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NXT Takeover Brooklyn (and general NXT thoughts)

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2015 6:02 pm    Post subject: NXT Takeover Brooklyn (and general NXT thoughts) Reply with quote

NXT seems to have found a really nice formula. They can do a fairly light weekly show, gradually developing characters over a 3-month/3-TV-taping schedule between Takeover Specials, and they only really need to deliver big on a few matches a year (essentially the Mens and Womens Championship matches at the Specials and the occasional big match on weekly TV) and some key angles that keep the feuds at the top of the card moving and keep them at a serious and intense level. So far, when it comes to those, they have been crushing it, and that continued on this show.

Maybe because I grew up with a slower pace of wrestling in the early-to-mid-90s with WWF and WCW, this schedule works a lot better for me than something like Lucha Underground, which burns through things so fast that a character goes through a story arc in the two to three weeks it would usually take just to establish a wrestler as being part of the roster.

Maybe because of that simplicity, or because the whole NXT "Universe" and experience is so over with their ever-expanding fanbase, or because of the ability to cycle in the best non-WWE talent to keep the upper card super strong, the increasing intermingling of the WWE and NXT brands and the hiccups that the main roster's meddling has caused in the NXT booking hasn't seemed to hurt the shows or the heat much at all. I'll get into that more in my follow-up post.

As for the show itself, amazing heat from the Brooklyn crowd that presumably were all different from NXT's usual Full Sail audience. This wasn't the leftovers of a WWE or casual fan crowd. They were into the NXT acts.

1. Jushin Liger vs. Tyler Breeze - It was pretty surreal to see Liger not only at a WWE show, but to hear the announcing crew working overtime to put him over as a legend and an emblem of everything great about wrestling (which has traditionally meant non-WWE wrestling). It's part of the ambiguous tension between WWE and NXT that I find fascinating. They're courting the fans that want to rebel against their own product.

This was also one of the places where it felt a little forced to me, just because I've been watching the 50 year old Liger in the New Japan G1 undercard tag matches, and he's mostly a comedy act now. Not that they shouldn't milk having a legend and one of the greatest wrestlers ever as a special attraction. But most of the focus of this match was on Liger, and as a worker at this juncture of his career he's holding Breeze back.

I was thinking he may have even been more banged up than usual given how slow the early parts of the match were. Liger did his flip dive from the apron and won with a Ligerbomb. I was doubly surprised by this as Liger seems to have no problem putting over lesser known talent on indy shows, and Breeze is a big act in NXT who is having a great year. Maybe they'll build to a rematch where Breeze gets his win back, or maybe they thought this crowd wanted to see Liger win. It was all a little strange to me.

2. Tag Titles: Blake/Murphy vs. Vaudevillains - On the other hand, I really enjoyed this match, which has gotten some divisive reactions from the reviews I've read. The action wasn't especially good, but the heat was amazing, and it wasn't just affection for the characters of The Vaudevillains and Blue Pants but cheering the team to win and getting into the big spots.

Acts like The Vaudevillains and Blue Pants seem like lightning rods for the tension between two schools of thought on pro wrestling. On one hand, there's this relatively niche crowd that loves wrestling but proudly considers itself exclusive and is happy to champion comedy acts or in the case of Blue Pants a no-name enhancement talent and put them over, giving themselves a sense of control over the product. On the other hand, there's an old-school mentality that thinks these crowds are blocking the potential for growing a fanbase that reacts more genuinely to faces and heels and could ostensibly be much bigger.

Maybe it's because right before I watched this show I listened to an interview with Leva Bates, the indie wrestler who "plays" Blue Pants, but I have a hard time seeing the huge reaction to her as ironic or self-indulgent. She's an indie wrestler who works hard to cultivate a following, and has gotten a lucky break in bleeding that following into the much larger NXT cult crowd. I kinda see it as a microcosm of the Daniel Bryan phenomenon. Some people seem to insist Bryan only got over because they didn't like WWE treating him like a scrub and cause everyone loves the "YES!" chants, while others see it as because he's a great wrestler and a very good interview. It's got to be some combination of those two things. On a much smaller, more epehemeral level, both arguments apply to Blue Pants. She wasn't in WWE working hard for years like Bryan, but some fans may be familiar with her from outside NXT, and she has a general vibe that's very different from what most the women on WWE TV have, so there's at the very least something there besides "Wouldn't it be funny to chant for a jobber so they have to bring her back?"

