NXT TakeOver: Orlando: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights
The stars of NXT attempted to steal WrestleMania weekend out from underneath the men and women of WWE's main roster Saturday night as they took to the squared circle for TakeOver: Orlando.
Another superb offering from the brand, it featured all three of NXT's championships successfully defended in extraordinary matches.
Bobby Roode defeated Shinsuke Nakamura clean in the center of the ring, ending the Era of Strong Style and ensuring he will be the face of the brand for the foreseeable future.
The Authors of Pain withstood a united front from The Revival and DIY to retain its NXT Tag Team Championships, while Asuka had to cheat to retain her Women's Championship over Ember Moon.
Factor in the debut of the mysterious Aleister Black and a huge eight-person tag team match that kicked off the night's festivities in action-packed fashion, and you have another strong effort from WWE's developmental brand.
How did each match grade out and why?
Take a look for yourself with this recap of Saturday's show.
Eight-Person Tag Team Match
No Way Jose was originally slated to team with Roderick Strong, Ruby Riot and Tye Dillinger to battle SAnitY's Eric Young, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe and Nikki Cross, but a sneak attack by the heels earlier in the day left him sidelined and unable to compete. Kassius Ohno stepped in for the fun-loving competitor, much to the delight of the NXT faithful.
After a flurry of offense early, SAnitY took control of the match and isolated Strong from his partners as Dain's athletic ability was on full display.
A hot tag to Dillinger saw The Perfect 10 fire off a flurry of offense before action broke down and the fight spilled to the arena floor.
Dillinger's superkick to Dain netted him a two-count. Riot and Cross applied sleepers to Dain and Strong, respectively. A dropkick from Riot to Cross on the outside followed.
Back inside the squared circle, Dillinger tried for the Tye Breaker on Dain, but a big boot from Wolfe stopped his momentum and Dain delivered the Ulster Plantation for the pinfall victory.
SAnitY defeated Tye Dillinger, Kassius Ohno, Roderick Strong and Ruby Riot.
The play-by-play above does not do the opener of TakeOver: Orlando justice. It was a frenetically paced bout that showcased both Riot and Dain and featured a red-hot crowd.
Why Ohno replaced Jose when his contributions to the bout were minimal, at best, is a question only management can answer. Jose easily could have accomplished everything Ohno did without diminishing the former Chris Hero's star any further than it already has been in the first few months of his NXT return.
In the wake of the bout, NXT management is faced with the question of at what point does Dillinger finally get the win. The Perfect 10 always comes up short. While that can help to define his character, the big win has to come sometime or the wrestler is simply a loser.
Dillinger has earned better than that.
Aleister Black vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas
Aleister Black made his NXT debut Saturday night, squaring off with Andrade "Cien" Almas in singles competition. He received a grand entrance that made him look like a major star right out of the gate.
It took the crowd a while to get into the action, and the argument can be made it never really did.
A kick to the head by Almas turned the tide in his favor. He twice applied a cross armbreaker over the ropes. Almas attempted a top-rope move of some sort, but Black caught him with a weak powerbomb in midair to seize control.
Almas nearly scored the upset off a bridging German suplex, but Black shot his shoulder off the mat just in time to avoid defeat. He caught Almas charging with a big knee to the head. Moments later, Black picked up the first televised victory of his NXT career following a Black Mass kick.
Aleister Black defeated Andrade "Cien" Almas.
This was meant to be a monumental debut for Black, and though impressive, it was Almas who really stood out here. Easily one of the most misused stars on the entire WWE roster, Almas has been steadily improving his in-ring game and finding himself as a character.
Here, he controlled the pace of the match and made Black look good when the time came.
He is a selfless worker who has spent far too much time making others look good at his own expense.
Black is going to be a huge star for NXT, and this was a fine win to start his journey toward worldwide recognition.
Triple Threat Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship
The brand new NXT Tag Team Championships were up for grabs Saturday night, as The Authors of Pain defended against The Revival and DIY in a Triple Threat match.
The former titleholders took the fight to Akam and Rezar, looking to eliminate the biggest threats from the get-go. With the champions subdued at ringside, the match became a two-on-two battle as Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa renewed their rivalry with Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson.
When the dominant champions re-entered the match, both DIY and The Revival found themselves on the receiving end of their punishing offense.
The challengers teamed up to put Rezar through a table, then joined together to apply a double submission on Akam. Before the monstrous champion could submit, his partner made the last-second save.
Ciampa and Dawson delivered DIY's finishing combination, while Gargano and Wilder delivered stereo suicide dives through the ropes, wiping The Authors out at ringside.
