With limited opportunities, a handful of WWE NXT prospects managed to take strides toward the big leagues.
Thursday's NXT was crowded with Superstars from the main roster. Recent call-ups Bo Dallas and Adam Rose, as well as Big E, Tyson Kidd and others' presence at Full Sail University meant fewer chances to impress for everyone else. Even so, Adrian Neville, Sasha Banks and Camacho showed off how they have sharpened their skills.
For Neville, his championship reign is about testing him as much as it is about elevating him. He passed his latest tests, a fight with a former Tag Team champ and a verbal collision with Kidd.
On the last show before NXT Takeover, Neville increased his momentum. That was not the case for Sami Zayn and Corey Breeze, though.
Sasha Banks: Stock Up
Banks lost her semifinals match with Natalya. Results in pro wrestling often don't matter as much as the journey to victory or defeat.
For "The Boss," this bout was about adding to her collection of quality in-ring performances.
She's in the midst of perfecting her character, and that showed opposite Natalya. Banks was extra ferocious and thus extra engaging. She pushed Nattie's face, delighted in choking her and roared in between moves at one point.
Aside from a moment where she too blatantly called a spot, this was a match that accentuated Banks' strengths and showed off her potential.
As a bonus, she showed some tension with Charlotte at ringside. Should Charlotte win the NXT Women's Championship at Takeover, it appears that Banks may eventually receive more shots to shine opposite her current ally with the title on the line.
Sami Zayn: Stock Even
Expect Zayn's already-elevated stock to rise when he faces Tyler Breeze at Takeover, but he had little chance to impress on Thursday's NXT. In a brief interview with Devin Taylor backstage, Zayn talked about how losing the No. 1 contender's match affected him.
He exuded his usual understated charisma, but there was too little reaction to him losing out on a chance at the title.
Shrugging off the defeat and saying that it stinks not to be challenging Neville is a missed opportunity. His casualness toward it allowed Breeze to be the star of the segment once he entered. Breeze's character was more clear and memorable.
Zayn will never be a raving lunatic in his promos a la The Ultimate Warrior, but he does need to turn up the volume on his personality. No need to blast it, though. Just sliding it a few notches would be sufficient.
Camacho: Stock Up
His feud with Adam Rose is clearly a means to showcase the party-loving Superstar, but Camacho is benefiting as well.
Against Rose, Camacho forced fans to pay attention to him. He amped up his aggression, bashing his foe with forearms and wearing a sneer for much of the contest. Suplexes were especially high-impact; slams were particularly powerful.
When the fans began to chant "party pooper," Camacho did his best to go with it, egging on the crowd.
That attitude wasn't nearly as convincing as his actual wrestling. His showmanship skills are still behind his ring work.
He is, however, showing increased confidence and smoothness in the ring.
His chest red and his shirt torn, he allowed himself to be counted out. The rivalry is not over. He will get more time on stage when he and Rose collide at Takeover.
Corey Graves: Stock Down
Graves continues to be placed on a tier just below names like Zayn, Breeze and Neville. At NXT: Arrival, he failed to make it on the card. That may happen to him once more.
"The Savior of Misbehavior" hasn't been on NXT TV for weeks now. WWE has seemingly dropped the story he was in.
Now he's set to miss Takeover, as he's not part of the five matches announced for the live special.
That show will showcase Kalisto, El Local, Camacho and Charlotte. It seems that Graves, though, is not getting a chance at the plate. The recent snubs makes it tough for Graves to climb the rungs at NXT.
He's instead forced to watch Breeze and company fatten their resumes.
Adrian Neville: Stock Up
WWE is already fully familiar with Neville's athleticism and high-flying moves. It's what he can add to those elements that will decide the height of his ceiling.
Against Curt Hawkins, the NXT champ showed off another skill in small doses—intensity.
Neville stared at his foe after landing a fierce dropkick. He gritted his teeth and looked like a vicious predator preparing to pounce. Both his energy and facial expressions added a theatrical element that Neville has yet to master.
WWE will want to see more of this, just as it will want to see him improve his mic work.
He got a chance to show that he's been doing just that. In a post-bout showdown with Kidd, Neville carried his intensity into his speech. He was direct, confident and delivered the last signature line just right.
It was his most natural performance on the mic to date.
He heads into Takeover continuing to make progress. Expect more of that in the weeks to come and for his clash with Kidd to be a career highlight for both men.