William Regal vs Antonio Cesaro – NXT (12/25/2013)

William Regal vs Antonio Cesaro

taped 11/21/2013, aired 12/25/2013

Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida, United States

(reviewed 05/29/2019) It’s not often that you see someone’s best match be their last match. Even rarer that it’s by design and worked around that idea. Thankfully this is all that and more.

At first this is all about Regal bringing it like he hasn’t brung it in years. 2013 was almost certainly going to be the last year of his career and it’s clear that the five months off between this match and his penultimate match weren’t spent just laying around. Regal shocks the world by hitting clean kip ups to escape wristlocks early on here, holding his own against a man who is unbelievably faster and stronger. He has to work hard to apply so much as a chinlock, sure, but it’s more than you’d expect from a man his age. It’s more than Cesaro expected too, as he has to rely on his tremendous strength right off the bat to escape even the simplest holds. That strength makes for some breathtaking feats of athleticism but Regal’s surly and experienced so he’s never on his ass for long. Both these guys are great champions of European grappling but the ways in which their skills are informed by their respective situations in this match makes it all the better.

Regal, always a showman, is really feeling himself after a strong open. He takes a few dirty shots at Cesaro in the corner with a signature spot before playing coy to an appreciative audience, so Cesaro shuts him down in a cruel way.

Being that he’s a 45 year old man who’s barely even a professional athlete anymore, this chop block fucks Regal up BAD. Cesaro’s viciousness and physical prowess makes it all the worse. Regal ensures that everything done to him is a struggle but Cesaro is just impossibly good, cutting through his defenses like a hot knife through butter. Like, look at the way he just hoists a stout-ass grown man for an elevated stretch plum.

Horrifying. It’s like they made the Minotaur into a Terminator. Fuck are you supposed to do against someone like that? Regal tries a few tricks and attempts to lean on his nasty striking, but that can’t get it done. Cesaro’s simply too powerful. There’s a great moment here where Regal shoots off a pair of snug little uppercuts before Cesaro returns with one that sends him ass over tea kettle, cutting him down like he was firing an M60. The dude is just so much better, it defies belief.

It’s only by exploiting Cesaro’s cockiness that Regal survives as long as he does. The big Swiss thinks he has this in the bag after a giant swing but Regal slips free of the Equalizer and drops the meanest of knees on Cesaro’s bicep. Cesaro stares at his arm like he’s feeling pain for the first time and when he comes charging at Regal in the corner he’s treated to another kick to the other arm. This allows Regal to get some momentum going for the first time, as it cuts out Cesaro’s tremendous stopping power for the most part. He connects with a desperation headbutt but when he goes for a second one Regal catches him with a knee in one of my favorite spots in a year with some good-ass spots.

Nothing stops Superman though, least of all a busted old human man. Cesaro backdrops his way free of a tiger driver attempt, avoids the Regal Stretch, and connects with a wild dropkick to even things up. In particular the dropkick looks great, as it’s accompanied by the rare good WWE production cut.

From there Cesaro’s fired up and looking for revenge. He hits at his arms to get some feeling back and comes flying off the ropes with a double stomp to the head. It’s a pretty standard move for him but against a guy like Regal…

…it’s a little too effective. Cesaro, who cited Regal as one of the only men he ever respected in a promo earlier in the night, struggles to come to terms with what he’s done. He slowly lifts Regal off the mat for the Equalizer but his limpness gives Cesaro disgusted pause. But then Regal shows a bit of life, clawing up Cesaro’s flawless form in an attempt to right himself.

HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN VS TAKER FROM WM25: The final minute or so of this match is not only a fantastic sendoff for Regal’s career (great selling from one of history’s great sellers, putting the focus on the other guy as has always been Regal’s strong suit, etc.) but some of the best melodrama WWE has ever achieved, especially in the ever-emotional NXT. As far as matches where endearing old men do what they can to stand up to the unstoppable power of a seemingly superhuman force, I’ll take the match where the acting actually holds up. Even in addition to that this match has some great stylistic and tonal variety that Shawn/Taker can’t equal. Hopping from focused chaining to charming cheating to harrowing strikes to spirited fury to astounding athleticism, this match has it all. Not too often something like this comes along.

VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25

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