Anyway you slice it, this was an outstanding show. Please don't lose sight of that, in my rambling that follows, or in your own discussion of Saturday night in New York.
Somehow, NXT has a way of making magic happen with these live TakeOver events. Injured stars, unexpected call-ups, accelerated schedules and now performing in front of a main roster-sized crowd...none of those have hindered the promotion from delivering great matches, amazing moments and a whole lot of entertainment every ninety or so days.
Brooklyn, the seventh if we count the first, ArRIVAL, which wasn't branded as a TakeOver, may have been the best of the bunch. There wasn't a dud on the card. Each match was given a substantial amount of time to get over on its own merits, and the action was balanced between more light-hearted fare at the outset of the two hours and twenty minutes, to tactical and athletic bouts in the middle of the show, to epic storytelling and amazing stunts to close the night.
Yet, there were things about August 22 that confounded. Acknowledging them doesn't make you or me a "bad fan", because we're the customer, and we should be able to call a multi-million dollar global corporation on their missteps. And because WWE themselves went out of their way to call attention to the problems.
Who's at the center of all the good and bad of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn? To paraphrase a popular GIF, that would be him...
Triple H, aka Based Haitch, aka Paul Levesque opened the televised portion of the biggest show in NXT history with...a Triple H segment. It was shorter than the average Raw open, for sure, but other than that, all that was missing was some Motörhead.
This wasn't the increasingly morally ambiguous Game we get on Monday nights, or that we'll see tonight at SummerSlam. This was "proud papa" Hunter. I'd be damn proud too if my idea for Developmental was playing in front of the same size crowd that will watch Sunday's pay-per-view (PPV). I'm glad for his influence on this product that I've enjoyed so much over the last two or three years.
But I don't tune in to see him. And the more he and his wife tell us how great and different the product is, the less special it feels. WWE has exhibited some real genius in creating an in-house competitor for the main roster product, and keeping dollars that would have went to a company like Ring of Honor tonight in Stamford's vault. It's been a feat of guerrilla marketing - and grassroots promotion does not include corporate suits telling you how rebellious they are.
In telling their smark/internet/adult fan base how great it is they've created a fresh, vibrant product in NXT, they're calling attention to the fact that they don't do that as often with Raw or SmackDown, even though those shows have the same or more resources.
Opening the show with Triple H is an unnecessary ego stroke that threatens to undermine a good thing. We LOL when Jeff Jarrett does it; Haitch shouldn't get a pass.
But I'm going to give him one (for now), because he gave us this show.
TakeOver: Brooklyn could have been a one-match show and it still would have attained legend status.
That's because with two-plus years of story behind them, two women shook off the high expectations that matches like Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch at May's Unstoppable had set for them, Stephanie McMahon's corporate spin about their being in the main event even though they weren't going on last and reports that at least one of them wouldn't be compensated like a PPV performer normally would, and tore the freaking house down anyway.
By any means of analyzing a match, Bayley's victory over Banks to claim her first NXT Women's championship was superb.
Everything they did contributed to the story they were telling. From the challenger's tribute to Dusty Rhodes on her ring gear and The Boss' SUV entrance, to Sasha's trash talk mid-match and The Hugster still taking the time to do her wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man dance before a corner spot late in the match...you could show this performance to anyone and they would understand who was the populist underdog seeking to prove herself and who was the egotistical princess that wanted to not only win, but prove her opponent didn't belong.
If you wanted big spots...they were teased, thwarted and delivered. Banks amazing dive over the referee onto Bayley on the floor and top rope double knees. Her opponent's nicely executed sliding corner kick and (after a scary looking slip-up) super Bayley-canrana. Psychology was present throughout, with Sasha attacking both the injured hand and knee of the challenger, while Bayley did skip some of her feel good spots when pushed or mocked by the champ.
There's already been some debate about whether this or the Unstoppable title match was superior. For me, it's this one. Hard as they tried, they couldn't build Lynch into a babyface...and certainly not one at the level of Bayley, who believably channels Ricky Steamboat, Mick Foley, Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn into her character. The Boss is the perfect foil for her, too. Even though more time has been devoted to the Hugster's on again/off again rivalry with Charlotte, Banks and Bayley came into WWE at the same time, have grown in different but equally significant ways and have tremendous chemistry with one another.
Throw in the meta-level story of the four women who've opened up a lot of WWE fans' eyes to what women wrestling can be, demonstrated by the moving, kayfabe-busting curtain call, and this was the perfect capstone to an incredible night.
