DALLAS — Good luck, WrestleMania.
WWE’s presentation of NXT Takeover: Dallas on Friday night was one of those rare shows that not only lived up to hype that was already in the stratosphere — it exceed it.
From start to finish inside the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Arena, NXT delivered match after match that left the crowd on the edge of their seat, begging for more.
The undisputed highlight of the night was the highly-anticipated debut of long-time New Japan Pro Wrestling stalwart Shinsuke Nakamura, who took on Sami Zayn in a match for the ages.
From the opening of the show, it was clear Nakamura was the person the fans were here to see — each video snippet of the Japanese superstar drew a huge cheer. When Nakamura made his signature entrance and hit all his trademark poses, it was no surprise when the roof almost blew off the arena.
It was a hard-hitting affair from start to finish, much to the delight of the crowd, who chanted and cheered wildly for both men. Nakamura showed exactly why many consider him to be the best all-around performer in the sport while Zayn displayed the talent that has earned him a spot on Sunday’s WrestleMania.
The physicality of the match was unlike anything you see in a WWE ring these days, as these two had a tough, strikes-based wrestling match that stayed completely within the rules and didn’t need to rely on the use of gimmicks to keep the crowd’s interest.
After Nakamura picked up the win with the Bomaye, the crowd showed their appreciate for both Nakamura and Zayn, as the two hugged and the crowd chanted, “Thank you Sami,” as this was presumably Zayn’s last match in NXT.
Typically after a contest such as that, the crowd peters off. Not tonight.
The co-main event, contested for the NXT Women’s Championship, saw Asuka choke out Bayley to capture the championship.
In a back-and-forth match that saw both women gain the edge, Asuka caught Bayley in the Asuka Lock. Bailey fought and fought, but passed out, causing the referee to stop the match. The reaction from the crowd, while not on the same scale, was similar to that of Brock Lesnar’s defeat of The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX. Many patrons simply did not believe the end was near for Bayley, as a shocked hush fell over the crowd.
Both competitors had the support of the crowd throughout the match, a common theme for the night.
In the main event, the NXT Championship was on the line as Finn Balor defended against No. 1 contender Samoa Joe. After two heated matches, Balor and Joe did an incredible job engaging the crowd right from the start.
Even though the match had to come to a halt on a few occasions due to blood on Samoa Joe’s face, the two were able to overcome and have a much better and more involved match than they did at Takeover in December.
In the end, it was Balor who retained his championship in an ending reminiscent of Bret Hart-Steve Austin at Survivor Series 1996, as he stunned Joe, who was in control of the match at the point.
In the opener, American Alpha topped The Revival to capture the NXT Tag Team Championship for the first time. American Alpha received the unanimous support of the crowd, which exploded when the duo captured the gold.
Of the five matches on the show, the only one that wasn’t a hit with the crowd was the debut of Austin Aries, who surprised Baron Corbin.
All in all, it was an incredible night of straight-forward, no bull wrestling — quite possibly the best this reporter’s ever seen. It reinforced the idea that professional wrestling isn’t hard if you don’t overthink it.