Sunday, 23 August 2015

NXT Takeover: Brooklyn review

NXT Takeovers have been established as highlights of wrestling. Going into Takeover: Brooklyn there had been six and all had been of the highest quality possible. The seventh had a lot of hype to meet because of this, hype that was only added to by the show emanating from outside of NXT's home base of Florida's Full Sail University for the first time.

I'm pleased to say that it not only met but exceeded the hype.

The show kicked off with Triple H stood in the middle of the ring with a spotlight on him. Thankfully this wasn't a sign of things to come. 'The Game' was there to hype the crowd up with his star power and cut a quick promo getting over the brand's chief goal: shining a spotlight on the stars of the future.

In direct contradiction to this the opener featured 50-year-old Jushin Thunder Liger. Actually, that's a tad unfair. Liger was there to help the brand name's continued growth as WWE's "indy" brand. He has credibility with the target audience as a well-travelled, talented and innovative veteran. He was also there to provide a big name opponent for Tyler Breeze, who is arguably NXT's greatest success story in terms of creating a star from scratch.

Tyler Breeze was out first. He again got his runway entrance, this time the women with him were dressed as the Statue of Liberty, a taxi cab and other NYC tropes. Not being a regular Liger didn't get a special entrance. He didn't even get his regular entrance music. Not that it mattered. The crowd went crazy for him anyway.

Breeze got first blood ;not literally, obviously) with a knockdown and his relaxing in the corner taunt. Liger took control with submission holds and shenanigans such as stealing both the corner taunt and the selfie stick. Breeze floored his foe with a super model kick and began working over his back.

Liger v Breeze, a strong opener.
A "Full sail sucks!" chant broke out as 'The Gorgeous One' applied a front face lock to Liger. In addition to this they failed to react to Breeze's screams of "Don't touch me!" to the referee. It was at this point I realised the Brooklyn crowd was going to be detrimental to show, even if only in a minor way. Instead of focusing on the opener, featuring one of NXT's most over acts and a bonafide legend, the fans focused on getting themselves over and taking shots at Full Sail. In principle there's nothing wrong with that. The FS fans had done this to them but they'd chosen an appropriate time to do it. There were more than enough gaps in the show for the Brooklyn audience to have done the same.

Back in the match Liger hit a rolling kick and tilt-a-whirl. A top rope splash was countered with knees by Breeze. Liger hit a running palm strike as Breeze shouted at the ref (set up numerous times earlier and mostly ignored by the crowd) and followed up with a running senton off the apron and a Liger bomb for the victory. The match was neither man's best work but it was still significant for both. For 'Prince Pretty' it was a vote of confidence from management and the chance to wrestle, and learn from, a legend (a term I use far less lightly than WWE). For Liger it was the chance to wrestle his first ever WWE match.

After Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Sean 'The Kid' Waltman were shown at ringside cameras cut backstage to show us Bayley in a locker room. She got a hug from Charlotte and a handshake from Becky Lynch. That was followed by a video to let us know that Nia Jax, one of The Rock's many young cousins, is on her way to NXT. She's coming in to fill the gap left by the recently departed Banks, Flair and Lynch.

The Vaudevillains got the special entrance treatment for their tag title challenge, wearing top hats and longcoats. They'd have fit in well with fan of steampunk Becky Lynch. The champs got nothing as fancy as hats but were wearing fancy new red and gold (almost but not quite Iron Man-inspired) ring gear and looked pretty dapper. And they had Alexa Bliss with them to put down the challengers before the match, telling them she knew they wouldn't find anyone to accompany them in Brooklyn. Which naturally set up the introduction of their second for the match: Blue Pants.

Gotch controlled the opening moments with his strong gentleman act before English tagged in and got worked over for a bit. BAMF did a good job of riling the crowd and working slick double teams. A hot tag was eventually made to Gotch, who did a solid job drawing the crowd into his brief but fiery comeback. He tagged back out to English who clambered to the top rope and immediately got crotched. The tag champions set up a double superplex but Gotch made the save with a double power bomb out if the corner.

