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Posted in: Wrestling Rainbow
Wrestling Rainbow ~ What'll SkitZ Think of NXT? (Ranking the TakeOvers)
By SkitZ
Aug 27, 2017 - 10:10:37 AM

What’ll SkitZ Think of NXT?
(Ranking the TakeOvers)

Now admittedly, this is far from an original concept. In fact, I posted the following column down in the LOP Forums three months ago. But since the vast majority of you have never seen said list, this felt like an opportune time to dig it up given the recent passing of TakeOver: Brooklyn III. I’ve factored last weekend’s show into the countdown and made a few other modifications as well.

If you and I can agree on one thing, it’s probably not the list below. At the very least though, I figured my rankings would spark some discussion (unless you’re still fired up over how crap SummerSlam was by comparison). Oh and apologies in advance for the length which is sadly something I’ve never had to warn a woman about.


#17 ~ TakeOver: Unstoppable

An apropos title since I couldn’t stop myself from fast forwarding through most of this show. It was a night of many firsts however. This marks the first of many setbacks for Hideo Itami (who’s shoulder injury was announced at the start of the broadcast), the first time I noticed how similar Baron Corbin and Rhyno are (limited brawlers with great finishers, unflattering physiques, etc), the debut of Little Miss Bliss as a villainess and the first moment I realized Becky Lynch was any good. Her Women’s Title match with Sasha felt more like a main event than Owens/Zayn who gave an abbreviated rehash of their previous performance. A knock-down, drag-out brawl that saw newcomer Samoa Joe throw a pity party for Sami. Big whoop.

#16 ~ TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way

Remember when Sin Cara & Kalisto ended The Ascension’s year-long reign as Tag Team Champs and it seemed like a big deal? Yeah Konnor & Viktor lost more than just the titles; their relevance straight up vanished. Hmmm what else happened… Corbin squashed a hippie, Dempsey squashed an overexcited jock, Charlotte beat Bayley with something called genetics and Enzo kept his hair which hardly seems like a reason to celebrate. Despite the fatal four way falling into the usual WWE tropes, they put together a couple fun sequences down the stretch. There’s one spot in particular that I love where Breeze hits the beauty shot, a superkick and a midair counter dropkick in succession but can’t pin any of his opponents which leads to a temper tantrum. Neville was there too but he just laid on the floor while the other three did all the work.

#15 ~ NXT Arrival

Is this even considered a TakeOver? Well we’re throwing it in the mix regardless. Cesaro/Zayn is as hot an opener as you can ask for. So damn hot in fact that they burnt out the crowd early and left the rest of the show struggling to recover. The filler that followed didn’t help either. The Ascension easily defeated Too Cool in a “well you’ve flattened the entire tag team plain so we had to fly in a nostalgia act to do the job” match; a strategy WWE would implement again with Asuka later on. Then there’s Paige and Emma who may not be viewed as trailblazers but their Women’s Title bout was still miles better than anything on the main roster at the time.

Breeze and Woods were crushed by a guy who wasn’t even on the card and I know jobber duty isn’t a flattering position for anybody to fill but at least Tyler didn’t take the loss like every other TakeOver match he competed in afterwards. Lastly, Neville won the NXT Title in a main event that’s been knocked down a couple rungs by every ladder match that’s happened since. Nevertheless, it’s the greatest performance we’re ever going to see from Bo Dallas. He’s evolved into an even bigger disappointment than his brother.

#14 ~ TakeOver: The End

Near the bottom of the barrel where this show belongs. The quality isn’t bad by any means but it just felt like a transitional TakeOver merely built to bridge the wide gap between Dallas and Brooklyn II. The spotlight shined primarily on Dash & Dawson who became two-time Tag Team Champions after topping American Alpha in the standout MOTN. The foursome managed to upstage their last match as well as the headlining act of this event. You know what I enjoyed most about Joe/Balor III? That it finally brought their feud to a close. Those seven months they feuded for felt like an eternity. In other news, Nakamura/Aries left me underwhelmed and Asuka slayed a Samoan sumo wrestler. Oh and Tye showed Almas the lay of the land by literally laying down for the latest NXT signee. What a loyal company guy that Dillinger guy is.

#13 ~ TakeOver: London

I’d place Asuka/Emma ahead of Bayley/Jax in terms of structure and work rate. Zack Ryder’s ex has shown that, unlike him, she’s somewhat of a commodity. The chick needs to get her act together though before she finds herself on WWE’s Alumni page. The same goes for Apollo Crews who showed more spark than sizzle in his forgettable match with Corbin. Meanwhile, Enzo & Big Cass came up empty handed against the Tag Team Champions because they always did. The duo weren’t even in The Revival’s league if we’re being blunt (and I’m not here to blow smoke up anyone’s ass).

