11. Tyson Kidd v. Adrian Neville(c)- NXT TakeOver
Along with developing new talent and adapting wrestlers to the “WWE style,” NXT has also attempted to revitalize the careers of several main roster wrestlers over the years. And with all due respect to Emma, no such project was more successful than Tyson Kidd’s NXT run. Kidd entered NXT plagued by a lengthy injury history and a complete lack of momentum and left with a revitalized character and several quality performances under his belt.
One of those was this match, which did a masterful job of building tension to a boiling point between two babyfaces, while simultaneously laying the ground for Kidd’s heel turn in the coming weeks.The story of this match, as well as leading into it, were the similarities between Kidd and Adrian Neville. They grappled each other to a stalemate, levelled each other with strikes and flew around the ring throughout. Kidd proved throughout that he was the equal to Neville in the ring, and possessed a brutal streak as well; for example, he stomped on Neville’s head while locking in the Dungeon Lock. Ultimately, however, the decisive factor would be resilience. Neville survived Kidd’s best shots, escaping the Sharpshooter, reaching the ropes while in the Dungeon Lock and kicking out of a rope-hung diving leg drop, before countering with a top rope hurricanrana and the Red Arrow to win the match.
This match featured great wrestling and a compelling, well-paced story. While lacking some of the epic scale of matches featured later on this list, it also didn’t overstay its welcome, reminded the world of Tyson Kidd’s talent, and would’ve been the best title defense in most NXT Championship reigns, if it didn’t have the misfortune of being overshadowed by two even better title defenses later on in Neville’s reign.
10. Finn Balor v. Samoa Joe(c)- Steel Cage match- NXT TakeOver: The End
An issue with trilogies of matches, besides the fact they’re extremely overdone under the WWE umbrella and elsewhere, is nailing the pacing and delivering a satisfying conclusion. This was not an issue here. Upon a rewatch, I realized I seriously underrated how good this match was.
They stuck to the same story as the first two matches but escalated it further by making use of the cage in innovative ways, and by showcasing both Joe’s and Balor’s resiliency. There was great intensity throughout, with Joe throwing Balor into the cage repeatedly, while Balor trapped Joe between the cage and the rope for forearm shots and the John Woo dropkick, and hitting an elevated sling blade. Finally, the finish was sufficiently brutal to cap a feud between two badasses: Joe catching Balor at the top of the cage, and pulling him in to deliver a Muscle Buster off the second rope.
While not the greatest steel cage match, or the greatest match in NXT history, Balor/Joe III delivered and capped off one of NXT’s signature feuds with a bang.
9. Hideo Itami v. Bobby Roode(c)- NXT TakeOver: Chicago
The most overlooked and/or underrated match on this list, and probably in TakeOver or even NXT history as a whole, is this absolute banger between Itami and Roode.
Itami had just recently come back after spending six months on the shelf, and shortly before that missing over a year. Roode meanwhile, was fresh off the meandering rivalry with Nakamura. With Itami’s potential rust, and Roode’s disappointing main events, this match had every reason to be similarly uninspiring, and in the initial stages, that looked like that would be the case. The match was plodding to start, the crowd wasn’t really into it and Itami even whiffed badly on a kick.
However, the match picked up when Itami turned up the intensity. Ultimately, the match became what Roode/Nakamura II was aiming for, or a good version of that match anyways. Like that match, Roode’s arm and the challenger’s leg were injured, but the selling was better and more impactful on the match, while also being realistic enough that it made sense for both men to go for the finishes that relied on those body parts. The back-and-forth in this match was extremely well-paced, and the intensity was provided in spades via Itami’s brutal striking. And the finishing stretch was similarly amazing, with both men finally hitting their finishers, but their injuries not allowing them to capitalize, before Roode turned the GTS into a Glorious DDT, then rolled through to hit one last one. Overall, this was a great title match, and the crowd’s opposition to Itami also worked toward his future heel turn (albeit one that didn’t really lead to much for him).
This match deserves more recognition, especially as it ended up being Itami’s best work under the WWE umbrella, and possibly Roode’s as well.