On the eve of the WWE’s second biggest event of the year, NXT tries to distinguish itself as THE show to watch with TakeOver: San Antonio. Did the yellow brand live up to its reputation of putting on stellar live shows? Can a two hour card with only five matches work in the iPPV days? Does Bobby Roode actually look like a Shiba Inu? To lean all this (and more) read on!

Quick aside: I didn’t watch much of the pre-show, but the bit I did see was Corey Graves saying he’s leaving the yellow brand to focus on his other announcing duties. Unfortunately, the rest of the show seemingly revealed a lot of the problems that will soon be facing NXT’s commentary team. Graves was great, and when Tom Phillips is actually allowed to speak he makes a stellar play-by-play guy, but beyond those two….woof. The biggest hole in the developmental brand’s game is their backstage interviewer. Whether it’s Charlie Caruso or that woman who looks exactly like Charlie Caruso filling in, the brand just never recovered from the loss of Renee Young. Seriously, Graves talks over Caruso so much to keep the pace of the show moving and making sense that even the visiting Nigel McGuinness looks uncomfortable.

As for the third man at the announce table, Percy Watson is just not ready to be a color man. His interjections are awkward and often reveal that he (a). doesn’t know a lot about what he’s talking about, (b). hasn’t been listening to what the other announcers have been saying, or both. I know that he’s being saved for 205 Live, but I’d much rather have Austin Aries in the booth with Graves and Philips. As it is, it’s like they’re training a new David Otunga.

Anyway, onto the actual matches…

Match 1: “The Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger Vs. Eric Young

It’s a good idea to start the card with this match. There isn’t much at stake, both dudes can work, the babyface is super over and looking to redeem himself for a string of losses, while the heel is trying to establish himself as a threat. It’s a fun cross-section of characters.

Tye comes out in his mega popped Mr. Sinister collar and the crowd goes nuts. Both guys have a lot going as far as presentation, particularly SAnitY. That being said, someone should rethink their ring gear. As a unit they looked strong together, though Damo…I mean Killian Dane, looks a bit out of place (A lot of it is the green in his vest, it just doesn’t fit the aesthetic), and Young’s weird little skirt thing and red trunks makes me kind of feel like I’m getting an upskirt shot. It does make viewers uncomfortable, but maybe not in the right way.

Anyway, the match is really good. Dillinger has really been working his cardio because he and EY are moving all over that ring area. A lot of the story of the match is them finding reasons to end up on the outside and allow Dillinger to show how clever he is at outwitting the rest of SAnitY. Side note: They need to do something with Alexander Wolfe, dude’s facial expressions are money.

There are a number of spots that really showcase the best of these two performers. Young hits a picture perfect elbow drop that looks like the animation for WWE 2K17–like it’s weird how precise it (and Dillinger’s selling of it) was. As the pace picks up, there’s a great sequence that ends when Tye catches EY on the top rope or a floatover belly-to-belly that shows the pace and conditioning of these two. The road to the finish sees Dillinger successfully fight off all three members of SAnitY only to get caught with EY’s wheelbarrow neckbreaker off of a “skin the cat” attempt. Three seconds later, Young is your winner.

It’s an odd call to have Dillinger lose this match. He’s clearly one of the most over characters in the company and, yes, part of it is because he’s a lovable loser. Yet there’s only so many times we can see him have a crisis of faith about not being able to get it done before he goes from relatable to whiney. They do a lot to try and protect him by having SAnitY jump in a lot, but it really just makes Wolfe and Dane look weak and foolish that the match was still so competitive.

Still, great match, both dudes put on a stellar performance. I just question booking Tye Dillinger to be the worst parts of Dolph Ziggler’s character in 2012 and 2016.

Match 2: Andrade “Cien” Almas Vs. Roderick Strong

Curiously Samoa Joe is ringside in a suit. Try not to telegraph that move to the main roster too hard, there, Hunter.

Almas vs. Roddy is effectively the worker’s spot on the card, as both dudes can go in the ring in different ways. Almas has a top-notch cocky rudo wrestling style that combines the best WWE wrestling tropes and his history as a top-tier luchador. Strong, on the other hand, is like an avatar of the indie wrestling scene. False finishes, stiff kicks and chops, and all those crazy throws and suplexes that harken back to wrestling nerd favorites like Dean Malenko.

Much like Malenko, unfortunately, Roderick Strong is like THE blandest dude in wrestling. To go back to the WWE 2K17 comparison, he’s about one crappy tribal tattoo away from being an automated create-a-wrestler character Weird Scienced into reality. Almas’ weird party-boy stripper(?) garb is only slightly better, but also needs to go.