Seriously, how many times have you watched a match involving the Realest Guys in the Room and thought “this is awesome"? First off, was it actually warranted? And second, I can only think of once and that’s because Dash & Dawson made their match at Roadblock feel special. Enzo & Big Cass were the modern day New Age Outlaws with none of the hardware. Lastly, Finn successfully defended his against Joe in the first and best chapter of their TakeOver trilogy.

#12 ~ TakeOver: Rival

The second half of this card more than makes up for the lackluster start to the show. Even in defeat, Breeze walks away looking more impressive than Itami which has become a common theme in Hideo’s run limp through NXT. Also, who could forget the no DQ contest wrestled under standard rules by the brand’s baddest (and I use that term lightly) bullies? They teased Dempsey versus Corbin for months, gave it away twice before the Takeover special and then limited their blowoff match to 4-5 minutes. I appreciate not dragging out the slugfest and torturing everyone watching but it had no time to develop. What a waste of a decent gimmick.

Sin Cara brought his botching boots and they rubbed off on Kalisto as they stumbled through a messy put-over of BAM; a wreck of a team in their own right. The evening improved from there-on forward however with Neville/Balor, Banks cashing in on the Women’s Title and Owens KO’ing Sami to become NXT Champion in shocking fashion.

#11 ~ NXT TakeOver

…No that isn’t a typo. They hadn’t come up with any clever titles or left Full Sail yet. It’s filler of the foulest kind but Adam Rose pins Camacho after leading his entourage into the arena. On the flip side, the crowd loves it and I get a kick out of watching tough guy Strowman parade around as a rosebud. Afterwards, The Ascension dismantles Kalisto & Ricardo Rodriquez who’s stuffed into his wrestling gear tighter than Kassius Ohno. And yes I realize that doesn’t paint a pretty picture but bear with me, folks. The remaining three matches were far more appealing. Zayn/Breeze is a sleeper classic that sees Sami fight tirelessly to overcome Tyler but ultimately goes down to an “inadvertent” low blow and beauty shot.

Then in a scene that won’t likely ever be duplicated, Natalya and Kidd close out the show in their respective title matches. In perhaps Nattie’s greatest performance to date, her and Charlotte tear it up for nearly 17 minutes. The best part is Naitch though who’s marking out hard at ringside while Bret just stands there stone-faced like he couldn’t give any less of a fuck. It was also fun watching Tyson throw caution to the wind and go full tilt with Neville in the main event. No wonder TK’s so fragile nowadays.

#10 ~ TakeOver: R Evolution

Ah the invasion of the indy darlings. I do adore Owens’ destruction of CJ Parker (plus the palm strike that bloodies him up adds an intangible quality to it that I’m quite fond of). Hideo and Finn’s debuts aren’t nowhere near as memorable; probably because they have Itami playing the face in peril and his expression never changes. Another tag team match happened too but it’s so forgettable that I can’t recall any of the finer details. I do however remember Dillinger’s impressive winless streak at TakeOver starting here with a 40-second loss to The Lone Wolf.

Props to Charlotte and Sasha who provided the first real flickers to the fire lit underneath women’s wrestling. Nothing compares to Neville/Zayn though. ’Tis a match I still hold in high regard because of how much they raised the bar. The culmination of Sami’s obstacle-riddled journey to finally win the big one, tremendous character work intertwined with great wrestling, ref bumps, heel teases, KO ruining the ensuing celebration... my lord what an epic scene. Zayn was Daniel Bryan lite in a bottle until WWE popped the cap on what made him interesting.

#9 ~ TakeOver: Respect

It seemed like the wind was taken out of Full Sail a bit by Balor not dressing for the occasion but I appreciated Finn presenting himself appropriately for the Dusty Rhodes Classic. And in a nice tip of the cap to old school wrestling, Finn was hobbled by an injured knee and it carried into the next round.

Speaking of throwbacks, Dash & Dawson were efficient as ever in the opening match and gave a small sample size of the big things they’d accomplish in the coming year. American Alpha too who put their semifinal opponents through the ringer before Gable had his bell rung by the end of days. In spite of Baron Corbin and his future self advancing over superior competition, this one was actually my favorite of the three tourney matches on the card. The finale disappointed me because not only did it lack the intensity of the semis but they deprived us of the Joe turn we were all waiting for.

The eventual winners made for a decent pairing but an honor like this really should’ve gone to a team who could benefit from it… such as The Revival. Instead, the deciding contest was treated more like a feud enhancer and had that feeling of “alright lets get this over with so we can bring out Cody & Goldust for the trophy presentation". I personally believe American Alpha reaching the gold medal match would’ve made for an awesome story but also understand Joe and Balor needing to face heels who were gonna exploit Finn’s bum leg.

