Moments of 2016 is a series of articles that detail the year in review for WWE, whether it be specific moments, matches or superstars who've stood out on the WWE main roster and NXT, one way or another. You'll see this series of pieces go through to the end of December.
Before NXT Takeover Dallas, I made the case of why Bayley-Asuka's NXT Women's Championship match should've headlined the event over Finn Balor-Samoa Joe's NXT Championship match or even this aforementioned match. I made note of the fact it could very well have been the hugster's last match in NXT before an expected call up to the main roster after Wrestlemania.
As decent as that match was, and considering the Hugster wasn't going to be called up for another four months anyways as it turned out (and arguably, that could have been thanks to other circumstances as rumour went around at one point she wasn't due for a proper call up until September), hindsight being 20-20, it was not the right match to headline. Then again, neither was Finn-Joe II with all the stoppages interrupting the flow of the match.
I think you know where I'm going with this, if the picture wasn't a giveaway already.
As I said about AJ Styles earlier this week, when the rumours started going around Shinsuke Nakamura was getting set to join the WWE after handing his notice in to New Japan soon after his MOTY contender with Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10, it was still inconceivable to me that he was coming to WWE. When New Japan announced the news he was to leave the company (and subsequently stripped of his IWGP intercontinental championship), while no confirmation came from Stanford, CT at that time, the conclusion was forgone: the King of Strong Style was about to become a McMahon man with perhaps a point to prove.
Meanwhile, another man who had a point to prove was Sami Zayn. After being out for around seven months due to a shoulder injury just before his US Title Open Challenge match against John Cena on Raw and having what had planned to be his main roster callup put on hold to recoup, he came back in an NXT taping during Takeover London in a match against Tye Dillinger. After that, Zayn's hunt to become the first two-time NXT Champion took him through a triple threat against Baron Corbin and Samoa Joe before circumstances in that match led to a 45 minute match against Joe that took up an entire episode of NXT to become number one contender in what was an amazing contest that eventually went against Zayn.
Zayn did get his main roster moment in the sun again when he debuted in the Royal Rumble at 19 and would go immediately after his longtime enemy Kevin Owens. And then again a few weeks later in a permanent call up which would see him at his Wrestlemania debut for Owens' IC title in a ladder match. But lets leave that in more detail for later down the line.
But as far as NXT was concerned, what was there to prove for the man who was the so-called 'heart and soul' of the brand? Simple: the King of Strong Style.
After the end of Fastlane in February, WWE announced the signing of Nakamura for NXT. And at the TV tapings to help set up Takeover Dallas, he was confirmed as what would turn out to be Zayn's final opponent as part of the NXT roster in a momemt that had Full Sail attendees near enough in euphoria.
That was the only build up to the match otherwise. The match itself? Hoo boy.
Both Zayn and Nakamura stole the show, not only as match of the night, but as match of the year. Even now, it's still my MOTY over Ciampa/Gargano's numerous matches - both with The Revival and each other - and even this past week with Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair's falls count anywhere match on Raw, those being the closest to overthrow it.
Sure, you could say the conclusion was obvious in that Nakamura would win and Zayn would leave NXT as they all do: on their back. And that's exactly what happened. That still didn't make the match any less intense, fast-paced and stiff among other things. It was so good, a 'Fight Forever' chant broke out. Considering I've not heard it since and it was the first time I actually ever heard the chant, it was high praise.
As someone who had never watched Nakamura until that night in Dallas, his charisma and style of wrestling won me over immediately. It was something I had very rarely seen in a wrestler, the ability to win me over literally in his first few minutes of me seeing him. It was quite a moment. Nakamura later went on to have a fantastic match at NXT Takeover: The End against Austin Aries and is currently in the middle of a feud against Samoa Joe which has the pair of them become the first two two-time NXT Champions, the first of which he won at NXT Takeover Brooklyn.
For Sami, well, that might be a bit less glamorous. After Battleground, he's had a bit of a quiet run, though recently faced The Miz at Survivor Series for the Intercontinental Championship in an interbrand match - to no avail - and is currently in a feud with Braun Strowman. But before Battleground, he went through several MOTY contenders post-Takeover at Payback, Extreme Rules and biggest of all at Battleground itself.
For what it's worth, if we're keeping score, Nakamura has had two Match of the Year contenders:
+ AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10
+ Sami Zayn at NXT Takeover Dallas
And as for Zayn:
+ Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT Takeover Dallas
+ Kevin Owens at Payback
+ Kevin Owens, Cesaro and The Miz in a Fatal 4 Way for the IC Championship at Extreme Rules
+ Kevin Owens at Battleground
That's four in Zayn's favour to Nakamura's two.
But for me, it's the match in Dallas that has defined this year for these two.
Johnny Cullen writes about games for a living and has written for the likes of Eurogamer, VG247 and Official PlayStation Magazine UK and also podcasts about games for My Favourite Game. You can follow him on Twitter - for mostly games hijinks but also WWE tweets (and be a bit obsessive over Bayley), The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Jonsi & Alex) - @JohnnyCullen.