While NXT's largest event of the year, Takeover Brooklyn II, was an absolutely stellar outing for the sprouting butterfly of pro wrestling these days it couldn't help but remind me of such wasted times. The card top to bottom is represented heavily by stars from WWE Elsewhere that have spent decades trying to crack into the WWE world for them to see career revamps well into their primes. While I would have liked a 26 year old Austin Aries in WWE back years ago, I'll gladly take the seasoned vet Austin Aries of 2016 that is a better worker now than he's ever been.
Sure, to have been able to witness an absolutely phenomenal Samoa Joe run say in 2006 or 2007 in WWE would have been great but to see Joe as the grizzled and disgruntled ring warrior obsessed with power is a sight to see. As is the motif for all involved in similar scenarios such as those depicted, this Brooklyn card was a chance at redemption. It wasn't just 5 years ago that Austin Aries was told he wasn't needed for the relaunched Tough Enough program and after near retirement, Aries is finally in the “land of giants” looking tremendous. I mean hell, Ric Flair was gleaming about his performance against No Way Jose which was quite a solid one at that. It's a shame that Aries will most likely end up in a cruiserweight spot when he ultimately gets called up, although the wrestling business is legendary for being unpredictable. Who would have thought a wrestler named No Way Jose would get over in 2016?
Both Aries and Jose worked very hard in the opening match and did well in getting the mood set for a big night. Aries gets a really strong win which was needed for him to mean something in the future. Jose is the kind of character that isn't affected by loses like a more hardlined, serious gimmick would. Jose showed a lot to me in terms of in-ring and that's huge in the modern WWE landscape. The post-match angle with Hideo Itami was GREAT! I love that WWE is acknowledging Hideo's invention of the GTS and that move can be what Hideo is missing despite certain fanbases that want to bring up some Brooks guy from Chicago everytime anyone even utters those three letters. Either way the potential Aries/Itami feud has me highly intrigued.
Ember Moon may have had some of the coolest vignettes in recent memory going into this show and while she didn't look as I'd expected, she delivered as the performer she always has been. Athena the Wrestling Goddess was one of the premier independent women's stars there were and to see her get a shake in NXT is awesome. It didn't hurt that she got a solid reaction with her reveal also. Ember really carried this match and it was evident by Billie Kay looking rather robotic and unpolished. Surprising considering that going into the Performance Center, she was highly touted out of Australia. That's the beauty of this NXT product though, more than so many other companies they show you the evolution of the entire roster and that leads to a deep loyalty to the brand and stars within it. Ember will certainly be one of the future stars of this brand if this match is an indicator of the standard we can expect. It was rather surprising to see them allow Ember to keep her indie finisher considering how risky it is to do a flying, corkscrew-like stunner yet Ember makes it look seamless.
We get a heavy dose of SummerSlam hype of course, or I should say Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton hype. Since of course NO ONE cares about the rest of the card despite it being one of the most stacked of the entire year anywhere.
Bobby Roode vs Andrade Almas was….alright. Roode lucked out big time with having an instantly classic theme song as well as heavy fanfair immediately out of the gate. Almas has in contrast sputtered at best. Roode is just AWESOME in the ring it's insane. In some ways he has a Triple H vibe though in his movements where every now and then he gets mechanical and loses me in certain transitioning moments. However I'm just a nitpicking twat, this was a strong debut for The Glorious One and he's certainly yet another future cornerstone for the NXT brand moving forward. Almas was truly fucked from the start here though because he's not really impressed anyways, so when he was thrown in to be the sacrificial lamb for Roode it did him a great deal of harm. Another note is the new finishing move that Roode has that started a lot of debate online for it's supposed lack of legitimacy as a match ender. At the end of the day, moves mean nothing anyways. People forget that the WWE World Champion right now wins with a simple double arm DDT, a move that was scoffed at even when Foley was using it in 1998 WWF. However both Foley AND Ambrose found a way to get it over. I have no fear that Bobby Roode can get this over and make people easily forget what his finishing move even is. Almas still showed he is a fantastic athlete as well as a lucha killer. Too bad the WWE corporate brass aren't all that interested in dank lucha stuff unless you're a segment filler on Mondays apparently. Not a bad potential gig for Almas or really anyone these days.