They Vaudevillains did it, thanks to
the power of blue pants.
A Swanton bomb from English got the challengers a convincing two count. That prompted Bliss to get onto the ring apron. She was immediately pulled down by Blue Pants and they ended up writhing about on the floor pulling one another's hair and popping shots. Murphy snuck in and threw English out before trying a sneaky rollup on Gotch, a callback to the finish of their last successful defence against the 'villains. This time Gotch kicked out and the challengers connected with the Whirling Dervish on Murphy to win the tag straps.

These first two matches showed the NXT system is still working. It was set up to give less experienced wrestlers the chance to learn and prepare them for the main roster. The opener gave Breeze time in the ring with a veteran in front of a massive crowd. This second match gave six performers the same platform and provided them with the time to have a competitive match that told a focused, logical story. It was invaluable experience. It was not the best tag match you'll ever see but that's a complaint that misses the point. This was about people getting to work an important match in front of a large crowd and they did an excellent job with it.

After an entirely pointless shot of Coney Island and a plug for Takeover's official song (so generic I can't remember what it was called) we were shown Adrian Neville and Finn Bálor arriving together to be greeted by Cesaro. Then we were shown a shot of Rick Rubin. Who I've never heard of and don't care about.

'Perfect 10' Tye Dillinger rolled out to take the most predictable loss on the show after that. The debuting Apollo Crews got a hearty response, which is a good sign for his prospects both in NXT and WWE proper. I missed his old, catchy entrance music from when he was Uhaa Nation though. WWE will never come up with anything that good. Jim Johnston doesn't have it in him. 

Future NXT champion? Maybe...
Dillinger did his ten shtick. Crews did it back, after a series of fancy back flips, to the delight of the fans. Crews got a flurry of offence on Dillinger before being surprised by a drop kick (after which Dillinger patted himself on the back). It wasn't long before Crews fought back for the finish though. A standing enziguri, a roaring clothesline, a corner splash and most of what was once known as the Uhaa Combination (it was missing the standing SSP, which will presumably be saved as a big deal) put Dillinger down for the three count. The match got over Crews' athleticism and Dillinger's gimmick, which was the aim.

William Regal then announced the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. This is a tournament featuring teams from NXT's "past, present and future." It strikes me as a clever move. Until recently the presence of Sasha, Charlotte and Becky has allowed NXT to make women's wrestling a focus. With their promotions meaning full-time departures are presumably not far off  this tournament will allow tag wrestling to become a focus, giving others a chance to shine while still giving NXT something to set it apart from the main roster.

The pre-match promo for Baron Corbin versus Samoa Joe was excellent, even by WWE's usually high standard. Corbin spoke about being paid to go to college and play football and not having heard of anyone of the guys who have come to NXT hyped as big deals for accomplishing things elsewhere. He said he didn't have to compete around the world to get to NXT, he just put in a call. Then the video cut to Joe, who said WWE had called him. This bit of editing perfectly told the story behind the match: Corbin is dominant in NXT and wants to be considered a bigshot like his more famed peers, like Joe.

The match itself was better than I'd expected. But then I hadn't expected a great deal. Corbin is good at his twenty second squash wins on TV but he's shown in longer matches so infrequently that we couldn't be sure what to expect here. He held his own with Joe well. Clearly he's working lengthier matches at house shows, can be led well, or has a very good memory for match layouts.

The two were shown to be equals for the most part. They traded the advantage often and every time one did something the other would do it moments later. Joe's single leg crab was followed by a heel hook from Corbin, for example. 'The Wolf Shaman' would eventually be choked out in the coquina clutch after hitting Joe with a double handed choke bomb. They went with referee stoppage over a tap out though, so as to preserve some of that precious Barry Corbin mystique.

More ringside stars were shown. Ric Flair was shown sitting with Kanna and Sargent Slaughter. Team BAD were sitting by themselves, there to cheer on storyline-pal Sasha Banks. And I'm sure all of these people were genuinely spending the entire night in their seats and not hanging out backstage at all.

