NXT took over the WWE this week, more so than they had for either of the previous two live specials which have aired on WWE Network. The strategy is clearly to drive more passionate wrestling fans to the subscription service to either learn about the next big thing before they hit the main stage, get a product that is different from what is offered on the main shows, or both.
Takeover: Fatal 4Way (full results and play-by-play live blog: here) undoubtedly succeeded in executing that strategy. If you logged on or tuned in tonight, you saw exciting new faces doing things you don't see on Raw, in stories that progressed featuring characters who developed logically. This was a very good show - no question.
How good was it, though? And where does it rank in the hierarchy of NXT live events?
That's harder to say...
That's how you do a stipulation match
Major props to everyone involved in the eponymous main event. If you've been conditioned by WWE pay-per-view (PPV) Triple Threat and Fatal 4Way matches being a way to give more guys something to do, or simply protect a specific worker from having to do the job - this is how you use this match type to do those things and something vibrant and essential.
Sami Zayn is the greatest "never won/has been screwed out of the big one" character in modern pro wrestling. He's Dusty Rhodes and Tommy Dreamer rolled into a guy who can work like Ricky Steamboat. Part of why it works so well is because this show's creators don't just try to sell this angle in a couple of weeks. This has been the Likeable One's journey from the moment the Cesaro feud ended (and it grew organically from that). And it's not just Sami. Each man in this match has a clearly defined character who acts based on the performer's understanding of that character. Even Adrian Neville, the guy who "turned".
The other part is that these are fantastic workers. This was structured to allow each wrestler to work to his strengthes, but when the moment came for them to shine, they were scrumtrulescent. For example, as was the case Monday night, Tyler Breeze was somewhat hidden or at least played a supporting role for most of the match, but the sequence when he KICKED EVERYONE IN SIGHT got a reaction from everyone watching.
Leaving this match, Zayn is the babyfacest babyface to ever babyface. The champ has been reading his own press clippings and needs to be served some humble pie. Prince Pretty has a chip on his shoulder, and a ready-made feud with Tyson Kidd, who has become a master manipulator who knows how to push everyone's buttons, as he did in targeting Breeze for the Sharpshooter because of his aversion to pain.
It takes some doing to present something that satisfying as a standalone encounter that also pays off the build and sets the stage for what comes next.
A couple of random thoughts:
- Kidd is well on his way to becoming the poster child for "being on NXT is its own reward". His verbal abilities have blossomed since becoming a regular, and tonight displayed his acumen for calling a match in a way we haven't been treated to in the past. He was the one guy who never really was out of the action for long, and was central to most of the big spots, including the finish. Add "ring general" to his résumé along with "workhorse".
- Unlike past live show main events, this one didn't really rely on too many big or showy moves. It built to a frenetic pace at the end, but it seemed like this was the best they've done in melding an indie "series of escalating spots" type match with a more methodical WWE style narrative. The showdown where Neville cut off Zayn's suicide dive in order to stare him down and hit the moonsault off the top rope was the prime example of what I'm talking about.
- That said...holy schnikes, that Tower of Doom tandem superplex spot!
- Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn is going to be insane. And I'm so glad that they drew it out a little longer with this match.
Let's just go ahead and give the women a half-hour and the last match slot next time, okay?
I really thought this was going to be my "Match of the Night", right up until about 9:50PM Eastern time.
Again, the freaking craft put into storytelling on this show is unbelievable. The pre-match video package on Bayley's road to a title shot was epic. If there was anyone watching who didn't want to see her win the belt after watching that, you either have garlic in your soul, or you shouldn't be watching wrestling.
That continued right into the action. Charlotte's "turn" - which is much less of a change of alignment than the men's champ's...respect has always been a component of her approach, and she just didn't respect Bayley until tonight - is previewed by her finally offering her hand to the challenger before the bell. And the Hugster's determination is evidenced by her responding by wrestling the champ into the corner.
It immediately came across that these two were fighting for the title. Even the occasional sloppy moment fit right in, because the action felt natural rather than staged.
The moment when Bayley kicked out of Charlotte's top rope moonsault was my favorite thing of the night. You were thrilled for her, even though you kind of knew what was coming. The look on her face told the whole story of the feud to date, and primed you for the rest of it.
Now excuse me while I go write some Bayley/Sami slash fic.
- The champ really innovated within her ground-based offense. The things she does out of the Figure Four Headlock never fail to impress, and the somersaulting slams are incredibly cool. My initial impression with Charlotte is that she elevates her game for big matches, but I don't think that's it. Her style, more than most wrestlers, requires you be invested in the conflict. Without that, it's hard to get a handle on if she's a face or a heel and you end up wanting to root for and against her in the same match.
- Thank goodness they trotted The Boss out to keep her involved in the feud. Her work has been at such a high level lately that it would have been a crime to keep her off this show. A Triple Threat at the next live event would be most welcome, either as a way to protect Charlotte while she drops the belt or to prolong the build to Bayley's big moment in a one-on-one rematch down the line.
- Another difference between NXT and the main shows that we don't talk about as much is how they're shot. Things like Bayley's kickout are captured perfectly, and a close-up means something because the director doesn't have things zooming in and out throughout the match.
