wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Top 14 Mania Weekend Matches

April 6, 2016 | Posted by Larry Csonka
Charlotte WrestleMania 32

Welcome one and all, WrestleMania week is over and we all survived. Well I think we all did, there are a few unaccounted for; they may have attended the Nasty Boys strip club party. I never heard back. Anyway, it’s a great weekend of the year and there was A LOT, and I mean A LOT of matches to watch and sink your teeth into as a fan. It’s become a wrestling Christmas season, and during the weekend I have he pleasure of reviewing everything I could that was available. This included: Evolve 58 and 59, CZW, SHIMMER 80, Mercury Rising, NXT Takeover and WrestleMania. ROH and WrestleCon had events, but they were not on iPPV, so I did not get to those. Today I am going to share my top 14 WrestleMania weekend matches. Why 14? Because these are all of the matches I rated four stars or more, the ones you should check out when you get the chance. Enjoy.

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From WWN Live Mercury Rising – Matt Riddle vs. Tracy Williams [****]: They are fighting because they want to fight, and also because Williams has lost twice to Riddle. Williams took Riddle down and went right work on the legs of Riddle, which is fine but Riddle was up and no selling the work right away prior to being sent to the floor. Williams hit a high cross off the top and to the floor onto Riddle. Five seconds later, Riddle was up and hit a springboard kick onto Williams. Seriously. They did the big back and forth striking battle; Williams took control and worked over Riddle. Riddle sold the beating well as it happened, but tends to forget it when he does the big comeback. Good submission work from Williams, making things look really effortless as he dominates the match. In the rise of Riddle, Gulak’s consistently great performances and Perkins getting run again, it gets lost how good Williams is. Riddle countered a high cross with a knee strike and then a fisherman’s buster for the near fall. Dead God Williams hit a lariat and Riddle went to do the flip sell and spiked himself on his head. Some great counters, including Riddle countering the piledriver into the Alabama slam and right into the heel hook. They kept going and getting crazier, including the high end DDT off the ropes from Williams and then the crossface and Riddle TAPPED. That was a hell of a match, as those two have a hell of a chemistry. Riddle’s selling bothered me a bit and took away from things, but overall it was still a very good and skillfully worked match; they made it look easy.

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From SHIMMER 80 – Heart of SHIMMER Tournament FINALS Elimination Match – Candice LaRae vs. Nicole Savoy vs. Heidi Lovelace [****]: I am VERY cool with this as the finals. Savoy eliminated LaRae in the first round of last year’s tournament, so there is a nice story weaved into this. Lovelace got dumped early, so Savoy worked submissions on LaRae. Savoy then hit a dive onto Lovelace, and then LaRae hit a dive onto both of them. LaRae and Lovelace work in the ring, they traded kicks and then LaRae sent Lovelace to the floor. Savoy back in, LaRae lights her up with chops and then hits a dive onto Lovelace. Savoy then blocked the rolling kick and scored a lock and LaRae had to tap at about 5-minutes in. The crowd did not like that. Lovelace charged back in, but Savoy hit the rolling butterfly suplexes. She then hit a bridging dragon suplex for a near fall. A tiger suplex with the bridge got the same. They went back and forth, Savoy hit a series of kicks but Lovelace kept fighting. She went up top, Lovelace hit the senton, which won her two matches, but it was only a near fall as Savoy survived! Savoy got the savo lock, and Lovelace managed to make the ropes. They went back and forth with strikes. Savoy hit the butterfly suplex into the arm bar and Lovelace tapped! SHIMMER did a good job of laying this thing out, they opted for quality over quantity as they kept the matches focused on the wrestling and the stories in the ring and that was that. They picked the right ladies, they didn’t try to have them work “20-minute epics” that overstay their welcome, and it paid off. I would have been fine with any of the three winning, but it was cool to see Nicole Savoy grow from last year into this victory.

