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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Dallas for April 1, 2016.
Best: The Power Of Damn Friendship
Look at Jason Jordan’s face when he realizes he just won the NXT Tag Team Championship. He looks like Frank Dux when he gets powder thrown in his eyes at the end of Bloodsport. That’s one of the most realistic and honest emotional reactions I’ve ever seen on a wrestling show. It’s somewhere between existential shock and SCREAMING.
So yeah, NXT TakeOver: Dallas begins in the best way: with American Alpha taking the straps from The Revival. One of the best compliments I can give the show is that this wasn’t the best thing on it. That’s remarkable. Aside from a few rough patches and an iffy false finish that the crowd temporarily completely turned on, this was a brilliantly laid-out tag team masterpiece. It was everything you want from tag team wrestling. It was the Steiners and the Brainbusters on an NXT show in 2016.
The dynamic that makes American Alpha so easy to love is that it’s the perfect tag team formula. You’ve got Chad Gable, the Ricky Morton, a guy with wrestling ability to spare who can turn feeling-out processes into exhibitions and can turn heat into a masterclass in watching a smart guy who’s great at wrestling get out of jams. On the apron you’ve got Jason Jordan, a deeply emotional, intensely connective future superstar who we’re learning might secretly be the most dynamic guy on the show. Tagging in Jordan is like tagging in a thunderbolt. He’s huge and strong and can suplex you without falling down, but he can also throw Okada dropkicks and crush you with shoulderblocks. Like, actually crush you. The best moment of the entire match is the finish, in which Jordan makes a blind tag and SPRINTS offscreen. A few seconds later he comes darting in from the other side of the ring with the most massive corner shoulder to the stomach you’ve ever seen, setting up the Grand Amplitude. It’s a perfect moment because not only does it show what a cohesive unit American Alpha is, it shows what an unstoppable force Jason Jordan is. He’s everywhere at once. He spends that time on the apron thinking about how he can dropkick 10,000 people at once if necessary.
I don’t think anyone doubted the finish here, but it’s still exciting and wonderful to see. These guys deserve the belts more than anyone in the history of NXT, with apologies to Enzo and Cass, and I’m glad NXT didn’t jerk them around for another year before pulling the trigger. Sometimes the right call is the right call, and the time to make it is right now.
Best: The Post-Match Interview
Speaking of emotional reactions, watch the backstage fallout video and try not to be in love with this team. The moment near the end where Gable starts talking about how long Jordan’s been in NXT and how much he deserves success, and then Jordan is just compelled to totally break and press his forehead into Gable is perfection. Not to reference two 1980s martial arts classics in the same match writeup, but it’s that old Best of the Best adage: A team is not a team if you don’t give a damn about one another. I think the thing tag team wrestling has been missing for so long is the feeling that guys in tag teams legitimately give a sh*t about each other and let us see it.
Best: Baron Corbin Skullderpads
Baron Corbin showed up looking like the Medieval Spawn version of Baron Corbin (credit) wearing a half jacket half corset vest thing made out of animal bones. If you didn’t have a reason to love Baron Corbin before, here you go.
And hey, let’s finally welcome Jacob Cass to WWE! He’s been trying to get here since 2012!
Baron Corbin vs. Austin Aries is the closest thing the show had to a “bad” match — thanks for not actually being on the TakeOver special, Elias Samson — but it’s absolutely not bad at all. If this had happened on a normal episode of NXT, we’d probably be praising it more. Aries’ debut got severely overshadowed by Nakamura’s, which is totally understandable, and Corbin’s gimmick of hating guys NXT fans want to see sorta props him up to be an enemy of a crowd that would otherwise be noticing his incredible upswing of talent. Corbin’s been great in the ring and great on the microphone for the past several months … so good that he gets half of a dueling chant at the beginning of the match, even, so maybe people are noticing no matter what.
The story here’s a good one. Corbin feels threatened by the influx of stars from other places (possibly because he’s seen a Tyler Breeze match before) and wants it to stop, but he can’t seem to actually stop it. He gets shown up by Apollo Crews, gets simultaneously tapped out by Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe, and now he’s trying to stop this little baby goat dude from getting over on him and just can’t. He nerve holds him and Deep Sixes him on the floor and does everything he’d need to do to put an average opponent away, but Aries stays resilient and turns an End of Days into a rollup for a surprise win.
A good story, an okay match, a little underwhelming. On any other show it’d get a better read.
Best: Faces In The Crowd
Early in the show, KOTA IBUSHI shows up in the crowd. They put over the Global Cruiserweight Series, which is going to be the best in italics, and if you don’t know Ibushi, he’s so good he’s had multiple fantastic matches against inanimate objects. I love him being there for Nakamura vs. Zayn, when he’s had some of the most unbelievable matches you’ll ever see with both. Here he is wrestling El Generico in a kayak.
