Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Shane Thorne revealed he’s seriously injured, depriving us of what would’ve been the best match at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio. Also on the show, Nikki Cross and Asuka beat up some security goobers, and No Way Jose got into the feud everyone was dying to see with The Drifter.
If you missed NXT TakeOver: San Antonio, you can watch it here, and watch the episode after it (which is technically before it) here. If you’d like to read our older columns, click over here. With Spandex is on Twitter, so follow it, and like us on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter.
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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: San Antonio for January 28 and February 1, 2017.
Up first on the post-show pre-show edition of NXT is Ember Moon vs. Aliyah, because Wolfgang of the UK Tournament defeating Aaron Solow way too quickly was just a dark match. This was the highlight of the pre-show for me, because seeing the former Athena compete in a WWE ring in Texas is great. That’s where she belongs. Like the Liv Morgan match, Ember gives her opponent a little more than she needs to, but not enough to put the conclusion of the match in doubt. One O-Face/Moonshot/Eclipse later and it’s over.
Ember Moon continues her inevitable rise to the NXT Women’s Championship, made even better by that post-match interview with Asuka where she’s like, “Ember Moon, LOL.” Peyton Royce’s flower-themed ass was giving you trouble, Asuka, please be aware of the deadly ninja werewolf lady.
After that we got to see precious pocket-sized vegan baby Tyler Bate take on Oney Lorcan, who recently went back to his roots and reemerged as the exact same person. Bate won the United Kingdom Championship Tournament and a belt he’ll … possibly defend? But if you’ve never seen him, he’s the 19-year old (Jesus Christ) love child of Jack Gallagher and Simon Gotch. He’s very good, and basically has Sheamus’ body on a 1/4 scale frame. Brother is full of vegetables and STOUT. And his feet are teeny tiny. He’s got Rusev feet.
Bate wins with a “Tyler Driver,” which is a Tiger Driver, get it? I really hope they run an angle with him one day where he gets fired and has to come back under a hood as TYLER MASK. I also hope he never gets called up to Raw, where there’s a 1000% chance they’ll play up his Britishness and call him “Master Bate.”
The main event (if you can call it that) of the episode is No Way Jose vs. Elias Samson, the Baron Corbin vs. Bull Dempsey of 2017, down to one of them being secretly great and the other being hot garbage. Jose wins with a pop-up punch, which he definitely got from playing Big Show matches on WWE 2K17. It’s not a bad match, really, but you’ve already forgotten about it between the hand coming down for three and the referee raising Jose’s arm.
Maybe the best part of the episode is this Corey Graves video package. Graves is leaving NXT for the browner pastures of Raw and pay-per-view, so they put together this mini-documentary of his signing, early career, injury and transition into announcing. I was probably the world’s leading Corey Graves hater when he was a wrestler, but he’s absolutely the best color guy WWE has by a hundred miles, and I’m happy he’s found something that can keep him in the business and keep him prospering.
I’m also a huge fan of clips like these that let the wrestlers be and sound like human beings, which is DESPERATELY missing from WWE TV. When it gets to the part where he’s in the NXT Confessional, listen to the way he’s speaking. He’s cutting this confessional “promo” and it’s terrible. But when they cut back to modern Graves talking about it, he’s instantly likeable and personable, and you feel for and believe everything he says. I wish there was a way to convince the people in charge that allowing us to buy into these larger than life characters as real people, whether what they’re saying is actually “real” or not, would make every second of WWE programming better. Teach them to believe what they’re saying, and how to say what they believe in their own words. That’s what a promo needs to be in 2017.
So that’s it for the episode AFTER TakeOver. Let’s jump back in time forwards (?) and talk about NXT TakeOver: San Antonio proper.
Best: Tye A Yellow Ribbon
Up first on TakeOver is a match between a guy with a terrible gimmick who gets tons and tons of heat and a guy with a great gimmick who gets none. Tye Dillinger, on the night before his expected but no less magical Royal Rumble appearance as entrant #10, versus Eric Young. The story’s built around Tye being the underdog babyface he’s gotten so accustomed to being, and managing to fight off two guys at ringside for a respectable amount of time, but not forever. How funny is it that the guy with the numbers gimmick lost because of the Damned Numbers Game?
Tye losing again is a bummer, but honestly I think SAnitY needed it more. If you’re a lone wolf heel and you lose some big matches, sure, you can recover, but when your gimmick is built around you having a posse that interferes and helps you all the time, you’ve got to win some of these or the whole crew looks like chumps. I think writing so much about the 1997 version of the Nation of Domination has made me sensitive to that. Plus, as much as it continues to disappoint, losing is kinda the entire point of Tye Dillinger’s character right now, and it’ll make things even more meaningful when he ends up getting a shot at Bob Roode on WrestleMania weekend. Fingers crossed.
I liked the pace of this, with SAnitY sticking their noses into it every time it slowed down a little to keep things moving. I also noticed way too much that the back of Alexander Wolfe’s head with the little tuft of rat’s nest hair looks like Sloth from The Goonies. And I have no problems buying “Killian Dain” as a tough guy in real life, but so far in NXT he’s just Loch Ness from the Dungeon of Doom. I’ll be happy when they give him a character deeper than “fat, stares.”
