All week long, fans were chattering about how little buzz there was for NXT these days. From Tweets saying “I forgot there was a TakeOver this weekend” to comments about not having watched the hour-long weekly episodes in months, it seemed clear there was something to those reports of low viewership for a product which had fueled the early days of WWE Network.
It’s not like there are a ton of complaints from folks who do watch every Wednesday night (or whenever they can fit NXT into their schedule). There are a lot of theories on why the enthusiasm many once felt for the brand has diminished - and there’s some truth to almost all of them.
But even those who’ve drifted away seemed to expect a TakeOver will be worth their time. There’s a high bar for these live specials, which stretch back to the birth of the Network... which brings us to Saturday, Nov. 19 in Air Canada Centre.
For a thorough breakdown of all the action, head over to the live blog. Now let’s dig into what happened, if it was worth your time and whether or not it will change anyone’s weekly viewing habits.
Samoa Joe defeated Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall following a muscle buster to become the first two-time NXT champion
Welp. Didn’t see that coming.
What we all saw coming was a contest where two guys who employ a mixed martial arts-style would beat the crap out of each other. The build reinforced the idea they were mostly interested in inflicting pain, and the match started with Joe and Nakamura trading kicks before chasing each other around the floor looking for the upper hand.
The challenger would get that upperhand when he hit a shinbreaker and began to work the champ’s leg. Samoa Joe is not as quick as he once was in Ring of Honor or TNA, but he still knows how to do vicious, and the middle portion of the match allowed him to show that off.
While I’m not usually one to get hung up on not selling a limb consistently, this is the second time in this program Shinsuke’s managed to comeback with his usual arsenal of knees and kicks despite having his leg targeted early. It bugged me again here, but they helped me get past it via the increasing levels of violence they were willing to employ in their efforts to end the match. By the time Nakamura slipped out of a muscle buster to hit a Kinshasa, I wasn’t worried about leg work any more.
As the match wore on to the twenty minute mark, well beyond the two hour mark for a show which hadn’t been advertised as having an overrun, you kind of got the feeling we weren’t in for the usual NXT “guy loses rematch on his way to the main roster” finish. With a nice mixture of new flourishes - like Joe’s Chimera Plex - and callbacks to the story thus far - a Kinshasa to the back of the challenger’s head which seemed to knock him out - for the first time since the match was announced, a Nakamura win wasn’t a sure thing.
On the floor after that Kinshasa, Joe hit a low blow after pushing the referee out of the way to save him from a charging Shinsuke. A slam onto the ring steps just like the one which wrote the King of Strong Style out for a month was prelude to a muscle buster, and we have our first ever two-time champ.
Having been a big fan of this feud - despite some plot points which have been glossed over, like General Manager William Regal not having a plan or inclination to stop Joe’s reign of terror since losing the title in Brooklyn - you’d think I’d be excited to see it continue. And it certainly will, but whether that’s just to hot-shot the belt back to Swagsuke in Australia or Japan, or to TakeOver: San Antonio, is still an open question.
That’s not the only question, either. An appeal of NXT is in speculating about the future Raw or SmackDown careers of the men and women who make up the roster. And Joe’s win messes with what we all thought we knew... which was that after more than a year in the title picture, Joey Headrocker was heading to the main roster.
With that uncertainty, NXT also made it a little harder to guess their future plans, as well. We’re now in an era where losing a belt doesn’t equal a call-up. There’s only one undefeated champion on the show. And we don’t know who from the current main event scene will be showing up at the Royal Rumble, or sooner.
It wasn’t a perfect match, but it continued the tale of this rivalry with a surprising but not out of nowhere result. It also created intrigue about Joe and Nakamura’s futures, both in kayfabe and in the ‘real’ world of WWE.
Asuka defeated Mickie James via submission following an Asuka Lock to retain her NXT Women’s championship
There is, however, still one undefeated, dominant champion on NXT. While Mickie James looked great and is someone I’d love to see WWE sign - for more work on this brand or one of their more high-profile ones - I’m not sure anything they did convinced me Asuka will be losing any time soon.
After a sequence on the floor conveyed the idea Mickie would be just another victim on the champ’s official record, James fought back. She showed great fire and got the crowd invested in her submission attempts. We got flashes of the woman who won six titles in six years back in the Aughts.
But in story, it only served to piss the champ off, and that lead to another set piece where Asuka kicks and/or strikes her opponent while they screamed for more... something we’ve seen in matches against Nia Jax and Bayley. Objectively, Asuka just looked a lot faster than Mickie. Together, it added to the mountain of evidence NXT’s given us which says the Empress of Tomorrow can’t be beat.
Pro wrestling 101 tells us someone will beat her, and it will be a major accomplishment for that person. But no one we’ve seen a lot of on NXT has looked up to the task. And the powers-that-be seem to know it, too, because the ending moments between Asuka and Mickie hinted their issues might not be over.
