This Wednesday night saw the guys and girls of NXT takeover the city of London and I was lucky enough to be one of the 10,000 people in the arena that night. So here's a first hand account of what went down...
DISCLAIMER: This post contains spoilers to next week's NXT show and quite a few mentions to crowd reactions.
6PM. Greenwich Mean Time. London, UK.
I'm on the London Underground on the Jubilee Line on the way to Wembley Park. I pass stops I've never heard of before. St John's Wood, Dollis Hill, Swiss Cottage. Will we ever get to Wembley? A tube veteran would have told me to change at Baker Street and get on the more direct Metropolitan Line. This was a rookie error.
After the best part of 50 minutes on the tube I arrive at Wembley Park Station. If you ever go to a wrestling event and are unsure of which way to go you can simply follow the chants. I use my ears to track down the "New Day Rocks!" chant in the middle distance. About five minutes of walking later and there it is - Wembley. Well, Wembley Stadium at least. I turn right and make my way to Wembley Arena.
At the Arena, a security guard directs me to the appropriate entrance and there is a massive queue. Luckily it's not a static queue. It moves at a good pace especially when half the people in the queue get kicked out of it because they didn't check their bags into the cloakroom. After a quick pat down, I'm in. I buy myself a Fanta Orange from the concessions stand because they were out of Coke. It costs me a relatively reasonable (for arena prices) £2.80. I skip on the £5 nachos and hot dogs and head straight for my seat.
There is some confusion over whether the shows starts at 7PM or 7:30PM which means I hang around in my seat for half an hour determined not to miss a minute of the action. I'm sat on hardcam side surrounded by a myriad of wrestling fans. These include a kid who's a John Cena fan and two "#NotAsGoodAsBrooklyn" guys who immediately call the talent out for the smallest of botches. A restless crowd before the show starts to chant "Cena sucks" despite the fact he's not on NXT and is currently not even on WWE TV. Then they chant for "CM Punk" although half the crowd boo this and that soon puts the brakes on that one.
At around 7:30PM the action finally gets underway. Our opening contest looks like it's going to be a tag match between the Vaudevillians and the Hype Bros. Then Kyle Edwards mentions that it's a Fatal Four Way. The fans were only waiting for one team and after the appearance of BAMF, they got them. Gable and Jordan were the most over thing in the UK with the possible exceptions of Bayley and the number ten. The fans start their tribute to 2Unlimited and the match begins.
While the crowd might have slightly leaned their love towards Gable, it was Jordan that really impressed here. This included one spot where he belly-to-belly suplexed someone out of the ring and onto a ton of bodies on the outside. Jordan did his own version of Suplex City, firing off t-bones and belly-to-bellys in rapid succession. That guy really knows how to do a hot tag. The New World's Greatest Tag Team do their double team finisher and are the victors.
What happens next is the bizarre re-debut of Elias Samson. The best bit about his match with Bull Dempsey was that it was short. But it was disappointing and as the aficionados behind me pointed out it had at least 3 botches and for that they had to mark it down a grade. The match just left me wishing that Elias Samson was played by Damien Sandow.
8 o'clock arrives and it's time to start the show proper. Roman Reigns hit Triple H so hard with a chair that it sent him all the way to London. Haitch acknowledges the awkwardness of his attendance before saying how much he loves NXT. Although surely he could do that without actually being on the show, right?
Opening match time and out comes Asuka, as intimating as ever. Emma enters to a more negative reaction then I expected. Then I remembered that us Brits hate the Aussies because of the Ashes in Cricket and it all made perfect sense. The referee also took some stick in this match too. According to those in attendance, if you get knocked out in a match you must be a fornicator. I felt a bit bad for the ref on that one. Asuka won the match despite shenanigans therefore proving that like Brock Lesnar, usual wrestling logic does not apply to Asuka.
Match two was for the Tag Team Titles. Whichever one was Dash and whichever one was Dawson took on the Realest Guys in the Room. The crowd provided more of their popular music remixes. "Hey Jude" was revised to "Big Cass" and "Enzo Amore" chants blurted out to the tune of "Seven Nation Army". This actually has its origins in Professional Darts I believe. In the PDC World Darts Championship there is a player called Michael Van Gerwen, who gets his name chanted to the tune of "Seven Nation Army" as well. Enzo and Big Cass both provide tributes to the UK in their attire. Enzo has a union jack and Big Cass has Tower Bridge on his trunks. Many expected Zo & Cass to go over here and I was surprised when the Mechanics went over clean. While I thought they could win, I was certain if they did it would be with shenanigans and there weren't any. WWE preconditions you to expect a smoz, NXT usually just plays it by the book.
