Monday, December 15, 2014


The violent defibrillator to a formerly dead feud
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"It's just the beginning." - Kevin Owens about 90 seconds into his WWE tenure

Say what you will about him, but the man ain't lie.

You might as well cue up the opening 45 seconds of River Blood right now and set it to repeat, since it's going to be the soundtrack for NXT's 2015.

There's a reason - a harmonic convergence - that said song is by a band called Nature of the Beast. At base, the Dennis Green Principle applies. People are who you thought they were. And they fight two distinct types of battles: one is against the self; the other against outside forces.

Sami Zayn won the former however narrowly, and got the NXT championship with it. Finally. His failure to anticipate the latter got him stretchered out of Full Sail before being hauled off in an ambulance, and William Regal by turns seething and speechless after the show--looking in consecutive seconds as if he was ready to drone strike his newest signee's entire bloodline or fall into the center of the Earth.

And now a cloud hangs over Full Sail so dark that it almost subsumed the first 119 minutes of the fourth and another phenawesomnal NXT live Network Special. When fans think of Revolution, what'll be the foremost memory on a show where Finn Bálor debuted Stateside a full body painting skill level Carnage and Charlotte and Sasha Banks being so on point the rapturous crowd gave a "this is wrestling" chant for the first time to a Stamford-endorsed women's match is Kevin Owens. Of course he's the dark cloud.

He's the man who started the show reiterating how he'd waited a decade and a half for this moment while a sign in the background over the ring he stood in stated simply "You are not here to fill a spot - you are here to take a spot.".

The man chilling steps away in the background as Zayn readied himself for the biggest fight of his life.

And the man who obliterated the biggest feel-good moment in NXT history by replacing it with possibly the biggest moment in NXT history full stop by taking the new NXT champion and viciously powerbombing him into the apron.

It is one thing to glibly ask how surprised one can be at something widely assumed to be in the offering for weeks leading up to the event. And yet, despite prior history and threatening words (however blanket at the time) coming out of Owens' own mouth leading up to his one-man takeover, a viewer well-steeped in prior years and other wrestling organizations or a WWE-centric newcomer seeing the man in the KO shirt (shadowing shadowing shadowing shadowing, not just in the locker room) lay Zayn out like that could easily leave them agog. For half an hour in a MOTYC, the teases had rolled in building on each other and the past of both men before the most rabid crowd in NXT history threatening ill and the saddest of all possible endings. But Sami persevered and kept plugging away, kept plugging away and staying alive, kept staying alive and fighting. He stayed true to himself, however tempted he was, and was wholly rewarded with his year-plus chase culminating in an ultimate moment of glory. Hell, he was so fired up he got bleeped a couple of times for cursing, but fuck it, you know? The fans practically danced in the aisles. The locker room emptied and Owens was the first out. In an evening of escalating red herrings, this was the most pungent.

But nope. Not yet. We had to get a few more bites of filet mignon in before we tasted broken glass. So it was that Owens didn't hesitate to envelope Zayn in what in retrospect was a sick joke of a hug. Solomon Crowe was there, Bayley got a hug in, Pat Patterson bigged him up before talking to the fallen champion (in the corner of the ring so as not to distract from the Kool and the Gang moment but clearly visible to anybody paying attention beyond the markout moment) and shaking the Englishman's hand as confetti fell from the rafters. And then Adrian Neville pulled himself up, and glared at the hand Zayn offered him, and kicked it away. Maybe THAT was the moment, we all thought, but it was another okiedoke; not two seconds passed from the kick before he hugged his friend and raised his hand in the air. Neville left, the roster left, Zayn did a little dance with the belt while standing on the turnbuckle. It would've been nice if the show had ended there.

Nice and Kevin Owens go together like Michael Bay and subtlety. One moment, everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. Then in a thunderclap, the inverse. Even rewatching the betrayal, even knowing what was to occur, even referencing it not six sentences previously in notes anger surged all over again as if seeing it through fresh eyes that were unburdened of not just being a pure fan. These two are taking their hate to a whole other level, to the biggest platform that it can possibly play out over. The matches will be awesome again, the promos will have improved by a factor of 10, and in front of a crowd loathe to boo anybody but Eva Marie KO sure was getting roundly cursed and jeered as he blew Regal off on his way to the back. From a perspective of a more intelligent fan, this is all peach cobbler and ice cream. But in that moment he threw Zayn down onto the ramp before the apron powerbomb, here didn't posses the only pulse from a fan who "should know better" and still wanted to reach through the screen and fight Owens.

