Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The 2014 Top 100 Matches Countdown, Part 3: YES!tleMania

Thatcher and Silver grapplin' it up at the Chop Shop
Photo Credit: Picture Dave
Part three of the countdown finally gets out of the early part of the year and unto the threshold of summertime. It includes WrestleMania, the return of Chikara, and the first Takeover special in addition to a bunch of cool indie stuff. LOOK.

John Silver vs. Timothy Thatcher, Beyond Wrestling Secret Show, 3/23 - Watch It Here (for $0.99)!
Selling just doesn’t mean holding your head after taking a punch or grabbing a knee after escaping a kneebar or single leg crab. It means actually pretending what is being done to you hurts in proportion to what’s being done to that particular body part. Silver and Thatcher dueled each other working another’s body part. Silver put everything into wrecking Thatcher’s knee and leg, while Thatcher wrecked Silver’s arm. The beauty was that each wrestler’s detriment didn’t disappear when they went on offense. Contrarily, it figured into each other’s worked strategy, or it was a thing to overcome rather than just a visual aid while being worked over. Thatcher, for example, visibly struggled to lift Silver up with the butterfly suplex, and then upon impact, he grabbed his leg.

The interplay between the two didn’t just stop at the limb work. The counters went to the next level, which should be expected when coming from the British Messiah, though Silver more than held his own. Of course, the beginning of the match had great counterwrestling, because from the start, it was worked with heavy World of Sport influence. But once the gears shifted, the slick counters kept coming, especially towards the end. I thought Thatcher was going to get the win when he quickly countered being pinned in a German suplex hold into an armbar, but his follow up, the Karelin lift, was foiled when Silver hooked the heel and segued into his final single leg crab. All in all, it was a great opening match, and one that I think a lot of wrestlers would do well to take notes on.

Kimber Lee vs. AR Fox, Beyond Wrestling Secret Show, 3/23 - Watch It Here (for $0.99), or Just Watch the Highlights, Tightwad!
AR Fox is not a subtle villain in Beyond Wrestling. He is about as over the top as they come, and he had no qualms about showing it from first bell, when he intentionally knocked out referee Dan Yost and laid waste to Kimber Lee with a chair before getting a cheap win. From a story perspective, the first “match” worked, but given how much hope I had for this match going in, I was disappointed that was apparently being used for angle fodder/character exposition. But the match got restarted, and Fox continued wearing out Lee. Fox works as a high-flying good guy nearly everywhere else, yet he’s so good at playing the prick bad guy, especially in heat segments, and Lee’s work taking the beating was sublime as well. She sold and bumped, and she sprinkled in fleeting, futile hope spots at the right time. Her for-real comeback was on fire as well, with every beat whipping the crowd into even more of a frenzy. The finish was brilliantly done as well, with Fox causing another intentional ref bump, but then Lee getting the chair and getting her revenge. Too bad the ref woke up and only saw Lee’s chairshots, which was a bit deflating in the moment, but worked overall with the context of how the match was restarted.

Shynron (c) vs. Brian Fury, Chile Lucha Libre Championship Match, Beyond Wrestling Secret Show, 3/23 - Watch It Here (for $0.99)!
This match started slow, and I was afraid it was going to be one of those main events that couldn’t reach the bar set by the insane undercard that jam-packed underneath of it. But once Fury got on his advantage, man, this match took off. Fury wrestled like a guy who looked like he stepped right off the Sons of Anarchy set, a roughneck with tree trunks for limbs who knew he was working against a guy whom he dwarfed. Once he started imposing his will, the stakes started getting intense, bordering on reckless. Getting the giant swing into the barricade is one level of brutality, but Fury sent Shynron into the goddamn cinderblock wall at the RWA Chop Shop. OUCH. Fury must have knocked something loose on Shynron, because his comeback was faster and more furious than normal. He had an extra spring in his step and snapped off his big spots with a bit more gusto than usual. Even with the AR Fox interference, this match was a hell of a cap to a snazzy show. Fury showed that he could be more than just the local trainer, and Shynron continued his evolution into one of the surest things on any card in the Northeast.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose vs. Cesaro and Jack Swagger, RAW, 3/24 - Watch Highlights Here!
In a match that featured the most insane bumper in WWE, Cesaro was the one who took the biggest pratfalls in the match. The Swiss Superman got dumped over the top rope and took an arc so parabolic that its equation would be taught in advanced algebra classes, and then for good measure, when Rollins hit him with the tope suicida, he barreled into the crowd like he just got hit with a concussion grenade. He followed the perfect formula for helping Rollins attain babyface god status and for keeping The Shield’s aura as a merciless killing machine, only for the forces of good, going strong. The match had great escalation, some surprising face-in-peril excellence from Dean Ambrose that paradoxically went with his insane eyed Roddy Piper shit, and Jack Swagger breaking out some innovative ways to break out submission holds, namely the pop-up ankle lock.