Somewhere in the middle of the show, Crews beat Breeze with a delayed spin out powerbomb because that press slam/back flip thingy is not a finisher. And despite winning his second consecutive TakeOver match, I thought Apollo once again under impressed here. Which is saying something since Tyler’s 2015 body of work is less appealing in my eyes than the previous year’s. It was around this period when I felt like Prince Pretty started putting more effort into his ring entrances than the matches themselves. Possibly because his role in NXT had greatly diminished with the influx of indy talent.

Additions like Asuka began cutting into Breeze’s camera time no doubt. The current NXT Women’s Champion wowed fans right out of the gate with a decisive victory over Dana Brooke at Respect. I’ve never hidden my affinity for Asian women and Asuka is high on my list of favorites. Her offense stings and its on full display here as she lumps up Dana without breaking much of a sweat.

Try as they might, Sasha/Bayley II doesn’t live up to the standards of the original. It didn’t have the atmosphere or the sense of urgency or even necessarily the big fight feel of the first encounter. And instead of ending it emphatically with an exclamation point, the crowd is stuck wondering if Banks tapped within the final seconds or if they're heading for overtime. The 30-minute iron woman match is still better than most sequels as they mix in plenty of elements from their Brooklyn performance. Plus new wrinkles are ironed in such as Banks snatching Izzy’s headband and Bayley flipping the script by attacking Sasha’s hand in the closing moments to set up the submission. It’s a stark reminder of how much I miss the more attitude-driven Boss; before WWE shoved her through their women’s revolving door of generic caricatures.

#8 ~ TakeOver: Brooklyn II

For reasons only my mind can rationalize, I enjoyed Aries/Jose more than A Double’s matches against Corbin and Nakamura (awaits awkward silence). Whether it’s The Greatest Man That Ever Lived dominating a much larger opponent or No Way proving himself to be more capable than just a Dominican Fandango, I can’t quite put my finger on it. The right man won though and Jose looked good in defeat. Afterwards, Itami showed up and fooled everyone into thinking he’s actually going to feud with Austin Aries.

Ember/Billie was another case of the heel dominating a newcomer in your typical “put over the face because it’s their debut” match. Moon popped the crowd a couple times throughout but it wasn’t until she eclipsed Kay that they came out of their seats. Easily the best finishing move of any woman on the roster. I swoon for Ember Moon.

As someone who’s exposure to Bobby Roode was limited to a few Beer Money matches, I wasn’t sure what to expect when he signed with NXT. But following his glorious entrance at TakeOver: Brooklyn, my expectations were sky high. Then the match with Almas happened and I sat there thinking “that’s it”? To his credit, I quickly warmed up to Roode and he’s been on fire ever since but an inauspicious debut for sure. The wrestling portion of it in particular. I knew that glorious bomb wasn’t going to stick around either; too anti-climactic of a finisher.

The Revival were on a roll heading into this event and so were DIY ever since the performance they gave (against each other no less) in the Cruiserweight Classic. You automatically knew this would deliver simply because Dash & Dawson were in it but at the risk of making waves with wrestling historians, this match blows the stuff with Alpha out of the water. Gargano & Ciampa’s kick-heavy offense blended perfectly with the ground and pound style of The Revival. They weaved in the near falls perfectly and had the crowd losing their collective shit when DIY met in the middle on Wilder. I can’t be the only one who’s soul died a little when Johnny tapped to the inverted figure four moments later.

In retrospect, I’m kicking myself for actually believing Bayley could dethrone Asuka in their rematch. Folks tend to favor this one over the original but I’m in the minority. Bayley wrestled with more assertiveness the second time around but I’m just a sucker for the shock factor surrounding their Dallas encounter. The botched powerbomb spot in this match specifically put a damper on the whole thing for me. Bayley persistently trying to execute it anyway brings back haunting visions of the Taker/Reigns tombstone miscue from Mania. Like can we put this behind us and move on already? You’re only making it worse, Bayley! (sigh) Botches are like that person who isn’t invited to the party but shows up every once in awhile regardless and makes everyone uncomfortable.

The Barclays Center was so hyped after the violinist introduced Nakamura but the buzz wore off a couple minutes in and I‘ll tell you why. Perhaps Shinsuke is still adapting to the WWE style but he tends to let the heel dominate for agonizing stretches in longer matches. And I believe it works to Nakamura’s detriment (such as his debut against Ziggler at Backlash). The King of Strong Style needs to take the Mysterio route and mix in more bursts of offense over the course of these lengthier main events. Thankfully, Shinsuke’s selling has improved since because he completely forgets to favor the knee here after Joe worked on it for ages. The story their sequel tells has far less holes in the plot.

#7 ~ TakeOver: Brooklyn

Fittingly, the first two Brooklyn shows end up back to back in my countdown. The 2015 edition is very top-heavy and thus I couldn’t justify placing it any higher on the list. Mainly because the first TakeOver event held outside of Full Sail is anchored by the co-main events and everything else just kinda sank below expectations.

