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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Toronto.
Best: They Will Defend, They Will Defend
If you’re in the business of comparing a weekend’s WWE and NXT shows — which is like comparing apples and dumpster fires and I don’t recommend it, even though I do it constantly — NXT TakeOver: Toronto officially starts kicking Survivor Series’ ass about a minute into the show, when Bobby Roode is standing here in a sparkly robe that says GLORIOUS, glory-flashing a giant sign of his name while the Hogwarts choir sings his entrance theme.
I honestly loved both entrances for the opening match, because it felt like a very low stakes version of Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 30. That match’s entrances is maybe the best ever show-don’t-tell example of passion vs. hubris WWE’s ever accomplished. Triple H is Conan the Barbarian with a throne and a gold skull helmet, and three NXT ladies in Frank Frazetta slave damsel bikinis ushering him in. Daniel Bryan doesn’t even wear his nice jacket. Just a t-shirt.
And I mean, no disrespect to Dillinger, but we’re not deep enough into a “Ten” movement for him to overcome that kind of world clobbering ego.
Opening the show with Dillinger vs. Roode — hey Canada, want Canadian NXT? Here’s the MOST Canadian NXT! — was a great call. The strangest thing about it for me is how … I don’t know what the word I’m looking for is. Classic? It could’ve been a match at an In Your House pay-per-view in 1994. They don’t really do anything more elaborate than a 10-punch in the corner, and somehow by the end they’ve got an entire arena full of WWE’s most critical, wrestling quality-enthusiastic fans rocking and rolling. They’re just punching each other. Poor Brian Kendrick and Kalisto are killing each other the next night with Spanish Flies off the apron to the floor to dead silence. That speaks volumes to knowing your audience, knowing your performers, booking a show to accentuate their strengths, conditioning and then trusting your audience to get it, and following through with an easy-to-follow, easy-to-pick-sides-for story.
If I have any criticism of the match, it’s that it’s a bit long. They go almost 17 minutes, and while I enjoyed all of it, it probably could’ve been cut by about 7 or 8.
Roode gets the win with the Glorious Drop, because even if Tye Dillinger isn’t Daniel Bryan yet, he’s still pretty Daniel Bryan. He’s getting there. When he’s finally the one to take the NXT Championship off Samoa Joe on a TV taping in a re-do of the Aries/Joe Ring of Honor title change, watch the entire state of Florida explode. Or, you know, when he wins any important match. I’m just saying.
Best: Jumping The Shark
I’ve read a lot of people who thought TM-61 vs. the Authors of Pain in a Justify This Toy Playset match in the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic was the weakest match on the show, but I liked it a lot. Especially in contrast to the 2-out-of-3 falls tag that follows it. It existed for a dumb reason, finished out a tournament that got brutalized by injuries — how do you even book the thing when you lose Austin Aries, Hideo Itami and Scott Dawson? — was extremely ADD and featured a stipulation that never actually played into the finish, but it was fun. And if you’re gonna be kinda stupid and all over the place, at least have fun with it, you know? NXT’s one of those happy places where you can put a match like this into the proper context, and not just have to wonder why they didn’t do better.
But yeah, TM-61 faces the Authors of Pain with Paul Ellering in a shark cage suspended above the ring. In a, uh, shark cage not actually connected to the big crane apparatus in the corner. Nobody notice that!
From our predictions:
I don’t know if you’ve ever actually seen a “manager in a tiny cage” match, but it doesn’t prevent shit. My prediction here is that TM-61 comes very close to winning and looks like they have it in the bag until Ellering drops a foreign object into the ring from the cage. Shane Thorne or the other one get popped in the face, and the Authors of Pain take the second Dusty Classic.
Note: If this was the NWA, I’d say Ellering drops a weapon, TM-61 manages to recover first and uses it against the Authors. So that’s a possibility.
The finish ends up being Ellering dropping a chain into the ring as predicted, the Authors of Pain trying to use it and fucking it up, and the chain going flying into the crowd. I don’t know if the chain was supposed to play into the finish still and they just lost it or what, but the match continues as normal and the Authors just win clean with their finish. So Ellering being in the cage didn’t help TM-61, and the foreign object Ellering dropped didn’t help ANYONE. So that’s weird.
