Monday, 13 June 2016

NXT Greatest Matches Vol. 1

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 427 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: March 14 2016

The story of NXT is one of the most remarkable of the last decade in wrestling.

Beginning in 2010 as a supposed platform to find WWE's next breakout star through reality-inspired competitions, the handling of the show was largely flawed. Whilst some future stars did get their main roster start on this version of NXT (Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett and AJ Lee amongst them), the show was filler at best and highly inconsequential at worst (the fifth and final season lasted for over 15 months and didn't even have a winner!). It was WWE-lite and at times pathetically handled. Fortunately, things changed in June 2012 when the show was revamped as a weekly platform for most developmental names, with block TV tapings based out of Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida, and with Triple H handling the booking far away from Vince McMahon and co.

Since then, the brand has slowly grown from an adequate developmental output into a superb showcase for future names and independent scene stars under WWE contracts, boosted by the usually-sensational Takeover specials held a few times a year. The brand has now reached the point where NXT is running big-stage arenas and selling them out (including international jaunts), and it could even be placed on the level of WWE's flagship shows as a top brand, in terms of its importance.

This DVD uses memorable matches and interview clips with those involved to tell that story, as there are several elements which explain the brand's success (not all of which are covered here, admittedly). There's the emphasis on progression up the ranks, both on the show and to Raw and SmackDown once a talent is deemed ready. There's old-school logical booking. There are distinctive personalities with well-defined characters. There are strong division ranks for men, women and tag teams. There's a first-class group of talent, which constantly evolves and always finds suitable replacements for promoted stars. And there's the topnotch wrestling action which ensures that every Takeover show is must-see, boosted by a desire from all to steal the show.

It has resulted in NXT becoming the gem of the WWE Network, and a cult following perhaps not seen since the Attitude Era became the coolest wrestling product around. It takes the WWE first-class presentation, the ECW/ROH "steal the show at all costs" mentality, the TNA level of pure wrestling talent and the old-school storytelling, and creates one hell of a wrestling product. (Plus, it's all within a PG environment, which is further pleasing to WWE management.)

Back to the DVD, then. The 2010-2 era is briefly touched upon, but no bouts are shown (Daniel Bryan vs. Chris Jericho from the very first episode would have been a fitting start). So, we open with Seth Rollins beating Jinder Mahal to become the first NXT Champion. This is harmed by Seth's Curb Stomp annoyingly being edited out, but this is fine to watch, as are the other early matches. Big E Langston's shot at Seth's gold came at a time when NXT storylines still clashed with events on Raw and SmackDown as Big E, by the time this bout aired, was on main roster TV as a heel despite still being a babyface on NXT.

Next, we get a Bray Wyatt bout against Chris Jericho from 2013, in a preview of their 2014 feud (by the way, this was still the period when main roster names would make guest appearances on NXT). The other big strength of NXT has been its role in redefining women's wrestling, the seeds of which are sown by a surprisingly good Paige vs. Emma match from the summer of 2013 to crown the first NXT Women's Champion.

The first really good match comes from Sami Zayn facing Antonio Cesaro in a 2 Out Of 3 Falls match, broadcast in August 2013, which has an electrifying final chapter. This serves as a preview of the consistently-fantastic wrestling action to come on NXT, and was the first sign that previously-uninterested fans should perhaps start checking out the show. Disc one ends with a great old-school technical wrestling match between Cesaro and William Regal (Regal's last match to date), which was broadcast on Christmas Day 2013.

Disc two opens with Triple H telling the story behind the NXT Takeover concept and the main event of Takeover #1, a good Ladder match between Bo Dallas and Adrian Neville for the NXT Title, which acts as a bridge to the new era of NXT where top-quality talent would dominate the main event scene. We then get Charlotte vs. Natalya for the vacant Women's Title from Takeover #2, which was a big step towards women's wrestling stealing the show on major events, although it would be topped in the future (as we see later in the DVD). After that is a short Tyler Breeze music video, before we get back to the action.

A strong Zayn vs. Tyson Kidd from an October 2014 episode of NXT is followed by Sami's outstanding NXT Title match against Neville from Takeover: R-Evolution, and has a huge surprise in the post-match angle. By now, the brand had caught the eye of the hardcore fans, and this show was ultimately a massive success. More than the first Takeover, this truly marked the arrival of NXT, with the roster now boosted by the signings of Finn Balor, Hideo Itami and Kevin Owens. Not forgetting the ladies who put on an incredible Fatal Four Way match at Takeover: Rival from February 2015 to close disc two. Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley discuss their impact on NXT and then showcase their ability in this belter of a match. Amazingly, even better would come from the NXT women later on.

Disc three kicks off with the Zayn-Kevin Owens main event from Takeover: Rival, which tells a great story amidst topnotch action. Footage from the Arnold Classic event demonstrates the brand's expansion outside Orlando, and we get an unseen gem from the event in Neville vs. Cesaro. This and the subsequent match between Hideo Itami and Tyler Breeze (held on a live NXT event in San Jose, California over WrestleMania 31 weekend that drew a huge crowd, and a bout where Hideo gets a massive pop for using the GTS; previously his finisher in Japan, but later adopted by CM Punk in WWE) are without commentary (and Hideo vs. Tyler is shot on a "fan cam"), but the viewing experience of neither match really suffers as a result. After that, we see a six-person tag from a June 2015 episode of NXT, pitting Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady and Carmella against Blake, Murphy and Alexa Bliss, which at least gives the hugely popular Enzo and Big Cass tandem some exposure on this DVD.

Next, it's the first DVD appearance (quite late in the programme) of Finn Balor as he challenges Owens for the NXT Title in Japan at Beast In The East. This thriller is followed by a simply outstanding match, arguably the best of 2015, between Sasha Banks and Bayley from Takeover: Brooklyn. The brand was now strong enough to fill major arenas, and this bout (the apex of the superb NXT women's division) was superior to anything at SummerSlam in the same venue (the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York) the following night. The DVD ends with the final of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament from Takeover: Respect as Finn Balor and Samoa Joe take on Rhyno and Baron Corbin after a tribute segment on Dusty, who played a vital role in the growth of so many NXT performers before his 2015 passing.

This DVD is fantastic. It perfectly illustrates the growth of NXT with a collection of consistently superb matches; there are more great straight wrestling bouts between a variety of talent on this DVD than perhaps any other WWE release to date. And it becomes clear that the talent themselves have played a vital role in the expansion of NXT: Sami Zayn was the brand's MVP, but there's also Neville, Sasha, Bayley, Tyler, Finn, Owens, Charlotte, Becky, Joe, Hideo, Enzo and Cass and many more, just as the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura are making the brand must-see right now.

The DVD does have some slight flaws: besides the edit of Seth Rollins' finisher in the first match, the DVD could actually do with more bouts (only five on disc two), and Sasha vs. Becky from Takeover: Unstoppable (an incredible match) is a notable omission. Ditto the Iron Man match between Bayley and Sasha from Takeover: Respect, although we do get their Brooklyn classic. But you can't have everything, I suppose.

This is WWE's best DVD of the year thus far, and from a pure wrestling standpoint, it's one of the greatest WWE compilations ever. Diehard fans of the show will love this DVD, but if you've never watched NXT and have been wondering what the buzz is all about, this is the perfect introduction to the brand that is changing the face of WWE and wrestling as a whole. Buy it today!

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

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