Another week, another episode of NXT…but not your average episode of NXT! This was a glimpse of NXT throughout the WrestleMania 31 weekend. From the tournament whose winner would enter the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, to NXT in San Jose, to a mini-documentary about Hideo Itami’s Journey to WrestleMania. (Spoiler: It has the most depressing ending since Requiem for a Dream…), there were three matches in their entirety on display. And two of them had great merit…Of course, we knew the outcome of the tournament already, as WrestleMania 31 happened a week and a half ago. But who cares?
We didn’t need to see the quarter finals, as by just seeing the names in the matches precluded the winner. For example, Hideo Itami vs Jason Jordan…I wonder who will win that one?!?! So we went straight on to the semi-finals, pitting Hideo Itami against Adrian Neville and Tyler Breeze against Finn Balor…
Hideo Itami vs Adrian Neville
The ‘This is Awesome’ chant before the match had even started said it all. PAC vs KENTA…what more do you want? Adrian Neville played up his heel side to great effect, taking advantage of the ref’s count out to relax, for example. The kicks on show from both wrestlers were stiff and wince-inducing, even more so than usual from Itami! Itami controlled much of the match, suplexing and kicking the hell out of Neville. And he teased us with a GTS attempt, only for Neville to sneak out of it. It’s what you would expect from these two wrestlers, but I think Itami was saving himself for the final. It just lacked something that would have made it a classic. Itami wins with the shotgun kick (and not the GTS, unfortunately…)
VERDICT: 7/10. Quality match, but I hope these two have a chance to have a classic match…but Adrian Neville (sorry, Neville) is on Raw now…so maybe not.
Tyler Breeze vs Finn Balor
A decent match, but nothing special. Balor played with Breeze at the start, doing Breeze’s relaxation pose in the corner. Breeze lept at Balor and Balor dodged, which led to Balor kicking Breeze in the stomach in a spot which reminded me of a similar HBK spot (can Breeze be the next Shawn Michaels? He needs some work…). Breeze never really stood a chance, and didn’t really put up a fight towards the end. Balor does his usual finishing routine and hits the Coup de Grace for the victory.
VERDICT: 5/10. Average match. Like the previous match, it felt like Balor was holding a little something back.
Finn Balor vs Hideo Itami
I fully expected this to be the final match for the Number 1 Contender’s Match at NXT: Rival. However, they fought in the semi-finals, if I recollect correctly. And while it was a good match, I don’t think it showcased the full abilities of these two brilliant wrestlers. However, this match met all expectations. Chain wrestling and counter wrestling started off fast and smoothly, and the match continued to be fast and smooth from that point on. It told the best story for a match between two former tag team partners (and two friends); they knew each other so well that almost every move was countered. Balor reversed Itami’s Tornado DDT onto the ropes with a corner enziguri. Itami’s strike and kick combination were reversed by a timely Balor pele kick. We were teased with the GTS again, but Balor slipped out…what a shame! The action never let up until Itami hit his Shotgun Kick for the well-earned, hard-earned victory. Itami was going to WrestleMania!!!
VERDICT: 9/10. Almost on a par with the Owens vs Balor classic. Just awesome from these two brilliant wrestlers.
After this match, we saw snippets of NXT in San Jose…where we saw Itami finally hit the GTS! Stephanie McMahon says it broke the internet. While I wouldn’t go that far, it was cool to see the GTS (although the camera strangely cut away before Itami’s knee hit his opponent’s head!). I think it was HHH who mentioned that Itami was the innovator of the GTS, but he did not use the name of the WWE wrestler who stole the move…what was his name again? CM Punk? Hmmm…
The Hideo Itami ‘Journey to WrestleMania’ (‘Pre-Show Kick-Off,’ because as we all know, the Battle Royal didn’t happen at WrestleMania itself!) mini-doc was a touching and heartfelt small film. However, I knew the ending…we all knew the very unhappy ending. Did the WWE want to depress us? It quickly documented his signing with the WWE. I was not aware that he had moved his wife and two boys with him to the USA! It must have been a trying experience for all the family. It fast-forwarded through to WrestleMania. Someone called it “The most important weekend in Hideo Itami’s career.” Hmmm…We saw him and his children check out the stadium in awe. Itami looked genuinely excited to be part of WrestleMania (Pre-Show Kick-Off!).
However, all his excitement was for nothing. The match wasn’t even on at WrestleMania, just the Pre-Show/Kick-Off thing (I may have mentioned that). Although he eliminated Bo Dallas (which says a lot about how the top brass perceive Bo Dallas), a shadow quickly covered Itami entirely…the shadow of The Big Show. Half a minute later, The Big Show threw Itami out. Itami walked to the back with his head held high…but then crouched down and appeared to cry. Was he crying because he had his WrestleMania Moment? Or because his WrestleMania Moment didn’t happen at WrestleMania, and he was eliminated by a massive waste of space? We will never know…
OVERALL VERDICT: 8/10. Obviously not a proper NXT show, but showcased an awesome match between Balor and Itami. It also gave us a taste of what wrestling in the USA is like for Itami…I think we need a bigger Itami documentary, don’t you?
(Click here for my review of WWE NXT Episode 271)