Kevin Owens rolled through yet another opponent this week on NXT, but after partially tearing the meniscus in his left knee, we're left wondering: is injury the only thing that can stop him?
Alex Riley finally got his hands on Owens after weeks of torment from the NXT champion, yet, just like everyone before him, Riley looked inept against the wrecking ball. Owens has only had a handful of matches in the three months he's been on NXT television, but in every single one, he's looked like the most dominant force in wrestling, outside of maybe Brock Lesnar. Finn Bálor even made sure to illustrate this point in a prematch segment with Riley, reminding him that Owens put Sami Zayn out of action and that we haven't seen Adrian Neville since his match with Owens several weeks ago. While Bálor gets his title shot next week, nothing we've seen to date suggests that will be the point when Owens' reign of terror ends. So what can stop "Wrestling's Worst Nightmare"?
As reported by WWE.com this week, Owens underwent a partial meniscectomy, after injuring his knee. While the surgery reportedly went well, and he already has moved on to physical therapy, he is still expected to be out 4-6 weeks. Now, what does this mean for the immediate future? Quite possibly nothing. NXT tapes weeks at a time, and they have episodes filmed through the middle of April. So if everything goes well, and the timetable is at its shortest, then great, nothing happens. However, if it takes a little while longer for Owens to heal, all of a sudden the benefit of taping in advance becomes a problem. If Owens is unable to compete at the next set of tapings, that means a month of NXT without its champion being able to wrestle, presumably leading directly into the next TakeOver special.
Two things would prevent this from being a disaster. The first is that Owens' character is one that can credibly avoid a fight. We've already seen him insist that he would only fight if it meant something, like if a title was on the line. Not that far-fetched to think that he could say, "I'm only fighting in front of the bigger crowd, at TakeOver." He also talks well enough that he could needle whomever his opponent(s) will be without feeling like he's missed.
The other thing that helps them is something that's actually been viewed as a negative up to this point, which is the fact that these shows are only one hour. When you have a three-hour show, the lack of a champion, even for a month, is as apparent as a Beast in a china shop. However, with a one-hour show, it's easier to shift focus to the tag division, or the Divas division, or simply another feud to carry the bulk of the wrestling. NXT should have no problem filling the card when he's gone.
The biggest concern is that Owens has been dealing with knee issues for several years now. He's been wrestling for nearly 15 years, and even though he's just 30 (he started wrestling on his 16th birthday), that's a 30 with a lot of miles on it. To already need knee surgery, even if it's minor, may not be a good sign so quickly into his WWE career. While you don't hear many criticisms of signing indie wrestlers these days, when you do, the most frequent one is that their bodies could be more worn down than the newer guys. Fair criticism or not, this doesn't help that perspective.
This shouldn't hurt Owens much in the short term. The next TakeOver is not until mid-May at the earliest, and that's the important date. However, this injury will be something to watch going forward.
- Last night's show was comprised of matches filmed earlier this month in Columbus, Ohio at the Arnold Sports Festival. It was interesting to see NXT in a location other than Full Sail, even if it was slightly jarring to see the different set at first. For the most part, this show didn't feel all that different from a regular taping – except when it came to the main event. The crowd in Columbus wasn't able to see the past few weeks of Alex Riley's build, so they barely reacted at all when he came out to the ring. I fully support NXT going to new places (especially if those places include the ECW Arena in Philly), and even filming from those new places, but filming out of order can cause issues like this. It's not a deal-breaker, but it certainly needs to be taken into account in the future.
- Alexa Bliss again impressed, this time beating Sasha Banks via count out. William Regal made a rematch for next week, and this time, it's for the title. It's interesting to see Bliss be pushed so quickly up the ladder. While she certainly seems to have the talent, she has had very few televised matches overall, and only returned from injury a few weeks ago. However, since Sasha, Charlotte and Bayley already have had so many matches together, someone needed to get that push to break up that grouping. Clearly they settled on Alexa, and we should see another good match next week.
- While the build between the Realest Guys in the Room and Blake and Murphy continued, one of the most interesting aspects of either team is the crowd not being able to figure out how to react to Carmella. They absolutely love Enzo and Big Cass, but the crowds, especially the one in Columbus, really don't like Carmella. Which made it somewhat awkward when the end of the match involved her taking a bump off the ring apron. Normally the crowd would be concerned with the well-being of a woman in that situation but, while the crowd wasn't uncaring, they weren't overly outraged either. While it seemed for a while that Carmella would end up driving a wedge between Cass and Enzo, I wonder if it's a better idea just to keep her away from the team for a bit.
- Tyler Breeze continued his run of nice matches, this time beating Kalisto. From the selfie stick to his interactions with opponents, fans and refs, Breeze has really rounded into form these past few weeks; and while I'm not sure about his ceiling, it's been great to watch him operate at the top of his game.