How Bray Wyatt Followed The Buzzards To The WWE Championship

After the harrowing finale to the Festival of Friendship on Raw, it would be easy to forget that something brilliant happened on Sunday. Bray Wyatt became the WWE Champion. But Wyatt’s journey to the top has had its ups and downs, to say the least. Let’s take a look at how the backwoods cult leader became champion of the world.

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Everyone knows about Wyatt’s humble beginnings as Husky Harris, a contestant on the second series of gameshow NXT where he was hilariously dubbed “the tank with a Ferrari engine”. Harris was eliminated from the show, and despite a brief spell in The Nexus, he was quite literally punted off TV thanks to Randy Orton. But, a few months later, he resurfaced in FCW sporting longer hair, a fedora and a Hawaiian shirt. The man we now know as Bray Wyatt was born and when FCW soon became NXT, he finally had a platform to shine.

Wyatt was an early standout of the refurbished NXT, simply because there was no one else like him. He would make his entrance to Mark Crozer and the Rels spooky Broken Out In Love and deliver entrancing promos. He would preach that he was more monster than man, the Eater of Worlds. His style was so refreshing and exciting and when he brought Luke Harper & Erick Rowan under his spell, NXT suddenly had a family of monsters ready to unleash chaos.

It’s a shame the early NXTs aren’t available on the Network as there’s some great stuff hidden away, including all of the Wyatts’ run. If you missed any of it, it’s worth tracking down whatever you can on Youtube and Dailymotion because it’s easy to see why people were so excited by this trio. Bray was arguably the top act on NXT. He lead Harper & Rowan to the NXT Tag Team Championships, and faced off with guys like Adrian Neville, Corey Graves, William Regal and he even had a match with Chris Jericho at Full Sail.

From May 2013, vignettes featuring The Wyatt Family began airing on Raw. They were coming. They were the first NXT act to have such a build-up to their debut. Expectation levels were rising and after six weeks they finally appeared on Raw, laying out Kane. Their attacks continued on people like R-Truth & 3MB but as they tried to establish themselves on Raw, they made one final visit to NXT:

Their last appearance at Full Sail was utterly electrifying. Once Harper & Rowan dispatched poor old Aiden English, Bray Wyatt took centre stage. He looked every bit the charismatic leader he was cracked up to be. Hell, after hearing this, I wanted to join the family and pledge my allegiance to Wyatt. It’s like he was declaring war on the world, promising to bring down the machine. The instant rapturous chants of “Bring it down! Bring it down!” just showed Wyatt’s ability to captivate an audience and hold them in the palm of his hand. To this day, it remains one of the greatest moments in NXT history and had fans like me dreaming of what the Wyatts could achieve.

Unfortunately, the Wyatts’ time on the main roster didn’t quite start right. The feud with Kane resulting in an inferno match at Summerslam wasn’t ideal but their battles with Daniel Bryan and CM Punk showed their promise. Daniel Bryan joining the family conjured up dreams of Bray & Daniel bringing down the machine together, but the angle was aborted fairly quickly. Bryan turned on the Wyatts two weeks later and while the sight of Bryan decimating Wyatt in the steel cage and leading the entire arena in yes chants is one of the most iconic moments ever seen on Raw and helped propel Daniel Bryan to stardom, it did little to establish the Wyatts as a force. However, the resultant match between Wyatt and Bryan at the Royal Rumble was fantastic and showed that Wyatt was just as good in the ring as he was with a mic in his hand.

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What happened next was the Wyatts’ finest moment yet. Back in November, the Wyatts came face-to-face with The Shield. The WWE’s two dominant three-man units stepped on each other’s toes and sent imaginations into overdrive. The Wyatts v. The Shield was suddenly everyone’s dream match. It came to nothing initially but by the time February came around, both teams were very much aware of each other again. Whenever they came face-to-face, arenas came alive. They could get a “This is awesome!” chant just for being in each other’s vicinity. The match was finally set for Elimination Chamber. In 2014’s match of the year, the Wyatts and The Shield went to war in Minneapolis. The match was everything you hoped it could be and after 20 minutes of chaos, it was the Wyatts who emerged victorious. The Wyatts were heading to Wrestlemania having proven they were the top faction in WWE, what could go wrong?

John Cena, that’s what.

