By Will Pruett
Once again, Will Pruett finds himself live at WrestleMania weekend. Once again, he is processing this by writing about it.
I’ve never been in a room this loud. I’ve never been in a crowd this excited. I’ve never heard a sound like this.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn happened last night. I was there. I can never forget it.
From where I’m sitting (at a coffeeshop the morning after the match, for anyone keeping score), this might have been the best wrestling match I have ever experienced. I went to Shawn Michaels’ retirement at WrestleMania XXVI. I saw Seth Rollins cash in Money in the Bank last year. I think I would rank Nakamura vs. Zayn ahead of those matches.
It told an amazing story of two competitors evenly matched in their primes. It showed us the compelling angry side of Sami, which is never brought out often enough. It showed who Shinsuke is, then who Shinsuke is when confronted with a major challenge. Moment by moment, this match became more intense. The crowd, who greeted both men like heroes when they entered the ring, just got louder with each subsequent near-fall. Any worries about a translation error or a clash of styles were quickly abandoned. We were seeing two master artists at work.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn is art on par with any great symphonic work, with any Pulitzer Prize winning novel, with any piece of theatre. Nakamura vs. Zayn was probably more than a match of the year to me. It was the match of a lifetime. When my brother and I returned to our hotel, exhausted after a long day, I had to watch it again. As I sit back and sip my coffee this morning, it keeps running through my mind.
I’ve never been in a room this loud and I may never be again. It doesn’t matter. I saw Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn and I will never forget it.
NXT Takeover: Dallas might have been the best of the NXT Takeover series. The five match main show was exceptionally enjoyable with no filler. The two dark matches definitely happened and the crowd was already overly responsive in a very fun way.
American Alpha finally capturing the NXT Tag Team Championship was a great moment to see live. When I discuss the volume during Nakamura vs. Zayn, I should also note that it was almost as loud as this match reached its crescendo. The Revival were fine opponents here and truly great champions during their reign. This was Jordan and Gable’s night and their crowd.
Aries vs. Corbin saw Baron Corbin impress me more than Austin Aries. Over the last year, we’ve seen Corbin improve by leaps and bounds. This felt like a coming out party for him, as the crowd even got behind him in moments. Corbin is still a work in progress, but his progress is actually stunning. He’s only getting better and he has a ton of space to grow. The anti-climax at the finish of this match felt like the one misstep of the night.
I think I already said Nakamura vs. Zayn was perfect, so let’s just move on.
Bayley vs. Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship had the toughest task of the night. NXT doesn’t do filler matches on Takeovers (they save them for sleepy weekly TV shows) and is committed to having the women main event or co-main event. This meant Bayley and Asuka had a massive challenge of an emotionally exhausted crowd. They managed to rise to the challenge. It wasn’t as loud as it could have been, but people were into this match.
Bayley losing the way she did to Asuka (after presenting Asuka’s biggest challenge to date) was great. Bayley can now move up to the main roster, as many have speculated she may this weekend, or she can deal with her new dragon to slay. The Bayley character is based on changing, growing, and evolving while not losing sight of who she is. It’s truly inspirational. Losing and coming back might be her most interesting story.
Finn Bálor vs. Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship was good, but it may have been the least of the three big matches. Finn’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Demon was fun to see, but I still have to criticize Finn wrestling his standard match when he is in Demon paint. I want “The Demon” to be a dark place he enters, not just three hours spent getting painted for funsies.
Joe and Finn also had to deal with the unfortunate cut to Joe. This was more than a normal wrestling cut and the blood was excessive. The crowd may have hated seeing Joe get cleaned up, but Joe’s health is more important than the match. Even if Joe wanted to keep going (which his character would want), cleaning him up was the right thing to do. The crowd got weird and ugly about this, with some even chanting “We want blood” and then changing to “Chris Benoit” when Joe locked in the crossface. Gross.
This was a fantastic show with absolutely no filler. While weekly NXT TV is usually pretty “meh” with occasional highlights, Takeover specials deliver in a massive way. What a night.
Did you know other wrestling things happened yesterday? Well, I’m here to tell you they did. Our day kicked off with tacos at a gas station followed by parking and finding the building Evolve 58 was in. WWN did a great job this year finding a location close to the WrestleMania festivities. Last year, they were far across town. This year, they share a parking lot.
Evolve was an okay show marred by poor finishes and poorly communicated finishes. There was a massive expanse of seats in the building, making it difficult to see at times. This is what I get for buying general admission seats instead of reserved though. The show seemed set to start off hot, but a miscommunication in the Tag Team Championship match with Johnny Gargano and Drew Galloway lead to a bell not ringing and mass confusion at the end. Galloway, in a great moment of live improvisation, pulled a front row fan into the ring and had him help reenact the finish. Galloway narrated and saved a massively disappointing moment from ruining the show.
Another poorly thought out finish marred the Evolve Championship match between Matt Riddle and champion Timothy Thatcher. Hopefully the booking gets out of its own way for the rest of the weekend.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay was far and away the highlight of this show. These two high flyers have almost flawless chemistry. It’s scary how great Ospreay is. It’s even scarier to realize how young he is. Ospreay is about to start touring with New Japan Pro Wrestling. He’s about to get even better. Sabre Jr. could legitimately be the best wrestler out there today. He’s about to become a megastar in WWE’s Cruiserweight series.
The main event of this show had trouble following Ospreay vs. Sabre Jr. Who wouldn’t, right?
Evolve ended about three hours after it started and we walked briskly to pick up our NXT tickets. The line was already insanely long to get in and suddenly our dinner plans were in question. I got in line, met Jake Barnett (who I have talked to for almost five years on a weekly basis, but never met in person until yesterday. Jake’s a cool dude, by the way), and my brother went in search of a decent dinner to go. Decent alluded us and we ended up with Chicken McNuggets. The line moved too fast and we ended up sitting on the floor near the entrance to the show eating said McNuggets. I am obviously abusing my body with food this week.
Today we’re hitting up Evolve 59, the WWN Supershow, and Jim Ross’ show at the House of Blues. If you see me, say hi! I’d be totally happy to chat. Happy WrestleMania week everyone! I’m already exhausted!
Want to follow more of my adventures in real time? Hit me up on the Twitter @itswilltime!