There was the involvement of returning stars the Lucha Dragons, Adrian Neville and The Ascension. Dawson and Wilder upsetting The Vaudevillains was nice. Enzo and Cass not making it to the semi-finals after missing the last two Takeovers was a less welcome surprise, but they did at least go down to the eventual winners. Samoa Joe and Finn Bálor not coming to blows? That probably counts as a surprise considering their booking in backstage segments throughout the tournament.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was that the tournament was ultimately used to enhance the standing of Baron Corbin. While Corbin had obviously been in a team for this tourney, pairing up with former rival Rhyno, he's generally more known as a singles wrestler. So his treatment here came as a surprise, though that's not to say it didn't make sense. Because it did.
|Top lad Big Barry Corbin.|
This tournament allowed the two booking approaches Corbin's been subjected to so far to be utilised. His matches against Breeze and Dempsey and Ciampa and Gargano were both relatively one-sided, showing that he's a super competent ass-kicker who can shut down guys below a certain level with ease. Meanwhile his semi-final match with Chad Gable and Jason Jordan and his final match against Finn and Joe allowed him to work a lengthier, more competitive bout. The first showed that he knows how to beat people the right way, making Gable and Jordan look incredibly before just pulling out a victory with an almost flukey End of Days. The second demonstrates that he knows how to lose in a similar fashion, looking strong before taking a loss.
But Corbin most benefited from simply sharing a ring with NXT main eventers. He'd shown that he could keep up with Joe at Takeover: Brooklyn. Here he showed that wasn't an accident and that he could work just as well with NXT champion Bálor. From a more kayfabe standpoint it got us used to seeing him in a main event setting (this was the highest Corbin's ever made it on a Takeover card) and laid some ground work for a Corbin versus Bálor singles match at some point.
I could see that coming during next year's WrestleMania season. By the time 'Mania 32 has been and gone I'd expect Bálor to be on the main roster or be getting the vignette treatment to set up for it. He's costing WWE too much month for him to stay in NXT beyond that (he has to be, he would have been getting some tasty cheques from New Japan, whom WWE wooed him away from). 'The Wolf Shaman' seems like a strong candidate to end Bálor's reign. He's been slowly built up as a force within NXT, he's over, and he's being moved towards the main event now, meaning it wouldn't be a shock to see him there in a few months.
Bálor's recently announced defence against Apollo Crews strikes me as a way to give Bálor a quality title match before losing it and Crews a meaningful and memorable first loss. Corbin fits the bill as a replacement. He's different and would benefit from the exposure of the position. And a Takeover the night before the Rumble (setting up a Finn debut in the thirty man extravaganza) or WrestleMania (freeing Finn up for the post-WM RAW or some vignette treatment) would be excellent timing.