The 13th July 2016 edition of NXT may have been one of the most anticipated episode of the show since it's inception in June 2012. Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor would go one on one for the first time in the United States and only the second time in history. There had been weeks of build up, with interviews and vignettes and promos, but it was finally time for NXT to deliver the match. Could it live up to the lofty expectations?
In the only match on the show, Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Finn Balor, after delivering a middle-rope Kinshasa, following by a running Kinshasa and boy, what a match it was. Things were electric from before the bell had even been rung and even before anyone's theme music had hit. The tension and anticipation for the match were expertly manipulated by the production as the match came closer and closer throughout the show. By the time Balor was standing in the ring, the crowd was so ready to see a fight and so was I. We had to wait just that little bit longer of Nakamura to come out, which made his entrance even sweeter. The in-ring announcement were also a nice touch, recognising the anticipation and playing with it even more, in a ceremony that is usually only reserved for title match.
For two lesser workers the anticipation would any match that would follow a let down, however these are two of the greatest workers around today, both among the best of all-time. They put on an excellent match and made it look easy. Effortless. After some early joking around by both, the action got serious when Balor nailed a dropkick to "The King of Strong-Style"'s knee as the main narrative of the match began to develop. Corey Graves did a brilliant job of explaining how the focus of Nakamara's left knee would effect his game and benefit Balor. The former NXT Champion would attack his opponents left knee hard and often for the rest of the match, including a surfboard stretch, a heel hook and a dramatic knee bar, also using the injury as a way to stop Nakamura from gaining to much momentum and as a way of blocking the Kinshasa, all with some lovely selling from the Japanese star. I'd have like to have seen Nakamura's offence a little more affected by the attacks, to add a further depth to the story, but that's only a mild criticism, that problem only worried me!
The action would build and build throughout the final third, with both men hitting variations of their finishes for near falls, whilst riffling through a tremendous back and forth strike sequence. With both being put over as equals in the closing stages, it was Nakamura who would manage to be one step ahead of his former NJPW colleage, managing to doge a Coup de Grat attempt, leading to the finish. Everything in closing stages was fluid but powerfully hit at the same time, with the duo logically moving from one stage to the next and lifting the crowd time and time again as they headed towards the pinfall. I think a couple more believable false finishes and this would have been a five star bout, that rivaled Nakamura's debut against Sami Zayn in April. If this is Balor's last hurrah in NXT then he certainly went out with a bang, with the bonus of having his handful of finishes protected, whilst putting over Nakamura, in what was arguably the Irishman's strongest singles match to date, on his way out.
Whilst there was no other wrestling conflicts on the show this week, NXT Champion Samoa Joe did make his first appearance on television since bettering Balor in a Steel Cage match in early June. The segment saw Joe cut a strong heel promo, chastising those that cheered for him as hypocrites and criticising fan favourites Balor and Nakamura for believing a win against each other would entitle them to a NXT title shot. Delivered with conviction Joe look like a beast and every inch of the World champion that he is. "Shinsuke, if you are the king [of Strong-Style] then say hello to the Emperor" was superb line that lay the foundation for a new inevitable feud with the 3 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Before that though it appear's Joe will be feuding with Rhyno as "The Man Beast" would interrupt the NXT Champion with a challenge. After returning last week, it seems Rhyno is going to be used to bolster "The Samoan Submission Machine"'s title run. The two have previously battled all over the USA, Canada and England for over ten years, having collided for the likes of NWA, JAPW & TNA, as well as NXT, where they their last singles match in July of last year.
Also on the show, it was announced that next week's episode will feature a trio of big matches with Bayley facing Nia Jaxx, American Alpha finally getting their hands on the Authors of Pain and Samoa Joe going one on one with Rhyno.
ATPW Scale Rating - 8.06/10
What an episode this was, showcasing the full potential of what can be done with the one hour a week slot. Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor created magic, in one of the best matches that will air this year. Certainly one of the best non-Takeover matches the brand has produced. Outside of this there was a strong characterful performance from the group's Champion on the microphone, which provided a match that will add weight to his title reign opposite Rhyno, whilst setting the stage for a huge feud with Nakamura that looks set to headline August's Takeover: Back to Brooklyn special.