The prelude show to Summerslam is all done, and was an excellent outing that the main show tonight is going to have a hard time living up to. They hit most of their marks on the show and we got probably the big emotional ending of the year in the NXT Women’s Title Match. There were a few surprises, too. Here’s my take:
Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger vs Tyler Breeze
I haven’t seen Liger work in almost 20 years, and boy does he look it. That guy has been eating good in his absence from American soil, and the high flying worker of those days is long gone. To his credit he appears to have adapted his style to account for being 20 years older and 40 or so pounds heavier. He played to the crowd well and mimicked Breeze’s normal antics. Liger won like I figured; you don’t fly him in here to job in the opening match. Pretty good opener.
NXT Tag Team Title Match: Blake and Murphy (c) vs The Vaudevillains
Color me surprised here. I figured the Vaudevillains would go down to defeat here. But in an very good match they pulled out the win after the champs interfering valet Alexa Bliss was countered by Blue Pants (Ok I feel silly just typing that), allowing the challengers to benefit from a fair fight. My guess is that the dethroned champs will soon get the titles back but this match was a good way to pop the already hyped up live audience.
Apollo Crews vs Ty Dellinger
Crews won as expected in his debut. He showed some pretty amazing agility for a guy his size. Dellinger got in way more offense than I figured he would; this wasn’t a squash at all. I haven’t seen Crews work before so that makes wonder how much of a repertoire he has beyond what he showed in an under five minute match.
Samoa Joe vs Baron Corbin
Color me surprised again. Joe won a pretty decent brawl here. I figured that after all those months of dominance this was a showcase for Corbin against a real opponent. But not so. Joe impressed me way more than Corbin did here and got a clean win. I have no idea what the booking strategy was with this. Are they setting Joe as a perpetual NXT Title challenger for the next six months or so? Have they soured on Corbin? Was the plan always to build up Corbin then sacrifice him to Joe? I have no idea. Clean win, no dispute, no post match sucker attack to keep the story going….you got me here.
NXT Women’s Title Match: Sasha Banks (c) vs Bayley
Best match of the night by far. They build up to it was A+, establishing Bayley as America’s underdog and Banks as the arrogant champion. And they put on a hell of match, surpassing even the excellent Banks-Becky Lynch NXT Takeover match from earlier this year. The ladies pulled out new moves and showed great intensity out there. If anyone tells you women can’t wrestle or tell a great story in the ring, show them this. We all knew Sasha was going to drop the title since she’s on the main WWE roster now and yet that didn’t take away one ounce of excitement here. The ladies got a full 18 minutes to work, which is damn near unheard of for a WWE women’s match. And in fitting fashion we got the storybook ending with Bayley finally breaking through and becoming the NXT Women’s Champion. The story and the match that was the end result are why you watch wrestling in the first place. Match of the Year Candidate here without a doubt. And after it was over we got a reprise of the infamous 1996 Curtain Call (this one was approved by management, of course) when Charlotte and Becky Lynch came out to join the Sasha and Bayley in a post match embrace/send off. That was a fitting cap to the great work the four of them have been putting in all year.
Main Event: NXT Title Ladder Match – Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens
I almost felt bad for these two guys. Following up that women’s title match was pretty much impossible. But they went out there and busted their asses to put on an excellent ladder match that is likely Owens’ final match as an NXT wrestler. Balor is the firmly established top dog in NXT probably through WrestleMania 32. Owens could have mailed this one in since he’s done with NXT and is wrestling tonight at Summerslam but to his credit he came to work. I liked this better than their match in Japan were Balor won the title; lots of sick spots with ladder. I agree with a lot of people that they could really have switched this match around with the Women’s Title match. This match is likely to be forever overshadowed by what happened in the match before but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t very good in it’s own right.
Overall Grade: A-
The last two matches make this a must see show. The rest of the card was ok to very good, and nothing stunk. The Samoa Joe-Baron Corbin finish was real strange to me so I deduct some points there but all in all a very good show.