Later in the show we get an appearance from former TNA Champion BOBBY ROODE, which is sadly not followed by a shot of James Storm drinking beers by himself backstage at the Impact Zone. Let’s hope Roode is here to reunite the Dirty Heels with Austin Aries, because that’d be a hell of a fit in the new tag team renaissance, and Aries/Roode vs. American Alpha is something I’d like to see yesterday.
Best: King Of Song Style
I considered making this entire recap exclamation points.
Before Shinsuke Nakamura debuted, there were a lot of questions. He’s perfect for WWE, sure, but would WWE know what to do with him? Would they know how to package him? If we lost ‘Subconscious’, would anything compare? And then Sami Zayn made his entrance and the arena went dark as people chanted NAK-A-MU-RA clap clap clapclapclap, and everyone went, “oh, okay. This is going to be DOPE.”
And dope it was.
I might still have goosebumps about this a day later. Everything about Nakamura’s intro was perfect. The song is as good as it can be without being ‘Subconscious’. The intro graphic with Nak posing in silhouette was amazing. The strobe lights were breathtaking. The crowd’s chanting HOLY SH*T before he gets in the ring, and when he hits that pose on the ropes, everything is fine. EVERYTHING. Sometimes talent transcends everything we think or worry about and just connects, and works. This is one of those times. Shinsuke Nakamura is in the WWE, folks.
Best: Fight Forever
That might be the best chant ever.
There’s a lot of hyperbole I could throw at Zayn vs. Nakamura, but just watch it. Watch it and understand. This is what we’ve always wanted pro wrestling to be … the battle between two people with something to prove, and hearts so big they’ll do anything to prove it. Sami Zayn’s always been a lovable loser type, and here he is throwing straight-up punches to Nakamura’s face. It’s not even heelish, it’s a fight for survival. Nakamura’s entering a foreign land in nearly every definition of that, a land where people change and names disappear and everything’s micromanaged, and he’s blowing up the entire operation by being himself. “Himself” is the only thing Nakamura can be. The knees are still there, even if they have a different name. The swag is still there. The look, the weirdness, the stiffness. He’s Shinsuke Nakamura independent of all the worries and bullsh*t.
This might be the best one-on-one NXT match of all time. Saying that when Sami Zayn’s in the ring, the guy responsible for pretty much every other “greatest one-on-one NXT match of all time,” is saying something. It simultaneously works as an introduction to Nakamura — both for WWE and American fans who might not have seen his work in New Japan — and a goodbye for Zayn, who is destined for a bigger stage. Hell, he’s destined for it by Sunday. The guy’s in an Intercontinental Championship ladder match at WrestleMania, and he’s giving this match everything he’s got. Look at his face when it’s over. He looks like someone put him through a meat grinder.
All I can say is to watch this match. Really watch it, absorb it, and consider the brutal beauty of the nicest (okay, maybe second nicest) character on the NXT roster busting open a guy’s nose with forearms and just throwing and taking them and refusing to fall. Consider the change that Nakamura brings. Consider the work Sami’s put in to carving out a reputation and a system of expectations for NXT that didn’t necessarily exist before he showed up. Consider that maybe Nakamura’s the guy to build on that work. Consider that we for real just watched Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura tear it up on a Wrestle Kingdom level on a WWE-produced live special.
Consider that pro wrestling is sometimes the best damn thing in the world.
Best: Bayley As 1989 Sting
Bayley’s character comes full circle. And, like Sting in WWE, she loses. Nailed it.
Best: The Inevitable
Like Corbin/Aries, I feel a little bad for Bayley/Asuka. It had to follow Nakamura/Zayn, and that’s a pretty impossible task for anyone. Popping Crews/Samson between this matches might’ve been a good idea to get the crowd level again, but NXT’s putting on the best shows we’ve ever seen so ignore me.
That said, I thought it was outstanding. It described it as “every great Bayley match + Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn,” and I like that. It showed that even though Bayley was clearly outmatched, she wasn’t going to become the “underdog” again. When Asuka started lighting her up, Bayley fired back. When Asuka started kicking her ass, Bayley got hot and countered with a kneebar. Even the finish is perfect, with Bayley’s body giving out on her before her brain or heart would. That’s perfect. The old underdog Bayley would’ve tapped out and been sad about it, and then beaten herself up over it. This Bayley fought the toughest female competitor pretty much anyone’s ever seen and went toe-to-toe with her until she dropped. That’s something. That’s an end of a title reign fitting the kind of champion who lives or dies based on people caring about their individual defenses. That’s what made the matches with Nia Jax and even Eva Marie so good … we don’t want Bayley to lose, ever, even when we know it’s going to happen.
