(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v37044989/?contentId=&contextType=wwe-show&contextId=wwe_nxt )
In the old WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To Watch Before You Die List, #100 was taken by HHH vs Chris Jericho in a Last Man Standing match. In the new List, it’s taken by Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn (HHH vs Y2J has been taken off the list!). Now, if I asked you to name the best underdog story of 2014, you’d probably say Daniel Bryan’s road to WrestleMania. However, that was not planned by WWE. We, the people, forced their hand. Just think, the original plan for WrestleMania 30 was to have Batista and Randy Orton main event…While Bryan’s underdog story was satisfying, Sami Zayn’s underdog story built for over half a year until it culminated in this match. And what a match it is…
Sami Zayn had repeatedly failed to win the big one in NXT from 2013 to 2014. He came ever so close in the Fatal 4 Way main event at NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way (which is placed at #90. Click here for my review!), but in the end, NXT Champion Adrian Neville denied him that chance. Later, in a singles match for the NXT title, Neville feigned a knee injury. He took advantage of Zayn’s concern and rolled him up for the victory. According to Neville, Zayn didn’t have the guts to do what it took to be champion. Zayn, in response, demanded a match for Neville’s championship. But Zayn would put his career on the line.
Would the perennial underdog finally win the big one, or would he lose and leave NXT?
A mere glance at the storyline behind Zayn and Neville’s feud shows long-term planning and faith in the two performers, something that you often find in NXT but not on Raw and Smackdown. This year, Neville was trusted to head the Cruiserweight division until Enzo Amore came along to steal his thunder. But before that, what did Neville achieve on the main roster? He had his name changed to simply Neville. Sami Zayn has just had a heel turn, but since his promotion to the big leagues, he’s just been there to put other people over (such as Braun Strowman). But both can perform to a high standard in all the ways you want in a main eventer. Their promos leading up to this match were superb. They can put on a great match with almost anyone.
And, in the case of this feud, Zayn had the crowd behind him. They bought into the underdog storyline, mainly because Zayn plays the underdog so damned well (better, I daresay, than Daniel Bryan…). Listen to the ovation Zayn gets during his entrance for this match. It’s overwhelming. People who didn’t see the heelish side of Neville in NXT were surprised at his talent for playing the heel in the Cruiserweight division, but he honed his heel abilities here. Those boos he’s getting aren’t because he’s boring (I’m looking at you, Jinder Mahal!), but because the crowd have genuinely turned on him.
Even before the match has started, there’s a palpable atmosphere. The crowd are heavily behind Zayn and both competitors play on this affection throughout the match. It’s a story that’s so simple to tell, but easy to get wrong. But both these guys manipulate Zayn’s underdog status with glee. Neville dominates the first half of the match, with Zayn hitting some flashy moves to keep the crowd on their toes. They go through incredibly complicated sequences of moves with ease. In the second half, Zayn seems to do everything he can to score a victory but is always one second away. Towards the end, the two wrestlers play on Neville’s theory that Zayn hasn’t got the guts to do what it takes (i.e. underhanded tactics) to be a champion. It’s a match where two referee bumps don’t spoil anything, but add to the increasing drama.
And boy is there drama. The last ten minutes are gripping wrestling (possibly the most gripping wrestling in the history of NXT). The added element of Zayn’s career on the line makes the outcome questionable. If Zayn lost, he’d simply be moved to Raw/Smackdown, wouldn’t he? Perhaps he’s destined never to win the big one? Even if you hadn’t followed the storyline into the match, you’d be able to follow the feud in the match. Zayn and Neville tell the story like a Greek poet.
This match has everything: a cracking feud leading into it, a sizzling hot crowd, and a match that contains superb wrestling, psychology and storytelling. I’d hesitate to call this the best match in NXT history, as that accolade goes to Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura (which isn’t even on the new WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches…List! What a crime). But it’s certainly the best feud, and a prime example of NXT’s commitment to long term storytelling. If you haven’t watched this match, watch it now. It deserves to be a lot higher in the WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches…List. Oh, stick around for the end for a thrilling storyline development.
VERDICT: 10/10. In my humble opinion, this is the second best NXT match in the brand’s history. It’s the pinnacle of everything, from the feud to the wrestling to the in-ring psychology. Zayn and Neville put on a masterclass.
Does this match belong in the WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die? Leave your comments below!
Click here to view my list of reviews of the WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die