Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver Toronto: Mickie James returned to WWE, The Revival and DIY had a 2-out-of-3 falls match for the ages, and we hadn’t gotten tired of ‘Glorious’ yet. I miss being able to ironically enjoy that song.
If you missed this event because you’re a 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 Toronto for August 10, 2019.
Best: Tag Team Wrestling 👏 👏 👏-👏-👏
Up first is an NXT TakeOver standard: the outstanding Tag Team Championship match that blows us away and makes us think nothing on the card could top it, only for it to end up being the third or fourth best match on the card. I don’t know how they keep doing it, but they keep doing it. Tag team wrestling is the best thing in the world whether Vince McMahon enjoys it or Eric Bischoff can rationalize affording it or not, and I’m happy at least someone in this billion-dollar publicly traded globalized wrestling company realizes and preserves it in amber. The only real negative I can think of for the entire show is that Undisputed Era losing in the opener completely jacked up my predictions, and even that isn’t a big deal, because I’m an idiot.
So yeah, the TakeOver Toronto opener puts Raw’s The Street Profits against the Undisputed Era, and it’s fucking fantastic. It’s a helpful reminder that the Street Profits are an actually awesome tag team who have worked hard to reach and deserve this spot, and that Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish are (and have been) one of the best tag teams in the world. It’s fun to play some of these NXT classics against the hyped bouts they had in Ring of Honor and see how different promotions compartmentalize and showcase what they think is important about the wrestling they love.
Ford and Dawkins retaining is good, as I hope they stay down on the yellow brand for a while, especially if they’re moving the show to FS1 at some point and going to two hours. It would explain why they have the Profits getting air time on Raw without actually having them wrestle or do anything. Casual fans could be like, “oh right, those are those funny guys who keep screaming at me about what I just watched.” And then maybe they’ll get hooked by characters they’ve seen on Raw actually getting to have good, purposeful wrestling matches with consequences, consistency, and continuity, assuming that the combo of FS1, two hours of commercial breaks, and a need to cross promote “WWE Superstars” on the brand don’t completely wipe the show of its identity. Fingers crossed.
No need to worry about that right now, though. As it stands, tag team wrestling is still the shit, and NXT is better at doing it than any promotion in the world. Bottom line.
Best: The Best Women’s Match Of The Year
Where’s the lie?
Going into this, we (meaning I) made a big deal about how wonderful Io Shirai’s heel turn was, and how happy I was to see the “real” version of Io Shirai on NXT TV. Sky Pirate Io was great, but evil Io is transcendent. If you couldn’t tell from me using Ghost memes in our TakeOver predictions, this translated into me being very ready to see Candice LeRae get turned into a fine pulp.
What I didn’t think about is this: we didn’t just get the perfect version of Io Shirai, we also got the perfect version of Candice LeRae.
I’ve read a few reviews of this match that praised it but noted that Io “carried” Candice, or that Candice “showed her inexperience,” and that’s some of the most ridiculous bullshit I’ve ever read. If you’re only familiar with LeRae from NXT, yeah, she’s mostly been Johnny Gargano’s Wife™ with a light competitive flair and the ability to chase off female heel managers. If you know her from literally anything else, you know that she’s been one of the best wrestlers on the planet, male or female, for years now. One of the most frustrating aspects of the last year of NXT has been Candice not getting a chance to shine and really be herself.
Here, she finally gets her spotlight. If Io Shirai is the ultimate heel, which I’m pretty sure she is unless you missed her literally walking on Candice any time she needed to pass her, LeRae is the ultimate babyface. Any interpretation of “lack of experience” you might’ve seen is Candice allowing Shirai to look wildly superior, because that’s what good babyfaces do. They make the heel look unstoppable, so that when they make their fired-up comeback, it matters. It’s not just waiting on the person you like to start doing their moves. It’s a story. A narrative. The disbelief of seeing someone completely overpowered and outmatched finding an inner strength and resolve that lets them even the playing field. It’s basic wrestling 101, and something a lot of people forget to do.
I think that dynamic stole the show, and that this was the match of the night. It’s probably neck and neck with the triple threat that we’ll get to in a second, but again, it comes down to which flavor of wrestling you like, and not really an objective “that was watchable” and “that wasn’t.” “Best and Worst” is a lot easier to write actual Bests and Worsts about when it’s something like Raw or Smackdown, where it feels like you’re watching a series of decisions instead of a cohesive wrestling show. NXT, and especially TakeOver, is my wrestling happy place because it allows me to just basely assume that everything’s going to be worth watching whether I like the outcome or not.
Anyway, this was goddamn fantastic and I want to see so much more of these version of the characters. Especially if we allow Candice to fully take Johnny Wrestling’s spot on the show if he’s moving on, and if we keep letting Io Shirai rant about how no human being is worthy of standing next to her while Poppy screams about scary masks in the background.
