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Posted in: My Two Centsss
My Two Centsss - These Are The Seven Best NXT Matches + NXT Stars of 2017
By Super Chrisss
Dec 25, 2017 - 4:31:49 PM

Tom Jenner rocks!

Merry Christmas! I sincerely hope you had a very pleasant day and weekend with your friends and/or family. I had a great time hanging out - and drinking (shh!) with a bunch of friends this weekend, but since I have a very small family, it leaves me time to write a column for you. Consider it a...Chrissstmas present. He-he-he.

Anyways, I thought I would continue to look back at 2017 by highlighting another fantastic year for the minor leagues. Due to all the call-ups thanks to the Brand Extension 2.0 as well as The Superstar Shake-Up last April, we go into 2018 with a very different NXT landscape than the one we started with. Nevertheless, it was still difficult to narrow it all down to a mere seven NXT matches (versus the main roster selection). Once that's all done, I'll quickly revisit last year's best NXT matches before listing the seven top NXT stars of 2017. Sounds good? Then let's get the ball rolling with...

7. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship (NXT TakeOver: Orlando)

One thing I really enjoyed about Bobby Roode's NXT Championship run was how his matches not only felt deserving of closing the show, but tried so valiantly to not be usurped by another match of the card (as we saw in 2015 and 2016, the tag team title or women matches). That's not necessarily a knock on former NXT Champions such as Finn Balor, Samoa Joe or Roode's opponent at TakeOvers: San Antonio and Orlando, but rather a compliment of how the role of top heel in NXT fit Bobby to a tee.

To be fair, Roode and Nakamura had their work already cut up for them at TakeOver: Orlando, as (mini spoiler alert) the triple threat tag team championship match had drained the crowd thirty minutes earlier. Rather than trying to emulate that high-octane level of intensity and excitement, the two world-travelled veterans opted for a slower, more methodical pace - and it worked. Both men worked on one of his opponent's limbs (Roode's left arm vs. Shinsuke's left leg), which although took a little while to set-up, got the ball rolling for the latter part of the match when it became a content of endurance and one-man-upmanship. In the end, Roode was able to use his ring smarts to avoid Shinsuke's onslaught and deliver a Super Glorious DDT and retain his NXT Championship in his NXT.

6. Asuka vs. Nikki Cross in a Last Woman Standing Match for the NXT Championship (NXT)

2017 will not be remembered as the year that women's wrestling raised the bar for quality in the WWE. Instead, 2017 will be remembered for women being allowed to compete in matches previously reserved for male competitors such as the first-ever (and second) women's Money in the Bank ladder match, as well as the upcoming women's Royal Rumble. However, not enough praise is being given to Asuka and Sanity's Nikki Cross for competing in the first-ever Last Woman Standing Match in WWE/NXT history.

The problem with great TV matches is they're often looked over or easily missed because they're on TV, not a TakeOver or a Pay-Per-View. For instance, it's much easier to set time aside to watch SummerSlam and be treated to a great pair of matches than it is to go out of your way to see so-and-so from a random episode of Raw or SmackDown (plus the added presence of commercials neither help or motivate you).

That's why I'm not at all surprised to see Asuka vs. Cross from NXT back in June to be excluded from so many year-end countdowns as of late. No only did it air on a non-TakeOver event, but it also aired in a time where people aren't really watching WWE programming, at least most aren't. Regardless, Asuka and Cross put on a very violent and entertaining match that could have stolen the show at any TakeOver event. I would have booked this match for TakeOver: Chicago and save the triple threat with Cross and Ruby Riot for TV, but that's just me.

Long story short: if you missed out on Asuka vs. Cross, go back and watch it. You can thank me later.

5. Hideo Itami vs. Aleister Black (TakeOver: Brooklyn III)

Speaking of Chicago, it was around that time that Hideo Itami finally began to find his footing in NXT. Despite debuting for the brand back in 2014, Hideo had such rotten luck with injuries and never being in the right spot at the right moment. After failing to defeat Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship at TakeOver: Chicago, Itami began to get frustrated and started an underappreciated heel turn. This shift in character led Itami to TakeOver: Brooklyn III and NXT's newest, hotest superstar: Aleister Black.