Enough about his sudden but inevitable betrayal; he's got interview time on the next show in a few days assuming Regal doesn't jump him and stretch him like salt water taffy. Let's go back to about half an hour before that where Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville kicked out the jams in their rematch and the main event. Nobody will be as beloved as Zayn was in front of that audience; they'll only be able to equal it. Zayn, having freed himself from his emotional tethers of last week did his usual mannerisms pre-match and even probably snuck in a smooch on Jojo's cheek before waving at the despised champion who was posing with the title before hostilities resumed. If you can remember a stipulation-free match receiving the "we're lowering the Hell in the Cell" music for guys merely walking up to Gorilla and through the curtain, feel free to let us know. That's how big this match was as probably the biggest main event in the history of the NXT operation - how much they had to live up to under the brightest possible lights of their careers to date - and how much sweeter it was as they completely laughed at everybody's already high hopes for the best possible match before superseding them with almost effortless ease.

Once they got underway Neville tried to fade the groundswell of Zayn support by grounding him, showing a different style of more mat-based work and heeling without heeling as they chain wrestled in the opening moments. Repeatedly in almost blatant defiance of the "Olés" and "Let's Go Sami" chants the nearly 300-day champion would stand in the middle of the ring entreating Zayn on as if he wouldn't acquiesce. Zayn got in a couple of big shots, then Neville slowed him back down. But in contrast to his opponent's nearly laissez-faire approach to the match once it arrived, Neville started pressing the ref very early. Even with a sweet avalanche European uppercut, that wasn't going to win the day. But he complained. NXT being a magical wonderland one of the ring mics picked up the referee responding briskly with a "You don't have to worry about me, you have to worry about your opponent." What PPV on Sunday? You sure aren't going to get Tiny Lister in the Dark Knight moments from the refs up in the "big leagues"; you know, the same shows that haven't been able on an overall basis to hold NXT's jock for the past couple of years. This is to say nothing about Alex Riley and newcomer to the squad Corey Graves adding to the commentary and Rich Brennan staying in pocket. Zayn got in a lariat out of nowhere and hit the evening's final tope con hilo. Here came Zayn on a run with a Steamboat press and a counter Blue Thunder bomb only to be shut down by another vicious Neville avalanche Euro and a modified Chaos Theory. Having survived a Better Than Batista bomb (subtle receipt for getting Blue Thundered out of nowhere, and continuing the threads of Neville's frustration and using the referee as the scapegoat for it) at Neville's hands he was fine jawing back and throwing nasty forearms.

Then a match already drawing This Is Awesome chants took it up a notch or three. Or five. Zayn countered the Red Arrow with knees and a Koji clutch. Neville responded by countering the counter Exploder with a victory roll, but his head collided with the ref's on the kickout. Note in contrast to later events, this was or at least looked accidental. And then he checked on the ref because he's Sami Zayn, allowing the opening to get superkicked and more impressively reverse huracanraned. And yet he survived. And came back to throw a couple Germans and a beautiful half-nelson release suplex. That should've been the moment to set up the express to Helluva but Neville bailed and assumed he was safe on the floor. A suicide dive DDT with bonus nasty sauce on it proved he wasn't. Then Zayn went in for the kill. And the Helluva hit this time but Neville pulled the ref into harm's way before hitting the floor himself. Crucially, both Graves and Riley immediately noted that this time was wholly intentional and the last refuge of a desperate scoundrel. You know, the kind of man bringing in his championship title into the ring while Zayn again checked on the zebra. This could've been the moment, easily, to end it.