Best: Riddle Me This
We don’t have time on the card for a sixth match, because (1) NXT keeping “pay-per-view” cards to five matches max has been a blessing, and (2) the main event’s going 51 minutes. So instead of doing the Matt Riddle vs. Killian Dain match they’ve been building to via beatdowns on weekly TV, they let them have a crazy brawl on the stage, take out a bunch of security guys who are probably future stars, and go through a couple of tables.
I liked the switch in dynamic, too, as the beatdowns on weekly TV have been extremely one-sided. Dain got the jump on Riddle twice and once literally put him in the ground, so it was good to see Riddle finally fight back and hold his own. I also liked the image of Dain having to destroy himself to destroy Riddle, and taking a random security guy off the stage with them because he’s a violent asshole.
This is going to be a dope match, and with every match on the show card proper delivering, it’s cool to see them do an angle to promote a match that’ll probably happen on a regular episode. I love TakeOver, but I miss the weekly shows feeling super consequential like that.
Best: NXT Evolves
My Austin Theory is that if he’d never gotten the “what” catchphrase over in 2001, the next 18 years of pro wrestling would’ve been better. Also that once you’ve lived there for three years, you’re allowed to complain about how it’s, “not as cool as it used to be.”
Best: The Canadian Dream
I love it when a match ends, and the first words out of my mouth are, “that match ruled.” That happened here.
I loved almost every second of this, from Dream’s extremely corny Mountie entrance into the Toronto Raptors dance team to the referee’s hand coming down for three. Like I said before, it’s neck and neck with Shirai vs. LeRae, and I might’ve liked it more. I think it depends on which one I’ve thought about most recently.
There are few things better in modern wrestling than a multi-man match worked with some creative spirit, with the performers getting to be inventive instead of just going through the motions. There was almost no, “one guy is incapacitated while the other two go through their spots in the ring,” and even the prerequisite “tower of doom” spot was ingenious. Instead a superplex with a powerbomb on the bottom, they did an Olympic Slam off the ropes plus an armdrag. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. There’s a lot in here I haven’t seen.
The “temporary alliances” were great, too, with Dream and Dunne obviously deciding to work together against the pissant Undisputed Era representative, and then Dream and Strong having to randomly work together to stop Pete Dunne from being an abject murder machine. The finish, with Strong seemingly “stealing the win” by dumping Dream out of the ring and hitting his finish, only for Dream to come flying in from off-screen with HIS finish — knocking Strong off the pin and IMMEDIATELY putting HIM in position for a pin — was brilliant.
Almost 18 minutes of wrestling that felt like five. I could watch this on loop for like an hour and never get tired of it.
Best: Bye Felicia
I’ve written about this before, but Shayna Baszler is the goat. Her matches aren’t always spectacular or entertaining to a wide audience, and I think it’s because of how well she puts them together. Every match she has on a big stage is unique. Her selling is always ridiculously on point whether it’s on offense or defense, and every decision she makes follows some kind of internal logic and has consequences.
For example, this entire match is built around Mia Yim coming in with a gameplan. Take out the Horsewomen beforehand to make it one-on-one, putting Shayna at a disadvantage, and then work her arm so she can’t lock in the Kirifuda Clutch. What she doesn’t think about, due to either overconfidence in her own plans or “inexperience” on the NXT level, is how (1) Shayna was a dominant champion for a long time before Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir and their weird t-shirts ever showed up, and that (2) Shayna was a shoot-fighter before she was a pro wrestler and probably knows more than one submission move. Shayna keeps trying for the Clutch, presumably because of ego and out of habit, and keeps getting it countered … so she locks in a triangle choke with the legs and wins without using her injured arm at all. And with no help. Because she’s the goddamn Queen of Spades, and by “spades” she means the end of the shovel she uses to dig opponents’ graves.
Like always, I come out of a Shayna Baszler TakeOver match liking it more than most, and happy that she’s still the champ. I’m going to broadly assume that the lack of title changes on this show is because of who Fox (or WWE in the interest of being on Fox) wants representing the brand as its champs when the transition happens. Also that they’re waiting for Dakota Kai to get back so she can be the one to finally upset Baszler, before immediately getting wrecked beyond recognition by the Genius of the Sky.
Best, But Worst For Him: Johnny, Angry Johnny
Finally, there’s the main event. It’s 51 damn minutes long. That’s 13 minutes longer than the 2-out-of-3 falls match at NXT TakeOver New York to, at least in my opinion, its detriment.
