Roderick Strong's NXT journey has been a gripping tale, filled with professional determination while a bright light was shined upon his dark past and personal progression. Fans familiar with Strong's work prior to his debut with NXT knew of his in-ring prowess -- he's a former Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla world champion -- but his depth of character has built him up considerably since he joined NXT last October.
The "messiah of the backbreaker" built up his cred with previously unfamiliar fans against the likes of Andrade "Cien" Almas and Eric Young, but it was that two-part mini-documentary series entitled "Who is Roderick Strong?" a couple months ago that really got crowds behind Strong.
His reward? A premier spot in Wednesday night's main event against Bobby Roode, with the NXT championship on the line -- a true rarity in the era of NXT TakeOver specials.
Roode's run as champion, and his entire NXT career, for that matter, has been top-notch across the board. Since his catchy theme song "Glorious Domination" hit and he stepped through the curtain for the first time as an NXT superstar, the allure has been overwhelming. A little more than a year later, and the champ has become the clear-cut face of NXT.
Over the past couple of weeks, Roode has made some disparaging remarks towards Strong, his fiancée (MMA featherweight Marina Shafir, who was in attendance on Wednesday alongside Strong's mother) and their newborn son, heightening the personal nature and tension in their dispute heading into this week's championship match.
What a match it was. Wonderfully executed from beginning to end, it told the story of Strong's determination in attempting to rise above the supreme confidence of the champion.
- WWE (@WWE) July 6, 2017
The bout was psychologically effective as well. Strong's offense was backbreaker heavy, so Roode targeted the challenger's left leg as a way to remove the variations of that move from Strong's repertoire.
Strong put forth a valiant comeback and joined a short list of superstars to have kicked out of Roode's Glorious DDT finisher. He even came within inches of scoring a pinfall victory when referee Drake Wuertz completed a three count only to notice Roode's foot under the bottom rope; it got so far as to trigger Strong's entrance theme, and a proclamation from the ring announcer that Strong had won.
But when it was all said and done, Strong could not get the best of Roode, who sealed the deal with a second Glorious DDT on the outside of the ring (in front of Shafir and Strong's mother) and a third in the ring to pick up the pinfall victory.
The "Glorious One" finds himself a little over a month away from a 200-day reign as NXT champion. Only Bo Dallas, Neville and Finn Balor have accomplished that feat to this point, and with TakeOver: Brooklyn III looming about six weeks away, he'll almost certainly hit that point.
Where Strong goes from here remains to be seen, but this mini program with Roode has dramatically improved his stock. The crowd at Full Sail on Wednesday night agreed and gave Strong a standing ovation after he came oh-so-close to winning the title. There were even moments where he garnered more support than the overwhelmingly popular champion.
As far as the NXT championship picture is concerned, Roode needs a new foe going forward. It's likely that, within the next week or two, that Roode's counterpart for Brooklyn will emerge from the pack of ever-growing main event-level contenders.
The slow build to Hideo Itami versus Kassius Ohno continues
The collision course of Hideo Itami and Kassius Ohno has hit peaks and valleys, and things may have finally passed the point of no return Wednesday night as the pair teamed up to take on Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe of SAnitY. This came one week after Dain and Wolfe unexpectedly ambushed the duo after Itami called Ohno out.
Ohno and Itami gained the early advantage and came through with some flurries here and there, but the two weren't on the same page. After Ohno was distracted and couldn't answer Itami's first tag request, Itami refused to tag his partner in for the rest of the match, which led to his demise as the unified force that is Dain and Wolfe proved to be too much. After Itami got Wolfe up for the Go-2-Sleep, Dain got a blind tag; in a nice touch alluding to the screw each of the members of SAnitY has loose, Wolfe willingly took the G2S to his face to allow Dain to finish off Itami with a running cross-body block.
Following the match, a frustrated Ohno looked over the fallen Itami as more fuel was added to the fire. The dispute continued to escalate later on in the night.
Action in the background
We got brief glimpses into two interesting moments likely to play out over the coming weeks in backstage segments at the Performance Center. First, an interview with Billie Kay and Peyton Royce over hurt feelings and birthday presents masked a conflict in the background between Almas and the as-yet-unnamed character portrayed by new WWE signee Thea Trinidad. We also saw a mock-press scrum surrounding Ember Moon, asking her about Asuka and the future, which was interrupted by Ruby Riot as each made a claim to be Asuka's next challenger.