Beginning with the opener where Liger defeated Breeze in relatively short order. With Jushin working a one-off against an unfamiliar opponent, I get the decision to stick to the basics and not stray far from the beaten path. Given the journeyman’s extensive body of work however, fans were envisioning something more along the lines of Zayn/Nakamura and it just doesn’t measure up.

The Tag Team Title contest fell short for me as well. Thank goodness for Blue Pants providing a spark to this segment because Vaudevillains/Blake & Murphy had no heat whatsoever. BAM lost the hardware in a “these guys suck so we need to put the belts on someone who sucks less until these newer teams are fully developed” type situation. Therefore, not much to write home about except that it would do Aiden English a world of good if they brought in his wife as a valet. Having Shaul Guerrero in AE’s corner would help steer the guy towards relevancy (unlike Gotch who was only pushing him closer to the unemployment line).

Given my previous thoughts on Crews, I’m sure you can gauge my reaction to Apollo’s debut against Dillinger. The former Uhaa Nation shows some athleticism and charisma here but nothing that sets him apart. Then there’s Tye who plays the resident jobber to perfection in a rather uneventful squash. Watching Apollo Crews in WWE has been like a B rated horror movie that’s so bad, you can’t take your eyes off it.

Speaking of ho-hum debuts, Samoa Joe passed out Corbin in his first official TakeOver. They had the best undercard match on the show which isn’t saying a whole lot. It’s a slow and plodding affair with Joe waking up the crowd on a couple occasions. Most fans were still snoozing on the Lone Wolf who’s improved noticeably over the past two years (don’t be surprised when he snags that briefcase at Money in the Bank).

Aside from the rare nip slip, there are very few moments in wrestling that give me that tingling sensation. Watching Bayley hit that reverse ’rana on Sasha however had all my extremities going numb. The crowd exploding, the tightening of the ponytail, the belly-to-Bayley, the three count… it was pure euphoria (shudders). No women’s match has ever taken me on such a roller coaster of emotions. You wanna talk about mood swings; it felt like I was on my goddamn period. From the video package to the divided audience to Banks attacking Bayley’s hand to the frantic finish, the stars fully aligned on this night. Sasha’s hit a couple home runs since but I’m not sure Bayley will ever knock one out of the park like that again.

TakeOver: Brooklyn could’ve gone off the air at that point and sent the fans home happy but Owens/Balor put the icing on the cake with a pretty enjoyable ladder match. Because KO had to pull double duty on this particular weekend, it felt like he held back a tad which is why he and Finn received half a star less than the aforementioned Bayley/Sasha classic. The main event also lacked the unpredictability of the Women’s Title bout since Owens had been on RAW for months and therefore everyone knew he wouldn’t be regaining the NXT Championship. An obvious outcome but a solid addition to the genre nonetheless.

#6 ~ TakeOver: San Antonio

Even though Dillinger fell prey to the numbers game yet again, he came in with an attack plan against SAnitY and continuously swung the odds in his favor until the closing moments. The 3-to-1 odds ultimately did Tye in but the disadvantage allowed him to wrestle with more desperation and versatility than we’d previously seen. Great finish too with Dillinger flipping back over the ropes and right into Young’s wheelbarrow neck breaker. Anything to keep his imperfect streak intact!

Strong won his TakeOver debut as expected but I thought the match did Andrade more favors than Roderick. Playing a heel just seems to help guys work more confidently in this era. We all knew Almas had an expansive playbook but it wasn’t until he evolved into the cocky young star from Mexico that fans began seeing flashes of La Sombra from his CMLL days. Strong picked up the victory with a sick kick but NXT hadn’t yet given viewers a reason to cheer the guy outside of his reputation.

It’s a shame DIY had to drop the titles so soon after giving the performance of a lifetime at the previous TakeOver but them’s the breaks I guess. You knew going in that AOP’s undefeated streak wasn’t ready be snapped so something had to give. Definitely Rezar & Akam’s best performance up to this point and that’s due in large part to the efforts of Gargano & Ciampa who worked their asses off against the monster tandem. The crowd couldn’t decide whether they were on board or not; chanting “boring” one minute and “this is awesome” the next (wishy-washy bastards). Authors of Pain defeating DIY cleanly to boot just stomped out all the momentum Johnny & Tommaso had built as Tag Team Champs. Total buzz kill.

And then there’s the Asuka Invitational. Watching back the fatal 4-way is basically NXT’s Women’s Division waving a big white flag that says “Hey look how little we’ve grown since Bayley left!". Billie and Peyton are no more than a carbon copy of LayCool. Sure they’re fundamentally sound but the “Iconic” duo’s had nearly a year to make some noise and haven’t produced so much as a cunt fart. From a storyline standpoint, this really should’ve just been a triple threat as the addition of Nikki felt rushed and tacked on to give the match some uncertainty. Even still, they had to rely on multiple teases of Cross/Asuka and the announce table spot to maintain the crowd’s interest.