Cedric Alexander vs. Andrew Everett vs. Trevor Lee, PWG Mystery Vortex II, 3/28
Making a good first impression on a new crowd is one thing, but ripping the lid off the building and possibly making it impossible for anyone else to follow is a whole other. Cedric Alexander was making his first foray into PWG in three years, and Trevor Lee and Andrew Everett were making their debuts. While the PWG opening match has been THE place to go for the most exciting match, if not always the best, they took the space and owned it like no one else before them ever did. It was a frenetic bonanza of flying bodies, counters, hard hits, and surprise attacks, the kind of perpetual motion that sets a three-or-four-way on another higher shelf than the run of the mill. One person would do a move and right away, the third party would burst into the scene to take them out. It was bad for paying attention intently while taking notes, but it was great for entertainment value.

In particular, Everett proved that he could be a worthy successor to the line of insane high-flyers who have occupied PWG rings before. It wasn’t just in the nature of his flippy-dos and twisty shit, but in how he timed those spots to be right there at the right time. It’s one thing to risk life and limb just to pantomime attacking someone, but it’s another to hit at the right time to hit the right beat for what the match needed. Alexander worked well as the striker, the guy who was going to win the match by trying to blend in as a PWG regular, and Lee’s tendencies to play agent provocateur threw a bit of mischief into the chaos. But Everett springboarded and leaped into the hearts and minds of the Reseda crowd. Whether it was bumping while being thwarted by Lee on counter, taking both out with a 450 splash, or ending the affair by hitting a shooting star press in almost slow motion - a feat harder to do than twisting at Ricochet speeds - Everett owned the ring.

But regardless of who was the star performer, all three came in from North Carolina to conquer a new venue, and they did so by stoking the crowd into a raging frenzy without burning it out. It was a match that fit in with the PWG ethos but also had a distinct flavor from their home stomping grounds, different enough to set it apart from the big clusterfuck matches that would follow it. It was one of the best openers and three way dances of the year, and it deserves all the credit it gets and then some.

Distilled insanity in wrestling form
Photo Credit: Devin Chen
ACH and AR Fox vs. Ricochet and Rich Swann vs. Brian Cage and Michael Elgin, PWG Mystery Vortex II, 3/28
Much like in the opener, the tag three-way provided scads of bodies flying everywhere, spots seamlessly woven together for maximum titillation, and rapid-fire exchanges that made it hard to take notes and enjoy completely at the same time. However, whereas the opener had the air of desperation, this match had a lot more whimsy. Not only were all six competitors already embedded within PWG’s hierarchy, but they are also among the most expressive and playful characters within those confines. Yes, even golem-ass Michael Elgin shows a bit of the personality when he’s teamed up with Brian Cage and going up against smaller teams who usually serve as pinballs against their hulking-frames.

And despite the fact that the hops that the African-American Wolves and the Inner City Machine Guns possessed were at least equal to if not greater than those possessed by the average division in the NBA, the match was mostly about and cycled through the Machines. The beginning of the match was about getting out of their way and avoiding them at all costs. The middle of the match was full of big spots trying either to knock the mammoths down or the Machines pulling off some of their more show-offy power combos, including the infamous tag-in-tag-out minute-plus delay vertical suplex. And by the end of the match, the fray had dissolved into utter chaos with the leviathan-like figures rising out of the ocean to put the challenge down with big powerbombs and discus lariats. Even the multi-layered feats of strength were taken to new levels, as Elgin broke out a double Alabama slam on both ICMGs at one point.