So that gives us the Authors of Pain as the winners of the second Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, which is great because (1) it gets an actual NXT tag team’s name on the trophy instead of SINGLES STAR 1 and SINGLES STAR 2, and (2) it keeps them strong and unbeaten so they can scare the living daylights out of the NXT Tag Team Champions. By pushing the Authors through and having them go over DIY in a shady way before pinning TM-61, they’ve done to DIY what DIY did to the Revival (with the Revival’s help, even) and created a presumed back-up challenger that’ll make you predict them when the tag titles match happens. *kisses fingers* That’s some good tag division booking.
And hey look, it’s Triple H, emerging from whatever shadow realm he’s been in since costing Seth Rollins the Universal Championship and making everybody think they were doing a Rollins vs. Triple H match at every pay-per-view since. Also, shout-out to Goldust, who should really consider just becoming an NXT trainer and wrestling in a place that would love him and give him something creative to do. Imagine how much that guy could teach these keeds? Certainly more than he can teach them going through haunted houses with R-Truth.
Best, By The Way: Shane Thorne
That guy’s gonna mess around and become a superstar, isn’t he?
Best: Match Of The Year
Not “match of the year candidate,” match of the year. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a tag team match this good. And that’s after a couple of days to really sit on it, and not just hyperbolically fawn over it while it’s happening. DIY vs. The Revival 2-out-of-3 Falls for the NXT Tag Team Championship succeeded in cementing the Revival as the very best tag team in the world and the best tag team in the history of NXT by a mile — sorry, Alpha, you didn’t get much time — and gave them a farewell they absolutely deserved for low key changing the game. Roger Ebert used to travel to colleges and go through movies frame by frame to analyze them. This match is so good I might have to launch a college tour just to explain it.
Like, where do I even start?
Like any truly great wrestling match, this one has a complex, detailed history that built a damn tapestry before either team stepped in the ring. DIY was born in the first Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, and now they’re here a year later competing for the Tag Team Championship. They’ve faced struggles in both tournaments. This year’s struggle came from a longstanding beef where DIY upset the Revival a week before Dash and Dawson’s title match with American Alpha at NXT TakeOver: The End. GargaChamp had their number, and the Revival straight-up ducked them until they managed to injure Johnny’s leg and defeat them at TakeOver: Brooklyn II. That injury caused Gargano to lose his match in the Cruiserweight Classic … a tournament he’d advanced in by giving everything he had to defeat his own partner. So he gave his all to defend and defeat his partner all at once. Because he gives a shit about pro wrestling, and himself, and his friend. DIY and the Revival were supposed to face off in round two of this year’s Dusty Classic, but Scott Dawson suddenly had a mysterious leg injury and they had to forfeit. But a week later that leg was good enough for him to hide under the ring and pop out just in time to make sure DIY didn’t advance to the finals. Again, all of this before either team steps into the ring.
So that gives us this match. Two out of three falls. NXT’s signature match, and the one that makes sure we know who the better man (or woman, or team) is. Unlike some of even the best of these matches, all three falls get time. All three falls feel like independent matches, building on each other and getting better as they go. No quick rollup, followed by a quick rollup on the other side. Two teams busting their fucking asses to see who’s the best.
So in the first fall, The Revival is able to “do their homework” and anticipate one of Gargano’s most obvious moves — his springboard spear — and counter it into a Shatter Machine. A nasty one, too. That puts them up 1-0, and puts DIY in a hole. They have to fight from underneath. Which is perfect, because over the past year, DIY has turned into one of the most bulletproof and believable babyface teams in YEARS. Their work in the Cruiserweight Classic gave them a perspective we could see. It’s WWE showing their work, which doesn’t happen a lot.
Fall two is built around timing. That’s my favorite part of any Revival match. They don’t cheat a lot, they play chess. They stay two or three moves ahead, and to hang with them, you’ve got to play their game. One of my favorite wrestling moments of the entire year is when Gargano’s fighting off both members of the Revival and goes to make a hot tag, so Scott Dawson just kinda powerslides between Gargano and Ciampa to prevent it. He’s not really doing anything, he’s just putting his body between his opponents to maintain an advantage. I could say “it’s the little things,” but the better point is that Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder (and especially Scott Dawson) not only understand and utilize the little things, they paint with them. They make the little things the big things by being the only team in the world that appears to understand them. Almost every pinfall attempt here is one team managing to isolate a single member of the opposition and hoping they can get a three count before it gets broken up. Tag team wrestling is about cooperation and friendship. That’s the entire point. And 99% of the tag team wrestling that happens ever is oblivious to that fact.
