|R Evolution - Full Sail - 12.11.14|
Aside from a really dumb name ("R Evolution?" Like "Our Evolution?" O-U-R, as opposed to A-R-E?), this TakeOver special was a pretty freakin' good show.
The festivities started with the in-ring debut of Kevin Owens (formerly Steen) against CJ Parker. This was about as good a three-minute match as you're likely to see. Owens got in most of his big moves, which the audience exploded for, and Parker accidentally broke Owens' nose with a palm strike before falling to the pop-up powerbomb. Helluva debut, and the visual of Owens standing triumphant with blood gushing from his face added to his ultra-tough persona.
|That's gotta hurt|
The Tag Titles were up next as Lucha Dragons defended against The Vaudvillains (love this goofy gimmick) in a fun little seven-minute battle. This was fast-paced and both teams got decent time to show off their movesets. Kalisto got the pin with Salida del Sol after a back-and-forth affair. Nothing mindblowing but a fun little match.
Another Baron Corbin squash was next as he killed Tye Dillinger in under a minute, with the crowd counting the seconds. I'd still have given these Corbin squashes a good two minutes to get in all his stuff.
The Ascension's last hurrah in NXT was fourth as they faced Hideo Itami and vaunted newcomer Finn Balor (formerly Prince Devitt). Balor had appeared on NXT TV but this was the NXT debut of his alter-ego The Demon, and it was an absolutely spectacular entrance. Balor's theme music is probably my favorite in all of WWE right now. The match itself was middling, with not enough offense from Itami and way too much from The Ascension. Sorry, I just find Konnor and Viktor's movesets totally generic and not very intimidating. The third act had some nice false finishes and Balor looked great. This match gets a pass for Balor's entrance, the hot crowd, and the last few minutes.
|Best entrance since The Undertaker|
Things really picked up with the Women's match, as Charlotte defended the title against Sasha Banks in probably the best women's bout since Charlotte vs. Nattie. Sasha demonstrated here what an incredibly gifted performer she is, completely owning her character and making every move count. The last few minutes of this match were pretty spectacular and were a precursor to the amazing work Sasha would turn in over the following year. Both of these women are great, but for me Sasha is as good as anyone in WWE. Damn fine match.
|Man, those NXT women.....|
The main event was an emotional struggle where Sami Zayn had vowed to quit NXT if he couldn't beat Adrian Neville. The two started out trading innovative grappling holds before pulling out their big high spots. Neville, playing the de facto heel, kept his style much more grounded than usual and allowed Zayn most of the flashy offense. The third act was full of false finishes and two ref bumps, and Zayn even teased using the NXT belt as a weapon before Neville rolled him up for a pin attempt. Zayn narrowly escaped, hit an exploder suplex and the Helluva Kick for the win, and the NXT crowd erupted. The crowd was absolutely nuclear for this match and bought into every nearfall even despite the result being fairly telegraphed; a testament to both men's storytelling ability. The aftermath saw the entire locker room come to the ring to celebrate, most notably Zayn's former tag partner Kevin Owens. But just before the show went off the air Owens turned on Zayn, ramming the back of his head onto the ramp and powerbombing him into the ring apron. This was a masterfully understated heel turn that would lead to a major NXT feud between the two. Zayn is also one of the few genuinely likable babyfaces in WWE; I'm not sure why, but WWE seems to have forgotten how to make people emotionally connect and relate to a good guy character.
|It's a throwback to when fans actually got excited for a babyface Title win|
The Zayn-Neville match was a pretty great main event, capping off probably the second best NXT special thus far. The NXT roster was just getting stronger and stronger at this point, and they weren't even close to done.
Best Match: Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn
Worst Match: Baron Corbin vs. Tye Dillinger
What I'd Change: I'd have given Balor and Itami much more offense in their match, as The Ascension is simply not very compelling when they're controlling things
Most Disappointing Match: Balor/Itami vs. The Ascension
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Owens' three-minute squash debut was so good
Overall Rating: 8/10