I watched all the NXT Arrival PPVs from 2015 and ranked every match. The PPVs include NXT Rival on February 15th, NXT Unstoppable on May 20th, NXT Brooklyn on August 20th, NXT Respect on October 7th, and NXT London on December 16th.
BAD– Comparatively speaking, not objectively bad. Mostly enhancement and early Baron Corbin matches.
(29) Rhyno v. Corbin – NXT Unstoppable 5/20
This would be the dying embers of Corbin’s time as the lone wolf babyface, as the crowd realized half-way through the match that Corbin sucks and was fighting thirty second matches against tomato cans for a reason. The best part of this match is to see Corbin’s improvement from this place, as Corbin is far more effective controlling a match as a heel, rather than here pulling his finisher out of his ass and winning out of nowhere. While we’re here, this seems like as good a time as any to discuss Corbin’s weird stomach. In lieu of giving Corbin high-wasted jeans, the logical solution seems to be giving him a shirt, although then you lose his Hot Topic tattoos. So which is more important, hiding his weird stomach or adding an element of bad decision-making to his character? Personally, I think he’s good where he is.
(28) Flair and Bailey v. Emma and Dana Brooke – NXT Unstoppable 5/20
More of a feel-good tag match that only Teddy Long could love. This suffers by comparison to other NXT PPV matches, as this match would be best suited for TV as a squash for Bailey and Flair, complete with dancing and mugging after the bell. Brooke would improve as the year went on, but she looked fairly green especially in the final sequence as she paused like a cartoon character before breaking up the figure 8. Considering where everyone went as the year went on, this is a throw-away.
(27) Blake and Murphy v. Lucha Dragons – NXT Rival 2/15
Nothing special here either way as BAM defend their titles against the Dragons. Neither team displays the character development they would develop later, as BAM are “happy to be there” instead of the heels they would end up becoming two PPVs from now. It’s also hard to feel like you’ve seen the best of the Dragons here after what they did at TLC. In what will become a reoccurring theme here, you can really see how and why NXT is the developmental territory where teams and individuals show development across the PPVs, only to die slow and uncreative deaths on Monday Night Raw.
(26) Corbin v. Dempsey – NXT Rival 2/15
Corbin plays the babyface in a battle to determine who can win squash matches faster. Bull dominates most of this non-DQ match, but it’s the kind of match that is clear enhancement for Corbin. The match plods a bit before Corbin wins (as referenced before) out of nowhere. OK match that is improved by to the end, where Corbin sits in a chair at the end of the match and gloats over his victory. Good example of how to slowly build a character without being too ham-fisted, as NXT capitalized on this attitude in later months when Corbin went full-blown indie-hating wrestling heel, aka Vince McMahon ventriloquist doll.
(25) Crews v. Dillinger – NXT Brooklyn 5/20
Both wrestlers are game for this mid-card match, but it’s a weird pace-setter for an otherwise hot and exciting card. This match has a hard time figuring out what it wants to be, as the match starts and ends with creative offense, but has a weird chain-wrestling sequence in the middle that doesn’t make sense. I can’t help but feel like this match was scheduled for 10 minutes but someone in gorilla called an audible at about the six minute mark. Similarly, Dillinger’s gimmick is funny at first, but it gets a little old as his facial expressions don’t carry the match as much as he wants them to. Crews also looks good not great, as he’s almost too main roster for NXT. For a guy with an independent pedigree, I never hear of him before NXT and he doesn’t seem to wrestle an indie style. Maybe it’s East Coast bias, but give me Adam Cole every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
(24) Breeze v. Itami – NXT Rival 2/15
Good pairing and a good starter match for the first PPV of 2015. Told a good story with good psychology, although nothing particularly special. It also loses value in hindsight, as Breeze would lose too many matches to be considered a game competitor by the end of the year and Itami would go down with an injury, making this his only match on this list.
OK – Generally fine action with little to no consequences. Usually matches that were good the first time but less interesting as time goes by.
