NXT, World Wrestling Entertainment's developmental program, was about to take over Dallas.
On Feb. 21, WWE announced that it had signed Shinsuke Nakamura, a Japanese wrestler who worked in his home country for a promotion called New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). He was going to report to NXT.
To say that I was excited would be a huge understatement.
I know I've used words like “one of the best wrestlers” when I described Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles in previous stories. But from following Nakamura's work when he was with NJPW, he is, in my mind, the best in the world. From the man's charisma to his in-ring talents, Nakamura has it all.
NXT tapes their episodes weeks prior to airing them on the WWE Network on Wednesdays. They aren’t shown live.
The only time it is, though, is when it has TakeOver events. They happen every few months.
TakeOver is to the developmental roster what pay-per-view events are to the main one.
WWE announced that there was going to be a TakeOver event in Dallas during the WrestleMania 32 weekend on April 1 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
It would be called NXT TakeOver: Dallas.
As soon as this announcement was made, people were hyped. Especially me. I absolutely love NXT . . . to the max.
Don't be fooled by NXT being a developmental program. The names on that roster are unreal.
Whenever NXT has a TakeOver show, it never disappoints.
To have one during the WrestleMania weekend, the company's biggest time of the year, the expectations for this specific show was extremely high.
Because NXT's regular episodes are taped weeks prior to being aired, the match card for NXT TakeOver: Dallas was leaked.
It looked like this:
The Revival defends the NXT tag-team championships against American Alpha
Austin Aries vs. Baron Corbin
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn
Bayley defends the NXT women's championship against Asuka
Finn Balor defends the NXT championship against Samoa Joe
Anyone who follows the product on a regular basis knew that this was a stellar card. There wasn't a single match for which I wasn't excited.
That being said, there was one match that not only had me, but the entire world, buzzing. Nakamura was going to make his NXT debut in a match against Sami Zayn.
Zayn signed with the WWE in 2013 and had been working in NXT for three years.
Prior to signing with WWE, he was already thought of as the best wrestler on the independent circuit. It was only a matter of time before he was going to be called up to the main roster.
Many believed that Zayn's last match in NXT was going to be against Nakamura.
Just hold on one second.
Not only had Nakamura signed with WWE, but his debut match was going to be against Zayn? To top it off, I was going to be a part of it live with my good friend Parker Schmidt.
Is this for real?
Yes, it was, and I couldn't wait. The demand and hype for this show, if it wasn't high already, had gone through the roof once the card was leaked.
Even though I knew the card for NXT TakeOver: Dallas, I still tuned in to the episodes leading up to it to see what the stories were behind each match.
I was pumped.
When I woke up in Seattle at around 6 a.m., I laid there for about 20 minutes while Schmidt went out to grab a coffee and solution for his contacts. He had left it at home.
I really was trying to clue in that the day had finally arrived.
NXT TakeOver: Dallas was really here.
A couple of hours later, we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel and headed for the airport.
It was time to say goodbye to Seattle and head to Dallas.
Schmidt and I arrived at around 6 p.m. The show was scheduled to start at 9. As we went to pick up our luggage, there it was -- a graphic showing WrestleMania 32 was on the screens.
Things really hit me then. Schmidt and I called for a cab to drop us off at our hotel. We rushed to our room, grabbed our tickets and were out the door.
“I brought protective sleeves to keep the tickets in,” I told Schmidt. “I don't want to ruin the tickets. I plan to frame mine and keep it as a collectible.”
“Cool,” he said. “That's a good idea.”
I love to keep memories of moments. I've always been really into collecting memorabilia and everything that is involved in it. Whether it's keep things in excellent condition or whatever else, I'm psycho that way.
There was still a bit of time until the show, but the reason we rushed to the Kay Bailey Hitchison Center was because I really wanted to get my hands on an event poster.
I knew that with shows in the past, WWE had made up a limited edition poster that was sold. They were exclusively available to only those attending the show.
Even though I was confident that posters were going to be available for NXT TakeOver: Dallas, I wasn't certain.
I just wanted to make sure that if they were being sold, Schmidt and I were right there to get our hands on one.
I really wanted one to go with my ticket. But, while we looked everywhere, we couldn't find any. After a while, we made our way to our seats.
I stood by the barricade prior the show and just tried my best to soak in everything. I looked up at the rafters and turned my head left and right to look at the ring, the stage, and all the people filing in.
It was incredible.
I was in my own zone and then I heard, “Hey! You're going to have to move soon. People will be trying to get to their seats!”
I jumped. It was a security guard who was standing right beside me.
“OK,” I said. “I'm really sorry. I wasn't just trying to take everything in. My seat is right here.”
My seat was steps away.
“No, no,” he said. “Go ahead. Take everything in. I just wanted to tell you that you can't be blocking people from getting to their seats when they show up.”
I stayed by the barricade for a few more seconds and then sat down.
“Let me go take another lap and see if I can find those posters,” Schmidt said.
There was still a little bit of time until showtime.
Again, Schmidt couldn't find anything.
When the show started, I was fired up, even though all I had to eat that day was a small sandwich from the airplane. Schmidt hadn’t eaten anything.
