Well, that'll teach me to underestimate a NXT live special.
Between the real world injury news & rumor, the fact that two of the matches featured guys still in need of the Performance Center's Developmental function and that the second women's match was slapped together at the last minute, among other things, I was expecting two hours of enjoyable pro wrestling entertainment.
But I wasn't expecting Unstoppable.
There's a rush to rank things these days, and it goes hand in hand with a desire to declare everything the best the second after its over. My gut tells me that R Evolution is still a better show, or at least I show that meant more to me, because of how much went into the payoff at the end - and how great the main event match (as opposed to angle) actually was.
But I have no problem slotting last night's show in at #2 in the brief history of TakeOvers (+ ArRIVAL).
My immediate concern about the last match of the night was that it wouldn't be able to recapture the crowd after the phenomenal bout that preceded it (of which we'll speak more of in a second). The genius of it was that it didn't try. Triple H and company knew the limitations they were faced with when they made the decision to give the women's title match thirty or so minutes to fill (with pre and post factored in).
They also knew they had an ace up their sleeve.
We can worry another day about what Samoa Joe's signing means, if his debut would have happened this way without the injuries to Sami Zayn & Hideo Itami, how he got to keep his name. This is a crossroads moment for NXT, and those issues should be discussed.
For now, the only issue I have is that his arrival overshadows the really smart booking that preceded it. I hadn't really considered how Zayn could be made to look strong in a match I was sure he wasn't winning, and that I was almost as certain he'd be out for a while after getting his shoulder fixed. Kevin Owens' big Monday night and upcoming bout with John Cena meant there was no way he was losing, and it seemed to cause most fans to do what the announcers were accusing the NXT champ of doing - looking past Sami Zayn.
And you shouldn't do that. Because when you do that, you get Blue Thunder Bombed, and Half-and-Halfed, and driven face first into the ring steps.
Zayn looked like a warrior. In the end, he was a slightly dumb warrior, because...babyface, but after the Powerbomb massacre that occurred at Rival, this was exactly what we needed to get everybody salivating for the day when these two finally face-off at full strength.
Not only that, but it caught the crowd off-guard, and made everyone wonder if maybe Sami wouldn't...if not win, maybe just leave a broken Owens for Cena to fight at Elimination Chamber. Once they brawled into the crowd, you knew something was up. And when that didn't end with a Pop-Up Powerbomb, when The Likeable One reached out and grabbed the railing to thwart his former friend and land a few more shots to his head for his troubles, nobody was sitting down or looking away.
It ended the way it had to, because Sami is unfortunately banged up, and because this is in no way, shape or form the time to take the belt off KO. As has been widely documented, he's operating at another level right now. And one of the things this show did was stack challengers for him. Deep. The king is a bastard. Long may he reign.
One of those contenders will be a Submission Specialist named Joe. That he is being marketed as Samoa Joe (okay, I said I wasn't going to worry about it yet, but I lied) says to me that he's probably only here for NXT and likely on a similar deal as Rhyno and The Brian Kendrick. But seeing him there...Fit, mean-mugged and ready to go as only an impassioned Joe can be...I'm giddy.
I also hope that William Regal's failed interference before his appearance means that they'll let those two work together in the feud. Becuase as much as a dream match as Owens vs. Joe is, Joe cornered by that old villain would be unbelievable.
Overall, very well played, gentlemen. You had to bring it, and you did. But you still got outclassed.
Because the two women that went on before you did worked like the entire future of the business depended on it.
And it kind of did.
The merits and sincerity of WWE's trumpeting the women of NXT has been a hot topic over the past week. Regardless of where you side in that debate, Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch knew that their employers promotion meant that more eyes would be on them. If Triple H and his wife had spent the last five days talking about how you're revolutionizing the sport(s entertainment), you can not go out there as a co-main event and stink up the joint.
Considering that pressure, and that while they had been provided with a pretty good story, not nearly as well developed as the men's title feud, a nice three, three-and-a-half star match would have been great. What they delivered wasn't perfection, in a technical sense. There were some sloppy moves, a missed transition or two. But most of that was made up by the psychology, of two competitors determined to break the other, a champ so arrogant that she wanted to defeat her rival with her own speciality, and a challenger who had worked so hard to get this opportunity that it would take her opponent's best - not an imitation of someone else's best - to finish her. Whatever gaps existed after you factored the story in were more than filled in with emotion.
