As NXT Takeover returned to Brooklyn, the line-up appeared to be just as strong as the previous year's triumphant event. However, with the likes of Kevin Owens, Jushin Thunder Liger and Sasha Banks being replaced with names like Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries and Asuka the faces were a little different. With Samoa Joe rising to the groups figure head as champion after an undercard bout a year ago, could Takeover: Brooklyn II live up to it's predecessor?
Two of the greatest wrestlers in the world tangled in the main event, as Samoa Joe put his 121 day NXT title reign on the line against 3 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. Before I start about how good the clash was, I have to mention all the marvelous stuff that went down before the bell even rang. When I say marvelous stuff, I mostly mean Nakamura's entrance, which was spectacular, without feeling over the top. Lee England Jr. turned up and performed magic with a violin, initially playing The King of Strong Style's theme, The Rising Sun (originally recorded by CFO$) in an elegant solo, before the full theme kicked in and Nakamura did his thing around his new pal. LEJ was a perfect fit for the NJPW star and the whole product was incredible, with Brooklyn crowd marking out massively for it. Joe and Nakamura's interaction during the in-ring announcements lifted the bout even further, after what has been a dramatic build up.
Nakamura and Joe put on a match that lived up to the huge amount of hype, in a style of wrestling that I love to watch, that being the slow-burner. However, I think it has to be noted to after the buzz had warmed off from the entrances, the pair seemed to lose the crowd slightly. The action was of a high quality with Joe controlling a lot of the early going and the two exchanged holds, with the commentary team putting over both the respect and the dislike between the two competitors. It wasn't the kind of wrestling that was going to send the crowd into a frenzy, however the Barclays Center seemed to drift away, politely clapping the action with a few odd chants breaking out also. Personally, I felt like booking the three title matches, arguably the three biggest bouts on the show on after another meant that the crowd was emotionally burnt out and then knackered even more by Nakamura's entrance and the audience used the start of the match to re-charge. It took them until the former MMA star went for his first Kinshasa of the night to come back to life.
Whilst it the crowd were still recovering, the bout picked up for me as soon as Joe hit an Enziguiri with Nakamura on the top and from that point as the contest began to develop into a strike and submission based encounter. The little details made everything so much more enjoyable, I'm talking about things like Joe putting his hands up and trying to block Nakamura's grounded knee strikes and this match was full of things like that. A submission sequence that included Nakamura flying into a cross armbreaker and Joe transitioning into a California Cloverleaf was smashing stuff, with both selling the severity of the hold, whilst crisply moving from move to move. Two massive near falls off Muscle Buster for Joe and a Kinshasa for Nakamura got big reactions from the reawakened crowd, whilst The Samoan Submission Machine selling after the Kinshasa was unbelievably good as he called the referee over to check on his jaw, which, of course, helps to protect Joe for what was about to come. Moments later it would be a middle rope knee to the back of the neck and second Kinshasa that got him the NXT title just 9 televised singles matches into his NXT run, only Kevin Owens (3) and Seth Rollins (6) have done it in less.
Asuka putting the Women's Championship on the line against the woman she defeated for the title, Bayley found itself in the semi-main slot. The hype promo prior to the bout had told a brilliant story of redemption for Bayley, whilst painting Asuka as a dominant and powerful champion and that's mostly the way the match played out. In opening stages the commentary team did a superb job of putting over the contrasts between the two fighters, whilst the pair added to this through their body language during in the in-ring announcements and their initial exchanges. The back and forth start, with Bayley eventually leaping into a knee, emphasised the challenger as the underdog, whilst also showing that she could still hold her own with The Empress of Tomorrow.
Comparable to how the Barclays Center effected the feel of the main event on television and possibly even directly related to that, they were on fire for Asuka v Bayley. It seemed to be like they were split 50/50, with chants for both women, often dueling and reacting to every move the couple made. I'm not sure how it felt in the building but it made for fantastic viewing at home and is testament to how the match has been built to ever since Asuka turned up in NXT. Having two babyfaces go head to head can cause the crowd to decide to get behind neither competitor, but despite both being likeable and entertaining characters and superlative pro wrestlers, the differences between their demeanors have been exentuated over the last few weeks and months, which continued throughout the contest and meant that different sections of the crowd could relate to different woman more. Clearly defined and well-rounded roles should mean that any combination gets a crowd excited and that's what we saw here.
