There’s not yet been a disappointing NXT TakeOver. On the enjoyability spectrum the shows have ranged from decent on the low end to spectacular at its best (it’s a three-way tie between R Evolution, Dallas, and Chicago). NXT’s third straight summer in Brooklyn matched in quality to the best TakeOvers of yore, as satisfying a two-and-a-half hour show as the WWE can put on. The show was a mix of great in-ring work, a healthy mix of match styles, a half dozen “wow” moments, surprise debuts, plus the welcomed return of Mauro Ranallo as play-by-play announcer. Why must the supposed developmental farm team consistently put on a better show than the main roster?
We will get to the ROH invasion of Adam Cole and reDRagon later, because this was the headline coming out of the show.
Highlights abound from start to finish, beginning with a hot opener between Johnny Gargano and Andrade Cien Almas. This was the perfect first match to prime the crowd: Great mat work, a hybrid of hard Japanese and lucha style, with lots of satisfying reversals. We knew Gargano would have his working boots on, but what was heartening was that this was Almas’ most convincing performance since he was La Sombra in CMLL. Figuring out his character, sans lucha mask, has been something of a struggle since Almas signed with WWE, and perhaps his newfound playboy persona and Zelina Vega has his valet will be the character development he needs to succeed in America. Late in the match, there was a tremendous sequence of a Gargano Escape reversing into a buckle bomb by Almas, followed by the double knee—one of many times the crowd leapt to their feet. Almas won when Vega tossed a D.I.Y. shirt in Gargano’s face, to which Almas hit a superkick and his hammerlock DDT for the win. I don’t think Gargano came off bad in losing this match.
The build to the tag team championship between Sanity and The Authors of Pain lacked an emotional build, namely, the absence of a clear-cut babyface/heel dynamic. But on paper this match is about 18-wheelers colliding, and this was all car crash, no subtlety. What bigger spectacle was there when Killian Dane crossbodied Nikki Cross and Akam through the table? By the end of the match, Sanity appeared to have been assigned the role as babyface—which made the reformation of reDragon, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, more dastardly when the former ROH stars laid out everyone post-match.
The weakest show of the match wasn’t even that bad at all: Hideo Itami vs. Aleister Black featured two dynamics that didn’t quite mesh. Black’s gimmick thus far has been his one-sided squashes, with his Black Mass spinning heel kick the piece de resistance. In this match, Black’s dominance has been set against Hideo Itami’s character, who has felt disrespected from fans and wrestlers alike (hence him screaming “show me respect!” and the announcers pointing this out every 30 seconds). I’m just not sure those two opposing forces created enough of a tension to tell a compelling story. For one, I don’t buy Itami playing the bad guy—it’s his size plus lack of aggression. So while this bout was well-wrestled, and the finish came out of nowhere (and earned a loud pop), it was nowhere as good as the first two matches.
Nor the the next one, the women’s championship match. This may have been the most heated women’s match, from a reaction standpoint, since Bayley vs. Sasha Banks two summers ago. It was the closest thing to a strong-style match I’ve seen in the women’s division. Ever since the class of Charlotte/Becky Lynch/Sasha Banks graduated to the main roster, the women’s division has lacked credible competitors against Asuka, whose aggression is on a different plane than every other female. I saw it, however, in Ember Moon tonight, and the moment was her series of kicks and step-up enziguri that made her feel like Asuka’s in-ring equal. She looked like a video game character hitting a triple-score combo.
The match was hard-hitting and nasty, with the crowd engaged throughout. The sound from the audience when Moon finally hit her Eclipse finishing move against Asuka—and the subsequent kickout—was a pop that reverberated from Brooklyn to Montauk. And then when Asuka cinched in her chicken wing submission, she wrung Moon like a rag doll, and retained her championship.
(Two bits of criticism, and both pertaining to character: Ember Moon’s tantrum when Asuka kicked out of her superkick, near the end of the match, feels like the opposite of badass. Same with Asuka: pulling the ref when Moon was attempting her second Eclipse—cheating to win, that is—seems to take away from the mystique of her undefeated streak. Asuka should win because she’s Brock Lesnar-like unbeatable, not because she needs to resort to nefarious tactics.)
Anyway, Asuka keeping her unbeaten streak only adds to her aura. It feels inevitable that she’s on a collision course with Kairi Sane (the former Kairi Hojo), hopefully at WrestleMania weekend next April, and this may be the greatest WWE women’s match of all time.
Finally there’s the main event, in which we saw Drew McIntyre, perhaps to the shock of some in the crowd, take the NXT title from the most-over wrestler in the division, Bobby Roode.
This, too, felt different from all other matches on the show—it felt most like an American-style WWE match, a slow build with back-and-forths, stretches of selling, lots of psychology spots thrown in. I loved how the finish played into Roode’s persona. His hubris did him in: Roode seemingly had McIntyre’s number after the second Glorious DDT, but sensing to finish him off completely, Roode went for a third, which was countered by the Claymore kick from McIntyre to win the championship.
Just as quickly as the match ended, Roode rolled out of the ring, which led me to believe some sort of run-in was forthcoming. Sure enough, as the end logo appeared on screen (a reliable Paul Levesque standby), the Brooklyn crowd began cheering in the background, and suddenly we saw Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish corner McIntyre. The crowd only got louder, because behind McIntyre was the debuting Adam Cole, who beat down McIntyre and momentarily hoisted the NXT championship belt. TakeOver in Brooklyn has always felt like NXT’s version WrestleMania, the show where stories hit the reset button. This ROH invasion going forward sure has me intrigued as hell.