I always approach any hyped NXT match these days with a bit of skepticism. If it doesn’t feature Timothy Thatcher in it, odds are it’s the kind of match that I’ve seen the promotion do a dozen times before. I definitely drank that NXT Kool Aid for a few years in the 2010s but in the midst of the pandemic, their move to live 2 hour television, and their insistence on monthly specials and Takeovers that can’t help but ruin the novelty of what the brand used to be, there’s just not a lot left to enjoy when it comes to NXT.

That being said, this match got just enough hype from people I’m willing to listen to in order to give it a shot.

It’s clear from how this was laid out and wrestled that Balor and O’Reilly wanted to put together something a bit more realistic and grounded than your average NXT epic. There’s a stronger focus on stiff strikes, well defined heat segments targeting body parts, and the finishing stretch is rather abbreviated and less spectacular than what you might expect from an NXT main event. There’s also the presence of mouth blood from both guys which does a lot to make any match more watchable.

There’s a lot here I liked. For the most part, those strikes do land. Balor has some pretty great chops that he utilizes well in the early portions of this match and O’Reilly can often be counted on to throw some good kicks. I also liked that contrary to most of the rest of the main event scene in NXT, there was an actual defined character dynamic at play here. There’s no question on any front that Kyle O’Reilly is the sentimental favorite in this match. He plays the underdog going in and the match is structured to support that narrative.

I enjoyed the early heat segment targeted around O’Reilly’s liver more in theory than in execution. The errant kick that starts the segment didn’t look nearly as impactful as any of the other strikes thrown in that segment. O’Reilly’s sudden expressive selling of it came off as incredibly jarring and out of place given that the kick itself seemed rather rudimentary. But they at least remained committed enough to the bit with Balor continuously targeting that area. O’Reilly does well to sell it as well, really adding to his underdog vibe throughout this match.

The issue here is that Balor’s offense is inconsistent at best. He goes from really laying in some of those kicks to the gut and midsection to mixing them up with some of the most standard wrestling stomps you’ve ever seen. Really messes with the tone of the match meant to be something a little more grounded when the offense on display simply doesn’t hit the mark half of the time. The problem with offense plagues a lot of this match really. I’m sure loads of people will chalk it up to exhaustion and selling the effects of the match but O’Reilly throws what might be the single ugliest Nigel-style rebound lariat I’ve ever seen in my life deep in the match. People attempting the Nigel rebound always mess it up to begin with but this was the worst of the bunch. Truly a horrendous spot.

After the liver segment, things just lose focus. O’Reilly moves from the arm work he went to earlier in the match to leg work. It would be a fine enough shift of strategy, I suppose, if O’Reilly didn’t also try to go back to the armbar later in the match. It’s not the worst thing in the world but just a little narrative inconsistency that niggles at the back of the mind.

Where things really fall apart come from, of course, the NXT Theatrics. There’s hints of Dialogue about to break out during a late Balor heat segment. That thankfully nips itself in the bud and O’Reilly at least has the good sense not to respond. There’s moments like Balor covering up to block a flurry of knees and kicks that weren’t landing that well enough to cause some concern anyway. Stuff like that comes off as so forced and clearly cooperative in a match that’s meant to portray the opposite. It’s more out of place here than the usual NXT Narrative spots because this was a match clearly being worked to try and avoid those ideas and reputation in the first place.

But yes, the mouth blood is cool so I can’t really despise this match. In general, I still enjoyed it, probably even more than the similarly lauded Reigns/Uso match. I can probably at least say that it’s comfortably the best NXT Championship match I’ve seen all year. But that’s setting the bar disgustingly low. This match is good but it gets in its own way. I’ll give it that much. Don’t expect much else from it.

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