I'm not even going to bother burying the lede here...Takeover was better than ArRIVAL.
While it's difficult to compare two hours at Full Sail Live to three plus hours at a 16,000 seat arena or 100,000 seat stadium, I'm tempted to say that it was my favorite WWE show of the year. Let's just call a Triple H-booked show of hungry young stars and a Vince McMahon-booked show of millionaires and disgruntled extras apples and oranges and leave it at that.
Bottom line is, if you like pro wrestling, you should watch Takeover. If you don't have WWE Network, Takeover is one of the better examples I can give you of why you should get the WWE Network. (If you didn't get a chance and want a full recap, the live blog is here) I'm excited to watch it again when I don't have to write about it so I can just enjoy the show.
Sami Zayn stole the show (again); Tyler Breeze is proof that a gimmick character can still be a serious competitor
This was my "Match of the Night".
Zayn is completely ready for whatever the WWE wants to do with him. I actually think he's the exception to the "you have to have a story in place for developmental talent when you call them up". He can just appear and be the likeable, competitive guy that he is...as long as they let him have a few minutes a week to talk to Renee Young and gradually show what he can do in the ring. That approach has sent him over the moon at Full Sail to the point where wins and losses really don't even matter. I would like to see his losing streak story go somewhere at some point, especially if they're going to keep him on NXT.
What they've done with Breeze on this show is everything they should have done with Fandango last year, or Adam Rose over the last few months. A talented performer can be hilarious within a silly gimmick and still be taken seriously as an in-ring competitor, if you establish the comedy without squashing him (tough losses are better than cheap wins for this) and then have him state his intent to prove that he is a great wrestler and a successful dancer/model/rock n roll playboy as a lead in to slowly accumulating real wins. It doesn't hurt that the former Mike Dalton can go, but so can Johnny Curtis and Leo Kruger.
This match was insane, and I was jumping out of my chair at every near fall or move I never thought I'd see on WWE television (ORANGE CRUSH). Zayn and Breeze have great chemistry, with the latter really showing an ability to keep up with the indy veteran in terms of innovative counters and spots. The only sloppiness was in the set-up to the Orange Crush and when I really thought Prince Pretty had his head cracked open on the dive from Sami late in the match where Breeze's head hit the steel ramp.
A couple of random thoughts:
- Everyone had new music tonight, and while I get why they did it in both cases, I don't think either is an improvement. Zayn's now makes it more easy to chant Olé along with it; having Tyler sing his own song draws attention to an HBK vibe that was already there just below the surface.
- Hopefully WWE will release the hype videos they did on each man and showed on the Pre-Show and during Takedown itself. The company doesn't make any bad promotional spots, but these really stood out, and would help either man get over at the next level if as many fans as possible see them ahead of their debuts.
- The right man won given that it was a #1 contenders match and who the champ is, and the questionable finish (was Breeze protecting his head or did he rack Zayn on purpose?) keeps issues between these two open as well. As great as tonight was, the next wave of folks who can compete at this level either aren't ready or haven't even debuted yet, so it's smart to keep their booking options open with quarterly live events looking to be the new schedule and a pretty high bar set by the first two such events.
Charlotte and Natalya deliver a different kind of great women's match
It probably still won't silence the doubters (especially the ones calling the shots for Raw and Smackdown), but I thought it was genius to set-up this match to both emphasis the strength of the participants and to showcase, at least for long stretches of it, a contrasting style to the highly praised Paige vs. Emma bout from ArRIVAL.
At least half, and probably more like two-thirds, of the 15-20 minutes this match got was mat-based and focused on grappling and submissions. It took a little while to warm up, and there was a spot where the psychology and knowledge of how a Figure Four works was all wrong, but for the most part it worked like a charm and fit perfectly into the legacy story they were telling here.
I still find Natty to be a little less crisp than her reputation suggests, but Charlotte continues to impress. After a little early bout nerves, she settled right into working a good match and playing her character to the hilt. The Figure Four Headlock is my favorite new move I've seen in quite some time, and even the somersault cutter (which still needs a better name than Bow Down to the Queen) looked great tonight.
- If this Ric Flair shows up on Monday nights, I can't wait. He performed better than he has since his previous WWE stint, and even made the stone-faced Bret Hart smile during one of his tantrums.
- Not to harp on entrance music, and I see why they mixed the themes of the Nature Boy and his Girl tonight, but I like Charlotte's better all on its own. And while I don't think they should ignore her lineage, she's got the potential to get over without having to lean on it (which is, unfortunately, something I wouldn't say about Nattie).
- The post-match show of respect and tears was genuinely touching. And it meant a lot more that this was the only time it occurred tonight (unlike after every other match on ArRIVAL, it seemed).
The main event would have been a classic with a different build
(Sorry, couldn't resist)
Tyson Kidd did a good job of subtly turning heel without actually breaking any rules throughout the match, starting with his cocky cheapshots on takedowns early straight through to the head kicks within the Dungeon Lock near the end. Maybe it was watching the horrible sit down interview from the Pre-Show where Natty kept talking over him while Michael Cole asked him demeaning questions, but I don't think so, because as poorly executed as that was, it was leading to the story we got from this match.
No, the main event of this show, especially when it has to follow the two matches I've already discussed, deserved more than a week of face vs. face build-up. And despite this being a stiff-looking, back and forth affair, I think it suffered just enough because of it to be the third best match on the show.
Even though he's never worn the belt, Sami Zayn feels like the biggest star on NXT. And it's because he's had the most memorable matches and feuds. Is that a result of him getting paired against better in-ring talent (Cesaro and Breeze being better than Bo Dallas and Brodus Clay), or is Zayn just better at creating indelible moments and matches on his own?
I don't know the answers, but Neville is the champ, and he's main evented both live specials now, so he's no slouch and has some powerful backers. Yet even in a match where he got to prove he could more than just aerial spots, he still seems to connect with the crowd mostly on those spots and not a whole lot else.
Tyson Kidd proved again that he's a "workhorse", but aside from a rematch as a full-blown heel - which might help this pairing immensely - I'm not sure where they go with him from here. It might be time for a repackaging...if they can do that without ticking off the Total Divas people.
- Adam Rose vs. Camacho was probably the right call for opener. They've got good chemistry, and Rose is much more enjoyable here where the crowd is behind him. I like that the announcers are playing up that he gets angry when someone messes with a Rosebud - that's the kind of thing that can make him more useful, at least in the mid-card. He's integrating his character into his moveset now, too, although I'm not a fan of the homoerotic-tinged stuff that he does. If played right it could be fine, but I don't trust WWE to play it right.
- Camacho continues to impress as Roman Reigns-type mini-hoss.
- I really thought The Ascension might beat El Local and Kalisto the way they beat everyone else: before their opponents can make a tag. Good showing by the champs, who continue to work more tag maneuvers into their arsenal (even if they could use better ones).
- Jury is still very out on Kalisto, but he will at least be a crowd pleaser. I hate to say it, but Ricardo looks ridiculous in that luchador body suit. Get that man a tuxedo, please.
- I think Rusev turned face with his beatdown of Mojo Rawley.
- Man, Paige smiles a lot now that she's Divas champ. She's basically a different character. Which is good, because I never felt The Anti-Diva worked as a face. But she's lost a lot of her edge without it. They need to find a middle ground.
It could always be better, but it might be a while before we see such a thing.
Go watch Takeover.
And let us know what you thought, or what you think about what I thought, below.
All photos via WWE.com.