By Emerson Witner, WWE NXT writer, Wrestling Observer.com & Wrestling Outsiders Podcast
On the eve of WWE’s SummerSlam this Saturday in Brooklyn, NY, the folks at NXT stomp into the Barclays Center for the first of three straight sellouts in the same arena. What began as a pseudo-reality show and later turned into a developmental territory taped in front of 300 college kids has grown into the hottest brand in WWE.
Instead of going through the intricate details of NXT’s evolution, let’s concentrate on the biggest show in NXT history instead.
The Audience Makeup —
NXT has sold over 10,000 tickets for the show already and while WWE is claiming a sellout, you can still get tickets in the cheap seats on TicketMaster as of this writing. Either way, Saturday will be easily the largest crowd in the three year history of NXT, surpassing the 6000 tickets sold for the show on WrestleMania 2015 weekend in San Jose, CA.
My only worry is how many people will truly be familiar with the NXT product. There is the possibility that a good chunk of the crowd will be families and kids who couldn’t get tickets to SummerSlam because of the cost and good ticket availability and are now going because it’s WWE. Of course this could just be me overthinking it, but I am hoping the 6,000 people who love NXT will help get the 6,000 people unfamiliar with it into the show.
What I’m Looking Forward To —
Apollo Crews’ debut
I have never seen Uhaa Nation wrestle before, but with so many good reviews of his work, this should be an excellent showcase. In facing Tye Dillinger, I don’t expect the Perfect 10 to continue his winning ways, but I do expect a fun opener, similar to Kevin Owens’ debut vs CJ Parker last December.
Samoa Joe vs Baron Corbin
Joe debuted at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable in May, confronting Owens. That storyline was dropped after one match and now Joe is floundering. Corbin has had two matches go longer than 5 minutes. The first, against Adrian Neville back in January, which wasn’t very good. The other was vs Rhyno in May, went seven minutes, and was the best match of Corbin’s career. I imagine both men will be motivated and this should be better for Corbin than the Rhyno match.
To be honest, it really doesn’t matter who wins, but a good performance by Corbin could be the start of a bigger push.
NXT Tag Team Champions Blake & Murphy vs The Vaudevillians
This match is being built around who Aiden and Simon will bring out to stop Alexa Bliss from interfering. I am praying to God that it’s not Eva Marie, but there is a limited number of women on the roster. Outside of her, you go to any of the new girls who have just started. As for the match itself, I think it will be the weakest match on the card, but it shouldn’t be a bad match and will probably involve a title change.
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Tyler Breeze
Much like the Crews match, this is a showcase match for Liger. Does it ultimately mean anything more than a one-off WWE appearance for a New Japan star or is it the start of something bigger? Liger is not the athlete he once was, but Breeze is arguably the most underrated wrestler in NXT. Liger will probably win, but Breeze has this odd ability to win matches you assume he won’t.
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NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks vs Bayley
The show is being built as a double main event which means these two will be given the time to have an amazing match. It has become a running joke that before every quarterly special, I express my concerns about the women’s match, stating that it can’t possibly be as good as the last big match was.
With that said, this is the culmination of Bayley’s long chase to the title and should be the coronation of the new Queen of NXT. Sasha and Bayley have been feuding for close to two years with Sasha usually getting the better of their matches. Plus, the champ is on the main roster. Put all these together and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Bayley walks out with the 8 pounds of silver and purple.
NXT Champion Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens in a ladder match
For you trivia buffs out there, this is only the second ladder match in NXT history with the first one being Adrian Neville over Bo Dallas at NXT Arrival in February 2014. The story of this match is two-fold. The first is that Balor was the man to defeat Owens for the NXT title, back on July 4 at Beast in the East and now Owens is getting his rematch.
The second half of the story has to do with Owens ongoing relationship with General Manager William Regal. The way their storyline has gone on for the last seven months, I have been convinced that Regal was turning heel every show and I still think there’s a chance it happens here. This match was made a ladder match because Owens was convinced that Regal was going to try to screw him, and this is the only match that guarantees he’ll get a fair shot.
Balor should win, especially since he will still be on NXT. If Hideo Itami was going to be back in the next few weeks, you could argue for Owens because he could then lose to Itami, but since Hideo’s not ready and Regal probably isn’t going heel, Balor will have his hand raised.
The Bottom Line:
The double main event should be two great matches and the four other matches should be good enough to give us yet another quality NXT special. When the show goes off the air at 11:00 Saturday, I truly believe we’ll be wondering if SummerSlam can be as good.