Of course, if one were going to book four guys to act as deft fighter pilots trying to take down the twin Godzillas, that person could do a heck of a lot worse than the collective of Fox, ACH, Swann, and Ricochet. The HOSSERY was my favorite part of the match but the sly dissension between the Guns and the Wolves, especially when it came to ACH and Fox smoothly and successfully dicking the Guns into taking the worst of the punishment was a close second. It ended up being appropriate to the finish, as Fox and ACH were the ones who ate the final fall despite their best efforts. It just goes to show that even matches one might derisively write off as a “spotfest” more than likely has an underlying story if it’s good, and also that maybe the word spotfest shouldn’t be used as a term of derision in the first place.

Adam Cole (c) vs. Candice LeRae, PWG World Championship Match, PWG Mystery Vortex II, 3/28
People who might get caught up on the ridiculous notion of “gender believability” probably missed that the match was brilliantly worked around the invisible and self-constraining handicaps of size difference. If Candice LeRae had a dick for Adam Cole to suck at the behest of the crowd’s chants at the beginning of the match, the gender differences would have been ignored for the physical essay on size difference and style contrast. Cole came off as a bully almost too well, throwing his weight and his arrogance behind every hold and strike. If it were the first time I watched PWG and had the commentary on mute, I would have gotten clearly that Cole had so much disdain for LeRae that he could have sold excess for $3.99 a bag on r/MensRights. LeRae’s gutty babyface comebacks hit like jagged rocks against the rusty hull of an old ship. Everything, from her co-opting of Cole’s signature pelvic thrust to the face in the beginning of the match through her elbows, her big through-rope mushroom stomp, even the finisher steal at the end with the Panama Sunrise, conveyed a determination in LeRae, like she was listening to doubters in her head. But at no point did her offense feel like she was straining. She played “their” game and came out with one of the best, last-stand performances of the year. Even though Cole ultimately won the match, LeRae came out looking every bit worthy of her title opportunity.

Photo Credit:
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H, WrestleMania XXX, 4/6
The write-up for this match originally appeared in my WrestleMania XXX review.
Six matches later on the card, Daniel Bryan would have his honest-to-God WrestleMania moment, but to open the show, he got to wrestle the first of what should be many WrestleMania classics. The fact that he went out and made it rain with Triple H of all people - the same Triple H whose last five Mania matches in my view were mediocre at best - solidifies him as a wrestling god. Unquestionably, it belongs in the same breath as Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart as the best WrestleMania opener ever, and the pass of time may put it in such rarefied air as one of the greatest WWE matches, regardless of event, ever.

The shithead Triple H hater in me would love to come out and say that Bryan "carried" him, and while I think Bryan is the kind of wrestler that could coax a great match out of the Game better than Brock Lesnar, the Undertaker, pre-Best Big Man in WWE Sheamus, or Randy Orton could, he held up his end of the bargain. He built himself up before the show as the epitome of the A-plus player, but one who would not be fucked with. So he went out and threw everything he had at Bryan and then some.

I saw moves out of Triple H that I never thought he would pull out, like a fucking tiger suplex. I remember when [REDACTED] giving him one in a match was a big deal. My marvel at that move wasn't so much like a "workrate fan" demanding a diverse moveset inasmuch as it signaled escalation. His word, his bravado even, demanded that he had to put Bryan away, so he had to keep damaging him, just like the way he worked over Bryan's arm earlier in the match and kept going back to the crossface and the chicken wing. And to her credit, Stephanie McMahon did pretty much everything a good heel manager should do short of interfering. She was shrill, she barked encouragement at Trips, and tried to verbally intimidate Bryan during the course of the match too. She added about as much to the match as she could have without laying a finger on Bryan at all.

But yeah, this match is where Daniel Bryan showed off the ultimate in underdog moxie and babyface fire. He bumped hard both on offense and defense; one should note that he went from the goddamn top rope to the floor near the barricade, which is a gnarly bump for anyone to take. His counters were on point; his second Pedigree counter, the one where he back-body-dropped while his arms were still chicken-winged, was as godly a maneuver as you're gonna see anywhere. And he had impeccable timing on where to place his comebacks. His Knee-Plus landed right in Trips' mush may have been the most impactfully-timed one he's done yet. I won't talk about how Bryan made himself in this match, because he's been solid gold in WWE since the end of RAW two years ago. However, this match is a huge reason why he can now take his place among the immortals, and he got help from one of the most notoriously selfish wrestlers in WWE history to get there. Greatness comes on that mark.

