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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Respect for October 7, 2015.
Best: The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Trophy
NXT’s understanding of what makes wrestling important to people (and what makes it work) doesn’t stop in the ring. When it was time to unveil the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic trophy, they did it the right way, by having Dusty’s family — his entire immediate family, including Eden Stiles — do the honors. Seeing Dustin as Dustin and Cody as Cody again put things into perspective, and let us know that the evening wasn’t a tribute with ulterior motives to set up some bullsh*t wrestling program, it was a sincere, actual tribute.
That’s part of what I liked about how the tournament itself went down. In our TakeOver: Respect predictions post, nearly everyone on staff predicted a turn, or a swerve. Joe’s gonna turn on Finn! Finn’s gonna get possessed by The Demon and it’s gonna compel him to attack Joe! Rhyno and Corbin are gonna attack each other! Cody and Dustin are going to challenge the winners!
On the show itself, what happened? They had two great, straight-up tag team matches, put in enough psychological teases to make us think our fantasy booking was right, and then closed it out with a third, great, straight-up tag team match.
In the end, that was the tribute of the tournament. Dusty Rhodes’ voice lives on in NXT, and his perspective on how to reach out through a television screen, or over the ropes into an audience of thousands of people and grab them is almost single-handedly what makes NXT different from WWE proper. It doesn’t feel “old school” … it evokes the attention to detail and the reasons why, and filters them through these incredibly hungry, talented people to make the wrestling product some of us have been begging for since we were old enough to beg. Sometimes the expectation of a swerve is enough, you know? This was the Crockett Cup. It was wrestling for the sake of wrestling, for all the right reasons. I’m so happy with how it turned out, and I hope WWE puts out a DVD set with all the matches in full.
And hey, any excuse to see the Rhodes family is a good one. If Stardust has to stay Stardust, can we lean on that concurrent, alternate reality of NXT and let Cody Rhodes exist again somewhere?
Best: NXT TakeOver – Full Sail
This was a show for me.
That probably sounds way more up-my-own-ass than intended, but here’s the truth: after giving San Jose the GTS, running most of a tag team tournament around the country, giving Brooklyn the biggest and best NXT show ever and everything else, this was Full Sail’s reward. This show wasn’t booked to draw in casual fans … it was a reward, so to speak, for the people who are here every week. The ones who WANT to see the Mechanics tear it up, or WANT to see Chad Gable and Jason Jordan on a live special, or want Izzy around when Bayley gets her big win. It’s not a family, I guess, but it’s … well, it’s a family. I was gonna say, “I don’t hate my family as much as I hate these people sometimes,” but I do. The faces change, but that weird room of wrestling jerks means something. It’s part of NXT’s identity. You can send Lucha Underground stars to sold-out arenas and they’ll be great, but if they aren’t in a warehouse in Boyle Heights, it’s not Lucha Underground.
I’m not sure I would recognize Dash Wilder if he walked down the street in full wrestling gear, but Dash and Dawson are dope. If you’ve got Finn and Joe in two matches on the night and you want the second to be the emotional tournament final, you want the first to be “look at how awesome Finn and Joe are.” To make that happen, you put them in the ring with two guys you know they’ll beat, but who can make them look like the mega, world-killing superstars they are.
I’m happy that the Joe of TakeOver: Respect isn’t NXT Debut Joe. There’s a fire in him again. He looks healthier, faster, stronger. He isn’t sweating like a seal 20 seconds into a match. He’s the Joe we made “hang loose” hands for in 2005.
I’m also pretend-elitist enough to love Jacket Finn more than Demon Finn — probably because it reminds me more of the guy I got used to loving before he got here — and his variant entrance theme with BALOR CLUB graphics is the best. Don’t get me wrong, the Demon is hand-clappy wonderful, I just don’t think “live special” should automatically equal “demon.” We probably shouldn’t see it more than once or twice a year, max. Make that sh*t important. Don’t just make it Finn going, “well, I have to win I guess, so here goes.”
Best: Chad. F*cking. Gable.
NXT needs to give up having Chad Gable and Jason Jordan be arrogant tweeners and let them be the beloved amateur wrestling babyface superteam they were born to be. I didn’t think about it before, but positioning Chad Gable in a match of consequence against Baron Corbin in Full Sail is such a great idea, and a pitch-perfect understanding of the audience. You take a guy the crowd has fanatical love for, put him in a match fans have cultivated a sorta-irrational hatred for and let them burn it down.
