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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: London for December 16, 2015.
Best: The Value Of Not Doing The Same Finishes All The Time
First of all, Emma has added sunglasses to her entrance, confirming her as 2015’s Wrestler Of The Year.
Second of all, one of my favorite things about NXT is how they provide a believable context for everything that happens, even their versions of tired WWE tropes. For example, here’s a Divas match that ends in a distraction. Not only is the distraction turned upside down — Dana Brooke tries to slip Emma a chain, Emma tries to use it twice, fails both times and gets kicked in the head for the loss — but it’s complex. Dana and Emma aren’t just arbitrarily cheating because they’re heels, they’re cheating because they’ve already run into Asuka a few times and know they can’t beat her 1-on-1 (or even 2-on-1), so they’ve got to start breaking the rules. It works with everyone else, why wouldn’t it work with Asuka? Dana’s weird inability to operate like a human being gives the failed cheating its own context, as she can’t do anything right, and of course Asuka would stay ahead of the curve. Hell, they even did an inverse of the Eddie Guerrero phantom cheating spot to force you to think one of these attempts would work. Masterfully done.
That doesn’t even get to the meat of the match, which was fantastic. Samoa Joe is the most improved wrestler of the year in a walk, but Emma’s pretty close. When she returned to NXT she was dead behind the eyes and felt like she was just treading water until they cut her. Now, she’s better than ever. She rose from the ashes of Dancing Emma and Pink Lady Snake Puppet and became a conniving, evil badass who can legitimately hang with MOST DANGEROUS f*cking Kana in a match full of hard strikes and submissions. That lariat she threw that almost took Asuka out of her shoes was great, and she leaned into everything Asuka was throwing. When you can make 10,000 people in an arena go “OOOOH” to a spinning fist, you know you’re doing something right.
Thanks to a great match and the ongoing story, they’ve actually created a situation where a babyface can enter a 2-on-1 handicap situation against her top heel rivals and be the favorite to win, without making her opponents look bad. She just looks really good. That’s a f*cking tightrope.
The backstage followup is worth watching, too, because Dana’s ability to insincerely heel is through the roof. Also, Asuka doing the Emma dance. The video spells it “Auska,” which I guess we should expect from the same production team that typed “Somoa Joe.”
Best, But Oh God This Is Depressing: Enzo And Cass Lose Again
The Realest Guys In The Room vs. The Former Mechanics got into Bayley in Brooklyn territory for me, where I’m so invested in the characters and stories that if they lose their big title match at the peak of their momentum, I’m feeling bad for a month. It’s … going to be a long December. If you make a Counting Crows joke here I’m gonna find a much smaller friend and throw him at you from a high place.
For pure emotion, nothing beats the tag title match. That’s what I loved about TakeOver: London. It wasn’t the best TakeOver or the most exciting, and nothing really happened, but every match was unique, and touched a different place in my wrestling brain. Asuka/Emma was fun and stiff and dynamic. Bayley/Nia Jax was a great story. Finn/Joe was an indie main-event full of cool moves and counters. Corbin/Crews was a heavyweight battle you’d praise the hell out of it it’d happened on the main roster, and Enzo/Cass vs. Dawson/Wilder was emotional.
The entire match was built around Enzo and Cass finally putting everything together and busting their asses to leave everything in the ring and win a damn wrestling match. They were SO CLOSE on SO many occasions. The Air Enzo nearfall with him getting yanked out of the ring by his leg knocked the wind out of me, and Enzo popping up on the apron to shove a Mechanic off the top rope to prevent Cass from being injured again was empowering. I even liked the finish, with Carmella getting involved against her will, causing a distraction (again, against her will) and it being the intangible that gave Dawson and Wilder an opening to hit a big move. The Shatter Machine off the second rope was exactly the kind of exclamation point you need at the end of Enzo’s sentence. If he’s got to go down, he should go down to something that would beat anybody. Not something normal.