3. Apollo Crews vs. Tye Dillinger - Squash-ish debut win for Crews. He's 6'1", 240 lbs. with a bodybuilder physique, and moves great. So most likely he'll be a big star and have good matches. They gave Dillinger a gimmick with the "Perfect 10" thing, albeit one where he's supposed to fall on his face as a heel and never live up to his boasts. But hopefully it means he'll be positioned to do good undercard work in NXT.

4. Samoa Joe vs. Baron Corbin - Joe may have slipped through the cracks a little bit since his Title feud with Owens got tabled and instead he's in a midcard program with Corbin. But I liked the match, and the two brawls on the weekly show to set it up were good, with Joe selling pretty hard to make Corbin look strong. In theory, I like having a pure WWE Developmental guy like Corbin, with no indie background, play up his lack of experience (and not being one of the guys who loves wrestling and would commit his life to it regardless of pay, etc.) as a heel gimmick. But the crowd response to him recently hasn't been heel heat so much as disinterest, so we'll see how it goes.

5. Women's Title: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley - Not as technically good as Banks vs. Becky Lynch at the last Takeover, but the amazing heat and intensity made up for it. The Women's Title matches have been standouts at every Special, but this is the first time it eclipsed the Men's main event. I'm not trying to say it was at the level of the best G1 matches wrestling-wise but emotionally, down the stretch for the big near-submissions, it was comparable. (Back when this division was first getting attention, at the
September 2014 Takeover, Bayley had a match with Charlotte where her facial expressions really helped sell the match beyond what her wrestling could, and this was the same deal but turned up about ten notches.)

There were some dangerous looking falls during one stretch. What it looked like to me was when Sasha hit the flip dive out of the ring, she also hit her head on the floor. Right after she got up from that she was stumbling, and it appeared for a few minutes that she was working in pain and maybe half-conscious. So when she climbed the ropes to jump to the apron or floor and bend Bayley's arm on the top rope, she hit the move but lost control in mid-air and fell hard to the floor. The camera stayed on Bailey lying in the ring while the ref went to check on Banks. A little later, Bayley attempted a Top Rope hurricanrana, Sasha blocked it and Bayley went flying, but that was probably the planned spot to set up Bayley's Top Rope Reverse Hurricanarana at the end (a great finish made even more impressive since Naomi botched a standing version of the move on Paige at a PPV a couple months ago, and was supposedly demoted from the top of the card for it). It's possible Sasha should have caught Bailey and protected her fall just a little bit more but she was too out of it to do so.

It's tough because these great NXT Women are pretty small and slender, and probably not trained in dives and high impact moves the way Joshi wrestlers of the 80s and 90s were (though that's just a guess on my part). The injury rate for big moves on big shows has been pretty high for them, and if they start to attempt things like that any more frequently on the WWE roster, it might not be sustainable. It's a shame to think that Women's Wrestling will almost inevitably grow as a major attraction in WWE but that some of these four women could not be there for it in a year or two because they get broken down.

After the match, Sasha, Bayley, Charlotte and Becky Lynch all hugged and celebrated in the ring together. It's been speculated this was an homage to the infamous Clique Curtain Call in MSG, but in this case the crowd understood and was into it. (Though they've done "out of character" moments like this before, and then later when it turned out not to be an NXT farewell, had to snap back into face and heel roles opposite each other in future matches).

6. NXT Title: Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens - Brooklyn crowd was pro-Owens, even when he heeled it up. The best was when he pinned Balor to the outside of the ring with the ladder and took a big run-up like he was going to use the horizontal ladder as a ramp into Finn, but stopped instead and just punched him. Even denying the audience a big spot like that got him cheered, though.

