NXT shipped up to London for NXT TakeOver: London at Wembley Arena in London, England today (Wed., Dec. 16th, 2015) and treated fans with the usual fare of exciting matches and their top stars. Just days out from WWE’s TLC pay-per-view and a title change on RAW this show had a lot to live up to.
Time to get into the nitty gritty (click here for the live blog with full match coverage).
I have known adventures, seen places you people will never see
There are a lot of things that go into making for a good professional wrestling match, a lot of ingredients are tossed into the boiling pot and of course, it is always done to taste. One ingredient that I am not sure can ever be subtracted or skimped on is drama. Drama is integral in this whole physical performance art medium connecting with its intended audience. There are many different ways to induce drama and different levels of drama depending on the situation, but at the highest levels of your show you want a lot of drama.
While Bayley vs. Nia Jax was not a match of the year contender or workrate darling of a match or anything like that, the match had a lot of drama and saw Bayley working with a still rather green Jax to tell a story. That story was that Jax was the bigger, stronger and more imposing woman while Bayley was the scrappy champion willing to do what it took to secure the win. A lot of viewers went into that match with an idea of what the outcome would be, but after a few nearfalls and near submissions all of that was thrown out the window. That is what professional wrestling should do.
Finn Balor is a guy that I’ve been watching for a long time, from when the Inoki Dojo in LA scooped him up to his quick turnaround to the New Japan Dojo in Japan. Little Fergal Devitt was going to be huge, they told us, he was going to be someone special. Here we are almost ten years later and Fergal Devitt is someone special, he’s the guy perched at the top of Triple H’s pet project in WWE, NXT, as the champion. I like Balor, but throughout his career there has been something missing.
I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but even his much-lauded matches in New Japan with GEDO and Taguchi were lacking something. Even as the charismatic Reaaaaaal Rock N’ Rolla of the Bullet Club something was missing when he actually stepped into the ring. Now as Balor has been the centerpiece of NXT for a good portion of the year he’s had his time to establish himself to these fans and put on some big matches. Tonight’s match with Samoa Joe was no exception, the main event of a sold out NXT Takeover special in London was the focal point for this show.
The match itself delivered on being a crazy brawl between Joe and Balor. Finn did the whole Jack the Ripper Demon entrance thing, which was a great visual and the match quickly turned into a knock down, drag out affair that spilled outside of the ring in a hurry. The Joe on display here was the most fired up and exciting Joe that I’ve seen in a very long time, because you see, NXT isn’t about weight limits, it’s about no... err. Okay, fine, we won’t do that here, but the Joe here reminded me more of the guy that got me to watch ROH in the mid-00’s while he beat up smaller dudes and dragged them to matches that leaned more on the side of brutal than ballet.
This Joe was nothing different than that Joe, outside of about ten years of wear and tear on him. By all accounts this was a good match, but there was still that something missing in this match and it was drama. It was all so blatantly apparent following Bayley/Nia Jax, which was built on a foundation of dramatic near falls and heroic comebacks. Joe/Finn was built on two guys beating each other up without much concern for finishing the match before heading into the home stretch, which saw Joe’s big moves blocked or countered before Finn hit his spots and sealed the match with the Coup de Grace.
For a wrestler to be able to build a dramatic match without nearfalls or near submissions is tough, in fact, it’s incredibly difficult. I can’t remember a single nearfall in this entire match. Maybe on a second viewing I’ll find a few, but none of them stand out to me. Jax’s first leg drop nearfall stands out to me, as does the spot where she hit a whole bunch of leg drops and Bayley kicked out. Hell, even every guillotine choke stands out to me. The only thing that I can remember from Joe and Finn is at one point Joe had the Coquina Clutch on Balor only for Finn to roll out of it. Wrestling is sometimes deceptively simple and while Finn and Joe have been around for a long time, each with their own experience, neither guy should be above the simple concept of adding drama to matches to help to tell a better, more compelling story. It’s all kind of a shame because the actual meat of this match was fantastic, but it was just proof that you can have meat and potatoes all that you want, but without the silverware it’s just meat on the goddamned table.