From NXT Takeover: Dallas – NXT Tag Team Championship Match: Champions The Revival vs. American Alpha [****]: The Revival has had high quality outings on the last two shows, and American Alpha has also been very good so I hope for good things here. I can see why some may complain; they worked a formula, a southern tag style that many man not like, but they did it very well. They did have a couple of small rough patches, but they worked through them well and did not allow it to become a problem. I thought that the heat on Gable was well done, as the Revival have gotten that aspect down very well and make the most of their old school tag vibe that just works perfectly for them. They traded near falls late (Gable’s constant desperation pin attempts were great), it broke down and then American Alpha hit grand amplitude and won the titles. Very strong work form all four, and they certainly made the most of their time. The crowd was with them and they wanted the title change so this was well received. This was a great way to kick off the show, and I would have no issue watching these guys feud for a while if they are going to deliver like this. I know that American Alpha is the sexy team to many, but the Revival have been great and deserve the praise.

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From Evolve 59 – USA vs. Europe Series Match – Best In The World Challenge Series – The Fighter: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Matt Riddle [****]: They went straight grappling, with ZSJ dominating the early portion. The second go around saw Riddle get more chances to control, but still ended with ZSJ controlling things. Both men would look to work the arm, but Riddle was out grappled and ZSJ did ZSJ and started to bend Riddle in ways the body is not supposed to go. ZSJ is so nonchalant in the way he goes about this grapping, and it works so well. Oddly enough, in this match Riddle was finding more success with the pro wrestling side of his game. His selling was again very well done. Riddle made his comeback, using suplexes including a delayed German. ZSJ worked his hanging guillotine/kimura spot, but Riddle escaped and countered with a fisherman’s buster. They did a back and forth fighting spirit slap spot, ZSJ hit a soccer kick but Riddle did a worked MMA twister, and picked up the win. That’s a huge win for Riddle; I was hoping that ZSJ would run the table during his series. It was an excellent match, effortlessly mixing pro wrestling, Zabre’s style and Riddle’s MMA side and it all worked together very well. Both guys made it look so easy.

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From SHMMER 80 – Heart of SHIMMER Tournament Match – Nicole Mathews vs. Heidi Lovelace [****]: They did grappling early on, which was rather evenly done until Lovelace scored with an arm bar. We again went to the floor, I feel we’ve seen too much action on the floor tonight, and Mathews took control and laid into Lovelace to take the heat. Lovelace got some hope spots, and Mathews did a great job of keeping the crowd against her and Lovelace was a great sympathetic babyface. Mathews worked a surfboard, and she looked like a completely evil bitch (this is a compliment, great heel work from her) as she slowly pulled Lovelace backwards, bending her in half the wrong way. Lovelace finally started to fight back again, hitting a backdrop suplex for the double down. The crowd loves Lovelace, who made her comeback with kicks and knee strikes and finally had Mathews rocking. Mathews cut her off with the sack of shit slam, but then Lovelace hit a head kick for a near fall. Mathews then hit a rolling elbow and bridging German for a great near fall. Lovelace countered the Vancouver Maneuver into an inverted drop DDT for a near fall. Mathews then hit the lariat and brain buster, and Lovelace SOMEHOW kicked out. Lovelace is super babyface right now. Lovelace caught Mathews with the STO and then hit the big senton bomb, and picked up the win! That was some fire kids, a great layout, great work, great heel vs. face dynamic and a super hot crowd.

From WrestleMania 32 – WWE Intercontinental Title Ladder Match: Champion Kevin Owens vs. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn vs. Stardust vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara [****]: Despite the way it got here, I am so happy for these guys. We got some Zayn vs. Owens early, it didn’t last long and we got to the ladders involved rather quickly. Tons of moving parts here, with bodies flying to the floor and Zayn hitting an awesome dive through the ladder onto the pile and then the corner through the ropes dive into a DDT onto Owens. Another great spot was Cara climbing, the ladder getting shoved over, leading to him springing off the ropes into a sweet senton onto (sorta, they didn’t really catch him) the pile on the floor. STARDUST PULLED OUT A POLKA DOTTED LADDER! He then did the spinning Terry Funk spot with it, TEXAS! Owens then placed Zayn on a ladder, angled on the bottom rope, and hit a wild frog splash. There was lots of great stuff happening here, with everyone getting a chance to shine. Stardust got laid on a ladder bridge between the ring and barricade, and Owens toppled the ladder and Cara flew out onto Stardust. Yeah, these guys are killing themselves. It came down to Owens and Zayn battling it out on the ladder, they fought to the mat and Zayn KILLED Owens with a half and half suplex onto a ladder. THAT MAN HAS A FAMILY! Miz stopped Zayn from climbing to HUGE heat, he climbed but took his time and Ryder returned and tossed him off and RYDER WINS! Ryder got to celebrate with his dad in the ring as well, that’s fucking awesome for him. This had a great pace, everyone busted their assed, got to shine and was simply a ton of fun.

