Though SummerSlam is the second least important event in the WWE’s Big Four, the NXT Takeover that accompanies it is undoubtedly the brand’s biggest event of the year. NXT Takeover: Brooklyn has historically been NXT’s best show of the year, and I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the case again this year. Despite only having five matches on the card, Takeover: Brooklyn III was a hell of a show with no bloat, plenty of surprises, and not a bad match to be found. So did this year’s outing live up to previous outings at the Barclay’s Center?
- NXT Pre-Shows have always been a little underwhelming, as any pre-show matches are typically aired the following week as if they are a new episode of the weekly show. That being said, they have managed to make some strides to make it a little more meaningful.
- Big E stops by for an interview that really doesn’t matter except that we find out that he calls Corey Graves “Gravy,” and all I want is for everyone to call him that for the rest of his career. Also, E speaks at length of his appreciation for meaty men. Whenever he retires, put that man on commentary.
- Kurt Angle does a backstage interview where it’s hinted that he’s scouting NXT for new talent. Later in the show we see him and Daniel Bryan sitting in a sky box with several Superstars not on the card, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was to set up the call ups for a few different competitors on tonight’s show.
- Pretty much every former NXT Champ (except Bo and Finn) is on the pre show and in the crowd during the show. Likewise, three of the 4 Horsewomen (Charlotte presumably is with her family at the moment) are ringside for the women’s championship match. Also Kalisto is there.
- The band Code Orange plays the intro song live, as well as Aleister Black’s theme later on. Seeing them go HAM while Black just stoically walks through their stage setup really added to his own mystique. It’s pretty rare that the WWE has bands perform theme songs live, but it’s almost always a good idea. I mean, Snoop kinda phoned in his performance of Sasha Banks’ theme song at WrestleMania, but Motorhead was always pretty boss.
Match 1: Johnny Gargano Vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas with Zelina Vega
Unlike many of his contemporaries, including his opponent in this match, Johnny Gargano entered NXT without a ton of buzz. Sure, well-versed indie fans knew who Johnny Wrestling was, but there was little in the way of excitement when he made his debut on NXT TV. In the two years that he’s been in the developmental league (only one of which was while under contract), Gargano has proved to be one of the best in-ring storytellers in all of professional wrestling, though the fact that his best work was as a part of the phenomenal #DIY team alongside Tommaso Ciampa had some concerned that he may not be able to keep his unreal streak of quality matches going. At Takeover: Brooklyn III he silenced any doubts with an AMAZING performance against the similarly underrated Andrade “Cien” Almas.
These two have great chemistry and they made fans care about this match with next to no story happening between them. Gargano’s dancing partner (Ciampa) is injured, so he’s in a bit of a holding pattern, but could definitely use a win to start his solo career off the right way. Almas, on the other hand, is coming off a lengthy losing streak that has only recently been broken by the guidance of his new valet Zelina Vega. Both guys are in desperate need of a win; both are undervalued performers with something to prove. Shoot, even Gargano’s wonky new theme wasn’t enough to dampen the enthusiasm this crowd had for this bout.
The match was more technical than you may have expected given both men’s history of spot-heavy, high-flying ringwork, with counter wrestling being the name of the game. Early in the match, Almas starts to bust out some of his “tranquilo” taunts, only to be shouted down by Vega. To his credit, he actually listens and cuts the grandstanding to a minimum…for most of the match, at least. Late in the bout he actually does his rope taunt only to get caught with a stiff looking superkick from Gargano, followed up by a tope suicida and a tornado DDT in a sequence so smooth, you’d almost think it was an NJPW bout.
Things pick up near the end, with Gargano going for his slingshot spear only to get caught by Almas, who turned it into a facebuster and followed it up with a close two-count. Johnny then countered a corner knee splash into a cross armbar, only for Cien to lift him up into a buckle bomb then hit his knee splash anyway for another close 2 count. After Gargano regains control and sets Almas up for his running busaiku knee, Vega magically produces a #DIY shirt and tosses it in Johnny Wrestling’s face, distracting him long enough for Andrade to rush him and hit his hammerlock DDT for the win.
While I don’t want to see either of these guys lose, I’d love for this feud to continue. Gargano’s storytelling skills only improve the more he faces any one opponent, and judging by how good their first outing was, I’d love to see these two build on it further. I’m guessing that Johnny’s going to struggle a bit on his route back to Ciampa, with the story being that he finally got his singles career back on track only for his arch rival to return to mess it all up again. As for Almas, I like the pairing of him and Zelina Vega – I mean, I’d love to see Thea Trinidad back in the ring too, but for now, her partnership with the former La Sombra is working for both of them. I’d like the duo to spend a few months running through the lower midcard and developmental trainees before maybe a call up to Smackdown. I don’t imagine they’ll ever put anything above a tag or IC title on the guy (despite how great he is in the ring), so he’s as good a package now as he’s ever going to be.
