NXT came back with another Takeover special – their first since WrestleMania – with the hastily re-titled “The End Of The Beginning” on Wednesday night.

Much like how Takeover: Dallas featured a debut, The End kicked off with a debut, as NXT’s perennial gatekeeper provided the opposition for the former La Sombra, the debuting Andrade “Cien” Almas. In the intros, Corey Graves hinted that this was “the end of the beginning”, which given how WWE’s marketed NXT, could be a sign that there’ll be a lot of call-ups?

Tye Dillinger vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas
Good Lord, Tye Dillinger has repurposed Nia Jax’s Velociraptor-style jackets, whilst Almas had a vaguely stereotypical get-up of white trousers, white suspenders and a white hat with a feather in it – although Cien’s ring-gear was blue and white, so not quite as bad.

Usual stuff to start off with, with Dillinger being really over with the Full Sail crowd, but Andrade looked to be a little ahead of him, leapfrogging Dillinger and hitting a low dropkick. Some headscissors sent Tye out of the ring, and Almas followed up with a Rocky Romero dive into the ropes, clinging on to the strands to fake out the “Perfect Ten”.

Dillinger replied with a tiltawhirl backbreaker, but nearly lost when Almas hit a moonsault off the top, only to land on his feet, then pull of a standing moonsault for a near-fall. Dillinger back body dropped Almas, who then stayed in a headstand in the corner, before dropping “Cien” with a superkick for a near-fall.

After pulling down the knee pads, Dillinger went for a knee strike, but ended up being caught by a handspring double knee by Almas, then the wheelbarrow bulldog/facebuster and running double knees into the corner for the win. A good debut for Almas, but a little on the short side – felt more like a TV match than a Takeover match. **¾

NXT Tag Team Championship: The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) vs. American Alpha (Jason Jordan & Chad Gable) (c)
“No Flips, Just Fists” is a heck of a slogan for the Revival given what’s been going on in New Japan lately… Wilder starts off by taking Gable down with a wristlock, before Dawson came in to chop away at the smaller Gable. We saw a funky series of colours as Gable and Dawson ran the ropes, and came back in time to see a hiptoss by Gable and a series of flying headscissors, culminating with dropkicks by Jason Jordan.

The match then degenerated into a fistfight with all four men, before the champions caught the Revival with stereo ankle locks, sending Dash and Dawson scrambling out of the ring for safety. Scott Dawson returned to hit an uppercut on Gable, sending Chad out of the ring, but he returned with a diving double clothesline after Jason Jordan baited their challengers.

After a brief revival (heh) for the challengers, Gable nearly snatched a win with a sunset flip, before Scott Dawson got a near-fall with a spinebuster. Wilder came in to keep Gable down with an armbar, before Gable had to kick out following an illegal double-team, when the Revival hit a suspended legdrop. Gable finally made the hot tag to Jason Jordan, who cleared out Dash and Dawson with clotheslines, flapjacks and suplexes. Wilder caught Jordan with a drop toe hold into the middle turnbuckle, as the Revival made another comeback, nearly winning it with a clothesline into a sunset flip on Jordan.

Gable made the tag in as Jordan was being prepped for a backslide, with a dropkick into a German suplex seeing Scott Dawson kick out at two. Some interference almost cost American Alpha the titles, but Gable held onto the ropes to avoid a DDT, before a cheapshot from Wilder on the outside almost resulted in a win by roll-up.

The Revival went for the clothesline/powerbomb combo on Gable, but Chad switched it in mid-air, hitting Dawson with a belly-to-belly instead, only for Wilder to pull Gable out as the win seemed assured. Jason Jordan tagged himself back in, but quickly fell to the Shatter Machine as the Revival became the first two time NXT tag team champions! Some great double-team action, and though not quite as good as their Dallas match, but still pretty damn good ****

I guess this means that American Alpha are being prepped for the main roster? Post-match, a deflated Full Sail crowd saw the defeated champions remain in the ring to accept the cheers from the crowd… only to be attacked from behind by the debuting Authors of Pain. They are Sunny Dhinsa and Gzim Selmani – the latter a former MMA fighter with a 4-2 professional record. Weirdly, this team has only wrestled as a pair for five matches on the house show loop, and had lost to American Alpha in three of those! Dhinsa and Selmani (who were not identified, so may get new names by next week’s NXT) resembled New Japan’s Guerrillas of Destiny, only without the wacky facepaint. They laid out Jordan and Gable with a big boot sidewalk slam and a lariat, as Paul Ellering appeared in the aisle, with the legendary ex-Legion of Doom manager giving his approval.

