Adam Cole & Keith Lee walked into The GAB knowing that history would be made. For the first time ever, the NXT and North American titles would be on the line in a winner take all match to crown NXT's first ever double champion (something the WWE has become very fond of as of late).
Its always difficult to believably book a man of Keith Lee's stature and power as the underdog against a smaller heel; especially without a genuine crowd to feed off of but with the calibre of competitors involved expectation was high and they absolutely delivered on that with a quality match which pulled eyes from Orange Cassidy V Chris Jericho on AEW, including the fabled 'key demographic'.
You can tell from the breakdown of match offence alone that Lee spent large periods of this match on the backfoot (Only 28% of offence to Cole's 72%) with Cole laying in all manner of strikes (35 in total which equates to roughly 1.7 strikes per minute) whereas Lee only managed 8 in total. This already paints an accurate picture of Cole the annoying gnat chipping away Keith Lee- unfortunately for Cole though, when Keith Lee did manage to lay hands on him, he did so with considerable force, knocking the much smaller man down with 75% of his strikes to Cole's measly 17% .
Adam Cole & Keith Lee played their parts of smaller aggressor and big man fighting from underneath to perfection.
The match began with the traditional lockup, which quickly evolved into Keith Lee toying with his opponent, showing off his strength by lifting Cole into the air with one arm and then shoulder tackling him right out of the ring when he had the impunity to fight back. His hubris eventually gave Cole the opportunity he had been waiting for when Keith Lee asked the crowd and the viewers at home if they remembered Johnny Gargano. As Lee charge in to pounce Cole through the plexi glass, he slipped out of the way and let the bigger mans momentum send him through the barrier himself.
You can criticise Adam Cole for many things but you don't get to be a record breaking NXT champion by being stupid. He certainly wasn't going to let himself become a gif for the second time at the hands of Lee.
From here Adam Cole took control of the match, landing forearm shots and kicks to the head as he tried to bring the bigger man down even going as far to taunt the referee while breaking the 10 count repeatedly by rolling in and out of the ring. In fact neither man shied away from mocking their opponent throughout this match (12 taunts between them), a staple of the empty arena era but one well suited to the vibrant personalities of Lee and Cole.
He continued his assault to the head and neck back in the ring, adding a few neckbreakers to his constant strikes only for Lee to throw him off at 1 during the matches first of 12 pin attempts. This period of the match saw the majority of Cole's grappling offence with him generally relying on strikes for the remainder.
As Cole went to pull his knee pad down for the last shot, Lee's bear like paw took ahold of Cole's wrist and flattened his several times in quick succession before Cole went for the switch kick one to many times and got caught with a huge bodyslam before managing to get his shoulder up at the count of 2.
Once again though Lee's overconfidence gave Cole a way back into the match as he climbed to the middle rope only for the slippery UE man to chop him down at the knee and send him crashing down with a painful looking backstabber. His advantage did not last long though as he was soon sent across the ring with Lee's newly dubbed 'struggleplex' although I doubt he struggled that much with a man the size of one of his legs.
Despite dominating offensively, Adam Cole could not keep Keith Lee down
Once again Cole tried to build momentum only to be stopped in his tracks by a Spirit bomb that left Cole twitching as if his soul had actually left his body but his high ring IQ (to dip into WWEs lexicon) shone through as he placed a single finger on the rope to break the pin, only to be subsequently spiked down and crushed with a physics defying moonsault (the only dive of the match!) which Cole somehow kicked out of.
Cole managed to wriggle out of the Big Bang Catastrophe (edging Lee 15 reversals to 12) and hit a barrage of superkicks followed up by the last shot for another 2 count. Looking to capitalise he then ran straight into a massive clothesline which folded him over as he sickeningly hit the mat neck first. Not to be deterred he then managed to perform the Panama sunrise for yet another 2 count and it was at this point that Cole snapped, laying in a trio of superkicks and the last last shot of his title reign.
Instead of making the cover he proclaimed the title was his from the middle rope and attempted a second Panama sunrise only to be met by another Spirit Bomb which Keith Lee transitioned into a Big Bang Catastrophe with a guttural roar and 3 seconds later NXTs first ever double champion was crowned. As with his strikes, Cole landed more finishers (2 to 1) but Keith Lee made the most of his moment and only needed 1.
A tremendous contest between 2 of the best NXT has to offer and a fitting end to Cole's brilliant reign which was in danger of petering out lately. Cole is such a fantastic worker and character that he will (hopefully) go on to achieve great things on RAW or Smackdown but tonight was all about Keith Lee and as he celebrated surrounded by confetti the show went off the air with a brilliant piece of visual storytelling; Karrion Kross in the rafters looking down and laughing maniacally with Scarlett Bordeaux.
Will he be the first to step up to the new champion or could he be stalking the vulnerable Adam Cole as promised?
Only time will tell.