Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: I used an underwhelming Taylor Swift album to help describe an underwhelming episode of NXT.
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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: WarGames.
Best: November Spawned A Monster
For a guy who’s only been wrestling singles matches on WWE TV since August, it’s crazy to think how ready Lars Sullivan is for WWE TV. He’s been in developmental for the past four years — Triple H even teased his eventual impact on Twitter in December 2014. I guess it’s better to keep some talent out of the spotlight until they’re ready to dominate it, whereas other (usually much less physically imposing) talent is forced to figure things out in the spotlight. Different strokes, etc.
But take one look at Sullivan in that entrance video above: He moves with such purpose. While I’m sure the knee brace is legit, I love the look of it — it communicates that even though this guy may be new to the viewer, his body has clearly gone through some sh*t just to get to this point, so who knows what pain he’s willing to absorb to get to the next level?
Here, he takes on Kassius Ohno (his outfit a tribute to overrated choke artists the Duke Blue Devils, which might not be what I would want to associate my wrestling persona with) and does exactly what he should do: dominate. The pop-up powerslam was dope as hell, and while his finishing move took a bit more effort than he expected (Ohno’s not exactly a cruiserweight), Sullivan got it done. This match was fun while it lasted, and it the least memorable thing on the card — and it was supposed to be. If anything, I’m looking forward to many Lars Sullivan big-money matches in the future.
Best: The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
First, an apology: I’ve been ragging on Patrick Clark for much of 2017, from the second they started rolling out the Velveteen Dream gimmick. But I was wrong, y’all. There is zero question that his feud with Aleister Black has been the highlight of NXT programming the past few months, and that their match tonight was easily the most anticipated inside the arena — and holy sh*t did they deliver.
The character work done in this match was seriously next level, from Dream’s gloriously tacky airbrushed tights (a clear homage to Rick Rude, if his hip swivel didn’t tip you off) to each man imitating each other’s mannerisms and taunts. And the physicality — oh, the physicality! The sequence where Black kicks Dream as he’s stuck in the ropes, Dream counters with a superkick and then Black hits a spinning flying knee was downright gorgeous. Who would’ve thought that Patrick f*cking Clark would’ve gotten the best match out of Aleister Black to date?
The post-match bit was perfect, too, as it lets this feud either end (as Dream got what he wanted) or get reupped for another cycle (in that now that Dream knows he can get inside Black’s head, he wants to see how far he can push his influence). I personally would like to see the pair spend some time apart, just to keep things fresh, but this could be a fallback feud for years to come. Just A-plus work all around (except for the director and camera crew, who inexplicably missed tons of crucial shots — here’s a Worst for them, which will get doubled as soon as we get to the WarGames match).
Best: I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday
Nigel McGuinness summed it up best when he described Peyton Royce as “Twitter’s pick” — maybe this community about wrestling on the internet (or the CaWotI — yeah, that’s catchy, let’s run with that) all overthought this match’s outcome. Clearly, Ember Moon was beyond ready to be champion, and in my opinion, should have won it at Brooklyn in August. She’s been in the title picture for nearly a year, so while it would’ve been nice to see Royce on top, no one can argue that Ember hasn’t earned it.
It was a little surprising to see the match not even break the 10-minute mark, however; it was even more surprising to see Nikki Cross as the clear afterthought in this match. She seemed to take the most punishment and got in the least offense, and really, she played as minor a role as possible in a fatal four-way. I want to give a Worst to Kairi Sane for coming in at the three-count to break up that pinfall attempt (the murmurs in the crowd were right — that match should’ve been over), but I’ll cancel it right out with a Best for her always-perfect elbow drop.
Worst: I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now
Longtime WWE fans are obviously well aware of this, but if you’re new to the product, you might not know that Drew McIntyre already had a five-year run in WWE, between 2009 and 2014. During that time period, he had a six-month reign as intercontinental champion and a month-long reign as a tag team champion. He was on Raw and Smackdown on a weekly basis. He feuded with Kane and Matt Hardy and Kofi Kingston. He competed at WrestleMania — three times.
