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NXT Takeover: Brooklyn – High-lights, Low points & Crunchy in-betweens

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015: The Fed’s development brand, which is becoming less of a development brand by the week, put on its biggest, flashiest, most daring display yet. Taking the Takeover show for the first time out of the safe confines of Full Sail University, NXT brings the action to a raucous house of 15,000 enthusiastic fans in Brooklyn, NY.

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Did the dramatic endeavour pay off for Triple H’s fledgling brand at a time when it seems on the verge of leaving the nest?

Would the stars deliver the goods to a tough New York audience known not only for it’s generosity of spirit, but also for its intolerance of bullshit?

What were the highs, lows and awkward middles? Let’s break it down…

THE RUN-DOWN:

  • Tyler Breeze vs Jushin Thunder Liger: Liger wins with Liger-Bomb. Liger.
  • NXT Tag Team Championship – The Vaudevillains (with Blue Pants) vs Blake & Murphy (with Alexa Bliss)(c): Blue Pants brawls with Alexa, preventing her interference. Whirling Dervish hits, ‘Villains win championships.
  • “The Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger vs Apollo Crews: Crews wins after a gorilla press slam followed by a standing moonsault.
  • William Regal announces the first ever Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Invitational.
  • Baron Corbin vs Samoa Joe: Corbin passes out in Samoa Joe choke-hold, Joe wins by submission/decision.

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  • NXT Women’s Championship – Bayley vs Sasha Banks (c): Bayley hits top rope reverse hurracanrana, followed by a Bayley-to-belly suplex for the three-count. New Women’s Champion. Becky Lynch and Charlotte join Bayley and Banks in the ring to celebrate.
  • NXT Championship Ladder Match – Kevin Owens vs Finn Balor (c): Balor hits Coup de Gras from the ladder, retrieves the title for the victory. Balor retains.

ANALYSIS:

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High-light:
“We are N-X-T!”

Triple H opened the show in ultra-dramatic form, standing spotlit in the center of the ring in his classic “Game” posture. He addressed the WWE Universe in intimate fashion as the crowd stirred all around him. As the house lights went up and the camera circled, the crowd came alive on cue, and with all the intensity he could muster, the former competitor and current promoter yelled into the microphone: “We are NXT!”

This was the way to begin a show. The New York crowd barely needed any more prodding to make noise and get excited, but this address brought them together in a way that a cold open could not accomplish.

H’s words brought to the viewer a sense that he or she was watching something monumental, that history was being made and something special was about to occur. He brought a sense of contribution, of participation, of interaction to the audience both at home and in the arena.

The opening’s message and its sense of excitement came on like a storm and didn’t leave for the entire two-hour spectacular, a testament to the COO’s keen sense of psychology and showmanship.

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Low Point:
Liger Bombs and Breeze Jobs

For those who are long-time admirers and fans of the Japanese sensation spoken of so fondly by WWE legends like Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio, this match must have been at least mildly entertaining. As a match in and of itself, it tended to miss the mark.

Liger was over, no doubt thanks to a majority of fans in attendance aware and appreciative of the veteran’s reputation and renown. The match also benefited from jerking the curtain, guaranteeing a default level of energy. That being said, if the crowd were only average, instead of insanely invested in the action, this match would have robbed the remainder of the show of momentum.

The match played as a lower mid-card exhibition bout to show off Liger’s moves, which were executed with the deft agility and snap of Rob Van Dam five years from now. Breeze sold as best he could and made the legend look good, but their resulting effort together lacked cohesiveness.

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It’s a bit shocking that Breeze did not go over. Considering that NXT is short of top-tier heels to compete with Finn Balor for the championship, not to mention Tyler’s tendency as of late to drift towards face-dom, this match with Liger was potentially a grand opportunity to not only cement him as a worthy villain but also as a top competitor. As it stands now, with Breeze not only appearing in the first match of the night but jobbing to someone with no stake or standing in the company, it is going to be difficult for the former Lance Storm student to be taken seriously as a contender.

One wonders if Breeze will finish up his NXT career and move to the mid-card of the main roster in Adam Rose fashion, having never held any gold.

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Crunchy High-light:
Tag Team Tomfoolery!

Just when you thought that the entertaining duo of Aiden English and Simon Gotch could not be over with the crowd, they pair themselves up with Blue Pants. The super-heroin drew massive pops and chants from the New York audience, and her involvement in the match – brief and a tad non-consequential it may have been – was well-timed and well-saved for the closing moments of the match.

The match itself was great fun to watch, thanks mostly to the eccentric efforts of the challengers. English, with his posing, posturing and showmanship composed beyond his years, and Gotch with his inventive ring skills make this team a pleasure to watch and impossible not to cheer for.