Having compelling characters doing compelling things is great and exactly what they did here, but without dramatic key moments, without doubts and heart-stopping false finishes emotional investment is difficult. I’m not saying that matches need to be Cena/Owens levels of ridiculous nearfalls, just that a few can go a long way to creating tension and drama.
Yet, without, all of those moments will be lost in time, just like tears in the rain.
All the Best of the Rest
Bayley vs. Nia Jax: This was not the best match of the night, yet it was perhaps one of the best stories of the evening. If you were to tell me that Nia Jax would be going over and that Bayley’s time in NXT was up I would have said that it sounded logical. Especially with the Asuka tease with Jax in Jax’s pre match interview. Yet that didn’t happen, instead we got another wonderful tale of underdog Bayley overcoming the odds against the much bigger Nia Jax through whatever means possible. The Bayley to Belly wouldn’t make sense against someone like Nia Jax, who Bayley had a tough time even getting off of her feet for most of the match. Just like she had to dig deep and pull out something that made sense to finish off Sasha at the last TakeOver, she had to dig deep and find something that worked against Nia Jax and that was the guillotine choke. Just brilliant storytelling here and Bayley should probably be the top billed star on these shows from now on.
Dash & Dawson vs. Enzo & Big Cass: My god, this was a match, was it not? If you were looking for your match of the night you’d need to look no further than this. I lapsed in my fandom of NXT for a while, but I caught up on the last month or so of NXT weekly shows and finally got the whole Dash and Dawson thing. They work a smart, simple style that reminds me more of 80’s and 90’s tag team wrestling than what we are used to and it works perfectly in NXT, which at its heart is a throwback to old studio wrassling just with slicker production and bigger MOVEZ~! Enzo and Cass are just over, like, we don’t need to have metaphorical debates about what being over is and if their schtick is over or if they are over. They are over and Enzo delivered yet another great, fiery promo here before the champs stalked to the ring. This felt like it was gonna be their night and the whole match was based on Enzo-as-a-projectile offense from the Realest Guys in the Room, but after Enzo and Cass got in a few good spots Dash and Dawson took over and started exploiting weaknesses, like Cass’s leg that they messed up previously. The finishing sequence was nothing short of molten, with the Rocket Launcher on Dash and Dawson getting a crazy nearfall, only for D&D to get out of it and launched Enzo off the top to hit the Shatter Machine for the three count. If you watch nothing else from this show, watch this. I beg of you.
Baron Corbin vs. Apollo Crews: When Crews signed with NXT there was fanfare and some hype, considering how big most of NXT’s indie signings have been, but if I’m real here, I’ve never been big on Crews and he still has a ways to go before he’s a really great wrestler. The potential is there, though. Corbin, on the other hand, has been in NXT for a while now and has had his share of stinkers in the ring, including that god awful match with Bull Dempsey. That Baron Corbin is nothing but a hazy fever dream of a memory now because he’s really gotten his act together. He won’t be lighting the world on fire with workrate spectaculars, but the guy knows how to get heat from an audience -- even one more interested in its own clever chants -- and his finisher is always breathtaking. Corbin is everything that WWE wants from its developmental system and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Asuka vs. Emma: Emma is perhaps one of the most underrated women in all of WWE right now. The focus over the past year has been on the NXT Four, which is understandable, but Emma’s entire WWE career has been frustrating, to say the least. Asuka is, of course, very good at what she does and one of the reasons to even watch NXT right now. Put them together and you got what was easily the second-best match on this card. They beat each other up, Dana Brooke tried to help Emma out, there was a ref bump and Emma came close a few times, but Asuka prevailed. A few weird miscues here and there, but nothing that detracted from the match in a major way.
This was a really fun show, but was it as fun as TLC? Oddly enough, it wasn’t. Still, that was a strangely high watermark from the main roster.
Sean wasn't well, he had other concerns to sell, and he sent me along as the surrogate recapper, and we're gonna find out where you fans really stand. Sound off in the comments! What was your grade for this show?