By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin Interrupted Sami Zayn
It's amazing how effective these talking segments are in NXT when they aren't done every week like they are on the main roster. First and foremost, great to see William Regal back! And speaking of returns, the pop for Zayn from the Full Sail crowd gave me goosebumps and it's so awesome to have him back as well. The back-and-forth between him, Joe and Corbin was excellent as everyone has a legitimate claim to the No. 1 contender spot and teased a future three-way between them. Joe bringing up his history with men from past TakeOver specials was also a really nice touch.
Tommaso Ciampa def. Danny Burch
After so many months, it appears as if Ciampa has finally signed with NXT full-time. I mean, why else would they have him compete in a squash match (where he was on the winning end) unless that was the case? I always liked Johnny Gargano more of the two, but he's a talented competitor himself and can have a bright future if he's utilized properly in NXT. He was able to show off his flashy offense in this bout and I expect it will be a few more matches before he gets settled into his first feud.
NXT Tag Team Champions Dash and Dawson def. The Ascension (Non-title)
I don't know what it is, but I freakin' love The Ascension in NXT, much more than I did during their original run there. Actually, I do know what it is: they come off as so much more motivated, probably because the Full Sail crowd treats them like stars whenever they show up these days. I don't know how long that would last if they were back full-time, but bringing them back is worth a shot compared to them doing nothing on the main roster. They had a nice showing and this was a good win for the tag champs. Dash and Dawson have really grown on me as a tandem and I'd love to see their reign continue through the next few months.
Elias Sampson def. Corey Hollis
I was curious to see how Full Sail would react to Sampson's new gimmick after London was fairly quiet for him in his re-debut. This was a notch above his first match, but not by much. From the little we've seen of him in his new persona and even before that, he's a terrific wrestler, but the gimmick seems to have a short shelf life. Maybe a video package or two (i.e. character development) would help. Having him act calm, cool and collected before the bell only to go berserk while wrestling would be an interesting layer to his character.
Carmella Won a No. 1 Contender's Battle Royal for the NXT Women's Championship
Honestly, I cringe whenever Battle Royals are held with the main roster Divas because they're typically trainwrecks, but I had higher hopes for this one featuring the ladies of NXT and it ultimately met (if not exceeded) my expectations. The action wasn't anything amazing, but everyone held their own and I loved how the lesser-known women such as Liz Morgan and Billie Kay were given mic time throughout the night to establish identities for themselves. Carmella winning was a pleasant surprise since she hasn't been prominently featured lately, but she's come a long way as a wrestler and she's finally organically over with the audience. I also appreciated how this match set up a future feud between Eva Marie and Asuka, though I assume Nia Jax (who was protected by not being involved) will tie into this somehow based off their backstage interaction at NXT TakeOver: London.
It might have been because I've been deprived of NXT for a solid three weeks (this is the first original episode since before Christmas), but I enjoyed the hell out of this edition. It wasn't perfect by any means, but everything seemed to serve a purpose. The opening segment was exceptional, Ciampa's quick squash was fun, the tag match was solid, Sampson's second match was an improvement and the main event delivered, setting up several stories through the remainder of the month and beyond. I'm guilty of always saying it, but I'm excited for what's to come in NXT, especially in 2016. Who isn't?