Photo: WWE

It’s easy to forget these NXT live specials had humble beginnings. Before becoming the consistently stupendous super-shows that gave us classics likes Banks-Bayley and Nakamura-Zayn, they were loaded with, what in hindsight is, filler and near laughable match-ups. (Remember: The first-ever NXT live show was main-evented by Neville and Bo Dallas in a ladder match for the inspirational one’s NXT Championship.) NXT has been losing steam ever since the pillars that made those stellar shows what they were got sent to the main roster, and the lukewarm lineup for TakeOver: San Antonio is the logical result of that massive cooldown. The dependable anchors are there, but they’re matched up with faces that are greener than we’ve gotten used to. As we headed into the night, it wasn’t just the least exciting TakeOver in ages, it was also the riskiest. For this show to succeed, it was going to take smartly laid-out matches and some serious hard work from NXT’s best and brightest. Thankfully, that’s exactly what we got.

Advertisement

Tye Dillinger hits the Tye Breaker on Eric Young (Photo: WWE)

That was really the story all night: Doing the best with what you have. For the opener, that meant relying on the fans’ adoration for Tye Dillinger to uplift an otherwise workmanlike match between The Perfect 10 and Eric Young. From the moment Dillinger waltzed to the ring, looking like one of the dudes from Magic Mike halfway through a Doctor Strange-themed routine, the crowd in San Antonio was on fire, and it stayed that way throughout. It added life to a standard “underdog up against impossible odds” story, fueling Dillinger’s comebacks and intensifying each nearfall as Tye went out in a blaze of glory. Many expect to see him in the Royal Rumble tomorrow, and if this was indeed his farewell to NXT, he went out with as much spirit as he’s ever shown.

Despite this being the first big featured TakeOver appearance for the two competitors in the night’s second match, this was undoubtedly the safest bet for a great contest on the whole card. After all, Roderick Strong versus La Sombra is, essentially, a 2015 match of the year candidate that never happened. While this never got close to approaching that level, it was still one of the better NXT singles matches in months. Strong is a workhorse with impeccable form and a viciousness in his offense that makes everything he does look believable and malicious. Unsurprisingly, Roddy attacked this opportunity head on, zipping around the ring and clobbering Andrade Cien Almas from every conceivable angle. Almas, meanwhile, had another good showing and continues to thrive ever since ditching the suspenders and getting back to his greasy scumbag persona. This was the kind of match both of these men needed to have, and I know they could do even better.

Advertisement

If Almas versus Strong was the safest best for match of the night, DIY versus the Authors Of Pain was the strong dark horse. It all came down to just how damn good Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa are at being impassioned underdogs, and how well they were able to capitalize on the size and brutishness of the Authors. They abused the two giants, landing dive after dive and knee after knee, but unsurprisingly, the story here was DIY’s inability to overcome the big men no matter what they threw at them. The closing stretch brilliantly played on the definitive moments of DIY’s Cinderella run—the double submission on Dash and Dawson to win the titles at TakeOver Toronto and the big running knee/superkick combo that helped them retain over The Revival in their big rematch—to make a Gargano and Ciampa victory look like it was ever so close. But Occam and Razor (I know that isn’t their actual names, but come on) subverted DIY’s valiant stands every time and eventually outlasted the scrappy fan favorites.

This was an example of a match being perfectly paced and choreographed to cover up its weaknesses and emphasize its strengths. DIY showed they could be an exceptional babyface duo as they feuded with The Revival, a team that exudes an equally superlative fiendishness and in-ring expertise, but by putting on this great of a performance against the untested, uninteresting Authors, Gargano and Ciampa cement themselves as one of the best babyface teams in the world.

The Women’s Championship match also had to contend with some less-than-battle hardened participants. It’s been clear in the weeks leading up to San Antonio that the real money match here is between Asuka, NXT’s undefeated champ, and Nikki Cross, the relatively new-to-NXT wrestling veteran whose performances have climbed a gear ever since she became a member of the villainous Sanity stable and went unhinged. Unfortunately, that’s not the match we got tonight, as Peyton Royce and Billie Kay weaseled their dollar-store Mean Girls act into things. They were used here perfectly, though. Early on, they kept breaking up Nikki and Asuka, delaying the gratification of getting to see the two bruisers square off and making themselves even more annoying than they already were. Of course, we did get to see Nikki and Asuka go at it eventually—that match is going to be great when it finally happens—until the Aussies dragged Cross away and put her through a table to effectively eliminate her from the match. From there, Peyton Royce got in a couple of close nearfalls, but this was all about giving Asuka more room to dominate and build her aura.

Advertisement

For me, the main event was actually the biggest question mark of the evening. I love Shinsuke Nakamura, but he’s not exactly the most consistent wrestler. Ever since his days in New Japan, he’s been known to coast when he can. When he’s in a big spot and needs to make an impression—say, in front of 30,000 people in the Tokyo Dome or making his WWE debut against Sami Zayn—Nakamura is capable of putting on performance that few in the world can match. Otherwise, he’ll still entertain you, doing all his wacky mannerisms and signature moves, but he won’t go the extra mile. And Roode? Well, he’s superb in his role, but when the entrance is over and the promos are done, he’s the least exciting main eventer NXT has presented since Bo Dallas.

With those expectations in mind, this match delivered just about what I expected. But a wrestling trope that I usually hate—the big babyface injury that’s so bad doctors have to come check it out in the middle of the match—was used to put the story these two were telling over the top and make Roode’s victory more easy to swallow. The pivotal moment here was when Roode tried to pin Nakamura with his feet on the ropes. He couldn’t beat the champ without cheating because, at the end of the day, he’s just plain not on Nakamura’s level. This moment of blatant disrespect set Nakamura on a violent tirade, and from that point on, he held nothing back. Ultimately, this would prove to be his downfall, as he took a big risk on the apron and injured his knee badly enough that Roode, the desperate opportunist that he is, finally found himself on an even playing field. That’s the only way he was able to eke out a win and take home the belt.

Assuming they don’t just hot potato the title right back to Shinsuke, I’m actually looking forward to seeing Roode lord over NXT as its pompous douchebag of a champ. Unfortunately, that means the in-ring quality of these main-event matches will continue to sink, but frankly, the NXT Championship has been the least interesting belt on the show since Samoa Joe beat Finn Balor all the way to Monday Night RAW. If NXT can continue to make smart use of the talent on its roster—both proven and unproven—then we might not make it back to the Golden Age of TakeOvers, but we’ll at least have the kind of consistent, satisfying show San Antonio managed to be.

Advertisement


Stray Observations

  • Results: Eric Young def. Tye Dillinger; Roderick Strong def. Andrade Cien Almas; The Authors Of Pain def. DIY for the NXT Tag Team Championship; Asuka def. Peyton Royce, Billie Key, and Nikki Cross to retain the NXT Women’s Championship; Bobby Roode def. Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship.
  • Seriously, what the hell was Tye Dillinger wearing?
  • Bobby Roode is fine. He’s got a great character and he plays it well, but the guy does absolutely nothing for me when it comes to, you know, wrestling. I’m not saying he’s a terrible wrestler that I hate to watch or anything that inflammatory. He’s just kinda boring.
  • I fell hard for that two-count in the Women’s Championship match after Peyton’s weird Neckbreaker.
  • It was nice to see WWE UK Champion Tyler Bate in the crowd, but my eyes were glued to Matt Riddle, formerly of UFC fame and now of worldwide indie-wrestling fame, acting like a dipshit in the background of that shot.

Advertisement