It’s amazing to me to think that just about a year ago to the date of me writing this article, NXT TakeOver: R-Evolution happened. It was one of my first NXT experiences, and more importantly, it was the show that turned me on to NXT and the incredible product that Triple H is creating down in Florida. It was on that night that we witnessed the incredible debut of one Kevin Owens, Charlotte and Sasha Banks put on an absolute clinic, and newcomers Finn Balor and Hideo Itami teamed up to dispatch The Ascension. My oh my, has the landscape of NXT changed in just one short year. All of these incredible storytelling experiences and amazing matches were foreshadowed by two men. These two men are named Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville. On this particular night at TakeOver: R-Evolution, we saw the emotional culmination of a journey as one man realized his dream, and the other realized his downfall.
Neville also proved that he had the one defining trait of any good champion: No matter what it took to win, he was willing to do it. If it meant taking advantage of a situation, Adrian Neville could and would do anything it took to hold on to his NXT Championship just a little bit longer. In the days and moments leading up to TakeOver: R-Evolution, we saw a desperate Sami Zayn make a proclamation that would turn a professional rivalry into a personal rivarly in just a short time. Should Zayn be unable to defeat Neville for the NXT Championship, his NXT career would come to a close. Neville, attempting to be a good friend, tried to talk Zayn out of it, saying that he would not shoulder the burden of being the man who retired Sami Zayn. Neville refused to acknowledge the fact that Zayn would ever realize his dream, especially against him. This all brings us to the day that an emotional journey concluded: December 11, 2014. Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville for the NXT Championship.
Right from the entrances of both Zayn and Neville in this matchup, as a fan you could feel the tension, the drama, the sheer emotion that was invested into this match. The Full Sail faithful were in full support of Zayn, and reviled the champion Neville. Both men showed their supreme confidence in their ability to get it done on the biggest stage that NXT has to offer. Neville quickly asserts his dominance against the clearly emotional Zayn. Bryon Saxton and Corey Graves make it a point to mention during the opening moments the pure animosity and hatred these two have. They were the best of friends, and they couldn’t even stand to be in the same gym as each other, let alone the same room. Neville is just asserting physical dominance for the opening section of the match, slowly working on the arm and the midsection and neutralize the emotions of not only Zayn, but the NXT crowd.
More special than what happens within the match, however, is what happens afterwords. Neville and Zayn embrace and resolve all their problems in that moment, and Zayn stands tall and proud with the NXT locker room as he proved that he had what it took to get the job done with the brights on light. We also get treated to the special moment of his friend who debuted earlier in the night, Kevin Owens, coming out to help him to the back and congratulate him on his absolutely huge victory….or so we thought. An absolute feel good moment followed up by shock and betrayal, as Kevin Owens powerbombs Sami Zayn onto the ring apron and sets up what was one of the most incredibly vicious matches I’ve ever seen at TakeOver: Rival where Owens kills the dream of Zayn.
There’s a lot to be said about NXT, especially lately with the decline of the main roster product on Raw, Smackdown, and various pay-per-views. If you want to see a shining example of what happens and how it feels when all of the correct storytelling and booking decisions are made, then look no further than the payoff and the match that Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn had at TakeOver: R-Evolution.