WORDS by PATRICK VAN DORT

The first appearance of NXT in Belfast on Monday attracted an enthusiastic crowd to the SSE Arena.

The development division of the WWE offers a platform for future stars but provides the hardcore fanbase with a glimpse of highly-respected wrestlers signed up from other circuits.

CHANT OF THE NIGHT

Angelo Dawkins’ bout was, for many, all about Bobby Roode’s welcome NXT appearance. However, credit to the group of fans who identified the similarities between Dawkins’ costume design and a tin of Scotland’s favourite soft drink, IRN-BRU.

APPEARANCE OF THE NIGHT

The appearance of Bobby Roode – a legend thanks to his career in the TNA world – sparked mass recognition from the crowd following pre-show buzz he may step into the ring having made his NXT debut last weekend in England at the Download Festival. Roode has the respect of the purists and played the ‘heel’ role to perfection on the night against Angelo Dawkins.

EARLY SURPRISE AWARD

Stepping out second on the bill, No Way Jose won his match against Blake but, more importantly for a wrestler with high hopes of a WWE career, won the backing of the crowd. His athleticism and in-ring dance moves (shout-out, too, to opener Hugo Knox for his quick feet) helped fire up the fans early on.

FIRST-HALF HIGHLIGHT

It is credit to the development of the women’s division that Bayley’s appearance just three bouts deep proved the pick of the show’s first-half run. She ticks every box – earning the respect of the traditionalists for her skill in the ring, fan popularity thanks to her mass appeal and the crucial youth market. Her entrance had the crowd up as one and she acknowledged all areas of the SSE Arena, throwing out gifts to fans spread around the venue.

TAG OF THE NIGHT

Main event aside, the NXT tag-team match between defending champions The Revival and highly-rated American Alpha was a masterclass in contrasting styles between the old-school approach of the belt holders and energy of the challengers. The technical showcase was expertly paced – with the long-awaited tag to Jason Jordan firing up the fans before an exposed turnbuckle (always a welcome addition) settled affairs.

ONE TO WATCH

Throwing out the name of a wrestler who reportedly made his professional ring debut as a 14-year-old in Mexico as ‘one to watch’ may seem strange BUT the NXT roster is considered a development platform towards the WWE. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas’ victory over Tye Dillinger was a brilliant showcase of high-flying moves and he displayed the in-ring charisma and skill to make rapid progress up the WWE ranks.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT

The stand-out bout proved, as expected, the main event. Finn Balor may not have his own reality show on ITV but it was certainly a case of ‘Love Island’ for the Bray-born fans’ favourite judging by the tee-shirts, costumes and crowd reaction. Considered the real deal, Balor teamed up with Shinsuke Nakamura to beat another expert combination in NXT champion Samoa Joe and Austin Aries. The standard raised the bar and the crowd ‘singing’ Nakamura’s theme music during the bout was a sign of the popularity of one of the roster’s most exciting names.

MOVE OF THE NIGHT

The in-ring action provided plenty of entertainment but the best move was Balor’s post-match decision to lift up one young fan in full ‘Demon King’ costume on to his shoulder and showcase him to the crowd. A brilliant way to sign off on his return to Ireland.

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