Bayley/Sasha wins the night for a dozen different reasons, but holy sh*t, this match was BONKERS. The first two tag matches had this brisk pace I wasn’t expecting, and by the time Jordan and Gable got going and started throwing goddamn Chaos Theory suplexes it was like, NO, KEEP YOUR EYES HERE, IF YOU STOP WATCHING YOU WILL DIE. You know a match is good when the Full Sail crowd stops the funny chanting and turns into a mass of excited scream-murmuring. Hell, even the chants were good: “GA-BLE” to the tune of Kurt Angle’s theme would’ve been chant of the night if they hadn’t immediately followed it up with a New Day-style “SAVE, THE GABLE” during the heat.
I’m kinda-sorta wondering if Chad Gable and Baron Corbin aren’t wrestling soulmates. Those guys had GREAT chemistry. Corbin already had that great match with Joe in Brooklyn so it stands to reason that the hatred he gets is based more on the lousy 30-second matches he’s been wrestling for a year and not his actual in-ring talent, but letting Gable go nuts on him with AM GRAPS and Corbin having to deal was five damn stars. The Black Hole Slam might’ve been the best one I’ve ever seen, and the finish with the tilt-a-whirl into a tornado DDT attempt into the End of Days made me put my hands over my mouth and scream. In terms of goofy Brandonisms when I’m watching wrestling, that’s at the top, and only “standing up and silently holding my hands in the air” is close to it.
The NXT tag team division is now officially (and maybe still secretly) the best thing in the world. Dawson and Dash are great, the Vaudevillains are secretly superworkers and Jordan and Gable are so good at wrestling it pisses me off. Those three alone could anchor a division, but then you’ve got Enzo and Big Cass as charisma machines, Blake & Murphy as the good team with the great manager — a WWF tradition — and these randomly paired all-star teams like Finn and Joe or Corbin and Rhyno. Talk about a Divas Revolution all you want, but NXT deserves a heap of praise and love for rehabilitating what has forever been the worst part of their shows.
I wish an actual tag team had won the Dusty Classic (or at least made it to the finals), but the matches were so good I don’t even care. Shoot Nation’s taking it next year, baby.
Best: The Finals
To tie it all together, we get Joe being overwhelmed trying to handle too much on his own, and Finn stepping in to power through the injury and help his team get the win. At the beginning of the tournament, ignoring everything we know about how wrestling’s booked and looking at it objectively as fans, Finn and Joe were the favorites. If you think about it from NXT’s perspective, they created a tag team tournament that can be a yearly affair, and they’ll forever have unswerved, non-bullsh*t footage of the Rhodes family presenting a beautiful trophy to two wrestlers they can count on: Samoa Joe and Finn Bálor. It’s hard to get much more indie street cred than those two.
And hey, now you can give them a shot at the Vaudevillains or whatever and do the turn without compromising the tournament. Because seriously, f*ck you, that turn is coming.
Best: RIP Dana Brooke
You ever have those moments where you think somebody’s a great wrestler and could get over in WWE, and then they show up and you’re like, “wow, I had NO IDEA?” That was Asuka’s debut at TakeOver. I’ve been watching Kana for years, and it wasn’t until she popped Dana Brooke’s pose and spun around in place between everything that I realized how perfect she is for WWE TV. She’s beautiful and great at wrestling, sure, but she’s also enough of a showboaty dork (a la Finn) to seem larger than life. She just … fits.
And God bless Dana Brooke for hanging in there and being the perfect character to make the story work. Her patting Asuka on the head got a strong “you f*cked up” chant, and her selling every kick by just clutching her head with both arms and lying motionless on the ground was amazing. Should I put selling in quotes? Regardless, Dana deserves a high-five for being half of maybe my favorite NXT debut ever.
I’m excited to see where Asuka goes from here, especially if it’s “killing Emma.” There were two great followups to the match, and one of them goes in that direction:
Deluded amnesiac Dana Brooke is my jam. “I bet her, right? It was really quick!” Asuka being able to put the fear of God into Emma now by just kinda looking at her and walking in her direction makes me so happy.
The other great followup:
Worst: Goddammit, Tyler
If there’s anything I can “worst” on this show, it’s the (extremely kayfabed) worst that Tyler Breeze lost. Again.