“You hungry?” he asked right before the show. “How are you feeling?”
“Don't worry about that right now,” I said. “How are you feeling? I'm fine.”
“I'm good,” he said.
NXT TakeOver: Dallas was everything I expected and more.
There wasn't one bad match, and the crowd was something else.
By far, though, the match between Nakamura and Zayn was the best one. Schmidt had only seen short clips online of Nakamura prior to watching this match.
I told Schmidt and his wife Katie before heading on the trip that they'd love Nakamura. Guess what? I was right. Katie was watching the show at home with their children.
The match was back and forth. Even though I went in predicting that Nakamura was going to come out with the victory, there were moments where I thought Zayn was going to get the pin.
There was a part in the match where Zayn was able to pull off the blue thunder powerbomb, which is one of his finishers, on Nakamura.
Zayn went for the cover, and I thought, “That's it. Nakamura's done.”
The referee started the count.
“One . . .”
“Two . . .”
Just as the referee's hand was coming down for the three count, Nakamura kicked out.
I was shocked. So was everyone in the building.
The match continued.
“Fight forever,” the crowd chanted. “Fight forever!”
Zayn and Nakamura embraced, and the crowd started chanting: “Thank you, Sami."
It was pretty clear from the story that was told in the match and how it ended that Zayn was on his way to the main roster.
I won't say it's the best match I've ever seen because I've watched a lot of wrestling. But the best match in the last five years? Absolutely.
I knew it was going to be a great match, and it still blew me away. I started getting a little emotional when Nakamura won. I couldn't believe I was there to witness that.
I never ever thought Nakamura and Zayn would ever face each other, let alone in a WWE ring.
It was one of these moments where people will be asking, “Where were you when Nakamura faced Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas?
I will proudly say, “I was there live.”
If that wasn't enough, WWE's chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon and her family were sitting not too far from where Schmidt and I were.
As the show ended and she was leaving the building with her family, she went over to a few fans, said “thanks for coming” and shook hands with them.
One of them was me.
I felt so honoured and grateful.
Wait, there was more.
At the end of the show, when people were exiting, I stood by the barricade and did the same thing I did prior to the show. Schmidt was right beside me this time.
Greg Hamilton, the ring announcer for the show, walked right by us as he was making his way backstage.
“Mr. Hamilton!” I yelled. “Can I grab a picture with you?”
He looked over.
Once we took the picture, I made sure to tell him that he does a great job.
“Thanks, my man,” he said.
Hamilton is one of the best. The way he announces, he has the ability to make the match feel important and fire me up, whichever one it may be.
Just wait, it gets better.
Remember Schmidt and I had been trying to find those posters? Well, as we were leaving the building, I saw that a fan was holding on to one.
“Parksy!” I said. “That guy had the poster. I wonder where he got it.”
“Let me go and find out,” Schmidt said.
The posters were being sold after the show right where we had just come from.
“Let me run down and see if there are any left. Stay right where you are and don't go anywhere.”
I was excited. We had been trying to find those all show.
“OK,” I said.
When Schmidt was gone, I was worried that they were sold out.
I started pacing around, asking people who were holding one how long ago they had gone on sale.
“Just after the show,” one person said. “But there isn't many of them.”
About five minutes later, Schmidt returned with a poster.
“You didn't get one for yourself?” I said.
“No,” Schmidt said. “I didn't have the cash on me. Only enough for yours.”
“Dude,” I said, now feeling really bad. “You should have told me and I would have given you some.”
“Don't worry man,” he said. “I'm just glad you got it, because I knew how much it meant to you to have one and how much you want it.”
I was so happy, and it meant a lot to me that he did that for me. I still felt really bad, though.
I pulled out my wallet gave him $200. I insisted that he take it.
"Thanks a lot, man," I said. “I really appreciate it. I feel really bad about you not getting one. I owe you big time.”
“Dude, keep it,” he said. “You don't owe me anything. I'm just happy you got one.”
“Please take it,” I said. “It'll make me feel better.”
“No, man,” Schmidt said. “Just keep it and use it when we use cabs and stuff like that.”
“You sure?” I said.
I didn't fight him about it anymore.
y the time we got back to the hotel, it was around 1:30 a.m. Schmidt and I had had basically nothing to eat. Most food places were closed, so we had no choice but to call a pizza chain and order delivery.
“I'm going to go shower, then,” I told Schmidt.
Even when I came out of the bathroom, the pizza wasn't there yet. It didn't get to the hotel until around 2:45 a.m.
“You know, Parksy,” I said. “It's moments like this where we both will look back and laugh. Pizza at 2:45 a.m. Ha!”
It was a heck of a way to end the night, that's for sure.
Honestly, everything felt like a dream. No one could wipe the smile off my face. Given everything that has happened in my life recently, I hadn't felt so happy in a long time.
NXT TakeOver: Dallas was a reminder of why I love WWE and forever will. It was one of the best shows I've ever seen.
That show might have been over, but everything else was just getting started.
NEXT: Meeting an inspiration and the WWE's 2016 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.