With an uncharacteristically brief taping last week, NXT has put together these last couple shows to get us to an event we now know will be called TakeOver: The End...
We begin in the General Manager's office, as William Regal explains his original plan of Asuka/Bayley II for the Women's title at TakeOver has to be scrapped because the Hugster isn't cleared for action following her match with Nia Jax last week. To come up with a new #1 contender, tonight's main event will pit Jax against Carmella & Alexa Bliss in a Triple Threat.
Tag action is up next, with Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano facing TM-61. The debuting Australians get an inset promo during their entrance where the explain their team name from outside the WWE. Match-ups between Ciampa & Nick Miller, and Gargano & Shane Thorne, result in stalemates, but a couple double-team manuevers from The Mighty (atomic drop/running elbow and moonsault/drop fist) cause the Cruiserweight tourney participants to regroup as we hit a commercial break.
Things remain even when we return, though Johnny & Tommaso do control Thorne with submissions and rest holds for a time. Another tandem move (flipping Ciampa into a neckbreaker) from the newcomers results in a nearfall, but Gargano breaks that up. He takes Miller out of the picture with a superkick & dive to the outside, leaving Ciampa to level Shane with strikes and his running knee to set-up his knee/Superkick finisher with Johnny Wrestling. The two teams respectfully part ways after the match.
Slick video package for Samoa Joe's amazing year in NXT, culminating with his title win in Lowell. The champ addresses his upcoming steel cage match at TakeOver, saying Finn will be trapped inside where no one - not even the demon - can save him.
A Cathy Kelley interview with Bayley turns into a set-up for tonight's main event. The Hugster is bummed but agrees with Regal's decision, since she'll need to be at 100% to defeat Asuka. Jax appears to taunt Bayley, saying she broke her, which brings out Carmella to stick up for her best friend. Nia dismisses Carm and Alexa Bliss as non-threats, which brings out Bliss. The blondes get in each other's faces after the Samoan walks away.
- New intro video not only updates who's represented but removes names, presumably making it easier to edit when folks get called up for the brand split. It also ends with shots of all three champions and not just the men's singles titleholder.
- Still can't believe they're going to run TakeOver without Bayles. I mean, I guess it makes sense to let the other ladies have the spotlight - and make sure any heat belongs to Nia for "injuring" her instead of on Asuka for defeating her in Dallas - but it's gonna be weird without her.
- Apparently WWE was concerned about having "MDK" anywhere near their product, because there's no other reason to have Thorne & Miller use their old name as a catchphrase while they're named after a Pokemon move and wearing phone numbers on their butts (yes, I still hate the new name).
- Love what they can do in the ring, though. I've expressed my concerns about NXT turning into context-free indy showcases, but for one night, to debut a team they obviously have big plans for, this was a great idea. Just let four great wrestlers go show what they can do for ten minutes.
- Nice work by the announcers all around in this match. In addition to making The Mighty sound important, they put over the Cruiserweight Classic and set the ground work for a Ciampa/Gargano split that will likely happen as a result (I am soooo ready for unhinged Sicilian Psychopath against everybody's buddy Johnny Wrestling).
- It shouldn't surprise me as much as it does, but I'm still shocked at how well they've set up the NXT title match for TakeOver. What started out as "oh, this shit again" has turned out to be the most excited I've been for any of Joe & Finn's bouts. Credit to both guys, the right stipulation at the right time, some real world intrigue and (sorry Chad) sick productions like the ones we got tonight.
- Less successful but still noteworthy is the job they've done rebuilding Nia over the past month. I still wish we'd gotten a timely continuation of her story with Eva Marie (they can always come back to it, but it'll require some 'splaining), and I'm not sure a third resurrection will be possible on this brand once Asuka takes care of her at The End... Doesn't change the fact that they've made her feel like a threat without hiding that loss in London.
After a teaser for the debut of Andrade "Cien" Almas (La Sombra), Austin Aries hits the ring with a microphone in hand. He says that though he's made NXT better since his arrival, he's been overshadowed by someone who arrived at about the same time. Regardless of that, or who wins in Joe vs. Finn Bálor on June 8, he will be the next NXT champ.
Shinsuke Nakamura's music hits, and climbs through the ropes and begins speaking in Japanese. He apologizing, confirming Aries doesn't speak his native tongue, and both men agree they don't understand Swagsuke. Nakamura claims the NXT title will belong to the King of Strong Style. That bring out Regal, who - to the delight of the Full Sail crowd - books the two men against one another for TakeOver. They shake on it.
Tag champs American Alpha are asked about their rematch against The Revival on June 8. Chad Gable & Jason Jordan put over Dash & Dawson as their toughest competitors, but says there are no two men better than them between the ropes.
In between dancing, No Way Jose airplane spins his way to victory over Jonathan Ortagun (FIP's Johnny Vandal). Afterwards, he heads to the announce desk where a willing Tom Phillips and reluctant Corey Graves shake their hips with the Dominican sensation.
