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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders - NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III – Perhaps The Best Show I've Ever Seen In Person
By The Doc
Aug 20, 2017 - 10:37:33 AM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What did you think was the best match at NXT: Takeover Brooklyn III and how are you feeling about the new direction that NXT is presumably taking after last night's results and debuts?

Watching NXT Takeover evolve from the comforts of home over the past few years, it had become increasingly apparent that, just in case NXT winds up being a generational thing without long-term staying power, I had better get my butt to one of these specials as soon as possible. Last night, I checked “Takeover” off my wrestling enthusiast bucket list in Brooklyn.

Before discussing the main card, I just want to point out how refreshing it was to have been surrounded by wrestling fans who actually like what they came to watch. The last show that I went to was WrestleMania 32, which granted was not very good, but the audience reception from the get-go in Dallas last year was preemptively negative in a lot of cases. Wrestling fans are wrestling fans, so there were certainly some naysayers in attendance last night – I'm pretty sure, for example, that had Adam Cole not shown up after the main-event, the guys sitting next to me would have hailed the entire show the “worst Takeover ever” - but the general reaction from the live attendees near me was overwhelmingly positive.

A couple of other live notes:

-One particularly antagonistic fan outside the building got the anxious sea of fans ready for the doors to open nice and riled up in a playful way, and then another holding up an “NXT Sux” sign in one hand with a picture of Dario Cueto's face (I think?) on a separate sign earned some amusing chants (including one that made reference to the size of his, well, you can guess). There was an intimacy (hush) to the setting that I have not really experienced before at a WWE proper show, almost as though just being there made you a part of an exclusive club in which “we're all friends.” If someone chanted “Roman Reigns,” it was a joke and everyone laughed; the last time I attended a major event like this in a basketball-sized arena was WrestleMania 22 and, when someone chanted “John Cena,” it felt like you needed to duck and cover.

-Bayley, who was shown in a backstage interview before the Kick-Off even started, got heavily booed. My how the booking caused the mighty to fall...even in her backyard, of sorts.

-Baron Corbin might get some serious heat tonight. “Where's the briefcase” was chanted at him as he made his way to the Kick-Off panel.

-The crowd went absolutely bananas for Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly, and Bobby Fish (especially for Cole). There was an appreciation for McIntyre's defeat of Roode, but the arrival of Cole definitely sent the crowd home happy and buzzing for the future of NXT, with “Too Sweet” and “Adam Cole Babaay!” heard for the next twenty-minutes as everyone filed out of the building.

-It was a blast to see the UK standouts (Bate, Seven, Wolfgang, and Dunne) wrestle an entertaining tag match right before the start of the show.

NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III Review

If the term, “hot-opener,” was found in an encyclopedia, Cien Almas vs. Johnny Gargano could be pictured as the visual example. What a fantastic, energetic, wildly captivating piece of curtain-jerk wrestling that was. Somehow, I left them off of my list the other day of potential “Match of the Weekend” candidates, presuming it would be very good but not necessarily get the chance to be great. I underestimated how much excitement that Gargano would be able to elicit from the crowd, for starters. I think I also figured somewhat of a lower ceiling for this match due to Cien's involvement. Though I've always been a fan of his natural in-ring charisma and have enjoyed his series of strong previous Takeover matches, he showed an extra gear opposite Gargano. They knocked it out of the park and reminded the wrestling world of the important, tone-setting nature of the first match on the card; it was one of the best opening contests I can ever remember, honestly (****).

Names like Sami Zayn (from NXT lore) and Daniel Bryan (from WWE history) come to mind as possible historical parallels for Johnny Wrestling to follow in the months and years to come; there is definitely an innate connection to the fanbase with Gargano, who has youth on his side and a skill-set that makes him a believable threat in spite of his smallish stature. Also, for the first time since his debut last spring, I feel like Cien has potential beyond that of a middling lower-card act who simply has good matches and loses all the time.

The NXT Tag Team Title bout had a tough act to follow, but that is the beauty of a great opener – it imbues a certain “show me what you've got” for everything else on the card. On Friday, I made mention of Summerslam's Fatal 4-Way potentially being totally chaotic and it may yet be that, but Sanity vs. AOP absolutely fits that description too. In fact, if the 4-Way is as good as last night's second bout, then I will be quite pleased. For twelve-minutes, the two teams opted for balls-to-the-wall action, with Alexander Wolfe in particular displaying spectacular movement in a star-making performance that ended with new champions (and new challengers in Fish and O'Reilly). The decision to sub in Eric Young for Killian Dain was an interesting one that tweaked the expected dynamic for the match and, as my cohort, The Eternal Optimist, Dave Fenichel, aptly pointed out, “gave the match its face-in-peril.” All seven parties (including Dain, Nikki Cross, and Paul Ellering) had their spotlight moments in what became just a tremendously frenetic brawl every bit as awesome as the opener in its way (****).