Timing becomes important when the Revival starts getting Ciampa to stomp into the ring at all the worst times. He’ll make tags the referee doesn’t see, and when the ref is distracted trying to get him back onto the apron, Dawson and Wilder push Gargano back into the corner and double-team him. It’s classic and easy, and great. The payoff comes when the referee gets distracted trying to get WILDER out of the ring, and DIY’s able to use the momentary advantage to hit their strike combination on Dawson and tie the match up one fall a piece. Every single moment of the match makes sense, and is there for a reason.
Fall three brings together everything the match has said so far with everything that came before it. The Revival starts getting desperate, trying to get away with tights-pulling and belt shots. Gargano accidentally kicks the belt, aggravating the same injury that cost DIY their first title shot against the Revival AND got him eliminated from the CWC. See how this all keeps tying together?
It builds and builds until both teams are giving everything they’ve got left, even going for the other’s finishes. The best nearfall of the entire show is when the Revival tries the strike combination, Wilder accidentally superkicks Dawson because they don’t know how to do it, and then Wilder turns around into a Shatter Machine from DIY. It’s such a delicately timed thing, and they execute it perfectly.
Ultimately the match comes down to Gargano being able to gut through the injury and trap Wilder in the Gargano Escape. Dawson tries to break it up, and Ciampa grounds him and locks him in his bridging armbar. Dawson and Wilder can touch each other but they’re both on their stomachs and don’t have any leverage, and end up holding hands. And it’s a great moment of teamwork and friendship, but also a great illustration of these guys who have an answer for everything simultaneously trying to save the other, and failing. They’re just like, I’M GOING TO GRAB YOU, COME ON. It’s a total Thelma & Louise moment. And then they tap out at the same time, going out on their backs by going out on their stomachs. DIY are the new Tag Team Champions, the Authors of Pain have already beaten them once and just won the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, TM-61’s nipping at their heels and the Revival leaves for browner but richer pastures, having redefined an entire division, put on the year’s best wrestling and absolutely cemented themselves as the greatest and most influential tag team in NXT history. Everything that comes after them should exist because of them. The culmination of an impossible rise to pro wrestling brilliance from a team that’s supposed to be in tribute to the past, but fucked around and created the future.
Five stars. More than five stars. Give it a sixth star, and let’s see if anything touches it. Tag team wrestling is the best.
Best: No More Piggy
If you weren’t around for Mickie James, she was awesome. She showed up as a psychotic lesbian stalker for Trish Stratus and turned it into some of the best TV moments of the time. I still fondly remember her getting obsessed with dressing up like Trish, Trish dressing up like her and Mickie like, physically trying to figure out if she’s gonna stay Mickie-Trish or Trish-MIckie. She took something that would’ve been horny schlock in a lesser performer’s hands and made it great. And she was out there trying to have good matches in a world of Candices Michelle, which ain’t easy.
Her WWE career ended with the horrible “Piggy James” angle, in which LayCool (who I usually love) targeted her for being fat, which was, I guess, the backstage opinion of her at the time. If you don’t remember it and want to relive it at its most horrible, here’s a highlight video of the story set to a Nickelback song. She returned to the indies and ended up in TNA, where she did a lot of good work nobody saw, and also tried to be a country singer. And got murdered by the Hogwarts Express. I hope she stayed away from Bobby Roode’s choir. Those Beer Money dudes will mess you up with some Harry Potter.
But yeah, she returns here against Asuka. It’s Asuka’s toughest match to date, but honestly still not that tough, as she doesn’t even get to bugged-out eyeball I’M GONNA KILL YOU until really late in the match. The “you still got it” chants don’t really say it — Mickie’s 37 and Asuka’s 35, so it’s not like there’s some great physical dropoff when women turn 36 — but hey, Mickie’s got it. She looks great, she wrestles great, she gets an opportunity to actually try to wrestle a good match in front of a crowd that wants it to happen, and she gets either a sendoff she deserves, or a Goldust-style return to prominent employment. Either way, she deserves it.
And to expound on an earlier point, NOBODY IS READY FOR ASUKA~!
