That was cool.
Don’t worry, I’m not gonna peace out on you with three words and a grade, but I do need a moment to regroup following a breathtaking ride like NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II. The latest live special from Triple H’s Developmental flagship-turned-standalone brand may not have been perfect, but it pulled off an amazing trick by having a main event caliber match in the middle of the show and proceeding to maintain that level of intensity for another hour and two more matches.
It was also a great example of what makes NXT NXT... in this place, at this time.
No other show/brand has the advantages this one does. To bring in top flight talent from around the globe, showcase them in hourly episodes, building stories over months and even years.
They stumble at times, and have gone through a few rough patches for sure. There’s a flip side to those advantages, and change - sometimes unexpected - is a constant when it comes to their roster.
The Saturday, Aug. 20 show from New York’s Barclays Center appeared to be the swan song for a couple of major figures in NXT history. Bayley is the obvious one, and that’s a blow. But as when Sami Zayn got the call, and Sasha Banks, and Finn Bálor... there’s an opportunity for someone else to step into their role. We likely met the woman who will get a crack at becoming the top fan favorite in the women’s division - and she has red eyes and an amazing finisher.
More detrimental to the brand is the impending loss of Corey Graves as the voice who takes us through the stories Triple H’s Creative team writes and the talent performs. Haitch basically admitted Graves would be moving to Raw full-time on his conference call earlier this week and, if that’s true, it’s potentially a major setback. His ability to both explain every strategy and deepen every emotion with intelligence and humor have already made him the best announcer on the main roster. Someone will do the job, but it may never be the same. Corey’s gift was on display throughout the two-and-a-half hours NXT gave us tonight, and it wouldn’t have been as absorbing without him.
But as the excellent opening video package illustrated, who knows where any of us will be in a year. NXT has rolled with some punches and is still delivering what even its most critical fans would call a solid product.
I’d go farther in my praise, and Brooklyn II was a good example of why.
The Revival defeat Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano via submission with an inverted figure four to retain their NXT Tag Team Championship
I love American Alpha, and Ciampa & Gargano are the bomb. But at some point everyone is going to need to recognize that the common thread through the last year’s worth of amazing tag matches are my boys Dash & Dawson.
[Pause here to tell you if you’re interested in really good play-by-play recaps of the bouts from TakeOver, head over to the live blog. It’s not my usual Cliffs Notes version; ReverendKain really knows what he’s typing about]
The Revival, of course, operate from their base as an old-school heel team. Focus on a body part, divide the ring and wear down one man, cheat to win. But in adapting in order to craft epic series against Chad Gable & Jason Jordan - coming from an amateur background - and Gargano & Ciampa - as rooted in the current independent style as you’ll see in a WWE ring - they prove they’re one of the best tag teams working anywhere in the business today. It’s not just talk, these guys back it up every time they go out there.
This match was as close to tag team perfection as I’ve seen - and, yes, I probably did say that about their last few TakeOver matches, too, but this one was better. It’s amazing how they remix elements we’ve seen before, like the pulling of one opponent from the apron so they can continue the beatdown on his wounded partner, as they did to Johnny here while Tommaso played face-in-peril, or the leg attack they’d used on Big Cass, recycled here on Gargano (and factored into the finish) with new stuff like Dash “falling into the ring” - complete with perfect commentary from Graves, both of the trick and explaining how he knew it was a ruse after the fact - for a distraction.
Combining all those elements always seems to result in something which feels fresh, even though we think we know where it’s going.
#DIY, as I guess we’re supposed to call them, did more than just hang. Their comebacks were perfectly timed... the whole thing built and built so each layer was more thrilling than the previous one. The false finish where Ciampa & Gargano believed they’d won was gut-wrenching, as was the moment where Johnny Wrestling had to tap - and the tense moments which followed where every wrestling fan in the world was sure the Sicilian Psychopath was gonna live up to his nickname and go full Owens on his “brother”.
This feud could continue, or the cruiserweight duo could head to Raw, with or without a turn from Tommaso. But if it’s not this team, NXT needs to develop their next great face pair, because The Revival should succeed Finn and Bayley as the glue that holds NXT together. And they deserve to main event a TakeOver before they’re promoted, somewhere between now and next year’s pre-SummerSlam show.
Asuka defeats Bayley via pinfall following a series of kicks to retain the Women's championship
Ember Moon defeats Billie Kay via pinfall following a spinning stunner
So, it looks like our Huglord is leaving us. Bayley didn’t look sad, so I’m trying not to be, either.
There were different ways they could have gone with this story, and we’ll have time to discuss those moving forward, especially as we see what the ramifications of having a nigh indestructible tweener atop the division are. But as a capital-M mark for Bayles, I had no problem with how she went out. I was with her all the way as she screamed for Asuka to hit her in the face, and popped out of my seat when she “ponied-up” after a kick to the head which would have killed a lesser woman.
And, just after she did that, she was done. Such is the power of the Empress of Today.
This was an interesting way to end her match against Nia Jax, but it an even more fascinating choice here, after so much of the action looked like it was focused on the Asuka Lock. Bayley’s strategy was designed to avoid the submission finisher which left her unconscious in Dallas. She didn’t have an answer for avoiding those kicks, so she tried to power through them - and ended up in only a slightly better state than the one she was in when the match in Texas was finished.
