This year saw NXT reach its peak as a national touring brand, yet due to it being the developmental group, we also saw the promotion level off in Florida and reload for the future.
Here are a few of my favorite/best matches that I saw from Florida’s extensive run of NXT house shows this year.
The Men —
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe (4/15 in Orlando, FL)
This was the first meeting between these two ever. To me, this was their best match, better and smoother than any of their televised ones. It was hard-hitting, athletic, and clean with nothing feeling out of place or too planned ahead. If these two called it in the ring, it was as good as it gets.
Sami Zayn vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (2/12 in Tampa, FL and 2/16 in Largo, FL)
They had two matches in a week, and while I preferred their first go-round in Tampa, Zayn himself preferred their match in Largo. These were lucha masterpieces with speed rope running, takedowns, and showing each other up. They were the type of matches that should have put Almas on the map right off the bat.
Roderick Strong vs. Tommy End (12/8 in St. Petersburg, FL)
Both men had just walked into the NXT door and still tore the house down. They were fresh faces in the NXT bubble who most of the house show fans weren’t familiar with. Yet, by the time they were done, the place was giving them everything they had.
Strong has been the Florida workhorse the last month and this was his best work that I’ve ever seen. End is a physical monster who needs the chance to tell his story and make people know what he’s all about.
The Tag Teams —
Finn Balor & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. The Revival (5/27 in Cocoa Beach, FL)
If you can imagine this match in your mind, it was that and so much more. Balor is another person altogether on live events, and teaming with someone he enjoys as much as Nakamura raised this to another level.
The Revival were complete foils in this one, heckling and being heckled by the crowd and their opponents. It was one of those rare moments in time where you see a match in a small venue that could have played to 10,000 in any arena in the world.
TM61 vs. The Revival (5/6 in Citrus Springs, FL)
Before TM61 even had their WWE names, this match happened in front of one of the smaller crowds of the year. It was a thing of beauty and probably my favorite TM61 match in NXT. It was only their fourth match in the promotion. The Revival are as good as it gets in the tag team division and they know how to use more time at live events to their advantage, building to hot tags and making things matter.
Finn Balor & Bayley vs. Samoa Joe & Nia Jax (2/25 in Orlando, FL)
After months of adorable Twitter jokes between Bayley and Balor, they teamed in Orlando for the NXT hometown faithful against two of their greatest enemies. The match itself was more entertainment than serious, yet in no way was it solely a comedy match. This was also the night where Balor asked Bayley to dance with him after their victory. The lights dimmed and “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing started playing. The rest was magic.
The Women —
Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss (5/26 in Lakeland, FL)
Very rarely in following a promotion can you pinpoint a moment when you truly believe someone found it, but this was the day that Alexa Bliss’ work inside of the ring clicked for me.
Her character and presence had been there for a long time, but she was believable in everything she did to the unstoppable Asuka in this match. The selling, the attempts to cheat, the aggressiveness of a person completely delusional — it was all there. This was one that I was incredibly impressed with.
Bayley vs. Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Emma (2/27 in Sebring, FL)
This was one of the first times Bayley and Asuka ever touched, and when you add in the instigators in Emma and Bliss, this was an exciting fatal four-way in as random of a town as you could imagine. The ring truck was actually parked inside of the building as it was a large metal venue similar to an airline hangar.
Ember Moon vs. Mandy Rose (5/27 in Cocoa Beach, FL)
Sometimes, there’s just a night when everything works. The crowd was rowdy for this and it was a physical match like nothing either had done in NXT. The place was popping for near falls and they went crazy for Moon’s top rope stunner.
The Comedy —
Riddick Moss & Tino Sabbatelli vs. Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford (10/29 in Crystal River, FL)
The Halloween show this year featured the non-TV crew, so they didn’t get to do any offbeat shenanigans until this match. Sabbatelli and Ford (the former Kenneth Crawford) compared abs, claiming to be better athletes than each other. They proceeded to run the ropes and zigzag at full speed for a good two minutes. Everything they’d do was a mirror spot with double downs and non-stop nonsense.
Shinsuke Nakamura, Daria Berenato, Tucker Knight & Otis Dozovic vs. Bobby Roode, Mandy Rose, Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss (11/12 in Cocoa Beach, FL)
There was more action here than words could possibly cover. The key moments were the dastardly heel Roode constantly trying to pick on Berenato and missing, which of course built to one punch from Berenato that sent Roode flying to a gigantic reaction. Rose even tried to spear Nakamura but he casually sidestepped it.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Tye Dillinger (4/14 in Citrus Springs, FL)
This was Nakamura’s first NXT match in Florida. He was fascinated by everything Dillinger did, so he would try it, including the cartwheel, the “10” sign, and all of Dillinger’s mannerisms.
Nakamura would ask the crowd if he was the 10, which upset Dillinger and only created more of a reaction. Nobody in the world has the charisma of Nakamura and there aren’t many better pro wrestling showmen than Dillinger, so this was a perfect introduction.
This closes the chapter on a special and newsworthy year for NXT. They made their way to new countries and American cities for road shows. They quietly phased out TakeOver events from Full Sail University after TakeOver: The End. They sent talents to the main roster and signed even more than they know what to do with. The Cruiserweight Classic opened the door for some of the brightest indie stars in the world and now we just have to wait and see what’s next.
The 2017 NXT Florida year opens January 6th in Largo, FL, and as we all know, if you can make it in Largo, you can make it to WrestleMania.