I'd seen a ladder match Owens had on the indies as Kevin Steen vs. El Generico and that had some brutal spots, so I was braced for that. He mostly limited it to a big fall from a vertical ladder onto a horizontal one, which looked and sounded nasty. They did succeed in making the ladder seem like a dangerous weapon, which is something missing from the more acrobatically-centered ladder matches WWE often does. For Balor's part, he seemed to hurt his leg early on, possibly on his Swan Flip-Dive out of the ring, and then again on the final Double Foot Stomp from the top of the ladder. But he gritted through it and didn't look like he was seriously injured.

Considering what a generic gimmick Ladder Matches have become, they pulled off a good one. WWE has a lot more success with Last Man Standing matches, and I believe these two wrestlers would have been well suited to that. A strong main event, but it struggled to follow the Women's Match. I like how NXT continues to book Owens as a killer, and force his opponents into the underdog position, even as on the main roster he's been more and more booked like a cowardly heel.
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2015 6:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That brings me back to the issue of WWE and NXT co-existing despite being parallel universes when it comes to booking. Prior to 2015, WWE didn't have the best record at repackaging and pushing NXT wrestlers who were called up. They seem to be happy to keep call-ups tied to their NXT identities, and even refer to them as NXT wrestlers (this year, they've done a bit better with Neville, who was given a cape and a mid-card high flyer rap and has been pushed fairly strong within those boundaries).

But the typical WWE hemming and hawing when it comes to which guys to use, when to use them and how, has created a strange dichotomy where wrestlers try to play a different version of the same character on both shows, and the long term booking of NXT which has been both straightforward and effective suddenly is full of uncharacteristic stops and starts to accommodate the WWE's uncertainty.

This has applied to a smaller degree to the Women's booking. Charlotte lost the title and passed the torch to Sasha Banks with the idea that she'd likely be on the main roster soon. So she kept coming back for short term programs while that call-up was on hold. In the middle of Sasha's program building up Becky Lynch as an equal, it became clear both Charlotte and Sasha would be called up. So they had one final title match on the weekly show and hugged after, with the idea that Sasha was turning face to team with Charlotte when they went to RAW. But that got put on hold and eventually they were brought up on separate factions, and Becky was brought up with them (shortly after having surgery, so who knows if she rushed her return so as not to miss her main roster debut).

Now they're all on the main roster shows every week, but Bayley never got built up to their level, largely owing to injuries. So they all came back to NXT to put her over. Which is fine, but there's a convoluted set of circumstances here and it all could have been done much cleaner with a little heads regarding when each woman would be called up.

The booking around the Men's Title has been even more compromised. Kevin Owens got a strong title win over Sami Zayn only a few months after debuting, so he was established as a dominant heel champion on something akin to a Vader or Brock Lesnar level in NXT. The Owens vs. Zayn feud was obviously meant to go long term as they fought other people. Also, it's possible Zayn was about to be called up when he had to get surgery and has been out ever since with only a loose timetable for return. In the meantime, they had Owens beat Finn Balor pretty early in Balor's NXT stint, in a TV match because WWE was planning to call up Balor quickly (apparently cause they're paying him more, as they had to lure him away from his New Japan deal).

Then when prospective contender Hideo Itami got hurt, they had a void to fill and rushed Samoa Joe in without even a name change or full time contract (they gave him a contract the second ROH got their deal to be on Destination America and potentially Joe could have wrestled on a competitor's national TV show). They built up Owens vs. Joe. But then Owens moved up to the WWE roster, at the same time they decided *not* to call up Balor. Probably believing Owens was gonna win the US title from John Cena, they booked Balor to beat Owens in Japan. But Owens lost two title matches with Cena, after his intial non-title victory, and has been booked much weaker since, though he's clearly still an important regular on the main roster for the time being. Then, for whatever reason (possibly just wanting to draw the best possible crowd to Brooklyn), they went back to Balor v. Owens for this show and haven't brought up Joe's grudge with Owens or title quest in the build-up.

It's gotten pretty twisted, and may become even moreso if Vince decides to hotshot Apollo Crews to the main roster or who knows what else could happen as far as call-ups, signings, demotions, etc. It seems for right now that the NXT crowds aren't concerned with all of this and are happy with the product and to treat their stars the way that the NXT booking portrays them, regardless of conflict (and increasingly, to be a vocal minority in the front rows of RAW, supporting Owens and the NXT Women even when the rest of the crowd doesn't). Short term, keeping the most over talent available to NXT seems smart, since the alternative is an NXT packed with less experienced and far-less-over projects like Dana Brooke, Eva Marie, Baron Corbin, etc.