(23) Samoa Joe v. Corbin – NXT Brooklyn 8/20
When this match was first reviewed, a common refrain was that Joe brought out the best in Corbin to give him a good PPV match; and while that’s generally true, both men have done better things since so it doesn’t hold up as much as you’d think. The beginning is good, but Corbin hadn’t (and maybe still hasn’t) figured out how to carry the middle of a match, so the half-way through three-quarters point is just Corbin punching the shit out of Joe until Joe stops getting up, which is fine I guess but not the most interesting way to get offense in. In real time, I thought this was going to be the point where Joe proved he wasn’t cut out for WWE, but luckily he got much better as the year went on.
(22) Corbin and Rhyno v. Samoa Joe and Balor – NXT Respect 10/7
There is a dramatic principle called Chekhov’s Gun, which states on a rudimentary level that when a gun that is introduced in the first act of a play will kill someone in the third act, but at a more specific level stands for the position that every element in the narrative should be irreplaceable, so if you are going to take the time to show the gun, it had better kill someone so it has a point in the story. Balor’s knee injury, which is also discussed in the recap below, is the gun introduced in the first act, discussed ad nauseum in the second act, paraded to the crowd during intermission, and then pointed at specific characters in the third act before being gently placed in a locked box so that no kids can get a hold of it at the ending. I get why Balor and Joe would win, and I sort of get why you would want to give Balor a handicap, but the execution and focus in this match doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider how long it took to get there. For all involved, this was far less interesting than given credit for in real time.
(21) Samoa Joe and Balor v. Dash and Wilder – NXT Respect 10/7
Good match with a believable story until the end. Dash and Wilder are Nuevo-Brain Busters and the kind of team that would plan on isolating Balor instead of Joe. Even though Balor is the champ, he shouldn’t be able to cruise through both ends of a tag-team by himself. While I support the notion that wrestlers in a one-night tournament should shoot for quick falls to save themselves for the next match, this is basically a Steve Austin special, in that the heel gets heat, shines up the baby, hope spot and let’s go home. The downside to this is the ending, where Balor sells a knee injury but still wants to do his finisher over Joe’s misgivings. For a moment that seemed over-booked at the time, it mattered even less when all was said and done.
(20) Corbin v. Crews – NXT London 12/16
A few bright spots saves an otherwise dull match between two guys who should be more captivating. On the plus side, I read somewhere that Corbin’s trash talk (where he yelled “Go Back to Ring of Honor!” to a guy who wasn’t in Ring of Honor) is within his character because Corbin doesn’t know what Ring of Honor is. I wouldn’t put it past NXT to do that on purpose, but I liked the touch either way. The ending sequence here showed a lot of athleticism from both guys and I like Corbin going over Crews since he’s been around longer and should be winning this match. It would be classic main roster to ruin Corbin’s progress over the year over a new guy whose been here for three months in a lateral move, so it was nice to see storyline consistency somewhere since there was none to be found in the actual wrestling. I also don’t get Crews, as I feel about him what everyone supposedly felt about Roman Reigns at the start of the year.
(19) Breeze v. Liger – NXT Brooklyn 8/20
This is the first match of the year that gets negative points for the booking instead of the actual wrestling. Maybe this is because I don’t totally get why Liger is transcendently great and maybe I’m over-reacting in hindsight to where Breeze is now, but this feels like the last time Breeze had heat as a good heel with wrestling credibility. I don’t understand what benefit came from having Breeze lose to Liger since Liger looks like an old man even though he’s otherwise covered from head to toe. Liger’s offense is still interesting in spots, but watching Breeze react to moves that are a half-step slower than most of the matches on the card (and other offense that Breeze has kicked out of) makes you wonder why Breeze is so hurt and why he didn’t kick out at the end. In the end, there comes a point when every man realizes they can beat up their dad, and this should have been Breeze’s moment. Switch the ending and this match jumps considerably.
(18) Zayn v. Owens – NXT Unstoppable 5/20
Not trying to get too off topic, but the best thing about the Tommy Dreamer/Raven feud was that Dreamer never beat him so every time they fought there was built -in tension. For reasons that I never understood, this gimmick never gets re-used despite the built-in interest in would create Wouldn’t Ambrose-Rollins be more captivating if Ambrose didn’t get a meaningless roll-up victory over Rollins on RAW? Wouldn’t Reigns-Rollins have a better pay-off if Reigns didn’t pin Rollins in a match on RAW that I don’t remember but I’m sure happened? The point here is that credit should be given for the subtext of this match both during the match and going forward. Owens enters the match feeling as though he’s moved on John Cena, and Zayn still feels like there’s a score to settle. Owens victory plays into the angle, but once again, this is building for a moment that never occurred in 2015. It was a good match up until Zayn goes out, but you can’t rank this match too high considering it serves mostly to introduce Samoa Joe.