I don’t know where they go from there. I feel like Enzo and Cass might’ve won the straps here if Jason Jordan and Chad Gable weren’t such a God-given can’t-miss. If Dawson and Wilder are transitional champions, you can’t give the belts to the Realest Guys, because Jordan and Gable are ENDING whoever’s champs in Dallas. Enzo and Cass have to be the also-rans … the team that had their heart in the right place and tried their best, but came up short. The good guys don’t always win. A super-powered jobber team can only get so far, you know? I’d honestly be into a JJ/Gable vs. Realest Guys feud based on that. The beloved, unstoppable collegiate wrestling wizards competing under Totem Spirit Kurt Angle vs. these two lovable guys who aren’t that good and can’t seem to win the big one, but have started to accept that reality and get a little less nice about it.
Best: Werewolves Of London, Or
Best: Apollo Crashes To Earth
The key moment of the match is Baron Corbin leaning over the ropes and yelling “YOU SHOULDA STAYED IN RING OF HONOR!!” Apollo Crews wasn’t in Ring of Honor. I like to believe that Corbin just indiscriminately hates guys he’s heard are indie wrestling standouts, and “Ring of Honor” is the only non-WWE promotion he’s heard of and he assumes it’s all the same. Baron Corbin is the sh*t.
As I mentioned earlier, this was a good match hurt a lot by being stuck in the middle of an NXT TakeOver. Corbin has improved a lot, and giving him a clean, dominant win over Apollo Crews using ring awareness was a surprising choice. I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that Crews would go down like that, but maybe they can use it to humanize him. The fact that I couldn’t imagine Crews losing to anybody probably handcuffed his ability to tell the stories they want to tell. The same thing happened with Corbin. He was just “winning streak guy” until they gave him a few losses, and now he feels more like a real wrestler. Winning streaks are fun, but after a while the only thing you can think about a match is, “will he keep winning, or is he done?” Corbin as a former winning streak guy who is emotionally compelled to end everyone else’s is fun.
Also, +1 to Crews for taking the Neville route and countering an End of Days with a standing moonsault.
Worst: Are You Seriously Gonna Make Me Wait Until Next Week For Sami Zayn
The worst part is that they put most of his return speech on Dot Com without the match that goes with it, or the big return entrance we’ve been waiting for. You couldn’t have the guy come out dressed like Sheamus’ son and cut a promo on the live show, and boot Tye Dillinger in the face or whatever next week? Just have him stick his head out from behind the curtain and wave at everybody, I don’t care, I’ve been without Sami Zayn for 7 months. Cut one of those video packages we’ve already seen and get him in there. Let Triple H congratulate himself off-screen.
Best: Telling A Story
Remember when Bayley faced Eva Marie? On paper, it was a disaster. In practice, they built a story around Eva Marie’s greenness, and set up these crazy situations — Charles Robinson showing up, ref bumps, Nia Jax interference, the whole nine — to trick your brain into thinking Eva was gonna win. It was a masterpiece, in a way, because they took a wrestler who can’t make it through a sentence or walk a straight line without steam coming out of her ears and made her a viable, believable contender for the most prestigious women’s championship in the world.
Bayley vs. Nia Jax was the same thing. On paper, it’s Bayley facing a woman who clearly has an upside, but is still green as goose sh*t and hasn’t wrestled a match on TV that’s gone longer than a few minutes, or asked her to do anything but stand around. In practice, they use that reality to tell an amazing story. Nia Jax is naturally dominant. She’s got the pedigree, she’s got the size, she’s got the confidence. She’s plowed through all the lower-tier talent and found herself in a match with Bayley, who she thinks she’ll beat like the rest of them. She’s never been tested, and she’s never faced anyone with Bayley’s experience or tenacity. So she DOMINATES, and when it’s time to close the deal, she goes for arrogant pins. She puts her foot on Bayley’s chest, or just kinda lazily covers. You can’t put Bayley away like that.
On Bayley’s side, she’s never faced anyone of Nia’s size and strength before, but she’s observant and respectful enough to plan out the match. She sticks and moves. She rope-a-dopes her, basically, letting her tire herself out and get frustrated. Eventually Nia gets lost and has no idea what to do, and Bayley can just guillotine choke her over and over until her power’s completely drained and she has to submit. It’s brilliantly put-together, and does more for Bayley than maybe any other title defense so far. We know she can out Four Horsewoman the other Horsewomen, but the new class of Divas has a new style. She has to approach each one differently, and use what she learned wrestling the promotion’s old aces to grow and adapt. I love it.