I'd like to take time to appreciate Triple H and the rest of the NXT brass for having such a high number of special entrances. It really added so much to the aura of having a spectacular start in each match from one of the competitors for most of the card. It is clear that they wanted us to take from the overall vibe of the card that this is the marquee event for the NXT product and that definitely came across to me.
The Sanity video might be one of the absolute coolest vignettes for something ever. Please don't fuck it up, guys.
The big CWC Trophy reveal was both awkward and fantastic. I'm loving the hype they're giving this thing and I hope that we get a heavy push for this future division. As always WWE is the best at starting things but the absolutely shits at following through most of the time.
Lovely backstage segment letting us know that not only is there a new t-shirt for the team(!) but also a new team name. Ciampa says they did everything themselves and therefore they should be DIY. Not awful, not great. Just a thing.
I have to say that aside from the NXT Title main event, this was the match I was most excited about. Ciampa and Gargano have been unreal as of late both in their amazing CWC tournament match and also in the build towards this match. The Revival is just stellar as a unit, harking back to the old school tag days of the 1980s. This crowd was HOT for this one as they should have been. This one was structured really well early with a elongated feeling out process. The story is rather simple; Ciampa and Gargano are the smaller, faster, and more aggressive challengers that are young to the big time NXT matches while The Revival are unwavering and slick getting the upper hand right when you believe they're too far gone to keep the belts in hand. This made me remember why I fell in love with wrestling in the first place; because I love to care about my favorites and live vicariously through their so-be-it fictional strife while at the same time appreciate their art in the same way someone would a Rembrandt. More than anything this match made me yearn for a main roster WWE match involving these four sooner rather than later. I was so pleased to see the timeless “ref blinded during a face tag” spot that had Brooklyn booing the everloving fuck out of Revival and we all rejoiced in wonder at this wild thing we call wrestling. The Revival were ultra impressive in being there for every bit of Ciampa and Gargano's fast-paced offense and really worked their desperation well. The false finishes in this match are just awe-inspiring and Brooklyn was there to lend a great atmosphere for this one to add to the falses. The stereo strikes tag finisher that Gargano and Ciampa threw out was SICK and the foot on the rope false finish was GENIUS. Little things are what makes this industry so fun to follow and that's a great example. In hindsight, the finish to this one was necessary not only for the flow of the show itself but also an overall story arch that could result in a much larger reaction to an ultimate title switch. Either way this one is a must see and a great example of how you can have a heel finish that makes your heroes look even better than they were coming into the match. Bravo.
It's no secret that women's wrestling has arrived. There's never a better example of that than NXT's division where the in-ring product for women is the standard. A standard that has now invaded the main roster and has changed the game. Bayley has been the torchbearer of NXT with the promotions of the top new women stars in WWE today changing NXT constantly. She is the constant so far and has the division built around her. Asuka however has been a new sensation much in the same way that Shinsuke Nakamura has been for the men's side of things. She's undefeated. She's fucking vicious and I love to see her kicking people's lungs out and she brings that at all times. Bayley is quite the scrappy worker though herself so THIS IS SOME GOOD STUFF. Bayley is definitely much more serious in this one than perhaps I've ever seen previously. Asuka's entrance brings the psychedelics for sure so that's a plus. These women show the world that wrestling isn't a man's sport, it's equal when you know how to work at a high level. They get a ton of mileage out of a very nice Asuka knee to Bayley and the HEAT IS ON. Asuka pours it on so well, she really is a thing to see when she gets to work. Asuka decides that Bayley looks like a really good kickpad and unloads. Bayley FIIURS UP though with that babyface fire we love from her. NXT has become All Japan Women's Light and that isn't a bad thing at all. More than ever I really marveled at Bayley's selling and realized that's her strong point. She makes you care because she's just a girl from a town that did a thing who just wants to be the best but gets her ass handed to her often, forcing her to dig down deep and pull out the win. That is unless Asuka's around to stretch her and make things complicated. We like that.