They've been very clever thus far about transitioning from one major star to the next in a short time frame, but at some point the uncertainty is gonna catch up with them (and in the same sense, if NXT top guys are all mired in the WWE midcard, the lack-of-faith that's troubled WWE crowds in the past with start-and-stop pushes will eventually trickle down.)
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2015 10:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Trading wins & loss is sick booking. Hate it. Brock doing a job for ass hole washed up Undertaker is sick shit. So did Undertaker get hurt? I just saw the result, that everyone knew as soon as they made the stupid match, and it made me sick. WWE is so fucked up.---Steve Yohe
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2015 11:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was a cheezy finish, in that Taker tapped out away from the referee's view. The timekeeper rang the bell, Brock got up thinking he won, and the ref said he never called for the bell. Then Taker got the Gogoplata. Lesnar refused to tap, but he passed out.

Taker does look about like Michael Keaton in Birdman. He took a bunch of German Suplexes (slightly more protected in that Brock didn't toss him, just dropped him) and F-5s and didn't seem injured. Within Taker's limitations, they worked a pretty good match, much better than Mania.

But I'm with you that they need to find Lesnar a real peer. Maybe Cesaro? Even Reigns would be better IMO. Also, if Taker had to win to set up the rubber match, I'd rather he just went over clean. This method of protecting Lesnar was screw-y and felt forced and fake. (It doesn't help that Cena/Rollins came down a run-in and screwjob by....Jon Stewart. Which may give the program some momentum or mainstream pub or whatever down the road, but this was promoted as their Summer Wrestlemania, and both main events ended in "creative" finishes that felt WCW or TNA level.)
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 7:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would have booked Brock to be undefeated from when they signed him until now, but since Vince is the one doing it...

I thought last night's finish was excellent. We'll see how the network numbers do (because anything approaching Mania numbers is a (big) win), but the build was great, it was a better match than I expected and the finish gives you a reason for a third one beyond copying HBK's angle from a few years ago.

The roster is only barren of Brock opponents in Vince's mind. I agree with your list, but it only would have taken them a little foresight to have Rusev or Owens ready for Brock for the MSG match even.

Big angle is supposed to be tonight.

That's right. Parentheses inside parentheses.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 7:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't really stomach the NXT TV. Feels a little too much like 1992 WCW Saturday Night or Pro to me.

But these Takeover shows are great. Crews is going to be something if he can get past Vince rushing him to the roster and then boring of him.

Getting NXT over as the alternative brand for the hardcores is hilarious. I just wanted Brian Pillman in the building on Saturday chanting "Smart Mark" at all of them individually with appropriate racial epithets mixed in.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 6:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm vacillating between appreciating the Lesnar/Taker finish for all the angles of it and the execution, and just being so frustrated that I'm meant to be placated by such an elaborate cop-out.

I agree about Rusev and Owens. I'd really love to see a Brock vs. Daniel Bryan match, but I'll go crazy waiting for that to ever happen.

The back-and-forth on Lesnar's booking is so jarring. He treats Cena like a ragdoll, then the next month he's selling Cena's comeback even though he's supposed to be kept a dominant heel. The idea has to be to save him giving ground for the most special of occasions, but then they always get impatient and give it away too soon.

I should know there's certain things I have to accept to enjoy WWE. But Taker looking half-ready to topple over while Lesnar sells like a champ for him just keeps jumping out at me.

I get the "WCW Saturday Night" thing, for sure. I'm not a proponent of squash matches coming back as a regular thing. Maybe I'm a little bit of a sucker for the "smart mark" congratulatory atmosphere myself. But I like the good vibes of the show, and it usually seems fresh and relatively focused.

Big angle is supposed to be tonight

I'm hopefully about to start RAW shortly. I hope they deliver a strong wrap-up after last night's loose ends.

That's right. Parentheses inside parentheses

I can dig it.
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