Match three was the closest thing this card had to a bathroom break. It was at this point I realised that the London crowd were probably trying too hard to come up with creative chants. We seemed to be out of ideas. Eventually one guy in front of me just shouted "Fuck You Corbin!" and then the fans joined in with that chant shortly after. I'm not sure how I really feel about sweary chants at wrestling shows when there's clearly kids in attendance. On one hand, I don't think the youngsters should be exposed to that language but at the same time they're going to learn the words sooner or later. The one thing I feel that is a problem with crowds like these (including my part in it) is that it's dominated by young adult males who treat wrestling with an almost cult-like following. I feel that might be a bit intimidating for women or children or even older men to try and join in with a franchise predominantly owned by that demographic.
One of the noticeable things about the match was that while Corbin was getting a lot of boos, there was limited reaction to what Apollo was doing. I do worry that Crews might fall into the "Bland Babyface" category that Finn Balor has a bit of a problem with too. It was shocking to see Apollo lose in what was probably the upset of the night. Although Corbin winning meant there was only ever going to be one result in the main event.
The semi-main was the Women's Championship match. Nia Jax comes to the ring and the guy next to me points out how much she looks like the Undertaker in that cloak she's wearing. Then it's Bayley. Words cannot describe my love for this girl. Bayley is currently my favourite professional wrestler on the planet, male or female. Her matches have brought me to tears of joy on more than one occasion. To me, she should be main eventing all these Takeovers because there's no bigger star in NXT. Bayley is changing the game and at Takeover she proved that she's ready to carry the women's division on her back into 2016, just like Sasha had carried it for the majority of 2015.
This match was never going to be a technical classic but the psychology was on point. I was invested from bell to bell. The genuine willingness for the Hugster to get the win was very real in Wembley Arena that night. The "Stand Up If You Love Bayley" chant might have seemed distracting but it was in genuine adoration for the San Jose native. I saw the tap out from my seat but was somehow worried that Bayley was the one doing the tapping. Then her theme music playing and I let out a rather loud cheer. Bayley retaining was definitely a highlight of the night for me.
Main event time. I planned to be really smarky and cheer for Samoa Joe. But I have to admit that seeing Finn Balor's entrance live was quite the spectacle. I was wearing thin (no pun intended) on the demon gimmick but that hat changed everything. Who knew you could get a babyface over by dressing them like Jack the Ripper? I also got to do the cool hand gestures that come along with the Finn Balor entrance. Joe has been on fire since his heel turn and he and Finn were great in this match. The fans couldn't really decide who to root for. Balor probably was just about the fan favourite. Balor retained and had to be told by the referee to look at the hard cam while he celebrated.
After all that it just felt like there was something missing from the night. You know what it really needed? Two Canadians! First off - Tye Dillinger. Fans throughout the evening had been chanting "TEN!" and now they finally had a decent excuse to do so. But the guy everyone had really been waiting for was Sami Zayn. Those who didn't bolt for the exit after the Balor-Joe match, didn't go home disappointed. Zayn's theme hit and fans sang along with it.. The crowd reworked the KC & The Sunshine Band hit "Give it Up" into a Sami Zayn chant. Zayn's babyface credentials even made us in attendance turn on the Perfect 10. Zayn was selling so well, I was a little concerned he re-injured his arm again but that's just what he wanted you to think. Zayn hit the Helluva Kick and that was the end of that chapter. Before we all went home, Sami left us with a heartfelt speech about returning, discovered that Brits hate each other and did an impression of Triple H.
I headed out of the building along with the rest of the crowd and made my way back to the tube station. I got the funny feeling that trying to travel on the Underground with 10,000 other wrestling fans might cause a few problems and require a lot of waiting. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get on the first train that arrived. I returned home just before midnight and reflected and what was truly a memorable evening.
The thing I loved most about NXT:Takeover London was that I was able to just enjoy it as a fan of wrestling. So many times I've watched the main product and felt like a critic and had no one I really wanted to cheer for. In NXT, I cheer for the babyfaces and boo the heels just like how wrestling is supposed to function. And considering the reactions on the night, the crowd feel the same way. I found myself so invested in the stories of Bayley, Asuka and Enzo & Coss that I was just delighted when they did win and gutted when they didn't. That my friends is professional wrestling. That is NXT.