I love the moment during the later stage of the climax of the match where both women decide to literally throw themselves into one another in an attempt to gain a small bit of advantage. This gives way to Asuka giving Bayley a kind ground submission lesson with some swank stuff. Bayley's ankle could be TORN OFF THOUGH REF but she fires up as only she can, for the time being. Bayley gets more out of simply no-selling Asuka's chest kicks than half of the roster gets by killing themselves with dives. You're a lady and a scholar, Bayley! We get a slight powerbomb botch that Corey Graves masterfully chalks up to “Bayley's ankle just giving way”. In short, which is way too late to be stating, this is a much more improved match compared to their Dallas match if my memory is correct in rating that first outing. Asuka just straight kicked Bayley's damned head off and crushes millions of hearts worldwide in doing so. This one ranks right up there with the top women's matches of the year, including the only truly great match at this year's WrestleMania for the Women's title. Who will step up and carry the NXT women's torch going forward?
There's no point in me going on some long diatribe about how special Samoa Joe vs Shinsuke Nakamura is in wrestling. It helps that it is a WWE match but it would be an epic moment either way because these two men have been on parallel paths from the start. Both were New Japan students in one way or another; Nakamura was an OG NJ young boy in the Japan dojo while Joe cut his teeth early in his career in the short-lived NJ Los Angeles outfit along with Daniel Bryan. Needless to say, this thing is BIG TIME. Nakamura brings the weird in droves and we're ok with that and Joe brings the “oh sorry about your orbital bone, or actually fuck no I'm not” offense. I watched this continuously thinking; “how the hell did a New Japan main event land on a WWE funded product?” Times they are a-changin' they say. We get some grappling and it is GOOD. Both guys know how to bring that kind of game to the table and it works well. I'm pretty sure they could have stood around for 6 minutes and the crowd would have still been hot. As I said earlier about Bayley's selling, Nakamura's selling is next level with every ounce of his being convincing you Joe might just twist his arm straight off with a simple arm ringer. It isn't long until Nakamura counters with swank lucha inspiring counters away from danger. This is the ultimate chess match, complete with vicious striking and hatred. Plenty of that good hatred. This match is much like an easy Saturday night in with some drinks. You start off easy with a drink now and again and after the time is right, you binge like the trash that you are deep down inside and feel no bit of remorse for it. That's what these guys do with violence. Joe is and has always been an absolute athletic phenom and this match is a prime example of what he can do. The same can be said about Nakamura who I feel really made a point to emphasize the dramatic slant on pro wrestling, and in so many ways it was “sports entertainment” at it's purest. I love Joe's emphasis on grounding Nakamura no matter what, knowing if he's upright that he can kick your lights out. I love that Joe pretty well owns the largest chunk of this match just beating down Nakamura like he absolutely should as a bruising heel champion. This is really the first time we've seen Nakamura shaken in any significant way also which just makes the match that much more intriguing.
Joe and Nakamura didn't reinvent the wheel. They didn't do 9 flips. They didn't bleed buckets either, they simply performed at a high level and made what they did feel believable. For that they're sadly a rarity for these times for the most part and maybe that is why this was so special. The history of the match just at a glance would lend itself to a classic but these two made absolute fine art in the ring. It wasn't the slickest match ever put on, there were some fluffs but that's what makes a good match that feels genuine. They made every single motion in the ring mean something and very well put their well being on the line at certain times to achieve that. Whether a re-watch of this match stands the test of time is a matter of patience but at the moment this is easily amongst my top matches of this year anywhere in the world.