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NXT TakeOver 36 recap & reactions: Meet the new era, same as the old era

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NXT TakeOver 36 might be our last hurrah with the black and gold brand as we know it. Thankfully, they made it a good sendoff.

Once, Twice, Three Times a Champion

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. You are looking live at the Capitol Wrestling Center in what might be the end of an era. And not just an undisputed one.

NXT Champion Karrion Kross said his match with Samoa Joe at NXT TakeOver 36 is about the future of NXT. During the match, Vic Joseph said the winner will lead NXT into a new era. And since this is WWE, he reiterated that point as the show closed on Sunday night (Aug. 22, 2021).

This company is a lot of things, but subtle isn’t one of them.

Anyway, Joe and Kross had a violent match! Big shock, right? It was methodical as they told the story of a man coming back after semi-retirement to vanquish his younger and fresher opponent. Did Samoa Joe truly still have it, or was his bark a lot worse than his bite?

And the resulting match was...fine. Joe and Kross don’t have much chemistry together, or maybe they just weren’t given enough time to let it kick in. But this match plodded along. A whole lot of submissions and rest holds, to get to the inevitable: Samoa Joe once again representing the black and gold brand show as its champion.

Something felt off about this entire match. I can’t put my finger on what, but it just didn’t click. Joe didn’t look like he lost a step and Kross is always game, but when it was over, all I mustered was a “meh.”

It wasn’t the best match of the night nor was it the most interesting. It was just there. And for a main event on Sunday night as the capper to three days of wrestling, “just there” just isn’t good enough.

But hey, on the bright side, Kross can now fully focus his sights on Jeff Hardy, while Joe hilariously tires to be NXT Champion and Commissioner Regal’s second-in-command. I smell wacky hi jinx!


Once a Sidekick, Always a Sidekick

There’s one gigantic moment from this match that sticks out. Early on, pretty much right after the bell went ding, Dakota Kai hit the Yakuza Kick and knocked Raquel González into next week. Well, not next week, but definitely out of the ring. The NXT Women’s Champion was out cold, meaning it wasn’t easy for the smaller Kai to hoist her back into the ring.

Dakota Kai had it. She had the championship right there in her grasp and it slipped away because of physics. Damn you, science.

From that point on, the former best friends put on a show. Raquel’s strength and power against Dakota’s experience and speed. Dakota used her quickness and wit to finesse Raquel into taking an L. Raquel injured her shoulder, but her power game was still on point, if only a little hobbled. The woman even swung Dakota’s head into the middle turnbuckle like she was swinging a bag of groceries.

Eventually, we got to a nice back and forth, with neither woman wanting to give an inch. Raquel, not here for a long time, doing her best to pummel Dakota. On the other hand, Dakota gave as good as she got, catching Raquel off guard in several moments and seemingly making “momentum” her middle name.

Which brings us right back to where we started. Dakota smelled blood in the water and went for the Yakuza Kick one more time. But unlike earlier, Raquel knew it was coming. Raquel caught Dakota’s boot, hoisted her into the air, and hit a one-armed powerbomb from the top rope for the W and a trip to the pay window.

Like I said, that pretty big moment from the beginning served as a bookend for this championship match. Dakota, the teacher, caught her student by surprise earlier. As the fight went on, the student learned and finally smartened up. Raquel took advantage of Dakota’s arrogance, sentencing her to Robin-status from now until infinity.

But wait, there’s more!

Just when it looked like it was safe for Raquel to savor her victory and chill, out came freaking Kay Lee Ray.

I believe it was Street Fighter that said it best: here comes a new challenger.


They Chose Violence and the UK Gets a New Champ

I watched a lot of Toonami as a kid. Mostly for Dragon Ball Z. Yes, I’m sorry anime fans, my anime choices are basic as hell, but I am what I am. WALTER x Ilja Dragunov reminded me of Freiza battling Goku. WALTER, the undisputed NXT UK Champion playing the role of Freiza, and Dragunov, the challenger, assuming the role of the noble Saiyan. WALTER, like Freiza, dished out so much damn punishment. He was relentless. Forearms, clotheslines, German Suplexes—and other foreign language suplexes—haymakers, and of course, chops. Because, duh.

The question wasn’t whether Dragunov could take a beating because we all know he can. There’s staples on his forehead that attest to that. The question was how long can Ilja withstand the punishment. The key to beating WALTER, just like Freiza, is outlasting him. He’s going to demolish you and run through you like a battering ram. If you can manage that pain, and inflict your own, you may have a shot.