I suspect that The Authors of Pain are moving up to the main roster next week, so I want to give a quick acknowledgment of their run in NXT should that prove to be the case because, from last November's Toronto special through their title reign, The AOP won over a lot of naysayers who questioned how well they could uphold the standard set by The Revival.

Aleister Black vs. Hideo Itami, I predicted, would be the non-title mid-card match from this show that had the best chance of stealing the weekend. They did indeed have a strong showing (*** ¼) that may have watched better on TV than it did live, but it was not the kind of match that the majority will be talking about into next week. Stiff striking was the theme from the outset, prompting the crowd to sit back, take a breather, and appreciate a different type of wrestling that did not demand so much its emotions straightaway. Itami was dominant in what is fast becoming an old school fashion, cutting off Black's comeback attempts with precision reminiscent of the incredible star that he was before two years of injury set-backs. Fenichel and I openly wondered if Itami's more traditional approach would translate at some point to main roster success given how small that he is; Hideo is a joy to watch right now and he seems like he is coming into his own as a personality, but as good (and smart) as his matches are, there does appear to be something missing in terms of how the audience reacts to him. I feel like he is on the right track given that his loss to Black was as much a showcase for his budding heel character as it was for the impressive Black's considerable talents – how about the emphasis on Black via not just the victory but the pre-match entrance with the live music theme?

Match of the night for yours truly was Asuka's successful Women's Championship defense against Ember Moon. I appreciate all types of in-ring styles, but my favorite combines innovation in spot-creation with strong storytelling dependent on putting one wrestler at a clear disadvantage from which he/she has to work like hell to fight back; Asuka-Moon II was that in spades. Moon did an outstanding job of selling her injured arm, but also striking the right balance in her comebacks so as not to over-sell it. Asuka accordingly found in Moon a strong babyface against whom to put the full range of her arsenal on display, both in terms of her moves but especially in regards to her character. Her natural overconfidence is better suited to the adoption of her other recent heel mannerisms; she is basically the female Brock Lesnar if The Beast stopped being a pseudo-MMA fighter and became more of a pro wrestler.

There was a real sense of occasion for this match, as it felt like the biggest women's match in NXT since Bayley-Asuka last spring; the crowd reacted to it as such and brought up the stakes that much higher with its intense investment. If ever there had been a time for Asuka to lose the title, last night was it, but all the while her undefeated status and 500 day reign made it simultaneously seem impossible for her to lose, adding yet another element (unpredictability) to help this become the success that I believe that it was. When the match was reaching its climactic final few minutes, Asuka and Ember were able to do, at least to me, something that only happens in the greatest of matches – they had me believing that Asuka was assuredly going to retain via tap-out without ever shaking my belief that Ember was going to find a way to win. I was, thus, completely engrossed in the fiction, totally along for the ride. In my opinion, that was the best women's match produced in NXT since Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (**** ¼).

Imagine, for a second, the pressure on Bobby Roode vs. Drew McIntyre to not only have to follow the rest of a stellar show as the main-event, but to put the finishing touches on what was essentially “their match being great” away from putting Takeover: Brooklyn III firmly in the discussion with Takeover: Dallas as arguably the best NXT special event of all-time.

It was a little bit strange in a certain way because McIntyre was not a challenger for the NXT Title with much in the way of build-up. I have always personally liked him, but you would probably have to rewind to 2014 to find an NXT Title bout at Takeover featuring a challenger with less overall momentum than McIntyre, in fairness. Therefore, last night's main-event had to overcome an inherently bland vibe to pre-event proceedings. Nevertheless, you could sense a title change due both to the assumption that Roode would get called up to the main roster imminently and to the idea that, accordingly, McIntyre was a strong presence who could quickly grow into the “face of the brand” role more so than, say, Roddy Strong. Title changes in NXT are a big deal, to which they are almost always well-built; this was the rare exception of it coming across like Triple H and Co. were having to rush for reasons presumably tied to WWE proper.

Credit to both Roode and McIntyre, then, for working their tails off (****) in order to steadily overcome the above en route to crafting yet another strong exemplification of The Glorious One's top notch abilities as a traditional main-event type performer and the first real example of what McIntyre has become in the years since his WWE departure. Even the section of the audience who felt the aforementioned vibe more than others and who were depending on the arrival of Adam Cole to boost their interest will likely not be able to deny on future replay that McIntyre vs. Roode was a heck of a main-event which fulfilled its role in following the other great matches and, in and of itself, being great enough to maximize Takeover: Brooklyn III's long-term historical upside. Cole's debut was icing on the cake.

All in all, it will always be tough for me to say that WrestleMania XXIV was, with all of its grandest stage pageantry, anything less than the greatest wrestling show that I have ever witnessed in person, but NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III was the best pure wrestling show. I had a wonderful time, the matches were great, and the presentation was amazing (you have to see “Glorious” live at least once before you die). We'll see how it all holds up on replay later.

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