The Big E Langston era began, as the first WWE NXT of his championship reign was beamed to us on HuluPlus. The second man to hold the NXT title spoke to his adoring fans and even took on an impromptu challenge from a long-standing rival, and that wasn't even the main event of the show.
We were also treated to the long-awaited WWE debut of "The Man that Gravity Forgot", a tag match full of wrestlers we usually see on Monday and Friday nights, and story development for a couple of NXT regulars.
'Previously on NXT' opens our show with the title change last week, including almost all of the action from the match. Tony Dawson and William Regal are on the call, as former independent star PAC is introduced to the Florida crowd under his new WWE identity of Adrian Neville of Newcastle, England.
Adrian Neville defeated Sakamoto in approximately three minutes via pinfall
- Yep, that is Sakamoto from the aborted "Tensai takes out his frustrations on his attendant" angle. Here, he's rocking a somewhat generic Japanese look, rather than the full-on temple worshiper garb from his days following around his Lordship.
- Neville is wearing yellow trunks and matching boots. He seems a little more muscular up top than I remember him looking in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) or Dragon Gate, but it's been a while since he's crossed my radar. With the way he's hopping around during his entrance, it's clear they know not to turn him heel.
- We start with standard grappling, as Regal does his job by saying that Rey Mysterio told him he's jealous of Adrian's aerial arsenal. After a hurricanrana by the Brit, Sakamoto takes control with kicks and elbows while the announcers talk up his striking.
- The squash is on, though, as the Englishman does a nifty back flip handstand over his opponent out of a whip into the corner, followed by an enziguri to set-up a corkscrew shooting star press that electrifies the crowd and earns him a debut victory.
- The impressive finisher is replayed at least three times, even though Dawson can never manage to identify the move. My apologies if I have also named it incorrectly; Neville has quite a few high-flying attacks in his repertoire with rotations and degrees in their titles and I'm not the best in the world at discerning them. Help educate your recap-er in the comments below.
Trent Baretta defeated Leo Kruger in approximately ten minutes via disqualification due to interference by Kassius Ohno
- The South African enters first, playing up his crazed hunter character. I like this role for Kruger, but he leans heavily on playing with his hair as a physical idiosyncrasy. It comes off more "unhinged schoolgirl" than I think he intends.
- Ohno is introduced as a third man in the commentary booth. Dawson quickly refers to him as Leo's tag team partner and of their being responsible for Baretta's rib injury, so I guess that mystery was solved while I wasn't paying attention. Kassius half-heartedly denies the latter and starts trying to bait Regal, a theme that will become more prominent than the in-ring action as the match continues.
- The dearly departed Trent B (this was taped back in November, and judging by the length of the match and how much offense he gets in, it doesn't seem like the creative team knew WWE was planning on releasing him) plays up his rib injuries and spends most of the first half of the match having his midsection worked over by power moves.
- Back at the announce table, Regal isn't saying anything as Ohno continues to antagonize him. I guess this is building the conflict between the two that started in December when Regal rescued Tyson Kidd from a beatdown. The former Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) Commissioner finally snaps and says that he will turn Kassius "into a vegetable". A feud similar to the one where the wily veteran put over Dean Ambrose on his way to the Shield would be fine with me.
- After a commercial, business picks up in the ring with a lot of energetic work by the babyface interspersed with submission attempts focused on the injured abdominals by the bad guy. Baretta escapes one of those by knocking Kruger out of the ring and seems to have the upper hand after a sweet dive/flip to the outside. But a KO elbow from Ohno sets him up for a Kruger-end, and Leo gets the pin.
- While Regal is helping a woozy Baretta to the back, a second referee runs in to reveal the sneak attack by Kruger's partner and reverse the decision.
The new champ is out next. Dawson refers to him as a "NXT fan favorite", so no adjustment has been made yet for the role he's playing on Raw and SmackDown. His brief promo welcoming us to the "Era of the five, five, five..." is interrupted by Camacho who blows off the Vickie bounty story by saying, "their beef is no longer about money". He wants that belt!
Big E Langston defeated Camacho in approximately one minute via pinfall to retain his NXT Championship
This doesn't even merit bullet points: he killed 'ese'. At the behest of the crowd, he performed his finisher three times. Because, WWE babyface, that's why.
Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel defeated Antonio Cesaro and Damien Sandow in approximately ten minutes when Kidd pinned Sandow
- Without consulting a calendar and the Cageside archives, I assume this was booked while Cody Rhodes was still injured/growing his mustache. Not that I'm complaining about seeing these four men in action, mind you. I wish they'd get ten minutes on one of the main shows.
- Jim Ross joins us for play-by-play, which is standard for NXT main events. Sandow is out first with a microphone to enlighten us with a soon-to-be famous saying of his, "He who seeks the admiration of idiots is also an idiot".
- JR puts over Cesaro, saying that his career to this point resembles that of a future hall-of-famer. I hope it's not just my mark colored glasses...but Antonio seems to have the proverbial rocket strapped to him.
- After some grappling by Sandow and Kidd to start, tags are made for both teams and the US Champ works over Gabriel with some stiff looking and sounding strikes. A notable sequence sees the former Nexus member jump over Cesaro and dropkick him out of the ring, where his partner kicks him from the apron.
- Back from a commercial, Sandow is getting worked over by both members of the opposing team. The pace is balls to the wall from here on out; I had to pause the feed several times to take notes - just a great match. The action slows enough to get in a Cubito Aequet from Sandow and for Regal to remark that the Swiss are "legendary tossers" following an arm drag by Cesaro. He really should be working the main shows whenever JBL isn't.
- The finish sees Kidd kick Sandow in the head and tag in Gabriel for a leg attack that grounds our savior while he launches himself onto Antonio on the floor. The South African tags his partner before he springboards onto Damien, and then holds Cesaro back while the Hart Dungeon graduate delivers a top rope elbow to the Team Rhodes Scholars member for the three count.
Ross muses aloud if this is the start of something big for Kidd & Gabriel as the credits roll.
The taping schedule and internet news cycle cast a bit of a pall over this episode, knowing that two of the victorious technicos were either gone (Baretta's release) or on the shelf (Kidd's injury) in real-time. Still, an exciting debut, the hint of more William Regal as gatekeeper to the main roster - this time for Ohno and possibly Kruger, and a fantastic tag main event made this show a worthwhile use of 40-45 minutes for me.
Grade-wise, I'm calling it an A-.
Thoughts, Cagesiders? I'm particularly curious what you think of using non-developmental talent to fill out such a large chunk of time on the developmental show. It makes for a fun viewing experience, but is it contradictory to the motives of the show? What do you think the reasoning for that is, and is it a good idea? Sound off in the comments!