NXT's Takeover shows have become the most consistently
enjoyable, well-rounded and well-booked shows in wrestling since they debuted
on the Network last year, with a string of main events that knock the average
main event of a WWE pay-per-view into a cocked hat. But this success has
brought high expectations with Takeover shows now frequently being more hotly
anticipated than the main roster pay-per-views on either side of them.
High expectations can be difficult to meet. Thankfully
this show didn't disappoint. In fact it was quite possibly the best of the
bunch so far.
Girls in furry hoodies kicked the show off by strutting
up and down the entranceway like it was a catwalk. They were there as part of a
special entrance for Tyler Breeze. The fact that wrestlers were getting special
entrances on a Takeover show was the first sign that the show would be even
better than expected. WWE usually only bothers with those at WrestleMania (excluding
Finn Bálor's demon getup for these shows, obvs). Breeze came out and gazed into
phones the models held for him. He was wearing a red robe, because male models.
With Breeze in the ring the announce team recapped an
injury angle that had originally been brought up on the pre-show. Hideo Itami,
who had been scheduled to fave Breeze and Bálor in a three-way match to earn an
NXT title shot, had been found writhing in pain on the floor of the car park
(parking lot, to you North American types). NXT champ Kevin Owens was shown
walking passed uttering "That's a shame." The implication seems
clear: Owens attacked Itami because he was concerned about the possibility of
|Entrances are cool, yo.|
Finn Bálor was super over for his entrance. The crowd was
chanting for him long before Breeze's music cut (although in fairness that was
at least partly due to the lengthy recap). Bálor's outfit had been augmented
with a pair of bat-like wings and spikes on his face. The facepaint was
upgraded too: red veins on his thighs and a gaping, glaring orange eye on his
back. Both entrances topped all but Rusev's tank from WrestleMania.
After exchanging headlocks, quick pin attempts and drop
kicks in the opening moments Breeze took control with a kick to Bálor on the
apron. Bálor absorbed stomps and a neck breaker before getting trapped in a
side headlock. He fought out and sent Breeze off the ropes only to be hit with
a sunset flip. Being a stone cold pro he rolled through that and drop kicked
'The Gorgeous One' in the face for a two count.
Bálor worked Breeze over with chops and sent him
retreating out of the ring with a soccer kick, following onto the apron and
double stomping Breeze's back before throwing him back into the ring. Bálor
climbed to the top rope to attempt another double stomp but Breeze rolled away.
Bálor went for an inverted Bloody Sunday but Breeze escaped only to be met with
a sling blade seconds later. Breeze crawled to a corner and dragged himself to
his feet before catching Finn with a crisp super model kick as he dashed across
the ring from the opposite corner.
Bálor kicked out at two so Breeze busied himself with
loosening a turnbuckle pad then stomped a mud hole in Bálor in the opposite
corner. Bálor staggered to the middle of the ring ducked a Beauty Shot and went
for the double stomp. Breeze rolled out of the way and snuck in a school boy
for two. Finn went into the loosened corner with Breeze following in with a
splash. Bálor avoided the move and Breeze avoided the exposed metal under the
loosened pad (a win for both lads, really). Bálor got a rollup. Breeze kicked
out, sending Bálor head first into the turnbuckle. Breeze gave him a Beauty
Shot as he turned backed around and immediately went for the cover.
Bálor kicked out at two and rolled to the outside. Breeze
three a fit in the ring before following Bálor out of the ring. Bálor
reappeared towards the entranceway, leaping on Breeze from the shadows and
knocking him to the floor. He then clambered onto the entrance rig and dove off
with a cross body. 'Prince Pretty' was then thrown back into the ring for a
shotgun drop kick and the top rope double stomp to bring an end to an excellent
Owens was shown watching Bálor celebrate on a monitor in
the back. He shook his head as if to say "That's nothing special"
before walking off. Some highlights of NXT's Philadelphia swing followed that.
The best bits of this for me were seeing the reception for Sasha Banks's
entrance and Bayley gleefully saying she'd never been to New York before. Both
of them were giving such honest reactions and there positivity was infectious.
