Unlike one of those seemingly never-ending WWE pay-per-views, NXT TakeOver is the paragon of a perfectly paced wrestling show, never feeling overstuffed, with sensical storylines and enough time for matches to breathe.
A big part of NXT’s formula for success, even having lost many of its recognizable stars to the main roster, is it still exudes a cult sensibility, and the feeling that the best performers are languishing away in a brand that’s only available by subscription streaming service.
Certainly by the latest iteration of TakeOver in Toronto on Saturday, we can make several statements of fact: NXT has the superior tag team division over the WWE, the superior women’s champion, and its two main eventers would outperform anyone on the main roster.
The five matches on the card were collectively another strong effort by the NXT crew. With the exception of the opener, every match felt exactly as long as it needed to be.
That opening match pitted two hometown heroes in what’s essentially a babyface versus babyface bout. Tye Dillinger and Bobby Roode both grew up within an hour’s drive of the Air Canada Centre, and the vociferous Toronto crowd went nuts for both. Bobby Roode, with his 50-strong glorious choir, continued NXT’s penchant for theatrically ambitious ring entrances, while Tye Dillinger’s “10” gimmick has produced the most organic audience chant since Daniel Bryan’s “yes!”
The match started slow with much of it outside the ring, but the Toronto crowd provided energy in spades, interjecting with “10” chants at any and all times. Dillinger going for the sharpshooter got the Canadian audience to pop, but Roode escaped, ran Dillinger’s shoulder into the ring post and eventually finished with an implant DDT. It’s the right build for Roode, who’s on the path to NXT main event status, but bummer for Tye Dillinger losing for the umpteenth time.
Even though The Authors of Pain versus TM61 came out with little crowd heat, the match had that appealing ’80s old-school dynamic: a scheming and nefarious manager, two big scary dudes, and high-flying underdogs who throws in a few impressive spots before their certain demise.
No one expected TM61 to win the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. This was a showcase for The Authors of Pain, groomed to be the unstoppable Demolition-like monster heels in the NXT tag team division. Paul Ellering suspended above the ring in a shark cage serves no practical purpose (why not just bar him from ringside?), but it’s a nostalgic callback to the infamous Last Battle of Atlanta, when Ellering was locked above a steel cage in the Tommy Rich versus Buzz Sawyer match that was a progenitor to the Hell in the Cell format.
In fact, the only time the shark cage came into play was the crane that lifted it up—TM61’s Shane Thorne did a crazy 12-foot swanton bomb onto the Authors of Pain outside the ring. This match was kept short, with good aerial action by the Aussies and pounding ferocity by the ethnically ambiguous Rezar and Akam. The Authors of Pain went over with their Last Chapter finisher and kept their undefeated streak alive.
Following up one tag team match with another is a challenge in keeping the crowd engaged, but the tempo and back-and-forth near falls employed in this match—The Revival versus #DIY for the NXT tag team championship—felt different enough to be exciting. Following their match at TakeOver: Brooklyn, arguably the best match of SummerSlam weekend, #DIY and The Revival put on yet another clinic on tag team psychology. The Revival are students from the Tully Blanchard/Arn Anderson school of heel tag brawlers, effectively drawing heat from the crowd with not just badassery, but their lying, cheating ways—distracting the referee from #DIY’s tags, or using the belt to set up the inverted figure four false finish against Johnny Gargano.
The finishing sequence here was incredible. The Revival goes for #DIY’s finisher, a double running knee-superkick, but Dash Wilder accidentally kicks partner Scott Dawson in the face. #DIY immediately hits The Revival’s finisher, the Shatter Machine, for a near fall and a boisterous reaction from the audience. Dawson goes for a school boy against Gargano but the referee catches Dawson with a handful of tights before he counts three. Gargano and Wilder then trade cradles, before Gargano catches Wilder in a crossface. Dawson jumps in to break it up, but Tommaso Ciampa intercepts him with a bridging armbar, and all four men are in the center of the ring as the crowd explodes. Both members of The Revival tap out simultaneously and #DIY becomes the new tag team champions, likely on a collision course with The Authors of Pain at the next TakeOver special. By virtue of the good guys winning, this was better than the Brooklyn match.
With much of the NXT women’s roster elevated to the WWE, NXT was lacking a competitive division outside Asuka. Veteran performer and former WWE women’s champion Mickie James was brought in essentially as a ringer for this championship match, and for the first time, it felt like an opponent of Asuka had a legitimate chance of winning. James matched Asuka in charisma and confidence, and seemingly had a reversal for every of Asuka’s offensive maneuver (James earned another WWE contract with this performance). Asuka eventually won with the cross-faced chicken wing submission, and teased a heel turn by refusing to shake James’ outstretched hand. This feels like the correct and logical evolution of Asuka’s character, to turn her from the colorful, charming champion to unbeatable force. All NXT needs is a Bayley-like challenger the crowd can get behind to take Asuka down.
Then came the much-anticipated NXT championship rematch. It began with, once again, the best ring entrance featuring the best entrance music of one Shinsuke Nakamura. Flanked by a dozen violinists, Nakamura preened and sauntered down the ramp like Freddie Mercury and walked in the ring as the most magnetic personality in professional wrestling.
This was probably my favorite of Nakamura’s American matches. It had the physical moves-heavy intensity of the Japanese puro resu style, eschewing the slow build of collar-and-elbow tie ups for a flurry of action from the ring of the bell. Samoa Joe continues building his legit nails-tough cred—he executes the scariest suicide dive in wrestling, and he broke out his old German-dragon-straightjacket triple suplex for the first time since joining WWE.
If the idea is to not bring Nakamura and Joe up to the main roster anytime soon, I suppose putting the belt back on Joe was the right booking call. Now we’re set up for a best-out-of-three series at the next TakeOver in San Antonio. Though whoever loses that match better show up in the Royal Rumble the next day. It sounds like a broken record, but these two—plus Asuka, and #DIY, and The Revival, and Roode and Dillinger—need to be seen by more folks than hardcores who shell out $9.99 a month.
The Revival versus #DIY (4.5 stars)
TM61 versus The Authors of Pain (3 stars)
#DIY’s Shatter Machine near fall
#DIY’s double submission finish
Tye Dillinger stomping on Bobby Roode’s fingers and taunting his “10” chant
Tye Diillinger’s super kick
Samoa Joe’s triple suplex
The crowd singing Shinsuke Nakamura’s theme song to help him power out of the coquina clutch
Mickie James’ Mick kick on Asuka