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WWE NXT Takeover: R Evolution results, recap, reactions (Dec. 11, 2014): This is Wrestling

I joked on the post-show videocast with my buddy Matt Roth that my reactions post was going to be 400 words of nonsense followed by "A+".  I'll try to get out a few more words and keep the gibberish to a minimum, but the grade stands.

NXT Takeover: R Evolution was why I've held back a top grade despite good weekly episodes and phenomenal quarterly live events from WWE's Developmental promotion.  There are things they could have done differently, but nothing that needed to be changed.  It was two completely satisfying hours of entertainment.

It was why I watch pro wrestling.

And yes, as the on point crowd at Full Sail Live reminded us several times throughout the evening...This is wrestling.  It's not sports entertainment.  It's a scripted athletic exhibition with pre-determined outcomes.  And when it's done right, as Takeover: R Evolution and the year's worth of stories that preceded its main events were, it never needs to apologize for anything.  It's beautiful.  It's art, and the men and women who create it are artists.


Sorry, I said no blubbering.  On with the show...

That's how you do a debut

Fair warning, I'm going to write about how Kevin Owens was presented and what his character did throughout the show.  If you haven't watched it yet, what the heck are you doing reading this?!?!  Go!  Watch!

In retrospect, there was no other choice for an opener.  Making the live and television audiences wait for it would have resulted in us wondering when the former Kevin Steen was going to show up and what he was going to do.

After Hideo Itami's debut at the last live event, I figured we'd get an in-ring introduction with Willam Regal, or at least some promo time with Kev.  He yelled at the camera a bit, but having him not speak kept his alignment in question.  Being fed CJ Parker sets the expectation that he'll be a babyface, and that was all they had to do.  The violence he let loose in the ring was just the right warning that anything was possible.

I don't think we can rule out that the color Owens wore after a palm strike from Parker wasn't intentional either.  Seeing him fight through the blood added another layer to the character, and that the production crew didn't go to black & white and the referee didn't stop the match to treat his cuts signaled that here was a different breed of cat.

The fleeting, in-set shot of Sami Zayn and Owens locking eyes in the locker room while they aired footage of Sami's chat with Michael Cole about his title match added another layer of foreshadowing.  These men know each other.  The newcomer has told us that he was both happy for his friend being in WWE before him and frustrated that he wasn't hired by the company sooner.

We were treated to a touching post-show moment where the two travelling partners celebrated together.  And that moment was allowed to linger just long enough that we thought tonight would end joyously.  That Zayn and his supporters would be rewarded for the roller coaster we've ridden over the last year and a half to this moment.

And then he struck, with the very move that had been established as his WWE finisher earlier in the night.  Regal served as proxy for a universe of fans as he glared, shocked and angry at Owens, whose look said "I told you I was going to change everything".

There are moments, as a fan of anything, that you think can't live up to your expectations of them.  This was one of those.

Still can't believe how perfect it was.

A couple of random thoughts:

  • Props to CJP, who takes a ton of crap from Cagesiders and internet fans in general but is beloved by pros and the NXT locker room.  This was why.  He whiffs on his offense too much to be taken seriously yet, but the dude is committed to his character and that character's role on this show.  Tonight his role was to make Owens look like a million bucks, and that's exactly what he did.
  • My only knock on the rollout was that I wasn't feeling Owens' entrance music.  Folks in the live threads have encouraged me to give it another chance, but so far, what I can make out over his thunderous pop on the show and YouTube clips of the same are inconclusive.  The guitar feels a little dated for a guy who's part of "the future" - but I'll reserve final judgement for time, and a cleaner version.
  • The pumphandle neckbreaker (STEEN BREAKER) that set-up the power bomb should probably be saved for special occasions.  Seems weird to not be a finisher - like Zayn's Blue Thunder Bomb.  So, come to think of it, NXT has a history of that kind of move progression.  Still weird, though.
  • The main shows can't remember basic plot points, like that they revealed the Anonymous General Manager's identity already.  NXT gets the principle of Chekhov's Gun - because they knew exactly what they were doing showing Owens and Zayn in the locker room together.  And then they paid it off.

The Big One

How could I possibly not lead with this?  Maybe I should have, but another thing that this show succeeds with is presenting serialized fiction.  As soon as they concluded one story, they started another.  Owens betrayal sets the stage for what we'll be talking about for the next several months.

When we're not talking about how this match was a completely satisfying end to a wonderfully told story.

There were some awesome displays of athleticism in this match.  Moves you don't see that often executed flawlessly.  But I'll leave discussion and dissection of those to more qualified observers.  Plus, I was too busy being carried away by two of the best actors in pro wrestling.

Adrian Neville gets short shrift due to not being the protagonist, but he's come so far and was given the thankless task of playing a true WWE "dick face" without a hint of irony.  He never cheated, but he cut any corner he had to.  He's arrogant, but he's backed it up whenever it was needed.  The now former champ did that throughout this bout, as his taunts got more pointed and we eventually saw him resort again to his any means necessary approach to keeping the belt.