That's a large part of NXT's appeal: the talent are so happy to be doing what
Dana Brooke and Emma entered together to the former's
music for their tag match. Emma was wearing wine coloured ring gear and a darker shade of lipstick than
usual. Because she's a heel now. Charlotte and Bayley had their own entrances.
Charlotte gave her subpar wooo (she'll never seem as effortlessly crazy as her
pa) and Bayley gave some kids wristbands. She is one of the most delightful
babyfaces in all of wrestling.
|Figure Eight. Twice as good as her dad's figure four? Erm... no.|
Bayley dominated the opening of the match, handling both
her foes with ease. An "Evil Emma" chant started up when Emma first
tagged in. It was amusing. Eventually Dana distracted Bayley allowing Emma to
pull her off the second rope down to the mat, giving the heels the advantage.
After a couple of minutes she made a tag to Charlotte who came in to clean
house with chops and boots to Brooke. An Emma distraction briefly got the heels
the advantage but Charlotte quickly regained control. In a great finishing
sequence Charlotte applied the figure eight leg lock, Bayley baseball slid
through the gap underneath Charlotte's arched back, and Bayley-to-bellied Dana
to stop her making the save. Charlotte then broke the hold, shot to her feet
and hit Emma with Natural Selection to get the pin fall.
The match followed a well known formula but it was still
enjoyable thanks to the popularity of Charlotte and Bayley, the effectiveness
of Emma's recent heel turn, and Dana's strong introduction. They did a lot in
less than seven minutes.
A recap of Sami Zayn v John Cena from the May 4 RAW was
shown before a shot of Zayn in a bathroom psyching himself up. For his match.
Out at ringside new signees were shown sitting in the crowd. There were two
lasses, two lads, and one Uhaa Nation. Uhaa got a massive pop and had his name
chanted. Based on that reaction and the vignettes that have been airing to hype
his signing he'll debut towards the top of the card. I hope he fairs better
than his fellow Dragon Gate USA alum Solomon Crowe. He's not made much of an
impact since he first appeared.
Rhyno versus Barry Corbin was match number three. This
was better than I'd expected. It was only the second Corbin match that's not
been a squash and was presented as his toughest challenge since how tangled with
Adrian Neville back in January during the number one contendership tournament.
It was an even match won, predictably, by Corbin with the End of Days after
he'd dodged Rhyno's fabled Gore.
A recap of Owens' interaction with Cena on the May 18 RAW
was shown next. Greg 'Generic Interviewer' Hamilton (who will never soar to the
heights of such legendary backstage hands as Todd Pettengill or Jonathan
Coachman) asked Owens for a moment. Owens mentioned his three successful title
defences during the recent northeast tour and took the opportunity to remind
everybody that he'd laid out Cena. On the subject of Sami Zayn Owens offered
some "veteran advice" (an amusing dig at Cena trying to offer him
advice): Zayn shouldn't show up or he'd never be seen again. He did Cena's hand
gesture as he said that.
That was followed by the long-awaited NXT tag team
championship between champions Blake and Murphy and challengers Enzo Amore and
Big Cass. This was the sloppiest match of the night by a significant margin.
But the appeal of Enzo is very much nothing to do with seeing him wrestle. And
it wasn't that bad, it just stood out on a card where everything else, even the
Corbin match, was booked really well. Cass played the unstoppable, no-selling
juggernaut (something that would have been keeping Reigns strong for months now
if the main roster writing team knew what they were doing). Blake and Murphy
isolated Enzo every time they got a chance and double teamed Cass whenever they
were opposite him. It was simple but it worked. Enzo being a sympathetic figure
who works well as an over matches underdog helped.
The finish was a swerve I'd called a few weeks earlier.
