I could open this piece talking about what an amazing step forward that Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks match last night at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable was for women's wrestling, and it absolutely was that, and in the grand scheme of things, that's certainly the most important thing. Even if the work alone didn't quite earn five stars (which I would argue that it did), like Punk/Cena 2011, this match is simply too important to the professional wrestling landscape to rate it anything less than the full five.
But for the sake of this particular piece, I think that's almost selling what these two women accomplished short. There are no qualifiers needed here. This match stands up against the absolute best matches of the year, if not the decade, regardless of gender. This wasn't just the greatest match in NXT history, this was among the greatest matches in WWE history. I know it feels too soon to say that, but you'll be hard pressed to search the annals on the network to find that many matches in WWE with the storytelling and psychology and nuance and heart and creativity that this match had. This wasn't a match about hair-pulling and slaps in service of some nonsense storyline, this was a damned fight. It was a prizefight for one of the most valuable titles in professional wrestling right now between two incredibly talented professional wrestlers.
The match is centered at its core around the story. The defining imagery of the feud was Becky Lynch wrenching back on Sasha's arm at the contract signing, and that was what this match was all about... someone tapping out or they were going to get their arm snapped.
Both of their entrances established their frame of mind immediately.
At the start, Becky comes in anxious. This is her first singles match in this spot in NXT, and she shows that. She literally can't stop bouncing in the ring, she knows how important this is to her, as she said, she came here for one reason, and one reason only, to become the NXT Women's Champion, and tonight is her opportunity to do that.
Sasha Banks? Comes in cool as a cucumber. She's the BO$$, the NXT women's champion... she made Becky Lynch, what could she possibly have to be afraid of?
As the match begins, the story falls into place immediately, Becky goes after the left arm of Sasha, but Sasha manages to get to the ropes to break it up. After that, it goes into a fluid exchange of pins, which fits beautifully into this match. This isn't a blood feud. Sasha and Becky aren't the best of friends anymore, but this feud is all about the NXT Women's Championship. Neither desperately wants to hurt the other, they simply want to win, and prove they're the best wrestler in NXT.
And after the exchange, Becky goes immediately back to the arm. After a run off the ropes, Becky catches Sasha by the leg in mid-air and locks on a Fujiwara Armbar, the set-up to the Shirome, her most devastating hold, but Sasha wriggles out before she can transition into it. Now you see that momentum shift. Becky looks confident, telling Sasha that she was ‘that close' while Sasha looks like she's seen a ghost.
But that confidence was short-lived as Sasha slams Becky's arm hard into the ring apron, and we see what Sasha's plan is: to beat Becky at her own game. She made Becky, as she said, so obviously anything Becky can do, The BO$$ can do better. It's made clear that one person's arm is being taken tonight, and whoever takes it will be the NXT Women's Champion. The next moment shows another massive selling point to the match, which is the physicality of it. There's an intensity and viciousness to this match that you rarely see in women's matches, when Sasha slams Becky face first hard into the ring post. And this opening allows Sasha to once again go back to work on the arm with a brutal looking armbreaker in the ropes.
Now, the momentum has see-sawed back once again as Sasha mocks Becky's trademark pose in the ropes, her confidence growing as she fought off Becky's first salvo. Sasha once again cleverly reinforces the psychology the match with the way she transitions the Straightjacket Choke such that she's slamming Becky's elbows into the mat to further damage the arms. And this cleverness continues as she brilliantly alters one of her signature moves to further the match's story, as she elects instead of her typical double knees to the gut spot, she drives those knees right into the left arm of Becky.
After that, you see possibly the defining spot of the match other than the finish. This is an armbar that would even make the great Pentagon Jr. jealous. Sasha tucks Becky's right arm under her back and wrenches all the way back, seemingly ripping her arm right out of the socket. Even on commentary, Corey Graves seemed genuinely disturbed by how painful that hold looked. This is a big advantage that women's submission wrestling can have in that kind of ridiculous flexibility to make holds look truly devastating. After Sasha snaps the arm, she goes to work once again but Becky lifts her up with her good arm into a back suplex! And now Becky is back on the attack with a beautiful arm trap overhead suplex followed by snapping her arm with her legs.
The creativity from each of these women in this match is off the charts. Virtually every single offensive move from either performer in this match is going after the arm, they never for a second lose the story, and they manage to find such inventive, painful, and clever ways to target it. Everything both makes sense and looks awesome. That is a truly amazing combination when you're able to do a bunch of amazing looking moves without a single one feeling needlessly flashy and self-indulgent, because they're all furthering the story of someone getting their arm snapped.
And then, a pivotal moment happens as Becky hits a snap suplex into the Shirome in one of the smoothest looking transitions I've ever seen. It's locked in tightly but Sasha desperately fights to the ropes to break it up and it looks for a moment like Becky's chance slipped away as Sasha once again gained control.
In another amazing moment, Sasha goes for a suicide dive and holds her arm while running for the dive like it's held in an invisible sling. The selling in this match is just off the charts. Both continually sell the arm, and every single time they need to use that left arm for something, it's labored, it's a step too slow and hurts their ability to string offense together. It makes every nearfall hit harder, because with all this damage, you start to believe that maybe it won't take a finisher, maybe just the right submission or the right move at the right time will get the win, heightening the drama even more. And on that suicide dive, Becky stops the momentum of Sasha, but Sasha slips out of her grasp. I think it's probable that Becky was intended to simply catch her in mid-air, but I think her not doing that helped the story more than if she had. She's trying to basically catch Sasha with one functioning arm and believably labors with that.
And they continue to sell beautifully after that moment, both of them in the ring with their left arms looking like they're in those invisible slings, barely able to move it. Becky climbs to the top but every step is slow, she grimaces as she uses that left arm to steady herself, giving Sasha enough time to take her off the ropes with a diving armbreaker to the knees and immediately transitions into the Bank Statement to get the win, as Becky quickly taps out from all the damage she'd suffered throughout this war, as both lie in the ring clutching at their ravaged arms as Becky tries to fight back tears after she gave this amazing effort and came up just short. Like the famous shot of Okada in tears at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Becky's face sold more than anything ever could just how important that title is and what it means to her. And in one final cherry on top of the masterclass in selling, Sasha yells at Drake for trying to raise her bad arm and makes him raise the other.
I can't say enough good things about this match. It excels on every metric. The story was flawless, and both played it to a T. There was phenomenal psychology throughout from both women, with them furthering the arm assault narrative in everything they did, they made every move count. The selling was excellent, with not only the arm selling, but also selling the toll the match took, just how beaten down they both were. The intensity and brutality and passion and heart was off the charts. The creativity and innovation to the offense was otherworldly. The atmosphere was amazing. And beyond that, they delivered in this way, in this spot, with the eyes of WWE on them, in the first Takeover event since the genesis of Give Divas a Chance, and with the hope for a change from the days of 4 minute "bathroom break" women's matches to showcasing women as athletes with skill resting on their shoulders and weighing on their minds.
This match was important, this was a genuinely big deal, and these two warriors didn't just deliver, they over-delivered beyond any possible expectations. This is a match that should truly change the wrestling business. Time will tell if it will.
But regardless, put simply, this is the best women's match that's ever taken place on American soil. This not only could have main evented Takeover, it could have main evented a Tokyo Dome Show, or even a WrestleMania.