From WrestleMania 32 – WWE Women’s Title Match: Champion Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch [****]: The opening minute was all three trading pining combos, leading to them trying to keep the pacing up and work some three-way spots. The action spilled to the floor for a bit, where Banks got taken out (in an odd spot between her and Charlotte that did not come off well), leaving Becky and Charlotte alone in the ring. Charlotte took the heat, tried to work the leg and then Banks returned only for Becky to toss her back over the top and to the floor. Banks got a great near fall off of a frog splash as Charlotte worked the figure four on Becky, it came off very well as a near submission moment. Banks hit meteora on Charlotte, but Becky then took out Banks and hit a uranage on Banks for the near fall as Charlotte made the save. Banks hit a suicide dive on Charlotte, she got a foot caught on the ropes but tucked and saved herself. Becky then hit a dive and took out Ric as Banks pulled him into it. That was creative and payback for Ric’s constant interference. Charlotte then said fuck it and hit a moonsault all the way to the floor onto both! Back in, Charlotte hit natural selection on both, but both kicked out of pin attempts. Charlotte posted Becky, Banks went for a RANA, Charlotte stopped that and they ended up doing a doomsday device spot, which was a little rough. Becky had Charlotte in disarmher, but Sasha broke it up and got the Banks statement. Charlotte then locked in the figure four on Banks, Becky escaped. Charlotte worked to keep the hold, and Becky ended up saving Banks. All three battled from their knees, Charlotte speared Banks and Lynch went on the attack. They battled up top, Banks into the tree of woe, and Lynch climbed and Becky got the superplex on Charlotte. Banks got the Bank statement, but Charlotte tossed her to the floor and got the figure eight on Becky and she tapped. Commentary informs us that Ric held Banks’ foot so she couldn’t get back in the ring. They needed to talk that up BEFORE the finish. Finish aside, because it feels like another “fuck you, that’s why” winner, they did a hell of a job; good pacing some creative spots and they largely stayed away from the triple threat formula that almost every triple threat falls into. The women’s match at Mania has always been a piss break, but they presented this well going in and all three busted ass to deliver and turn this show around after a string of disappointments action wise. With the added change to a “women’s title” and referring to them as superstars, this came off as an important moment as they say goodbye to one era and hello to a new one.

From Evolve 58 – Ricochet vs. TJ Perkins [****]: Ricochet was fucking around early, avoiding TJP and then said, “It’s like I’m a Puma” and then played it off as TJP laughed. They then did a ton of fast, back and forth counters leading to a teased dive and the biggest pop of the night so far. It was great to see them really alive. Ricochet was having fun, with some homages to Austin with the boots in the corner and the Rock with the People’s moonsault. That was all well and good, but TJP was not amused and started to attack the knees of Ricochet. That is TJP’s wheelhouse, and also makes sense to ground the highflier. TJP put Ricochet in the tree of WHOA and then promptly stepped on his balls; yes sir, you are the heel. Really, really nice work from both guys, as they made everything come off as clean and effortless. Ricochet mounted a comeback, working a series of kicks. TJP countered the benadryller, and then countered a Regal-Plex into a knee bar. Ricochet escaped, after counters he hit the blue thunder driver, into a northern lights suplex and then into the deadlift suplex for a near fall. Ricochet went for the splash, TJP moved and Ricochet landed on his feet and the knee buckled; TJP attacked with the dropkick and grapevined heel hook and Ricochet tapped clean. TJP has momentum and should have won here, and I was glad he did. I was starting to worry that the leg work was not going to pay off, but it did in the best way possible and led directly to the finish.