Alexa Bliss appeared and attacked Carmella, distracting Cass as he was getting
ready to launch Enzo off the top rope for their assisted splash finisher. He
left the ring to check on Carmella and got wiped out by a Murphy super kick
(for the record Murphy really needs to introduce a solo finisher and call it
Murphy's Law). Murphy then distracted the referee, allowing Bliss to shove a recovered
Enzo off the top rope to be pinned by 'Frosted Flake' Wesley Blake.
|Blake, Murphy and Bliss, the new faction of killer heels.|
Bliss celebrated in the aisle with the champions as Enzo,
Cass and Carmella's scowled at them from the ring. It wasn't the shocker WWE
probably wanted it to be (at least not to me) but it makes a great deal of
sense. Carmella should now get an easier time from the crowd for staying loyal
to Enzo and Cass while Bliss gets to tweak her character and try playing a
heel. It opens up an interesting story too: Bliss was happy to be the girl on
the arms of the champs where Carmella wanted to help her lads become the
champs. That could play well. Bliss had done everything she was going to as a
face for now, up to and including wrestling for the women title, so this
benefits her. I'm interested to see how the inevitable six person tag plays
Eva Marie was shown in the audience as the Dubstep
Cowboys wandered backstage. She stood up and blew a kiss to the camera. I've no
idea what the point of her being there was. The only thing I can think of is
that she'll be getting a regular slot on NXT over the next month or two and
this was a way to reintroduce her. If they want to polish her up before sending
her back to the main roster (which they might considering they're paying her to
do Total Divas and little else right now) NXT is the place to do it. And it's
nice to see the women's roster getting fleshed out a bit.
Speaking of the women's division, Sasha Banks' NXT
women's title defence against Becky Lynch was preceded by a strong video
package and the backstage-walk-to-the-ring trick, both of which helped to amp
up the importance of the bout. Lynch entered with newly dyed hair, a leather
steampunk coat and goggles. This redesign was the most interested I've ever
been in her (although that's not saying much). I was still firmly behind 'The
Boss' in this match though. As were the audience, to begin with. The opening
moments saw them soften towards Lynch as she out-wrestled Banks, going for pin
attempts again and again and targeting the left arm to set up for her armbar
finisher. Banks would eventually take a time out in the ropes and the gain the
advantage by driving Lynch into the ring apron with an arm wringer.
Banks stayed on Lynch before taking a break to mock her
challenger's signature taunts. Lynch staggered to her feet when Banks locked in
a straight jacket sleeper but Sasha took her back down with a lung blower,
expertly keeping the move applied and rolling her into a camel clutch then
around on to her back again to add pressure with a boot to the back. Becky
managed to fight her way out again but got hung in the ropes for Sasha's double
stomp, which she hit on the arm.
The champion stayed on the challenger with a
nasty-looking (in the right way) armbar and a stomp on the point of the elbow
before applying a version of the key lock. As the crowd blessed the women with
duelling chants Becky managed to roll backwards to get a two count. Sasha
kicked out and reapplied the hold but Becky rolled back again, this time going
all the way to her feet and hoisting Banks up for a power bomb.
Back on their feet Lynch fired up on Banks, knocking her
down with clotheslines and a (rough) missile drop kick. Banks came back with a
top rope arm drag and running knees to Lynch's face. Lynch kicked out of a
cover, desperate to stay in the match and win the title. Banks hauled Becky to
her feet. They exchanged slaps and rolled out of the ring where Lynch viciously
wrapped Banks's arm around a ring post. Back in the ring Lynch northern light
and T-Bone suplexed Banks onto her injured arm, earning herself a "Suplex
City!" chant. Banks escaped a second T-Bone and went for a suplex. Lynch
countered with a snap suplex, rolling through into the armbar which had been
built up as absolutely devastating in the preceding weeks.
Sasha made it to the topes to break the hold and Lynch
rolled out of the ring for relief. Banks targeted her with a suicide dive but
Lynch held on to her, staggering back to her feet and smacking Banks back-first
into a ring post. Becky followed via the top rope. That led to her downfall:
Banks caught her with an armbar takedown off the turnbuckle and flowed into the
Bank Statement for the hard fought tap out victory.
|Sasha Banks deserves a long reign.|
This match was incredible. It told a logical story with
both women targeting arms to set up for the signature submission holds. It
presented them as athletes driven by their desire to win a prize and prove that
they're the best. When it comes to women's wrestling (particularly in WWE)
that's incredibly hard to find. It also got over their characters. Banks mocked
Lynch on her way out, the cocky heel who'd proven she was better. But Lynch looked
strong in defeat, putting up such a fight that she won over an initially
hostile audience. This was demonstrated when they gave her a standng ovation
and started singing her entrance music before it started up. In modern
wrestling that is a powerful vote of confidence. Good job, Becky and NXT
management. You've finally made movement winning me over on Lynch.
