Ranking every NXT Championship match on an NXT TakeOver (and Arrival)

Photo via WWE.com
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21. Sami Zayn v. Kevin Owens(c)- NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable

One of the things I find most remarkable about wrestlers is their ability to gut through sometimes severe injuries in order to continue wrestling. Such was the case for Sami Zayn, who suffered what was later revealed as a torn rotator cuff while wrestling John Cena on RAW. Zayn would need surgery and six months in order to recover, but he still managed to wrestle in the main event on this night.

This match was a rapid sprint, once it actually got under way. Zayn wasted no time attacking Owens, and in a reverse of their previous match, Zayn dominated most of this match. He laid into Owens with strikes, flew into Owens to knock him off his feet, and had a reversal ready for all of Owens’ big moves. Owens, meanwhile, sold like his life depended on it as Zayn relentlessly pursued him into the ringside area and even through the crowd. However, as Zayn went to Helluva Kick Owens’ head into the ringpost, Owens countered with a Pop-Up Powerbomb into the apron, laying Zayn out and leaving him defenseless. Owens started to beat Zayn down, over the objections of the referees and medical staff, and even the attempted interference of William Regal, until Samoa Joe debuted and chased Owens off as the show went off the air.

The match was very short, and remains the shortest main event in NXT TakeOver history, whether you accept the Powerbomb or Owens leaving the ring as the end of the match. However, not every main event needs to be a lengthy, epic match (something I wish the Gargano/Ciampa and Gargano/Cole trilogies would’ve learned), and in the time they had, they continued the Owens/Zayn story in an interesting way. Once again, Zayn was enraged, but for most of the match, it worked to his benefit, as he kept Owens on the back foot and looked to have him on the ropes. However, his rage backfired, as he went for a more brutal Helluva Kick and was completely laid out for it.

What didn’t help was the lack of a true ending. After Owens powerbombed Zayn, the match just kept awkwardly drifting on, with officials and Regal getting in the way without actually stopping the match. This would’ve been more impactful if the match was called while Owens was beating down Zayn. This lack of a precise ending marred what was otherwise a great sprint, an effective way to write off Zayn and a solid debut for Samoa Joe.

20. Bobby Roode v. Shinsuke Nakamura(c)- NXT TakeOver: San Antonio

For back-to-back main events, NXT made the fateful decision to pair its most underwhelming champion with one who, while very good when taken as a whole package, could be very boring if not in the ring with someone who could lift the match. And for about 90% of the first match, it was actually working out really well.

There are certainly flaws with the early parts of the match. The in-ring action isn’t particularly sharp or flashy, and it’s lacking some of the intensity that defined the Balor/Joe trilogy and Joe/Nakamura rivalry that preceded the Nakamura/Roode rivalry. But there’s also a lot to like. There’s a coherent story, with Roode targeting Nakamura’s head and neck area to set up the Glorious DDT, that didn’t suffer from the drop in match quality that often comes with working the leg, like Joe/Nakamura II. Roode was also made to look clever, playing possum when Nakamura went for the Kinshasa and generally having Nakamura’s big moves scouted. And this was a clash between two of the most electric personalities to ever grace NXT, with Roode’s egotism and Nakamura’s outlandishness making for a crowd that was fully immersed in the match.

However, the last 10 percent of the match is among the worst endings in NXT history, and is a byproduct of another flaw in this match: Nakamura is made to look like a massive idiot. Earlier on, Nakamura falls for Roode lying possum and fails to hook the leg when pinning Roode after the first Kinshasa, instead of starting to celebrate, leading to Roode kicking out. The finish comes when, with Roode reeling, Nakamura went to the second rope to set up for a flying knee strike, but Roode rolled to the apron. Not to be denied, Nakamura hit a diving knee while Roode laid on the apron, which wiped out Roode but also took out his knee. The stupidity comes in when, after rolling Roode back into the ring, despite plenty of time to think it through, Nakamura uses the injured knee to deliver the Kinshasa, and when it connects, his knee completely gives out, allowing Roode to get to his feet, gain the advantage with a Glorious DDT, and after Nakamura kicked out of the first Glorious DDT and escaped a series of brutal submissions targeting the leg, hit another Glorious DDT to finally secure the win. Such a finish not only made Nakamura look incredibly stupid, but also failed to have Roode secure the victory via his own doing, instead of requiring Nakamura to destroy his own knee before he could win.

Roode’s NXT Championship run is often cited as one of the worst, despite a compelling character, good promo work and solid matches with opponents who were not Shinsuke Nakamura. And the failures of this match undoubtedly plays a big part in Bobby Roode’s title reign remaining severely underrated.

19. Lars Sullivan v. Aleister Black(c)- NXT TakeOver: Chicago II

This was one of the three matches I hadn’t watched before researching for this article. If everything had worked out as planned, this would have been a really good match.

If every move had connected as it was supposed to, this would be remembered as perhaps not the greatest TakeOver match ever, but still a really well-worked match that highlighted the lethality of Black’s strikes and the combination of size, strength, agility and intelligence that made Lars unique on the roster. The match kept a solid pace, and had a great finish, with Lars shrugging off one Black Mass, only for Black to hit another to put him down. Plus, it wasn’t the same dragged-out, epic TakeOver main event we always saw (in part because it wasn’t a main event).

Unfortunately, the one thing the match is known for, the one moment from it I knew happened before I watched it for the first time, is the infamous moment where Black attempts to hit the Black Mass, but misses very obviously and Lars still awkwardly sells. It ripped the crowd out of the moment, and even with the Network’s attempts to hide the botch on the VOD, still took me out of the match.

Botches do happen, and they don’t necessarily have to ruin the match. But one this obvious, and this late in the match, definitely hurt it. While still a solid match, this would’ve been more fondly remembered if that first Black Mass had actually connected.