That’s the power of inevitability. Sometimes it’s not about how hard you fight or how many times you get back up. Sometimes your heart can shoot you into the sky, but there’s gonna be someone better waiting up there to kick you in the head and knock you back down. That’s Asuka. Asuka is supernatural. Asuka’s not normal. She’s an exception in every way, and she just took everything Bayley had — including the top rope rana AND the Iron Woman armbar finish — and came back stronger. The shock in the crowd at the match result was pretty special. It wasn’t “Undertaker’s streak just ended” shocked, but it was in that region of ballparks.
I really hope Bayley sticks around for a few more months. If we’re losing Sami to WrestleMania glory, we need to keep Bayley around at least long enough for a rematch. I’d like to see her stick around through the summer, just to build up to this ultimate rematch where she’s taken a step back and learned a bunch of new tricks, because she needs SOMETHING to surprise Asuka and keep her down. The depressing post-match interview is already leaning in that direction. Everything Bayley did, Asuka had a counter for. So what would Asuka NOT have a counter for?
Meanwhile, you can run Asuka against the rest of the women’s division. Asuka/Nia Jax has already been teased, and every Asuka/Emma match has been good-to-great. Hell, Asuka vs. Cameron was pretty good. Spend a while building it up, and then, win or lose, we get a dedicated goodbye to Bayley.
I say win or lose because yo, who the hell beats Asuka? Honestly.
Best: The Texas Bálor Massacare
Finn had no chance of topping Nakamura’s entrance on gravitas alone, but he went full Texas Chainsaw Massacre with it, and I loved it. I also loved him adding blue to the red, to give his gear a Texas flair without airbrushing Rick Perry on his back or whatever.
Worst (But Best): Totally Understandable And Necessary Ref Stoppages
The thing everyone’s going to remember about this match is the blood. Joe throws a headbutt early in the match and gets busted open over his eye, and referees end up stopping the match half a dozen times to try to patch him up. It kills the momentum on multiple occasions and pisses off the crowd, and Joe and Finn have to sorta salvage it by going top top speed every time the match restarted.
It’s not a fun paragraph to write, but the safety of these guys is more important than the wrestling. If Joe had gotten busted open on his forehead that’d be one thing, but getting a cut near your eye is pretty dangerous, especially if left unattended. The visual of a bloody Joe getting more and more fired up and just smacking the sh*t out of Finn was AMAZING, but the ref’s got a job to do, even if that compromises the vibe of the match. I wonder how much better it would’ve been if they’d just let it go (or if Joe hadn’t gotten busted open), but it is what it is.
I thought this was head and shoulders above their London match, regardless. The intensity here was off the charts, which it had to be to follow Zayn/Nakamura and Bayley/Asuka. Joe losing was a bit of a surprise to me, but I loved Demon Finn being notably different from Regular Finn (something they’ve backed away from after the first appearance or two) and the Bret Hart/Roddy Piper “walk up the turnbuckles into a pin” homage. The question of where everyone goes from here is a big one, and I hope the encroaching presence of the Not Bullet Club means we’ve got a cocky, unbeatable Demon Champion headed our way. As for Joe? Who knows, but if he keeps being this perfect version of Samoa Joe, I don’t care what he’s doing. As long as he sticks around.
Another absolutely stellar show, on an increasingly large list of absolutely stellar shows. I think we type “best TakeOver ever” after every TakeOver, but this is definitely near the top of the list. American Alpha as tag champs, Asuka as the women’s champ, a Bullet Club en route, SHINSUKE F*CKING NAKAMURA and more. Unreal. Fight forever.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Jushin Thunder Bieber
This whole night has been like driving a fireworks factory into a fireworks factory.
The announce team is weaving the real cut and real treatment perfectly into the fake story. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT WAS POSSIBLE TO HAVE THEM ENHANCE THINGS INSTEAD OF MAKE IT 100 TIMES WORSE.
:Cut to Dean Ambrose:
Dean Ambrose: “Very funny. Which one of you jerks stole my chainsaw, huh?”
The Real Birdman
I find it ironic Takeover’s sponsored by Digiorno since it’s been delivering big time
Quick, Asuka! Go find Izzy and tell her Santa’s not real!
Oh man, the statue unveiling…I’m not crying, it’s just Dusty in here.
My dreams and my nightmares both feature Asuka.
Japan don’t give a f*ck.
Mr. Royal Rumble, JSF
I not only bought that false finish, I took out a line of credit to do so.
how could anything else possibly follow that match?
**sees rest of card**
oh yea… god bless nxt.
Thanks for reading, everybody. See you on Sunday for WrestleMania 32! It’ll definitely be this good, we swear!