Sami Zayn sat in the ring; crouched in the corner, awaiting his foe for the evening. Game face in place, he looked as intense as he ever has in an NXT ring, even more than he did before the Kevin Owens wars he waged. Those confrontations were fuelled by anger, this one was all about pride.
Then, it began. Zayn’s upbeat ska music faded, and the crowd erupted into a thunderous “NAK-A-MUR-A!” chant that shook the ceiling of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. All of this before a single note of music had played, before a single pixel on the big screen had shown anything. When the screen displayed the beginning of Shinsuke Nakamura’s new NXT entrance video, and the first chords of his new theme hit, the result was delirium in the arena.
The screen flashed white. In giant red letters, the name SHINSUKE NAKAMURA blazed brightly in the dark, with one exception – the silhouette of Nakamura himself in front of it, hitting some poses like only the King Of Strong Style can. The lights came up, and dressed like a gothic version of Michael Jackson, he made his way down the ramp; stuttering, posing, shuffling and strutting. Nakamura not only got your attention, he demanded it and absorbed it.
The camera briefly cut to Sami in the ring. Still sat in a corner, motionless, but a slight grin appeared, as if the wrestling fan inside Sami just couldn’t help but express the joy at being a part of this.
Nakamura? He slithered into the ring and hit his signature pose against the ropes. The crowd ate it up. The expected “THIS IS AWESOME” chants poured from the seats into the ring. This time, they were right. In one walk from the ramp to the ring, Nakamura had arrived to a whole new audience. If you didn’t know who he was before, you sure as hell did now.
20 minutes later, both men had left everything they had in the ring. An epic, emotional, brutal yet beautiful rollercoaster of a match fought in, on and outside of the ropes had delivered everything we as a fan could have hoped for and more. Zayn proved once more that he is one of the absolute best in the world right now, perhaps Nakamura cemented his reputation as THE very best in the world.
Knee strikes, kicks, elbows, submissions, high flying moves, ground and pound, chain wrestling… this match had it all, and wasted no energy or motion at any time. Zayn and Nakamura told a tale that held everyone in the arena on the edge of their seat (if they ever sat down) and made people watching the world over hold their breath.
NXT, it could be argued, is the house that Sami Zayn built. He has been a key component in this new incarnation of WWE’s developmental program. He’s engaged the fans, took us with him on his journey to the very top of NXT and beyond. He built a house with solid foundations, and now he’s handed the keys to Shinsuke Nakamura.
This match, this moment… it reminded me of why I love professional wrestling. Paul Heyman has often said in the past that professional wrestling is an art form. If indeed he’s correct, then on Saturday night in Dallas, Zayn and Nakamura delivered the Mona Lisa.