In previous years, the final NXT episode of the year was ostensibly a clip show, and while the new content featured Wednesday night has been in the can for a few weeks, the previously unseen matches from Osaka, Japan, were well worth the wait as part of a two-hour year-end special.
The result of the main event came as no surprise, as Shinsuke Nakamura's recapturing of the NXT Championship aired on NXT TV on Dec. 7, but everything else we got beforehand was fresh and outstanding. Any one of us who stuck around that deep into the show likely had no problem viewing it one more time, as much like most of the matches throughout their lengthy rivalry, it was exciting and told an excellent story.
As for the rest of the card, it featured a little bit of everything: some nostalgia and callback in an NXT women's championship match, a fresh opponent for the new NXT tag team champions and some surprising winners throughout the night.
Outside of the main event replay, the match of the night was one of those unfamiliar bouts, featuring #DIY making their first official title defense against Japanese stars (and recent WWE signees) Tajiri and Akira Tozawa. It was wonderful seeing Tajiri in a WWE ring again, and we'll be seeing a lot more with his confirmed return to 205 Live set for next week. Tajiri was always an underrated performer dating back to his ECW days and through his successful run in the WWE in the early 2000s. The ageless cruiserweight hasn't lost a step, if this match is any indication.
While Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano predictably held on to the straps, the match was incredibly entertaining -- full of swift kicks, stiff chops, aerial assaults and supreme intensity on the way to stealing the show. Perhaps the pairing of Tajiri and Tozawa should become more of a regular occurrence, especially with 205 Live appearing to need a few more established tag teams to square off with the likes of the Bollywood Boyz, as they worked incredibly well together.
Asuka put the NXT women's championship up for grabs in her hometown against RAW superstar (and former NXT rival) Nia Jax. Again, the result wasn't in doubt but the effort was admirable, as Asuka eventually chopped down the powerful Jax on her way to a win. The slow pace allowed Jax to display dominance throughout much of the match, leading to a rare but satisfying comeback in front of a friendly crowd.
The rest of the show played out unpredictably, and it started right off the bat as Boston native Oney Lorcan kicked things off against Andrade "Cien" Almas. The surprises started before the bell even rang, as Lorcan got a sizable reaction from the normally reserved Japanese crowd, and Almas fully embraced his role as the bad guy he so effortlessly plays by sporting the La Sombra mask he donned for many years in Japan; while wearing that mask, Almas defeated Shinsuke Nakamura for the coveted IWGP Intercontinental championship.
As Almas has been progressing as one of NXT's top heels of late, Lorcan's shock victory is undoubtedly his most high-profile win since signing with the WWE. The finish was particularly impressive, as Lorcan executed his half-and-half suplex from the top rope to perfection. It was a fantastic way to start the show.
Next week's episode will similarly be a two-hour edition from the show that took place in Melbourne, Australia, on Dec. 8. If the quality from Osaka was any indication, we should expect another solid show next Wednesday before we properly roll into 2017 and look forward to NXT TakeOver: San Antonio.
Hits & Misses
Lorcan flies way under the radar, but the guy can work. His fierce, no-nonsense style is fun to watch, and I think we'll see his popularity continue to increase. It might be a bit too early for this comparison, but he's becoming the NXT version of Cesaro -- he appeals to the audience primarily from an in-ring style built upon physicality, agility and strength.
Despite a forgettable tag team match in which Billie Kay and Peyton Royce scored a victory over Liv Morgan and Aliyah, Kay and Royce continued to exude the arrogant charisma that has sparked their growth in NXT. The future remains bright for them as a team.
It was great to see Asuka in the ring again, in a match that allowed her to take on the uncommon role of underdog -- even if the encounter didn't offer any progression to her current story. It's been a while. She's the unchallenged queen of NXT, and I'm excited to see the road she'll travel along to get to San Antonio.
Speaking of the NXT women's championship match, there was a blip in the story of Jax's pursuit of the title despite the solid overall effort. It seemed as though she was willing to take a count-out victory, which obviously would not result in her winning the title. Corey Graves played it off as inexperience on commentary, but it was a clear hole in the story they were telling and a detail that didn't go unnoticed.
Am I the only one who has never been sold on Nakamura's Kinshasa as a legitimate finisher? It fits in with his strike-heavy strong style, but it has always come off as an awkward-looking, lopsided knee attempt to me. I was never high on Daniel Bryan using the running knee as a finishing move either, but even that was more effective looking than the Kinshasa. Don't get me wrong, Nakamura is tremendous and I appreciate his overall move set and charisma. Maybe I'm just nitpicking. I probably am, but I can't be the only one, right?