NXT Championship Ladder Match
Finn Bálor (c) vs. Kevin Owens
This rematch was announced what seemed like moments after the Irishman defeated the man who became NXT champ just two months after debuting for the brand in his second home of Japan. What's different now compared to July 4 when Bálor first captured the title?
The Road to TakeOver
With Hideo Itami injured, the last TakeOver's #1 contender Triple Threat became a head-to-head match-up, and lost a lot of suspense with only one babyface in the mix. The champ at the time, Kevin Owens, was and is such a good bad guy that no one thought NXT would book a heel vs. heel feud for their top belt. And when Finn Bálor defeated Tyler Breeze at Unstoppable, everyone was proved right.
Building to their title showdown at Beast in the East became about fleshing out the Irishman while KO was making waves on the main roster, feuding with John Cena for the United States championship. That was a fitting build, even if it made the outcome seem even more pre-determined than usual. Owens focus on the next level that we all knew he was ready to move to full-time cost him in their match, and the man we'd gotten to know by learning his history celebrated with his adopted home country in Japan.
General Manager William Regal announced the rematch five days later at San Diego Comic-Con, but most fans couldn't shake the feeling that the rematch was nearly guaranteed to have the same outcome as their Tokyo encounter. Even with his first loss in a NXT ring to Finn being bookended by pay-per-view (PPV) loses to Cena, Owens was still not long for the Florida-based show. And the investment in building Bálor, along with the fact that injuries to Sami Zayn and Itami left the brand depleted of its top acts, meant that The Demon was safe atop the food chain.
To counteract that, Owens played up his success in New York without naming Ring of Honor (ROH) - claiming that it is for him what Tokyo is for Finn. Then, at a contract signing for their Brooklyn bout, Kev struck Regal. That put into motion a means to add the ladder match stipulation to the contest, since KO was concerned that the GM would swing things to favor the champ retaining in retaliation...that match type also being a staple of the former champ's success with ROH.
Since then, it's been a largely rote build with the heel sneak attacking the champion, who's fought him off enough to avoid a debilitating spot like Owens' apron powerbomb. An epic promo by KO on the 'go home' edition of the weekly NXT broadcast set him directly at odds with that show's home audience at Full Sail Live. But it did nothing to shake the feeling that this is his goodbye to Florida...regardless of how shaky his short-term prospects on Raw look right now.
What's at Stake?
The biggest piece of drama here might just be if they do anything to further the fan-favorite fantasy booking of Finn's "Demon" side. Bálor is undefeated when he dons his war paint, and, if nothing else, marketing dictates that he wear it in Barclays on August 22. That will probably remove the last bit of suspense from the outcome of the bout, but that would probably be forgiven if the Irishman's character were developed a bit beyond "nice guy ass-kicker".
If conventional wisdom bears out and Finn retains, we should also look to see if his next feud gets set up tonight. A victorious Tyler Breeze, the winner of Samoa Joe vs. Baron Corbin or possibly even a returning Hideo Itami could position themselves for a title shot, with or without involving themself in this half of TakeOver's "double main event".
For Owens, this is the first of two weekend matches. He'll battle Cesaro is a smark dream match Sunday night at SummerSlam, with the story being that he's trying to keep The Swiss Superman from stealing the spotlight he's fought for since beating Cena at Elimination Chamber. Regardless of whether he goes 0 - 2 on the weekend, and even if he continues to get more fat jokes than wins on the main roster, Wednesday night's promo proved that KO is a talent that will demand our attention again in the future...on NXT, WWE or somewhere else, if need be.
Will we all be joining the Bálor Club, or Celebrate Owens Celebrating come the end of the night? Find out along with your favorite fellow pro wrestling fans - here at cSs!