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Blake and Murphy did their part as well, but still lack vital qualities which make a big draw. Their offense possesses some nice high-impact tandem combinations, and no one can deny their athleticism. It is their lack of emotional connection to the crowd, however, which continues to be their major flaw. It is their blandness and vapidity which turned a baby-faced team into heels, and a heel team into a trio. Now with Alexa Bliss doing their talking for them, they at least have some form of personality.

If Blake and Murphy were facing anyone less entertaining and full of energy than the Vaudevillains or Enzo Amore & Colin Cassidy, the crowd would die. Fortunately, thanks to their opponents and the involvement of Blue Pants, they made it through their biggest live event yet, and still have time to improve their shtick.

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Crunchy In-between:
Crews Debuts!

The much anticipated debut of Uhaa Nation, who has adopted the disappointingly contrived, racially stereotyped moniker Apollo Crews (so what, they just picked two well-known African-American celebrity/character names and slapped them together?), was received well by the generous audience in a match that was for the most part entertaining.

Dillinger was effectively heelish in his new gimmick, which has great potential for the performer who, until recently, was missing any kind of hook. He controlled the majority of the match, show-boated in classic fashion, and bumped like a boss for the newest NXT face.

Crews, for his part, appeared terrified. Although possibility trying to hit an air of humility, coming out and allowing the camera microphone to pick him up saying “Wow, that’s a lot of people” simply made him appear out of his depth. If his proceeding manner reflected ease and confidence, this impression could perhaps be ignored, but the competitor honestly looked intimidated and a bit wary of the crowd and the cameras.

Fortunately, this hesitancy lifted after Crews executed some beautiful moves and received appropriately respectful pops, and his air began to lighten. The finish to the match earned him a champion’s ovation, and he appeared pleased and relieved the audition went as well as it did.

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Some of the awkwardness in this match comes from a conflicting sense of whom the company was attempting to push here. Normally, a new talent is put over by an established veteran, one the fans are well used to and (in the case of putting over a face talent) loaded with easily-drawn heat. Tye Dillinger almost fits that bill. He certainly has the experience, having honed his skills in NXT for years. But his new “Perfect 10” gimmick is only a couple weeks old, and the fans are actually taking to it and getting behind it. The fact he is practically debuting it at Takeover makes one think the push is on him.

Perhaps the match will serve to set both performers on their respective paths: Dillinger as the overly-confident but comically misadventurous mid-card heel; and Crews as the ridiculously physically talented baby-face.

The fact that “physically talented baby-face” is all Crews has given the audience so far is something else which will hopefully change in time. If the superstar wants to really take off in the WWE, he will need to add something else to his character, something unique.

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High-light:
Joe FINALLY exposes “The Real Deal”

Going into Takeover, the big question surrounding Baron Corbin was: What will it take for this guy to show us more?

The answer: Samoa Joe.

The ROH/TNA veteran put on a hell of a match full of hard strikes, solid grappling and surprisingly cohesive story-telling with the young man many have dismissed as one not deserving the push he’s gotten so far.

Corbin, for his part, silenced many critics by proving he could do what the NXT Universe did not think he was capable. He bumped and sold effectively for his opponent, showing a vulnerability impossible to convey in his usual jobber squashes. He not only grappled with the dangerously adept Joe, he managed to slap in a submission of his own. He stayed in the match, despite it’s longer-than-usual run-time. Finally, he showed determination, courage and character in the finale.

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The match was well-paced, barely losing momentum and never losing the crowd. The finish was well-conceived and put both men over, making them each appear strong.

Time will tell is Corbin will continue to enrich his character with more involved contests, but with the landscape of NXT looking the way it does, one would not be too surprised if the Lone Wolf is being built up as the brand’s next top heel, a spot conspicuously left vacant by Kevin Owens.

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Low Point:
The Three Blind Marks at the Table

The biggest thing that went wrong in the Corbin/Joe match was the inability of the announce team to adequately put over the story of the match. This is a common theme in the weekly NXT television show and was once again prevalent at Takeover: Brooklyn.

NXT is a development promotion not only for in-ring talent but for on-air personalities, and so it is not surprising that Byron Saxton, Cory Graves and “Trying-to-be-Michael-Cole-but-not-quite-Michael-Cole” Rich Brennan have a lot of work to do before they are as polished as industry legends such as Jim Ross, Jesse Ventura, or Joey Styles.

Although there were several minor moments of awkward dead air scattered throughout the broadcast where the (typically) smooth improv hit snags, and there were far too many occasions when conversation strayed from the action to argue arbitrarily and distractedly, there were a few  pivotal moments which were utterly missed – or at least mis-handled – by the announce team.

The most prominent came during the Corbin/Joe match, when the WWE rookie came out of nowhere to apply an expertly-executed heel hook, a dangerous submission move from jujitsu. The move was a surprise, as Corbin has thus far shown a very one-dimensional style in his relatively short matches.

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The application of an expert submission, and on a man as seasoned as Samoa Joe, should have been a major revelation. The announce team should have been losing their minds, saying things like “Where did that come from?!” or “We’ve never seen this before!” or even bringing up Corbin’s jujitsu experience which was mentioned during the promo package preceding the contest.