The video before the main event did a great job recapping
the feud between Zayn and Owens: Owens debuting and immediately targeting Zayn,
winning the championship two months (to the day) after his debut; Zayn going
home; both men interacting with big boy John Cena; their friendship before WWE
(less their rivalry because WWE, understandably, doesn't want to admit they're
doing ROH reruns); and Zayn telling Owens he's not a good role model to his
son, a driving motivation of the Owens character. It recapped everything
without becoming laborious and I imagine it was particularly useful for
Zayn entered to a rousing pop. Owens entered to a mixed
reaction that gave way to cheers when people noticed that he was sporting a
John Cena T-shirt. The Cena mockery continued when he teased tossing the shirt
to the crowd before dropping it to the floor (whadda heel!).
Owens slipped out of the ring at the opening bell. His
intention was to frustrate Zayn by eeping him waiting but it didn't work: Zayn left
the ring when Owens' back was turned and launched himself onto him from the
steps. Zayn dominated the first half of the match, which was mostly about brawling
around ringside and into the crowd. Both guys were great during this period,
Sami playing the fiery babyface and Kevin the sly heel looking to create space
to find weak point.
|Kevin Owens. Fan of power bomb variants.|
After a few minutes they found themselves at the bottom of
the entranceway. Zayn gave the champion an Exploder suplex and then charged him
(possibly looking for the Helluva kick but it didn't look like it), only to be
caught with a pop-up power bomb onto the apron. To all intents and purposes
that was the end of the match. After a brief pause Owens pushed passed referees
checking on Zayn and started kicking him in the head. He was pulled away several
times. Each time he went back for more.
Owens would eventually throw Zayn into the ring and continue
his attack there. William Regal, general manager extraordinaire, rocked up and
got in Owens' face. Owens pushed passed him to continue his attack so Regal fish
hooked and pulled him off Zayn. Owens dropped him with a headbutt then grabbed
a chair from ringside. A look of regret flickered over his face as he held the
chair aloft, then it disappeared and Owens brought the chair down on Zayn's
Music played. Owens, being a wrestler, was distracted by
this. He immediately forgot all about Zayn and gazed at the entranceway to see
Joe walked with purpose and stepped into the ring with
purpose. He and Owens went nose-to-nose before Owens backed off. As if trying
to prove a point he didn't leave the ring so Joe stormed up to him and they
went nose-to-nose again. Owens left after that, hearing boos and chants of
"Fight, Joe, fight!" and "Joe is gonna kill you!"Joe posed
then called doctors beck into the ring to check on Zayn.
Owens briefly returned from the back. Joe readied himself
for a fight in the ring and Owens briefly looked as though he was going to give
him one. Instead, clearly feeling mixed emotions, he picked up his championship
belt and headed backstage. The show ended with Owens saying "I did what I
had to do" as the audience chanted "What a father!" and
"Father of the year!" in reference to Owens's increasingly
hard-to-believe comments about only wanting to do right by his children.
Takeover: Unstoppable was the best wrestling show in
months. The commentary team were on point. Every wrestled like they had
something to prove. Every match had a reason to happen and told a story. There
were two great matches in Bálor versus Breeze and Banks versus Lynch, the
latter of which is a match of the year contender, and a satisfying brawl to
close the show. Plus the debut of Samoa Joe, which is a big deal for its
historic significance as much as anything else. Everyone, whether they won or
lost, left NXT looking tronger than they had before it and the show as a whole
solidified NXT's status as the hottest brand in wrestling. Not bad for two hours
Finn Bálor defeated Tyler Breeze to become the number one
contender to the NXT championship
Bayley and Charlotte defeated Emma and Dana Brooke
Baron Corbin defeated Rhyno
Blake and Murphy defeated Enzo Amore and Big Cass to
retain the NXT tag team championship
Sasha Banks defeated Becky Lynch to retain the NXT
Kevin Owens versus Sami Zayn went to a non-finish