From NXT Takeover: Dallas – NXT Championship Match: Champion Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe [****¼]: Nice to see Balor stole Ambrose’s official Terry Funk Chainsaw for his entrance. They went right at it at the bell, and in the mellay, Joe got seriously busted open. The ref would check on him, repeatedly, and Joe just wanted to fight and even screamed like a fucking savage at one point as he beat Balor’s ass. Joe came off as a man processed here, working with an intensity and speed that I have not seen in a long time and it was completely awesome to see. The crowd hated them checking on Joe, and Joe looked as if he wanted to kill these medical attendants. I can see why people hate this, and I do as well. I am completely fine with WWE not wanting guys to blade, I am all for that, but if a guy gets busted open naturally, let the match continue. It rarely happens, and it does add to the drama. I cannot compliment Joe enough here, seeing the Joe of old just lighting someone up with so much fire brings back so many good memories. These two had a great gameplan, they worked very well together and Balor’s fire up and comeback down the stretch was great. The good thing I will say is that blood and stoppages actually played well into the match, because while it was frustrating, Joe’s momentum was constantly stopped and it allowed Balor to recover. Also, in real life, the more you bleed, the weaker you get and with Joe going full tilt, I can buy the way he lost because he became weak, Balor had rest periods and it felt legit like a fight in a way (love the Hart vs. Austin finish). All things considered, I enjoyed the match a lot and the performers really made the best of a bad situation. This was the Samoa Joe everyone remembers and loved.

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From WWN Live Mercury Rising – Best In The World Challenge Series – The Rival: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Chris Hero [****¼]: The angle here is that ZSJ is doing this best in the world series, and Hero is offended because he thinks he is the best of all time and noted that he’s knocked out ZSJ two times in their only matches. Hero powdered to the floor and allowed the crowd to have some fun before they got to action. They did some back and forth, and then ZSJ started to light up hero with forearms and uppercuts. They spent some time on the floor, and ZSJ landed uppercuts and then worked HOLDS on the floor to maintain his advantage. ZSJ was doing his customary arm work, when Hero turned the tide and tried to attack the arm of ZSJ. ZSJ cut him off and then targeted the ankle of Hero. They are playing off of each other so well, they know each other, so they are smartly countering the known spots of the other, like ZSJ catching Hero on the senton and getting the arm bar. Hero took it back to the floor, where he got a solid advantage and beat down ZSJ with forearms and elbows. Hero would actually repeatedly challenge ZSJ to hit him and say, “go ahead and kiss me you bitch,” shake off the strike and lay in a harder one to ZSJ. The crowd loves this; Hero has beaten poor ZSJ down and is almost playing with him as he continues the attack. This was a great back and forth match, with hero looking to maintain his dominance of ZSJ and ZSJ trying to prove that he can beat Hero and lay claim to being best in the world. I really like that ZSJ has slowly shown more of a mean streak, which commentary also commented on. ZSJ using the roped and the count more than ever plays so well as he is showing his desperation. ZSJ even used a chair on the floor to continue punishing Hero’s arm. This kept escalating with both guys demanding the other hit them. The action and violence grew continuously as the match went on and it was quite awesome. Hero busted out a cravat driver, as both guys dig deep into the repertoire. Even with Hero largely destroying ZSJ at times, Hero had his left arm worked on a ton and he sold it well. I REALLY liked this, but once we hit 19-minutes the crowd was less into it, and it started to feel a bit long. Hero hit a great stuff piledriver for a near fall, and that seemed to help get the crowd back into things. Hero repeatedly kicked as ZSJ and asked, “who do you think you are, do you think you’re Bryan Danielson? You’re not, I’m the best in the world.” ZSJ countered the Gotch piledriver, and got the hanging kimura, but Hero again escaped and they continued to go back and forth. Hero hit repeated elbows to the back of ZSJ’s head, and finally put him away. This was a very good match, these guys work very well together, I enjoyed the story being told and even the fact that “the good guy” doesn’t always win; but it went about five minutes too long,, and this started to feel a bit labored. I think if they keep it shorter and go home as they were peaking, then it comes off much better. Still damn good, but not quite next level.

