RAW Deal Special Edition: Take a bow for the new R-Evolution
ORLANDO, USA —My contract with Rappler obligates me for a grand total of just one WWE column per week (and the occasional feature come PPV time), but I asked for an exception. Why, you ask? Because the just-concluded NXT Takeover: R-Evolution live special is worth bending and breaking the rules for, and more.
The show might have to be the best pro wrestling show to be staged this year, being a perfect storm of solid production (thanks to the resources of the WWE), confidently-told storylines, and most importantly, great wrestling. It’s by no means perfect (because nothing is), but I’m willing to bet my wrestling career that it’s pretty close.
Let’s break it down, step by step.
The arrival of Kevin Owens
It finally happened, and by God was it all worth it.
We all expected him to show up, but nobody was expecting him to open the show. The magnetic, charismatic Kevin Owens quickly took charge with the five or so minutes he was given. Looking pretty svelte from his indy wrestling days (a major concern coming into the WWE was his physique, which was more old-school big guy than modern-day male model), Owens was fast, rough, and not to mention tough, gutting out a serious-looking busted nose after a particularly stiff CJ Parker palm strike to finish strong with a pop-up powerbomb.
The best part? The WWE style works perfectly for him. Kevin Steen utilized a myriad offense back in the indy days, but Owens—at least, in this match—was very focused, seeking to straight-up demolish his opponent with a no-nonsense roughneck style. The strangest thing within that context was him launching himself off the top rope, but it made sense. Owens had a gameplan and did not mess around, probably due to the limited time he got.
If you needed a reason to get into the Kevin Owens bandwagon, this is it. This is your sign.
The Lucha Dragons retain
This is the weakest-built story on the card, probably left alone after Dusty Rhodes figured that all four men would be able to make it work with the wrestling.
And that was what happened. The Lucha Dragons are always a treat to watch, and I’d like to see a prolonged feud between these two teams. Should the Vaudevillains have won this for that to happen? Maybe, but it isn’t so hard to write them into another tag title shot.
The Legend of Baron
Baron Corbin’s finally added a couple of new moves to his repertoire. That’s great, because while there is some novelty in Corbin’s squash matches, hitting his finisher after a few seconds will get old. Count on it.
Praise also has to be given for the way they’re booking that feud against Bull Dempsey. If they were on the main roster, they would’ve had their fourth match by now after going at it in duds on RAW and SmackDown.
Finn Balor is who you thought he was
Looking back on the show after seeing it, it was at this point—as Finn Balor, who finally debuted his much-touted face and body paint—where it was pretty clear that NXT was now the so-called NXT Five’s show now. Everyone else is a role player or benchwarmer who needs to work at the level of Owens, Balor, Hideo Itami, Adrian Neville, and Sami Zayn. More indy stars may come and go in the future, but it might not get any better than this.
The Ascension were a pretty over team during their tag division dominance, but they could never hold a candle to Itami and Balor. They already knew it the moment they saw Balor come out looking like the love child of Carnage from Spider-Man and a Predator.
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I think we’ve rarely seen a match where it really, really came down to who were plain better wrestlers, both shoot and kayfabe, to the point that the Ascension ended up looking like a B+ team. You need to see this match to know what people are talking about—and there’s a GTS tease thrown in for you Punk (or KENTA) fans as well. A lot of people think Balor is eventually going to turn on Itami, but I’m holding out hope that it’s the opposite, just for a change.
Also, they’re calling Balor’s stuff “war paint.” I’m cool with that.
Genetically (and ultimately) superior
Charlotte is a once-in-a-lifetime talent.
Consider the fact that she’s only within two years of starting pro wrestling training. Consider the fact that she’s relatively new to performing in front of millions (and millions!) of wrestling fans around the world. Consider the fact that in the span of months, she progressed from being an unsure worker in the ring to becoming a female wrestler already better than legends Trish Stratus and Lita. Just imagine what else she can do when she matures even further.
And that’s not taking away from the talent challenger Sasha Banks brings to the table. Previous #1 contender Bayley might be a tad better pure wrestler, but Banks is a more complete (and ready-for-TV) package. Her character is better-realized, and that made for a lot more compelling match-up than Charlotte/Bayley. I’d prefer Charlotte to get the main roster call, but either her or Banks is gonna be fine with me.
And oh my God, that main event
Two words: Emotional. Rollercoaster.
Not a lot need be said about the match; it’s typical in-ring fare between Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn. If it sounds like I’m shrugging it off, do not be fooled. It’s just that, at this point, the two of them are expected to turn the ring out. Neville will pull out all the stops and Zayn will kick things up a notch, wrestling the perfect match and even busting out that dive-through-the-hole-in-the-ring-corner DDT. It’s exactly what happened in the ring.
But, as usual, great wrestling is made even better by even better storytelling. And then, a kicker: even better storytelling is perfected by telling the stories we want to see.
The first salvo was what we got last week, where Zayn finally let out a (somewhat misguided) burst of passion, teasing a heel turn from him. Follow that up with a crucial moment in the match in which Zayn has a chance to turn back on everything he believes in and hit Neville with the NXT title belt—and he doesn’t do it. When was the last time you saw a face not named John Cena straight-up refuse to turn heel, and do so satisfyingly?
The decision to do the right thing finally pays off, for once, as it leads to Zayn winning the match and the championship, and a huge celebration plays out. We see the NXT good guy contingent, led by real-life best friend Kevin Owens, come out to congratulate Zayn in his win. He even gets a handshake and a hug from Adrian Neville. It’s totally the perfect ending, and something that could give the Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero celebration from Wrestlemania 20 a run for its money.
BUT IT’S NOT OVER. FAR FROM IT.
Kevin Owens ends the show by attacking Sami Zayn, just as many of us predicted, to continue the long-running rivalry they started back in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla.
To recap: we’ve gone from Zayn not being able to win the championship, to Zayn possibly turning heel, to Zayn refusing to turn heel, to Zayn finally winning the championship and experiencing catharsis of the highest level in his career so far, to his best friend brutally sending him back to earth. This is the next Sami Zayn story, and it will be absolutely glorious. Even better than that long road to the championship.
How do we even watch TLC on Sunday after this?
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to most of those questions—especially that last one—are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast—featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ Stan Sy, wrestling writer Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia guy Raf Camus! On their latest episode, the boys are on their own and discuss CM Punk signing with the UFC, as well as predicting this NXT special (which just happened), PWR: Terminus, and TLC on Sunday. Give it a listen here! - Rappler.com