Previously on the Best and Worst of NXT: Raw and Smackdown invaded ahead of Survivor Series, and the ratings went up enough to finally beat AEW Dynamite. That’s not going to be a dangerous precedent or anything, is it?
You can watch this edition of TakeOver on WWE Network here. If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, you can do that 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 War Games, originally aired on November 23, 2019.
Up First, An Actual Kickoff Show
Hey, you know what’s weird? NXT TakeOver having a real “Kickoff Show” now, since weekly TV is live now and they don’t need a pre-taped pre-show to throw up on Wednesday while they prep for the next set of tapings.
This time around we get a live match, some important angle development, and an hour of analysis from Charly Caruso and two cartoonish wrestling fan extremes. You’ve got Sam Roberts as the jaded know-it-all smark who thinks he’s got a great perspective on the business but then says dumb shit like, “Bianca Belair’s not a star and doesn’t deserve to wrestle on TakeOvers,” or, “Dakota Kai is the bottom of the barrel.” Then you’ve got Pat McAfee, who is SUPER EXCITED about EVERYTHING because he LOVES DOUBLE-DOUBLE E! He’s READY! He’s READY FOR A GOOD TIME! So he’s gonna get READY FOR THE NIGHT TIME! In his suit shorts, a bit he’s still somehow committed to. So you’re either the uptight dork who’s taking this too seriously, or Mojo Rawley if he couldn’t win a fight. In WWE’s eyes, you’re either George, or you’re Lenny. Charly should’ve hit them with a double chokeslam at some point.
Suggestion: Just let the announce team do the non-wrestling parts of the pre-show, too. Not only would Mauro be way better at all of this, you’d also give them time to actually get excited and slowly ramp up their emotions/enthusiasm instead of jumping into the opening moments of the opening match with everything turned up to 11. Mauro saw Rhea Ripley open a door backstage and enter the arena and started screaming OH MY GODDDD THIS IS A DOORWAY’S BRUTALITY AS THE NIGHTMARE RHEA RIPLEY HAS ARRIVED AT THE ALLSTATE ARENA, AND NIGEL TONIGHT THE ARENA’S IN GOOD HANDS AS SHE LEADS HER TEAM INTO WAR GAMESSSSS at the top of his lungs.
Speaking of that, the major angle of the Kickoff is a backstage attack on Mia Yim that injures her and takes her out of the War Games match. You’ve gotta feel bad for Mia, who spent all day getting Bull Nakano makeup done just to get written off off-screen. Meanwhile, Dakota Kai’s hanging out back there with everyone like …
Rhea Ripley was trying to be a Good Dude by offering Kai Mia’s spot on the team, assuming that yeah, she’s been a total loser lately but might be motivated to a star-making performance by happenstance and an unquenchable Kiwi lust for revenge, but … it doesn’t really work out that way. More on that later. You should’ve picked Piper Niven, Rhea. And if not her, you were literally hanging out with Toni Storm yesterday.
The Kickoff Show match was a good one, but unfortunately not a great one. It’s Angel Garza vs. Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott, which on paper is enough to make anyone with a functioning brain feel the fat cat [heavy breathing] meme. In practice, I think maybe they were too aware of their spot on the card or something, or maybe too overwhelmed trying to pull off some truly unique and innovative stuff to impress everybody, and didn’t just wrestle the great one-on-one cruiserweight match we know they could.
One of the things I learned putting wrestling shows together is that you don’t want to book the first match between two wrestlers, you want the second. In the first, maybe they haven’t figured out their timing or everything they wanna do yet. With the second, though, they know what they’re getting into, learned how to improve from the first match, and have been thinking about it for a while.
Here’s a good example of what I mean:
Unless I’m completely reading this spot wrong (and I might be), it looks like the intention was for Garza to get hit with the cross-body but roll through and come up with something like a Chaos Theory fallaway slam into the corner. If he’d gotten his arm between Scott’s legs he probably could’ve pulled it off, too, but he doesn’t. So when they come up, he doesn’t really have a grip on Scott and can’t lift him, and they start struggling. Instead of a cool move, you’re just left with the shadow of something ambitious while two dudes try to pull a Cesaro and make it work anyway.
There’s a lot of this in the match, like Scott’s twisting splash against the ropes that got nothing but shins, and his early attempt at a diving handstand onto the ring apron into a headscissors. Neither of those worked out as planned. I guarantee you, though, if you give these two a “make up” match on NXT this week, they’ll correct course and kill it. But seriously, don’t be afraid to just slow down and grab a hold, guys.
Best, Mostly: The Non-War Games Games At War Games
While we’re on the topic of slowing down and grabbing a hold, here’s Matt Riddle vs. Finn Bálor. The WWE Fan Nation clip above is the best and most exciting part of it.