For me, the clash took a while to find it's place, but was great in closing stages with some strong near falls. A Bayley to Belly suplex got a marvelous response from the crowd, whilst the former champ struggling to escape the Asuka Lock was the best part of the battle as it was played perfectly both women and the commentators. The story of Bayley going toe to toe with the woman who took the title from her, played out through a number of back and forth sequences, fighting hard but mostly coming out with the short straw in each exchange played out well, leading to a finishing flurry where Asuka retained her belt with a series of kicks to the head. Bayley's slap that resulted in the flurry bought the narrative to a satisfying climax. The way Bayley sold the loss, remaining in the ring after Asuka had left, in what could very well be her final appearance for NXT, elevates the women's belt further as it was so clear what not being able to get the win and the strap meant to Bayley.
The match of the night came in the form of NXT's strongest tag team contests to date as The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) went to war with AIW's Johnny Gargano and CW's Tommaso Ciampa. There was so much that I enjoyed in this one, that it's difficult to know where to start and still have a coherent review, that isn't rambling madness. I'll start at the end, which saw Gargano tap out to an inverted figure four leg lock from Dawson in a dramatic conclusion. The work that was put in to legitmise the tap out and protect Gargano was exemplary, showing a proper intelligence for long-term booking and storytelling. With Ciampa sent into the post, The Revival focused all their attention on Johnny Wrestling, using the same move they put Big Cass on the shelf with, moments after a vicious chop block. A convincing and gratifying conclusion that adds another string to The Revival's bow and will make future matches involving the pair potentially even theatrical.
Over the last month or so, The Revival have become my favourite tag team in wrestling, taking that spot around the time of their 2/3 Falls bout with American Alpha and this match completely solidified them in that spot. Both men where excellent throughout, getting their old-school heel tag team act down to fine art and continuing to explore the possibilities within the genre. The work they did whilst Ciampa was working the psycho killer in peril role was sublime stuff. The spot where Wilder would purposefully fall into the ring to distract the referee, meaning he missed Ciampa's hot tag to Gargano and whilst the ref was trying to keep Johnny Wrestling out of the ring, The Revival went to work double teaming The Sicilian Psychopath. It was like "Ah that's good, oh that's better, sweet baby Jesus that's the best", consistently adding that extra level and then raising the bar. I like the Revival.
As much as I mark out for Wilder & Dawson's act, the action took on a whole other dimension as soon as that hot tag was made. The near falls mounted up at a hectic pace and whipped the crowd into a frenzy as they willed the indy talents on grab their first titles in NXT. There was four or five genuinely convincing falls for Ciampa & Gargano, with each some how more convincing than the last and getting a better response each and everytime. Alongside the small package reversals and lengthy periods in submission holds, the strongest of these had to the pair hitting their superkick and running knee strike combination, only for Wilder to place Dawson's foot on the rope before the three count. The duo made each moment better than the last and their expressions got over their desperation to win the belt well. Despite being unsuccessful, Ciampa & Gargano helped raise the tag division up a couple of notches and with them going full time with NXT soon, things can only get better going forward!
In the mid-card, Austin Aries and No Way Jose put on a good bout, that elevated Jose in defeat, but certainly could have been tighter in places. I was relatively impressed with Jose, who looked comfortable in the ring with the veteran Aries and pulled off some cool sequences in what was the biggest match of his career to date. The TKO reversal out of The Greatest Man That Ever Lived's roaring elbow attempt was crisp and Jose's TKO looked great, whilst reversing a brainbuster attempt with a falcon arrow also looked very nice. Placing Jose in their with Aries was undoubtedly a great decision as the 6 time TNA X Division Champion was able to lead Jose through an enjoyable opening match, that will no doubt have taught Jose a hell of a lot.