Andre the Giant Battle Royale (30 Wrestlers), WrestleMania XXX, 4/6
The first annual Andre Battle Royale kicked off what might end up being a staple for years to come with a lively and memorable jaunt. Even though the match was mostly carried by two wrestlers - Kofi Kingston and Cesaro - several members of the supporting cast came through with the blitheness and theatrics necessary to transform a battle royale from “fun” to “excellent.” However, the performances most worth noting came from the aforementioned two. Kingston translated his Royal Rumble acrobatics into this match in a huge way. As Cesaro launched him over the ringpost FROM the ring, he was able to land so that his feet wouldn’t touch the floor and instead take the ring steps. I don’t care about his shortcomings in regular matches; I could watch Kingston evade death in battle royale spots for days and days. Cesaro, however, won the day with his feats of strength on several competitors, not the least of which came at the end with his elimination of Big Show. The first match in a series should always have something to set the tone, and Cesaro pulling off the slam to in the match not only became the kayfabe benchmark, but it actually looked the part as well to deserve the praise it will undoubtedly receive for years to come on the broadcast.

Timothy Thatcher vs. Biff Busick, Beyond Wrestling Secret Show at the CZW Academy, 4/13 - Watch It Here!
Rough around the edges interpretation of the World of Sport grappling style has blown up in 2014, but for as much as it’s been featured in bigger indie arenas, the style seems to play best in more intimate settings, especially when the match is between two guys who thrive in that kind of setting. Busick and Thatcher both are among the best grapplers on the scene, so their tilt in the enclosed settings of the CZW Wrestling Academy had a sparring feel to it, two experts going at it not to win a bigger purse, but to hone their crafts. But then the mood escalated and they started really trying to best each other in a furious burst to the finish.

What would be construed as a feeling-out process in most other matches lasted about half the duration of the contest, and it all felt about as stiff as a typical “you hit me, I hit you” strike trade between Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards without the ridiculous misapplication of “fighting spirit.” Thatcher worked the arm pretty viciously, even bending back the fingers on more than one occasion (my favorite staple of cranky British wrestlers). Busick kept going not for specific limb work, but for a rear naked choke victory. While those strains weren’t exclusive to their respective offensive strategies, they always seemed to find their way back to those singular goals, but each journey back to the main path was crisp and exciting. Neither wrestler droned on, and the fighting atmosphere felt organic, not robotically choreographed.

But then they ventured over to the corner, and Thatcher rocked Busick with a European uppercut that sent him from the top turnbuckle to the apron that was situated right up against the west cinderblock wall. It was a visually stunning bump, and it sent the match into high gear. While the arm work and the submission grabs were still present, they felt angrier and more urgent. Each wrestler broke out some of his signature spots in impressive variations. Thatcher got so mad he gutwrench suplexed Busick into the goddamn corner, and Busick let out a slap like he was Zachary Quinto and Thatcher was some punk kid. The fury culminated in a tense series of exchanges that led to Busick wrenching away at Thatcher with a side headlock/crossface variant. A lot of times, the pass-out in place of a tapout finish can be a copout, but these two guys went so hard, that Thatcher going unconscious before he had a chance to realize he had to give up to save himself was the best ending possible.

Cesaro vs. Mark Henry, Intercontinental Championship Contenders Tournament First Round Match, RAW, 4/14 - Watch Highlights Here!
This match didn’t get nearly enough time or fleshed-out story as it deserved, but the two hosses went out and made the most of it. They told a succinct tale based around feats of strength compacted into an easy-to-digest capsule that got the point across nicely. I think of it as an Oscar-worthy short film compared to the sweeping Best Picture epic that was Bryan/Trips. The sequence where Cesaro backed Henry into the corner was brilliant. The crowd erupted for the Neutralizer, sure, but Cesaro shaking off getting tossed aside time after time just to batter Henry with uppercuts was the most visually impressive series of underdog comebacks. Cesaro showed the guts and guile that will eventually make him an upper echelon babyface, and Henry gave the onslaught object permanence by continually fighting it off and finishing it off with a lariat. I would have loved to have seen what they could have done with ten minutes or so, but this match was concentrated excellence.

