NXT: TakeOver: Dallas (04-01-2016) Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Long term selling for the win!
By the time that Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura were bludgeoning one another with a series of back and forth Forearm shots I was pretty sure I was going to the one contrarian who did not like this match. I don’t much care for that spot, especially in the lifeless form it has taken on in Japanese wrestling. The “let’s just stand in the middle of the ring and hit one another over and over again” approach really doesn’t do much of anything for me. It’s a dick measuring contest gone awry and a sign of how inhibited by toughness Japanese wrestling has become.
So here I am watching this match, thinking it’s okay, but not overly special or anything. Sure, it’s cool to see Nakamura in an NXT, or World Wrestling Entertainment, ring for the first time. Beyond that though, I wasn’t quite sure what story was being told or if there even was a story being told. Then the Forearms came flying and I figured that the story was going to be one of who blinked first or who had the bigger dick. Boy am I glad that I stuck with the match because what followed helped change my perspective on the Forearm exchange in the middle of the match.
I’m pretty sure no one expected me to write about Corey Graves or Tom Phillips during this review? Well, I’m about to, because their commentary deserves to be talked about. You see, maybe even more than the action in the ring it was their at first subtle and then overt methods of getting across the idea of this not being the Sami Zayn we know that made me rethink the match entirely. It wasn’t that Zayn was trying to be tough, or show that he had the bigger dick you see. Nope, he was drawn in by Nakamura, forced to exchange strikes, and bring out a vicious side he hasn’t ever really displayed. Phillips and Graves put this aspect over big time, doing what great announcers should do; accentuating the action in the ring and bringing the viewer deeper into what is taking place.
Of course, what was taking place only happened because of Nakamura and Zayn. The longer the match went the more I knew I was wrong in my initial reactions to what they were doing. Behind all of Nakamura’s antics and charisma is a stone cold killer. Someone who when he is on can take his opponent to a place where bad things happen to them. That’s exactly what happened here as Nakamura ratcheted up the intensity in stages. At first he is toying with Zayn, merely hitting him as one would expect in a wrestling match. Then he starts hitting hard, then eventually he is laying in shots that turn Zayn into someone else. The way Nakamura approaches this match could almost be read as something very meta; wherein he uses himself as the tool from which to distill the violence that has always been within Zayn (even if Zayn never knew it.)
Okay, that’s enough deep meta for now, let’s get back to the regular type of meta. Down the stretch the selling and psychology from Nakamura and Zayn is sublime. It stops being about comfort zones and people veering away from their usual gameplans and becomes all about the violence endured. Nakamura’s idea to pull Zayn into his world appears to be on the verge of backfiring, and it seems as if the plucky babyface in Zayn is using his newfound violent side to beat his opponent down as opposed to just beating his opponent. The whole time they are laying into one another, chopping away at one another, almost literally ripping away at the will of the other to continue. It is top notch stuff, and I’m glad the match took the turn it did.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect going into this match. The little I’ve seen of Zayn since his comeback I haven’t much cared for, but before that he was one of the best wrestlers in the world. And Nakamura has always had the tendency of coming up big in big matches but kind of coasting along the rest of the time. Throw all of that into a pot and how the heck was I supposed to know what the end result would be? I’m glad I ended up being so wrong about the first half of the match. It makes me very happy to say that Nakamura and Zayn were telling a much deeper and fruitful story than I initially was willing to give them credit for. A great debut for Nakamura, a fitting farewell for Zayn, and a boatload of content wrestling fans the world over. Now that’s what I like to call great storytelling, from all involved.