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From WWN Live Mercury Rising – The Six Man Tag Team Tradition Continues – Days Of Future Past: Kota Ibushi, Johnny Gargano & TJ Perkins vs. Will Ospreay, Tommy End & Marty Scurll [****¾]: We’re starting this match 3 hours and 24 minutes into the show. They worked clean and basis stuff early, keeping a methodical pace and making it feel as if they are going to go long. They worked their way to Ibushi vs. Ospreay, and that got a great reaction. These two worked a really fun and quickly paced set, with some slick counters. After Ibushi and friends got some run, Ospreay was able to slow up Gargano and then lads took the advantage and worked the heat on Gargano. Good choice, as TJP is a heel and Ibushi needs to be saved for a big hot tag. I need to watch more Scurll, dude is fun in the ring and has a great villain presence. And that’s what they did; Gargano sold for a while, Ibushi got a short hot tag, and then it broke down with everyone hitting everyone in a three on three battle. They traded superkicks, Ospreay was isolated and TJP and Ibushi worked him over. Things then got fast paced, with rapid-fire offense and the Europeans jus wrecking Gargano with all of their signature stuff. They then worked over TJP, and did a sweet triple team elevated cutter spot for a great near fall. Ibushi then came in to save the day, ran wild until Ospreay cut him off and then Gargano returned with spears and a suicide dive. Ibushi hit a moonsault and a 450 by TJP, and Scurll made the save and they have the crowd back big time. We then go the big signature move buffet and EVERYONE is down! Scurll did the broken fingers spot on Ibushi, Gargano hit a dive onto the pile on the floor and then End hit a moonsault onto everyone! This is beautiful madness. They then poured into the crowd and brawled. Ibushi and Ospreay battled onto the top of the setting in the bar area, it was hard to see them and then the both hit a moonsault onto the pile of guys. Ibushi and Ospreay then returned to the ring and had a hell of a sequence until the others returned. We then got Ibushi hitting the big powerbomb and that was all. They had a lot to work against after a really soft middle of the show, but they worked their asses off, got the crowd back and delivered one hell of a main event. It was exactly what it was supposed to be in the best way possible.

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From Evolve 59 – USA vs. Europe Series Match: Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay [****¾]: The opening minutes was all fast paced work, counters and both guys trying to one up the other in a what ended up a mirror/mirror deal. The big thing is that Ricochet has been regarded as the best high flyer for the past few years, and now Ospreay is getting that buzz, so it makes sense. A match like this feels so refreshing, the pacing, the different things (Ricochet pulling out the ripcord leg sweep) and just the general work are very enjoyable. Ricochet missed the People’s Moonsault, countered Ospreay’s attempt and then finally hit it. They are playing this perfectly as the “king of flight’ defending his crown against the young upstart. The story made perfect sense, and the work was a joy to watch as both guys seemed to have an answer for the other, including both guys hitting reverse RANA back to back for a double down spot. For a regular match I would loathe that spot, but here it works because of the story. Both of these guys did a great job with the mirror aspect, which is the real hook here like when they would do the same counters, and then end up kicking each other with the same style of kick at the same time. The action escalated to a striking battle, to a DVD on the apron and then the 450 by Ricochet for the near fall, which he sold so well. Ospreay countered and then absolutely spiked ricochet with the cutter, the shooting star and the phoenix splash for a near fall of BEAUTY. Sweet Baby Jesus they have done such a good job of building to this point, Ricochet made a comeback and planted Ospreay with a sick regal-plex for another great near fall. Ospreay avoided the 630, and hit the Spanish fly for a near fall, the Essex destroyer followed and some how Ricochet survived. Ospreay misses some wild looking twisting shooting star, Ricochet then did the deadlift brainbuster for another near fall. Michinoku driver by Ricochet, but Ospreay says I ain’t got time for that shit and kicks out. Ricochet ate knees on the shooting star, KO kicks by Ospreay and then he did a back handspring into the benadryller by Ricochet for the win. For as much as Zack Sabre Jr vs. Ospreay was awesome, this was awesome in a completely different way in on the same level. FAN FUCKING TASTIC.