It all started to go wrong when Bray took on the face that runs the place. Despite walking into Mania accompanied by a superb live performance by Mark Crozer and having a great match with Cena, Wyatt lost. Over the next few months, the Wyatts looked like losers. All Wyatt had to show for it was a win over Cena in a cage match at Extreme Rules which absurdly ended with Cena being distracted by a singing child. The match was voted the worst of 2014 by readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. The Wyatts’ mystique died when Cena demolished them single-handedly on Raw after his crushing defeat to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam.

With that, it all unravelled for the Wyatts. Bray “released” Harper & Rowan and the three went their separate ways. Harper initially coped by throwing his lot in with The Authority, winning the Intercontinental Championship and having the only good match at the legendarily bad Tables, Ladders, Chairs and Stairs PPV. Rowan got a bum deal as he was revealed to be a savant and an award-winning vintner. That’s still hilarious to write.

Bray Wyatt went on his own, starting a feud with Dean Ambrose which will forever be remembered for the ridiculous exploding TV incident. Man, TLC+S was really shit. Faulty electronics aside, Wyatt still had his fans and reminded us all of his ability when he was the only good thing about the 2015 Royal Rumble match, finishing as the Iron Man and racking up six eliminations. Any hopes of 2015 being the year of Wyatt were dashed as he lost again at Wrestlemania, this time to The Undertaker, and simply put, Bray Wyatt became a joke. There was no doubt over his talent, but Wyatt was presented as an impotent charlatan for the next year. The Family were eventually reformed, and Braun Strowman joined the party but an encounter with the Brothers of Destruction encapsulated how spectacularly mishandled the Wyatts were. Undertaker & Kane were kidnapped and Wyatt stole their powers. Just two weeks later, Taker & Kane returned TOTALLY FINE and beat up the Wyatts. Taker & Kane then handily defeated Wyatt & Harper at Survivor Series.

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2015 was bad for the Wyatts and 2016 didn’t start any better. An angle with Brock Lesnar went nowhere, mainly thanks to Bray’s back injury, and the Wyatts headed into Wrestlemania with nothing. At Mania, the Wyatts confronted The Rock with disastrous consequences. Now, plenty of people say being in the ring with The Rock elevates the other guy, but I fail to see how The Rock calling Wyatt a fat Duck Dynasty wannabe with no balls elevated him. It was embarrassing. The Wyatts were so directionless at this stage that even Wikipedia describes their April feud with League of Nations as “unexplained”.

WWE had killed my interest in the Wyatts. Even when things started to go south for them, I still held out faint hope for them but at this point, I was over them. It seemed like such a waste to invest any time in them. That final appearance in NXT seemed so far away. That promo gave me goosebumps, now I just didn’t care.

But the draft happened.

Bray Wyatt was sent to Smackdown and slowly he set about re-building his reputation. The addition of Randy Orton revitalised the Wyatts. You’d have been forgiven for thinking the association would end in two weeks as it did with Bryan but they stuck together and won the tag titles, incredibly the Wyatts’ first championships albeit about three years too late. Randy won the Royal Rumble and two weeks later, Bray Wyatt became WWE Champion.

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In the same night, in the same match, Bray Wyatt pinned John Cena (fucking finally) and pinned AJ Styles to become THE champion. The same championship held by Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels & Steve Austin. No one can take that achievement away from Bray Wyatt. Last year, he didn’t have a match at Wrestlemania. This year, he will be performing on the grandest stage of them all as the WWE Champion. It’s a testament to Bray’s charisma and talent that he can appear to be dead and buried but can re-legitimise himself with a few months good work. Despite all he’s had to deal with, Bray as WWE Champion just seems right.

Being a Wyatt fan has been brutal at times. I gave up, admittedly. But, I’ll sheepishly climb back on the bandwagon and once again follow the buzzards.

WWE NXT 1/2/17 Review: I Can Be Your Hero, Shinsuke

Chris Hero can kiss away the pain.

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So much for his great reintroduction then. There he is consoling Shinsuke Nakamura as no one acknowledges why a guy who was fired years ago is suddenly backstage. I mean, Chris Hero’s return is no secret considering WWE love plastering everything significant that happens at an NXT taping on social media right away but it would have been nice to see him get a mention: “We know who that is, Graves, etc.”. I’m glad he’s got a second chance though. Letting him go was a mistake in the first place from WWE’s perspective, but Hero responded in the best possible way, he set about proving that he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world until they had to bring him back. WWE’s hoovering up everyone with a hint of talent at the minute so they had no excuse to ignore Chris Hero.

