This is tricky.
Looking at TakeOver: Dallas as a fan, from an entertainment perspective, you'll be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable show. The 140 or so minutes I spent watching the WWE Network broadcast were honestly some of the more enjoyable moments I've experienced in the thirty-odd years I've been a pro wrestling viewer.
NXT's latest was worth several months worth of $9.99s. Even at the shorter length, I'd have gladly payed the old pay-per-view (PPV) rate for it and never batted an eye. There was great wrestling, and once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, and logical storytelling, and emotional swings.
That last one is part of what makes any kind of objective review of the show difficult. Because I was so effectively taken in as - well, let's just fess up from the jump - a mark, there were several performers I was rooting for who came up short. One of them actually hurt in the same way losses by teams I support in unscripted competitions do.
Having my favorites meet defeat isn't a valid reason for criticizing an event, though. But what if, even in the short amount of time I've had to reflect, I also think there are flaws in the idea behind or execution of matches which upset me? Am I still being a mark when I point out something that didn't work for me in an outcome that didn't go the way I hoped?
Here's what I've decided. All of those things are the wrestling fan/blogger equivalent of first world problems. TakeOver: Dallas showed up on our screens last night and freaking killed it.
Let's go ahead and celebrate it by doing what we do best - quibbling over details.
Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Sami Zayn via pinfall following Kinshasa
After waves of excitement following reports of his signing, and then the announcement of this match, there seemed to be a lull in the hype for Nakamura's arrival in WWE. You could sense a swing back to mania throughout the week, as the realization sunk in it was really happening.
Tidbits like what he'd go by in his new company, if he'd keep his finisher - tidbits which were mostly wrong, at least so far, since he kept two names and redubbed his knee strike - dominated conversation. While we were wondering about his theme song, we forgot about his opponent.
Sami Zayn is every bit the wrestler Swagsuke is. The novelty of Nakamura's arrival, and the somewhat disappointing first few weeks of Sami's main roster run, made us forget how important this would be for him, too.
After they wisely let Shinsuke charge the crowd a little more with his usual antics, Zayn reminded us all we had two heroes in this tale. The match went from great to epic because of it. From the moment Sami returned a "bring it" taunt, this was a meeting of equals. Anyone who's followed Nakamura in New Japan knows that when you combine a bright spotlight with an opponent worthy of respect, you're about to get a show.
Recaps really don't do it justice, and I fear replay viewing, while awesome and worthwhile and something I plan to do repeatedly, won't recapture the feeling of watching it live (I can only dream of what being in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center must have been like).
The sequence which sets up the finish, where they trade forearms until Nak is busted open and Sami is out on his feet, is the story in a nutshell. They both want so badly to make sure everyone watching around the world knows how important this is.
We got it, and we thank you for it.
American Alpha defeat The Revival via pinfall following Grand Amplitude to become the NXT Tag Team Champions
Kicking off the show in perfect fashion - hat tip to Triple H for foregoing his usual "We are NXT" open - the two best tag teams in WWE entered in some dashing entrance gear, and delivered a match that probably wasn't as crisp as most thought it would be, but made up for it with charisma and heart.
As much as I love the Orlando Wrecking Crew duo of Dash & Dawson (and desperately hope a better fate awaits them than past former tag champs) the story here was the inevitable and deserved rise of Chad Gable & Jason Jordan. It was clear from the outset how ready they and the audience were for their moment, and as they dominated the early going, anticipation rose.
That set-up was even more brilliant because it allowed the Revival to display their two best traits - arrogance and underhandedness. Both villains exude smarmy charm in totally different ways. Dawson is brash, Wilder is cool. Even an unfortunate misstep on a tandem move from the top demonstrated the character of the heels as they glared and smirked at the crowd chanting "Botchamania" at them.
It wasn't the first near fall which could have been smoothier, as the four men threw those at us quickly, even after the normal cues the bout would be ending soon (like JJ's straps coming down). The sheer volume of roll-ups and counters made you think surely one of those would provide the finish, but it was even better when the heels had a trick out of their own playbook thrown back at them with a blind tag lead to the new champs' assisted bridging suplex.
Watching American Alpha tear up as they raised their new belts, and the Revival plotting as they stalked their way out of the arena, you could sense this was chapter one of a longer tale. And I for one can't wait.
Asuka defeats Bayley via submission (knock out) due to Asuka Lock to become the new Women's champion
Finn Bálor defeats Samoa Joe via pinfall by countering a Coquina Clutch to retain the NXT championship
Lumping these two together for a few reasons.
One, all four participants deserve a ton of credit for not losing the live and home audiences following a Match of the Year candidate and Moment of a Fan Lifetime contender in Zayn/Nakamura. We've seen talented performers not be able to do that coming after an iconic bout (such as Bálor and Kevin Owens in Brooklyn).
Two, they were at least somewhat shocking outcomes, coming in controversial ways. I've seen criticisms that both were abrupt, and while I don't necessarily agree, I get the argument. In both cases, it's likely because the finish didn't quite line up with the story being told before.
There are a million memes out there related to how Asuka was going to murder Bayley, but that wasn't what we saw. The Hugster took damage, but she gave as good as she got and really became the first woman to seem capable of taking down the Empress of Tomorrow. Given the booking of the now-former champ, I wasn't expecting a loss to take any form other than pinfall. The pass out rather than tap out protects her, but was still shocking for a character who's received the John Cena/Hulk Hogan treatment - even in this match.
In the men's championship, my weariness with the champ's rasta-alien-serial killer entrances aside, the man can flat out go in the ring and we finally, unequivocally got some development on the "Demon" front. Past examples of his acting slightly more aggressive or somewhat heelish were subjective, but when he kicked out of the Muscle Buster and roared in Joe's face, there was no doubting it - we'd seen the Devil inside of him (great job by Joe to act... not afraid exactly, but shaken by it). But the sneaky reversal of a submission didn't jive with the supernatural strength he'd just demonstrated moments before.
Perhaps it was an audible, because the head butt-created cut over Joe's right eye was very much a part of the main event. I still can't decide if it added to or detracted from the match... likely both, as it kept the crowd invested by adding some shoot drama at the same time it broke up the flow of the action.
It did irk me - and the confession I made about watching this show as a mark applies to these two bouts more than the others - that Finn kept his unbeatable, able-to-overcome-an-unstoppable-force mystique while Bayley lost hers, at least a little.
I also think they've booked themselves into a couple of different corners. Bálor doesn't lose when painted up, and Asuka doesn't lose - period. The second one is the bigger problem, because unless Bayles is sticking around NXT and this program continues, there is no one on the roster who should believably be able to touch the new Women's champ. There'd have been no shame in the joshi star taking a loss here, and since she didn't, I can't see her taking one for six months or so until a new crop of women are built.
Don't mind me, though. Both matches delivered in different ways. And I'm just mad.
No offense to Austin Aries and Baron Corbin, who told a decent story which would have worked fine on a regular episode of NXT, but I was more excited about the Kota Ibushi and Bobby Roode sightings than I was about Aries win over the Lone Wolf.
This one will be talked about for a long, long time. Get started, Cagesiders.