(17) The Vaudevillians v. Blake and Murphy – NXT Brooklyn 5/20
I have a friend who listens to the same music that I do, and occasionally we’ll exchange mixtapes. After listening to his version of the best songs off albums we both own, I’m always surprised that my taste isn’t universal and that he can like songs that I think are fine but not mixtape worthy. Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t get the Vaudevillians or Blue Pants. Going even further, I like BAM and Bliss considerably more. At the end of this match (which was admittedly good) I had the same shocked look on my face that Alexa Bliss had. I’ve enjoyed previous NXT tag team matches for creative finishes at the end, and this felt like main roster booking with BAM making dumb decisions and succumbing to a finisher that shouldn’t lead to a realistic three count. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I thought this was good not great.
(16) Asuka v. Brooke – NXT Respect 10/7
Asuka is basically what it would be like if the Ultimate Warrior could wrestle. Ignoring any considerations of gender, she has a believable offense, she keeps the crowd captivated the entire match, and she appears to be a total weirdo. If only she was a 6’8 white guy with muscles, she’d be the WWE Heavyweight Champion today. After watching all of these NXT PPVs, you notice that characters take a while to jell, whether be in the ring or with their character, but Asuka seemed to get who she was and what she was about immediately. Case in point, the super creepy sequence at the end with Emma, where Emma cowers in the corner while Asuka does what I’ll best describe as “weird Asuka” things. Brooke also did a far better job getting squashed but not losing too much from the experience. The match didn’t have much to it, but it speaks to both wrestlers that this match is as high as it is.
(15) Bailey v. Nia Jax – NXT London 12/16
Totally OK match that over-thought the ending. Before we get there, my personal favorite example of a “good-guy-fights-unstoppable-and-not-ready-to-be-winning-the-title-monster” is stupidly when John Cena beat the Great Khali, so the genre is flawed to begin with. The action is a bit plodding, and you can only watch the hero get the hell beat out of them for so long before you just assume that at some point one or two moves is going to win the damn thing in contradiction with everything you’ve been watching for the last fifteen minutes. In regard to the ending, I find it hard to believe that Nia Jax would go for the same move three times, get reversed into a choke three times, and not once realize that she could break the hold by grabbing the ropes. If the story is that Jax is strong but doesn’t know the rules of wrestling, then lets follow up on that later with Jax thinking she can win the title on a count-out. On the other hand, Bailey is at her self-doubting best, and is at the height of her powers when it comes to being in control of the crowd. Carrying on the comparison from the last match, how do the following comparisons fancy you?
Bailey – Hogan
Banks – The Rock
Flair – Every WCW 1980’s Blond Face
Asuka – Warrior
Nia Jax and Eva Marie – (a greatly deficient) Milliion Dollar Man and Andre the Giant.
Becky Lynch – Rugged Ronnie Garvin. (this one’s a joke, but let’s all pour one out for old Ronnie Garvin).
(14) Jordan and Gable v. Corbin and Rhyno – NXT Respect 10/7
First off, Jordan and Gable shouldn’t be beating Corbin and Rhyno on a PPV. I like them as much as you do, but at this point in the year, they did exactly what they should have done, which is give Corbin and Rhyno a good fight, catch a few false finishes, and then lose a competitive match that earns them more respect in the long-run. Plus, Gable and Jordan v. Balor and Joe would have been dumb unless Jordan and Gable were going over, which they obviously weren’t. So all things considered, it’s a nice day at the office for the infinitely new and improved World’s Greatest Tag Team. Nice work by Corbin as well, featuring nice selling of Jordan and Gable’s offense and a nice sequence into the End of Days. It’s been a long run with Corbin, but this is the first match that’s not a plodding offense of right hands and chops. Nice work all around from everyone and a far superior version of the previous match.
GOOD – Great match with nominal story or vice versa. Still better than anything on the main roster.