I feel weird describing this TakeOver as “disappointing,” as I don’t think it was. I don’t think “underwhelming” is the word, either, I think it’s just hard to be the Best TakeOver Ever every time out when you’ve done 26 good-to-great ones in a row and had to build the thing under Survivor Series law. I wanted Bálor vs. Riddle to be an absolute arena-destroying set-everything-on-fire wrestling classic. Instead, I got a very good wrestling match. That’s on me, you know?
It’s the kind of match they needed to have, though, sandwiched between two War Games matches. If anything, I think what I wanted was for Bálor to have a Riddle kind of NXT match. Instead, Bálor kinda forced Riddle to have a “main roster” type of main event match. Does that make sense? It’s not that one’s inherently better or worse than the other, really, it’s just a notable style choice. And that starts reminding me about how Bálor’s NXT matches never really impressed me or stayed in my mind very long, as he always kinda seemed like he was rehearsing for Raw or Smackdown instead of trying to emulate PWG in a university assembly hall. I get that from his point of view — it’s “developmental” after all, which at the time was code for, “learn how to perform on WWE® brand television” more than learning how to wrestle or talk or be cool — but there are enough WWE brands running that style for anyone who prefers it. I want to get super excited about there being so many kickouts, and then retroactively complain about how many kickouts there were. THIS IS AN ENTIRE BRAND OF FANDOM. I’m a Sam, not a Pat. Don’t worry, I hate me, too.
Elsewhere on the card we got maybe the easiest to predict match in NXT TakeOver history: Pete Dunne vs. Killian Dain vs. Damien Priest, with the winner moving on to challenge Adam Cole for the NXT Championship the next night at Survivor Series. Who’s gonna face the heel champion? The aggro little babyface guy who held the UK’s NXT Championship for 700-ish days, or one of the two giant heels?
Despite that, I liked what they put together. I appreciate any triple threat match that attempts to realize what it might be like if three guys were trying to have a professional wrestling match with each other at the same time, and don’t go the far-too-easy route of having one guy get “knocked out” on the floor so two guys can go one-on-one. That’s boring. This felt clever and urgent. Dunne getting the pin by accidentally being in position and like, scooting a guy out of the ring like he’s trying to get a blanket off his bed would’ve been an ass of a finish in any other context. Here, it was honestly the only way to justify him simultaneously defeating two guys who should be able to pick him up and throw him into the sun.
Best: Live And Let Kai
The women’s War Games match was by far the best match of the night. It was exciting, it had a lot going on inside and outside of the cage from both action and character perspectives, and it made everyone look like a star. One of the things you’re gonna read in every single NXT TakeOver War Games 2019 column is, “Rhea Ripley looked like a star.” It’s true. In the past week she’s wrestled Becky Lynch on NXT, pinned Charlotte Flair on Smackdown, was the winner and central star of the first-ever women’s War Games match, and is leading a team into a match at Survivor Series. They are all-in on Rhea, and I couldn’t be happier. She’s a lot of really obvious things you want out of a pro wrestler, on top of being a Velveteen Dream-level of threateningly too young to be this good. She should probably take the NXT Women’s Championship at TakeOver Portland, and I say that as someone who sincerely wants Shayna Baszler to be champion forever.
Everyone delivered here, especially Bianca Belair and Io Shirai, who are just on another level when it comes to crowd engagement and being able to hit smooth-ass moonsaults from the tops of steel cages and roll around on the ground like a proud baby about it. Bianca keeps getting better every time she’s given an opportunity and doesn’t appear to have a talent ceiling. Io Shirai could kick Brock Lesnar’s ass as-is.
The only complaint I might have about the match is that I don’t love a team winning War Games with a 2-on-4 disadvantage. That’s a minor complaint though, I guess, considering how happy I am about why they’re at a disadvantage. At long last I present to you Dakota Die.
When I first became a fan of Evie/Dakota Kai, she was still wrestling in the southern hemisphere and carrying herself as the ace of her promotion. She was the ace there, yes, but the carrying is the important part. She was cocksure and kicked the shit out of people for fun. The SHIMMER and then NXT versions of her were a little sedated compared to Evie Classic, so seeing her finally ditch the Jobber Bayley act and flip the fuck out was a blessing. Think of it like Io Shirai finally turning heel and turning into Darkside Io on a smaller scale.
I really love the why of her heel turn, too. I might be assuming too much or jumping the gun, but her targeting of Tegan Nox was brilliant and, frankly, deserved. Nox is supposed to be Kai’s best friend. The only non-Kai member of the Kai captained Team Kick. Her wrestling soulmate. Dakota’s been visibly hella desperate to prove herself and be a part of these squad-based combat teams over Survivor Series weekend, but she keeps getting turned down and replaced. Meanwhile, Tegan’s just standing in the background, not sticking up for her. Not vouching for her. Not saying, “hey guys, I know you don’t know her that well, but trust me, you want Dakota on the team.” She’s just keeping her mouth shut to keep her spot. She’s being Bojack Horseman to Dakota’s Herb Kazzaz.
