The Best And Worst Of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4

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Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver Brooklyn: Drew McIntyre became NXT Champion — I know, I’d forgotten about that, too — and was attacked by the debuting Adam Cole, who formed Undisputed Era. This year, every active member of Undisputed Era came into Brooklyn as a champion. Drew McIntyre will be managing another guy at SummerSlam.

If you missed this show (you crazy person), you can watch it here. If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, click right here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, where everything and everyone is terrible.

And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4, originally aired on August 18, 2018.

Best: The Value Of Having A Loving Wrestling Dad

While it wasn’t necessarily my very favorite match of the night (that goes to the NXT Women’s Championship match, which we’ll get to at length in a minute), the objective best match of the night, at least in terms of what wrestling is right now and what about it appeals to an NXT type of crowd, was Undisputed Era vs. Mustache Mountain for the NXT Tag Team Championship. There’s been a lot of brilliant tag team wrestling in NXT over the past several years — thanks for leaving a legacy, Top Guys! — and this match deserves to be considered among the very best.

Now, in any Best and Worst of TakeOver column, I could explain that I liked a match because they did this cool move, or they did this cool move, or I loved this strike exchange or sequence. I liked the crowd heat, or I liked the character work, and I’m sure I’ll cover a lot of that, but what I want to specifically point out in this one is the “throw in the towel” moment, which could’ve been a simple callback, but ended up working (at least for me) on a much more complex level.

Hair Hill won the tag titles from Ring of Dishonor at the UK show at Royal Albert Hall, and they had a rematch for the straps on the July 11 edition of NXT TV. Trent Seven trained Tyler Bate, so he’s like a father figure to him. Mauro yelled it about 65 times if you didn’t know. In Bate, Seven sees a young guy who has an absolutely ridiculous amount of natural talent and was apparently gifted the body of a tiny little Greek God by default, who can absorb everything he has to teach like a sponge. Seven. Seven’s not an old guy — he’s in his mid-30s — but Bate is THE FUTURE in capital letters with stars around it. Seven wants to give him all the knowledge he can, like he’s putting a baby into a space ship and sending it to Earth before Krypton explodes. Bate recognizes this very real, very uncommon love of a father and will do anything he can to help and protect him, but he’s still learning. He’s still developing, and he hasn’t yet “reached his final form,” or however you want to put it. It’s why Pete Dunne is this insane charisma tornado and Bate just kinda stands around pleasantly waving.

In the match, Seven ends up caught in a Kyle O’Reilly knee-bar and nothing they do can get him free. Bate’s already made too many saves in the match, so the ref threatens him if he interferes again. And sure, he could’ve just interfered and stomped KOR and gotten his team disqualified, but he’s an honorable little Paladin and won’t intentionally disqualify himself. Eventually the trauma is too much (and Bate’s never really experienced it before, at least not on WWE TV), so he throws in the towel. Mustache Mountain loses, and Undisputed Era becomes the second-ever two-time NXT Tag Team Champions. Again, shout-out to some Top Guys. In a promo afterward, Bate explains himself, and makes all of these motivations super clear to anybody paying attention. Seven appreciates it, but doesn’t think he should’ve done it. Presumably he explained why in detail when the cameras weren’t in their faces.

At TakeOver Brooklyn 4, it’s Bate’s turn to end up in a Kyle O’Reilly knee-bar. The scene is exactly the same, only now the stakes are even higher: if Seven gets disqualified, they not only lose the match, they lose their chance to get back the Tag Team Championship. He grabs the towel and wants to throw it in, but can’t; and this is the best part of the match, because it shows why Seven is the mentor, and the lesson Tyler Bate learned. Seven throws the towel into the crowd and expresses his undying support and love through an outstretched arm, palm open, waiting for a tag.

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Bate’s in the opposite corner thanks to some opportunistic cheating from Roderick Strong, but in that moment he realizes what Seven meant, and that if he has the pure love of a mentor who truly believes in him, he can do anything. That gives him the strength to drag himself across the ENTIRE DIAGONAL LENGTH OF THE RING by his arms, doing desperate push-ups the entire time, until he’s finally, finally able to make the tag. Trent Seven’s love and knowledge taught him how to reach down deeper and find another level of heart he didn’t know he had.

