Nearly a week has past now since WWE’s latest weekend of wrestling, with them hosting NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia and Royal Rumble in the Wells Fargo Arena.
Wrestling Observer’s and grappling guru Dave Meltzer awarded WWE their first five star match since 2011 as Andrade Cien Almas’ NXT Championship match with Johnny Gargano tore the house down.
It sends a very strong message to those in charge of WWE’s top divisions as their sister product outdone the main roster again during WWE’s third biggest pay-per-view of the calendar.
And as I sit back and think, it occurs to me that this has been the case for a number of years now.
Looking back throughout 2017, they blew Raw and Smackdown events out of the water.
NXT TakeOver: San Antonio vs Royal Rumble
Their first event, NXT Takeover: San Antonio, saw recent Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura face current United States title holder Bobby Roode in a match that gained four and a half stars and really flung Roode into the NXT spotlight.
Funnily enough, this match was matched by John Cena and AJ Styles’ contest the following night in what was perhaps WWE’s best match of 2017 as Cena finally toppled The Phenomenal One.
It looked promising for WWE from this point forward as people grew tired of Nakamura and Roode’s feud, many believed their match wasn’t typically of an NXT style as two older workers slowed the pace down considerably.
NXT:TakeOver: Orlando vs Wrestlemania
The King of Strong Style and The Glorious One battled again the night before Wrestlemania but it was the Tag Team Championship match which stole the show.
DIY, Authors of Pain and The Revival battled in elimination format to much appraisal from the WWE Universe.
DIY’s technical prowess alongside Author of Pain’s powerful move-set and Dash and Dawson’s heelish antics created a thorough and precise match with few mistakes.
Compare that to Wrestlemania’s lucklustre card that, apart from Jeff and Matt Hardy’s return, failed to live up to Wrestlemania’s extremely high standards.
Both the NXT Championship and NXT Tag Team Championship bouts received four and a half stars, Shane McMahon accompanied AJ Styles to a four star match – Neville’s Cruiserweight Title Match against Austin Aries, the second best match on the card, was placed first on the pre-show and wasn’t included on WWE’s Wrestlemania DVD.
NXT TakeOver: Chicago vs Backlash
As the year progressed, we were introduced more and more to WWE’s UK division and it lit up NXT TakeOver: Chicago as Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate produced, until recently, the best match in NXT history.
Their chemistry is impeccable, created whilst touring the independent scene as part of British Strong Style with Trent Seven.
As well as this four and three quarter star contest, both Bobby Roode vs Hideo Itami and DIY vs Authors of Pain gained four and a quarter stars.
The latter cemented Authors of Pain as one of the best tag teams on the planet and also saw the dramatic conclusion of DIY as Tommaso Ciampa attacked tag partner Johnny Gargano as the show went off the air, that in turn created the most anticipated feud of 2018.
Backlash followed NXT TakeOver:Chicago with a main event including Smackdown Live champion Randy Orton versus prematurely pushed Jinder Mahal. The Maharaja’s run as the 50th WWE Champion began here and created a miserable summer for WWE fans.
Kevin Owens and AJ Styles had a decent match on this card, as did Shinsuke Nakamura and Dolph Ziggler but none could even reach the same stratosphere that NXT found themselves in.
As summer came and past, SummerSlam went back to Brooklyn with NXT the night before.
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn vs SummerSlam
Scottish born and former Intercontinental Champion Drew McIntrye marked his return to WWE in a match that was better than many expected as he won the NXT Championship from Bobby Roode, who made the jump to Smackdown Live.
Asuka and Ember Moon produced the best women’s match in NXT since Bayley and Sasha fought two years earlier in the same building and Hideo Itami produced his best NXT match as he squared off against Aleister Black.
SummerSlam was arguably WWE’s most disappointing card of the year with only Raw’s Universal Championship match saving the card.
Ten out of the 13 bouts failed to get to four stars, which for the second biggest show of the WWE year, is disappointing.
Randy Orton vs Rusev lasted a mere ten seconds and Big Show fought Big Cass in what was WWE’s worst match on PPV all year.
Both set’s of Tag Team Championships switched hands as The Usos and The Bar both captured gold in a set of decent matches.
NXT TakeOver: War Games vs Survivor Series
The introduction of War Games to NXT was met to huge applause as even Cody Rhodes tweeted his gratitude at the gimmick match being brought back.
Undisputed Era, Authors of Pain and Sanity literally went to war inside the twin-ringed structure which was surrounded by steel.
Crazily, despite the eccentric spots and brilliant tag team wrestling, it failed to be match of the night as Velveteen Dream and Aleister Black produced a true professional wrestling masterclass. Emotion and story telling accompanied by strong striking led to this being hailed as something close to perfection.
Andrade Cien Almas captured the NXT Championship on this night too, becoming the fourth holder of the championship in the calendar year.
Anything WWE threw at the audience on the Sunday night was going to fall short of what Triple H and his company had created previously.
This was indeed the case. An outstanding effort from the fully reformed Shield overcame The New Day in a great contest but this match was forgotten about by the time the show closed as Triple H dominated the Raw versus Smackdown Men’s Elimination match.
Brock Lesnar’s amazing ‘little versus large’ showdown with AJ Styles was the highlight of the show as Styles battled like a valiant underdog only to be toppled by The Beast in 15 minutes.
When you look back over the year, some similarities make it glaringly obvious that NXT is merely a smaller WWE brand.
However, NXT now has the base to really become it’s own company, if it so wishes.
As Vince McMahon begins his venture into Alpha Entertainment, Triple H will presumably take on more responsibilities with the main roster. That could hinder NXT or it could push it to the next level if the right people are in control.
2018 is promising for NXT with Gargano versus Ciampa to come as well as Andrade Cien Almas’ title run which is only just beginning.