If you're looking for a wrestling clinic, similar to the one Roode and Nakamura put on at Orlando, then Black vs. Itami is not for you. if you're watching to see a desperate challenger throw caution to the wind and throw everything in their arsenal to become a champion - like entry #6 - then Itami vs. Black is not for you, either. BUT if you want to see two guys kick and strike the living piss out of each other - Itami vs. Balor is just what the doctor ordered.

This is such a physical match, it really is. I've heard some people say they're not a fan of it, and maybe that's because they were looking for something that falls into one of the categories described above. I think if you take off the wrestling expert's hat for a second and just enjoy the action for what it is, you might be pleasantly surprised by the end result. In my opinion, this match was a big turning point for both men as it proved Itami was here to stay and Black was the real deal (as we'd soon find out...).

4. Ember Moon vs. Asuka for the NXT Women's Championship (TakeOver: Brooklyn III)

THIS is probably the match most people think the fondest of when going back to revisit TakeOver: Brooklyn III, and for good reason. Asuka vs. Moon II was - without much debate - the best women's match on either NXT or the main roster in 2017. They deserve that accolade not just because of a lack of competition, but because the action was an accurate reflection of the story they told getting here.

Ember Moon was not ready to become NXT Women's Champion at the start of 2017, and that inexperience cost her during her first match with Asuka at TakeOver: San Antonio. Come August, at TakeOver: BIII, Ember Moon was ready to dethrone the undefeated NXT Women's Champion. That difference in positioning created a much more dramatic atmosphere than the one which surrounded their previous encounter.

The funny thing is, even though it made sense in a lot of people's minds for Moon to finally overcome The Empress of Tomorrow at Brooklyn, the outcome was still very much in doubt. Was Moon truly the right person to hand Asuka her first loss? If not Moon, who could possibly defeat Asuka? That uncertainty made every near-fall and submission hold more intense and stressful than they probably had any right to be, as the drama was off the charts.

In the end, Asuka would find a way to retain her NXT Women's Championship in a decision I still don't agree with. Sure, Moon might be the titleholder today, but it feels similar to a high school student winning first place at the science fair but giving the trophy to the runner-up. In other words, Moon may be the champion, but that's only because Asuka isn't around; Asuka is still her surprior. Maybe they'll revisit that story someday in 2018 or 2019? Who knows...

3. Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate for the United Kingdom Championship (TakeOver: Chicago)

If I can be perfectly honest, before writing today's column, I already knew what the top three was going to be. However, ranking them from best to second-best to third-best was extremely difficult and challenging. They're all very different matches.

In the end, I put Dunne vs. Bate at number three simply because it had less of a story than the other two did. While the action and wrestling was more impressive than number two, as a wrestling fan, I appreciate a good narrative to accompany the movement in-between the ropes. Dunne vs. Bate - although visually stunning - didn't really have a story to sink your teeth into, other than Bate trying to retain his championship from his former friend and the antagonist from the U.K. tournament.

Suffice to say, the stuff both men did in this match was incredible. They pushed each other to the limit and beyond. They pulled off moves I have never seen pulled off. Both men delivered a jaw-dropping performance that stole the show at TakeOver: Chicago. Ultimately, the bad guy - but the right man - won, but the future is very bright for both the former and the current U.K. Champions. One of the most exciting matches of the year, no doubt about that.

2. Aleister Black vs. Velveteen Dream (TakeOver: War Games)

Another top contender for NXT Match of the Year that narrowly missed out on grabbing the number one spot, but for opposite reasons than stated above. Black vs. Dream was filled with story and psychological warfare, but lacked the repertoire of moves to be considered THE NXT Match of the Year. Still, for someone as new to the game as the former Patrick Clark from Tough Enough, that's a hell of an achievement.

For those who don't know, Black vs. Dream was built on the premise of Black refusing to "say his name", which Dream considered a huge slap in the face. What made this feud work, however, was how both characters are polar opposites. Black is the silent, goth-like assassin who comes out to heavy-metal music and likes to put away his opponents in quick fashion. On the opposite of the ring, you had Velveteen Dream who is flamboyant, wears flashy clothes, and makes his way to the ring accompanied by new-wave sounds before toying with his opponent. Truthfully, you couldn't find two guys on the NXT roster who had less in common than Dream and Black, both in character and in-ring experience.