What these guys lack in pinache, they make up in the ring. Almas’ work has been exceptional since he went heel. Whether he was working Strong’s arm or countering his countless backbreaker attempts, everything was smooth and crisp–it’s like he rediscovered why everyone liked his La Sombra character in Mexico. His selling is also the best it’s been since he came to this company; just watch him implode when Roddy hits the Sick Kick for the win.

This is another athletic, competitive match where I question the booking. Strong is a great physical performer but he has the emotional range of a botox patient. “Good at backbreakers” isn’t enough of a character to make him interesting, and Almas is infinitely more marketable, so it’s curious that he went over.

Match 3: #DIY Vs. The Authors of Pain for the NXT Tag Team Championship

Not to keep harping on whoever is designing the ring gear for these guys, but man the Authors’ look is just lazy. Coming down to the ring, they look like the dudes from Army of Two got caught in some mosquito netting, but once they take off the helmets and flack jackets (See Roman? They do come off) they are just wearing tank tops and cargo pants. Like at least The Shield looked like a wrestling SWAT team in the ring…the Authors just look like dudes on laundry day.

Minor gripe about their attire aside, this is the best that Akam and Rezar have ever looked. They are suitably merciless in the ring and look every bit like monsters as they stalk the much smaller competitors of #DIY. Their teamwork isn’t quite at the pace of The Revival and they can take a lot more damage than the gaggle of cruiserweights cobbled together to challenge the champs in recent weeks–which is what ultimately leads to the downfall of #DIY.

Coming off an amazing series against The Revival (their 2 out of 3 falls match from TakeOver: Toronto actually won match of the year), you can see the champs reusing a lot of the same strategies they used against Dash and Dawson. The Authors of Pain, however, are prepared for all of that and come up with great counters to some of the bigger moves while still letting the quicker team get in most of their high spots. The best of these is when both members of DIY have the Authors in their respective submission holds–the exact scenario that won them the titles–only for Akam to literally stand up with Gargano on his shoulders and slam him through Ciampa. Not sure whether or not I’d call this the match of the night, but that was definitely the spot of the night.

Kudos to the larger men, too, for selling the offense from Gargano and Ciampa the way they did. This is the most vulnerable Akam and Rezar have ever looked, which actually made the battle that much more interesting, and made them look like warriors who had been through a battle by the end. Ciampa manages to hit German suplexes and spinebusters on both men despite giving away what has to be close to 80 pounds to each.

In the end, the Authors catch Johnny Wrestling and the Psycho Killer in the middle of their finish and turn it into their Super Collider dual powerbomb. This allows them to hit the Final Chapter (which really doesn’t look like as cool as the Super Collider. THAT should be their finish) on Ciampa for the win and their first NXT Tag Team Title reign.

Again, this was the best the Authors have ever looked, and Gargano and Ciampa come away looking like brave and clever fighters who just couldn’t overcome the power differential. Thankfully, these two are at their best when they’re plucky underdog babyfaces overcoming the odds, so they shouldn’t be hurt by this loss. Hopefully they can build on this for the inevitable rematch.

Side Segment: Rollins takes over TakeOver

After a quick commercial break, Seth Freaking Rollins comes out to the middle of the ring to call out Triple H. For those not watching the main product (really? And yet you’re reading an NXT Review?), Rollins has beef with Trips for costing him the Universal Championship a few months back (and for his wife costing him a spot in the Royal Rumble), and yet hasn’t seen hide nor hair of Hunter since. Knowing full well that NXT is Triple H’s baby, he storms the stage to call out the boss–who actually does arrive for a minute to do a staredown before he sends security to remove Seth from the building. The Architect manages to fight off a few of them before they successfully drag him out of the arena.

Interesting that they did this, as it finally gives Rollins some common sense. He KNEW that Trips would be at TakeOver, so he went to fight him there. Hopefully this will finally start their storyline, as Seth has kind of been floating on the edges of meaninglessness in recent weeks.

Match 4: Asuka Vs. Nikki Cross Vs. Peyton Royce Vs. Billie Kay for the NXT Women’s Championship

As all four women make their way to the ring it becomes clear that one thing that really sets these four competitors apart is presentation. Asuka and Nikki are great characters and in-ring performers, but are not great at promos. Meanwhile, Peyton and Billie (who really need a team name at this point) can cut a decent promo, but their packaging needs an overhaul. The grandma’s bathingsuit that Kay wears to the ring is only slightly better than the weird Poison Ivy onesie that Royce is rocking. Both of the Aussies are beautiful and their in-ring skills have really been improving (Peyton in particular is looking a lot better in her matches) but their gear and entrance could use some reworking.