We were treated to a terrific main event between Roode and Nakamura though. Their biggest obstacle wasn’t as much each other as the amount of time devoted to this match. Anything nearing half an hour is overly long for a TakeOver show. Everything Bobby and Shinsuke did on this night could’ve been accomplished in 15-20 minutes and thus there were times when the action dragged. I also wasn’t a huge fan of Nakamura stalling at the end to sell the knee injury before Roode finished him off with the glorious DDT. The booking made sense psychologically and protected Shinsuke but I wanted them to sprint through the finish line rather than limp across it.

#5 ~ TakeOver: Dallas

[WARNING - UNPOPULAR OPINION INCOMING] This event is overrated as a whole. It’s one of the most well balanced NXT cards for sure but even ranking the show this high feels somewhat unwarranted. And given the natural compulsion to compare the two, I think WrestleMania 32 being so unspectacular makes TakeOver: Dallas seem like more of a spectacle than it truly is.

Beginning with the opening contest between American Alpha and The Revival. They pieced together a mini masterpiece but when you stand back and look at the bigger picture, it’s been outdone by nearly every TakeOver Tag Team Title match since. Plus there’s the botched tandem powerbomb spot on Gable which Dawson makes worse by staring blankly at the crowd afterwards as if to say “errr did you see that?”. Yes we did. They rectified the blunder down the stretch though as the challengers raced past the champs to capture gold in predictable fashion.

Genuine feelgood moment for Jordan & Gable; less so for the other A Double. Yeah Austin Aries won his NXT debut but the victory over Corbin is nothing worth bragging about. Baron dominating a large portion of the match wasn’t fun for anyone (except maybe a few women in the crowd who dig his tattoos and dad bod). My attention span towards this match is like Corbin’s receding hairline… it just gets shorter and shorter with each additional viewing. The action isn’t awful mind you. I just got the vibe watching it that Baron was like “alright lets hurry up and put this midget over so I can focus on winning that Andre trophy tomorrow night”.

Corbin five years from now

And as it turned out, NXT had a strong presence at Mania (most notably the main event where fans cheered for Nakamura during HHH/Reigns). Does Shinsuke’s match against Sami really deserve five stars though? I give it four at most. Why? Because while Nakamura’s performance against Zayn is quite arguably the greatest WWE debut ever, very little happens between the ropes wrestling-wise. The crowd and Shinsuke’s entrance are electric but the match itself is powered mainly by the character work of both men. Given the universal praise it received, my expectations were sky high and watching Zayn/Nakamura quickly brought me back down to Earth. This is basically an extended tryout match for Shinsuke.

While it may not have seemed like much of a storyline on the surface, I thought Bayley/Asuka had plenty of layers heading into Dallas. On one side, you had the beloved face of NXT’s Women’s Division turning back challenger after challenger for almost 8 months. An impressive feat but when you examine Bayley’s caliber of competition more closely, who had she beaten? Alexa Bliss, Eva Marie, Nia Jax, Carmella, etc. Some decent opponents but nothing that compares to the physical style of Asuka. So when she choked the life out of Bayley’s fairytale run and took the Women‘s Title, I was surprised by how flabbergasted the fans in attendance were. Loved the stunned silence though which reminded me of Taker’s streak being snapped (albeit on a significantly smaller scale).

Joe/Balor II started off on the right foot before the cut above the Samoan’s right eye stopped the match dead in its’ tracks. The multiple ref stoppages pissed off the crowd and Joe as well who repeatedly shrugged off medical assistance and worked super aggressive towards Finn. Imagine how awesome it would’ve been visually watching a crimson-masked monster duke it out with The Demon. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to go full Texas Chainsaw Massacre on us but Joe and Balor still put on a bloody good show; to the best of their abilities at least. You could sense Joe inching closer to taking the belt off Finn who’s mileage as champ was all but maxed out.

#4 ~ TakeOver: Chicago

You were expecting to see this ranked higher, right? Well now that a little time has passed, I suspect folks will have a better understanding of why the show came in fourth place on my countdown. There were two matches on the card that held this TakeOver back; the first being Roderick versus the leader of SAnitY.

They started fast and finished strong (pun intended) but the action in-between is pretty snooze worthy. The middle portion falls into the monotonous pattern of resthold, escape, resthold, counter move, resthold, etc. until the match literally slows to a crawl. Strong and EY just stretched it too thin for my tastes. Had it not been for the Roddy documentaries that NXT had shown a few weeks prior, I think the crowd would’ve gotten restless and began voicing their displeasure with the opener. And it’s because of those video packages that the end result was, in my mind, a foregone conclusion. The attention to detail put towards Dillinger’s matches and feud with Young makes this story feel thrown together.