(13) Breeze v. Crews – NXT Respect 10/7
This match was really interesting from start to finish, as Breeze countered each of Crews’ moves and tossed in some interesting offense to play off the story that Breeze had Crews scouted. Breeze was a big star in this match and it shows how you can lose a match but still keep your heat. Crews plays a better “face-in-peril” than I gave him credit for during his first few matches, and kept up more than adequately. I’m still not a huge Crews fan, but again, that’s probably just me.
(12) Breeze v. Balor – NXT Unstoppable 5/20
Another curtain opener for Breeze and a similar, if not slightly better, showing from the last PPV with Itami. The crowd was white hot for Balor and that added a nice atmosphere from the opening bell through the conclusion featuring Balor’s high-spots at the entrance way. Balor’s leap off the NXT sign would foreshadow elements of the ladder match against Owens a few months later and this match would lead to Balor’s title win, but little else was gleaned from this perfectly serviceable opening match. This is also the second time in a row that Breeze lost the opening match and the second time in a row that Balor won a number 1 contender’s match, so the excitement of the event is reduced by the redundancy. This match was better than the previous one because even though Breeze was better against Crews, Balor was a more captivating face throughout.
(11) Dash & Dawson v. Enzo and Cass – NXT London 12/16
(10) Blake and Murphy v. Enzo and Cass – NXT Unstoppable 5/20
Let’s start with the first match in May and then explain why these two are put together. When I watched all of these events again, this match felt weirdly formulaic in hindsight. Consider the following similarities:
(1) Enzo and Cass against newly crowned heel tag champs who don’t really have a personality,
(2) The pre-match promo which featured heels beating up Cass unfairly and “jeopardizing” his career,
(3) Cass’ “impassioned” promo declaring them to be the future tag champs,
(4) Enzo doing the work, Cass hangin’ on the apron,
(5) Both heels using the Mechanic’s finishing move on Enzo,
(6) Heels cheating to win after false finishes.
In my opinion, I thought the first version was better. That match built toward a better climax with Alexa Bliss debuting as BAM’s manager making that team stronger characters and a more believable ending with Cass’ reliance on their finishing move costing the good guys the title. Once could argue that the second is better due to the excellent false finish and simply liking Dash and Dawson better than BAM, and that’s fine just the same. We’re both grown –ups and we can disagree without getting mad each other. Both were great tag matches with above-average tag teams. In lieu of how rare that is these days, it’s worth commending.
(9) Asuka v. Emma – NXT London 12/16
Legit wrestling match top to bottom. It’s one thing to bounce all over the ring and take crazy bumps, and it’s another to tell a good subtle story that gets the crowd invested. Good for them both for splitting the action down the middle, with Emma playing a game heel through the first ¾ of the match, and then relying on cheating in the home stretch. Good for them for having false finishes that weren’t just kick-outs of finishers at 2.99999 seconds, as the ref teased DQ’ing Emma and then missed Emma tap out to the Asuka-lock while throwing out Dana Brooke. This match didn’t have a ton on the line, but after watching all the opening matches for every PPV this year, this was the best by a fairly wide margin. It’s hard not to be excited for how lame Asuka is going to be once they bring her to RAW to job out to the Bella twins. Deep down, you know that’s going to happen.
(8) Balor v. Owens Ladder Match– NXT Brooklyn 8/20
If you operate under the premise that Corey Graves is telling the truth when he says that Fin Balor has never wrestled a ladder match before, and if you operate under a similar premise that Owens has to fight John Cena the next night at Summerslam, this match is great. Both men hit their popular moves in and around ladders and there are a few sick bumps including Owens taking one particularly nasty back bump onto a ladder off the top of another the ladder. However, if you believe that Finn Balor looks like the kind of guy who should destroy ladder matches, and if you’ve seen Owens’ Ladder War matches against Zayn/El Generico, this match leaves you wanting a bit more. Just something a bit more innovative or something you’ve never seen before, but only because you expect that from these guys and not because you’re craving dangerous violence for the sake of dangerous violence. I suppose that’s the downside of high expectations, in that a three hundred pound man flipping on top of a ladder or one man jumping foot-first off a ladder onto his opponent feels like old hat, but I guess that’s where we are in the Summer of 2015.
GREAT – Great match with added psychological elements. Served as a piece to a bigger and greater storyline. Mostly title and Sasha Banks matches.