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The show opened with Ember Moon v. Aliyah. Ember’s work is so smooth, even the way she enters the ring is slick. In-ring wise, she’s easily the most advanced in the division (Asuka excluded obviously) and she has the best moveset. They could do with expanding on her character a bit, I think she’s a mythical warrior werewolf or something. If that was cleared up a bit, then she could be built up as a legitimate contender to Asuka. A legendary goddess who draws her power from the moon or whatever she is sounds like she could hack it with a murderous clown. Aliyah looked pretty good here too. I’ve been quite impressed with her whenever she’s had a chance recently. She’s only 22, so could have a lot of potential, again she needs more character than wears cat ears and is from Toronto. It wasn’t to be for her though as Ember landed The Eclipse for the win and became the neeeeewwww Women’s Revolution Champion. The title has floated around a bit since Bayley had to vacate a few months ago, but this website once again has a top star holding its imaginary title.

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I loved that the aforementioned murderous clown’s reaction to Ember Moon was “Ember who? She work here?” Cathy Kelly’s serious “Yes, she does work here” reply was surprisingly funny. Asuka’s off to determine the best way to harvest a blood moon gladiator’s soul.

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It was great to see Tye Dillinger get his moment at the Royal Rumble. Entering at 10 was the obvious joke, but it was so obvious they couldn’t really afford to do anything else. Seeing how humble he is and knowing how long he’s had to scrap for his place, the least he deserved was a big cheer from 50,000 people.

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Waves back

Tyler Bate is gonna be yuge. When the field for the United Kingdom tournament was revealed, I pegged Tyler as a possible winner but thought they’d probably go with Pete Dunne or Trent Seven because Tyler is so young. But, over that weekend Tyler showed just how good he is and had Blackpool going mad for him . I can’t believe he’s only 19, mainly because of how absurdly good his moustache is for a 19-year-old. A great performance here from both the UK Champion and Oney Lorcan. It’s impressive how Tyler already knows how to naturally work the hard camera, the way he powered up for a second airplane spin was superb. Also, Tyler Driver 97 is a great name for a finisher. It sounds like a Nintendo 64 game that everyone gets nostalgic for even though it was crap.

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The best part of the episode was saved for the departing Corey Graves who got a lovely farewell video package. He said on Twitter that he didn’t deserve it but he really does. He’s been around since the days of FCW and the video showed how much commitment he has. I think several other wrestlers crediting him with helping to develop their character. That’s surprising to me because his only character trait as a wrestler was I have stay down tattooed on my knuckles and I’m going to show you at frequent intervals. But, this video showed how much more he did. He would lay cables and do sound checks just so he could be involved. He could have easily sat at home and sulked but he kept himself busy and got the commentary gig. Two years later, and he’s the most entertaining commentator in WWE. It’ll take a while to get used to NXT without him but at least he went out calling a Drifter match.

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Corey’s story of giving a guy laying in the street playing guitar $50 simply because he wasn’t Elias Samson might have been his best line to date. Even Tom managed to get a zinger in: “you’ve still got Saxton on Raw.” My God, Byron is even the butt of Tom Phillips’ jokes, how low can you get?

The match itself was ok, nothing special. No Way Jose is a bit of fun and Samson generates heat if nothing else but I can’t pretend I was particularly interested. Jose won with a pop-up forearm smash. Does getting a forearm in the face hurt more if you’re airborne? At least it looks good and, as an added bonus, we didn’t have to hear Elias sing.

Next week: maybe Chris Hero’s return is finally confirmed! As long as we don’t have sit through 17 weeks worth of Emmalina-style vignettes before it finally happens, I’ll be happy.

WWE NXT Takeover San Antonio Review: The Only Way To Live

For a show I wasn’t particularly hyped for and a card that wasn’t exactly eye-grabbing, this was pretty damn good. Let’s look back at NXT Takeover San Antonio.

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The big news is that we have a new NXT Champion. Bobby Roode beat Shinsuke Nakamura in a slow burner main event that caught fire by the end. NXT Championship matches were a consistent let-down in 2016, they weren’t bad but they certainly didn’t reach the heights they could have, so it was good to see that rectified early in 2017. This was probably the best NXT Championship match since the Finn Balor v. Kevin Owens ladder match back at the first Takeover Brooklyn.