“Do you know what it was like for me? I had nobody. Everybody left! I knew all those showbiz phonies would turn on me, sure. But you? I don’t care about the job! I did fine! I had a good life, but what I needed then was… a friend. And you abandoned me. And I will never forgive you for that. Now get the fuck out of my house!”
Also, does anybody else wanna see Kai fight William Regal now?
Finally we have the men’s War Games match, which went on last due to (1) its more garbage spot-heavy nature, which requires a lot less paying attention and remembering things, and (2) the appearance of Kevin Owens, making his grand return to NXT with his original gear and entrance video.
The post-match interview on Dot Com (or Dot C-A, I guess) makes it sound like he was just popping in for the night to get some revenge on the Undisputed Era, but I wouldn’t hate it if he stuck around for a while. I think the next step for NXT is getting back as many of the stars it lost as possible and working them back into its universe, to show the “main roster” that consistent characters with believable motivations and interesting conflicts that lead to exciting wrestling matches isn’t the imaginary fever dream of an aging smark who “doesn’t know how it works.” It isn’t the audience’s fault you spent the past 15 years training it to be as stupid and accepting as possible.
While the match was great, I think it was a step behind the women’s War Games. That’s not an insult, though, you’d have to be running pretty goddamn fast to be ahead of that one. As mentioned, the focus is more on “plunder” and big weapons spots over the pathos and drama, and, like a lot of Adam Cole’s matches since TakeOver New York, kinda just kept going and getting more and more ridiculous until it’s hard for even the die-hard fans to stay into it. Like, how do you do a double pump Panama Sunrise? How does that even work?
To put it more clearly, the finish wasn’t just an Air Raid Crash from the top of the cage through two tables, it was an Air Raid Crash from the top of the cage through two tables after Keith Lee had powerbombed Bobby Fish through a table after Kevin Owens had Bullfrog Splashed Kyle O’Reilly through a table. It’s just MORE AND MORE AND MORE AND MORE. In AEW terms, it had more in common with unsanctioned Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega than it did with Cody vs. Nick Aldis, and I think that comes down to preference more than an attempt at some kind of objective “rating.” Star ratings are for losers, pass it on.
Oh, speaking of that,
All in all, I think the match did a good job of … well, stimulus response, but also in positioning the various challengers for the Undisputed Era’s championships. Ciampa pinned Adam Cole, which should put him line for a title shot. Kevin Owens vs. Roderick Strong for the North American Championship could be a fun one-off, and tell me you don’t want to see O’Reilly and Fish vs. Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic? Just be careful with those cage spots, guys. We just got Ciampa back, I don’t wanna wake up tomorrow and find out he shattered his pelvis and is gonna miss another 15 months.
Also, Adam Cole better be sitting in the front row looking concerned for his girlfriend at AEW SuperBrawl, or whatever.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Rhea: “Well, I guess we have to go with Aliyah then”
Dakota Kai screams.
Io puts the Moon in moonsault.
Charlotte puts the Salt in moonsalt.
When Ripley cuffed herself to Baszler, that moment of confusion between horror and arousal is what cost Baszler the match.
Can’t wait to see how King Corbin’s team at Survivor Series one ups this match.
Ciampa showing Gargano if you want to kill off Adam Cole you have to DIY
Gargano doesn’t understand why Cole didn’t kick out of that
Baron Von Raschke
He hit that Panama Sunrise RIGHT IN THE CANAL!
The Real Birdman
“I should have become a chiropractor” – Britt Baker
Damian Priest dealing out severe damage to his opponents. If he were a bartender, he’d be serving up Punishment Martinis.
Eight former ROH talents leave the confines of a small cage to ply their talents in a larger, if still enclosed cage. If that isn’t a metaphor for leaving the indies for WWE, then I have to give back my comparative literature degree.
Worst: Masters Of The WWE Universe
I refuse to acknowledge a WWE Masters of the Universe toy line until they turn Rhyno into Ram-Man. At least you’ve got Ultimate Warrior in there, explaining to Eternia that Evil-Lyn doesn’t make the world work.
That’s it for the Best and Worst of WHAH GAMES~! Thanks for reading. Your comments and social media shares are even more important on pay-per-views and live specials like these, and keep us in the business of making GIFs from action figure commercials. Also, wrestling jokes. Thanks for reading about two double cage matches, and make sure you’re here on Sunday night for Survivor Series, which will destroy the NXT roster in a completely different way.