Bálor receives a matching video to the one for Joe earlier, focusing on what losing at the Massachusetts house show did to him, and how he'll end the Samoan Submission Machine in the cage.
- If you don't know Andrade under any of his names, start getting excited. He's gonna be a really big deal.
- Really enjoyed both guys stick work in the set-up for Aries/Nakamura, and love the simple, old school set-up of two guys with designs on the top belt who just kind of rub each other the wrong way. That's all you need to do to avoid "indy super-fight" booking.
- Look, if anyone asks you to define charisma, point to Shinsuke coming out acting like he had gas, which made him look like even more of a badass, then stealing the segment with a line ("me neither" in response to Aries "I don't understand you") you're not sure whether it was planned or just lost in translation.
- On this bout for TakeOver? I'm cautiously optimisitic. They're capable of stealing the show, and giving us something nearly as good as Zayn/Nakamura - though they'll never re-create that magic due to outside circumstances. But they're also both prone to phoning it in when they're not feeling it. As long as the heat between them is mostly kayfabe, we should get a classic.
- Maybe I hate fun, but I'm just not into Jose. More squashes and announce desk dance parties aren't going to change that, either.
- Equally great stuff from the Bálor piece. A big factor in the excitement for this edition of their program comes from a sense that something might finally be happening with Finn. Whether that includes a farewell to NXT or becoming the first two time champ, I don't know, but even if it's the latter, it feels like a development - and we haven't had one of those with him in... his WWE career.
The Women's champ tells Kelley she doesn't care who wins tonight, because she'll beat whoever the GM puts in front of her. We learn that next week will feature Finn & Joe in the same room being interviewed by Graves. Also, A-Double will face Elias Samson.
Alexa Bliss opens the Triple Threat by teasing an alliance with Carmella to deal with Nia Jax, but bails and leaves the Princess of Staten Island alone. Carm manages to avoid any real damage as we head to an early commercial.
A hurricanrana attempt to Jax goes a bit astray, but does send the larger women into the corner. She rolls out and disappears for a while, and Bliss tries to take advantage by rolling up Carmella with a handful of tights. Alexa does the slams they're having her do these days, and then hits a Glitz Flip. Nia breaks up the pin, but the elbow meant to the heel lands on Carm.
Bliss knees Jax and then connects with a Sparkle Splash, but Carmella disrupts her cover. The blondes do try some teamwork at this point, but can't get Nia up for a suplex and have the move reversed on them. They dodge a charge which sends Eva Marie's tag partner to the floor, and after a couple attempts, Carm lays her out with a dive. Enzo & Cass' friend celebrates too much though, and Bliss attacks, throwing her back in the ring.
After connecting with her Bronco Buster, Carmella tries to lock in her submission hold on Alexa, but Nia gets Bliss to safety. Jax tries to take out the fan favorite with a head butt, but Carm slips behind and cinches in the sleeper. Nia gets to the ropes to break the hold, so the Hottest Chick in the Ring (how u doin?) goes for her finishing sequence again - but gets caught. A Leg Drop ends it after nine minutes.
The champ comes out for the staredown, and licks her lips and decides to head to the ring. She gets in Jax's face and raises the belt. Nia tells Asuka the next time she gets that close, she'll drop her where she stands.
- Still haven't figured out how to translate Asuka's amazing non-verbal communication skills into the traditional interview segment yet. Staring at the belt on your shoulder for a ten seconds is more "trying to remember your line" than whatever it was they were going for.
- Solid stuff in the main, if a little too formulaic. Considering that each of the three women is a risk to look green as hell at any moment, this was a good match - even if it did go with make-one-wrestler-in-a-threeway-disappear early and often.
- There were points where I was impressed with each woman, which I didn't expect. None has put it all together yet, but they're all progressing. And to be able to say that in a setting where we can't give credit to an established ring general-type is huge.
- Alexa might have impressed the most, but she was also given the best character moments - and that's already her strength. I still do not like having her do the Vader Bomb and the choke slam/judo throw spots, especially when being in the ring with Nia makes her small size even more apparent (there was a spot where Jax was on her knees and still looked taller than Bliss).
- People buy into Carmella's comebacks and nearfalls, which is super-important for her character. Jax uses her size really well when selling and making things like kickouts look impressive.
- My only other major knock on the match was that the ending felt rushed, but that may just be a product of Nia's finisher not being the greatest - at least for a sudden, reversal-of-fortune type ending.
- Diminishing returns on the Asuka staredown for me, but it still works. And I like what I assume was an improvised line from Jax at the end. She got a little of that smack talk gene from cousin Dwayne.
In one sense, it's frustrating that we have to wait until two or three weeks before a live special for business to pick up. But, hey, at least two or three weeks before a live special, we know business is gonna pick up.
What do you got, Cagesiders?