While neither Bayley/Asuka match on its own was great, combined they are. It wasn’t about the Hugger overcoming the champ, it was about overcoming her fear. She did that, and left with her head held high. And following ringside moments with her fellow Horsewomen, her mother and even Izzy, there’s little doubt she is leaving the brand she’s helped build.
Whoever finally beats Asuka, who’s on as convincing an undefeated streak as you’ll ever see in pro wrestling, will be a made woman. Right now, it’s hard to imagine that being anyone other than Ember Moon.
The debut of the former Athena was... okay. Throughout the match itself, I actually thought Billie Kay was more impressive, which is good news for depth in the division. Moon conveyed the right mystique and her finisher, known on the indies as the O-Face and certainly getting a different name in the PG-ish WWE (not that you could tell with Jolly Rancher’s “keep on sucking” tag line being repeated throughout the night), is such a crowd-pleaser it’ll mask a lot of issues. We can probably chalk up a bumpy outing to nerves - there’s definitely too many positives to build off of to be anything less than bullish about the future.
Shinsuke Nakamura defeats Samoa Joe via pinfall following Kinshasa to become the new NXT champion
Provided Joe either won’t show up on the main roster this week or be walking around with his jaw wired shut, I’d love to see more of this match-up. For my money, I’m not sure there are two other guys who are such the complete package of convincing asskicker and charismatic entertainer.
There’s no way to really explain our new champion, but from the live violin introduction to fans signing his entrance theme while they exited the building, no one has a presence like Nakamura. That the possibility exists he will shoot break his opponent’s face makes King of Strong Style more than just a nickname. It’s that swagger which makes you forget things like not selling the knee he uses for his finish (a recurring theme throughout his career), or the non-marquee match-ups he sometimes sleepwalks through.
Joe is, well, if any of y’all have ever read anything I’ve written about my favorite rasslin program over the past year, you know how I feel about him. In Brooklyn, his barely controlled rage fueled the first half of the fight and made a bout worked at a considerably slower pace than the two which preceded it as intense as anything else on the card. His is a machismo which conveys being a little cooler and a little more sadistic than everyone else around. That performance also perfectly transitions into his exasperation tinged with fear when his best isn’t enough to end his rival, as it wasn’t on Saturday night.
This isn’t a match of the year contender, but I enjoyed it more than any of his TakeOver trilogy with Bálor. It raises some interesting possibilities about who might be moved to Raw or SmackDown, and will probably anger some who believe Nakamura never should have been in NXT in the first place.
But those aren’t issues for now, and this promotion has earned some goodwill, at least with this writer. And a way they’ve earned it is by pushing diversity on their roster. Triple H famously spearheaded the Women’s movement from NXT, and now he has two Japanese champions and potential future #1 contenders who are Black, Latino and Japanese - and that’s just the tip of the NXT iceberg who are on our screens.
As much as I’m going to miss the NXT of Bayley, Corey and likely Joe, the next evolution we’re just beginning to get a glimpse of is pretty damn exciting.
Bobby Roode defeats Andrade “Cien” Almas via pinfall following a Glorious Bomb
Austin Aries defeats No Way Jose via submission with Last Chancery; then is put down by Hideo Itami via a GTS
Your takeaways from these matches are fairly obvious:
- Roode is amazingly, miraculously, GLORIOUSly over
- Hideo Itami has now reclaimed his finishers from Daniel Bryan & CM Punk, and is coming for everyone
- The powers-that-be may view Jose’s ceiling as mid-card fun guy
- Almas’ character/gimmick needs tweaked, but he’s not a lost cause
It’s hard to remember much about Bobby’s performance after one of the more perfect entrances in recent memory. Has the right theme song ever helped a guy so much? His finisher is also well-named, but I wish he was doing something that looked a bit more impactful (no pun intended). Regardless, he’ll ride his connection to the crowd a long way - likely to a title run in the near future, especially now that the champ is a babyface who needs to get his ass to Raw pronto.
“Cien” got some initial boos from a New York crowd who was hot all night, but he also won them over a few times when he was frustrating Roode with a wink and a smile. If they can do something with him that doesn’t involve strutting out like a demonic male stripper, all the potential we heard about before he showed up at The End... is still there.
Aries benefitted greatly from a crowd that knew him, but it seems like his next job is getting Itami back to main event status. It’s a little disappointing that there was no build to his reclaiming his finisher from the guy who’s fighting in the Octagon next month, but it’s nice they’re fast forwarding his push to get him back to where he was when he went under the knife last year.
We also got this little ditty...
Since we’re talking about the future and all - speculate away. It’s what they want you to do.
Question, as always, is where does it rank?
Certainly, the string of great TakeOvers is intact, for all the reasons discussed off the top. Good action with clearly defined characters acting consistently, often in long-running stories, presented professionally and entertainingly. That’s the NXT we’ve always known, and have every reason to believe we’ll continue to get.
With the three title matches, Brooklyn II may have presented the strongest run to end a live special in NXT’s history. R Evolution will also have a special place in my heart, but it didn’t offer a furious, sustained streak like the second half of this one. I didn’t love any of the opening three, however.
In the end, I’m gonna give you an arbitrary grade and tell you it was in my upper tier of TakeOvers. You’re gonna agree or disagree, probably some in each direction. But we should all look at this as a snapshot of what NXT has been for the past year.
We have every reason to believe it will continue to be a good wrestling show. But it won’t be the same one again - which is part of why I love it.