Kimber Lee vs JT Dunn, ISW Trapped in the Closet, 4/19 - Watch It Here!
They reused a bunch of spots from their secret show best three-of-five falls match here, but did so within a more compact time frame and without the extraneous trappings that were set up just to be able to have a double-countout spot that didn’t result in the end of the match. In nearly every single way, this match was better and more appropriate than the 3/5 falls one because of the way it was worked with all the situational no-selling and the bang-bang sequences. Longer isn’t always better, people. Anyway, it was a hard-hitting match that was a little light on the long-term selling, but given the compaction and the way they at times fell into counters rather than sized them up, it made for a more exciting than frustrating watch. The visual of Dunn reaching out of the Tree of Woe to yank Lee from the top by her hair was simple yet stunning. Plus, the action in the match seemed to tell a story that the wrestlers were so equal in nearly every way that it had to unfold the way it did, and each wrestler put their entire asses into giving off that impresion.

Kyle Matthews vs. Chip Day, Universal Independent Wrestling House Show, 4/25 - Watch It Here!
This match was a great example of exploring the studio space in a familiar concept and making the most out of it. Their contest wasn’t on any cutting edge in terms of new territory explored; the same format has been tried, tested, and true on most Southern television programs for decades. But they shined it up and got some extra mileage out of it. For example, in the beginning, when a lot of guys just go straight-outta-wrestling school with the rudimentary grappling and exchanges, they dressed the place up. Day segued from an Indian deathlock into grabbing the arms behind him and then turning over for a neat looking pin combo. Matthews followed up by putting on the figure four, only shorter so he could jerk back and get more leverage. Visual cues that make a match look even more intense are always good, especially if they’re simple. Everything that followed felt elevated because of the extra work put in at the beginning, and the finish, with Matthews whiffing on the cross-body, allowing Day to hit the snow plow, was well-timed and slick as hell.

Matt and Jeff Hardy vs. Jay and Mark Briscoe, OMEGA Chaos in Cameron, 4/26 - Watch It Here! Thanks Matt Hardy!
So yeah, the dream match that I never knew I wanted happened in Cameron, NC between two controversial but exciting legendary tag teams. The Hardy Boyz, thanks to TNA’s loosening restrictions on where its talent can wrestle outside the six sides, made an indie renaissance of sorts, and their OMEGA promotion was under attack from two ornery brothers from Slower Lower. The main event war between the Hardys and Briscoes played to the strengths of both teams. The Hardy Boys played sympathetic heroes who had to come back from a big disadvantage to take out invading raiders, while the Briscoes were allowed to tap into a savage edge that their current Ring of Honor personae don’t necessarily allow anymore.

The big thread the match tugged at was Jeff Hardy getting murked bad on the outside of the ring and having Matt face a handicap match for a good chunk of the middle portion. It could have been a recipe for disaster, but Matt held up his end of the bargain well, even as the Briscoes brought out their best and most brutal heat offense. Also, the state of Jeff’s character allowed him to make two big popping appearances, first as WILLOW THE FUCKIN’ WISP and second as himself making the gutty return from the locker room for the final push towards the finish. Both instances played into Jeff’s strengths, first as a weirdly, possibly drug fueled scion of absurdity (Willow beating the everloving shit out of both Briscoes with an umbrella was weird and awesome at the same time), and second to his inherent, almost genetic capacity to play the gutty underdog.

But all four wrestlers were on point. Mark’s redneck kung-fu fits in nearly any situation, and was a big hit here. Jay was more vicious and tenacious than I’ve seen him in a ring in a while, and Matt came off as oddly likable as the eternal face in peril. It was a chaotic, sometimes schlocky, but ultimately satisfying tag team main event between two supreme teams, and it was capped off by a tremendous finish. Matt countering the Doomsday Device into a victory roll was made by having Mark fly halfway across the ring on the miss. IT was a bang-bang visual that tied the entire match together and made it one of the best tag matches of the year.

Sasha Banks vs. Bayley, NXT Women’s Championship Tournament First Round, NXT, 5/1 (airdate) - Watch Highlights Here!
If I were booking NXT, this match would’ve been my final, not just because they were the two best characters in the tournament, but because I would rather have seen them get an extended stage with the time and pomp. This match, though truncated, had some nice meat to it. Bayley showed off sublime dedication to her character within the ring. She’s able to channel childlike petulance into an actual in-ring style, and it’s brilliant. The hugging motif is the obvious signpost, but the way she clubbed right into Banks’ back with both arms like a toddler who was resisting bedtime. I thought Banks could have been a bit more spry rolling out of the ring after the Belly to Bayley, but she was a good canvas here. I dug her take on the crossface as well.

