The good news is that NJPW’s G1 Climax Final was instrumental in making me enthusiastic about wrestling again, which explains why I stayed up to watch yesterday’s NXT Takeover and why I felt the need to write (or should I say type) down my thoughts. Bad news is nothing has really changed health-wise so let’s just consider this another one-shot, shall we? And no, I have absolutely no urge to watch Summerslam this year, I do not want to have the life sucked out of my enthusiasm for wrestling again.
First a general thought, I fully approve of WWE/NXT’s decision to hold more and more of these Takeover shows in bigger venues with bigger crowds. Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Full Sail crowd is awesome, but, having these shows play out in front of a bigger, and equally enthusiastic, crowd truly helps to make these Takeover Specials feel… Well, special.
I must say that Jose kind of surprised me in the opener. Until now I wasn’t really a fan of the gimmick or the wrestler, best I could say about it was that the whole thing was amusing, just as I find it amusing wen one of my cats chases its own tail, but Jose did well to keep up with Aries and was clearly over with the crowd. Usually I would conclude with: with a bit more time and work, No Way Jose could grow into something good, but, given the result of this match and the fact that Jose really has nothing going on storyline-wise, I’m starting to suspect that he will be one of those wrestlers rushed up to the main roster because the Powers That Be think the RAW or Smackdown crowds might find his gimmick amusing. Problem with that is that cats chasing their tails only lasts for so long so, if that is indeed the case, expect Jose to be forgotten in three months times.
Those who have followed his career know Aries to be a very solid and dependable wrestler so his showing here should come as no surprise. Unlike Jose, Aries does have something big lined up for him, in the form of a feud with Hideo Itami. I think this is a good choice for both, they won’t have to hold back for each-other and Aries’s technical wizardry should be a good match to Itami’s hard-hitting offense. Also I loved that the commentators felt the need to explain that Itami was the innovator of the GTS, not CM Punk. Then again, now I think on it, there probably was need to explain that, and I’m just a wrestling geek. Ah well, there are worse things to be in life I guess.
I’m a bit of two minds about Ember Moon’s debut. I can only assume that they wanted to establish her (admittedly awesome) finisher as a sure-fire match-winner right of the bat, but, in that case, Billie Kay wasn’t exactly the ideal first opponent for her because her offense simply wasn’t convincing enough. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Billie has potential, but this was too early for her. Ember did fine with the time and booking she was given and I have no doubt she’ll get her squashes in the following weeks, to help build her up to what we all know is coming, but she will also need a couple of matches against more experienced performers (Emma comes to mind) to help her get to the level she needs to be before challenging YouKnowWho. All in all not a bad start for the former Athena, just think it would have been better to put a more experienced wrestler in the ring with her.
And then it was time for Bobby Roode to be GLORIOUS! I must say I was highly entertained by his entrance and the crowd chanting along with his (awesome) theme song and also thought the match was a good showcase for him. OK, I know some dislike his finisher, but finishers are not always about what you do, but often about how you do it and, most importantly, how they are booked. After all, the People’s Elbow and the Rock-Bottom were never the world’s most spectacular moves to begin with, that didn’t stop them to become arguably among the most over finishers of all time. So far so good then for Mr Glorious.
But man, what have they done to La Sombra? That gimmick is killing him. And it’s a shame because Andrade was finally allowed to show flashes of his La Sombra brilliance and also had some good, fun spots early in the match, but that gimmick also means that he had to work extra hard to get the crowd even remotely interested in him, because all they wanted to see was a Glorious Roode win. And that’s a shame given the Former La Sombra’s talent. There is a little ray of hope for “Cien” though. The fact he was allowed to show flashes of what anybody who has followed his career KNOW he can do and the fact his presentation vignettes from a while ago featured him removing the mask might mean that the mask and character are still around somewhere. A crushing defeat like the one he suffered yesterday might be the trigger for him to put the mask back on and become something much more dangerous (and interesting) without WWE having to explain the mythology of Luchador Masks to its regular audience. By the way, could that be what that “SANITY” vignette was all about? For the sake of La Sombra’s WWE’s career (and all f his fans) let’s hope so.
The Revival vs Gargano and Ciampa was without doubt one of the best, probably among the Top 5 best, tag team matches, I’ve seen in recent years. And coming from someone who has been a fan of tag team wrestling ever since he started watching more than 30 years ago AND isn’t really a big fan of the WWE product, that should mean something. I’m just enjoying The Revival’s Old School heel work so much, these guys are truly fantastic in finding innovative ways to cheat/distract opponents/distract referees/riling up the crowds/snatching the so-well deserved victory from the poor babyfaces trembling little hands and everything a really great heel tag team is supposed to be doing. And the really refreshing thing is, they don’t need silly comedy to achieve this. Gargano and Ciampa were also awesome here, their chemistry is already well known, but both were exceptionally effective in their “babyface in peril” role, their comebacks got the crowd in a frenzy and their eventual loss was soul-crushing but in a good way, just check out the standing ovation they received afterwards if you don’t believe me. Great match, great crowd, great story, great action, great emotion, in short, all you want out of wrestling.