Dunne/Bate on the other hand was a borderline five star effort that jumped ahead of everything else in the MOTY race. The physical style of the Brits didn’t sit well with old man Tito who sprung from his rocking chair to criticize their methods for being unsafe and not having a place in WWE. I think he forgets (excusable given his age) that UK wrestlers have always worked stiffer which doesn’t automatically make it unsafe. The Bruiserweight and reigning champion gave the performance of a lifetime and both walked away from Chicago relatively unscathed. I was worried for a second though that Dunne suffered a concussion from the spike DDT right before the finish.

Ah Asuka/Ruby/Nikki; another bothersome spot on the show that failed to scratch all the right itches for yours truly. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a rough patch but the triple threat just never got into a groove. This felt like the reigning Women’s Champion was tacked onto the Riot/Cross rivalry when it should’ve been the other way around. Ember Moon’s injury definitely threw a wrench into the title picture but Thicky Cross has enough screws loose that you could’ve envision her dethroning Asuka if afforded the necessary platform.

Oh and fuck Itami. That dude walks around with the same smug sense of entitlement as Roman which makes it impossible to root for him. As for how the title match against Roode came about, you kinda get the feeling NXT felt like they owed it to Hideo since the guys he came in with were champions before moving up to the main roster. And in hindsight, perhaps the Japanese star would’ve won the belt had he stayed healthy. The reality however is that Itami’s the forgotten man who became an afterthought after Nakamura signed with the company. WWE sought out a reliable star from that market which I’m sure made Hideo bitter because he looks it on TV. Itami competed at TakeOver: Chicago with a chip on his shoulder and proved he still has the goods but… has his shelf life spoiled?

Considering the shocking turn of events following DIY/AOP, it’s no wonder why the ladder match closed the show. I have fonder memories of Gargano & Ciampa’s earlier performances but by God did they go to war with Ellering’s henchmen on this night. Why the title belts were hanging so low and every monster wrestler seems to have a fear of heights I couldn’t tell you but DIY nearly killed themselves to recapture the gold. The dual leap off the ringside ladder was especially brutal with the challengers shooting headfirst into the floor like a pair of lawn darts. I figured maybe the gimmick was a means to take the straps off Rezar & Akam without making them look weak but clearly management has other plans. I had high hopes for DIY on RAW or SmackDown… less so if they leave NXT as separate entities. Tommaso’s betrayal of Johnny was excellent and I can’t wait for the payoff but let us pray they reunite before switching shows.

Overall one of the best TakeOvers to date. And hell, perhaps I’m underrating it but- (hears commotion in the background) …uhhhh (frantic whispering) so apparently Tito has some comments on the matter that he’d like to share. Take it away, cranky pants.

“Let me say this - if NXT Takeover Chicago was representative of the FUTURE of the WWE, then the WWE Corporation is in deep, deep trouble.”

But you were just praising it 9 months ago. What ch-

“Allow me to make a simple point before I start thrashing this Pay Per View. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin broke his neck during SummerSlam 1997. For the next 2 years, he dealt with that injury and became the top star in the business and put on many "Match of the Year" candidates during 1997-1999. So you tell me how a man with a broken neck can accomplish that?”

With a successful surgery? The point you’re trying to make is a bit f-

“It's called working... It's called using psychology. It's called playing a character that your consumers believe in and become worried if the heels attack you.”

But everyone loves the heels nowadays. And frankly, I do as wel-

“From NXT Takeover Chicago, everybody was hitting stiff kicks, using finishers as regular moves, kicking out of pins following what looked to be a valid finish, and somehow having bursts of energy after being on the receiving end of a dangerous finish. It was basically an extension of the Cruiserweight Classic that WWE Network held... Spotfests with no rhyme or reason that had the same slap kicks that indy promotions have featured for years. Are the teachers in NXT not teaching basic wrestling fundamentals or have the inmates taken over the prison down there in Florida? Which is it because I saw a hybrid of an old ECW show, stiff Japanese wrestling, and something I'd see 2 smaller wrestlers from an Indy promotion putting on.”

Tito… I agree wholeheartedly. They should fire all the trainers and bring back Bill DeMott. He’ll whip that place into shape.

#3 ~ TakeOver: Toronto

A show that’s praised for one match specifically which is a shame given the other great performances centered around it. Roode and Dillinger returning home and kicking off the event seemed fitting; as did Tye pulling out the sharpshooter (a move always good for a cheap pop amongst Canadian crowds). Despite being in NXT for a couple years, this was really Dillinger’s first opportunity to shine on a big stage and I thought he lit it up with Roode. A perfect introductory feud for Bobby before they hot shotted him into the title scene. I loved Roode seeking out Tye as his partner for the Dusty Rhodes Classic and then ditching him at the first sign of trouble. His gloriousness realized what tagging with Dillinger would ultimately lead to… another TakeOver loss.