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Roode’s amazing entrance aside, it took a little while to get going but I was well into it by the end. Everything after Nakamura wrecking his knee was brilliant, it probably helped that he remembered how to sell. WWE does the blurred reality thing so well that I was starting to question whether he was legitimately injured. Bringing out the physio and having Matt Bloom at ringside was a good touch. When Roode immediately grabbed Nakamura and gave him the Glorious DDT after Shin said he could continue, I jumped out of my seat. Nakamura kicking out and fighting on for a couple of minutes really sold his toughness and it was good for the prestige of the title, Nakamura’s willingness to risk his knee to try and remain champion shows what the title means.

It’s the right call to have Nakamura drop the title. I like him, it’s hard not to like a guy that’s brimming with so much charisma, but his title reigns have been forgettable. It would have helped if he had faced someone other than Samoa Joe obviously, but the title just seemed like an accessory, as if NXT are saying “Look, Nakamura is our champion, how great that is that?” That’s probably why it was such a nice surprise to see him desperately hanging on towards the end. I’m looking forward to Roode’s reign as he’s such a hilarious prick. We’ll probably get Roode v. Nakamura II because WWE is married to the rematch clause but hopefully we can get some good stories revolving around the NXT title again, beyond this guy has fought round the world and is now in NXT because of the buzz or whatever. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope Bobby Roode makes the NXT Championship GLORIOUS.

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New champions in the tag division too as the Authors of Pain defeated #DIY. Considering AOP are two young lads with very little experience, they’re very impressive. As well as being the new tag champ, Rezar is the new Revolution Champion after pinning Tommaso Ciampa. AOP have been booked well, even if NXT relies too much on undefeated streaks, and giving them the titles makes sense. My only concern is that it turns into an Ascension reign. Apart from #DIY there are no established babyface teams in NXT. Shane Thorne’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time and TM-61 are now out of commission for at least seven months. You could run The Revival at AOP, which sounds like a lot of fun, but would they do heels v. heels? That’s ignoring how Dash & Dawson could be called up at any minute. Might it be time to see more of Heavy Machinery? Putting Tucker Knight & Otis Dozovic up against Akam & Rezar would probably require a reinforced ring.

It’s a shame that #DIY’s reign had to end but as they are the scrappiest babyfaces that ever scrapped, the money is in them chasing. Gargano & Ciampa have developed into a great team with a fantastic chemistry and it’s only because of that that they presented such a good challenge to AOP. They look they would barely be a starter for two monstrous fuckers like AOP, but they’re so good they make it look competitive. They’ll get their rematch but you have to wonder where they’ll end up next. The cruiserweight division seems like a waste for them, here’s hoping they stay as a team and challenge whoever the champs are on Raw or Smackdown.

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Before the show, I was most looking forward to the women’s match but it might have been my least favourite match of the night. That’s not to say it was bad, but it ended quite abruptly and didn’t do half the things it could’ve. What happened made a lot of sense, but what makes sense isn’t always the fun option. I wasn’t surprised by Asuka retaining. Incredibly, they managed to build her as a great babyface heading into the event. No easy feat considering a heel turn has been teased recently. In that episode where Asuka was beaten up and humiliated by the Aussie girls, I felt so sorry for her. When she staggered into Regal’s office on the verge of tears, covered in whatever Peyton & Billie poured over her and with makeup streaming down her face, I just wanted to make her a nice cup of tea and give her a hug. Granted, Asuka would sooner tear my throat out with her teeth than accept a hug, but it was really effective. After that, I really wanted her to retain and she looked like her true self defending her title against three other women.

I seen a lot of people questioning why one of Peyton & Billie didn’t just lie down for the other. To me, it’s the same as asking why bad guys are such bad shots in movies. Think about it, if an evil henchman was an elite sniper, they would just blow the brains out of the lone hero. Terrorists wins, movie over. It would suck. If Peyton had laid down for Billie, it would’ve FUCKING SUCKED. Asuka’s title reign ending like that would have been bullshit of the highest order. What’s the point of a near year-long reign if it’s going to end like that? If, when, Asuka loses the title, she needs to actually lose to someone because it makes whoever beats her look fantastic. At this point, Nikki Cross or Ember Moon looks most likely, so give Asuka the 365-day reign and have her lose to one of those two. Either works because Nikki is a psycho who isn’t intimidated by Asuka and Ember winning would establish her as a badass hero, plus, the O-Face is one of the few moves that looks like it might be powerful enough to finish Asuka.

