NXT was in an interesting situation heading into TakeOver: Brooklyn 4 on Sat., Aug. 18. Not only did they have to live up to the “Brooklyn” subtitle, an event they sometimes call their WrestleMania, but they were attempting it with several matches we’ve seen before.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, I’ll say that perhaps one of the most impressive things about the brand’s latest live special was that while a few of these bouts didn’t live up to their previous versions, they still came together to form both a really good next chapter of each story and a great overall show.
Before we dive into each of the matches, remember if you’re looking for comprehensive play-by-play, Rev. Claire is your gal with the best live blog in the biz-i-ness.
You could also just go watch the dang thing (again or for the first time) over at WWE Network.
Tommaso Ciampa def. Johnny Gargano in their Last Man Standing match, retaining the NXT Championship
Nowhere was the burden of expectations, the pressure to top prior outings and the need for adaptation greater than in this latest chapter of the #DIY saga. Ciampa and Gargano were not only main eventing their third straight TakeOver, they were attempting to follow two critically acclaimed bouts fought under a very similar stipulation. They also thought Aleister Black would be involved until a couple weeks ago when he got injured at a house show.
Was this my favorite in the run which started at TakeOver: New Orleans? No. In fact, I’d probably have it at the bottom of the list. But they managed to pull off their usual trick of calling back to key moments in previous matches or throughout their NXT careers without feeling like they were just treading water.
Last Man Standing matches especially can be tough. Though the stipulation may have hamstrung them a bit when trying to create tension about the finish, on a night of nearfalls and last second kickouts, it was refreshing to end the show with action that didn’t rely on them. They brought the brutality their rivalry is now known for (shout out to the poor production guy who Johnny leveled before the Blackheart threw some rolling chairs on his head), to the point where I wonder if whenever we eventually get Ciampa/Gargano IV they shouldn’t be forced to work a straightforward, one fall to a finish affair.
Was the storytelling flawless? Probably not. There’s an acting ability required for the depth they’re aiming for which - while I love him - I’m not sure Johnny is up to portraying at this point in his WWE development. Personally, I spotted some beats I had issues with, but there was either another explanation which came to mind or it wasn’t enough to derail my overall enjoyment of the match.
The principal complaint I’ve seen is that by having Gargano fall victim to his own anger for the second straight time (more if you count how it led to Tommaso winning the belt over Black), the babyface looks dumb. I can see it, and if takes you out of the story, that sucks. If it makes it harder to root for Johnny, well, that’s kind of the point. Gargano’s been warned by his wife and his boss about the dangers of stooping to his former partner’s level. He even articulated it himself in the hype video for the match, saying he lost in Chicago because he let rage and hatred overwhelm him. If it seems dumb he fell for it again... it was.
But emotion trumps reason, and they tried to sell that in the moment where Johnny weighs whether to accept Ciampa’s apology and take the win, or blast him again to ensure his enemy stayed down. Gargano opted for the latter, the move he used not only messed up his knee but helped knock Tommaso onto his feet so he could keep the title, and Johnny’s in for some time to reflect on how far he’s fallen morally while he’s offscreen getting better from his (I believe as of this writing) kayfabe injury.
Where do we go from here? That’s what’s really interesting. Aleister’s return date isn’t known, nor is the identity of his kayfabe attacker. The way this went, I’m pulling more than ever for Gargano to be the culprit to further demonstrate how he’s sold his soul before he starts a redemptive arc. But I don’t want to fantasy book. As I’ve said before, the people responsible for this story have earned my trust - even if this wasn’t my favorite chapter. I don’t want to speculate, either, but it’s hard not to wonder what the direction would have been in the planned Triple Threat with Black.
Regardless, this rose above its challenges and limitations to deliver a compelling match. Bravo, again. I think I’ll pop any time either of these guys grab a crutch or a knee brace for the rest of my days.
Ricochet def. Adam Cole via pinfall following a 630 senton to become the NEW North American Champ
Somehow, I’d convinced myself this wouldn’t be great. Don’t ask me how. I watch a lot of wrestling, much of it forgettable, and that trips me up sometimes.
Scratch that - I know what my issue was, and it dogged me until just shy of the halfway point of this match. I’m not terribly invested in the NXT version of Ricochet, the character. He’s cocky because he can do things other people can’t in the ring. But as we saw in his interview on the pre-show, he’s got a ways to go on the stick, and creative wisely seems to be keeping the focus on what he can do in the ring. Even in his must-see feud with Velveteen Dream, his big moments were physical, not verbal.
None of that matters, of course, once he’s selling neckbreakers and hitting corkscrewing dives. By the time we get to where Ricochet is taking lungblowers and superkicks as counters to his aerial attacks? Character? What’s a character?