Drew McIntyre is also the least believable NXT champion the brand has ever had. He’s the first person to have already been made by WWE to be put back in the farm system. Sure, NXT has had plenty of champions who made their names elsewhere, whether it be NJPW (Finn Bálor, Shinsuke Nakamura) or TNA (Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode). But it always felt like no matter how successful you were somewhere else, unless it happened under a WWE banner, it didn’t mean as much. NXT is still developmental, as much as the brand tries to push itself into arenas. As evidenced by the thin attendance at TakeOver: WarGames, keeping the belt on McIntyre isn’t exactly helping to put butts in seats. His championship reign lasted all of three months, featured one (1) successful title defense and zero memorable moments.
Of course, the real debate is whether or not McIntyre’s real-life biceps injury suffered at the end of the match played into his loss — was an audible called, or was Andrade “Cien” Almas always supposed to win? If you look back at the past few years in NXT, dating back to Sami Zayn’s reign, nearly all face champions held the championship for two-to-three months maximum, whereas the heels (Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Roode) have been given longer, more dominating reigns. So maybe cutting Drew’s title run off here was always in the cards, and really, the only two options for Almas at this point were to let him win or call him up.
I’m just happy the title can once again be used to help elevate a nobody into a somebody, instead of being used to try and rehabilitate a former main roster wrestler whose star had fallen.
Best/Worst: Do Your Best And Don’t Worry
I’m not the only one who approached this WarGames match with a sense of dread. I’m not a wrestling purist by any means, but given all the myriad changes being made to the match ahead of time, it really felt like it was doomed to be a letdown.
Thankfully, no one seemed to tell the participants that. While this definitely was not a WarGames match of old, it was, at its best, a really fun weapons match. At its worst, it was full of convoluted spots, shoddy production work (soooo many missed camera shots and botched lighting cues) and some serious traffic jams. Watching the match back a second time, I realize why at least one of the traffic jams happened: Alexander Wolfe split his head open on that table suplex spot in the second ring, so everyone tried to give him space and get him off-camera so he could be worked on by a ref.
Speaking of Wolfe: Just like at TakeOver: Brooklyn III, he was once again the secret super-worker of the entire match, along with his SAnitY teammates Eric Young and Killian Dain. I was torn about the inclusion of weapons, because while I felt like it detracted from the supposed actual danger that the WarGames cage is supposed to convey, it certainly took an otherwise-humdrum match and gave it life. (It sucks that it takes tables, chairs and kendo sticks to get a crowd to stop sitting on their hands, but that’s where we are these days.) The intervals between teams entering got shorter and shorter, too, with second and third intervals not even getting to three-and-a-half minutes. Even backstage knew this show had to get on the f*cking road.
Literally everyone predicted the Undisputed Era to win, because they were the only logical choice, though Roddy Strong didn’t turn heel like so many assumed he would. So now that the title is off McIntyre, where does Adam Cole go from here? Continue to feud with Roddy? Presumably Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish will start chasing the tag titles, but I have no idea what their leader does next. Hopefully, whatever it is, it makes the Undisputed Era look like a threat, because they haven’t felt threatening since their debut.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of NXT TakeOver: WarGames
My money is on the Black guy.
Almas picks up the win after Zelina throws a 3MB shirt at McIntyre.
Velveteen: “Say my name!”
Vince McMahon: “Athletic!”
Michael Cole: “Loves to have fun!”
Japanese Pirate vs. Scottish Anarchist vs. Australian Poison Ivy vs. Sorta Werewolf Lady (?). I love wrestling.
Jushin Thunder Bieber
“Remember when I tried to kill you by throwing you straight into a guard rail so I wouldn’t have to wrestle you again after cheating to beat you in your home town? HAHA. Here’s a title!”
Baron Von Raschke
Can’t spell unexpected without NXT.
The Real Birdman
First Jinder’s WHC Title, now McIntyre’s NXT Title. What’s next? Heath Slater’s above ground pool??
When your parents make you take your little brother to the comic book convention
I hope the finish doesn’t involve Killian Dane producing the key.
Next Week: We get the NXT TakeOver: WarGames pre-show, featuring Pete Dunne defending his UK Championship against Johnny Gargano and Ruby Riot going up against Sonya Deville. See y’all then!