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Seth Rollins used his head! Seth showing up to confront Triple H at NXT is so logical, I can’t believe it happened in WWE. Seth has been spectacularly mishandled since returning from injury but this is the man I want to see. He was so pissed off that his hand was violently shaking. That’s the fire I want to see from a screwed-over man. I don’t want wisecracks, I want a man invading the ring declaring he’s taking this bitch over. The build to Rollins v. HHH started way too early so we ended up treading water for months, but it’s a match I really want to see. It has Wrestlemania show-stealing potential.

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The undercard exceeded expectations too. Andrade Cien Almas v. Roderick Strong will undoubtedly be some people’s match of the night because they beat the mess out of each other. Almas’ heel turn has been the making of him and I’m turning into a massive fan of his. My only complaint was Strong winning. This was easily Roddy’s best performance in NXT but his character is non-existent. He sounds like he’s never spoken before. I get that injuries turned all plans upside down so he’s now a face de to circumstance but I don’t want to cheer him. He just seems like a total geek as a face. I daresay an Almas-like turn would benefit him immensely but my fear is that he’s being built up as a challenger to Bobby Roode. The crowd will almost unanimously get behind Roode, which is not good. He should be breaking backs over turnbuckles and lording it over fans, preferably without saying anything.

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Will Tye Dillinger ever win? It seems strange that he’s being tipped for a call-up despite never winning a big match but he’s often a victim of circumstance. He makes opponents look great, he’s a safe pair of hands and he’s not the hot new thing. Tye losing was the right call because Sanity needed the rub. If their leader had lost to Tye Dillinger, how could we buy them as a threat? Besides, every loss seems to build up more support for Tye anyway. I’m excited about what Sanity could achieve but I’m cautious because I felt the same way about the Wyatts in NXT. I hope they keep trying to recruit lost souls and turn into a genuinely dominant force.

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Before we go, it would be remiss of me to not pay tribute to Corey Graves. This was his last time calling NXT and he will be a big miss. Nigel McGuiness is a great choice to replace him, though. Corey was at his usual best last night, be it fawning over Bobby Roode or his“Tranquillo, Phillips!” I hope him and Phillips will be reunited at the table someday just to hear another “SHUT UP, TOM!”

The Best WWE NXT Matches of 2016

Well, it looks like Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada have already got Match of the Year 2017 sewn up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look back on the top ten NXT matches of 2016. Sami Zayn & Adrian Neville took home the NXT Revolution Match of the Year Award for 2014, while the 2015 accolade went to Sasha Banks & Bayley, who will it go to for 2016?

By the way, I was going to apologise for the lack of variety in the list but forget it, I can’t help it if the same people keep having great matches.

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#10 NXT Championship: Samoa Joe v. Shinsuke Nakamura (c). NXT Takeover Toronto.

A good, and at times great, match slightly let down by inconsistent selling by Nakamura. You feel like these two were capable of something special together but it never quite happened during their series of matches.

Samoa Joe grabbed a surprise win by kicking Nakamura in the balls, slamming him on the ring steps, and delivering the Muscle Buster to become the first-ever two-time NXT Champion.

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#9 NXT Tag Team Championship: Enzo Amore & Big Cass v. The Revival (c). WWE Roadblock.

Say yeah!

An impressive title defence from The Revival on the main roster show Roadblock. Scott Dawson stole the show by denying Enzo a tag in breathtaking fashion. Enzo caught a break from the beating he was receiving, ducked a swing from Dawson on the outside, skipped past Dash, slid into the ring, looked to make the tag but was absolutely cleaned out by Dawson who had reappeared from nowhere. Brilliant timing and awareness from Dawson and one of the early indications that The Revival were a cut above the average tag team.

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#8 NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka v. Bayley (c). NXT Takeover Dallas.

A heroic last stand from Bayley as NXT Women’s Champion as Asuka ascended to the top of the division. Bayley put in a terrific performance and looked the equal of Asuka for most of the match. Eventually, Asuka’s quality and experience shone through as she ragdolled Bayley into the Asuka Lock and clung on to choke the fight out of the champion.

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#7 NXT Tag Team Championship Two-Out-Of-Three Falls Match: American Alpha v. The Revival (c). July 6.

We go hard, all day, all night

All my proud southern people who be ready to fight say yeah (Yeah!)