For one thing, Cole is. His presence carried the opening third of the match, and it should be fascinating to see how he plays being the only member of his squad without a prize (yes, Bobby Fish’s mini-Dusty Classic trophy counts). I’d love to see him move up and chase the NXT Title, but I’m not sure how heel vs. heel with the Sicilian Psychopath would work. And Undisputed ERA was cleared of all wrong doing in the assault on Black by General Manager William Regal on the pre-show...
But I’m getting ahead of myself. These guys brought it, with a crisply executed, extremely inventive match. It wasn’t just spots, either, as the counters in the middle set the stage for Cole evading Ric’s finisher - until he found another amazing way to set it up by hitting the frankensteiner on the floor.
The new champ said he was going to make the NA Title the brand’s working belt. That plays to Ricochet’s strengths. We have a lot of great matches to look forward to.
Kairi Sane def. Shayna Baszler via pinfall to become the NEW NXT Women’s Champion
Don’t read too much into the order of these. While Brooklyn 4 didn’t have an almost perfect affair like Chicago 1’s United Kingdom Championship match or the NXT Title bout at Philadelphia, it had a quartet of really, really good ones. I’m pretty sure I’ve changed my vote on “Match of the Night” about six times already.
This one was really good, and another example of how well put together the card as whole was. The Women’s Title bout was a nice transition from the action of Cole/Ricochet to the epic storytelling of the final match. There was a lot of substance and action in Kairi’s fight to survive against her rival, which once again proved Sane is Baszler’s kryptonite.
In getting ready for this show, I’ve written a lot about how impressed I’ve been with the Pirate Princess over the last several weeks. I’m gonna write about it some more, because I wasn’t sure I “got” her earlier this year and now she’s one of my favorite performers. This angle, which either culminated or reached a turning point on Saturday night, let her display the mix of vulnerability and aggression I usually associate with only a handful of performers, such as Daniel Bryan.
This wasn’t all Kairi, though, not by a long shot. While I’m not as high on Baszler as some, her own growth over the past year has been really impressive, too. It was fully on display here, as she stayed true to her punishing, MMA-based style but kept our attention over a longer match and busted out a few splashier moves.
A lot will be read into what the change means for Shayna’s future - especially with her friends and potential stablemates at ringside. We’ll have to see how Sane works as a champ (Bianca Belair is already angling for a shot on Twitter, so, that should be something we see soon). For now, these ladies delivered a fun, different match which stands out as one of my favorite women’s matches in recent TakeOver history.
Undisputed ERA (Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly) def. Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven and Tyler Bate) via pinfall to retain their NXT Tag Team Titles after Total Elimination; War Raiders attack the champs in the aftermath
Like the main, this may well have been my least favorite of the participants’ recent showdowns. But that’s like asking me to pick my favorite chocolate ice cream. Sometimes I want plain, other times maybe one with nuts or cookie pieces or something. I love them all.
My main knock is that they went to the false finish well a bit too often (come to think of it, I’m not sure how I feel about Shayna kicking out of the InSane elbow, either, but I digress...). By the time the ERA boys survived both Bate and Seven’s individual finishers AND their tandem one, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit. I also knew who was winning.
But then, I knew (or strongly, strongly suspected, along with the rest of the world) Roddy and O’Reilly were leaving with the belts. NXT UK is coming soon - whatever that means.
In the meantime, this was a classic series on a brand known for great tag matches and rivalries. The inversion of the formula from their last match - with the heels targeted Tyler’s leg, leading to Seven considering but opting not to throw in the towel, was a great touch. That’s a story nugget which can be used in the future, too. Strong and KOR are doing amazing work this year, and an argument could be made for their being the best tag team in WWE right now.
We can probably use some time off from this feud, though, and the post-match assault by Hanson and Rowe says we’ll get some. But anytime these two teams want to mix it up, count me in.
Velveteen Dream def. EC3
This was fun. It was also the clear “worst” match of the night. Not because it was bad, but because there’s really not an argument to be made it was really good-to-great... something you can claim about each of the other four.
Character was the name of the game here, and from entrances to ring gear, that was clear from the start. How each character processes the outcome going forward will probably be as interesting as the match. How inflated will Dream’s ego be now that he has two TakeOver wins under his belt? Can EC3 keep talking about “victory after victory after victory”, let alone transforming NXT into NX3, when he’s 0 - 2 on the brand’s biggest stage?
We’ll see. For now, we were reminded about EC3’s limitations as a wrestler and shown that, for all the excitement he generates in the fanbase, Velveteen can’t carry a decent worker to a great match just yet.
He’s got plenty of time to learn, even if Vince does call him up.
All evening long, one competitor or another looked like they were going to push things too far and it would cost them. But NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4 saved that gambit for its biggest match, and Johnny Gargano and the fans are left with more of one of wrestling’s best villains, Tommaso Ciampa, as champion as a result.
It wasn’t a perfect show, but that kind of card-wide synergy delivering great action and creating intriuge for the future is why it was one of the better ones you’ll see - warts and all.