It's the 200th episode! They aren't clear on it from the outset, but that goes back to when it was a faux-reality competition on SyFy in 2010.
Chief Operating Officer (COO) Hunter Hearst Helmsley is in Florida to celebrate the anniversary. The Authority head gets a big cheer and shakes a few hands before asking the crowd to turn their "Triple H" chant into "N-X-T". They're only too happy to oblige. The Game puts over the guys who've made it to the main roster from developmental (he leaves out but is reminded of the Intercontinental champ when a "five" cheer breaks out), the Performance Center, and the crowd (don't encourage them, Haitch).
Are you ready?
Sami Zayn & Tyson Kidd vs. Leo Kruger & Antonio Cesaro
- They give us a little flashback to Kruger's victory over Zayn last week. Despite the heel pairing, the announce team (a weird mish-mash of Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton and Tensai) never mentions the South African's crusade to become a Real American.
- Leo and Tyson start off, which lets the Hart Dungeon grad show off some acrobatics before both men tag in their partners. That kicks of a "match of the year" chant - I'd still probably go with CM Punk and John Cena, but a case can be made for that Cesaro and Zayn two-out-of-three falls. Some technical gamesmanship leads to the pair trading strikes.
- Kidd is tagged in and stacks Antonio up for a nearfall. But then when the smaller man tries for a crossbody, Cesaro CATCHES HIM IN MID-AIR WITH ONE ARM AND SPINS HIM AROUND INTO A BACKBREAKER! Seriously, go watch it. Of all the feats of strength he's done this year, it's probably my favorite.
- Doing amazing things to Mr. Natalya is the theme of the match, because in the midst of getting worked over after the break, he dives for a tag but gets caught and Spinebuster-ed by LK. It would be my favorite spot of the show if it weren't for what his tag partner did a minute ago. The heel dominance also includes a stiff-looking clothesline from Cesaro that he follows by unleashing Zayn's own boot to the corner to Sami while he's standing on the apron.
- The Canadian dodges offense by both men, eventually flipping Kruger into the ropes to make a tag. Zayn is a house on fire as he clotheslines and drop kicks Leo before clubbing Cesaro to floor in retaliation for the earlier cheap shot. A crossbody gets a two count, but The Hunter manages to get a knee up on a charge to change momentum. Sami reverses a Slice into a spinning powerbomb (which would be my favorite spot of the night except for the two I've already talked about).
- The Swiss Superman breaks up the pin attempt after that maneuver, but Kidd takes him out and then dives onto him, clearing the way for a Yakuza Kick from The Likeable One to get his win back over Kruger.
Kidd & Zayn defeat Cesaro & Kruger in approximately eight and a half minutes via pinfall when Zayn pins Kruger
Natalya is watching the match on a monitor in the back when Emma dances up. She complains that the Australian's dance moves are distracting and that they almost put her eye out. Their bickering is fun, with Natty bagging on dancing and Emma saying ridiculous things in support of her "art" and getting in some Total Divas digs. This sets up a match between the two for some time in the future. Which is great, because it means Emma is healthy enough to wrestle again. But it's not fantabulous, since I feel like the main show's approach of all the women being whiney faces is bleeding into NXT.
The first of several "NXT Moments" follows, taking us back to the first episode in 2010 when a beardless Daniel Bryan took then World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho to the brink. I remember it like it was yesterday...which kind of makes me feel old and amazes me that it was only 3.9 years ago at the same time.
This episode's fifty-five minute run time is padded with fluff. They show Kofi Kingston and the cast of Total Divas doing a Twitter-surprise autograph signing in Florida. Because nothing gets to the spirit of WWE Developmental like Kofi and the women of E! Television...
Sasha Banks (with Summer Rae) vs. Paige (c)
- Banks' costumes are off the chain. Give her seamstress an Emmy.
- The champ (this is presumably non-title, btw) goes right for the hair, and Sasha responds with slap fighting. After some distraction by her Beautiful Fierce Female partner, the Bostonian is able to whip the Brit off the top rope by her hair.
- The bulk of the match is Paige trying to break out of a rear chinlock. Both women play their characters well in-ring. SB in particular has improved by leaps and bounds since turning and working with Summer. But a technical classic this is not.
- Paige backs her opponent into a corner to break the hold, then whips Banks down when she tries to spring up the ropes for something. That leads to a couple of lariats, a shriek and a dropkick from the champ. The First Lady grabs her leg to stop her momentum, but the Anti-Diva dodges a stomp by Sasha that hit Summer.
- The Paige Turner requires so much set-up that it either looks like it comes out of nowhere when she rushes it or it disrupts the flow of the finish. The latter happens here. Which is too bad, because Sasha sells the heck out of it.
- I do not want the BFFs to break up, so it's good that they don't dwell on the mis-communication leading to the loss.
Paige defeats Sasha Banks in approximately three and a half minutes via pinfall
Enzo! In a Hoveround! With a leopard print seat cover!
Please note that all of the posters backstage at developmental are Game-centric.
