2. Finn Balor vs Kyle O’Reilly (NXT TakeOver 31)
NXT is the factory of good matches, and TakeOver is where they pick up production. Kyle O’Reilly and Finn Balor churned out another instant classic, which came as no surprise to anyone with any knowledge of either man.
What’s important to realise is this was the match that has given birth to O’Reilly’s singles career in NXT; he has so far stood out alongside his Undisputed Era comrades but only now has he started to stand on his own two feet as a credible challenger himself.
Balor came back to NXT with a sizeable chip on his shoulder thanks to his mixed bag of a main roster run and has started to channel his New Japan Prince Devitt character to produce a new edgy-feeling character, and when the two entered the ring, this new edge was plain to see.
The contest was stiff from start to finish and typified the NXT way of wrestling, making use of strong style and MMA influences as each competitor suffered legitimate injuries. It’s not saying that injuries have to happen to make a wrestling match great but, at the same time, when both stars put their body through as much as they do, you gain a newfound respect for the individuals involved.
The match also told a story of a former champion clamouring for the respect he deserves, and of a star desperate to break from the shadow of his faction mates. Although the belief was never that O’Reilly was taking the title away from Balor, fans still pondered “What If?” and were on the edge of their seat throughout.
O’Reilly and Balor faced off again at the Jan. 6 New Year’s Evil show to similar results, but like when Kenny Omega faced Kazuchika Okada for the second time, the question was asked beforehand: Is this O’Reilly’s time? That is what enhances the feel of this match, putting the initial beautiful contest behind us, we still feel the after-effects.
This match could well be the single most defining moment of O’Reilly’s career and, at the very least, another to go in the vault of Balor’s greatest hits.