But, of course, McMahon's spiel about "double main events" notwithstanding, it wasn't. And that hurt the show overall, and put Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens in a tough spot as the last match of the night. There's been plenty said about that, and there will be plenty more. But in this space, I'll stick to praising the work done by Sasha and Bayley.
When I go back to their match, which I plan to do often, both for my own enjoyment and to show fans and non-fans what the art form of pro wrestling is capable of, it won't matter where it was on the bill. Free from politics and marketing, this match and its aftermath will be a beautiful, distinct gem. And everyone involved in building to it, planning it and performing it should be proud.
Seems a little harsh to lump five other matches, all of which I enjoyed a great deal, into a bulleted list, but even hours after it ended, that's already how I remember it. There was Bayley vs. Sasha, and then there was...
- He's well past his prime, but nobody works a live crowd like Jushin "Thunder" Liger. The match order may have gotten weird at the end, but this was the right opener. Once we got over the wonder of seeing him in a WWE ring, he and Tyler Breeze delivered a fun match with lots of entertaining antics and maneuvers from both. Liger's win says a lot about Prince Pretty's future, I fear. New Japan wasn't going to let their guy lose to a non-main eventer, and WWE putting Breeze here means they don't view him as one, even in NXT.
- A masked cruiserweight wasn't the only thing we had to get used to, as it was weird to see NXT in this big a venue. Whoever decided to not light the crowd made a good call, as it lessened the contrast with Full Sail Live while also giving the show a different look from a main roster one. Have to wonder if they didn't bring some of the college student production staff up to New York though, as the camera work - particularly on Apollo Crews match and Bálor's entrance - left a lot to be desired.
- Brooklyn treated us to the best tag title match in NXT history. Admittedly, that's kind of faint praise, but from the time Colin Cassady's voice started singing The Price is Right theme for Blue Pants, everything about The Vaudevillains win over Blake & Murphy felt right. They were given a lot of time, continued Aiden English & Simon Gotch's development as babyfaces and took advantage of there being suspense about the outcome with nearfalls in what felt like an (excuse the pun) old fashioned team match. With William Regal's announcement of tag team tournament named in honor of Dusty Rhodes coming up, the pairs division is poised to take the lead on Wednesday nights. Hopefully BAMF remains a big part of the scene, because they've become good hands, and the world needs more heel Alexa Bliss.
- Biggest surprise of the night may have been how much offense Tye Dillinger got in against the debuting Crews. Given their positioning of Breeze, it's hard to imaging they have very big plans for his enjoyable "Perfect 10" gimmick, but at least he was here, unlike Bull Dempsey or Solomon Crowe. Crews looked good, and we'll see if reigning in his array of acrobatics was a one-time deal or the new status quo for the former Uhaa Nation. He needs some character development, too, lest they fall into the trap of simply trying to get him over as muscular flippy guy.
- Both Samoa Joe and Baron Corbin delivered their best NXT performances tonight. The Lone Wolf looked nervous at first, and still may have an uphill battle to prove himself more than a glare and a finisher. For his part, Joe's work dragged a bit in spots - but again, they had plenty of time and came up with a MMA-influenced finish that stood out from the rest of the night's action. Corbin protesting the referee's stoppage pretty much guarantees their feud will continue. Based on what they showed in the last two weeks building to this and in Brooklyn, that's fine by me.
- Not sure where the winner of tonight's ladder match, and still NXT champion, Finn Bálor goes next, however. His victory over Owens tonight was solid work by both men, but struggled to overcome the lack of heat between the two (a problem that's nagged all three in their series, of which this was probably my favorite), the challenge of putting together a compelling ladder match in 2015 and having to follow the stellar women's title bout. KO stood out as the star, with the Irishman still relying on his entrance and some crisp kicks and lariats in lieu of a character. If this was Kev's farewell to NXT for who-knows-what on in WWE proper, they have to flesh out Finn beyond what we've seen to date, or his somewhat flat in- and out-of-ring affect could really hamper the men's singles' scene.
As I said at the open, this was a thoroughly entertaining evening of pro wrestling. It's high point will be remembered as a watershed moment because of the quality of work delivered by Bayley and Sasha Banks, even if it wasn't given the spotlight it deserved by the powers-that-be.
There are other nits to pick and legitimate concerns about the future of the brand with only a couple of months until the next live event and their first overseas tour on the horizon. But for one night in Brooklyn, Triple H's baby wowed us again.
Your turn, Cagesiders.
All photos via WWE.com.