- Natural Selection still isn't a great name for Charlotte's finisher, but it's better than the cumbersome Bow Down to the Queen.
Hello Hideo, and Konnor & Viktor's Unexcellent Evening
Kenta's debut was pretty much everything I could have hoped for, and was in fact much more than I would have cynically predicted back when his signing was still a rumor.
The video package put him over just as well as Ric Flair would have. His English wasn't great - he seemed to slow down and deliberately recall the script at one point - but he's already proven to be a different breed of cat from their last big foreign acquisition by just attempting to better learn the language.
Hopefully they have a cool reason cooked up for his selection of the Hideo Itami name, because I think that will go a long way to getting fan buy-in. But the bottom line is that they were going to give him a name they owned for, well, the bottom line. And 90% of the WWE Universe will get to know him as Itami. Full Sail and the night after WrestleMania crowd can chant KENTA all they want, as long as the merchandise is all trademark-able.
And name or promo abiltiy are secondary to the presence, charisma and ability we saw in his response to The Ascension's interruption. Bouncing back into the ring to show his fighting spirit, kicking their butts right out of it and daring them to come back for more (seriously, the bit with the chair was 10th level bad assery) got him over more than anything else could.
I have mixed feelings about how The Ascension were treated here, and even their title loss that opened the show. I've grown to appreciate what Konnor and Viktor bring to the table, and the ten minutes they gave us against Kalisto & Sin Cara tonight was easily the best match we've seen them work. Having them lose to a relatively new team and then punked by even a soon-to-be major player like
Kenta Itami (old habits die hard) was the rare case of a payoff not being properly built to by NXT Creative. Dethroning the longest reigning champs in the history of the promotion should have felt like a bigger deal than this.
It should have felt almost as big as Hideo Itami's debut did.
- So, Lucha Dragons, huh? It could work. Honestly, I'm most surprised that they're going to be pushed as a tag team rather than just solo Kalisto. But I think it's a good idea, as they both seem marketable alone or as a unit.
- Really liked the opener, and it was a good call for that spot on the card. Konner is underrated as a taker of offense, because we've had so few opportunities to see it. But he really delivered in helping to make Kalisto's hot finish sequence look effective as well as flashy.
- This should really be The Ascension's farewell to NXT. Send them to the main shows to go on a winning streak there, and tonight will be a footnote in the history of their rise. Leave them around to lose a rematch to the new champs, as the post-show hinted, and it might leave more of a mark.
- Impressive "debut" for Baron Corbin, but it felt like a cheat as a debut. He's been around plenty, and doesn't even seem to have changed up the gimmick or image much. Not that you need to tweak "big dude with vicious looking finisher who marches out of the ring after destroying dudes".
- The handling of CJ Parker is confusing. They treat him like kind of a big deal, and work to keep him on screen a lot, but rarely in anything resembling a push. Is this how you build enhancement talent? It's been so long since I've seen anyone do it...
- Enzo Amore is an entertaining mofo. We still haven't seen much to indicate that he's much of a wrestler, however. I enjoyed the multiple segments that he and Colin Cassady's angle with Les Legionnaires got tonight, but the match in the middle of it was not good, and the whole thing probably would have played out better across a regular episode of NXT.
- Not outraged that Lefort didn't get shaved, but why even put the stip on the match if you're not going to pay it off. This could have been the set-up to an eventual hair vs. hair match, with the Realest Guys using their cream on Marcus Louis leading up to that gimmick. I mean, "Get the bucket" was a perfectly good payoff for tonight. They're going to need to extend angles to give Enzo & Cass excuses to be on without wrestling while they work with them in the Performance Center anyway; this seemed like needless bait & switch.
- Sorry Mojo. It was nothing personal.
- Bull Dempsey's best outing was his first one. Other than raising the neckline of his singlet, I haven't seen much improvement from him since he first showed up. If he wasn't squashing the universally reviled Rawley, he'd be getting either no or a negative reaction. You can keep the flying headbutt for a bunch of reasons, but chief among them in his case is that it always looks like a move that hurts the person doing it more than his target - and Dempsey clearly delivering it to the Hype Man's bicep didn't impress.
- Still miss Regal at the announce table, but the team of Tom Phillips, Renee Young and Byron Saxton mostly stayed out of the way tonight, which isn't a bad step.
- The pre and post shows were valuable productions. The wrap-up broadcast, hosted by Renee Young at ringside, felt particularly vital - answering questions raised during the two hour event and setting up matches and angles that will begin playing out during the episodes that tape Friday night.
As I said, good show. But I think it was really propped up by the co-main events. It's a perfectly acceptable way to structure a card - with squashes, comedy and other slighter fare setting up a big finish - but the first Takeover and even ArRIVAL offered more quality from start to finish.
Don't miss either of the singles championship bouts. There are a lot worse ways to spend five minutes than on Hideo Itami's introductory segment. Other than that, there's not much rewatch value in the other hour of the show.
Let us know about your Takeover 2 experience below, Cagesiders.
All photos via WWE.com.