Finn Bálor defeated Kyle O’Reilly at NXT TakeOver 31 Sunday. He retained the NXT Championship in an absolutely brutal match of the year candidate.
The match was Bálor’s first title defense and his victory was almost guaranteed. However, O’Reilly came out of it looking more impressive than the champion. He had a chance to showcase his unique offense in a singles setting. He didn’t waste a moment of it.
From start to finish, both men told an impressive story in the ring. Bálor went at his challenger hard. But O’Reilly, with his Brazillian jiu-jitsu background, came back with insane reversals and realistic strikes.
Bálor targeted O’Reilly’s midsection throughout the match. The champ damaged it early on after a breathtaking spinning back kick. But, O’Reilly answered with innovative strikes and submissions to Bálor’s legs, which looked painful enough to make my own knees hurt. The main event ended abruptly after a corner knee strike fractured Bálor’s jaw. So, the champ was forced to call the match early. The two later paid their respects after the bell rang.
This match solidified O’Reilly as a contender in NXT’s main event scene, right next to his longtime friend and Undisputed Era leader Adam Cole.
But, the pay-per-view ended with newcomer Ridge Holland holding a lifeless Cole over his shoulder and staring menacingly at O’Reilly and Bálor, with the rest of the Undisputed Era coming suspiciously too late for the rescue. If WWE is planning on splitting up the Undisputed Era, putting O’Reilly and Cole at the center of NXT as singles wrestlers, it would make them bigger stars than they are now.
While the future of the Undisputed Era is unclear, it’s certain that O’Reilly can hold his own as a centerpiece for a main event. He’s got a standout moveset and a persona worthy of headlining matches. It’s only a matter of time until we see O’Reilly air guitar his way into the squared circle with a world title in his hands.