Amore is wearing a leg cast and complaining to Big Cas about the club they went to not being handicapped accessible. They're bothered by the sound of Aiden English doing vocal exercises in the corner. Cassady steals this scene for me, first by playing Bugs Bunny to English's Daffy Duck when he twists Aiden's use of the word "moi" around to get The Actor to say "you can beat me", then by saying that he will drop him in their upcoming sing-off like "an unnecessary theater elective".
Of course, Enzo motors off while singing, "Sa-Sa-Sa-Sawft".
The second "NXT Moment" was Michael McGillicutty and Tyson Kidd main eventing the first post-"Redemption" episode.
The Ascension (c) vs. The American Pitbulls
- John Cahill (Eddie Edwards) and Derek Billington (Davey Richards) answer the NXT tag champs open challenge. Billington and Rick Victor start off, and man, does Davey look small.
- Full disclosure, Davey Richards is one of my least favorite performers of all time. I don't know if it's that his over-the-top while still trying to be realistic ring style irritates me or the rumors of him being a bad human being or both. But it's going to bleed into my thoughts on this match, so know that.
- The Pitbulls gets some good offense in early, with Cahill coming in for the first time with an axehandle as they work over Victor's arm and the pair doing a tandem backdrop on Conor O'Brian. But the big man flapjacks Derek, leading to him playing face-in-peril for a while.
- There's a weird moment where Billington looks to be trying to flip out of a backdrop by Victor, but ends up just sliding down his back and landing on his head. Rick covers by going for a pin, but they successfully do the same spot later. I'm left to wonder why it wasn't edited out.
- An enziguri reversal allows Cahill to come in and clean house, and the visitors get a few nearfalls following a tandem dive onto The Ascensioners on the floor and a diving headbutt from Billington to Victor. But Derek misses a clothesline while running the ropes (and it looks really bad, possibly because his arm length and height makes it look like he couldn't have hit it anyway) and he runs into a high knee. O'Brian is tagged in and the pair hit Fall of Man for the win.
- The ring announcer declares them the winners by calling them Konnor and Viktor, so I guess that happened. Tensai says that the match proves that big always beats small, which is a weird, bury-y kind of thing to say.
The Ascension defeat The American Pitbulls in approximately four and a half minutes via pinfall when Konnor pins Derek Billington
Hunico and Camacho come out afterwards for some jawing, so the champs hit their finisher on Cahill.
The still-wooden Devin Taylor is taking to Kofi, when Lana comes in and starts speaking in Russian. After some "I don't know what she's saying" hilarity, Kingston accepts a challenge to face Alexander Rusev.
Next week sounds like a clip show, "NXT Rewind", but does promise to have William Regal versus Antonio Cesaro, so it will be a great clip show.
Adrian Neville vs. Bo Dallas (c) in a Lumberjack Match
- The Fink! I was wondering if we would get any Hall of Fame touches for this anniversary episode. Howard Finkel with ring introductions for the main event definitely counts.
- There are fifteen lumberjacks. Tyler Breeze is one of them (foreshadowing!). Other than that, I think I recognize one: Baron Corbin. The others will be jobbing on future episodes of NXT, I reckon.
- The champ tries to roll out right away, forgetting there are lumberjacks, I guess. Neville goes for his usual tumbling takedowns, and uses his flexibility for a quick roll-up attempt. Bo eventually grounds him with strikes. The Geordie rolls out, and when Breeze tries to throw him back in, Neville counters it and eventually slaps Prince Pretty (remember that, fight fans!).
"NXT Moment" #3 interrupts this match to ask our trivia question for the week: who did Seth Rollins defeat to become the first NXT champion?
- Dallas is so good at his character and so bad at wrestling. He begs out of being kicked in the chest by the challenger, and then uses that pause to toss Neville to the lumberjacks like a good little cowardly heel. He gets noticeably pissed off while delivering acceptable enough drop elbows and knees, and then cinches in a chinlock. Which he holds for a long time. Long enough for the audience to stop trying to entertain themselves with clever chants and focus on delivering an excellent "Bo-ring" one.
- Numerous covers only net two before the champ screams "Never stop Bo-lieving" and turns Adrian inside out with a clothesline. When that doesn't finish him off, he's really frustrated, but The Man that Gravity Forgot shoves his way out of the springboard bulldog and launches his own flurry that ends with a standing moonsault. When that doesn't earn him the title, it's Neville's turn to be flummoxed. He sets up for Red Arrow, but the champ rolls out. All of the lumberjacks grab him, so the Brit launches himself onto the lot of them.
- Did I say all of the lumberjacks? (Last warning!)
- Neville rolls Bo back in and heads up top for his finisher, but Breeze pulls the champ out of the way. Adrian bounces off the mat, and Dallas is shoved back in to cover him and retain.
Bo Dallas defeats Adrian Neville in approximately nine and a half minutes via pinfall to retain his NXT Championship
The champ celebrates. The handsome interloper checks himself in his phone. The vanquished challenger looks confused.
One really good match, a lot of filler, a disappointing women's match, a predictably lackluster tag contest and a main event that told a good story but didn't impress in the ring.
I'm excited to see Breeze get a shot at a higher profile feud, though.
What'd you think of the big anniversary show, Cagesiders?
* Trivia answer: The Unhinderable Jinder Mahal