In his first title defense since winning the NXT Championship for the second time in his career last month, Finn Balor beat Kyle O’Reilly at NXT TakeOver 31 on Sunday to retain the title.
O’Reilly was a game challenger, yet he met the same fate as many who came before him as Balor’s Coup de Grace was enough for him to keep the belt.
Balor is just over one month removed from beating Adam Cole to win the NXT Championship, which was vacated by the injured Karrion Kross.
After Kross beat Keith Lee at NXT TakeOver XXX and it was determined that he could not defend the title, it was held up, and a unique match was booked to determine a new titleholder. NXT general manager William Regal announced that Balor, Cole, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa would face off in the first Fatal 4-Way 60-Minute Iron Man match.
With Balor and Cole tied for the lead at two falls apiece when time ran out, Regal booked a singles match between them for the following week. Balor prevailed, making him only the third two-time NXT champion of all time.
After Balor won, another innovative match was booked to determine a new No. 1 contender. That match featured five Superstars who had never previously won a singles title in NXT.
The five-man Elimination Gauntlet included O’Reilly, Yujiro Kushida, Bronson Reed, Timothy Thatcher and Cameron Grimes. Despite entering first, O’Reilly went the distance and last eliminated Grimes by making him tap out to win.
O’Reilly has largely been a tag team wrestler with Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong during his NXT career, but that was his biggest victory as a singles star and provided Undisputed Era an opportunity to take back the NXT title.
It also created an intriguing situation since Cole is so synonymous with the NXT Championship. Cole congratulated O’Reilly when he won the gauntlet, but the possibility for jealousy and resentment was present.
On top of all that, Balor vs. O’Reilly was a dream match for some, as it had never happened before despite the fact that both have had lengthy careers.
O’Reilly was a top singles star at other stops during his career in ROH and PWG, so it was exciting and satisfying to see him finally get that chance in NXT.
While O’Reilly fell short, he turned in a remarkable performance on a big stage, which suggests an NXT title reign could still be in his future.
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