Predictably, the first fall was my favorite. I thought the first fall, at least up until the finish, was brilliant. There are so many callbacks to their previous matches, and so much emphasis placed on timing and positioning. I’ve written the word “consequences” a lot in this column, but it worked hard to make every movement of both guys feel like it has consequences. If Johnny stays bent over near the corner, Cole’s gonna catch him with the Panama Sunrise. If Johnny tries the move, Cole’s going to anticipate it and try to counter with a superkick. Johnny knows that, though, and can fake out the superkick. If he does that, Cole gets shaken up for a second, and Johnny can hit a headscissors takedown. It’s fucking GREAT. It’s counters to counters to counters. It’s chess, played at the top physical level.
Even the finish of the first fall made sense, I guess, but I didn’t like it very much. Two of the important plot points of Gargano in big matches and how he relates to Adam Cole are:
- he can’t seem to beat Adam Cole in a straight up, one-on-one match
- he loses his cool when things escalate, and he lets his emotions take over, and it costs him
Those two things pay off in the first fall. Cole knows how to beat Johnny, but he can’t seem to put him away. Johnny’s come with a bigger gas tank than in previous matches. At New York, Cole lost the second and third falls because he got frustrated, gave up his very smart gameplan, and resorted to cheap tactics. Since he can’t figure out how to beat Johnny in the traditional way, he preys on Johnny’s emotions. He brings a chair into the ring and uses it as a distraction for a low blow, never actually intending to use the chair as a weapon. This pisses off Johnny, so he decides to use the chair himself, gets disqualified, and gives himself a mostly imagined advantage heading into the second fall. The only way the advantage thing really would’ve paid off is if Johnny had hit him with like 10 straight chair shots and then immediately pinned him to tie things up, but even if he’d done that, he still lost a damn fall on purpose. That’s a heel move. A stupid heel move, because Johnny gets stupider when things get more dangerous. I mean, remember this?
The second and third falls are epic and great garbage brawls, but I have to admit that they escalated it a little too much for my tastes, and lost me a little bit. So many Canadian Destroyers getting kicked out of at two. Even off ladders and off the top rope. A Canadian Destroyer off the top rope after you’ve wrestled for 45 minutes and had your rib cage caved in by a sledgehammer. I dunno. It wasn’t bad. It was actively good. It just pushed a little past my suspension of disbelief. Maybe it was just the Ambrose Asylum giving me traumatic flashbacks.
There were still brilliant moments in the second and third falls, though, from the Ciampa callbacks (a’plenty) to that great bit where Cole rockets a ladder off the top of a cage at Johnny to get him to duck it, just so he can open him up for the Panama Sunrise off the ropes.
As it stands, it looks like this is probably the end of Johnny’s NXT run. It’s sad, but it’s probably time. Ciampa’s injury isn’t getting better any time soon whether he’s crazy ahead of schedule or not, at least not to the point that they can tell an entirely new chapter of the story and pay it off in time for either man to benefit from it. Candice is starting to shine, and can shine more if she’s not always an accessory to Johnny’s stories. Cole has promised to reshape NXT in the Undisputed Era’s image and won the war with Gargano, but his subordinates failed in their undercard matches. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, and I hate to say that if there’s ever going to be a time to disconnect NXT’s best wrestler ever from the promotion, it’s now.
I’ll see you on the other side.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
In hindsight, Mustache Mountain could’ve probably beaten ERA at TakeOver Brooklyn last year if it had been Bobby instead of Roddy. After all, nothing better than live Bate to catch a Fish.
Throwing a guy onto another guy’s face is my absolute favorite way to break up a submission hold.
Io rejoining Black Lotus Triad is a story that’s not getting talked about enough.
Dave M J
Adding Dream to the list of people who do a better Sharpshooter than Natalya
“GIVE UP ALREADY”
– John Cena
I’d actually pay for a Mauro Ranallo Google Maps voiceover. MAMA MIA, make a left on Grand.
Not A Crook
Nothing would be be funnier and subvert expectations more than showing off the weapons cage for the third fall and then doing a two straight finish.
Johnny should’ve shaved the beard into mutton chops. Commit, dude.
Jushin Thunder Bieber
Montez is like if when Peter Parker tried to be a pro wrestler he got signed.
Pete Dunne: British
Roderick Strong: Strong
Velveteen Dream: Style
— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) August 11, 2019
She really left that redhead hanging.
This it for the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver Toronto. Let’s hope this isn’t the last “real” TakeOver before NXT turns into Smackdown. And hey, even if it does, they gave us 27 straight awesome “pay-per-views.” You can’t ask for much more than that.
If you read and enjoyed the column, drop a comment down below and give us a share on social media. It helps. We do this weekly, too, so stick around for those. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on Sunday evening for the seven-hour TakeOver post-show wrap-up, SummerSlam.