|Image Source: Mark Armstrong|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE/NXT
Format: House Show
Date: June 15 2016
Location: Echo Arena, Liverpool, Merseyside, England
As part of the latest NXT tour of the United Kingdom, I went along to the show in my hometown of Liverpool to see this brand, which began as strictly developmental and has since taken on a life of its own, to the point that it is now the go-to wrestling product for many hardcore fans. As it turned out, the show was more WWE than NXT: Takeover, to use a recent example, but it was still an enjoyable experience.
The first bout pitted Hugo Knox against Wesley Blake. Knox is a former goalkeeper for Burton Albion, believe it or not, while Blake is now solo after his tag team run with Murphy. This was a match where the “developmental” tag still applied for NXT, since it was clear that this match acted as part of Knox’s own personal development as he looks to build up the skills and know-how in his early days in the wrestling business. It was a solid and basic opener, which Knox won after a split-legged moonsault (which he bungled on the first attempt, but the fans let him off with it which was nice to see/hear). Speaking of the Liverpool fans, they were on form all night and they set the tone in this match, with chants like “Burton Albion!”, “Hugo Knoxy baby!” and, most humorously, “You’re just a s–t Robbie Savage!” (aimed at Blake) Hilarious.
Match two was a tag team attraction as the very popular American Alpha combo of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan took on Alexander Wolfe and Sawyer Fulton. AA were over like rover here, and whilst this doubles match wasn’t to the level of American Alpha’s bouts with the likes of Dash and Dawson on NXT, it was still a good showcase of their skills, as they looked every inch the top tag team that many feel they could be in WWE in the not-too-distant future. More chants came up in this match as Gable and Jordan each received a prolonged “Kolo/Yaya Toure!” chant (Google it if you don’t know what I mean) and, in the first of many instances on the night, requests for both men to “give us a wave!” (they did respond in the positive) AA won by submission with stereo Ankle Locks. Afterwards, Dash and Dawson came out and teased that they would give Gable and Jordan an NXT Tag Team Title shot right there (which excited fans since NXT has proven that it could switch titles on a house show such as this), with several Beatles references in the process, only to backtrack and attempt instead to jump the team. It didn’t work, as one member of The Revival suffered a double-team assault (not sure which one; as the NXT fans often ask, which one’s Dash and which one’s Dawson?).
Next up, Bobby Roode came out to face No Way Jose. Roode got a major pop since, despite his official signing with WWE/NXT, he has yet to wrestle on the weekly show, so in effect we (and the other UK audiences on this tour) were getting a treat by seeing Roode in action. The first half of this match was all comedy, and at one point the bout stopped for an extended double-dance routine, before Roode stopped it dead in its tracks with a big clothesline. After some decent exchanges, Roode won the match with an Arn Anderson-style spinebuster. While he is wrestling low-card matches on this tour, with a comedy vibe at that, it’s obvious that Roode will be a major part of NXT in the coming months.
The pre-intermission bout was a women’s tag team match as the hugely popular Bayley (whose entrance was complete with wacky waving inflatable tube men, which always reminds me of the mock commercial on Family Guy) and Carmella (whose previous association with Enzo and Big Cass continues into her entrance routine today) took on Peyton Royce and Nikki Glencross (who apparently has a connection with ICW, or Insane Championship Wrestling, the ECW-style promotion based in Scotland which is expanding rapidly and has an even more dedicated cult following than NXT, albeit on a smaller scale). Those expecting a Bayley match along the lines of the Takeover clashes with Sasha Banks (which we were shown clips of before the show started) or Asuka will have been disappointed, and if anything Bayley only had a few spots to shine. That being said, it was a good little match, although there was a botch when Carmella didn’t kick out of a pinfall attempt on time, so the referee held up his count and everyone noticed (in this environment, it would have been the perfect time to unleash a chant of “You’re not fit to referee!” Alas, it didn’t happen). Unsurprisingly, the babyfaces won when Bayley hit Royce with the Bayley-To-Belly. Bayley’s celebration was enhanced by the fact that it was her birthday, and she even got a “Happy Birthday!” chant at the start of the match.
Post-break, we saw Tye Dillinger take on NXT newcomer Andrade “Cien” Almas. Tye provoked big heel heat beforehand by unveiling a Manchester United shirt with Dillinger 10 on the back (Dillinger’s gimmick is an obsession with the number 10), which played a role in the bout when Cien threatened to stomp on the shirt in question and eventually forced Tye to do so himself. Besides that, this was a pretty good match and a nice showcase of Cien’s skills. Their shorter match at Takeover: The End last week had more impressive spots, but with more time on this show, we got a better idea of what Cien has to offer, as well as Dillinger to a lesser extent. As he did at Takeover, Cien pinned Tye with his double running knee attack.
The penultimate match saw Asuka defend her NXT Women’s Championship against Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss in a three-way bout. Asuka was by far the most popular performer, although it was her opponents who dominated much of the action. Alexa had some good spots, and Jax played the monster female heel well (I didn’t realise just how big she was until this bout). It descended into comedy (a recurring theme on the show) when Alexa tried unsuccessfully to intimidate Jax, and when Nia tried to pay tribute to her cousin The Rock by attempting a People’s Elbow, only for Alexa to cut her off. Asuka made a comeback after taking some wicked powerbombs from Nia, and her brutal kicks and strong-style offence made an impression on the fans. Asuka won it when she trapped Bliss in the Asuka Lock to retain her prize. Nia was protected here, which suggests a possible rematch down the line with Asuka, although the Women’s Championship match at the next Takeover in Brooklyn surely has to be Asuka vs. Bayley (in what could be Bayley’s NXT swansong).
The main event was a tag team match pitting two dream teams against one another: Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura battled Austin Aries and NXT Champion Samoa Joe. Fan reactions to all four were strong, especially Nakamura whose entrance was incredibly captivating to watch live, in line with the fans singing along to his theme song. This match most resembled the action we see every week on NXT and at the occasional Takeover specials, as there were plenty of nifty technical exchanges, hard-hitting strikes and cool moves from all involved. Joe humorously gave the finger when he was the latest wrestler to be asked to “give us a wave!” Finn and Shinsuke were dominant early on, only for Aries and Joe to work together and isolate Balor to turn it around. It all led to the inevitable hot tag where Shinsuke, the “King Of Strong Style”, came in and unleashed his super-strong strikes along with displaying his unique charisma. His exchanges with Joe were particular cool to watch, knowing that a singles match between the two (which is likely at some point) has the potential to be the best NXT match to date. In the end, Aries took a Kinshasa kick by Nakamura and, with Shinsuke keeping Joe back at ringside, Finn nailed Aries with the Coup De Grace for the win. Afterwards, the babyfaces both did Nakamura’s pose (try doing that at home and you’ll probably break your back), and Balor on the microphone paid tribute to NXT trainer and local lad Robbie Brookside.
As I mentioned earlier, from a live perspective, this felt more like a WWE house show than an NXT event, and the level of comedy was a little too high (and this is from someone who appreciates comedy in wrestling, when it’s done right anyway). Besides the main event, there weren’t many moments where you could truly understand the appeal of NXT from an in-ring perspective (which is the brand’s main strength). That all being said, this was a really fun card, enhanced by the superb crowd, and the leading stars in NXT truly are stars, and have the potential in many cases to make a major impact on Raw and SmackDown after the upcoming brand extension. This wasn’t necessarily the best example of what NXT can provide, but it did serve as a good introduction to new fans on why NXT has become the coolest wrestling brand in the world today.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10 – Okay