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From Evolve 58 – Best In The World Challenge Series – The Flyer: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay [****¾]: The opening minutes was a display of fast paced, clean and very fun grappling. This was world of sport on crack, and was so well done. After the back and forth, Ospreay took control with strikes and kicks, leading to a near fall. ZSJ then came back with some great counters, and hit a bridging dragon suplex for a near fall. ZSJ then worked a series of holds, working the neck, the knees and then the arms to ground the flyer. ZSJ’s work is so crisp and clean, and Ospreay’s selling was really good here. Ospreay started to make a comeback, running wild with kicks and then a Sasuke special to a huge reaction. They are working a great pace here, slowly escalating the action and getting the crowd invested big time. Ospreay rolled through the 630, and then ZSJ hit the tiger suplex and then locked in a sick dragon suplex variation into a roll up but Ospreay rolled out into the shooting star and then a phoenix splash for a near fall. Sweet baby Jesus that was awesome. Ospreay went for a Rainmaker, but ZSJ countered and we got a series of near falls. Ospreay went for a shooting star press (standing) and got caught in the triangle! The ref checked the arm, but Ospreay survived. He then did a single arm left and powerbombed ZSJ to the corner. Ospreay dead jumped to the top and got his legs kicked out from underneath him, and he fell into the tree of WHOA. They then worked up top, Ospreay countered out and then hit the Spanish fly as ZSJ charged him for a near fall. Ospreay up top, left off and ate knees. Soccer kick by ZSJ into the Liger bomb and then a sick double-armed submission and Ospreay had to submit.

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That was fucking amazing, and a clear match of the year candidate. This is a MUST SEE match, and I cannot stress that enough. Zack Sabre Jr. is legit one of the very best in the world, and the hype around Ospreay is real kids. The crowd reaction to the match and the finishing sequence made this truly feel special. The mark has been set for the weekend, not saying that it can’t be matched or beaten, but that was seriously awesome.

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From NXT Takeover: Dallas – Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn [*****]: This is such a highly anticipated match; you have Zayn’s farewell along with Nakamura’s WWE debut al in one match. Both men will want to send a message, Zayn a thank you to the NXT crowd and a reminder that he’s awesome and Nakamura wants to let the “WWE Universe” and office know that the buzz is real. Nakamura was on screen for roughly three-minutes and may already be the most charismatic guy in the company. The beginning was simple, but effective as they played off of the crowd and allowed their charisma and selling to carry things early. And they should have because when you can barely do anything and the crowd goes ape shit, you play off of that all you can. So from there, they did a very good job of slowly escalating the action while still playing off of the crowd, which was into just about everything that they did. I felt that Nakamura was able to show off a lot of his game to new fans, and the fans in attendance knew the stuff because they reacted so well to it. Even though this match didn’t have a big story or a traditional heel/face dynamic, Zayn was able to do the things he does so well, the things that allow the fans to get into his matches and just root for him. The gasps from the crowd as Nakamura was destroying him with knees to the head were evidence of that. The fire from both guys and the reaction from the crowd as they went toe to toe with strikes was so great, and Nakamura’s nose even got busted up. It became a battle of who wanted it more, and they did a great job down the stretch of teasing the near falls before they got to the near fall scenarios. The counters to the signature stuff were also so good. The thing that shocked me, and trust me I know how good these guys are, is that they worked together like they have been working the loop for years. But there are times when you can stick two awesome workers in the ring, give them the time and the finish and magic simply happens. And that is what happened here. These guys could have stopped and held the crowd up for all the monies they had to continue the match and they would have given it to them. Nakamura finally hit the kinshasha, and that was the end to that beautiful match. This lived up to my expectations and more; Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay set the tone earlier in the day with an amazing effort, and this just nudged them out of the top spot. You could not have asked for a better match to debut Nakamura to WWE fans or for Zayn to say good bye to NXT.

What was your best match of the weekend? Share in the comments section!