Expectations for NXT Takeover were high. With debuts for Shinsuke Nakamura and Austin Aries, and three title matches, the card was packed from the start.
It exceeded every possible expectation. Twitter exploded the moment the show began and the excitement climbed steadily throughout.
I will stand by the assertion that there wasn't a single match on the card that wouldn't have stood up as a main event in its own right.
American Alpha versus The Revival - Tag Team title match
This was a textbook display of what tag team wrestling should look like. Both teams showed themselves capable of tight and technical wrestling, and they delivered. The match was fast paced, well executed and entertaining.
Both these teams have bright futures in the WWE, either could comfortably compete with any of the main roster tag teams. A win for American Alpha was popular with the crowd and we were off to a fantastic start.
Baron Corbin versus Austin Aries
For wrestling fans Austin Aries needs no introduction. For those who haven't had time to catch up let me give you the very basics. This guy is a legend, stints in Ring of Honor, TNA, Dragon Gate USA, and now, finally, he's part of the WWE.
Up against Baron Corbin, a fantastic heel, and legitimately huge by comparison to Aries, it definitely wasn't going to be an easy debut. After initial offense from Aries, Corbin got a lot of the first part of the match his own way. But, experience and skill will usually win out in the end; Aries proved he just had too many weapons in his arsenal for Corbin to handle.
An Aries win felt like the respectful way to welcome a legend to the fold.
Sami Zayn versus Shinsuke Nakamura
For many this was the highlight of the night, and a strong contender for match of the year. I may have to agree. While I was already well aware of Austin Aries' body of work I was less familiar with Nakamura, but a couple of lost hours on the internet and I was ready to get excited about this match.
From his entrance onward, Nakamura built the tension and his strange sexually aggressive charisma - so different from anything on the current roster - makes him a very compelling performer to watch.
The match itself was phenomenal.
I could list the bigger spots from now until tomorrow, but you'd be better off just going and watching it. Suffice to say the 'king of strong style' lived up to the title and Sami Zayn may well look like he's wearing body paint when he arrives at Wrestlemania on Sunday.
It was almost inevitable a departing Zayn would hand Nakamura the win, but he made him earn it in another unbelievable display of quality wrestling. High on style and skill, low on bells and whistles, it was everything a wrestling fan could have asked for.
There was a beautiful show of respect from the two men at the end of the match. A passing of the torch moment before Nakamura left the ring to allow Sami Zayn to take his farewell ovation from the crowd.
Bayley versus Asuka - Women's title match
It was a tough call for anyone to follow Zayn and Nakamura but Bayley and Asuka did a fabulous job. The crowd reactions did dip at the slightly slower start of the match but they soon picked up once the ladies found their rhythm.
It was a slower paced, more intense match, lots of tactical, submission based holds, interspersed with the stiff offense we have come to expect from Asuka. The champ fought valiantly but, with a main roster move confidently predicted, it was only a matter of time before Bayley passed out in the Asuka lock to drop the belt.
The NXT women's division looks really exciting at the moment and this match really showcased both participants to their best advantage. The future for NXT is almost as bright as Bayley and Asuka's ring gear.
Finn Balor versus Samoa Joe - NXT Title match
This match was, in some ways, the most disappointing of the evening. It was nothing to do with the quality of the performers, or the brutal and committed display they put on, but rather the product of an unfortunate (and presumably accidental) cut to Samoa Joe within the first few minutes, which resulted in the slight farce of medics chasing him around trying to glue it up during the match breaking the intensity.
Other than that, the match lived up to its potential, a fitting end to a truly fabulous display from the NXT roster. Balor retained, a surprise to many who assumed he would also leave for the main roster after 'Mania.
It wasn't just the extraordinary quality of the matches which made NXT Takeover special. The crowd were amazing, supportive and vocal from start to finish. Particularly memorable chants included 'Which one's Dawson, which one's Dash', 'Fight forever' (at Zayn and Nakamura) and the disturbing 'Joe's gonna kill you' chanted with such good humour it was quite sinister.
As a wrestling fan there was a particularly refreshing element to NXT Takeover. Every match finished clean. Every one. No run-ins, no distractions, no disqualifications. Just dedicated, talented, hard-working performers coming out and showing the fans what they're capable of.
It was beautiful.
Wrestlemania will be the biggest spectacle of the year and, as fans, we will love it despite our complaints. It's the weekend everything has been leading to, and the springboard for the storylines we will follow in the upcoming months. But, after NXT Takeover's display, I seriously doubt it will contain much of the best wrestling of the weekend.
Did NXT Takeover exceed your expectations? Will Wrestlemania be able to follow without disappointing? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
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