this will be in my top 25 matches of all time. I gave it five stars personally, and if it wasn't for one Wrestle Kingdom event, i would also vote this for MOTY in the observer this year (Nov-Nov rule).