It’s an indescribable kind of moment that connects with everyone in the crowd in one way or another, and a shining example of why these two teams are so gifted at what they do. Mustache Mountain ultimately loses thanks to a timely 2-on-1 double-team on Seven after Bate gets sent to the floor, because not every story with happiness in it gets a happy ending. And maybe Tyler Bate still has a lesson or two to learn. If WWE could learn anything from this, it’s that it’s easier to care about characters when they care about each other.

Fuck a star rating, this ruled.

Worst: Boo These Men

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The only thing on this entire show I’d consider close to a “Worst” would be the post-Tag Team Championship match attack on Undisputed Era from the War Raiders. Yeah, it was probably a way to explain why Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong wouldn’t run out to help Adam Cole in his match with Ricochet later in the show, but so much of it didn’t work for me.

Let me try to explain. Why am I supposed to cheer a team of big strong guys who literally crawled into the ring to sneak attack a couple of much smaller dudes who’d just wrestled for 18 exhausting, back-and-forth minutes and, aside from some incidental opportunism throughout the match, won the thing fairly? I get that War Machine wants to “send a message,” and that WWE is convinced that attacking somebody to say you want to fight them later is a normal and ethically neutral way to be — if you’re heel and do it, you’re awful, but if you’re a face and do it, you’re “making an impact” — but to me it was bullshit. Did you ever see the babyface Road Warriors belly-crawling up behind the little-ass Fantastics to sneak attack them when they were tired? Why would they have to? How does that make you tough? They’re half your size and gassed. It’s a lot like how Braun Strowman won’t stop stalking and trying to kill Kevin Owens for like two months because he crossed him once. You can’t even pull that cool face cowardly heel shit because this is NXT, where characters have observable, consistent traits and are identified in opening video packages as “the noble” and “the face of evil” like they’re GLOW girls.

Not only that, but the War Raiders showed up in full gear and paint, even though they aren’t booked on this show or the pre-show and could’ve just shown up in street clothes … hell, even Hawk and Animal would handle their non-televised or street fight business in gym clothes and sunglasses. Boo to the Renn Faire Ascension. You’re making me root for Rod.

Best: This Video Package Where EC3 Reveals He Has Similar Magical Environment-Affecting Powers As Velveteen Dream, And Can Counter His Purple Fog Universe With A Corresponding Yellow Fog Universe And Talk To Him Directly Like They’re Rey And Kylo Ren

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You’re my favorite thing, Lucha Underground Vice City.

Best: Call Me Up, Maybe

If I could think of any criticism for Velveteen Dream vs. EC3, it’s that it was a very good main roster match held in front of a crowd that isn’t there to see very good main roster matches. I think one of the things I like so much about these guys is that they bridge that disconnect between NXT and WWE Proper; their matches are technically good and often exciting, but it’s more about who they are than what they’re doing. For example, the opening tag had these incredible timing sequences and massive sells and insane nearfalls. Ricochet/Adam Cole had people doing quebradas and getting superkicked in the throat. Velveteen Dream got the crowd chanting his name after a jumping clubbing forearm from the second rope.

And don’t think I’m suddenly against exciting matches or prefer WWE style, because you know I don’t, I just like when a show like this presents a few alternatives to NXT’s standard ideas of what makes matches great. Wrestling is supposed to be a three-ring circus, which is why I used to love WCW so much. There was bullshit at the top of the card, and a lot of stuff in the middle for me, so I could watch it with my friends who weren’t into wrestling and work to convince them to be. New Japan does it a little with Yano and a few other people, but not nearly enough. Ring of Honor and a lot of companies like it are good, but their shows are far too often one match done 5-10 times at varying lengths, with an increasing number of kickouts. Sometimes you want to watch a great tag team match, sometimes you want to watch a great MMA or joshi-inspired match, sometimes you want to watch flips, sometimes you want to watch pathos and hardcore violence, and sometimes you want to watch ridiculous people who look like actual comic book super heroes doing elbow drops. That’s part of what makes wrestling so special, and why this is one of the best and broadest TakeOvers they’ve ever done.

Plus, Velveteen Dream showed up with CALL ME UP VINCE airbrushed on his ass. As I said on Twitter last night, that’s the greatest instance of self-sabotage in WWE since Big Cass attacked himself backstage. Love it. I also love that Velveteen Dream’s offense is so basic but also so varied that he can hit it on you from pretty much anywhere. Case in point: a rolling Dream Valley Driver on the apron, followed up by a Purple Rainmaker elbow drop from the top rope to the apron to the floor. GOT-DAMN, DREAM.

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Another good thing about this match: the tight psychology. Dream hits a DDT on The Carter on the ramp, so EC3’s neck stays injured. For example, when he tries a German suplex late in the match, he’s not able to bridge on his neck and get the proper leverage to get the three. Also, not being able to bridge means he ends up with Dream’s entire body weight landing on his face and more or less crushing his right eyeball, turning him into the world’s most Burnt Sienna Sylvester Stallone. Hope he’s okay, that looked gross.

Dream earns bonus points (despite already having all the points) for this post-match Dot Com exclusive where he christens Cathy Kelley “Queen Cathy.” Real talk, anyone who shows Cathy Kelley love gets mine.

Put her on Raw more often so she can do the old Renee Young duties, so Renee can keep doing Coachman’s duties. And Coachman can do the duties of someone who doesn’t have to talk about WWE for a living.

Best: Ricochet Continues To Dishonor The Eagle Tribe

Up next is Adam Cole (adult man!) vs. Ricochet for the North American Championship, which is more or less the first important match for the North American Championship since a bunch of dudes tried to commit murder in a ladder match in New Orleans.

First, the good stuff. Ricochet is inhuman. We know this. We’ve known this. It is known. Adam Cole, as observed by the announce team, is very good at bringing a “cerebral” feel to matches, which is WWE’s way of saying “he looks like he’s thinking about what he’s doing instead of playing a video game, reacts to shit like a human being might, and wants to tell a story with these matches instead of doing moves.” Also, that “boom” thing is the most addictive taunt in wrestling, and the thinking man’s version of screaming ADAM COOOOOLE in an empty arena an hour before the show starts so a stranger in the upper deck will yell back “baby,” like a weird Smark-o Polo.

Also, a man gets superkicked in the throat while he’s upside down in mid-air in this match. It’s SPECTACULAR, and everything that happens from that superkick on is intense.

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That one billion percent should’ve been the finish, though. I’ve been waiting for someone to start using that hurricanrana over the ropes from the apron to the floor, and I guess if Gran Metalik isn’t going to use it, we might as well give it to the other guy on the roster who can.

My two major complaints here — keeping in mind that NXT complaints are often mild, observational criticisms on very good wrestling matches and not like Raw complaints, which are like Ralphie getting booted down the slide by Santa Clause in A Christmas Story — are that (1) by the time we got to where Adam Cole and Ricochet were supposed to be equally tired and trading desperation strikes, it felt like Cole had controlled way more of the match, which could boil down to Cole being a better sell. And that (2) everything that happened before this spot ended up being meaningless to what happened after. Because Ricochet got SUPERKICKED IN THE FUCKING THROAT IN THE MIDDLE OF A QUEBRADA and is just going through his moves, flipping around, selling about as much as Cole’s selling for a dropkick or a European uppercut. Brother, you got SMOKED. I know you’re Ricochet, but shit, can you at least act like it hurt for a minute?

Still, even if I didn’t like this as much as everyone else, it’s clearly two guys at the top of their game doing what they do best, and I’ll give it up for that. Adam Cole’s reputation following him into NXT and preventing crowds from ever booing him for anything kinda worries me, though, because that’s the kind of shit that turned Bobby Roode into the main roster’s blandest gospel bath-robe man.

Best: The Four Horsewomen

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1. Anything that gets Jessamyn Duke on my television is an automatic Best.

2. “That wheel doesn’t do anything! She’s not a real pirate!” — Ronda Rousey. Is even the NXT version of Ronda Rousey better?

Best: My Favorite Finishing Sequence In Ages

As mentioned earlier, Shayna Baszler defending the NXT Women’s Championship against Kairi Sane was my favorite match of the night. I loved every minute of it. I went back and watched it on the Network again to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, and besides remembering the NXT commentary team exists, I was right. There’s SO MUCH here to love, from the callbacks to weekly TV to the now year-long history of Sane vs. Baszler, to the counters and the counters to counters and everything in-between.

My favorite moment of the entire thing is that on Wednesday’s episode of NXT, Sane attempted to show Baszler she had a “killer instinct” by dropping three (3) elbows on poor Aliyah, then locking her in the Anchor, seen here. She sent a message, sure, but she also made a big mistake: Shayna Baszler is dickhead Fonzie, right? So yeah, she’s wrestled Kairi a couple of times, but I wouldn’t trust her to be interested in doing any intense homework on her. But here’s Sane saying “here’s my signature finisher, as a reminder,” and “here’s my submission I’m using to beat everybody,” directly to Shayna’s face. So Shayna’s response to that is OF COURSE going to be a slick counter. Kairi goes for the Anchor at TakeOver, and Baszler yanks her directly the hell into a Kirifuda Clutch. It’s almost lights out. It’s BEAUTIFUL.

Before I talk about the second counter and the finish, I want to once again bring up the value of not only selling, but having the first half of your match actually have something to do with the second. It’s what bugged me about Cole/Ricochet, even though it didn’t hurt that match that badly. Here, Shayna decides to rip Kairi’s legs apart. Brutal stuff that would’ve broken Hulk Hogan’s ankles on his first day of training. Because of this, Kairi is forced to work a leg injury into everything she does for the remainder of the match, even on offense, whether it’s taking too long to go to the top rope and getting caught, to having to visually acknowledge that she’s using adrenaline to force her way through the pain. She’s telling by non-verbally communicating, which is something I often see from international talent or people in masks trying to tell stories for North American crowds. It’s why Sami Zayn is so good at what he does … he spent so long under a mask, he had to learn how to communicate without just holding his arms out and yelling at people. Shayna working the leg makes sense, too, because Kairi needs her legs to get to the top rope AND to anchor the Anchor. By hurting the leg early, Kairi has to work that much harder to get those moves, and stumbles.

To bring in the narrative of Shayna Baszler The Bully, we see an amazing moment where Kairi more or less “hulks up” on her with face-to-face confrontation and BIG SLAPS, which are to send a message more than they are for offense. This helps take Shayna off her gameplan, because as we’ve seen, the only way to shake her up is to stand up to her. If she has the mental edge on you, you’re toast. Sane uses this to build momentum, and right when she thinks she’s about to drop a big elbow into Baszler’s heart and put her away … this sequence happens.

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Shayna gets her knees up to block the elbow, because she has it scouted (and has already been hit by two, including one baby one off the second ropes to the back). Having countered both finishes, Shayna grabs the Kirifuda Clutch and COMPLETELY forgets to keep her head in the game, because she’s confident this is the death blow and that she’s won. But again, because she’s a self-obsessed bully who only has love for her three friends from MMA Town, she never even CONSIDERS that Sane would’ve done HER homework and worked up a counter to HER finish. So the second Baszler leans back to finish Sane off, Sane uses that momentum to roll backwards like an adorable pirate princess Bret Hart and scores a shocking, instant three to win the match. Kairi f’n Hojo is your new NXT Women’s Champion, but she didn’t beat Shayna Baszler … Shayna Baszler lost.

For more on that:

All the stars. I loved this with my entire heart. Easily my favorite NXT women’s match since Asuka got called up into oblivion, and maybe since Bayley/Sasha. That’s overstating it a little, but I couldn’t have liked it more. Now Kairi Sane’s got a ready-made feud with Make American Great Again Lacey Evans, and Baszler’s free to come up to Raw to hang out with Ronda Rousey and either be the Starscream of the Four Horsewomen, or break the ankles of her mirror universe Good Twin, Bayley.

Best: Johnny Gargano Is A Stupid Idiot

Finally we have the third NXT TakeOver main event between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, which ended up a one-on-one Last Man Standing match for the strap instead of a triple threat because Aleister Black got shot by Maggie Simpson in the parking lot at Full Sail University and everyone on the roster was there but nobody saw anything.

At this point, me explaining the backstory of Gargano/Ciampa and citing references and backlinking everything makes me feel like a college professor trying to assign you A Lesson Before Dying and hoping you actually take the time to read it and understand its themes. These guys are turning the main-event scene of a big leagues wrestling promotion into an active performance art project, and are, without exaggeration, taking the medium somewhere that televised pro wrestling hasn’t been in like 30 years. For real. Everything in these matches matters. The crutch is a symbol of a broken friendship. The DDT onto the exposed wood of the ring, the camera work, the taunts, the desperation, all of it.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version, and you don’t even have to read anything:

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That’s Chicago, Chicago II, and now Brooklyn 4.

They’re killing each other. That’s the story. There’s a whole thing about whether or not Johnny Gargano will go completely to the dark side and become his rival, and another thing about how hungry and desperate Tommaso Ciampa is to prove himself on his own and vindicate his own psychopathic rationalizations of who he is and why, but ultimately the story is that these two guys are so sad about a broken friendship and a lost opportunity that they’re literally killing each other. From the inside, and on the outside. Ciampa’s visibly broken. He was begging off before the finish, just to try one last shitty thing to save himself, like he did in New Orleans. Gargano’s so maddened he’s attacking people, running in on matches, interrupting others, alienating his family. It’s so much more than “will he be a good guy, or won’t he?” It’s corruption. It’s about betrayal being a sickness, and making strong men weak.

If I had to point out my favorite moments in the match, it’s easy. Number one is Ciampa hitting three powerbomb lungblowers in a row and condescendingly sitting in a chair in the middle of the ring while Gargano clings to life. Number two is a guy at ringside getting knocked out, and Ciampa using the man’s unconscious body as dead weight to bury Gargano and try to keep him from getting up before 10, along with some production equipment and a table and part of the security railing. If I had to point out my least favorite moment?

Here’s Johnny Gargano going full Sting.

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This single moment made this #3 on my list of Gargano/Ciampa matches. I get what they’re doing, and I love it in theory: Gargano once again gives in to his revenge fantasies and doesn’t realize (through Sami Zayn’s example so long ago) that to defeat the enemy, you have to keep yourself. You can’t BECOME them. Gargano becomes his enemy, sacrifices everything he knows is right, and tries to permanently injure a defenseless man who is begging off. I even like the idea of Gargano hurting himself during the move, and that hubris costing him and keeping him from being able to get to his feet. I like all of that. What I don’t like is the visual of Johnny Gargano doing a big anime taunt and then sprinting his dumb ass off the side of the stage, flipping into some weirdly arranged equipment and flopping around.

Dude looked like a total goober doing that, and I went from deep, emotional engagement in a years-long story to … I don’t even know what, but it was somewhere between laughing and furrowing my brow. It was some Dean Ambrose loser bullshit on display in a promotion that rarely does that, from a guy who has been the most A+ worker on the show for years now, at the end of the third match in the best series the company’s ever seen. He might as well have had a TV explode in his face. Did Ambrose show up on Raw looking all cool and jacked and pass his evil comedy shmuck demon onto Gargano? Did he fall in the lake of reincarnation?

And again, just to say it, the ending doesn’t ruin everything. To me, it was just extremely bad execution of a good enough idea that looks way worse coming after such a masterpiece of a match, in a series of masterpiece matches. I hope that makes sense. Imagine if Flair/Steamboat 3 had ended with Steamboat getting his leg caught in a monitor hole in the announce table and flailing around helplessly while the ref counts him out. Imagine if Punk/Joe 3 had ended with The Great Khali showing up and brain-chopping them both.

Best: 4-Shadowing

I will give them one more Best, though, because what’s the final image of this pay-per-view? Tommaso Ciampa wins the rubber match against Gargano, and wants to stand over him posing with the NXT Championship, but Gargano’s hurt and not looking. Ciampa bails. When he hears the crowd react to Johnny finally getting up, he wanders back out, but Gargano’s still not looking. The third time it finally works, and Gargano is forced to look up the ramp at his blood rival and former best friend standing triumphantly, on both feet — the last man standing — with the NXT Championship.

And what’s that behind him?

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A big yellow “4.” Gargano has hopefully learned his lesson, will find his heart again, and match four will be the moment when he puts it all together, triumphs, and vanquishes the haunting ghost of Tommaso Ciampa that lives in his blackening heart for good.