Yeah (Yeah!)

Yeah (Yeah!)

Yeah (Yeah!)

A Two-Out-Of-Three Falls Match was the only way to settle a rivalry as good as American Alpha v. The Revival. Alpha took the first fall as Wilder tapped to Jason Jordan’s ankle lock as Chad Gable did the same to Scott Dawson on the outside. The Revival levelled the score as their work on Jordan’s left knee paid off as he tapped to Dawson’s inverted figure four. The chase for the decisive fall featured near falls galore from various pinning combinations. It came when Wilder saved Dawson from being German suplexed off the apron (and presumably murdered) by Gable, and the champs combined to brutally Shatter Machine the Olympian on the apron and seal the win.

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#6 Two-Out-Of-Three Falls No.1 Contender Match: Samoa Joe v. Sami Zayn. March 9.

Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn went to war in an epic 43 minute encounter just for an opportunity at the NXT Champion, Finn Balor. Previous attempts to name a #1 contender ended in both men making Baron Corbin tap out at the same time and a double pin. The fact it took a battle like this to confirm who deserved the title shot shows how good Joe and Sami are.

The first fall alone took 22 minutes as Samoa Joe busted Zayn’s muscles to go one up. Ten minutes later, Zayn caught Joe in a Koji Clutch in the middle of the ring, forcing Joe to submit before any lasting damage was done. Zayn never knows when to say enough is enough and Joe had to leave him in the Coquina Clutch until Zayn passed out to settle the match.

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#5 NXT Women’s Championship: Bayley v. Asuka (c). NXT Takeover Brooklyn II.

It was clear from Asuka’s debut that she was a special talent. Emma & Dana Brooke forced her to leave her own welcoming party, but just before she went to the back, Asuka threw them a terrifying smile. She was going to kill them. A year later, with no defeats and a trail of bodies behind her, Asuka walked into Brooklyn as the Women’s Champion. It’s been great to watch her steadily grow in confidence (not that she particularly lacked it in the first place), and realise that no one is in her league.

Bayley came closest to ending Asuka’s streak in Dallas, but even then Asuka just choked the champion out and took her title. It was four months before the rematch took place, but Bayley came into it hungry to be the one to put a halt to the Empress of Tomorrow’s dominance and become the first-ever two-time NXT Women’s Champion.

You’d have been forgiven for thinking Bayley was in over her head early on when she jumped off the top rope only to be met by a casual face-breaking knee from Asuka. But despite the seeming invincibility of Asuka, Bayley kept coming back for more. She was taking every shot from the best and fighting back. She ate five thundering kicks to the body but caught the sixth and demanded to be hit in the face. When she was trapped in the Asuka Lock, she didn’t pass out but fought out and stunned the champion with a Bayley-to-Belly. The result was an agonising two-count, Becky and Sasha, sitting in the front row, thought it was over. Bayley went even closer when she turned another Asuka Lock into a pin. Asuka wouldn’t be beaten on this day but in a final act of defiance, Bayley stood firm after a kick to the head and slapped Asuka in the face. Asuka responded with a spinning heel kick and as Bayley struggled to her knees, Asuka charged up a devastating roundhouse kick and connected to put an end to Bayley’s fight.

Even a super-confident Asuka had to admit Bayley had pushed her all way and showed her respect to the beaten challenger, leaving her the ring. Everybody in the Barclays Center rose to their feet to applaud Bayley. She embraced her fellow Horsewomen and her family on the way out as she left NXT for the final time.

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#4 NXT Tag Team Championship: #DIY v. The Revival (c). NXT Takeover Brooklyn II.

We ain’t ashamed if we clearing the park

And if you’re looking for trouble our bite is worse than our bark

Cause we them proud southern boys ’til the day we dead

We got fists made of fire and our neck all red

This was the day I swore to stop underestimating The Revival. At this point, I’d seen them have MOTY contenders but for some reason I was still sleeping on them. Out of the three title matches at Brooklyn, I had the least anticipation for this one, but it was the match of the night. It was time to accept the Revival truly were the #TopGuys.

The Revival’s shithousery reached new heights as they ruthlessly exposed every loophole possible. Every time the ref’s back was turned was an excuse to cheat some more. The peak of it came when Dash Wilder staged a fall over the top rope into the ring, distracting the ref. As he dealt with Dash, he missed a tag between #DIY. Ciampa was none the wiser and came in ready to clean up, only to be denied by the ref. Ciampa was livid and it was only made worse by The Revival punishing Gargano with a backbreaker/elbow drop combo behind the ref’s back.