Our everyman hero, Sami, got the showier role.  But he deserves every ounce of credit he gets.  The role could have been eye-roll inducing.  21st century audiences' natural tendency isn't to cheer for the ethically sound guy who won't break his moral code.  But when you show him to be visibly effected by the crowd's enthusiasm for him, and the performer convinces us that he understands why we'd accept it if he did bend the rules, but he still won't do it...that's how you get jaded fans to not only suspend disbelief, but to check their cynicism at the door.

The ref bump.  The belt tease.  It all called back to things that had happened before, and drove home the points they've been trying to make all along.  You can win by doing things the right way, even though it isn't easy and you can get really pissed off trying to walk that path

Sami won the big one.  And, because the storytellers never wavered, we won with him.

Isn't that the girl the Total Divas' lady beat on Raw?

Forget everything you ever learned watching women wrestle on Monday nights.  Heck, forget that you thought some of the best women's wrestling matches you've seen were on NXT.

Sasha Banks and Charlotte set the bar even higher than Natalya and Charlotte, Charlotte and Bayley, and Paige and Emma.  And they reminded me that the women can stay on NXT where I can enjoy their least until we get a women's show on the Network executive produced by Sara Amato.

In almost every respect, this benefited from all the little things that served Owens' arrival and Sami and Adrian's program.  Banks and the champ didn't have to start from scratch or re-create the wheel tonight, because their issues have been built over the past year, and their characters were established before the opening bell.  Even witht that, they still know to use a couple of minutes early on to remind long-time watchers and catch up first-timers while establishing the psychology of the match - in their case, that Sasha is a cocky, smart but somewhat pain-averse challenger, and Charlotte is a big bad ass champion that wants to keep her belt, and maybe hurt her rival in the process.

The ladies have the added burden of needing to prove to an audience that may only be familar with lingerie pillow fights, and who just saw this blonde playing the bad ass tonight get rolled up in three minutes a couple of nights ago, that they can pull off everything that wrestlers with penises can.  They did that with fierce strikes.  And neckbreakers.  And Figure Fours.  And suicide dives.  And moonsault-into-senton things we'd never seen before.  And finishers hit off the top rope.

My only knock on the NXT Women's division is that it's shallow, but that's easily fixed.  In the meantime, any pairing of Charlotte, Sasha, Bayley and Becky Lynch they want to throw at us is fine by me.

Even if the ladies of Raw and Smackdown got a twenty minute slot for a match (which they won't), they wouldn't get the time to develop the characters and conflicts they get at the Performance Center.  Stay in Florida, lasses, keep re-educating the audience as to what you're capable, and eventually there'll be some folks in charge in Stamford that'll give a shot on a bigger stage.

Something we've never seen before

Uh, you saw that right?  What am I going to tell you about it, then?

The Ascension did what they were supposed to.  Hideo Itami is coming along, and got to tease taking the Go To Sleep back from a certain Chicago native who's in the bosses' doghouse, but this whole match was about Finn's entrance and eventual hot tag.

Enjoy him here while you can.  Unlike the new NXT champ, the women, and his current tag partner, I don't think Finn Bálor's long for Developmental.

Everything else:

  • If NXT has a weak spot, it's probably its tag scene.  There was nothing wrong with tonight's tag title showdown, but it was probably the most forgettable thing on the show.  All the aspects they get so very right with the single's scene are out the window when it comes to pairs.  I have no idea who Lucha Dragons are as characters, just as I had no idea who The Ascension was before them.
  • I'm most attached to a pair in The Vaudevillains that cheats in one match and acts chivalrously in the next - and who someone in the booking department doesn't have a whole lot of confidence in because they don't want to pull the trigger on them winning the belts, or even very getting many strong wins.
  • Bummer about Corey Graves retiring from wrestling, but good for WWE for giving him a shot at the announce desk.  And not just because it's a good public relations move to take care of a guy who has concussion issues related to performing for the company, but because he seems to be good at it.  For a guy whose promos were never that great, he fit in really well as an informative but unobstrusive voice on commentary.
  • Hopefully they push fast forward on the Baron Corbin story at Friday's tapings, because my and some other's patience is wearing thin.  His squash and staredown with Bull Dempsey was a good change of pace segment on a show that didn't leave the audience a lot of time to catch its breath, but we're getting to piss or get off the pot time with both of these acts.
  • Roman Reigns was here, and he promised to be the first NXT alum to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.  I only ever remember one match and one bad promo from the Big Dog at Full Sail, but I guess he counts.  Here was your reminder that they are very serious about him as the next big thing, in case you forgot from their last reminder of three days ago.  Expect another one tonight, and another on Sunday.  The beatings will continue until morale approves.

But I don't want to go out on a bad note, because OH MY WORD did I love this show.  Except for when Kevin Owens broke Sami Zayn and shattered all of our dreams.

Okay, I loved that too.

Grade: A+

I could talk and write about this show for days and still forget a bunch of stuff, Cagesiders.  Help a brother out and tell me what you loved about R Evolution.

All photos via

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