In a pre-WWE Network era, NXT acquired the beginnings of its cult-like following with a Hulu Plus presence. During this time, the likes of Paige, Adrian Neville, Kassius Ohno, and Big E Langston began to make a name for themselves within the WWE system. Then, Cesaro and Sami Zayn sought to separate themselves from the pack when they competed in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match on August 21, 2013.
In May of 2013, Zayn made his NXT debut by picking up two consecutive victories over Curt Hawkins and Cesaro. In the following months, the two traded wins. Cesaro also captured the United States Championship by defeating Santino Marella at SummerSlam 2013, merely two nights before this match aired, seemingly adding an extra air of importance to the meeting.
Full Sail had already seen several quality contests by this point, including Kassius Ohno vs. William Regal, which Wrestling With Words’ Rob Barry reviewed in a previous edition of “The Review Stands Alone,” but NXT did not begin turning many heads until this match made tape. I’m not going to recap this match move-by-move, simply because it is a spectacle to behold, and that wouldn’t do it enough justice. What I will do, however, is describe the sheer emotion and pageantry that truly made this bout special. As Cesaro makes his way to the ring, Zayn soars over the ropes, delivering his signature Somersault Plancha. Having lost to Cesaro before, Zayn had something to prove. As beloved as he was, Zayn felt that he would let the fans down if he were unsuccessful on this particular night. The electricity is near-palpable, as the crowd does not largely consist of fans who are trying to get themselves over. Rather, they are witnessing wrestling’s most pure babyface slug it out with an underutilized behemoth, and enjoying every second of it. Unable to recuperate, the United States Champion eats a Yakuza Kick from Zayn, and gets rolled up for an early fall, which appears to be a staple of these matches. Boisterous “Olé!” chants reverberate throughout Full Sail Arena as Zayn attempted to rally. After surviving Zayn’s Tornado DDT through the ring posts, among other moves, Cesaro was able to take the final two falls of the contest.
The feud between Zayn and Cesaro was no longer about matches. It far transcended that, evolving into beautiful, violent warfare between two men who yearned to deliver in every sense of the word. This is one of those matches that reminds me why I love professional wrestling. Whenever I feel that my intelligence has been insulted, I revert to rewatching matches like this, and can’t help but find myself falling for every near-fall, every breathtaking, inhuman feat of strength performed by the competitors. Not only did Zayn and Cesaro manage to stand out during what was arguably NXT’s golden era, but they were later able to outdo themselves at NXT Ar:Rival.