Anyway, the Aussies do pretty well to establish themselves as a realistic threat to both of the stronger competitors. They isolate and ravage Asuka and Nikki, always keeping the odds in their favor, then sliding out of the ring and letting the crazy Scot and the Japanese murder pimp go at it when things stop going their way. It’s actually really inspired booking. Cross vs. Asuka is the money match we know the crowds want, and both of them need to be kept strong and away from each other to build to their inevitable showdown. Royce and Kay, on the other hand, get to look like they can hang with the top of the card (even if they have to both be there to be competitive) but can take a pin without losing momentum or image.

Cross has flashes of greatness here. She doesn’t get to shine much as an in-ring performer, but her character work is solid. She does a tope into the Aussies and a cool-looking straightjacket neckbreaker on the champ, both of which are moves that will get her cheers should they ever turn her face. Still, they needed to find a means of taking her out before the finish the match, and they decide to have Royce and Kay suplex the SAnitY member through a table off the ramp. I say this not to sound sexist, but table spots rarely work well with female competitors. For the most part, they just don’t weigh enough to create that satisfying wood explosion wrestling fans crave. Cross going through a table as a spot is just okay, but it does its job of taking her out for the final sequence between the Femme Fatales (that one’s free, WWE) and Asuka.

As Peyton and Billie keep beating on Asuka, they hit a few of their flashier moves. Royce in particular hits both a pretty sweet knee to the head and a Widow’s Peak for near falls before Asuka can overcome the numbers game and hit some swinging kicks to both of the Aussies’ domes. Royce crumples under the last kick like she got hit by a truck and Asuka pins her to retain her title.

Asuka heads to the back and we get one last tease that Cross and the Champ aren’t finished with one another. This was a great match that frankly did a lot of favors for Royce and Kay, but more so Royce. She doesn’t seem like she’s on the same level as Asuka at this point, but she certainly seems like she would be competitive with Cross or Ember Moon, the only two women with any real shot at dethroning the Empress of Tomorrow.

Match 5: Shinsuke Nakamura Vs. Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship

Before the main event they cut to WWE United Kingdom Champion and Mustache Mountain resident Tyler Bate in the crowd. Great to see that guy get some love from the NXT faithful.

First out for the main event is Roode, the man with the most over entrance in all of wrestling. For tonight’s matchup he strolls out in a purple sequined robe flanked by eight models in matching sequined gowns. Immediately following Bobby and his many prom dates comes the man with the second most over entrance in all of wrestling, Shinsuke Nakamura. The King of Strong Style makes his way to the ring on one of those mobile platforms that Andre the Giant rode at WrestleMania 3, outfitted with the biggest strobe light in Texas. It’s seriously distracting.

The match takes a while to get started, but once things get moving it’s a fairly even contest. Well, not physically. At no point do you really feel like Roode could compete with Nakamura in a true contest. This is made particularly clear late in the match when Shinsuke starts hitting a number of REALLY stiff shots and Roode can’t really return any of the offense.

The real story of the match, however, is Shinsuke’s knees. Since like 95% of his offense includes the word “knee,” the work he puts in over the course of the match begins to take its toll and after hitting a flying knee off of the top rope, he falls to the floor clutching his left leg. Moments later he manages to hit the Kinshasa to lay Roode out, but is in too much pain to make the cover. Medics and refs come to check on Shinsuke, but after like two minutes he waves them off and walks into one of Roode’s Glorious DDTs for a near fall. After some more knee work and a little back and forth, Bobby hits another DDT for the win.

I’m guessing this will be something they use to finally move Shinsuke onto the main roster, and short of Roode proving to be some kind secret super worker, this was the best way to get the belt onto him while keeping Shinsuke strong. Shinsuke clearly had Roode beat but let his own bravado bite him in the ass, and Bobby managed to capitalize on some freak luck. Basically Nak beat Nak. This kind of storyline will keep him out of the Royal Rumble, and maybe give him some time off before he his the stage on Monday Night Raw. For Roode, this will make his evolution into this generation’s Triple H that much clearer and allow the incoming generation of faces a mountain to climb.

Conclusion

TakeOver: San Antonio was a good show, though it lacked a marquee match to make it feel special. There wasn’t a bad match on the card, but there wasn’t anything that people will be talking about (outside of the title changes) in the next few months. Picking a best match would be hard, but it would probably be a tie between the Womens and the Tag Team Title matches. Still, short of some iffy costuming decisions, this was a solid, if uninspired show. Hopefully they can crank up the action in time for TakeOver: Orlando.

Final Score: 8/10