NXT’s growth has been so rapid that I don’t think we take enough time to stop and reflect on what an amazing accomplishment it is. Five years ago WWE’s developmental system was a mess. The post-OVW era had been a disaster as WWE wasted huge amounts of money and got almost no roster-ready talent in exchange for it. Someone at WWE finally had the brains to realize they needed to formalize and professionalize their developmental system.
In three years NXT has gone from an experiment to a phenomenon. Ever since the collapse of WCW, WWE has been trying to create an alternative brand. They tried splitting the roster and having Raw and Smackdown compete. They tried bringing back ECW. Now they’ve stumbled onto their alternative brand, and it’s the second most successful wrestling promotion in the United States by a mile. Ring of Honor, TNA, Lucha Underground…none of them could have come anywhere close to selling out a venue the size of Barclay’s Center.
When it was announced NXT was running a Takeover special in New York on Summerslam weekend I figured they would be at the Manhattan Center or Hammerstein Ballroom. Then when they announced they were running Barclay’s Center I thought they would pipe and drape the arena and sell 5,000 tickets. Instead they drew over 13,000, a legitimate sell-out. People were sitting up at the top of the stadium in obstructed view seats.
I don’t know what the next step for NXT is, but even if this turns out to be their peak it’s an amazing success.
Triple H’s opening promo came off much better on TV than it did in the arena. We couldn’t hear him talking, so we were just sitting there in the dark waiting for the lights. Was a great idea for an opening, and the fans mostly shut up to let it happen. As many have observed, it was straight out of Paul Heyman’s ECW playbook.
Jushin Liger vs. Tyler Breeze
I’ll be honest, I had no idea Jushin Liger was still wrestling. It’s a remarkable feat for a guy who beat cancer 20 years ago to still be in the ring. It’s hard to tell since he wears a full body suit and mask, but it seemed like he was in pretty damn good shape for a guy who is 50. Bringing in a guy like Liger is such a uniquely NXT thing. They couldn’t/wouldn’t do it on the main roster, but it’s perfect for this kind of show.
Tyler Breeze is fine. Not special, not amazing, if he got called up to the main roster I’m sure he’d find a niche as a midcard heel. For now, there’s no compelling need for him to get called up or doing anything other than what he does right now, which is act as a gatekeeper in NXT.
This match was perfectly adequate. Liger looked pretty good and had a lot of fun spots mocking Breeze. They didn’t tear the house down or anything, but it was an adequate opening match that got the crowd going.
NXT Tag Team Championship: Blake and Murphy (c) vs. The Vaudevillains
The Vaudevillains are a fun act that probably belongs in NXT. They’re the heirs to Adam Rose as a gimmick that works great in front of a die-hard smark audience but probably wouldn’t translate all that well to a bigger stage. I love the whole carnival act, though it would be nice if I felt like there was a kayfabe explanation for it.
Blake and Murphy are a meal of white bread with skim milk to drink. Bland as it gets. Nothing technically wrong with them, but they feel like guys who would have come up to the main roster around 2007 when everyone looked exactly the same.
And Blue Pants is a sensation. The “Blue Pants City” chant was probably the best of the night. It definitely seems to be that with the mass exodus of women’s wrestlers from NXT that Blue Pants should be full-time. Hopefully this was the start of that.
This was a good tag match. Every tag match is exactly the same, but they managed to throw in a few interesting cut-off and hope spots here that I enjoyed. Vaudevillains getting the belts was the right call, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon and Blake and Murphy have had their run. Hopefully the fact that Enzo and Cass weren’t in this spot means they’re getting called up soon.
Apollo Crews vs. Tye Dillinger
I see so much money in Apollo Crews. If only he were two or three inches taller I think he’d have it absolutely made. A great look, amazing athlete, good in the ring, tons of charisma. This guy should be on the fast track to superstardom. WWE desperately needs more diversity on their main roster, and especially more minorities who don’t have stereotypical gimmicks. Crews could be big if they handle him right.
And that Moonsault was amazing.
Samoa Joe vs. Baron Corbin
This match illustrates the two extremes of NXT, as we have one guy who is a 15 year veteran and his opponent is still learning to wrestle. That probably sounds like a knock on Corbin, but it’s not. I think he’s pretty good for a guy with only three years of experience, but that’s very much a minority opinion on the internet. This kind of contrast is one of the things that makes NXT fun, as we have guys like Owens and Joe who are Indy darlings, legends like Liger popping up, but also pure green prospects like Corbin.