It wasn’t just The Revival who impressed me here, as #DIY established themselves as an outstanding babyface team. It’s amazing how they steadily got the crowd behind them here, by the end Brooklyn was practically begging for Gargano & Ciampa to win, as every near fall got a huge reaction. Cruelly, #DIY thought they’d won it with the superkick/knee strike combo as the ref counted the three but realised Wilder’s foot on the ropes, placed there by Dawson.

The chance was gone for the challengers. The Revival capitalised on their break by hurling Ciampa into the ring post to take him out and Wilder absolutely wrecked Gargano’s knee with a chop block. After a top rope stomp to the knee, Dawson locked Gargano into an inverted figure four for a very reluctant submission.

The Revival might have left as champions but it was a star-making match for Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa and they received a standing ovation as Ciampa helped a gutted Gargano to the back.

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#3 NXT Tag Team Championship: The Revival v. American Alpha (c). NXT Takeover The End.

We keep it dirty (Dirty)

We keep it gritty (Gritty)

Don’t need your sig, don’t need your city

In Dallas, American Alpha dethroned The Revival to the delight of just about everyone. Alpha instantly won the affection of crowds with outstanding tag team wrestling and infectious enthusiasm. It seemed like they would be champions for a long time and that this match at The End would be the first title defense of many.

Alpha looked like they were in the mood. Chad Gable showed off his technical prowess in the early goings while Jason Jordan hit two beautiful dropkicks. Full Sail were soon on their feet as Alpha simultaneously escaped back suplexes, used a leg takedown and slapped on in-sync ankle locks. Meanwhile, The Revival did what they do best, creatively cheat. Wilder tagged Dawson’s extended foot, which they knew full well was not a legal tag. As the ref stopped Wilder from entering, Dawson took the chance to deliver a poke in the eye. Their constant cheating is so galling and yet you can’t help but be impressed by how they do it. I think they juts do it because they can.

The match took place at such a rapid speed that it was hard to keep up. There were far too many creative double teams from both pairs to take note of, Jordan went utterly ballistic on a hot tag and Gable somehow countered a Doomsday Device into a belly-to-belly suplex. Gable tagged Jordan with the intention of hitting Grand Amplitude but Dawson arrived to push Gable out of the ring and catch his partner, and a confused Jordan turned around into a Shatter Machine. The ref counted the three and The Revival shockingly became the first team to hold the NXT Tag Team Championships twice.

An absolute dream to watch. The two best tag teams in NXT history, at the top of their game, going at each other. 100 mph from start to finish, with no pause for breath and a surprise winner to cap it all off.

diy-v-revival-toronto

#2 NXT Tag Team Championship Two-Out-Of-Three Falls Match: #DIY v. The Revival (c). NXT Takeover Toronto.

We keep it dirty (Dirty)

We keep it gritty (Gritty)

All my proud southern people let me know that you’re with me!

I thought I had learned my lesson after Brooklyn, and fully expected this to be the match of the night but somehow, my expectation were exceeded again. What a match this was. The first fall came early as Johnny Gargano’s slingshot spear was countered into a nasty high-angle Shatter Machine. Unsurprisingly he was pinned to hand The Revival a 1-0 lead. From there, Dash & Dawson targeted the rattled Gargano using their usual array of snideness, taking full advantage of five counts, distracting the ref and even dropping in a Hart Attack. But it was Ciampa who got things rolling for his team, stunning Wilder with a knee lift, and he dragged Gargano along with him to hit Dawson with the superkick/knee strike combo to level the match.

