It’s been three months since the last time NXT took over. The sports entertainment landscape has completely changed since then. First, NXT is, arguably, no longer the premier wrestling brand in the business. The folks in the Lucha Underground closed out their first season in riveting fashion . All that keeps them from taking their share of the audience is exposure.
Even if you don’t agree with that assessment, it’s obvious that WWE’s “development” brand has slipped following their last special. The biggest culprit is attrition. Japanese megastar Hideo Itami suffered a shoulder injury, putting him on the shelf just as he was reaching main event status. NXT’s answer to Daniel Bryan in Sami Zayn had to abdicate his throne to best friend/arch nemesis Kevin Owens as another injury put a massive speed bump in his career. The brand’s MVP hasn’t been seen since his failed rematch bid and is still quite a ways away from returning. Owens himself saw his meteoric rise to NXT champ catapulted to the main roster to boost WWE’s dearth of heels. He went into tonight’s event destined to lose his fifth straight major event match, with a possible sixth tomorrow versus Cesaro.
Then, there is the so-called Divas Revolution. Calling up the top three female wrestlers in NXT to the main roster gives Raw and Smackdown an injection of much needed talent. However, it leaves the least talent of the “Four Horsewomen” as the top star on NXT. Her character is limited and can’t carry a feud. Having her go over Sasha Banks, who would then depart, would leave her with no immediate legitimate challenger. Emma, seemingly, can’t be buried any deeper and Dana Brooke is still very much a work in progress. All of these concerns aside, how does NXT Takeover again with this latest special? Beware of spoilers below.
Most of America hasn’t seen Jushin “Thunder” Liger in 18 years, since his time in WCW. In the pre-show, Lita even talked about how Liger was a legend when she was just starting. Making his debut in WWE at age 50, he looked every bit as good as remembered. Tyler Breeze was entertaining, as always, but came up empty. He ate a running Liger bomb and ran his Takeover record to a disappointing 1-4.
Next up was the manliest match ever with the Vaudevillains challenging BAMF for the tag titles. It is astounding the about face that Aiden English has made from despised amalgam of Daniel Day-Lewis characters to likable carnival attraction. Blake and Murphy have pretty much been the champions because there hasn’t been anyone to challenge them since the last two champion teams were promoted. Adding Alexa Bliss to the mix has been a stroke of genius, elevating all three performers. It’s the kind of team-up, like Enzo Amore with Big Cass and Carmella, that make you want to see WWE institute a trios division in the vein of AAA/Lucha Underground. Even with the inclusion of inexplicable fan favorite Blue Pants at ringside, this match just liked sizzle. That is, until Simon Gotch powerbombed Blake and Murphy and English followed with a swanton bomb. Everything ramped up quickly after that with the manly duo hitting their finisher for the win and the titles.
Perhaps the most anticipated match of the night was the debut of Uhaa Nation, now known as Apollo Crews. He legitimately seemed in awe of and enamored with the moment. He couldn’t ask for a more solid and seasoned opponent than Tye Dillinger, once known as Shawn Spears. Crews displayed all the promised athleticism and power. He didn’t shrink in the moment. Gorilla press slam, followed by a standing moonsault equals a strong debut win. Without much exploration into the Crews character, all we have to go on is what he can do in the ring. Based on that alone, he looks like a future WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
The internet wrestling community was looking forward to a squash match in the next bout, but not the one they were accustomed to seeing. Baron Corbin’s thirty seconds to End of Days was simply not going to happen against the Samoan Submission Machine in Samoa Joe. There were certainly issues going into this match. Corbin has only had one match last more than a minute and it was hardly a barn burner against Bull Dempsey. Credentials aside, Joe’s arrival in NXT has barely created a ripple after KO’s promotion forced an abbreviation to their program. Corbin acquitted himself nicely, taking some heavy shots and even adding some wrinkles to his repertoire. To be fair, adding a third move qualifies as wrinkles. In the end, Joe chokes him out and everyone’s happy, except Baron Corbin (and probably Vince McMahon).
In her previous two matches, Bayley finally showed she can impress in a one-on-one setting when she knocked off Charlotte and Becky Lynch. Her opponent tonight was the most complete female talent in the entire WWE, the NXT Women’s Champion, Sasha Banks. The ultimate underdog may have been dedicating her match to Dusty Rhodes with her head and wristbands but the rest of her entrance wear recalled Randy Savage. She needed to channel either or both of them to deliver a match on par with past Takeover women’s matches. Sasha was game, as always, being equal parts vicious technician and daredevil. Bayley displayed more courage and athleticism than we had ever seen from her before. Sasha tried to downplay the fairy tale aspect but that’s exactly what this was. Together, they told a great story, in long form, and this was the last chapter (of the NXT volume). In a way, this was the match that was destined to end. They were perfect nemeses but, in the end, the Boss was demoted.
No one can sit in a chair, looking annoyed quite like Kevin Owens. The second main event match had the unenviable position of following the women but the excitement only intensified the closer the match came to starting. The first match between Owens and Finn Bálor in Tokyo was very good but everyone knew they were capable of so much more. They did not quite rise to the occasion. Bálor didn’t do anything to quell concerns that he could overcome his character deficiencies. Owens had to initiate almost all of the action. He attempted the most offense and took the worst bumps (outside of the two devastating powerbomb impacts). It would also have been nice to see some more innovation with the ladder itself outside of Owens landing badly on them. Even Bálor hitting the coup de grâce from the second rung felt a little anticlimactic. Owens directed traffic and gave it his all but the inevitable happened as the demon ascended and captured the prize.
This was a very good event but where does it leave NXT? Having an international superstar on the card was a real treat. The downside is that, if this was a one-off for Liger, how does having a young talent like Breeze drop this match help the future of the brand? The Vaudevillains are far more dynamic personalities than Blake and Murphy, for now. As such, they are a much better choice to headline the tag division at this point in time. There was a huge talent influx with Apollo Crews, a man that should make the main event picture interesting in the near future. In Baron Corbin, another developmental talent fell to an outside veteran but Samoa Joe did what he does best: making others look good in the ring. Bayley finally proved she belongs. The women’s division is in good hands (at the top, at least) but the post-match of the night was a reminder that they are still three soldiers down. With Owens out of the way, it opens the door for a welcome heel turn and formation of the Bálor Club.
All titles changed hands and we said goodbye to the top two heels in the WWE as we know them (utilized properly). This was a monumental passing of the respective torches. Will the incoming of Crews and the previewed Nia Jax make up for the losses of Kevin Owens and Sasha Banks? Time will tell but it’s going to be a while for the sick feeling to pass. They’ve left plenty of wonderful matches to reminisce about. Make your feelings known in the comments.