A lot of folks though the finish was too abrupt, but I dug it. Mickie gets put in the Asuka Lock and tries to use her crafty-ass vennern experience to get out of it, but Asuka’s next-level. Eventually she’s stuck in the move in the middle of the ring, and she’s gotta tap. It is what it is. You don’t just step to Asuka.
Worst, But Also Best: Shinsuke’s Violin Army
Shinsuke Nakmaura like, reverse humping the ground while a Bond’s entire family rocks out on violins around him is a great idea for an entrance. But it probably would’ve been better if any of these people were actually playing the violin. Or if any of them were trying to look like they were playing Nakamura’s entrance theme at all. They’re just in the ring sawing away independent of the tune, and it kinda took me out of it. Because I am jaded and deeply critical, and because the rest of the show is so pitch-perfect, and because I kinda want to see Nakamura’s NXT character get kicked in the dick.
Best: Nakamura Gets Kicked In The Dick
Okay, so my major concerns going into this were that (1) Nakamura is so overpowered he’s starting to make the Demon Bálor look like James Ellsworth, and (2) Samoa Joe really wouldn’t have anything to do if he lost here. He’s been doing the character work of his career, I think, and having him finally start to create some cracks in Nak’s armor just to get kneed in the face again and shut down would’ve been an incredible anti-climax. Plus, Nakamura seems bored with his position in NXT, Joe’s invigorated by his, and of the two, Nakamura’s the one that needs to show up in the Royal Rumble. He needs a spot on the main roster so he can make main roster money in front of main roster crowds and live his American Success Dreams. I think Joe gets the differences in the ecosystems, and can stick around as the elder statesman of the old indie scene for a while. NXT stars are going to learn so much from working from Joe they wouldn’t be able to learn if he was on Smackdown getting rolled up by Fandango.
So that’s the match. Nakamura is NXT Nakamura, unstoppably charismatic and also kinda emotionally disinterested, refusing to sell anything for more than a few minutes, and Joe is working SO HARD to get something out of it. I’d argue that everything good in this match is because of Joe. And as a guy who gets bent out of shape about overpowered babyfaces, I can’t tell you how happy I am that the match ended with Joe kicking him in the cock, slamming him on the steps (in a callback to the attack that hospitalized Nakamura at the beginning of the cycle) and Muscley Busting him in the middle of the ring. Joe beat the Demon. Joe should be able to beat Nak at least sometimes. I also like that the referee caught cheating in Roode/Dillinger and DIY/Revival, so Joe had to work extra hard to get away with it.
So now Joe is the first 2-time NXT Champion. I want to see him beat Nakamura in December and send him on his way to an Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal win (or whatever) at WrestleMania, and for the next crop of NXT main-eventers to step up. Nak kept the belt for like four months and lost it on his first defense. Give me Joe/Dillinger, Joe/No Way Jose or Joe/anybody right now. Great decision. And whoever decided to play his original NXT theme in celebration needs to be thrown out of the company like Uncle Phil throwing Jazz out of his house.
For the record, I still love you, Nak, even if I don’t like what you’ve been doing. And +1 for going 0.75 Okada in the backstage Fallout video.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Joe now plays the world’s smallest violen for Nakamura.
Asuka vs. Mickie James had heart… But Joe kicking Nakamura in the dick had Joe kicking Nakamura in the dick.
NXT was so upset by the outcome of the election it moved to Canada.
Jushin Thunder Bieber
Nakamura wearing a black armband in memory of all those poor, innocent security guards from the contract signing
Still no live tuba for Joe :(
NXT continues to scour the indies for talent by signing ROH veteran Alexis Laree.
Much like CJ Parker’s wardrobe, tonight Tye Died.
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
Ellering making sure to teach the AoP the importance of chain wrestling.
Single Leg Takedown
I hope Michelangelo brought the doughnuts
Seeing as they are in the Raptor’s stadium, I eagerly look forward to Drake popping up in the background at the end of every match wearing the shirt of the winner.
And that’s NXT Takeover: Toronto. Can’t wait for NXT TakeOver: Omaha or whatever. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend, especially to our Canadian fans celebrating the very important national holiday of American Thanksgiving. We’ll be back next week, so share the column around, drop us a comment and continue enjoying the warm afterglow of DIY/Revival.