Those limitations did not stop Dream by shocking the world and delivering a performance at TakeOver: War Games that far surpassed most people's expectations. Everything from Black's airbrushed tights to Black mimicking Dream's movements during the match to Dream yelling at Black to "say his name": everything flowed so perfectly. Moreover, Black picking up the microphone after a hard-fought victory and giving Dream what he wanted was a bone-chilling moment. As many have said - at War Games, Black went over, but Dream got over.

1. The Revival vs. #DIY vs. The Authors of Pain in a Triple Threat Elimination Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship (TakeOver: Orlando

I'm going to preface my selection by saying that Akam & Rezar (along with Paul Ellering) are one of the most underrated tag teams in WWE today. I remember a lot of people complaining last January when AOP defeated #DIY to become the NXT tag team champions. Those people thought the days of tag team wrestling stealing the show at TakeOvers were over now that The AOP held the titles.

Boy, were they wrong.

The Authors of Pain had one of the quietest, yet best, tag team runs of the entire year. Don't believe me? Name a bad match they had in 2017. It wasn't against Sanity. It wasn't inside of War Games. It wasn't against #DIY and it certainly wasn't at TakeOver: Orlando, when they defended their titles against both #DIY and The Revival.

I personally think this was the best NXT match of 2017 because it had the perfect mix of both story and action. The crowd was hot for this one from start to finish, as it received multiple "This is Awesome" chants and for good reason.

Some of the highlights - to name a few - included #DIY and The Revival working together to try to take down The AOP, including a four-man effort to put one of them through a table at ringside. However, because of #DIY and The Revival's rough history, the alliances never lasted for too long, and that would cost them in the end. They still found time to work with each other and borrow each other's double-team finisher - that was so cool!

What about the story, you ask? Well, if you're not as big of a fan of this match as I am, the you probably have sour grapes leftover from #DIY being the first team eliminated. I initially agreed with the crowd who chanted "Bullshit" to protest the #DIY elimination, but in hindsight, it made sense as to why The Revival was chosen as the last hope of beating the behemoths. TakeOver: Orlando wasn't about fan-favourites #DIY or the champions, The AOP. The match was a send-off for The Revival, who debuted on Raw the following Monday.

Think about it: which team was introduced first? Not the babyface team, but Dash & Dawson. Which team was tasked with trying to overcome the undefeatable AOP? Not the two-month title holders of #DIY, but the ONLY tag team in NXT history to win the NXT Tag team Championship more than once - The Revival. This match was Dash & Dawson's send-off, folks, and if you can appreciate it from that perspective, you will enjoy the final five minutes of this match much more than you did back in April, I promise you.

2017 was a fantastic year for tag team wrestling in both NXT and the main roster; therefore, it's only fitting that the best NXT match emerges from the tag division don't you think?

Honourable mentions:

-The Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong vs. The Undisputed Era vs. Sanity inside of War Games (TakeOver: War Games)
-#DIY vs. The Authors of Pain in a Ladder Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship (TakeOver: Chicago)
-Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate for the U.K. Championship (NXT)

Also, just for shits and giggles, here's a throwback to the seven best NXT matches of 2016:

7. Austin Aries vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (TakeOver: The End)
6. Asuka vs. Bayley for the NXT Women's Championship (TakeOver: Dallas)
5. Finn Balor vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT)
4. Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor for the NXT Championship (TakeOver: Dallas)
3. The Revival vs. American Alpha for the NXT Tag Team Championship (TakeOver: Dallas)
2. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn (TakeOver: Dallas)
1. The Revival vs. #DIY in a 2/3 Falls Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship (TakeOver: Toronto)

Finally, last but not least, here are my picks for the top seven male and female NXT wrestlers of 2017 (tag teams have been excluded because they'll be listed alongside main roster teams in an upcoming countdown). The following was taken into consideration:

-Overall match quality (and consistency)
-Titles won
-Impact on the brand
-Overall success

7. Aleister Black
6. Roderick Strong
5. Ember Moon
4. Andrade 'Cien' Almas
3. Drew McIntyre
2. Bobby Roode
1. Asuka

Honourable Mentions:

-Shinsuke Nakamura
-Kassius Ohno
-Hideo Itami


YOUR Two Centsss: Does your top three from NXT match mine? If so, how would you order them?

- Email: captain_charisma16@hotmail.com

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Currently playing: Super Mario Odyssey, Overwatch, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Pokemon Shuffle.

Happy Holidays!

NEXT TIME: Counting down the seven best WWE matches of 2017...

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