The big debate on the internet is apparently if this match between Bayley and Asuka was better than their previous one. In my humble opinion, yes, it was, without question. The main reasons for this lie in the change in dynamic and the subsequent crowd reaction. At Takeover Dallas, it was a babyface vs babyface affair and the crowd, at times, didn’t really know what to make of this. Asuka was well and truly over but Bayley was their champion, so, as I wrote at the times, who do you cheer for? Are you happy that Asuka won? Sad that Bayley lost? None of the above? The booking just didn’t make that clear, which, in my opinion, hurt the perception of an otherwise very good match. Those problems were solved for the re-match by the simple expedient of having Asuka play subtle heel before and during the match. Add to that the fact that Bayley was once again in the familiar role of ultimate underdog and you get a much better flow story-line wise with the action being equally good.
Speaking of stories, I like the one they told here, with Bayley being (understandably) weary of Asuka’s offense and seemingly unsure on how to handle this at first before going all out and even daring Asuka to hit her with all she got (Asuka happily obliged), while Asuka played the role of over-confident heel well, which should be no surprise to those who still know her from her Kana days. Ending was as hard-hitting as they came with the Champion proving that, despite Bayley’s courage and resilience, she was unbeatable. Of course, this begs the question, what’s next? For Bayley, things are clear, she as received her (very emotional) send-off, and deservingly so, so we will see her on RAW in the coming months. Asuka is no longer the Empress of Tomorrow but simply The Empress, ruling the women’s division with an iron fist. But a huge threat to her crown has already been established in the form of Ember Moon and her lethal finisher. For me, the presence of Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte actually emphasize that Asuka’s call-up will probably happen before next year’s Royal Rumble. remember, the four Horsewoman have been firmly established, and for Bayley to be beaten so decisively before her best friends and favorite foes cannot remain without consequences. The Boss vs The Empress at WrestleMania 33 (in Orlando, Florida no less)? I wouldn’t rule it out…
I am mildly amused by some of the reactions to the main event. While the match does get good scores, some are calling it a tad disappointing, nothing the slow start. This amuses me because it is something I’ve seen before and all NJPW fans among you should also have recognized it. Here is the thing, the WWE Universe have adopted the Strong Style term, but, what is Strong Style exactly? In effect, Strong Style is an hybrid wrestling/MMA style, it’s still worked, it’s still booked, but the goal is to make it appear much more like a real fight than a regular wrestling match. Of course, you have several ways to achieve that. For example, you can go all out from the start, and try to kick everybody that moves into oblivion, much like Shibata does, or you can have a long feeling out process, with both wrestlers looking for an opening without lowering their own guard (which will often happen in actual MMA fights). The latter is what happened in this match. Interestingly, WWE/NXT had clearly anticipated reactions to the slow match-opening by having their commentators emphasize the respect both wrestlers had for the other, which neatly explained why much time was spend on the feeling out process. The goal of this way of doing things is of course to make the climax of the match look that much more exiting. And, well, that’s exactly what happened. Personally I had no problem with this match, I found it very good with an intriguing story and; on top of all that, it caused me no end of amusement to realize WWE/NXT was actually presenting a main event with a structure that has been most notably used in NJPW. Never forget, Nakamura is many things, but, above all, he’s a storyteller. You might sometimes be surprised at the way he chooses to tell a story, but, believe me, in the end, you will chant along, just like everybody else.
One last thing, for me this match highlighted something that WWE and NXT will have to do something about very quickly and that is the fact that Nakamura is already to big for NXT. I would even dare say Nakamura is already the biggest star WWE has right now, main roster included. If they don’t want their NXT brand to suffer from that superiority, they will need to call him up to the main roster sooner rather than later. Nakamura is more than ready for the big stage, time to let him have it.
Conclusion: Not all was perfect, but NXT once again delivered a good, very entertaining show that kept your attention from start to finish. What more can one ask for?
That’s all from me, until next time (don’t ask me when, I have no idea), and until then, have fun!
Tags: Andrade "Cien" Almas, Asuka, Austin Aries, bayley, Billie Kay, Bobby Roode, Ember Moon, Johnny Garngano, No Way Jose, NXT, NXT Tekeover Brooklyn, Samoa Joe, shinsuke nakamura, The Revival, Tomasso Ciampa