Dragunov, in the most striking moment for yours truly, bit his own finger while in a submission as a way to transfer the pain and tolerate the hold. That is devotion and a sign of a cat willing to do whatever it takes for the three-count. Like Goku, Dragunov grew stronger as the clock ticked forward. He got up after every toss, punched back after every jab, and just kept coming. And the more he pushed, the more frustrated WALTER grew.

Every fight between Goku and Freiza reached a point where the former tapped into power he didn’t know he possessed. He normally got there because Freiza pushed him to the brink and brought the best out of him. The second WALTER hit a splash from the top rope, followed by beating the living hell out of Dragunov with rights and lefts, the CWC felt the Russian go into Super Saiyan mode.

He took WALTER’s best shot, lived to tell the tale, and found a power he never knew existed. At that point, it wasn’t about pinning the champ; Dragunov needed him to submit. He needed the admission from WALTER that he was the best. WALTER fought the sleeper hold as long as he could, but eventually, it was too much Dragunov for him to bear. The Ring General tapped out, and Ilja, in full Super Saiyan mode, stood tall over his fallen victim and celebrated with the gold.

If this is the last breath of NXT in its current iteration, that was the best curtain call possible.


Three is the Magic Number Until it Isn’t.

Maybe it’s because they were following an NXT UK Championship match for the ages. Maybe it’s a me thing and not on them at all. But Adam Cole x Kyle O’Reilly’s Undisputed Finale left me, well, underwhelmed.

The first fall happened quicker than I expected, but I liked the idea of Cole getting undone by his ego. He had Kyle dead to rights but just had to go for another level of embarrassment to his former friend. And he paid the price. Much like another Dakota Kai earlier in the night, let’s bookmark that fatal flaw, shall we?

The street fight was...okay? Two cats barely wrapping their fi I fists in chains and phantom punching each other doesn’t do it for me and just felt artificial. Yes, even for pro wrestling, which is all about maintaining a certain level of artifice. The callbacks to their past matches or older encounters usually gets me right in the feels, but here it left me colder than Mr. Freeze in a snowstorm while sipping a milkshake.

I just wasn’t feeling it.

That said, the finish to the street fight elicited an “ouch” and I have no clue how Kyle is walking after getting thrown onto the backs of two chairs. It was a nice transition to the cage match, which looked like a forgone conclusion. Until it wasn’t.

Remember when we bookmarked Adam’s ego?

Cole, once again in the pole position, decided to add insult to injury and talk his sh*t. He handcuffed Kyle to the cage, smacked him up a bit, talked a little trash, and went for one superkick too many. Kyle literally beat Cole with one arm tied behind his back as he caught the leg of a man he used to consider a brother, and locked Cole’s bum knee in a submission. A couple taps later, and Kyle O’Reilly takes the W and the crown of their three match contest.

Cole likely moves to the main roster now and forever. The end of an era indeed.

Extracurriculars

The Million Dollar Championship Now Resides on the Moon

Before we get into this, it must be said that Ted Dibiase’s theme still bangs after all these years. Now, back to your regularly scheduled recap.

I didn’t expect LA Knight x Cameron Grimes to go for nearly a half hour. But I’m glad they did because these two set the bar high for the night. Grimes is crazy over with the CWC crowd, and the people love Dibiase. This was a fitting conclusion to this story, despite the fact Dibiase, one of the biggest heels of his era, believes a babyface should carry his legacy forward. He has more in common with LA Knight since I can’t imagine Cameron Grimes even thinking about doing this, much less actually going through with it. But hey, what do I know?

While hoped for Grimes to finish Knight with the Million Dollar Dream, we still got the original recipe version from Ted himself. After that and a Cave In, it was academic.

Answer Ridge Holland Now, Timothy Thatcher

Poor Trey Baxter. He started this with all the energy of a kid running into a brick wall. That brick wall, in this case, was Ridge Holland. Short, sour, and to the point. Thatcher got angrier the longer the match went and it wasn’t long at all. The longer he waits for an answer from Timothy Thatcher, the more he plans to make light work of the roster.


Grade: B

While I’m not crazy about the last two matches, everything else on this show ranged from good to great. WALTER and Ilja Dragunov did the damn thing to the fullest extent of wrestling law, putting the last four wrestlers in precarious positions. Imagine following that. Dakota Kai and Raquel González made their underwhelming story into a compelling match, while Grimes x LA Knight was a lot of fun and old-school wrestling at its finest.

If this is indeed the end of NXT as we know it, then it ended on a good note, if not a very high one. Still, we got a good show to close out a monumental wrestling weekend. No matter what, that’s always something to smile about. And while you’re here, show some love to Claire for her live blogging, which is dope as per usual.

That’s my grade and I’m sticking to it. What say you?