On September 18, 2011, the future of the WWE was on full display in a match between its developmental program's two biggest stars: Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.
Despite the fact that Rollin's FCW 15 championship belt was on the line (a belt he had held for almost eight months), this match was about more than gold—it was show and prove time for the real NXT.
The two had fought twice previously—in 15- and 20-minute Iron Man matches, both of which had ended in 0-0 draws.
It seemed everything had built to this one night—the final chapter in the trilogy.
After all, Ali and Frazier had fought three times, along with Ward and Gotti.
Ambrose and Rollins would fight again, of course, waiting in the WWE's wings for their chance on the big stage.
This match would define their rivalry and put the watching suits on notice.
An entire episode of FCW TV had been aired in the build-up, purely dedicated to hyping the encounter.
There had even been a contract signing the previous week.
Ambrose was in the process of making his name by calling out his opponents, sometimes for no apparent reason—after signing with FCW earlier in the year, Rollins would be the first to face the wrath of the now famous temper.
The match started slowly, with both guys trading holds and submission moves during the first five minutes. Both were wary that they'd be fighting for the full 30 minute duration, no matter what.
With around 24 minutes left on the clock, Ambrose's Mr Hyde personality began to emerge as he landed some strong chops and forearms on Rollin's chest.
The crowd began to come alive almost immediately after as Rollins slapped Ambrose through the ropes, to the apron.
At the 21:49 mark, it would indeed be Rollins to score the first pinfall, though not quite how he had expected.
Ambrose's knee to his opponent's groin gave the first point to Rollins, but it left the champ on the mat for almost a full minute.
When he did get to his feet, Ambrose hit his finisher, the "Midnight Special," to level things up immediately.
After some eccentric celebrations, Ambrose scored again, securing the pinfall after a devastating clothesline that left Rollins landing awkwardly on his neck.
Ambrose continued to dominate the match for the next phase, even finding time to do a little jig at the 14:23 mark.
But, Rollins took advantage of Ambrose's complacency, tying things up with a roll-up out of nowhere at 13:50.
The champ continued to come back strongly, connecting on an incredible flip over the top rope at 12:33.
As the match entered its final 10 minutes, what was becoming apparent to an enthralled audience was how original and innovative the fight had been.
A vertical suplex over the top rope just before the ten minute mark had my jaw agape.
A slugfest seemed to begin to develop late on, with both men looking drained of energy.
But, the final five or six minutes would feature highlight after highlight, moments that, by themselves, sold an entire WWE pay-per-view.
At 5:19, we witnessed one of the most brutal stomps in wrestling history.
At 4:36, we witnessed Rollins defy gravity, missing with an unbelievable backflip that any Olympic diver would have been proud of.
With 0:08 seconds left, Rollins seemed to win it, delivering his super-kick finisher Avada Kedavra to his opponent.
But, Ambrose kicked out, giving a delirious crowd the overtime it craved.
The extra minutes were just as insane as the 30 that proceeded them, and had to be seen to be believed.
As the commentators noted, this was the greatest match in FCW history.
Rollins retained his championship after delivering three finishers to a stubborn Ambrose, but the result wouldn't matter on the night.
Jim Ross once told a disbelieving audience that belts were mere "props," and winning, in the end, doesn't really matter.
What matters is putting on a show.
On September 18, 2011, Rollins and Ambrose certainly did this.
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