Oh, and I also like that Eric Young’s finish is a neckbreaker, the fact that he worked the neck for most of the match to build to it, Dillinger avoiding the neckbreaker at all costs and getting finally caught in it in an unconventional way he couldn’t have scouted. Good stuff.
Best: Andrade Almas Is Working His Ass Off
Since debuting in NXT, the former La Sombra Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas has been defined by a vague character, underwhelming matches despite his obvious talent, and no real direction. Lately the heel turn’s been working wonders for him, and this TakeOver match with leg-shaped adult man Roderick Strong is his best outing to date. Almas works his ass off in this match. There’s rarely a moment where he isn’t struggling, fighting, pushing forward and doing SOMETHING to occupy the space. It’s a lot of effort from a dude who’s supposed to be tranquilo.
And yeah, Roderick Strong matches make me want to put a pillow over my face and suffocate myself most of the time, but this was about as good as EVOLVE-style “we don’t have a story, so let’s just do wrestling to each other as hard as possible” NXT matches get. Not Zayn/Nakamura good, obviously, but like, Asuka vs. Mickie James good. There are more than two times during the match when Rod throws a strike that makes me turn my head and go, “Jesus, Rod, stop hitting people so hard,” and that’s usually the sign of a Strong match people like. I’M TRYING TO BE POSITIVE.
Note: Rod’s NXT offense doesn’t make any sense. Why are you doing backbreakers the entire match to set up a kick to the face? I can’t believe I’m typing this, but shouldn’t he have a backbreaker for a finisher?
Anyway, if they’re continuing Roderick Strong’s “whoops, my tag team partner got injured” NXT Championship quest, he’d be a great choice as a stop-gap competitor for Roode between this TakeOver and the next. Give him a few more good matches on NXT TV, then feed him to Roo. If Strong ever actually wins the NXT Championship, it should be the same way he won the ROH Championship, which was, “all the good people have left and you’re still around, so here you go, now you’re Mr. ROH.”
Best: Two Universes Officially Become One
Out of nowhere, Seth Stinkin’ Rollins shows up and demands Triple H in one of the smartest moves he’s ever pulled. Looking for Hunter? Go to one of his beloved faux-indie shows and call him out when he’s smirking and saying “are you ready” for cheers in the opening. As the homie Jack Jorgensen described it, it’s like Seth finally “found the center of the Westworld maze.”
The best part is that Raw happened, and Triple H’s response to Seth popping up on his pet show was to have the toughest guy FROM the pet show pop up on Raw and destroy him. He destroyed him a little too much, but (silver lining, and not celebrating or wishing injury on anyone) that could eventually make the story even better.
Best: Tag Team Wrestling ?-?-???
Here’s where the show goes from good to great, and in my brain Hashtag Do It Two Guys go from being a great tag team the Revival carried to masterpiece tags to being a great tag team.
I read a lot of previews for this match with people wondering if the Authors of Pain could carry their end of it, as big hoss types don’t get a lot of street cred or love in NXT unless they’ve spent 15 years on the indies. I liked the TM-61 match with the WWE Crash Cage® more than most, and a lot of that was thanks to the Authors not just being big strong guys, but knowing WHEN to be big strong guys, and why. I’m guessing Paul Ellering’s guidance has a lot to do with that, as he took two of the worst workers of all time and turned them into one of the undisputed greatest tag teams ever. Road Warrior Hawk had the wrestling ability of a fucking gopher if we’re being honest.
But yeah, the Authors are GREAT, and DIY is such a blessing as a sincerely babyface tag team that works together because they’re good together but also fights through adversity because FRIENDSHIP. The showdown they had in the Cruiserweight Classic, followed by Gargano’s injury, Ciampa’s refusal to turn on him even when it seemed obvious and all the followup matches with the Revival not only made them, but made them something special.
This match is brilliantly put together and features a ton of great callbacks, like the stereo submission finishers DIY used to defeat the Revival. The Authors’ response is for one of them to pick up Gargano mid-submission and just throw him at Ciampa. Like, how do you scout for that? How do you guard that? That’s part of what made this work so well. Gargano and Ciampa learned to be master strategists from The Revival, but nobody knows the limits of the Authors of Pain, so there’s no way to really strategize against them yet. Ellering keeping quiet about their motivations and back stories has really helped that vibe. They’re just killer monsters, and somebody has to figure it out. Really hoping the Revival gets back into the picture and decide to use their Batman brains for good instead of evil.
Great, great stuff. I’m a little disappointed that DIY’s title reign is over already — I was hoping they’d win by disqualification or something to keep the feud going to WrestleMania weekend — but NXT has no love for babyface tag team champions. If American Alpha only got to keep the belts for 68 days, you guys were lucky to get 70.
Now give me Ciampa vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship already.