Instead, they acted as though it was nothing new, and an important moment was robbed of some of its impact.

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High-light:
The REAL Main Event

In terms of all things considered, from build to character development to promo package to entrance to in-ring action to psychology to audience reaction to match composition to finale to post-match electricity and pure vulnerable emotion, the women of NXT stole the show.

Bayley’s push to become new NXT Women’s Champion was briefly interrupted by an injury, but returned with new fire weeks ago. Placed opposite the superb work from Sasha Banks and the rest of the roster, her story has been one from a fairy-tale. That tale culminated with an emotional victory over arguably the top female talent in pro wrestling today in an excellent match – not an excellent women’s match, but an excellent match period.

Giving Sasha a grand entrance complete with escorts was a perfect way to contrast Bayley’s humility. The challenger looked determined and strong, yet obviously struggled with feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. Her face was a deep well of affectation, and it was impossible not to get wrapped up in her compelling struggle.

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Banks played her part to a perfect tee. She is a consummate villain despite being as cheered as she is, and that can be tough racket, but she handles it with grace and composure, seeming never to lose her character.

While Becky Lynch has enjoyed a good push in NXT and a promotion to the main roster along with Charlotte and Banks, Bayley has often been regarded as the member of the now famous “Four Horsewomen” left behind and under-estimated. At Takeover, she proved she is worthy of just as much praise and respect as her teammates.

In regard to the Horsewomen’s “Curtain Call”-esque stunt at the conclusion of the match, the impression it gives is conflicting or endearing, depending who you ask or how you look at it.

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This was a special moment for women’s wrestling and for that particular group of performers, and no one can deny them deserving a moment to soak it in. The group has been well publicized for their real-life friendship and comradery on social media, and so it cannot be seen to pack the same kayfabe-shattering impact of The Kliq’s famous incident in the 1990s.

The timing of such a stunt, one day before Lynch and Charlotte were to face off with Banks in their WWE Pay-Per-View debut, makes it equal parts inappropriate and completely understandable.

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Crunchy High Light:
Over-the-top Owens and Bland Balor

The main event suffered from being booked directly after a difficult act to follow, combined with a build that lacked spark and compelling narrative.

The action itself as far as delivery was concerned was crisp, smooth and hard-hitting. Both men are superb performers, extremely physical in nature and fully committed. Both Balor and Owens put their bodies on the line – with Owens playing things just a touch more conservatively due no doubt to his match at Summerslam the next day – and put on a great show to cap the night off.

In the plus column were definitely Balor’s entrance and Owen’s enthusiasm. The darkened arena filled with smoked and red light, as Balor crept his way to the ring. Preceding his ultimate entrance, WWE added look-alike dancers rising from the fog, which built upon his mystique and palpable presence. One can only imagine the kind of fun the production team will have with the Irish-born star as he plays larger venues.

Owens, in minimalist fashion, walked to the ring with little ceremony, pacing the ring like an animal, shaking the ropes and shouting at the crowd. He was an absolute pro at working the crowd throughout the match, and the crowd in turn was right there to react to every one of outbursts.

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The fault in the feud between Owens and Balor lies not in their individual ability, but in an absence of motivation apart from the acquisition of the championship, which in today’s world of professional wrestling makes it simply sub-par.

The build up to the championship match involved little more than the standard fodder which accompanies any textbook rivalry; blindsided attacks, generic tough talk, promises to be victorious. While Bayley and Sasha Banks had a clearly defined Cinderella story, this feud seemed more compulsory than organic.

It was time to move Owens up and time to put the belt on Finn. That about sums it up.

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Balor, a great wrestler and spectacular showman as far as his entrance is concerned, still lacks a certain emotional connection with the crowd that seems to afflict many wrestlers from Europe and Japan. His somewhat limited capacity for outward expression, especially when it comes to his face and voice, prevents the audience from truly becoming sympathetic to his struggle or invested emotionally in his plights.

The man formerly known as Devitt would benefit from a gimmick akin to the Undertaker, where silence and economy of movement and expression serves more good than affectation and vulnerability. Perhaps by the time he moves up to the main roster, some type of enigmatic persona can be more effectively honed.

Overall, a good match and a fair way to end the night.

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CONCLUSIONS:

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what happens as new talents take the place of those moving on up to the big time – which is becoming less distinguishable from the “baby brand” all the time.

The attendance of NXT Takeover was, admittedly, no bigger than an above-average Raw or a below-average Battleground or Payback, but it was a massive step forward for the promotion.

The production quality was top notch, with a video screen along the entrance ramp complimenting those surrounding the stage and the massive light and video wall at its summit.

With news that it will take its show to the UK, along with the announcement of a tag team invitational in honour of Dusty Rhodes, the future is bright for NXT and its emerging talent.

Photographs copyright WWE.com

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