Becky Lynch kind of annoys me. Even before Corey Graves started ragging on her for being a poseur, her headbanging and pun-making irked me. But the woman can flat out wrestle. And the way to make someone like me respect and even root for a character they aren't inclined to like is to have her pour her heart & soul into entertaining me.
I was rooting for The Boss like the 'smart' mark that I am. But BEX got a standing ovation from my living room in addition to the one she got from Full Sail Live not so much because she told a great story, but because she busted her ass for the chance to tell it.
Kudos, Ms. Lynch. You've got a fan in me, even if you insist on dying your hair like LeeLoo from Fifth Element and dressing up like Rikku from Final Fantasy X.
Sasha is pretty much already perfect.
- Unpopular opinion alert - it's time they start to develop Finn Bálor, the character, as much as they develop Finn Bálor, the entrance. This is to take nothing away from him as a wrestler. His match with Tyler Breeze was great. His next match with Owens will be, too. But I'm kind of bummed that Prince Pretty didn't get the nod as #1 contender because Breeze has grown as a character and there are dozens of interesting takes on a feud between he and the champ. Finn's is "will he bring 'The Demon' or not?"
- And since that's all we know of his character, Bálor showing up in paint guarantees a win at this point. From the moment he crawled on stage with horns sticking out his cloak, everyone knew who was going over. Why doesn't he wear the paint every night, that way he'll never lose? Yes, there are stories you can tell that will explain why he doesn't do that, and that's what I'm asking they do.
- The paint is cool. I especially like the little touches like the hands clawing out of his trunks or the cuts on his legs. Explain that those scratches were inflicted invoking 'The Demon'. It's over the top, but that didn't hurt Undertaker.
- Baron Corbin impressed me tonight. The Lone Wolf is still green, but he's able to cover that working heel, and he brought an intensity tonight that will serve him well moving forward. The bar was set pretty low for this one, but he and Rhyno cleared. He did not impress me as much as...
- Enzo Amore. While Cass has improved on the mic (where the Smack-talker Sky-walker is already pretty flawless), his little buddy has made much bigger strides in the ring. He opened with an impressive crossbody and drop kick, sold like a champ and never looked back. It wasn't perfect, but he's going to have to take up the bulk of the time in the ring while Cassady waits for the hot tag, and while he'll never be confused for Tyson Kidd, he's showing me he should be able to handle it.
- Really digging the Dubstep Cowboys maturation as rudos, and am quite happy they didn't make the switch. Both teams benefit more from their current roles. Carmella is gaining acceptance as a good girl (her superheroine costume won't hurt, either), and I'm interested in seeing how Alexa Bliss works as a heel. She never had much of a character as a babyface, anyway, and there are actually several layers to work with between these players, since Bliss was Blake & Murphy's second choice as a partner.
- Plus, given her "one step forward, one step back" development in the ring, maybe a run as a valet/manager is worth exploring.
- Women's tag was fun, and felt like something they'd book for a pay-per-view (PPV) Kick-Off on the main roster, or a PWG-style filler match. Still all in on Dark Emma, and I especially like how she's gradually darkening her hair color and ring gear to go with the gimmick. Nothing happened here to move me off the fence on Dana Brooke. Bayley makes a lot of people happy and I hope that never changes.
- What on Earth is Charlotte still doing here, though? I don't mean that like she's necessarily the most talented woman in NXT, but they're using her like they didn't think she'd still be here. Banks is over-qualified for "Developmental", but at least she's the star of the show. The Nature Girl on this show would have been like if Neville or Big E had been booked to tag with Solomon Crowe against The Mechanics or something.
There are probably a million other things that I could comment on regarding this show, but I'm on a deadline, and you all probably have better points to make anyway.
If there's one argument that might sway me to rank this show higher than R Evolution, it's the ramifications it and the brand it represented might have on the business and form overall. That this show happened on the night that the latest reports of TNA's demise swirled, and featured one of their most recognizable stars, feels like a sea change kind of moment.
Time will tell, on the history of the business and how we judge Unstoppable. Right now, however, I have no problem calling this...
Your turn, Cagesiders.
All photos via WWE.com.