Last Wednesday we got treated to another NXT live special on the WWE Network. The hype surrounding this event was huge, which isn't surprising considering the high quality all the other live specials have had. Coming off of NXT Takeover Revolution, which may have been my favorite live special so far, it was clear everybody had to bring their A game to try and top Revolution. Now that we've had a few days to let NXT Takeover Rival sink in, let's take a look back and see if it held up to the high standards we've come to expect from NXT.
Let's take a look at the matches one by one, starting off with the opening bout. Even though Tyler Breeze vs Hideo Itami felt a bit random and was only just announced on the day of the show, I am a big fan of both of these guys. Tyler Breeze added a few new nuances to his entrance, with his over-the-top selfie-stick covered in fur... Breeze is literally the only man on this planet who could pull that off. The random fan-girl jumping him was also a nice touch and made me question if that was supposed to happen or not, which is always a good thing. During the match itself Tyler Breeze continued to show off his more aggressive side which we've been seeing from him the past couple of weeks and I like it. You can tell he's studying all the small mannerisms of being a heel, with a great combination of aggressiveness and cowardice. The match was a very good opening bout, but I would have liked to see it go on just a little longer. I was hoping we would finally see Hideo Itami's Go To Sleep, but I like the way they keep teasing us with it, which will make the pop when it finally does happen that much bigger.
Next up was Baron Corbin vs Bull Dempsey in a no-disqualification match, this was definitely the weakest match of the night which is understandable since these guys are some of the most inexperienced guys on the roster. When these guys aren't squashing jobbers in one minute, you can really tell they still have a lot to learn. Baron Corbin looked a lot better in his match with Adrian Neville the week prior to this live special but Neville can make anyone look good. I was happy this match didn't drag on for too long but I was a bit disappointed that neither of them really used the no-disqualification stipulation.
The tag team champs Blake & Murphy had their first title defense against the former tag team champs The Lucha Dragons. This was a very solid match but I have a hard time really getting invested in the current tag team title scene in NXT because in my eyes these teams really lack charisma. They do a good job with their in-ring work that's for sure but I would like both of these teams to have a bit more character. The Vaudevillains really tried something unique and original but their time may still come, as of right now the tag team title match did it's job in delivering a fun action-packed match, but I couldn't help but feel this was the final warm-up before we got to the real good stuff.
Finn Balor VS Adrian Neville may have been my most anticipated match on the card, I kept hearing these stories of the legendary Pac VS Devitt matches in Japan so I was very hyped to see this match. Finn Balor's entrance continues to give me goosebumps and is definitely one of the coolest entrances we've seen in a very long time, I also really like the way his body paint seems to have slightly evolved in comparison to the one he had at Revolution. As cool as this design looks though, I would like to see different variations in the future, just take a loot at Balor's instagram account and you'll see this guy doesn't lack creativity in the way he painted himself in the independents. The match itself was just fantastic, with a few crazy original spots and good selling by both men. Even though both these guys are used to working at a high pace, it was good to see both of them taking the time to show the audience they're hurt, which allows us to suspend our disbelieve and get that much more invested in the story these men are trying to tell. The outcome was pretty predictable, but that's not a bad thing, predictable doesn't always equal bad. Neville has accomplished everything there is to accomplish in NXT and I am very much looking forward to his main roster debut, this was a perfect way to pass the torch to Balor in a battle for the ages. I could honestly watch these guys go at it for hours, let's hope there are many more rematches coming somewhere down the road.
Next up was Charlotte defending her women's championship in a fatal 4-way match against Becky Lynch, Bayley & Sasha Banks. This has to be the best female fatal 4-way I can remember seeing in the WWE, which doesn't really say much but this was just damn entertaining to watch. The ladies of NXT keep showing the world how women's wrestling should be treated and they just seem to keep raising the bar. Just think about all the amazing matches we've seen on NXT in the past year, Paige VS Emma, Charlotte VS Natalya, Charlotte vs Bayley and Charlotte vs Sasha Banks were all miles ahead of any Divas championship match on the main roster. Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha had already proved just how great they are in the ring but the fact Becky Lynch could hang with them was a nice surprise to me. This match had multiple memorable moments like Charlotte getting slammed in the LED screen and that crazy double team move Bayley and Charlotte did to Sasha. The ending of the match was also perfect in my eyes because it finally showcased Sasha as the dominant BOSS she is, I've been a fan of hers for a very long time and this title victory was well deserved.
Finally it was time for our Main Event, Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens. Given the long history these two men have with each other we knew we where in for something special, but I don't think anyone was expecting such a dominant performance by Kevin Owens. I made my point earlier about predictable not always equaling bad, and the same can be said for something unpredictable, that doesn't necessarily mean it's good. But when something is unpredictable and it's good, a lot of times it ends up being amazing. Those powerbombs Owens gave to Zayn just looked absolutely brutal. Sami Zayn showed he can sell like the best of them and this match was the perfect way to set up Kevin Owens as a monster heel. Even though I would have liked to see Sami hold the title a little longer, he basically also has accomplished everything there is to accomplish in NXT and it seems like his main roster call-up can't be too far away. This does leave us with a interesting scenario though, with the next NXT live special probably happening a few weeks after Wrestlemania, Wrestlemania will probably be the next time we will see the NXT championship defended if we can believe the rumours. Kevin Owens VS Finn Balor would be an incredible Wrestlemania match but Sami Zayn also still has the right to a rematch, could you imagine a triple threat match on the grandest stage of them all!? That's probably just wishful thinking though, since almost the entire main roster, with a few exceptions obviously, would not be able to follow that.
Overall I would say NXT Takeover Rival lived up to it's hype for sure, especially with those amazing final 3 matches. Was it better then Takeover Revolution? I'm not sure about that but there's no need to compare them, let's all just be grateful NXT has become what it is today, as we anxiously await the next live special.