Note to Full Sail: how about learning your history instead of marking out for your flavours of the month? “Who are you?” indeed…

Austin Aries vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
From the file “why is this even in NXT? It should be on the main roster…”, Austin Aries’ cape and taped ribs made a comeback, but for the crowd he was a very distant second fiddle to the King of Strong Style.

Good effort from Tom Phillips and Corey Graves in trying to build this at the same level as Nakamura vs. Zayn, but instead we got the Full Sail crowd singing Nakamura’s theme. Cute. I still can’t get over them from the Ellering stuff moments earlier though.

They grappled early on, with Nakamura targeting the taped ribs, but they went at a much slower pace initially than Nakamura’s WrestleMania debut. Shinsuke rubbed Aries’ taped ribs to mock the former TNA champion, before Aries replied with a dropkick and an attempt at the Last Chancery submission.

Aries dropkicked Nakamura in the knee as he made a comeback, getting a one-count from an elbow drop-come-uppercut to Nakamura’s neck. Nakamura got the knees up to block a senton, but it didn’t deter Aries, who came off with another elbow drop for a near-fall.

Aries kept up the pressure, kicking Nakamura to the ground then wrenching back with a reversed cravat, but Nakamura was able to elbow himself free, before catching Aries with an enziguiri after missing a head kick. Nakamura kept on top of Aries with knee strikes, then a knee strike after draping Aries across the top turnbuckle (or Rocky Romero’s “Shinsuke” if you’re a New Japan watcher).

Nakamura tried to get a reverse Exploder suplex, but Aries twice fought out of it, before Aries used a schoolboy for a two-count after Nakamura missed a kick. A roaring elbow sent Nakamura to the outside, as Aries followed up with a tope, sending Shinsuke into the barriers, but he kicked out at two after being rolled back in. Aries took too much time setting up for something, and got dragged to the mat by his taped ribs as Nakamura locked in a Triangle choke, but Aries made the rope break.

More knees to the head by Nakamura followed, as did a front release suplex, but a Kinshasa attempt was blocked and turned into a back suplex and eventually the Last Chancery. Nakamura held on and made the ropes, but a flying hurricanrana off the middle rope from Aries sent Shinsuke into the corner, where a dropkick set him up for a 450 Splash.

Nakamura moved out of the way, but Aries avoided another knee strike in the corner, before dragging him onto the apron for a battle of forearms, only for an enziguiri to knock Aries to a knee. Aries caught Nakamura’s attempt at a run on the apron, and dumped him on the apron with a death valley driver, as Aries looked to take a count-out. And just as I said that, Aries went for another dive, but Nakamura moved away from his low-pe, as Aries went head-first into the barricade. A diving knee off the second rope followed, as did the reverse Exploder, and then the Kinshasa spelled doom for Aries as Shinsuke Nakamura took the win! This was a completely different match than WrestleMania weekend – nowhere near as fast-paced, but just as good. ****¼

Where next for Austin Aries? Although it was a storyline, his appearance in NXT has been a bit of a bust as he’s found himself well and truly overshadowed by the likes of Nakamura, and really unable to get out of the blocks.

NXT Women’s Championship: Nia Jax vs. Asuka (c)
Let’s see how much Nia has improved here. At Takeover: London, she managed to drag Bayley down to her level… I have faith that Asuka will be able to improve on that.

Nia went straight for Asuka, trying to make use of her size advantage, but Asuka used her speed (and smaller size) to evade Jax in the early going. A headbutt from Jax sent Asuka into the ropes, before a hair toss nearly ended up with Asuka becoming a part of the turnbuckles.

Jax flattened Asuka in the corner with clotheslines and splashes, but Asuka was able to lock in an Octopus hold on Jax in the middle of the ring, but Jax was able to whip herself out of it, and then drop the champion with a backbreaker for a near-fall. Asuka got caught in the ropes, as Jax pulled back on the hair, before pulling Asuka across her knee to do further damage to the champion’s back.

Asuka used a couple of knee strikes to free herself, before locking in a headlock… only for Jax to free herself with a suplex for a two-count. Jax avoided another Octopus hold, but was caught in a Triangle choke, which was easily broken as she turned it into a buckle bomb, before squashing Asuka with a hip attack in the corner. Jax went back to Asuka’s back, using the ring post to stretch her, before returning to the ring to catch Asuka in a bear hug.

