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Just Business presents Watch of the Week: NXT’s Lone Star State (Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode, Takeover: San Antonio)
By Samuel 'Plan
Feb 1, 2017 - 7:15:17 PM

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Just Business presents Watch of the Week: NXT’s Lone Star State (Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode, Takeover: San Antonio)

Every now and then, WWE provide a piece of professional wrestling that transcends the ordinary boundaries of the profession. Such works of art are upon which I based my performance art philosophy when it comes to receiving WWE’s product with interpretive analysis. Often, I find these matches to be eternally engaging, providing material that can be deconstructed and enjoyed time and time again, always finding something new with each successive viewing. These are the kinds of matches that bring together, comprehensively, every aspect of a professional wrestling match in WWE, from the in-ring action to the hype package to the entrances.

In recent years, we have seen a spate of such matches. Works of art like Triple H vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVII and XXVIII; CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam 2013; Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose at Hell in a Cell 2014, and again at Money in the Bank 2015; and The Shield Triple Threat at Battleground just last year are but a few that spring immediately to my mind, though there are a number more.

We can now add Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode at NXT Takeover: San Antonio to that number.

This was the kind of transcendent in-ring accomplishment I live my life for as a pro wrestling fan, and as a writer. This was not just a single case of great action. The biggest money match in NXT history was imbued with fresh waves of artistic merit thanks to the outrageously outstanding production value of the piece from top to bottom – from its naturally grandiloquent entrances to its intensely gripping and extraordinary finale. To say this was a match that felt as if it were stemming from “just another feud,” I was blown away by its quality. I don’t go in for star ratings, but if I did this was one match that would get a “6 out of 5” from me.

It began with a typically inspired hype package from WWE before the action got underway, which struck a fateful tone and presented this encounter as an inevitable collision course set in motion back at the infamous Takeover: Dallas event from 2016 – it positioned Bobby Roode as the usurper of Shinsuke Nakamura’s meteoric rise to the top of the brand; and, more importantly, as an equally showy antithesis to the King of Strong Style.

Two men competing to be the lone star of NXT was the prevalent theme that ran throughout, informing the opening act of the match, being referred back to on more than one occasion before, ultimately, playing an intimated role in the conclusion. It started in earnest, however, with each man’s entrance. With a typically riotous crowd singing along to both, it was clear from the get-go that there was ego pulsing at the heart of the pending confrontation; big ego at that. Together, the two entrances screamed main event; screamed big money; screamed of occasion and regalia that set the coming clash on a pedestal above any NXT Championship Match before it. “Biggest Money Match” wasn’t just a tagline, but was reflected in the event’s presentation from its opening moments.

This would be followed by a silent stare down where, ingeniously, Bobby Roode’s attention would be momentarily caught by Nakamura’s twitching leg. In the background, a split crowd lobbied back and forth in their support and, soon enough, we were treated to a psychologically inspired opening. Setting out the thread of their story early, both combatant’s began what ultimately amounted to nothing short of a spitting contest. The taunting, the theatrics, the envious pursuit of each man trying to prove themselves the bigger star, the earliest minutes unfurled as a territory grab in which champion and challenger were seeking to claim possession of the ring and, by extension, the championship and NXT itself.

Once this jostling of personalities inevitably morphs into the physical jostle of their fight, the viewer is treated to liquid pro wrestling, with fluid exchanges informed by the roles of each character – Roode unashamedly taking shortcuts to advantage, and Nakamura proving the impatient warrior. Indeed, the majority of the action tells a traditionalist’s tale of targeted body parts, one man a brutal and humiliating villain and the other a noble, battle scared hero. It was never the action itself that provided the match with its x factor, though. No; Nakamura and Roode’s real coup was the subtle psychology that betrayed Nakamura as uncharacteristically impatient – shaken, perhaps, to have encountered a star as charismatic and overblown as he was himself.

Roode recognises this impatience early on, and utilises it to get under the usually unreadable Nakamura’s skin on more than one occasion. The Glorious Roode plays possum when he knows Nakamura is seeking to set up his Kinshasa manoeuvre, and therein regains the impetus. He rattles Nakamura early when both men taunt one another to gain a psychological advantage. And ultimately it is Roode’s rolling from the ring to provoke Nakamura’s impatience once more that leads to Nakamura’s ill-advised leap from the top, injuring his knee in a twist that would go on to then feed the finish.

And what a finish; what a final act, even. I adored the manner in which the competitive urgency was ramped up in plenty of time before they moved toward their climax, shifting from Roode’s solid advantage to a ferocious back and forth before Nakamura makes his mistake. I loved how Nakamura’s knee misses its target in a moment much earlier on, slamming into the turnbuckle in something of a conceptual prelude to the bout’s closing moments. Most of all, I loved the unusual and exceptional means which the performance went to in order to conjure up a drama reminiscent of past NXT controversies (see: Bálor vs. Joe in Dallas).

For the drama of Roode’s eventual victory was not just achieved through in-ring action. Matt Bloom’s appearance ringside fed into the seriousness of the situation; the prolonged interaction between Nakamura and the referee, then latterly the trainer likewise, whipped the crowd into such a frenzy they eagerly chant “Let them fight!”; even the way in which Roode recovers from the Kinshasa in time to ambush the champion for an advantage helped to engross in what was a stunning manipulation of modern fan knowledge true to the best form of the Reality Era. What a delight!

Best yet, the manner in which the conclusion was extended provided a perfect example of what false finish – including a finisher kick out – can achieve when utilised with surgical intelligence rather than brutish inelegance. The Glorious DDTs; the single leg; the failed Triangle Choke; the exposed knee, and the right hands to it; the way in which Nakamura’s own finish was protected; every pause drawn out, and every emotional beat bled dry, created a spell-binding conclusion to an expertly produced, ingeniously compiled piece of artistry.

Even after that conclusion, the brilliance continued as Roode’s celebration struck a regicidal tone; listen as Graves proclaims him Kingslayer and Roode enjoys the fruit of his labours, having proven himself the better showman; the bigger money maker; and the true lone star of NXT.

I admire, applaud and thank Nakamura, Roode and the team involved with the production of a Must See Match for the ages. It’s one I will be happily revisiting time and time again for years to come, and I very much look forward to discovering further hidden depths in future viewings. I do not envy either man, though, because, at some point, if tradition is in play, they will be required to follow it. How they do that, I have no idea.

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