Neville has ruled WWE’s cruiserweight division since Royal Rumble. But the champion and self-proclaimed king has never faced a man with an entire brand behind him. That’s what he faced on the Great Balls of Fire Kickoff when he stepped into the ring against Titus Worldwide’s Akira Tozawa in Dallas on July 9.
Titus O’Neil not only accompanied his client to the ring, earlier in the day he claimed Tozawa would de-throne Neville. The Japanese Superstar got the rest of American Airlines Center on his side early on with his signature “AH!” chant, and followed that with a flurry of offense which put the champ on the defensive early.
He wasn’t on his heels for long, though. Answering an attempted dive to the outside with a kick from the apron, Neville set about punishing the challenger on either side of a commercial break.
Perhaps inspired by Titus’ coaching, Tozawa fought his way back into the contest, however. A series of head-first dives at the champ nearly resulted in a title change, but Neville kicked out at two and mounted another comeback of his own.
A FLYING @TozawaAkira makes a statement! @WWENeville #WWEGBOF pic.twitter.com/mNE2q1A6zu— WWE (@WWE) July 9, 2017
But when he caught Akira in a fireman’s carry position, Tozawa countered into an octopus stretch. The champ made it to the ropes to break the hold, but continued to sell the effects - until a big missle drop kick into his opponent’s chest got a nearfall for the champ.
Pushing his advantage, Neville went for a second rope splash, but missed and was almost rolled up. Tozawa followed that up with his own top rope senton, but the champ wisely rolled out before Akira could cover.
.@TozawaAkira gave it his all against the #KingOfTheCruiserweights for the title. #WWEGBOF pic.twitter.com/BnH2yj3IU0— WWE (@WWE) July 10, 2017
A follow-up aerial manuever was thwarted when Neville shoved Tozawa, causing him to land crotch first on the top rope.
Approriately for the first ever Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view (PPV) event, that was the advantage the champ needed. A short time and a spinning heel kick later, 1 - 2 - 3, and Neville’s reign continues.
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