Stephanie McMahon came out to her ridiculous music in full-on happy babyface mode. She was there to announce the official attendance as 15,589, talk up the "Divas revolution" she's taken storyline credit for introducing to the main roster, and remind everyone that Banks v Bayley was to be considered one of two main events. They got a great video package before their match that told the story of the other three of the so-called NXT Four Horsewomen progressing to the main roster and seemingly outgrowing and surpassing Bayley. It also emphasised the importance of winning the women's championship to Bayley and the matches she'd won to earn her latest opportunity.

Bayley got her regular entrance featuring the wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men and was sporting some fresh white and gold ring gear. 'The Boss' was driven out in a car that looked suspiciously like the one Bálor and Neville had arrived in earlier in the evening and had a four strong security team with her. I'm a big fan of special entrances and this was a particularly good one.

Banks started off laying into Bayley's polka dot wrist bands (a tribute to Dusty Rhodes). Bayley took her down, gave her a pummelling and went for a pin. Banks kicked out and threw her into a turnbuckle. Bayley fired up and put Banks in a tree off woe to give her a springboard elbow drop. Banks kicked out of the following cover at one and followed up with a flash rollup and a kick to the stomach. Bayley got an arm drag and Banks tumbled to the outside, the challenger following to do her baseball slide through the corner spot.

Back in the ring Banks went for her draping double knee strike but Bayley dodged it. She would then be kicked off the apron down to the mats, the champ staying in the ring to mock her by using her own taunts. When Bayley got back in she was slapped down and worked over by 'The Boss'. The crowd were split as Banks applied a straightjacket sleeper but Bayley found the power to fight up to her feet anyway. That didn't work out for her: she tried backing the champion into a corner but got tossed head first into it herself.

Banks again went for her draping double knees but Bayley caught her. Again things didn't work out for Bayley, Banks sending Bayley into the turnbuckle using her legs. Banks softened Bayley up with punches before putting her on the top rope and hitting her double knee attack there. Bayley managed to kick out but convincingly sold absolute exhaustion. She dragged herself to a corner and was given a mouthful by Banks. Bayley's response was to kick her in the face and, getting a second wind, fire off punches at her. Sasha cut her off and tossed her out of the ring where she pulled the hand guard off of Bayley's previously injured right hand. Then she viciously smacked the hand against the ring steps and stomped it.

The referee told Banks to lay off back in the ring and then leant out of the ring to check on Bayley. Banks threw out a big spot by vaulting over the ref and flooring her foe with a tope. Back in the ring she continued to focus on the challenger's hand. Bayley fired back with left hand jabs and axe handles smashes.

Bayley hit a suplex into the turnbuckles and went for the Bayley-to-belly. Banks dropped to her knees to avoid it and took Bayley down with an armbar before slipping into the Bank Statement. Bayley dragged herself towards the ropes. Banks reared back and stomped away at Bayley's hand then rolled back towards the centre of the ring to reapply the hold and trap Bayley. But Bayley countered, trapping Banks in her own signature hold.

Banks sold the move like a pro (a boss, if you will) before making the ropes. Bayley got the Bayley-to-belly. Banks kicked out. Bayley placed a dazed champion on the top rope and went for the move again. Banks fought off. Bayley came back and tried for a top tope hurricanrana. Banks stayed put and, in a really awkward-looking moment, Bayley landed head first in the ring. Presumably she was fine as the match continued with Banks launching herself from the top rope and smashing Bayley with knees. That got her a two count.

Banks took Bayley to the top rope. Bayley fought back and hit a reverse hurricanrana off the second rope, immediately followed by a Bayley-to-belly for the win and the championship at 18:22.

The end of Bayley's title chase and quest for validation.
Bayley got plenty of time to celebrate her win. She waved the belt about and looked generally pretty happy. Then Charlotte and Becky ran out to congratulate her and (awkwardly) hoist her up onto their shoulders. Banks returned to the ring to hug and congratulate the new champion. Becky and Charlotte joined in and the four did the Horsemen hand sign (woooooo!). It was a heart-warming little post-match sequence, and lovely to see how much it meant to the four to be in the ring together on such a big night for the NXT brand. They deserve to be the focus of the Divas division within a year.

