My Two Centsss - These are the Seven Best NXT Matches of 2016
By Super Chrisss
Dec 26, 2016 - 10:26:56 AM
Tom Jenner rocks!
Happy Boxing Day! Whenever and wherever you are reading this, I hope you had a very nice Christmas or Hanukah or whatever the hell you celebrate on December 25th. Over here on LordsOfPain.net, we continue to look back at the best of 2016 but this time, we’re turning our attention to NXT. Ever since it’s current incarnation as an alternative brand for WWE, I’ve been dividing my Match of the Year columns into two: one for NXT and one for the main roster. So many great matches take place every year on both shows that it’s simply impossible to combine them and choose only seven. Before we take a look back at a year in NXT where the tag team division managed to steal the thunder from the women’s division, here’s a reminder of last year’s seven best NXT matches:
7. Emma vs. Asuka (TakeOver: London)
6. Samoe Joe vs. Finn Balor (TakeOver: London)
5. Fatal-4-Way for the NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch (Takeover: Rival)
4. NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch (Takeover: Unstoppable)
3. Ladder Match for the NXT Championship: Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens (Takeover: Brooklyn)
2. NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley (Takeover: Brooklyn)
1. 30-Minute IronWoman Match for the NXT Women’s Championship: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (Takeover: Respect)
A few things to note from last year’s list. Firstly, the Four Horsewomen DOMINATED that countdown and I have little doubt their amazing matches in NXT last year played a major role in WWE trusting them to give them longer matches and main-events on Raw and Pay-Per-Views. Also, starting this year, I will no longer list multiple encounters between the same competitors (i.e. giving Sasha vs. Bayley back-to-back spots) because if I continue to do so, this year’s countdown would consist of nothing but DIY/Revival and Revival/American Alpha matches. As they say, variety is healthy. With that out of the way, let’s get it on!
7. Austin Aries vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (TakeOver: The End)
We kick things off with what many people – myself included – considered a dream match. Although I was unfamiliar with Shinsuke Nakamura prior to his NXT arrival at WrestleMania weekend, his match with Sami Zayn convinced me right away that he was a special talent. As for Aries, I had been underwhelmed by his NXT run up to this point, mainly because I was expecting great things from The Greatest Man That Ever Lived and his long list of epic matches in TNA. While Aries vs. Nakamura wasn’t on the same level as Zayn/Nakamura in Dallas, it was still a very strong, well-worked match. My only complaint is the match seemed to feel more like a catalyst to Aries’ slow heel turn rather than an exhibition match between two of NXT’s best wrestler. It’s a shame they never got a rematch as I have little doubt the crowd would be much more into it than they were at The End due to their clearly defined characters. Definitely worth a rewatch if you haven’t already.
6. Asuka vs. Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship (TakeOver: Dallas)
Unlike previous years, I won’t be counting down the best WWE Pay-Per-Views/NXT TakeOvers of the year because let’s be honest, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind which special event was head and shoulders above all others in 2016. TakeOver: Dallas was a stacked card in front of a raucous WrestleMania weekend audience that delivered from start to finish. Dallas put WrestleMania two nights later to shame and although the subsequent TakeOvers all delivered (no surprise there), there was just no touching Dallas. I enjoyed both of Asuka’s title matches against Bayley – as well as her Toronto match against Mickie James – but the only NXT women’s match that can be considered one of the year’s best was Asuka/Bayley I from Dallas. Despite having the unenviable task of immediately following Zayn/Nakamura, both ladies brought their A Game and had the crowd engaged from start to finish. Bayley wrestled this match differently than her series with Sasha: in those matches, Bayley was the underdog because it was believed she couldn’t win the big one. But against Asuka, no one knew if The Hugger could withstand Asuka’s strikes and retain her championship. After putting up a hell of a fight, Bayley passed out to The Asuka Lock, and Asuka would stay undefeated for the remainder of 2016. I’ve seen a few people praise their rematch at Brooklyn II higher than this one, but I greatly prefer this one. Dallas was such an awesome show, man.
5. Finn Balor vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT)
It’s only fitting that one of the faces of NXT – Finn Balor – would wrestle his last televised match against the new face of the brand. WWE had big plans for Balor on the main roster, as we would soon find out, so it made sense for NXT to spend almost a month hyping this match to take place on an episode of NXT rather than wait until the next TakeOver. Much like Aries vs. Nakamura, they tried to recreate the Zayn/Nakamura match from Dallas but came closer, I think. That’s partly because the story going into the match was familiar, with Shinsuke believing he had to go through Finn in order to begin his quest for the NXT Championship. The Demon obviously wouldn’t let that happen so easily, and so their match felt special, with or without the weeks of hype. I know some people weren’t a fan of their match – mainly due to Shinsuke forgetting to sell Balor’s offense for large portions of the contest – but if you look past that, it really was a spectacle. Balor put Nakamura over 100% clean, just like Sami did a few months earlier, and both men would go on to accomplish greater things in 2016, winning the Universal and NXT Championships, respectively. I have no doubt we’ll see those two go at it again on a much larger stage, but we got a nice appetizer in 2016.
4. Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor for the NXT Championship (TakeOver: Dallas)
Much like the Joe/Nakamura series, the Joe/Balor saga was met with mixed reviews from critics. No one could unanimously agree which match of their trilogy they preferred, but for yours truly, the Dallas one was the most memorable. From Balor coming out dressed as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, to Joe being busted open, and the awesome visual of Balor rising up from the crowd as if he was emerging straight from hell – their match in Dallas had a lot to like. It was the epitome of a battle between a demon and a monster to determine who deserved to leave as NXT Champion. Unlike some, I thought the constant referee stoppage due to Joe’s wounds actually enhanced the presentation and the competitors did their best to both work around the interruptions and weave it into the story they were telling. Plus, the crowd’s reaction to the stoppage was hilarious (filled with plenty of non-PG chants). Also to their credit, Joe and Balor had the show stolen from them by Zayn and Nakamura, yet they were still able to keep the crowd invested throughout. This is the kind of match you include in future DVD/Blu-Ray collections for both wrestlers, that’s for sure.
3. The Revival vs. American Alpha for the NXT Tag Team Championship (TakeOver: Dallas)
Are you sick of hearing about the city of Dallas yet? I hope not, because there’s still more discussion about the city’s TakeOver event to come. When I made the conscious decision to include only one match involving the same participants on this year’s countdown, I was torn between Revival and Alpha’s matches at Dallas and The End. Hell, even their 2/3 Falls match from NXT is a strong candidate for TV Match of the Year. In the end, I had to give the nod to Revival/Alpha I for a plethora of reasons, despite the one mega botch during the match. For one, the atmosphere in Dallas – as previously mentioned – was electric, and this was the perfect choice for the curtain-jerker. Then, excluding the aforementioned botch halfway through the match, all four men were flawless in their movements and mannerisms: every move was hit with fluidity and precision, every heel tactic used by Dash and Dawson was brilliantly evil. But what hit the final nail on the head was the post-match celebration once Alpha had secured the titles. The genuine emotions and tears streaming down Jason Jordan and Chad Gable’s faces created a moment of it’s own. I’m still a bit surprised that Alpha got the main roster call-up before Dash & Dawson did, but since it gave us DIY vs. Revival, I’m ok with that. This was one of the best ‘pure’ tag team matches you’ll ever see, people.
2. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn (TakeOver: Dallas)
What is there to say about this match that you haven’t heard a million times by now? In early April, most people were convinced they had just seen the undisputed Match of the Year take place. While that wasn’t necessarily true (as we shall see momentarily), Zayn vs. Nakamura exceeded everyone’s expectations and those expectations were already pretty damn high. Despite having no story on the surface other than, “Hey, Sami needs one final TakeOver match before going to the main roster full-time. Let’s have him wrestle the new kid on the block, Shinsuke Nakamura.” However, the announce team deserves to be applauded for painting a background story of how Sami was prepared to defend his home-turf of NXT against the new generation or the ‘intruder’, Nakamura. This match – along with many other in NXT history – is one that would not have been as effective if it took place on a WWE Pay-Per-View because of the contrast in booking, atmosphere and the announce team. Zayn vs. Nakamura was an instant classic that was prepared to run away with the NXT – and WWE – MOTY honour until this match took place…
1. 2/3 Falls Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship: DIY vs. The Revival (TakeOver: Toronto)
In 2015, women’s wrestling occupied the top spots in the year’s best NXT matches. This year, we saw tag team excellency thanks to the combined efforts of American Alpha, DIY, and of course, The Revival. I mentioned earlier how the 2/3 Falls match between Alpha and The Revival was good, but not good enough to top their match at Dallas. So what makes the 2/3 Falls match from Toronto the superior of the two encounters? Well, for starters, the story being told. Revival – as per usual – had cheated to retain their titles at TakeOver: Brooklyn II and tried their best to weasel out of a rematch with Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa as long as they could. During the stretch between the two TakeOvers, DIY had to overcome many obstacles as a tag team. Gargano & Ciampa actually faced off against each other in a grueling first round match of the Cruiserweight Classic during the summer, which saw Ciampa show glimpses of his darker, more psychotic side. However, they were able to move past that friction and come close to advancing to the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic before falling to The Authors of Pain thanks to interference from The Revival. That interference would bite Dash & Dawson in the ass, as they would be forced to put their tag team championship on the line against the two indie veterans at TakeOver: Toronto.
Why does any of that matter? Because in the back of your mind, while watching the 2/3 Falls match, you couldn’t help but wonder if Ciampa would lose his cool if Gargano cost his team the titles for the second TakeOver in a row. Hell, there were times when I suspected Ciampa would turn on his friend and partner during the match. After The Revival recorded the first fall, if you thought American Alpha were the underdogs last spring, DIY had officially become the under-underdogs. The crowd was hot and 100% emotionally invested in the contest and the action was nail-biting. DIY would eventually find a way to win the final two falls and the NXT tag team titles, but there were too many false finishes to count. An amazing match and fitting way to end one of the best years for teams in NXT.
Asuka vs. Mickie James for the NXT Women’s Championship (TakeOver: Toronto)
Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn (NXT)
Samoa Joe vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship (TakeOver: Toronto)
YOUR Two Centsss: What was your favourite NXT match of 2016?
UP NEXT: The seven best WWE matches of 2016. Available as of Wednesday, December 28th!
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