This felt make or break to me. I thought Apollo Crews has/had enough going for him that he could take a surprising loss to Breeze and recover from it without issue, but that Breeze has been through enough of these “whoops, a new guy showed up and everyone likes him more so I’m a jobber again” scenarios that we’d move past it. Nope! Crews wrecks him, and while it’s a lightly competitive match, dude just atomic drops him into a powerbomb and pins him.
Stepping back from my hand-wringing fandom for a second, this was definitely Crews’ best match since debuting in NXT. He took some believable damage and had to switch up his offense, and I like that Breeze did the smallest amount of scouting possible to counter the standing moonsault twice. I also really dug that Breeze is apparently using the greatest hits of Canadian WWE offense, from the Chris Jericho springboard dropkick to Christian’s Unprettier and “The Hart Family” Sharpshooter. Just keep him away from the flying headbutts, okay?
This retroactively becomes even a kayfabe Best if this actually (finally) leads to a break in Breeze’s character, and a permanent addition of an edge that can help him win important matches. If they’re building to Breeze vs. William Regal at the UK TakeOver, I don’t care if Tyler spends every week between now and then taking Baron Corbin losses to Dash Wilder.
Best: The Bayley And Sasha Banks Experience
This is what it feels like to watch wrestling that matters.
I’m going to try to break it down into numbered points to make sure I say everything I want to, but there’s no way I will. I haven’t even processed how I feel about the match yet. I’m still in that honeymoon period where I get teary-eyed watching clips the next morning.
1. To say it, everything WWE’s patting themselves on the back over here is true. It’s awesome that the women have been given the main event of a live special, and a thousand times more awesome that they deserve it. It’s not a situation where they say, “people want women’s equality, let’s put a women’s match in the main to make them happy.” They learned in Brooklyn that when you have two women who are this good and have been in the company this long and have this much history, nothing can follow it. Owens and Finn in a ladder match can’t follow it. An awesome tag tournament wouldn’t follow it, either. It’s the main event because it’s the f*cking main event, and NXT’s the one place in the WWE Universe where you can trust the people in charge will notice what’s happening in front of them.
2. In Brooklyn, Bayley wore gold because she wanted to win the championship. At Respect, she wore red and gold because those are Iron Man’s colors, and she’s in an Iron Man match. Gear psychology for life.
3. The thing you want to point out when you watch this match is the callbacks. One of the odd things WWE does is say that every PPV cycle is a fresh start, and everyone’s in-ring rivalries reset. If you wrestle John Cena once, he’ll be able to hit you with the same moves in the same way the next time you wrestle. If you learn to reverse it, it doesn’t really matter … you reversed it because you reversed it, not because of anything specific you learned from the story told in the previous match.
Part of what makes the glory days of 90s puroresu so good is how guys like Kobashi and Misawa would wrestle, and then every match they had after played into the ones previous. It felt like two people who had actually been in a fight trying to avoid the mistakes they made the first time, and the wrestling was allowed to intersect and play with those moments and build bigger and better matches. Every moment of every match started to mean something. That’s a thing you can do with wrestling, because wrestling isn’t real, and if you’re in control of the fictional world, you can make the decision to have anything you want matter.
The callbacks to Brooklyn allowed the Iron Man match to feel like a sequel, and not look like an attempt to top it. There’s no way to “top” an emotional situation like Bayley and Sasha in Brooklyn, but if you say, “that happened, so now THIS is happening,” you allow Brooklyn to make Respect matter more than it would’ve before. There’s so much here, from the way Sasha responds with silence instead of taunting when Bayley’s in the corner, to the catching of the counter later in the match. The Banks Statement rolled back into the center of the ring saw Bayley counter it in Brooklyn, so she goes for the same counter here, and Sasha counters the counter. The poisoned rana from the top rope that meant the end for Sasha in Brooklyn gets countered at Full Sail. In Brooklyn, Sasha took advantage of Bayley’s injured hand and crushed it against the ring steps. Here, Bayley smashes SASHA’s hand in the steps.