Bill Carr and Dan Barry vs. Joey Ryan and Candice LeRae, WSU Secret Show #4, 5/9 - Watch It Here!
The write-up for this match was originally posted in my review for WSU Secret Show #4.
The only tag team match of the night opened the show, and two better teams could not have been booked across from each other. Team Tremendous and the Candice and Joey Show are two of the most charismatic and physically gifted tandems in wrestling today, all four bringing something different to the table. Bill Carr imposed his size and HOSSdom on the match. Dan Barry worked well as El Hijo Gringo del Rey Mysterio. Joey Ryan's veteran savvy showed in spades while he was working face in peril, and seeing Candice LeRae, the smallest competitor in the match by far, bring babyface fire hotter than the Sun, especially after the hot tag, was an amazing sight to behold. All four took to the ring seemingly looking to set a strong pace, but also not to take themselves too seriously by any stretch of the imagination. Basically, that formula produced four wrestlers who looked like they were having a great time in the ring all while wrestling the best match they possibly could. In my view, that combination provides the best theater.

The match was rare in that the heat segment, where Ryan took a beating from Team Tremendous, was the standout portion of the match. Thanks to a mix of humor and dazzling highspots from Barry, Ryan getting beaten down didn't feel like a slog or something to endure. Their use of misdirection when they put Ryan in the corner was a huge reason why it stood out. Barry eschewing chops or punches for screaming in Ryan's face "WHERE IS MY SON?" elicited a literal, guttural laugh, and I am always a go for a good double titty-twister. Bonus points for said nipple torture are awarded when the guy delivering the cheap tactic is twice as big as the victim. Something about unnecessary underhandedness pops me.

LeRae capped the match off with her stunning house-on-fire work after tagging in. She commanded the ring better than most people placed in that role in a random tag match, and if the Ballsplex she delivered to Carr - a massive feat both by the giver and taker - was given in front of a crowd at Fete Music, American Legion #308, or the Flyers Skate Zone, the crowd reaction would have blown a hole in the roof. The finish was well-placed and executed as well. Carr did a lot of the little things in this match to make sure both Ryan and LeRae had effective looking offense, and getting around for that casadora victory roll was huge in putting an exclamation point on the match.

Fire Ant, Green Ant, and Worker Ant vs. Missile Assault Ant, Arctic Rescue Ant, and Orbit Adventure Ant, Chikara You Only Live Twice, 5/25
The write-up for this match originally appeared in my review for You Only Live Twice.
To be honest, I didn't expect much out of this match going in. It was nothing against the individual workers, but I thought it would've been marked by the same kind of interference and chicanery that kicked off the Envoy/BDK match and finished the Batiri/Odditorium match. That wasn't to say the match finished clean. However, the shenanigans in this match were embedded within a fantastic trios match, the kind which has become one of the signatures of Chikara over the years.

As with any trios match, the teamwork was all on point. It's easy to point out all the high-flying, complex moves performed, mainly because they were visually spectacular. The Xtreme Force triple-team forced snowboard spot on the back of Worker Ant was topped only by a death-defying Ant Hill Splash to the outside. But each team adopted the traditional Southern tag team roles so well. I was super-impressed by how well the Xtreme Force was able to cut the ring in half and work over Worker Ant, in particular. He may have seemed to have a rough match, but he certainly recovered from his flubs in a way that made them seem like they were part of the script.

But the two most impressive individual performers were Green Ant (typically) and Missile Assault Ant (surprisingly). I figured Green Ant would come out on fire, since he has become one of the best wrestlers on the indies and possibly in the country over the last few years. But Missile Assault Ant was the revelation. He did great crowd work, had all the big spots for his team, and generally drove the action on his squad. And the finish of the match was super well-done, taking advantage of the chaos inherent in a typical Chikara trios match to put a fresh spin on a classic heel trope (removing the turnbuckle pad) while keeping it in the flow of the match. On a show where the return of King of Trios was announced, it's appropriate the best match was a classic six-man (ant?) tag.