Moments later, the champions regained control and delivered The Last Chapter to Ciampa to eliminate DIY.
The action settled significantly, and Akam and Rezar turned their attention to The Revival.
Despite a valiant effort, The Authors of Pain delivered The Super Collider and successfully retained its titles.
The Authors of Pain defeated DIY and The Revival.
The show may have been stolen here.
The outcome may not have been to everyone's liking, but this was an extraordinary bit of storytelling. After so many wars spent on opposing sides, DIY and The Revival realized the only way for one of them to re-establish itself as the top team in NXT was to work together to dispatch the champions.
When pulled apart, The Authors of Pain proved too tenacious to dethrone. Akam and Rezar isolated the teams from each other and ended their runs at gold.
Mix in some outstanding in-ring action, and you have a brilliant wrestling match that may be impossible for the rest of the NXT crew to top.
NXT Women's Championship Match: Asuka vs. Ember Moon
Ember Moon and Asuka traded offense early, but it was Moon's mind games that threw the longest-reigning champion in NXT off guard. The Japanese competitor fended off Moon's early success and sent her crashing into the guardrail to seize control.
The jumping hip attack slowed Moon's comeback, and the champion tried for the Asuka Lock. Moon knocked her opponent to the floor and executed a jaw-dropping springboard plancha that left the champion momentarily stunned.
A Shining Wizard got Asuka back into the match, and a series of kicks to the chest knocked the wind from Moon. She applied the Asuka Lock, and Moon survived the pain that wracked her arm and shoulder for several minutes, never giving up.
Asuka tried for the hip attack one more time but ate a big kick to the side of the face.
Moon scored a strong near-fall late in the match in which Asuka just barely, and meekly so, rolled her shoulder off the mat.
The No. 1 contender was poised to deliver her Eclipse finisher when Asuka shoved the official into the ropes, knocking her down. A big kick from the titleholder allowed her to retain.
Asuka defeated Ember Moon.
April 1, 2017, is the day Ember Moon came into her own as a performer, demonstrating the ability to hang with arguably the best women's wrestler in all of WWE, on the biggest stage in NXT.
She matched every strike dealt by the champion with one of her own and, more importantly, cut the same pace as her more experienced opponent. She took risks, but every one of them paid off. She never looked lost, never appeared to be flustered by the enormity of the moment or overwhelmed by her first real opportunity to prove herself.
The finish allows her to maintain credibility and creates doubt as to whether Asuka would have retained her title if she had not taken the low road.
That makes for a strong story to build off and ensures fans will remain invested in the story the women are telling going forward.
NXT Championship Match: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode
In a rematch of their near-epic encounter in San Antonio, Bobby Roode defended the NXT Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura in the main event of Saturday's show.
The Glorious One controlled the first quarter of the match, wearing Nakamura down with a relatively generic and simple move set.
Nakamura fired off a flurry of offense, including some strong right hands and some kicks. Roode targeted the previously injured knee of his opponent, though, and began working it over. He smashed it into the ring post and trapped the former champion in a figure-four leglock.
Roode allowed his arrogance to get the best of him, though, and it nearly cost him the title.
Demanding Nakamura quit, Roode suddenly found himself trapped in an armbar. The NXT champion tried to fight out of the hold but found himself right back in the legs of his opponent.
Both competitors had limbs wracked with pain as the match progressed.
Nakamura fired off some hard shots, but a kick to the injured knee slowed his attack. Sensing the match was turning against him, Roode fled to the outside. Back inside the squared circle, he delivered an impaler DDT that scored him the best near-fall of the match.
Desperate to save his title, Roode grabbed the ring bell and threatened to use it on Nakamura. After an argument with the referee, Roode ate a big kick to the head and a reverse exploder suplex. He cut Nakamura off with a humongous spinebuster that nearly earned him the victory.
A corner exchange ended with Roode delivering an incredible tornado impaler DDT for the clean win.
Bobby Roode defeated Shinsuke Nakamura.
The only thing keeping this from a solid "A" grade is the slow start. Otherwise, Roode and Nakamura delivered a fantastic match that improved upon their San Antonio offering and ended with Roode firmly establishing himself as the face of NXT going forward.
The last third of the match felt like a legitimate war of attrition, each man staving off incredible pain and punishment to chase his championship aspirations. Roode had more left in the tank at the end of the match, and he emerged victorious.
Simple. Effective. The stuff of a strong wrestling story that fans of every age can follow.
Going forward, it will be imperative that NXT develops the Roode character more than it already is. We get it, he is glorious. But what is he beyond that? Give audiences more to bite into with Roode. Right now, he is simply a fantastic in-ring performer lacking the character to strike it big in WWE.