I thought this was Corbin’s best match to date by a lot and good, solid hoss fight. These guys brought the intensity and physicality you want in a match between two big dudes. Corbin broke out some new moves, including a few decent submissions. In the end, Corbin gets choked out by his more experienced opponent but refuses to tap out.
Rating: **¾. Good outing for these two. Corbin needs work but I think he’s going to have a good run on the main roster. Not sure what the plan is for Joe, as he could either anchor NXT or be a useful piece on the main roster.
NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bayley
This match really makes the talk of a “Diva’s Revolution” on the main roster look silly. On the main roster, we get a bunch of random tag matches with no meaning as an excuse to keep the title on Nikki Bella long enough for her to break AJ’s record. Meanwhile, in NXT we have the women putting on some of the best matches of the year.
This match was the art of professional wrestling at its absolute finest. This was the culmination of a months-long story of Bayley being betrayed and ultimately left behind by her peers. She broke in with Sasha, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch…they all surpassed her and moved on to the main roster. Meanwhile, Bayley has lost big match after big match. This was her chance to prove herself. Her last chance.
In a lot of ways, this match made me proud to be a wrestling fan. The story was so nuanced and relatable, the action was intense and expertly performed. The crowd was loud and rowdy but respectful of the performers and the action in the ring. No one was treating the women as sex objects. There was no qualifier needed here when explaining the match quality. It wasn’t “great for a women’s match.” It was just a great match.
The only debate was whether or not they should have closed the show. I would say no, but only because the main event had the Ladder Match stipulation added to it. If not for that, I would have put them on last. And the crowd would have been absolutely fine with that, because NXT is awesome.
Sasha came out looking very much like The Boss, rolling into the arena in a big Escalade with a security team backing her up. Bayley had her typical Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Man entrance, which was even cooler than usual in front of such of a big crowd.
Bayley was playing for keeps on this night. She came out hard and strong with an intensity she’s never shown before. Even the sweetest girl can get nasty when she’s desperate, and here Bayley was fighting for her career. Sasha was awesome here, smashing Bayley’s hand over and over. The highlight of the match was probably Sasha stomping on Bayley’s hand while she reached for the ropes while in the Banks Statement. Perfect little touch.
These NXT women’s matches are such a refreshing throwback to a different time. They’re not about highspots, though there are plenty of them. It’s not about packing the most moves into the match. They take their time, they tell stories, they work bodyparts. A lot of the guys on the roster could learn from these matches.
In the end, it was Bayley’s night. Maybe Sasha has gotten soft since being called up the roster. Bayley just wanted it more. She didn’t come to Brooklyn to put on a good show, she came to win the NXT Women’s Championship.
Bayley is the NXT Women’s Champion. And for one glorious moment all is right with the world.
Rating: ****½. One of the best WWE matches of the year, quite possibly the single best WWE women’s match ever. Amazing work from both women. Bayley is 100% ready for the main roster, but somebody has to anchor things down in NXT now that everyone has been called up.
NXT Championship Ladder Match: Finn Balor (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Tough act for these guys to follow, but they mostly pulled it off. Ladder Matches are tough in 2015. We’ve seen just about every spot imaginable at this point. So rather than try as many crazy spots as possible, the right move is to go with a smaller, more psychological match. Which is what these guys did here.
Kevin Owens is the best heel in wrestling right now. Unfortunately, there’s nothing he could do to get a Brooklyn crowd to boo him, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He throws in so many subtle touches during his matches. Setting Balor up for what looked like a huge move and then just slapping him outside the ring, trolling the fans, made me laugh out loud. I love his sitting in the chair at ringside during Finn’s entrance.
Finn Balor is phenomenal. Not a hot take, but it deserves to be said. I do wish they had played more on the idea that only The Demon can beat Kevin Owens, since Balor lost his first title shot without The Demon. Other than that, no real complaints about this match. It was a fitting main event, they worked hard, the crowd was engaged, and we got a clean finish with the right man winning. If only the main roster creative team had thought of that for the next night…
Rating: ***½. Not a classic, but a worthy main event to cap a strong show.
Overall: Great show. No real complaints. A brisk two hours and fifteen minutes, no bad matches. Great variety of styles and stories told. It’s almost monotonous to review these Takover specials because they’ve been so uniformly great. It’s been an amazing journey to see NXT rise to this level. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.