Best: The Women’s Championship Four-way, Or
Worst: Peyton Royce and Billie Kay Are Idiots
I wasn’t expecting a lot out of this match, as Asuka doesn’t have any legit contenders yet (aside from Ember Moon, who is still, uh, rising) so they just dumped every available heel into the match. What I got was actually a smartly booked, well-paced (until the ending) thing built around Asuka being kind of erratic and emotional, and some heels who aren’t that good at heeling yet doing their best to manipulate the system to their advantage. I liked this a lot.
Having said I liked it a lot, seriously, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce came out of this looking like idiots. From a kayfabe perspective, neither of them can lay a glove on Asuka, but Nikki Cross is crazy as hell and Asuka doesn’t really have any answers for her. So shouldn’t their gameplan have been to sit back, let these two maul each other, then slide in to pick the bones? Instead, they just wait for them to tie up for a second, get involved and get their asses kicked. Eventually Cross lays out Asuka, the Australians incapacitate Cross by suplexing her off the announce table through a bizarrely placed secondary baby announce table, then head back to finish off Asuka. They take FOREVER between moves, and Asuka’s able to recover, kick them to death and win.
From a fan perspective, why the hell didn’t Peyton just lay down for Billie, or vice versa? Asuka didn’t have to get pinned to lose the championship. She was pretty much down on the ground for like a minute while Peyton and Billie ran their hands through their hair and acted confused about what to do next, they had plenty of time. The best reason I’ve read as to why they didn’t do it is because they wouldn’t have both been able to pin Asuka, establishing their dominance over her and becoming co-Women’s Champions, but when Peyton got a flurry of offense there at the end she was going for pinfalls by herself. So that doesn’t work. They should’ve just left Asuka and Nikki laying on the outside and inside cradled that shit.
Still, like I said, I enjoyed the match, and I liked that it was going for something different than both the rest of the card and the history of Women’s Championship matches at TakeOvers. And hey, Asuka and Ember Moon are gonna tear it the fuck down in Orlando.
Best: TakeOver Entrances
Come on, you upload Shinsuke Nakamura’s entrance on the Royal Rumble fat guy hustle cart, but not Booby Roode entering with EIGHT WOMEN wearing ballgowns that match his sparkly purple robe? Get your priorities straight, WWE.
Best: A Glorious Bastard
I’ve been pretty critical of Nakamura’s lazy NXT Championship matches for him just lifelessly going through the motions and at times forgetting to sell entirely — I will never forgive him for having his knee worked on the entire match, then using that injured knee to hit a bunch of knee-centric moves and win — but I thought this was probably the best NXT match he’s had since Zayn. That’s probably sacrilege to a lot of readers because Bobby Roode mostly just punched him a bunch, but it’s how it played for me. Roode spent the entire match working the neck to set up for the Glorious DDT, right? And Nakamura ends up blowing out his own knee, possibly related to all that knee violence he’s been refusing to sell for the past six months, and Roode capitalizes with a single-leg crab. When that doesn’t work, he uses Nak’s lack of movement to hit that DDT again, playing on the neck work, and win. Boom. That’s how you do it.
I’m hoping the transition of the championship from a guy who is exciting in the ring but doesn’t have a character beyond “look how COOL he is!” to a guy who is purposefully NOT exciting in the ring to the point of madness and has a character that says, “please pay attention to how cool I think I am,” means we’ll get away from Pointlessly Good Wrestling and get back into the character-based storytelling that made me (and a lot of you) fall in love with NXT in the first place. Plus, Bobby Roode vs. Tye Dillinger for the NXT Championship might end up being the most emotional NXT thing since Zayn vs. Neville.
I really wasn’t expecting much from this card on paper, but every match delivered on some level, and the top three matches engaged me in a way I haven’t been engaged in a while. So a huge thumbs up to all of this, and here’s hoping the next cycle pays attention to what works here, and doesn’t just celebrate what works everywhere else.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
The Real Birdman
*Cut to backstage to Rollins & HHH trying to underhook each others’ arms*
Can we rename him Gorilla Matt-Bloom? Please?
Someone check Nakamura’s lower leg! We need to know if his shin’s k.
If Shinsuke formed a stable with Nick Miller from TM61, Patrick Clark, and WWE Hall of Fame Luke Williams, they could call them…
Nick Nak Paddy Whack
So Billie and Payton are evil ice skaters right?
I hope they reveal Kay & Royce also attacked Hideo Itami.
Mr. Royal Rumble, JSF
HHH is summoning Discount Cedric Alexander and Little Cass to dispose of Rollins.
young has a puckered butthole on his butthole
I want Nikki Cross and Asuka to wreck the shit out of Billie and Peyton and turn it into the most violent women’s singles match ever.
Next Takeover, Nakamura is just going to ride the Silver Surfer’s board to the ring while having a violin duel with Mephisto
That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading. Please remember to drop a comment in our comment section below, and share the column around so as many people as possible can check it out.
Until next time, remember to be like Matt Riddle: talented, ambitious, possibly drunk, video bombing, wearing a scarf indoors in Texas and rocking a hat made for children: