Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver New York: Back when the show was called TakeOver: Brooklyn we saw Johnny Gargano lose a Last Man Standing match by running into a bunch of production equipment with his knees, watched Kairi Sane get (very) lucky in a match against Shayna Baszler, and put our hands over our mouths when Ricochet backflipped into a superkick to the throat.
If you missed this show to watch penis parties or fan crucifixions on WrestleMania weekend, 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 5 … sorry, NXT TakeOver: New York, originally aired on April 5, 2019.
Before We Begin
If you’re looking for some kind of critical takedown of this show, here’s the short version that allows you to skip the rest of the column: NXT TakeOver is the best that American wrestling ever is these days, and now that every match on the show has a different kind of style, it’s all the best kinds of wrestling at once. I honestly can’t imagine being a wrestling fan and choosing another show over this. It’s got everything, and something for everyone. You’ve got a high-speed, balls-to-the-wall tag team spot fest featuring a Dutch occultist and his happy go-lucky backflip buddy trying to beat a couple of Whiterun guards from Skyrim, a pansexual wrestling Prince trying to out-macho a dopey but beautiful MMA fighter, a scrappy little British dude with a bear tattooed on his knee trying to avoid being killed by an enormous Austrian murder baby, four racially diverse women going at it until one of them hits a Burning Hammer on TWO OF THEM AT ONCE, and a 2-out-of-3 falls masterpiece with a crowd reaching Hogan vs. Rock levels of insanity.
It’s a perfect card where every match delivers at a top level, every match highlights something wonderfully different about why pro wrestling is good, and maintains not only character consistency and internal logic, but lets exciting things happen and have consequences. It’s literally everything I complain about Raw not being on a weekly basis, because one is a dope pro wrestling show, and the other is a 3-hour fried chicken commercial they have to do live in prime-time 52 times a year.
Best: Raid Kills Blogs Dead
Next year, “NXT TakeOver tag team matches” should be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
TakeOver, which is not in the business of slowly building to anything, decides to punch you in the face right away with 18:40 of War Raiders, Aleister Black, and Ricochet basically doing everything they know plus every Low Ki kick spot they’ve ever seen in a bonkers NXT Tag Team Championship match. It serves two important purposes:
- It allows Ricochet and Aleister Black to have one more good match before they disappear forever into the abyss of the main roster, where they’ll still be phenomenally talented, but where, “maybe they’ll let the pay-per-view match be good?” is usually the most hopeful analysis, and
- It continues to make the War Raiders look like a million bucks.
That second one is especially important, as the War Raiders look and act took a while to find its footing in NXT, but is now firing on all cylinders. They’ve definitely figured out how to make it work, and now nearly every match they have, whether its a lengthy Network live special title defense or back-to-back jobber squashes on weekly TV, are outstanding. To put it in NXT terms, they’re like the NXT version of The Ascension, if The Ascension had ever gotten good.
And man, I left this wanting an Aleister Black vs. Ray Rowe singles match real bad. Rowe is basically Domestic Aleister Black already, especially when he’s writing his own name in runes on his head.
Note: Incredibly, this is not the best match on the show. It might not even be the second best match on the show. IT ARGUABLY MIGHT NOT BE THE THIRD BEST MATCH ON THIS SHOW.
Best: The Ultimate Battle For Modern Masculinity
And now, the showdown between a beautiful idiot with no self awareness, and a beautiful idiot with too much self awareness.
It’s this guy, who wears pink sandles and wrestles in nothing but pinstriped hot pants …
… against this guy, who has a quartet of men carry him to the ring on a throne while he acts like Tuxedo Mask somehow became the Statue of Liberty.
The first match of the night was about physical toughness and stamina, with bad-asses going nose-to-nose with kicks and strikes. The second match was about the conflict of characters; about how two men with similar ideologies can approach the same idea from a completely different place, and how despite being polar opposites in presentation, are more or less professional soul mates.
Matt Riddle is legitimately one of my favorite wrestlers in the world right now, mostly because of how he enters as this affable, disaffected fist-bumper who just wants to be your bro, but when the bell rings, he’s like a Disney Prince became a martial arts spider monkey. The guy can rip you to shreds from almost anywhere in the ring, and you have no idea how he’s going to approach it. He’s got all the “unorthodox” offense that made Rob Van Dam such a hit, filtered through a modern combat sports approach to wrestling. In short, he’s a great example of how actually being able to fight can help your professional wrestling look and feel more legitimate.
On the other side you’ve got the Dream, who is almost beyond explanation at this point. He’s just a perfect pro wrestler, because he’s only a pro wrestler. To quote my friend, comedian Christopher Macarthur-Boyd:
The thing I love about Velveteen dream is that he wrestles LIKE a wrestler. He’s not Lesnar/Riddle, or even Daniel Bryan/CM Punk where there’s an MMA influence. He’s in there with backrakes and tassels and flying elbow drops. Whatever everybody else is doing, go the other way.
I couldn’t have said it better. Putting a guy like that up against a guy like Riddle, who is so MMA based in his attack, while maintaining their weird aloof performance characters in deep comparison and deep contrast to one another, is amazing. Plus, hey, the finish leaves the possibility of a rematch (and a rubber match) open, and it’s another example of how much of a savant Velveteen Dream is at such a young age, having match of the year quality matches with a basic-ass wrestling skill set and a supernatural understanding of the intangibles. Brother’s gonna main-event WrestleMania one day doing nothing but jumping double axe-handles.
After a spot-fest tag team match and a character-based one-on-one, we get 25 minutes British strong style pitting a small man who wants to break your fingers against a much larger man who will slap you in the chest until you’re dead.
Since Elle Collins has been manning the Best and Worst of NXT UK column this year, here’s their thoughts on the match.
When I was a kid, back before they were both Avengers, it used to be a big deal whenever Wolverine would fight the Hulk. A huge guy with huge dangerous hands versus a sneaky little fast guy, and they’re both invincible. This match was British Wolverine versus Austrian Hulk, and it was great.
One of the best things about Pete Dunne is how smart he is. He looks like a hooligan, but in the ring he’s a mastermind. So he knew going in that he needed to hit WALTER hard and fast and then get out of there before he got grabbed or chopped. And for a while that worked. He even managed to get the big guy down on the mat where he could stomp on his hands and manipulate his ankle and his fingers, as Pete loves to do.
But then, inevitably, WALTER managed to chop him, and down Pete went. Then he stood up, got chopped again, and went back down. The match was never the same after that. Sure, Pete kept getting in offense throughout the match. This was easily the hardest WALTER’s ever had to fight since arriving in NXT UK, or as he calls it, “Ze land of ze tiny people.” There was even a moment or two, like when Dunne managed an impressive powerbomb on the big man, when it seemed like the long-reigning champion might retain once again.
The problem is that WALTER just can’t be stopped. You could break all his fingers and he’d chop you across the ring anyway and deal with the pain afterwards. So it wasn’t surprising when Austrian Hulk hit British Wolverine with a top-rope splash and pinned his flattened body to become the UK Champion. Now I just hope the Austrian gets to keep the belt when Brexit goes through.
The only thing I’ll add (besides “wrestlers with classic music entrance themes are the best, Daniel Bryan, I’m looking in your direction”) is that I thought this match was the best illustration yet of what a ring general and veteran leader Pete Dunne has become. His job was to spend nearly half an hour introducing a new heel character to an audience that might be familiar with him from other promotions, but, more often than not, aren’t. Dunne did everything in the world to tell the story of WALTER in one match, and I don’t think he could’ve done any better. Pete Dunne is best wrestler at actual wrestling in this promotion right now, even if he snapped every finger on WALTER’s hands like 20 times each.
WALTER vs. Keith Lee sooner rather than later now, please. WALTER is like Keith Lee if he’d grown up in an Austrian trench instead of playing football and too much Playstation in Texas
Best: Quit Playing Games With My Heart
Five stars already.
Best: SPADE IN FULL
To quote Elle one more time,
I’m not saying there aren’t problems with Triple H and his choices, but when I see a four-way women’s championship match between two Japanese women, a Chinese-American woman, and a black woman, I’m pretty much ready for him to take the main roster away from Vince.
This might’ve been the weakest match on the show, which is an insane thing to type, because it would be the best match on any other show. It felt like a real coming out party for Bianca Belair, especially, as she’s already grown exponentially since TakeOver Phoenix, and working in the ring with the Sky Pirates and Better Ronda Rousey can only continue to help. She’s so strong, you guys. I honestly think Bianca and Shayna Baszler would destroy Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole in fights, even if part of that is my underlying, constant internalized statement that Shayna Baszler should be NXT Champion.
This kind of match actually really works in Baszler’s favor, too, as she’s allowed to basically be a vulture and pick and choose her spots. As a character, her weakness seems to be overconfidence. Sometimes late in a match when she thinks she’s figured out the checkmate, she’ll stop focusing for a second and it’ll cost her. See her match with Sane at TakeOver: Brooklyn 4 for the best-ever example of this. In a fatal four-way, though, she doesn’t have time to lose focus, or be the focus, even. She has to jump in and go for the kill immediately, which is something she’s actually able to do as a trained MMA fighter with a choke-out submission finish. It’s a lot harder to, say, sneak in a Sliding D in the corner and then hit a top rope elbow drop with theatrics for a flash win.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what puts her over here. Bianca Belair hits this incredible, John Cena-ass double K.O.D. on the Sky Pirates, and Baszler yanks her into a choke. The other two women are K.O.’d (wordplay!), and Bianca’s just used up all of her strength on that big move. Strength is the only way she can get out of Baszler’s submissions, and without that, she’s a goner. Shayna Two-Time is still your NXT Women’s Champion, as it should be until the end of time. Don’t @ me, she’s the best.
I’m also really happy Baszler retained the singles championship so that the Sky Pirates can be freed up to challenge the Women’s Tag Team Champions soon, maybe at that standalone San Jose TakeOver coming up. Not like the current Women’s Tag Team Champs aren’t NXT legends who could sell tickets in the main event of a standalone TakeOver, and it’s not like one of them’s not from San Jose!
Worst: Gargano Vs. Cole
Haha, just kidding, I just wanted to see how many of you skim for the boldface text and then scroll down into the comments to complain.
Best: The Road Less Traveled
Finally we have the main event, in which Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole go 38 minutes in a 2-out-of-3 falls match for the NXT Championship. It might not be the best NXT match of all time, but I think it goes without saying that it’s the best match the promotion’s ever done on like two weeks notice when they’ve spent two years building up a different story that was supposed to culminate here instead.
The more I think about it, the more I like Gargano not having the “final battle” with Ciampa. I think it says more for Gargano’s character. If he beat Ciampa, he just beat Ciampa. He overcame a guy who tried to bring him down. Ciampa getting hurt — purely from a kayfabe perspective, and absolutely 100% not in real life — feels like what Ciampa “gets” or “deserves” for being an evil motherfucker. He’s the reason Gargano’s been in turmoil all this time. He’s been the evil spirit. He’s been the manipulator. He’s been the dark cloud ruining Johnny’s life, whether he was around to do it directly or not. If Johnny Gargano had beaten him for the NXT Championship, it would’ve been a normal, and satisfying, pro wrestling story.
With Ciampa hurt, Gargano learns a more important lesson than revenge; he learns the value of growing from an experience, learning from your failures, and, most importantly, learning to let go. Adam Cole and the Undisputed Era are proof of a truth that exists everywhere in life, in that bad people are everywhere, and just because you defeated one bad person doesn’t mean you’ve “triumphed over evil.” It’s like Chris Pine’s perspective on war in Wonder Woman. You can’t just beat a villain and end it. Gargano “defeated” Ciampa by luring him into another betrayal and flipping it on him, and more or less eliminating him from the story. Gargano seized his own destiny, and stopped linking it to Ciampa’s.
At the beginning of this match, Cole is a weird hero to the crowd, like he always is. They love chanting “bay bay.” Pre-show “ADAM COLE! BAY BAY!” call and response is the new Woo. By having the first two falls be pretty straight forward and saving the Undisputed Era interference and ref bump for the very end, it took a split crowd and pushed them all toward Gargano. It was masterfully done. Gargano took the interference, because he learned from Ciampa, and fought it off. He took the opportunistic blows from Cole, which he’d taken worse from Ciampa, and kept kicking out. He didn’t win like Ciampa would’ve won, by count-out. He didn’t need a weapon. He didn’t need a distraction. He dug deep down into the beating heart that has always remained, even in his darkest days, and used his pumping fucking blood to keep moving forward. Strong fell. O’Reilly fell. Fish fell. Nobody could stop him. Cole would’ve had to pull out a gun and shoot him between the eyes to put him down, and even if he’d done that, Gargano probably would’ve risen from the dead like a Wight and fought back. Nothing was going to stop him tonight, because he’s finally figured it out.
He’s Sami Zayn realizing he can’t hit Neville with the championship and look himself in the mirror the next day, told over two years, from a walk-on role in a tag team tournament to a championship win in a WrestleMania weekend main event.
In no uncertain terms, he learned to do it himself. Because nobody’s going to do it for you. That was always the end of the story, no matter who shows up for the finale.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Dream hulked up so much that he won’t let himself date Brooke Hogan.
Hanson and Rowe run in so that War Machine rescues Iron Man?
:Adam Cole literally decapitates Johnny Gargano, Gargano kicks our at 2 and 9/10ths:
The Real Birdman
These guys are never gonna let us down. We’ve been Ric Rowe’d
Terrible idea: A stable comprised of Kane, Riddle and WALTER called, you guessed it, “Hell & High/WALTER”
I guess technically he’s a WALTER weight champion.
That was the worst match on the card, which means it was ONLY a 9.7 out of 10.
SHAYNA: Look at me Kari. Look at me Io. I am the Captain now.
Of course, all the evil was concentrated in his neck all along.
Seriously. Just audible and have Lynch/Rousy/Flair headline tonight and call this Wrestlemania. Sunday will NOT top this show.
Also, KUSHIDA! Let’s hope no bigger stars from Japan show up a couple of months from now and completely overshadow him.
Thanks as always for reading. These Takeovers are my wrestling happy place, and I hope I can pass along a little bit of what they mean to me to you in dense paragraphs and bad puns. If you don’t mind sharing this on social it’d help us out, since way more people read about WWE than NXT still, somehow, and drop a comment down below to let us know what you thought of the show.
Join us on Sunday for the 7-hour post show wrap-up.