Zayn saw Neville coming this time, and kicked him down. Give the crowd credit: from the second the opening presented itself they were chanting no, pleading and yelling at Zayn not to do it. And yet he scooped up the belt...and clearly, multiple times over the course of a minute, heavily considered it. He cocked the title belt back a couple of times, and that could've been the moment--but he threw the belt down and yelled an off mic "fuck that" right into a Neville cradle. You know, like the one that cost him the last time they faced down a few weeks ago even when this was a schoolboy and that was an inside cradle. And THAT could've been the moment. But obviously it wasn't: a corner Exploder and Helluva Kick later Sami Zayn was the King of Florida for the real moment. It should've been about a Match of the Year level bout delivering on all facets. About who could and would win a rubber match. About Zayn literally wrestling in the first NXT match on the Network live in a courageous loss and wrestling the last one of the year and getting the Big X. About Zayn becoming the fifth man to hold that gold.

When you're thinking about the things Kevin Owens took away from us going forward, these are the type of things to think about. And, of course, you should watch the match or rewatch it (or, hell, even rererewatch it) if you have already. Speaking of things that have exponential reviewing value, Neville and Zayn had to pull out all the stops lest they get outclassed by the Women's championship match that preceded them. Yet again the ladies got the semi-man for a WWE Network live show, then proved wholly why the spot was deserved. It was hard to hear at times over the deafening silence of everybody who thought Natty carried Charlotte a couple of specials ago, but you could if you paid attention. Sasha Banks getting some love and respect from the crowd without wholly winning them over was a nice touch outside the ring that played well as the match continued on inside of it. Both were perfectly willing to bend and in her case circumvent the rules, with setups and transitions based around a hair pull on a multitude of occasions.

Don't get put out: these were merely brief moments in a wrestling match centered around one ups-womanship. Watching Banks shift gears from cowardly to ravenous once her chicanery gave her the upper hand could easily give a viewing veteran the warm and fuzzies whether it was the dead of winter or not. And while Banks was able to put Charlotte in her own figure four headlock after doing the family strut in her face in addition to hitting a crazy dive between the ropes, the champ was just too much. Too much of a size disparity, too powerful, and more than too willing to use the platform as a way of expanding her repertoire. Her rebound spear should've gotten more love (and Banks flipped inside-out to make it look like sudden death), but it will live in the shadow of the champion landing on her feet off a missed moonsault and sans hesitation launching forward into a somersault senton. And that's going to play Marcia to Charlotte hitting a Diamond Dust to finish off her former BFF, sold as a mega Natural Selection. No wonder the crowd was chanting not only This Is Awesome but the aforementioned This Is Wrestling as things drew closer to the end. You know it's good when Rich is doing a poor man's Joey Styles because the action's that compelling. The Like A Boss chant may've debuted here but it was more like two queens of the ring reigning supreme. What a sweet world where the ladies throw down just like the fellas and aren't shunted into 150 seconds of Short Attention Span Theater.

In continuing down a road in which all the babyfaces somehow won their matches, before the ladies melted a few thousand eyeballs the Dream Team of Finn and Hideo took their style of kick and managed to grind out a win over the Ascension. At least when he came out as every Symbiote ever crawling through the fog before the match started Finn put the WTF mate look on the Ascension's faces (well, mostly Konor's) that jobbers used to have as the Ascension would turn them into the latest sacrifice. But those salad days are over, and as excellent as they were at maintaining control once they got it and made Hideo Itami take quite a beatdown, they lost the opening brawl before the bell and once Hideo got to his part of town after a couple of near misses on his end to bring in Bálor their countdown to extinction was on. Finn Bálor even busted out the old Reverse Bloody Sunday as he ran wild over the former tag champs. Both Itami and Bálor put them away with a double stomp off the top but on a show with the great on it this had the misfortune of merely being above average. The same misfortune occurred in the tag team title match earlier on as the Lucha Dragons retained over the Vaudevillains, most notable for Aiden English taking a double tope bullet for Simon Gotch. The good news is that Simon had a friend willing to take that level of hit for him; the bad news is down here in Logicville one guy vs. two champions means the usual balance numerically holds.

The only other match was the opener, notable solely for a sentient pile of garbage masquerading as a human being so set for his WWE debut he actually shed tears on the way to the ring before delivering a feel good moment with his win.

Ten, maybe five minutes into the show, Kevin Owens had given us a feel-good moment.

He seems perfectly content to keep that counter at one for his entire Full Sail run, and if we spend the next 12½ months going through his darkest mornings then NXT is going to threepeat as Show of the Year while barely breaking a sweat in the process.

It's simply the nature of the beast.