It was the hunt for the third and final fall that sent this match to the next level. The Revival were so desperate to remain champions they resorted to using their titles as weapons. With the ref distracted once again, Wilder threw his belt into the ring and Dawson smashed it into Gargano’s shin as he attempted a roll-through kick. The Revival were set to condemn Gargano to the same fate he met in Brooklyn and Dawson locked in the inverted figure four. Johnny Wrestling groaned in pain and came so close to tapping out but found a second wind and clawed his way to the rope, much to Toronto’s joy. For a final insult, The Revival lined up #DIY’s own finisher on Gargano, but he ducked and Wilder inadvertently superkicked his partner. A horrified Wilder turned around and, in one of the moments of the year, walked straight into #DIY’s take on the Shatter Machine, only for the pin to be broken by Dawson. Gargano’s knee was still giving him trouble, and it got a whole lot worse when Wilder blew out Johnny’s good knee with a vicious chop block. Gargano couldn’t stand but had enough skill to go back and forth with pinning combinations and took his opportunity to apply the Gargano Escape. There was truly no escape and Dawson couldn’t bail him out as Ciampa subdued him and locked in his bridging armbar. Dash & Dawson grabbed each other’s hand and tried to cling on but it was no good and they eventually tapped simultaneously. Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa were the new NXT Tag Team Champions.

2016 was truly the year of the tag team in NXT. It took a while for the NXT tag team division to kick into life, but after rumblings of a revolution towards the end of 2015, the division became the main event last year. #DIY, The Revival, American Alpha… the tag team division simply never had this level of competition before. Add in the emergence of the Authors of Pain, TM61 and Sanity and the division has potential to rule 2017 too. But, as 2016 went, #DIY v. The Revival in Toronto was the tag team match of the year.

nakamura arrives

 

#1 Sami Zayn v. Shinsuke Nakamura. NXT Takeover Dallas.

In the last two years I’ve given MOTY to great matches that were heavy on story. In 2014, it was all about Sami Zayn finally winning the big one. A year-long chase for the NXT Championship concluded in epic fashion. It was incredible watching Zayn agonise over whether to take a short cut and use the title as a weapon and then seeing him celebrate with the entire locker room after he won. In similar fashion, last year’s top match featured Bayley achieving her lifelong dream. The moment she dumped Sasha on her head with a poisoned rana and decided it was time to win was legendary. I even ranked it above matches that were probably better in terms of ring-work because the story was so good. Which brings us onto why this match is so special, it had next-to-no build-up, it wasn’t the end of a months-long feud, it was just an outstanding wrestling match.

Sami Zayn’s time in NXT was coming to an end but William Regal wanted to give him a special reward for everything he had given to his promotion. That reward came in the form of a match with a certain debutant, Shinsuke Nakamura. The former IWGP Heavyweight Champion laid out the challenge via video message and that was that until Takeover rolled around. Zayn and Nakamura came face-to-face for the first time in Dallas but what came next was something else.

The crowd were in raptures just for the entrances and the noise continued throughout. There was nothing at stake but there was a big fight feel. Every shot, every strike seemed to hold meaning. Zayn was determined to go out in style while Nakamura wanted to make a lasting first impression. They fed off the energy of the crowd as they laid into each other. At one point, Zayn and Nakamura couldn’t stop forearming each other in the face. Neither man wanted to give an inch but Zayn eventually fell when his body gave out. He left Nakamura with blood leaking from his nose, though. As the fight rumbled on, the magical moment happened: Dallas broke into a chant of “fight forever!” It was a brilliant, spontaneous and original way of showing appreciation for a match. What Zayn and Nakamura were doing was so good, they didn’t want it to end, they were begging for more.

As always, Zayn showed more fight than what should be humanly possible. So much so that Corey Graves was incredulous on commentary. How does he do it? It took a brutal series of elbow strikes to drop Zayn to his knees and a flying knee strike to the back of the head to ground him. Nakamura lined him up and laid him out with Kinshasa to end the challenge from Zayn. The King of Strong Style reigned in Dallas.

zayn & naka embrace

I loved this match so much, it’s one of my all-time favourites. The noise coming through my TV was unreal, it must have been incredible to have been a part of that crowd. When it was over, I knew I wasn’t going to see anything better than it for the rest of the year. Sami Zayn v. Shinsuke Nakamura is the NXT Revolution Match of the Year for 2016.

WWE NXT Review 12/10/16: Welcome To The Sanitarium

Let’s get straight to it, the grand reveal of SAnitY was one of the best WWE debuts in years. The staggered unmasking of the four members brilliantly built up the intrigue surrounding them. First up, the two members entering the Dusty Classic:

sanity-debut Continue reading

The Best Matches of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic: Pt. 1

On Wednesday night, we saw the conclusion of the inaugural WWE Cruiserweight Classic. For the last ten weeks, we have been treated to some top quality wrestling courtesy of the world’s best cruiserweights. Let’s revisit the best matches from this landmark tournament.

cwc-dar-v-zsj Continue reading