The second NXT of 2015 is the first one in a while to feel like just a regular episode. Last week's episode aired on New Year's Day, the previous week's episode aired on Christmas Day, and the weeks before that were the R-Evolution special event and it's "reaction show". This week certainly holds up to the last few (despite the lack of Blue Pants and no in-ring appearance for Finn Balor), and it kicks off strongly. Sami Zayn makes his way to the ring to start off the show, and he finally gets his title celebration. It's a heartfelt occasion, with Sami jumping into the crowd to celebrate with them, and talking about how it's not HIS title, it's OUR title, and he's one of us.
This quickly brings out Adrian Neville to set up a rematch, which is made official by NXT GM William Regal. The only problem here is the amount of time this all takes. The opening segments on Raw take a lot of stick for being 20 minutes of talking, and while this was only ten minutes, ten minutes of a one-hour show is the equivalent to half an hour of a three-hour show. But Sami deserves his celebration, and any match between these two should be top notch, so the rematch will definitely be worth looking.
Hideo's gonna kill you!
The first match of the show (almost 15 minutes in) pits Hideo Itami against Curtis Axel. Axel coming down to work in NXT is great, because while he's hardly a main event star on the main roster, he's still a presence, and him turning up here feels like he adds some gravitas to the occasion. He flourishes in this environment too, knowing he's here to make Itami look strong but not at his own expense, so he throws some good offence around, interacts with the crowd in a way that few wrestlers do, and makes Itami fight for the victory. And boy, does he. Thus far on NXT, Itami has wrestled either smaller guys like Justin Gabriel and Tyson Kidd who can keep up with him but can't really dish out punishment, and big lumbering guys like The Ascension whose move set consists mainly of chops and throws. Curtis Axel is a nice middle ground, he's quick enough that Itami doesn't need to wait around for him to get in position, but he's also bigger and more imposing than Itami so it feels like Itami is fighting from underneath.
Itami really brings the fire to Axel, hitting him with some stiff shots and hard kicks that look absolutely killer. He attempts to finish Axel off with a shining wizard, which Axel catches by trapping the leg and attempting to counter it into a Perfect-Plex, which would've been an amazing counter if he'd pulled it off. Itami was too quick though, countering the Perfect-Plex and setting Axel up for his finisher. Real talk though? Itami's finisher sucks. It's basically Trouble in Paradise, but to a kneeling opponent. KENTA should never try to be Kofi Kingston. Kofi should be trying to be him. And on the subject of KENTA, I wonder if it was really his dream to come to WWE and wrestle the artist formerly known as Michael McGillicutty.
The Itami/Axel match is followed up by a short interview with Natalya and Tyson Kidd which serves only to show off Kidd's character a little, and then a video package to highlight next week's main event: Bull Dempsey vs. Baron Corbin. The package sums up how awful Bull Dempsey is: he's a guy trying to be Bam Bam Bigelow in the ring and Eddie Kingston on the microphone. This writer, for one, can't wait to see Baron Corbin tear him apart and will be counting along with the NXT crowd.
Sasha's ratchet! (No she's not!)
If you're looking NXT and you don't love Sasha Banks, you're looking wrong. Sasha is the business right now, and she's by far the most developed character on the show. Charlotte is "Ric Flair, but flexible and with girl parts," Bayley likes hugging and is adorable but has no real motivations, and Becky Lynch is just Sasha's friend. Alexa Bliss, Sasha's opponent this week, is a glitter fairy cheerleader; although to be fair that's way more character than anyone not named Nikki Bella has going for them on the main roster. This match is short, but great. Alexa gets to show off her strengths (her speed and gymnastic background) while hiding her weaknesses (the fact she has very little experience and a limited move set.) While the much more experienced Sasha is obviously the anchor of the match, and brings most of the big moves, including a head scissors counter into a backbreaker across her knee, and a lovely falling knee to Alexa's gut while she's laid across the middle ropes in the corner, Alexa puts on a good showing, and pulls a bunch of near-falls out of nowhere by using several pinning moves, including a lovely crucifix pin.
Since main roster matches (especially divas matches) have about a 50% chance of ending with some kind of interruption and a roll-up, Alexa may actually be putting together the perfect WWE Diva move set. Sadly (or happily, since Sasha is great), it's all for naught and Sasha catches Alexa in the Bank Statement for the win. A word about the Bank Statement: it's a pretty bad name (her surname is Banks, not Bank), but the backstabber into a crossface combination is incredibly cool, and will probably win Sasha the Divas title someday. Or at least the NXT Women's title.
Tyler Breeze should be doing better
The next match of the night pits a returning Tyler Breeze up against Chad Gable, who's appearing on TV for the first time. According to Corey Graves, Breeze has missed a lot of recent shows because he's been looking for a new seasonal residence (Graves is an excellent commentator) but really, it seems Breeze has just been forgotten about in the wake of all the new guys. He should be one of the top stars of NXT: he's been around longer than all the newly debuting indy megastars and has been the most entertaining guy on the show for most of that time. But the sad fact is that with Owens, Balor and Itami all turning up and showing off, Breeze has become something of an afterthought. As part of VAVEL's Royal Rumble buildup, there will be an article about possible surprise entrants in the Rumble posted pretty soon, and spoiler alert: Breeze will be discussed.
Here, Breeze spends the entire match being battered. Gable is an amateur wrestling standout who wrestled in the Olympics, and he starts the match by with some wonderful ground control of Breeze. He then beats Breeze around the ring for a while, before Breeze hits the Beauty Shot out of nowhere for the win. Breeze getting the win makes sense, he's the senior guy and he's shown several times that he can pop up from nowhere and win a match, but it's not a good showing from him, and it's hardly a great debut for Gable either. Sure, he controls Breeze and looks strong, but he loses. Plus, he looks like Owen Hart in that singlet.
Kalisto is great, but these Lucha Dragons - Vaudevillains matches are nothing special
A quick nothing interview with Finn Balor and a Total Divas advert pass, and we're at the main event: an R-Evolution rematch between the Lucha Dragons and the Vaudevillains for the NXT Tag Team Championships. As the header states, this match is nothing special. The one at R-Evolution was the same, it just felt like a filler tag match, not a title match. The highlight here is Kalisto. His ability to work the tag team style of wrestling is outstanding. He makes a tag to Sin Cara while doing a headscissors, which is just sublime to look, and he comes in at the end to make the pin off the Lucha Dragons' tag finisher, Sin Cara hitting a one armed powerbomb while Kalisto springboards into a corkscrew nothing. While the finisher does need tweaking so that Kalisto actually connects in some way, it still looks incredibly cool. The Vaudevillains show some good technical wrestling along the way, but neither team wrestles this match like it matters. It's a title match so there should be a feeling of urgency, like the match has consequences. That's not shown here, and it's quite a poor ending to what was, for the most part, a great show.