(7) Balor v. Neville – NXT Rival 2/15
Strong match that was better the second time. Great wrestling throughout with well-thought-out reversals and near falls. Neville is so much better in NXT both with pacing and expressions that this is somewhat sad to watch in hindsight. As for Balor, now seems as good a time as any to say that I am fully in on him as a main event, main-event-of-Wrestlemania-type superstar at the next level. I watched his first entrance with collection of non-wrestling fans, who all looked befuddled by what was going on, while I have never been more glued to the TV screen. As far as the “Demon” goes, this match had the best understanding of the character in the entrance and the match. One day there will come a time when that entrance is cheesy, but that’s eons from February 15, 2015. Finally, bonus points for the commentary pushing the story that the first man to the top rope would win and both guys playing into the narrative.
(6) Owens v. Zayn – NXT Rival 2/15
This match is great for what it is, but it’s a clear place-setter for things to come. Much like Itami v. Breeze earlier in the card, the match suffers for what it could have been had it not been for the injury to Zayn. Good spot with Owens delaying the match to frustrate Zayn and credit to both guys for not just rehashing their matches from ROH. The ROH DVD Kevin Steen Decent into Madness is a great example of how well these two can tell a novels-worth of material through wrestling matches, and this is was likely the first chapter in a longer story that may or may not have involved John Cena had everything stayed as planned. The ending was a smart way to end the match in a manner which makes you excited for the next time these two would fight, but it’s just a shame that the momentum was paused before we got that resolution. This match gets bonus points because the person I was watching it with the first time asked after the first powerbomb if we were sure Zayn wasn’t really hurt. I’m admittedly jaded from this question after experiencing years of watching El Generico in ROH, so I could watch Zayn get hit by a truck and not believe that it’s real, but good for Zayn for making believers out of the best of us.
(5) Banks v. Lynch– NXT Unstoppable 5/20
I’m writing this review on December 21, 2015 and this match feels like a friggin’ lifetime ago. After watching these two put on neutered versions of this gem of a match for the last few months, I forgot how interesting and amazing this match was from start to finish. I will admit to finding Becky Lynch corny before this match, but it’s hard to walk out of this match not having tons or respect for both of these two for an old-school wrestling match that didn’t need multiple false finishes to manufacture drama or excitement. The best part is you forget how good this match was when it starts, and then it gets progressively crazier, from Becky’s reversal into the disarmer to Sasha’s dive through the ropes that Lynch catches to the wild sequence into the Bank Statement at the end. Star making performance from both that makes you angry for what is happening on RAW right now.
(4) Balor v. Joe – NXT London 12/16
If you’ve ever watched the Nightmare on Elm St. series in successive order, Freddy Kruger takes a weird turn around the fourth installment, where he goes from a horrifying serial killer to a self-aware cartoon that kills people. I had similar feelings when watching Balor come to the ring dressed as a “Jack the Ripper” demon, even though I get that fact that British people fucking love Jack the Ripper for some reason. Aside from that one dumb moment, this match kills from start to finish, and it’s what you expected Samoa Joe v. Finn Balor would be like if someone told you that match would exist a year ago. Considering that both of these guys had a flat showing last month, this match was a real treat. Both guys are throwing the house at each other and the action never dies down or gets repetitive. Balor’s reverse of Joe’s clutch into a mini-foot-stomp was a great spot, and the ending was a fulfilling conclusion to how Balor should be beating Samoa Joe for the heavyweight title in the main event. No nonsense, no impossibly crescendoing finishers, just back and forth action where the best man won.
(3) Flair v. Bailey v. Banks v. Lynch – NXT Rival 2/15
Credit to the Women’s Revolution for adding believability to WWE tropes that are ineffective on the main roster. This match took subtle steps to make the first pin in a four person match believable, including Charlotte getting thrown into the ring apron to subdue the Champ, big moves knocking opponents out of the ring at the right times, and good action outside of the ring to continue with the legitimacy of the format. These culminated with Banks wisely looking outside the ring during the final sequence and breaking up the submission to keep Becky out of the ring, which is what you should do in this position. In addition to kicking-ass bell to bell, it also set up everyone’s character for the rest of the year, including making Bailey and Beck legitimate, Charlotte flawed and therefore more interesting and Sasha the one true boss. This may be forgotten as time goes by, but this is the true start of everything and the best match of the February PPV.