For me, the contest was harmed by the Brooklyn crowd cheering for the heel Aries, but that shouldn't be the case in the feud that began once the match was over. Hideo Itami heading down to the ring to stop Aries from battering Jose even more got a big pop and the resulting scrap showed just the kind of action the duo could put on if asked. The back and forth strikes, whilst Itami was still wearing a suit (with bare ankles, because I imagine they overheat or something) was a great advert for a future clash between the two. Plus, Itami hit a GTS, which definitely pops the boys. Personally, I feel like this should have been the International Sensation's return to NXT, instead of having him worked two fairly simple bouts on TV on the last couple of weeks, as it would have felt like an even bigger moment.
With more than few similarities to Aries v Jose, 6 time TNA World Tag Team Champion Bobby Roode's NXT TV debut against Andrade Cien Almas was another good match that featured a former TNA main eventer opposite someone who has yet to fully connect with the NXT audience. Not only has Almas yet to win over the crowd, but they actively booed him, both on his entrance and during the match. Maybe that has something to do with how over the Glorious Domination (CFO$) theme and Gargano & Ciampa's "Glorious bomb" videos, but there's also an element of that Almas hasn't had much of an opportunity to truly show off what he can truly do, since transferring from CMLL, with this bout being double the length of any of his previous longest contest in NXT. I think the company overestimated La Sombra's reach outside of Mexico and things like his costume (the hat and braces thing) have not helped things at all. A crowd cheering for a heel and booing the babyface can have a real adverse consequences on how effective the storytelling of a match is, especially for a simple bout like this.
Having moaned about Almas' struggle to get over, it would wrong of me to not note that he and Roode put on an enjoyable fight, that had some great sequences of action in the second half. It's getting harder to be impressed by high-flying action, because it's abundant in 2016, even more so with the Cruiserweight Classic currently six week's into it's run. However, Cien's series of dives and tricks, that included a stunning double jump corkscrew dive to the outside, were genuinely impressive and the sequence where Almas feinted a moonsault then went for another on landing on his feet, only for Roode to get his knees up was a clever use of his skills. The two seemed to connect in the ring in that second portion, flowing through some great action and getting a couple of quality near falls. The finish was a dominant display from The It-Factor of Professional Wrestling as he came out of a back and forth sequence with the upperhand after nailing a big spinebuster and picked up the pin with the Glorious Bomb (Pumphandle Drop). I'm hoping beyond hope that Roode switches to a better finish sooner rather than later, as the Glorious Bomb was probably one of the weakest looking moves of the entire show.
Rounding off the show, we had Ember Moon [Athena] making her debut against Billie Kay, in a decent introduction to Moon that showcased her pace and offence, although I'm still not convinced by Kay. For me, Kay still seems a bit off when on the offensive. When she was in control the action didn't seem to have any direction and she just randomly used other people's finishes. Using moves like Gail Kim/Xavier Woods' Eat Defeat/Lost in the Woods or a variation of Victoria's Widow's Peak just made the match feel clunky, as the moves came way too early for anyone to buy them as an effective near fall, whilst it causes you to think about how someone else did that move better because they could or can beat people with it! The struggle to get the Gory Special locked in didn't help things either. Luckily, Athena was impressive enough to get the crowd on her side towards the end of the match, with some groovy moves, including the O-Face (Diving Corkscrew Stunner) which got her the win. She's a welcome addition to the TV roster, hopefully we get to see her mix it up with the likes of Asuka, Bayley and Peyton Royce sooner rather than later.
ATPW Scale Rating - 7.14/10
NXT has worked itself into a position, where the expectation of their supercards is so high, that it can be difficult for them to live up to the hype. Luckily for us viewers, NXT has so far managed to deliver on each and every one of them, getting a consistency that is few and far between in modern day wrestling. This show was a very good wrestling presentation, that did a number of jobs across the two hours, whether that be to introduce a performer, say goodbye to another or just to have a damn good match and manage to do all of these well. The Revival v Gargano & Ciampa was the strongest match of the night, with Nakamura v Joe not far behind, Bayley v Asuka up there as well, with a good quality undercard involving Aries, Roode and the debut of Moon.
Was it as strong as the first one? Ummm...I'm going to say no. Whilst #2's undercard was strong, #1 had Bayley v Banks and Balor v Owens in a Ladder match, which were both a step above their opposite number on this show. However as sequels go, it certainly wasn't far off!
The brand continues to evolve and I'd expect another completely different card when they head back to Brooklyn on 19th August 2017!
All content - James Marston