This was a good match and I don’t necessarily have a problem seeing it again. And they can use what happened tonight to build a bigger, better story for a rematch (it would be hard to build less of a story than they did for this one). But based on pretty much Asuka’s entire NXT run, I’m not convinced we’re ever going to get a different story for one of her matches... leaving me with the opposite feeling for this title scene than I have for the men’s singles championship picture.
#DIY defeated The Revival via submission with Gargano Escape to win the deciding fall in their two-out-of-three falls match and become new NXT Tag Team champions
And then there’s this ****ing match. Holy $#!+.
Three hours after it ended, I’m sitting here making incredulous faces while I think about it. Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder gave me exactly what I wanted but didn’t dare expect I’d get. Their bout in Brooklyn stole the show and was my favorite tag match in recent memory. This one might have been my favorite match - period - of the year.
It’s a cop out, but, I mean it - you need to just go watch the thing. I want to go back and watch their August tilt and this one back-to-back... that’s how cohesive the storytelling is between the two matches, and their entire feud, really... but I’m not sure my heart can handle it.
Among the many things I loved about this match was how it handled the stipulation. I can’t recall watching one where I was quite as convinced it could end 2 - 0, and I came into this confident Gargano & Ciampa were leaving the victors. But after a Shatter Machine put Dash & Dawson up one fall to zero, the champs were running their game to such perfection, they had me thinking it would be the most Revival thing ever to isolate their opponent and cut corners all the way to a shockingly easy victory.
The other thing the second fall did was drive home how great Johnny Wrestling is at playing face-in-peril. He shows every bit of damage without getting cartoony, which make his always creative counters (like dodging Dawson so he could turn another Shatter Machine set up into a DDT on Wilder) as realistic as they are impressive.
Stuff like each team going for the others finishers, and location-specific ones like the Top Guys’ Hart Attack, were great, but the callbacks went well beyond just movez. When it looked like Gargano might have to tap again after one of the nastiest looking chop blocks I’ve ever seen from Dash, my stomach flipped over. During the third fall, which seemed to go on forever in the best possible way, I feared Ciampa’s absence might be a sign of the heel turn I both desperately and never want... something I’ve been dreading/craving since the Cruiserweight Classic - which is also where Johnny’s leg issues started... cross-show continuity!
Even as a Revival super-fan, they can make me curse their name. And by cracking Gargano’s shin with the belt, or playing possum to attempt a roll-up, they made me hate them all over again. But I still felt for them in defeat, and the image of Dawson trying to coach his partner into not tapping before they both submitted in unison is an all-time great tag team moment, regardless of alignment.
So, yeah, go watch this match. It was the best argument for watching this show, from four performers who’ve been the best argument for keeping up with NXT for the past several months.
Bobby Roode defeated Tye Dillinger via pinfall following an implant DDT
Authors of Pain defeated TM-61 via pinfall following the Last Chapter to win the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament
The battle of Glorious 10 was a hot opener. In fact, the biggest knock on it may be that it was too hot. It took a great Canadian crowd until part way into the tag title match before they recovered from cheering their hearts out for these two native sons.
Another knock is that while Roode is a sound in-ring technician, he’s not gonna blow you away with his wrestling. Tye can, but wasn’t really called on to do so here. So we got a fun match made better by an appreciative audience... but basically a house show affair with fancier entrances.
Then there’s the matter of NXT’s reluctance to put hot mid-card acts like Dillinger, or No Way Jose, or Tyler Breeze, over on live specials. It may very well be a factor in some folks declining interest in the brand. In the glory days of 2014 - 15, there was a bigger pool of similarly talented people and we weren’t sure who was headed to the top. It was only over time we discovered Prince Pretty’s spot on the card. But now a TNA or ROH veteran against a less established Performance Center-type is a foregone conclusion... and it’s not as much fun to root for an already made guy as it is to think you’re hitching your wagon to a possible next big thing.
Regarding the Dusty finals... I’m glad it was won by and decided between two actual tag teams instead of being used to start a feud between two singles stars. Other than that, I don’t have much else to say. It was easily the weakest match on the show. I’ve enjoyed matches from both AoP and TM-61, but the winners need a lot of practice working in things longer than your average squash, and I really don’t know what can be done to get the Australians over at this point.
With the amount of roster turnover NXT has experienced this year, and promotions from ROH to New Japan paying more to keep their stars from heading to WWE Developmental, misfiring on launches like Shane Thorne & Nick Miller or Andrade “Cien” Almas is a big problem.
And if we’re headed toward the #DIY vs. Akam & Rezar feud it looks like we’re getting, Ciampa & Gargano have their work cut out for them.
TakeOver: Toronto is an easy recommend to pretty much any wrestling fan. The action ranged from good to great, angles were explained with the always excellent WWE production packages and then concluded or continued in a logical fashion... all the stuff we’ve grown to expect from and admire about NXT.
But the things which have caused some fans to drift or concerned those still watching are still there, and as we head into another year of similar conditions for Triple H’s pet promotion, you start to wonder if more and more fans won’t only tune in for the live specials.
Grade: A- (A+ for the tag title match; B for the rest)