The best part is that the moments aren’t just fan service or whatever, they tell the story of the match. Sasha’s finish is a crossface. If her hand is injured, she can’t get a grip and lock in the move like she needs. This allows Bayley to stay in the move longer, and increase the drama at the end of the match without making it look ridiculous that Bayley hasn’t tapped. Even better, Sasha sells on offense … she can’t lock in the grip, so she has to grab her wrist with her good hand for the torque. Bayley’s able to counter by gripping the injured hand and bending it back. When Sasha’s able to hit a backcracker in the final moments of the match, Bayley has a full grip of the injured hand … Sasha can’t hit the move like she wants, and Bayley’s able to roll with it, deal with the pain and lock in an armbar WITH THE HAND for the win. Even better, she stomps Sasha in the back of the head while she does it. It all ties together. It’s a story that makes wrestling real. It makes wrestling matter. The actual wrestling, I mean. The stuff they do is supposed to lead to something, not just exist to fill time before they do the cooler moves.
That sounds like a dorky point of view, but it works. Look at the crowd. Listen to them. Read the feedback from almost anyone who watched it. These matches are AMAZING, and not because they did cool stuff on a show WWE told us was important … they used pro f*cking wrestling to make pro wrestling fans feel the way they desperately, absolutely want to feel about pro wrestling. Cool entrances and funny spots and gear psychology are one thing. Pro wrestling working like it’s supposed to is irre-f*cking-placeable.
4. IZZY. How the hell could I not mention Izzy?
The emotional component missing from Brooklyn was Izzy. It sounds ridiculous to say “this ONE FAN has to be there,” but that’s part of the NXT experience. These people have come up training in the same places in the same arenas in front of the same fans. It’s the bond you get with people who go to indie shows. You know them. They’re not “part of it,” but they’re part of it. You want certain people around to see certain things you’re gonna do. We forget that wrestling is performance sometimes, and that one of the most human aspects of performance is that it exists so you can make other people say, “I saw you do that.”
If you aren’t familiar with her, Izzy is Bayley’s superfan. She dresses like her, wears her shirt, cries when she watches her win big matches on TV and wears a special, sparkly headband that nobody else gets. When Bayley returned to Full Sail as NXT Champion, she brought Izzy into the ring to pose with her. If you’re on the Internet you might have a hundred ways why this is wrong, but I can’t see it that way. I see me at 3 or 4 years old, bursting into tears when Jim Cornette cheated the Rock n’ Roll Express and got away with it. I see me watching this sh*t with wide eyes and a trusting heart, because it made more sense to me than anything else.
Sasha tosses Bayley into the LED screen at the entrance, then gets in Izzy’s face and steals her headband. Her special headband that she and Bayley have. She puts it on and makes crying gestures in the ring, and Izzy’s inconsolable. When she’s in tears, Sasha gets on all fours and TAUNTS HER SOME MORE, then THROWS THE HEADBAND AT HER. It’s brutal and wonderful, and the reason why shows like this and fans like Izzy matter … there’s some stuff about wrestling you just can’t do in a WrestleMania stadium, and NXT’s size, location, history and increasing popularity allows them to show that stuff to a WWE-style universe.
Of course, when Bayley pulls out the victory in the final seconds, we jump to a triumphant Izzy, wearing a different kind of tears. But, you know, the same amount.
5. The roster showing up to applaud them was perfect. Watch Regal and Sara Amato share a parental hug. Watch Regal’s face when he stops being able to hold in the emotion. Watch Sasha’s when she realizes the flowers for her, and she collapses into herself. Everything about this was perfect, and I can’t thank everyone involved enough for letting me be a part of it as a fan.
Onward and upward. For once, I believe it’s gonna work.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
“Hey Dawson, I’ve got a great idea. How about for our entrance, we… and come out on a limb with me here, we point at the trophy?”
“…. I LOVE IT”
2. Cesar Chavez
3. Eugene Debs
Updated rankings for top Strikers
Golden Girls Gone Wild
Can we just get Asuka in with Eva Marie immediately.. The ring will be all red everything
Baron Corbin could make a very strong future for himself if he shoots for White Titus O’Neal and not Store Brand Roman Reigns.
Bayley is Mufasa
Izzy is Simba
Sasha is Scar
It’s the Squared Circle of Life
Cena’s watching like, “Why’s Balor still selling the leg? He’s on OFFENSE now!”
Marcus Louis’ hair is finally growing back! There’s hope for that poodle!
The Real Birdman
*Solomon Crowe runs out confused by the broken video board*
Gable is like if Spike Dudley and Angle got mixed in the teleporter from the fly
This is ok, Finn can just turn into a Demon and his leg will be fine later.