Tyler Breeze vs. Sami Zayn, NXT Takeover, 5/29 - Watch Highlights Here!
Sami Zayn established himself as the best big match worker in NXT history. Okay, that statement is more than hyperbolic, but while one match is a fluke, and two is only a trend, the third gigantic match on a main stage is enough for me to make that statement in the short history of the WWE developmental territory. This match was his first big-time encounter against someone other than Cesaro, the then-untested Tyler Breeze. Breeze showed he was money out of the ring, but this was his first real chance to go in an extended bout. I’d say he passed with flying colors, as he went toe to toe with Zayn, blow for blow, bump for bump.

The match will probably be remembered for the big bumps. Zayn going from the top to the apron to the floor on a leg sweep from the top set the tone, but Breeze ended up taking the brunt of two perfectly-placed dives to the outside from Zayn at various points in the match. In fact, my only beef was that Breeze took them both in such proximity to the steel ramp. I didn’t like seeing him bounce his head off the steel. But showing a willingness to bump is a good trait, one that he’s going to need in the future as a showpiece.

But both guys brought their A-games on offense too. I knew Zayn could do the damn thing, but Breeze showed a different side, an evolution of the vicious and tenacious side he’d been developing during his NXT career. He exerted authority, a perfect tool to use upon the canvas Zayn can set with his glassy eyes and spaghetti legs. I also cannot levy enough superlatives on the finish either. At first, I thought Zayn just whiffed via bad placement on a Helluva Kick he was supposed to hit, but when I saw him writhing on the ground, and Breeze get up virtually unscathed, I thought it to be the most brilliant bit of ring placement by two gutty performers. An excellent cap to an outstanding match.

Photo Credit:
Charlotte vs. Nattie Neidhart, NXT Women’s Championship Tournament final, NXT Takeover, 5/29 - Watch Highlights Here!
The legacies of the Flair and Hart families had to go out and follow what was yet another Sami Zayn instant classic (with a little bit of a buffer), and not only did they meet the expectations, they shot them out of a cannon and perhaps exceeded what Zayn and Tyler Breeze did minutes before. Neidhart shed labels of having regressed in a WWE ring, and Charlotte had her breakout performance in my view in a huge way. They perhaps worked the finest match between wrestlers of their gender since Bull Nakano and Alundra Blayze in the mid-’90s, and made a huge statement that women didn’t have to work like stereotypical diva wrestlers to get raucous crowd support and tell a phenomenal story.

A huge reason for how well the overall match shone was the tone set in the beginning with the grappling. They spent about a third of the match going hold for hold, countering, setting a stiff pace, eliminating any need to go out and throw bombs early. They looked so natural at it too, clearly the most comfortable Neidhart has ever looked in a WWE ring. Charlotte deserves a subtle best for the “ugh, finally” look of disgust Charlotte had on her face after dispatching a Neidhart sleeperhold with a backpack stunner. I’m a huge believer in facial expressions being a huge part in telling the tale, and they can be the difference between selling a conflict and being representative of two people trying to cycle through as many spots as possible in the given time.

What I liked best about the match was that it had progression. The grappling gave way to tempers flaring. That sass escalated into a finishing derby where each competitor was giving their best shots, including taking their ancestors’ finishers. Things did get a bit hairy in the end with the rolling Figure Four out of the ring, but sometimes, hoariness with submissions at the end of a hard-fought match can be forgiven in the context of a superior story. I’m exceedingly glad that Neidhart wasn’t able to lock in the Figure Four in response to Charlotte’s Sharpshooter, and even happier that it led directly into the finish of the match. The Bow Down to the Queen is such an awkward finish to work into any match, but in this instance, it was framed nearly perfectly. It was the exclamation point on a match between two women who wrestled a match that their father and uncle respectively would’ve been lauded for back in the day.

Emma, Bayley, and Paige vs. Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Summer Rae, NXT, 6/12 (airdate) - Watch Highlights Here!
A trios match with women on RAW will often lead to at least two wrestlers not getting into match action and the contest being over quicker than a Goldberg squash. Granted, Paige was never tagged into this match, but that’s because Emma spent an inordinate time playing the face-in-peril. Still, she brought efficacy to the role, starting with a bump that saw her eat the apron and enduring through the somewhat choppy by design heat by the heels. Their rocky relationship and impending breakup gave their offense a unique dynamic. Still, Charlotte’s leg-scissors segment was super-impressive to watch, especially as she flipped Emma over by the legs. The leverage involved on both wrestlers was impressive. Bayley’s house-on-fire after tagging in scorched the earth as well.

Tomorrow, the countdown ventures hard into Texas.