As for Nia, I don’t think the loss will hurt her, but having her lose by submission to Bayley probably does hurt Nia vs. Asuka. They teased it earlier in this show, but now that Bayley’s gotten her to tap, is there any question whether or not Asuka will? Asuka should be able to grab her in a wristlock and make her tap. If I’m Bayley, I spend the next six months kissing Asuka’s butt so she feuds with all the viable heel competition and doesn’t think about how easily she could be Women’s Champion.
(I hope Nia keeps her dilophosaurus entrance gear.)
Best: Joe Is Working A Lot Harder Than Finn In This Match
Maybe it’s in my head, but I feel like the Internet’s turning on Finn Bálor a little. If you read reviews of this show, a lot of them point out that Joe worked his ass off in the main event, but Finn was just Finn. He relied too heavily on his established moveset, didn’t really do much besides dropkicks and double-stomps and still managed to pull out the victory. The Demon is just the same Demon as before with Big Ben painted on his back, and he’s got a jacket. The creature isn’t growing anymore. Remember when he got fangs, and when he got wings? Now he … got a hat.
I wanted to acknowledge that point of view, because I think it can be turned into something special. I keep waiting for that story when a championship challenger gets Bálor to admit he’s “bringing the demon” to their match, only to turn it around on him. What good are you if you can’t beat me without a bunch of weird gimmicky body paint? The Demon is a crutch. You’re not a real champion if you have to cosplay as someone else in your important matches. Why can’t demure, Lego-loving Finn Bálor get the job done? I was hoping Joe would be the guy to do it, but it didn’t happen. Maybe they’re saving that for the heel turn, which I wouldn’t assume would happen if I hadn’t spent years watching Prince Devitt be a thousand times better as a heel. Plus, Finn keeps main-eventing these shows where he ends up overshadowed by something great in the undercard. Bayley/Sasha in Brooklyn nerfed the main so bad they had to give them the top spot the next time around.
All that said, Joe vs. Finn might’ve not been the world shaking main event I wanted it to be, but he was really good. Of course it was. It’s Finn and Joe. It was so good that it made the crowd stop singing parody songs for like 10 minutes and react to what was happening in the ring. Plus, Finn murdered a lady during his intro. Can we check on Bayley and make sure she’s fine?
With Kevin Owens on the main roster, I’m hoping the reason they didn’t just toss Sami Zayn into the main event was to let him work a program with Joe. He can use Joe as an extremely challenging warmup for Owens, because he’s astrologically destined to go there. As for Finn … man, I don’t know where he goes. He’s on top of the world, and if Joe can’t bring him down, who can? Itami? Can we just cut out the middleman and run Finn vs. Asuka? Asuka would light him up.
Great stuff to end a great show. TakeOvers are so hard to write up because they’re just two hours of great wrestling, and part of you just wants to type “watch the show, it’s awesome” and hit publish. This one felt like an exceptional house show, so I can’t wait to see what they’re saving for Dallas.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
This version of Joe would be the favorite in a match vs. the volcano.
If NXT is WWE Developmental then Monday Night Raw is WWE Detrimental.
The crowd is close to getting what it wants. Pretty soon some of Bayley will be over there, some of Bayley will be over there…
HUG’S GATE! HUG’S GATE!
Last time a Big Bad Wolf had that much power in London, the multiverse almost ended.
Nobody puts Bayley in a corner.
Baron Corbin AKA Rogaine Reigns
Enzo looks like an alternate universe Super Mario bro after one too many mushrooms.
I’m so confused. Women have been wrestling for more than five minutes and Asuka hasn’t gotten distracted and rolled up yet?
Miami Weiss Number 1 New Show!
… and this right ‘ere, this is Big Cass, and he’s 2.1366 meters tall….
Thanks for reading. See you next week. Support the episodes between the live specials!