The Great American Bash: Return of the Boss- Io Shirai v Sasha Banks Review.
On Wednesday night we finally witnessed the long awaited return of 'The Boss' Sasha Banks to the black & gold brand for the first time in 5 years with tag partner & BFF Bayley in her corner. Banks last match in NXT was a celebrated 30 minute Iron man match with Bayley for the NXT Woman's title; a title now held by her opponent, the Genius of the Sky- Io Shirai.
Bank's homecoming was everything you'd expect from The Boss as she rolled into NXT on a muscle car, title in hand, looking absolutely resplendent in her GAB themed gear. Sasha Banks was home but Io Shirai was not about to let herself become a doormat for Sasha to step over into her NXT.
From the off Banks attempted to taunt Io and she responded by using her speed and grappling ability to demonstrate to Banks that this was not the same NXT Sasha left in 2015 firing off a taunt of her own to lure her in and nail her with a beautiful missile dropkick, followed up by a picture perfect cross body through the ropes that flattened Sasha on the outside.
This set the tone for the rest of the match with Io building up steam and attempting 5 aerial manoeuvres as Banks sought to cut her off at every opportunity and taunted her throughout(6 times) in an attempt to pull momentum back into her favour. This back and forth dynamic is well highlighted in the above graphic as they completed 31 reversals in total an average of 2.2 reversals per minute between them.
With Io firmly in control, Bayley (not for the last time) provided a timely distraction by honking one of car horns which allowed Banks to slip underneath Io while she was propped on the top turnbuckle and drop her face first onto it. Banks went for the first of many quick covers (11 in total attempted; 6 for Banks & 5 for Io) but Io kicked out at 2.
From there Banks took control, wearing down Io with limb grapples and joint manipulation Pete Dunne would have been proud of, cutting off potential comebacks with some brutal knee strike offence until Io spotted her moment and took advantage of Sasha's overconfidence by sending her across the ring with a big frankensteiner.
Io and Sasha's frenetic, momentum shifting battle illustrated by their flow of offence & tide changes.
Picking up steam Io dropped Banks twice in quick succession proving that her striking was just as much about quality as it was quantity ( She landed 4 more strikes in total and 4 strike downs against 2) before an impactful flapjack into a tiger feint kick, missile dropkick combo for another 2 count.
A series of reversals led into a nasty looking german from Io but just as she sought to capitalise with a double underhook backbreaker, Sasha countered fluidly into the Banks Statement for her only notable submission attempt of the night ( only 14% of the 14:03 runtime featured submission offence from either competitor) which Io handily rolled into a 2 count only for Sasha to roll into a 2 count of her own.
Io again attempted to build momentum only to be chopped down as she attempted a moonsault, leaving her precariously hanging in the tree of woe but again Sasha's confidence was her undoing as she allowed Io enough time to recover and dodge as Sasha crashed knees first into the turnbuckle. She was however able to evade the moonsault again and followed up with a gorgeous meteora for a 2 count.
The ensuing back and forth led to Sasha propelling Io into the perspex barrier with a brutal sunset flip powerbomb. Sasha's 2nd aerial attack of the night ended in failure though as Io brilliantly countered into a frog splash into a crossface of her own only to be clocked by Bayley who had cleverly distracted the ref by throwing a belt into the ring. Unfortunately for Sasha though Asuka was there to even the odds and as Banks went to use her belt as a weapon, she appeared from nowhere to mist her.
Even though Sasha kicked out of the subsequent roll up, Io was not to be stopped and after wiping Bayley out with a wrecking ball dropkick finally hit her signature moonsault on the 3rd attempt for the 3 count to evict the unwanted guests from her house- dancing with the the Raw Woman's Champion, the Kevin McCallister to Sasha and Bayley's Harry & Marv.
This was a brilliant, energetic match that mixed some vicious striking with some beautiful grappling that left you wanting more. Every woman played their part to perfection, including Bayley & Asuka showing the men of NXT that they can play their games too; be it Bayley's Undisputed Era chicanery on the outside or Asuka's timely Dexter Lumis impression. An absolute joy to behold from start to finish and I am very excited to see what this combination can produce in the future.