(2) Bailey v. Banks – NXT Brooklyn 8/20
Full disclosure, I thought Bailey was corny before this match started. This was influenced by how much I liked Sasha Banks, but the idea of Sasha passing the torch to Bailey on her way to the main roster was annoying and felt like something the WWE was trying to manufacture instead of letting it happen naturally. Now maybe that wasn’t a crazy opinion at the time, but like every other match this year with Banks, Bailey was made once this match was over. To put in context how much this match meant to both of these women, Bailey was booed at the start this match. How could you boo Bailey after selling a broken hand for more than half the match? And do people even chant “Sasha’s rachet” anymore? How could you after Sasha’s plunga over the ref onto the floor? Or when Sasha stopped Bailey’s hand while she reached for the rope? Is that the single best kayfabe moment of 2015? That’s only like a quarter of the best moments from that match. If I was to nitpick, the top rope huricanranas were sloppy and dangerous, but otherwise this match is as good as perfect gets without any gimmicks, bells, or whistles.
(1) Bailey v. Banks Iron Women Match – NXT Respect 10/7
Really the only choice. Even if you broke this match into its parts, each of these falls would be great. Collectively there is enough wrestling psychology in 30 minutes to fill a warehouse, which is noted by the debut of Bailey’s new “self-doubting-I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this” look that she has since trademarked. For posterity’s sake, lets break this down by fall.
*Sasha 1, Bailey 0 – The highlight of the first fall is Sasha taking a nasty bump on her neck and then sucker-punching Bailey after Bailey tries to help her up. One of these days, Banks is truly going to fall on her head the wrong way, but good for her for avoiding injury so far.Bailey controls the action before Banks blocks the ref’s view to score a thumb in the eye and a quick pin. Creative cheating in the context of a well-told story and a great first fall.
*Bailey 1, Sasha 1 – Considering that both of these two have fought each other countless times and that the promo package talked about how much they prepped for the match, it was nice to see Bailey block Sasha’s knees in the corner and then connect with a Bailey-to-Belly quick and out of no-where(ish). Nothing is more frustrating than when wrestlers (like John Cena) claim they’ve prepared like never before, but then get hit with stupid moves like the People’s Elbow or the RKO that take five minutes to set up. Believable second fall where you could argue Bailey has proven herself as the better wrestler and now Banks needs to think outside the box to win.
*Sasha 2, Bailey 1 – Speaking of which, Sasha counters Bailey’s third dropkick through the turnbuckle and hits a nasty swing into the apron. After failing to get the pin in the ring, Sasha continuously dumps Bailey out of the ring where she can get more damage in, which again plays into the narrative. Sasha then gets super heel points for beating down Bailey in front of her biggest fan and getting the count-out. As far as memorable moments go, nothing will ever beat Banks stealing Izzie’s ribbon and making her cry. For me, that’s the NXT moment of the year.
*Bailey 2, Banks 2 – We come back to Sasha controlling the action, including a nice spot where Banks stomps on Bailey’s head while in the Boston Crab. Even better spot where Bailey sneaks a quick roll up when Banks goes for the same move twice. For the record, the last two pins have come from reversals from wrestlers using the same move too often.
*Bailey 3, Banks 2 – Good progression of the story, where both women go for risky moves to put the other away and increase the drama with near falls. Sasha goes for a dive through the ropes, which Bailey catches mid-air for a Bailey-to-Belly on the outside. Bailey hits a second-rope Bailey-to-Belly, only for Banks to get a toe on the rope to break up the pin. Banks reverses the reverse hurricanrana (which one the last match) into a Bailey-to-Belly of her own and a Banks Statement with time winding down. The two trade reversals of submission moves before Bailey locks in what can be best described as a bow-and-arrow stretch with head kicks and gets a realistic looking tap-out with two seconds left. Whew.
I know this may come off as sacrilege, but I’ve never liked watching Iron Man matches. Michaels v. Hart is cannon, but it’s not super fun watching two guys fight for sixty minutes with no pin falls in the 1990s. Since then, other attempts have been fine (HHH v. Rock) but nothing special. As was true with other women’s NXT matches, both of these women found a way to change the formula to make an old match seem fresh, all while creating drama even though it seemed fairly obvious that Bailey was going over. For that reason, this is NXT Match of the Year.