As for the tournament final between AOP and TM-61, I thought they were kinda dealt a shitty hand on this card. Eight minutes isn’t much time to work with and thus the match is over before it ever truly begins. The standout highlight is Thorne leaping off one of the structures supporting the cage above the ring (i.e. the one Ellering’s confined to). I actually wish those towers had come into play more as the Aussies could’ve turned them into their own personal jungle gym and really taken the crowd for a ride. Unfortunately once the action was confined to the ring, it became a status quo squashfest for Rezar & Akam who steamrolled everybody en route to winning the second DRC.

I had my doubts about DIY and The Revival living up to the standard they set three months earlier but that uncertainty was put to rest in a hurry. What an exhausting experience from a fan’s perspective. So much to love about this match; a paragraph barely begins to cover it. DIY using the shatter machine, Gargano doing the roll-through kick and accidentally hitting the title belt instead, revisiting the finish from Brooklyn II but Johnny surviving the inverted figure four this time, the lasting image of Dash & Dawson trapped in simultaneous submissions, hands locked and hell bent on not tapping out but eventually giving into the pain… WHEW. The psychology, selling and execution are fucking spot on for the entire 22 minutes. Calling it the greatest might be a stretch but it’s definitely the best tag team match I’ve ever seen.

Almost just as impressive (for a whole separate list of reasons) was the Women’s Title contest which had a tough act to follow. I don’t think any of us expected Mickie James to return after six plus years away from WWE and perform at TakeOver: Toronto like she hadn’t missed a day. Sure Mickie wrestled for TNA and various indy promotions after leaving but this was still a pressure-packed situation to step into on her first night back. James didn’t look out of place at all though against Asuka who was reeling a bit towards the end before baiting her opponent into the crossface chickenwing. A pleasant surprise that helped enhance the show‘s standing.

I wasn’t nuts about Nakamura’s NXT run or his series of matches with Joe in 2016. This one is my favorite of the bunch simply due to how the King of Strong Style is physically manhandled from start to finish. Samoa Joe takes away his knees and explosiveness but does so in a way that keeps the pace from stalling like it did in their previous encounter. You’re waiting for the epic comeback because of how dominant Joe works but it’s a matter of too little, too late for Nakamura who drops the NXT Championship in his first title defense. Some swervetastic booking that leads to a lot of shocked expressions in the audience. Nobody envisioned Shinsuke suffering his first loss then and there. Shit, who would’ve guessed that he’d lose at three straight TakeOvers?

#2 ~ TakeOver: Orlando

In determining the top three for my list, I resorted to basic logic that should make sense to any doofus reading this. Chicago had two weak spots on the card, Toronto had one and Orlando had none. That’s honestly how simple it breaks down for me (forget relying on some complex form of criteria). Now, did this TakeOver feature the most memorable debut? Or the best tag team contest? Or the greatest women’s match? Or even the strongest main event? No to all of the above. Collectively however, I believed this to be the most complete show NXT had produced thus far… until the events that unfolded last weekend.

Regardless, it offers a little bit of everything. The chaotic opener pitting Dillinger & Co. against SAnitY is the perfect curtain jerker because it riles up the crowd right out of the gate. There’s so many moving parts in this eight-person tag but each one of them plays their role effectively and enthusiastically. Following months of beat downs, Tye is finally able to even the odds here and yet still finds himself outnumbered in the ring and soundly defeated. I mark hard for that type of storytelling.

Even the unassuming kind that we witnessed next with Black versus Almas. Aleister’s vignettes leading up to the event didn’t give folks much to go on as far as what direction NXT were heading in with the former Tommy End. Therefore you can feel the lack of buzz in the arena when Black comes out for his debut against Andrade who hasn’t experienced much fanfare either. Fast forward nine minutes however and Aleister not only wins the match but won over a disinterested crowd to boot (with Almas’ assistance of course). That spin kick is a thing of beauty.

There may be no topping the 2016 MOTY but goddamn if the triple threat tag team elimination match isn’t wrestling on ecstasy. The fact that bitter enemies in DIY and The Revival have to join forces against AOP makes it all the more trippier. When the two teams began blending their signature moves together, my head was spinning. And clearly I wasn’t alone since the crowd on hand were also losing their minds. People understandably tuned out mentally once Gargano & Ciampa were eliminated but I had no problem with said decision for two reasons. 1 - DIY pretty much worked the entire match anyway (20 of the near 24 minutes to be exact) and 2 - This would be The Revival’s swan song in NXT and deserved it considering what they did for the tag division.

