Iron Women: WWE elevates themselves with classy showing at NXT Takeover
“Respect” was the theme of the evening, and The Big Fed’s success at driving it home was largely due to a world-class showing from Woman’s Champion Bayley and challenging former champ Sasha Banks.
The two competitors met in a thirty-minute iron woman match, an attraction never before featured in WWE. More importantly, the match was featured in the card’s main event. For the first time since its humble beginnings, the world’s leader in sports entertainment featured women in their head-line attraction.
It was an important night, and it felt like everyone, from the roster wrestling on the card to the announce team to the fans at Full Sail University, understood that importance. NXT Takeover: Respect was not just another live event pushed to boost network ratings or sell tickets, it was a chance to make history.
The theme of respect was not relegated to the main event, though. It permeated nearly every contest.
The night opened with the semi-finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic and with images of the legend himself, honouring his legacy. Abandoning a cheap finish, or a victory tainted with seeds of dissension, the face team of NXT Champion Finn Balor and Samoa Joe won a hard-fought victory over Dash Wilder and Scott Dawkins.
Dash and Dawkins, otherwise known as The Mechanics, earned much-deserved credit for their performance against the top baby-faces in the promotion. Using aggression, tenacity, and a plethora of expertly under-handed tactics, the pair showed they are high-rate workers and top contenders for tag team gold.
The next contest saw the heel team of Baron Corbin and Rhyno take on the ambitious new pairing of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable. The crowd was firmly behind Gable and his more established partner, but unfortunately they found themselves overwhelmed.
Corbin has been butting heads with NXT fans and their opinion of him for months, with chants of “you can’t wrestle” and “Corbin sucks” following him around everywhere. However, with yet another impressive display at Takeover, it appears that the Lone Wolf is bit by bit, bout by bout showing that he is capable of more than simple squashes.
Can he eventually shake the pesky chants and earn the crowd’s respect? Time will tell.
The night’s first singles match saw Asuka debut in the ring against Dana Brooke. In the match’s build, Brooke and Emma showed disrespect to the internationally recognized superstar at her NXT contract signing, inciting William Regal to book the match. The main purpose of the contest was no doubt to introduce Asuka to the WWE audiences, but her opponent benefited in the process.
Brooke has experienced a bumpy first leg of her career, with the crowd tentative at best to accept the former fitness model. Being in the ring with an accomplished and electric indie veteran like Asuka forced the rookie to step up her game, and to her credit Brooke did just that.
The match was fast-paced, hard-hitting, and inescapably engrossing. Showing no fear, stiff aggression and a willingness to bump hard for the Japanese sensation, Brooke had the best match of her NXT career so far, even though she wound up tapping out decisively.
Tyler Breeze took on Apollo Crews in a match that was solid, but perhaps could have used a bit more motivation behind it. The potential to build a hot feud based on respect between cocky newcomer and arrogant veteran existed, but played as it was, the match lacked significant heat.
The Dusty Classic finals ended in decisive fashion, continuing the night’s tendency to steer clear of screwy finishes, swerves and cheap gimmicks.
Some might argue that being a tag team tournament, the final bout should rightfully have been contested between actual tag teams instead of combinations of singles wrestlers. The opinion has validity. However, in terms of booking for the event, it was the best decision to make. The Mechanics and the pairing of Jordan and Gable earned credibility in the division, and were only bested in the end by the company top heels and faces.
Giving the honour, in the end, to Samoa Joe and Finn Balor, was also the right decision. On a night built around the word “respect”, there was no better way to celebrate an industry legend than by celebrating two present/future industry legends, men of integrity and repute.
Emotions ran high as the show reached its main event.
Much credit deserves to go to the way the production was directed. A clear, concise and well-paced video promo package set the stage for the main event. Visuals backstage of both challenger and champion preparing to enter from the gorilla position along with a thrumming soundtrack preceding each’s entrance music elevated the crowd’s excitement.
During both entrances, the announce team was conspicuously silent. Uncharacteristic of a live broadcast, the lack of banter added a sense of reverence, of respect, and underlined the importance of what was about to occur.
Sasha Banks, the celebrated former champion, was hard-pressed to contain her emotion as she preened and postured. Kayfabe be damned, most in attendance knew that this match, this revolutionary event, would be Banks’s final performance at Full Sail. The fans showed their appreciation for a woman many consider to be one of the best wrestlers – of any sex – alive today.
Bayley, likewise, could not hide her true feelings. Barely able to sport the winning smile that has made her top baby-face of the promotion, she appeared tied up and twisted with concentration. Her expression spoke to the reality of the moment, of the singular importance of this match, and to the amazing pressure on her to deliver a stellar performance.
The match itself was everything it was built up to be. If anyone needed an example of a way to tell complex, layered and compelling stories in the ring, they need look no further than Bayley vs Banks 2015.
Bayley was the consummate baby-face, out to prove decisively that her success was not a fluke and that she deserves to be champion of the women’s division. She fought valiantly throughout the contest, showing grit and determination even in the face of pain, injury and a viciously determined challenger.
Sasha Banks once again proved why she is considered one of today’s best, putting on the match of her life. She displayed a veteran’s ring awareness and a warrior’s fighting spirit, while also drawing massive heat from the crowd. Cheap shots, ingeniously hidden eye gouges, and making little Izzy, Bayley’s featured fan at ringside cry legitimate tears – who can argue that she is the best heel in the business?
In the end, however, the rightful winner was declared and Bayley’s place in the company cemented. The show concluded with a show of respect that reinforced the importance of the main event and its effect on the wrestling industry. The entire NXT roster came out to join the Full Sail crowd in applauding the achievement of its main event competitors.
William Regal presented the defeated Banks with a bouquet of flowers as the crowd chanted “Thank you Sasha”. She dropped to her knees, overwhelmed by the moment, but then rose and proudly, yet humbly, accepted the adulation.
Triple H presented Bayley with her own bouquet and raised her hand in victory, before leaving her in the ring to soak up her moment in the sun.
It was one of those moments in wrestling that elevates the sport above a mere carnival act or flimsy soap opera. It can be easy sometimes, amid the garishness, to lose sight of the heart and soul of the athlete underneath and behind it all.
Masked demons crawling up through the ring to extract revenge, cult leaders recruiting monsters to destroy heroes, epic contests between “beasts” and “dead men” may make up a vast majority of WWE’s programming. But it’s not the whole story, and it’s not always what people want to see. Sometimes people want to see real emotion.
NXT delivered one of those pure moments of genuine emotion in wrestling with Takeover: Respect. Triple H and his immensely talented roster of young stars paid tribute to the heart and soul of professional wrestling, and took a big step in elevating itself to a new level of respect in the industry.