Some general hype and a shot of current WWE champ, and first ever NXT champ, Seth Rollins followed. More importantly they showed a recap of Triple H announcing a UK tour for NXT. I'll be looking into tickets.

The hype video for the main event was all about reminding us that Kevin Owens has been a beast in NXT since he debuted last December. Finn Bálor's title win was a big part of the video, being marked as a turning point for the Owens and Bálor characters. It was also made clear Bálor would be rocking his demon face paint to ensure victory, although the fact that he has yet to lose in Demon Mode was not touched on.

Owens received the always enjoyable pre-match walking to gorilla shot before he entered. When he entered the arena he got a thunderous pop and did some rope-kicking and cursing to psych himself up in the ring. Bálor did his demon entrance, this time with some extras dressed like him accompanying him to make it look like he was teleporting around in the smoke. Owens watched this from a chair at ringside, demonstrating that he was entirely unfazed by Bálor's "mind games."

The match started with some simple back and forth in the ring. The crowd got rowdy as Owens took control of the pace but that was because someone was getting chucked out of the building for something. It was understandable but still disappointing to see this happening during a main event which had been so well built up.

Once attention was back on the match a "Ole!" chant broke out. Owens seized on it and milked it for all it was worth. Truly Zayn versus Owens (Generico versus Steen, whatever you want to refer to it as) is the feud that will never die.

The ladder came into play shortly after. Owens used it on Bálor first, smashing it into his stomach and back before propping the champ up on it against the ring apron. He then trolled the crowd by getting a run-up from the aisleway, teasing he was dash into or up the ladder but instead sidestepping and punching  Bálor in the face. A standard issue main event ringside brawl followed, complete with barricade and he announce table spots.

The pair returned to the ring and Owens whacked the champion with a ladder then sentoned onto it. Owens tried a power bomb onto a ladder placed on its side but Bálor reversed into a back drop. The challenger recovered and aimed a cannonball at a Bálor slumped against a ladder. The champion move and Owens hit ladder. Bálor hit his Coup de Grâce combo and ascended a ladder. Owens caught him by the foot and pulled him off into a power bomb.

Owens tried for an apron bomb. Bálor grabbed the roped and escaped to the safety of the apron. He managed to nail a punt kick but when he attempted to follow up with a double stomp Owens moved out of the way and and hit the apron bomb after all.

No two time champion here. Move on.
Back in the ring Owens hit Bálor with two super kicks and an order to stay down. He then spent some time setting up a ladder under the title belt and positioning another between the first and the turnbuckle, providing a low platform. He then grabbed Bálor and tried for a fishermanbuster. Bálor fought back and, after a tense few seconds trading the advantage back and forth, sent Owens sailing back onto the ladder. The ladder Bálor was standing on was by this point a little off centre so Owens, pro that he is, recovered enough to claw at Bálor's feet, got himself kicked away and set up to receive the Coup de Grâce. That gave Bálor the excuse he needed to leave the ladder before repositioning it, climbing up, and grabbing his belt to retain in a very good main event. 

This match had a distinctly different feel to the majority of WWE produced ladder matches. The ladder seemed to be in play a lot less but when it was used it was used in a meaningful way. It made the gimmick more, which was clearly the intention. I imagine it didn't hurt that it didn't feel like a standard ladder match too as that contributed to NXT's unique feel.

This was a top notch show. It didn't quite beat out either of the two Takeover cards from earlier in the year but that was a high standard and certainly didn't make this bad or an affront to the Takeover series. The main event was excellent and provided a great cap to the show while everything on the undercard did everything it needed to. Match of the night honours go to the women's title match. It was the best pure wrestling match on the show and told a self-contained story while paying off years of backstory in the Four Horsewomen's ascent and Bayley's desire to reach the top of the division. Basically, go and watch this show.


Results summary:
Jushin Liger defeated Tyler Breeze
The Vaudevillains defeated The BAMF to win the NXT tag team championship
Apollo Crews defeated Tye Dillinger
Samoa Joe defeated Baron Corbin via referee stoppage
Bayley defeated Sasha Banks to win the NXT women's championship
Finn Bálor defeated Kevin Owens to retain the NXT championship

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