With the Women’s Title contest, I get the vibe management were trying to recreate the Asuka/Bayley storyline from the year prior. Only problem is Ember fell more into the sympathetic babyface in this equation than the unstoppable challenger. Should Moon have dethroned the geishan Goldberg? While it’s difficult to say, I do know one thing… Asuka’s striking skills are untouchable but Ember is the better wrestler of the two. Moon showcased her abilities against the reigning champ who took the challenger lightly and had to resort to heel tactics for the cheap victory. I wasn’t crazy about the finish but this was my favorite TakeOver women’s match since the Bayley/Sasha saga (well up until they upstaged themselves at Brooklyn III).

Roode/Nakamura II had just as much of a big fight feel as their clash in San Antonio. Hell, the fans got their money’s worth with the entrances alone. I’m knowingly in the minority of people who place this NXT Title bout in the same category as the original. His gloriousness targeting Shinsuke’s neck first to soften up for the finisher was expertly executed. Then Bobby worked on stripping Nakamura of his greatest strength and any time Shinsuke forgot to favor the knees, Roode was quick to remind him. I also love the finality of this with the champ putting Nak down for good with a rotating impaler DDT. Admittedly the 1b to their previous outing but validation that Roode now owned the yellow brand and would reign over it for the foreseeable future.

#1 ~ TakeOver: Brooklyn III

Despite being the eternal pessimist, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Fenichel said in regards to this event. I realize how quick triggered and clichéd it is to label the most recent TakeOver as the best one to date but NXT exceeded expectations yet again. Even with the exclusion of Strong, you’d be hard pressed to find a more well-balanced card. No matter how often RAW and SmackDown pick the brand’s pockets, NXT just continues to steal the show during these wrestle-laden weekends.

Gargano and Almas popped the crowd like a beach ball in what was surely the hottest opener since Cesaro/Zayn. Johnny Wrestling had his bubble burst at another TakeOver; this time by Andrade who picked up an important victory with a timely assist from Zelina. Gargano’s done everything possible to move forward as a singles competitor but had DIY’s past literally thrown in his face by Vega which in turn led to Johnny‘s downfall. If you were blown away by this match, just wait until Gargano and Ciampa settle their differences at a future TakeOver (presumably New Orleans).

I expected the pace to cool down considerably with SAnitY/AoP but they cranked up the heat and had my forehead beading like those leaked nudes of former NXT diva Maxine. This match featured a couple welcomed surprises - Nikki Cross being sent through a table inadvertently, Eric Young substituting for Killian Dain, Akam & Rezar dropping the titles - and yet the biggest one was Alexander Wolfe. The guy brought his work boots to Brooklyn and really improved his perception amongst fans like myself who’ve viewed him as the weak link in the stable. This NXT Tag Team Title match was far better than it had any right being and that’s because the two sides played to their strengths (SAnitY especially) instead of giving the type of plodding performance I had envisioned.

Itami/Black then kicked things into another gear with feet flying in every direction. While obviously a stiff worker himself, Hideo learned about Aleister’s striking ability the hard way after receiving a face full of black mass. I’ve always been a fan of the heel losing his temper and walking right into the opponent’s finisher. It’s a shame Itami had to eat the loss as he’s been served enough humble pie in NXT already but them’s the brakes when you encounter multiple roadblocks. In just three years, Hideo’s gone from being the biggest free agent signing to basically enhancement talent. That’s gotta hurt.

Speaking of pain and suffering, the Ember/Asuka sequel had me on pins and needles. Moon’s character depth may be on par with Kristen Stewart’s in Twilight but she’s totally eclipsed my heart during her feud with Asuka. And while Ember’s redemption story reads a lot like Bayley’s the year prior, this version delivered huge with a captivating conclusion. Moon gains more in defeat than victory and now you’ve gotta wonder if she’ll be squaring off with the winner of the Mae Young Classic at TakeOver: Houston for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship. Will the third time be the charm or is Ember destined to get upended by another Japanese star? Hmmmm…

The main event summed up this show perfectly. I don’t see McIntyre as much of a draw and on paper, his clash with Roode did little to jump off the page at me. The match drew me in as it went along however and while our new NXT Champion is hardly the chosen one, we’re all excited about the decision to pair Adam Cole with reDRagon. Any fans in attendance who found McIntyre/Roode a bit lacking got their money’s worth when those three hit the ring. And while SummerSlam was as lopsided as Charlotte’s woobies, NXT offered us an extremely solid show from top to bottom. Not only that but Brooklyn III set two new feuds in motion (reDRagon/SAnitY & McIntyre/Cole) and kept another rolling along (Gargano/Ciampa).

So there you have it; my sweet seventeen. Are your rankings roughly the same or drastically different? Feel free to list ’em below.


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