Jax tried to do something with Asuka and got caught in a knee-bar, with the challenger making the ropes for the clean break, before Jax dropped Asuka with a spinebuster. Asuka rolled out of the way of a legdrop of doom, and mounted a comeback with a cannonball dive out of the middle rope, and a couple of spinning backfists and a hip attack for a near-fall. After the Best of Super Junior tournament, I am done with that move…

Asuka fired up with a kick, but was caught and planted with a powerbomb, only to catch the challenger in an armbar. Jax stood up out of it, but was caught in the Asuka Lock, and then a stiff kick to the head. Two more kicks and a running knee proved to be enough though, as Asuka retained the title after carrying Nia Jax to a good match – infinitely better than the plodding story we got in London. ***¼

I dare say this was because of Asuka’s effort, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Nia Jax got the call-up to the main roster ahead of her. Hell, they called up Braun Strowman without any NXT experience, and although Jax is green, she’s streets ahead of him.

They ran an advert for Breaking Ground: Reloaded – a “where are they now?” for the NXT stars from the series. This’ll be reviewed over the weekend, as I’m looking to see how much they ignore Tyler Breeze’s woes…

A backstage spot saw William Regal get interviewed by Andrea Di Marco, just because, and we see Bobby Roode walk past him and into the locker room. Foreshadowing! Not sure why Graves and Phillips were shocked – he was at their last Takeover special, no?

Steel Cage Match for NXT Championship: Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe (c)
Finn’s entrance here saw them have panels of a steel cage around the entrance way, as the “Demon” pushed down one of the walls to make his way to the ring. In comparison, Samoa Joe’s entrance was sedate, with his towel and title belt…

If this felt like a repeat, it was – these two have headlined the last three Takeover specials, so the pressure was on to deliver something different. Balor started by taking down Joe with a flurry of kicks, but was cut-off as Balor tried to go for the door early on. A few more chops from Balor sent Joe staggering into the corner, seeking the door for an exit, but found himself take an enziguiri from Balor as he was on the top rope.

Balor ate an enziguiri kick in the corner as Joe followed up with a face wash on Balor, and a big boot as the challenger sat prone on the mat. They started to tee off on each other, but Joe stopped it half-way through and simply tossed Balor into the cage, but was blocked as he tried to exit the cage. Finn nearly stole it when he knocked Joe down with an enziguiri, but Joe grabbed hold of Balor’s leg as he tried to crawl out of the open door, ending with a German suplex for a near-fall back in the ring.

Joe tried to climb up the cage and was joined on the top rope by Balor, who rammed his head into the cage wall, before they slipped and crashed to the mat. Back on their feet, Joe chopped Balor into the ropes, but got nothing but the cage as Balor sidestepped a dive. Caught between the cage and the ropes, Balor ran off the ropes and hit Joe with two diving attacks, before turning a third dive into a Kokina clutch. Balor freed himself and hit another dropkick, before climbing over Joe to try and escape the cage, only to be dragged down and kick Joe in the face before Balor crotched himself on the way down.

Joe dropped Balor on his neck as he came out of the corner, then went for a Muscle Buster, only for Balor to roll him up for a near-fall instead. A Pele kick downed Joe, but it wasn’t long before the pair were back on the top rope trying to escape, with Balor using a Slingblade off the top to send Joe to the mat. Another Slingblade followed after a two-count, but Joe sidestepped a diving dropkick, and prepped Balor for a muscle buster for another near-fall.

Balor escaped as Joe tried to deliver a powerbomb into the cage wall, before hitting another Slingblade and and a dropkick into the corner. Finn went up top and nailed the Coup de Grace double stomp, but Joe kicked out at two!

Finn tried for the Bloody Sunday/1916 DDT, but Joe reversed out into a Kokina Clutch in the middle of the ring, and flipped out a la Bret Hart, freeing himself and landing a double stomp on Joe. Balor looked to go up top once more for another Coup de Grace, but instead opted to keep climbing, only for Joe to catch his boot and drag Balor back in. Joe climbed up to the top as Balor looked to drop down, with the champion instead dropping Balor with a super Muscle Buster… and that was it! Finn Balor loses on Takeover after a good main event, and almost surely is making the move up to the main roster after a feud which delivered in the ring, even if the promos and build-up seemed flat at times. ****

And that was it – another enjoyable Takeover special, with the matches you’d expect to deliver, delivering, and even the average ones not being too bad. I’d have preferred to see more from Almas/Dillinger, but it was what it was – and at least this show didn’t overrun!

The big question now for NXT is, of course, what their roster will look like. We saw the debut of Andrade “Cien” Almas, and the unnamed tag team who’ve done house shows as the Authors of Pain tonight, but with question marks over the NXT futures of American Alpha and Finn Balor, we are almost surely in for a major rebuilding process as NXT is affected by the WWE’s brand split.

Oh, and one more thing. Full Sail? There’s a reason why you’re getting a reputation with the wider wrestling community – entertaining yourselves is one thing, but there’s no quicker way to get heat with fans of what’s already a hardcore product than by putting down a legendary figure from wrestling history.