Match 2: SAnitY Vs. The Authors of Pain for the NXT Tag Titles
Corey Graves came out for commentary at the start of the match and it’s great to have him back in the booth for the event. Graves and Tom Phillips are the best announce team the brand has ever had – and with the competition including Nigel McGuinness, William Regal and Mauro Ranallo, that’s saying something.
The AOP have new outfits and they’re…uh…they’re not great. The green fatigues aren’t ideal, but the big problem is the green and red mask. It doesn’t so much look intimidating, even atop two Hodor-sized dudes like Akam and Rezar. Instead they look a little like Ninja Turtles masks, and that’s not the look you want for your monstrous Serbian hit squad. It’s almost as if they know it too, because the Authors ditch their Sleestack gear early on and start brawling with Wolf and Dain before the ref can even ring the bell. The AOP lay in to Dain and Wolfe for a few minutes, which, for whatever reason inspires EY to get a table and set it up on the outside. Of course, no one touches it just now, so Chekhov’s table is in full effect here.
Funnily enough, the ragtag gang of post apocalyptic ravagers work face in this match, with Wolfe taking most of the heat segments and Eric Young (stepping in for Dain at literally the last second) cleaning house off the hot tag. After some brawling the Authors hit this crazy combination Canadian backbreaker/dominator combo that only the freakishly strong could ever hope to pull off and it’s fantastic. Young’s offense is much better than he often gets to show, and he gets to showcase some of his skills in this bout. There’s one point where Rezar is going for a superplex, but Young blocks it, so Akam sets up the tower of doom, but Nikki Cross hops up and holds onto Young’s legs. This sends the big man down to the mat, allowing Young to hit a picture perfect diving elbow drop. I made this comment during his bout with Tye Dyllinger at Takeover: San Antonio, but Young’s elbow drop is so smooth, it’s like a WWE 2K animation.
While EY is clearly the difference maker here, they actually let Alexander Wolfe get to look really strong at points. First he eats another unique combination (this time a suplex into a powerbomb) only to kick out at 2, the AOP then go for a powerbomb from the top rope, which Wolfe escapes via a Frankensteiner that I would have bet a guy of his build (not to mention that of his opponent) would never be able to pull off. Dain and Storm even get their chance to shine late in the match, as Storm performs a diving crossbody onto Rezar on the outside only to be caught (naturally, she can’t weigh more than like 120lbs) then Crossbodied by the much larger Dain through the table Young set up before the match (there it is).
With Rezar out of the picture and Akam dazed in the ring, Young and Wolfe hit an assisted neckbreaker to score the pin and the titles. They actually get a face pop for winning too, and I get it. They are a (literally) scrappy team of underdogs who never seem to win anything. Seeing them atop the tag division of NXT, even depleted as it is, is good for the business, as the unbeatable monsters shtick that the AOP have gets a little dull after time. That’s not to suggest that the Authors’ in ring work isn’t great (it’s improved exponentially as a matter of fact), but having a smaller, more agile team in SAnitY opens up more options for challengers. Whether the belts stick with EY and Wolfe, or they Freebird Rule it, SAnitY is a more reasonable mountain to climb for teams like the Street Profits, TM61 or…
But wait, there’s more…
While SAnitY is still in the ring celebrating their win, who should appear but the recently debuted Bobby Fish AND Kyle O’Reilly – who proceed to absolutely wreck shop and beat down both teams. They hit a few of their signature moves, grab the titles from the law firm of Wolfe and Young and give each other a knowing look before bowing out. That’s right ROH/NJPW fans, it looks like reDragon is back. They’ll almost assuredly have a different name, but still. Expect to see them hit the Chasing the Dragon on shmos on their way to a likely Tag Title win at the next Takeover.
Match 3: Hideo Itami Vs. Aleister Black
Much like Gravy in the previous match, the announce desk welcomes Good Ol’ JR and it’s nice to have him back in the headset. I know he was supposed to be the voice of the new British show, but WWE can’t decide if they want to do that shit anymore so you might as well use JR’s dates when he’s free. That being said, I don’t know that he really added a lot to this match. JR’s always a fantastic font of knowledge and insight, but this time around he felt like he was just in it for the paycheck. He never seemed to get out of first gear with his commentary, never really invested himself in the outcome. Now even disinterested JR runs circles around most people on commentary (especially shmos like Percy Watson), but I can’t help but feel his time could be used better.
Anyway, for a lot of people (myself included), this was the most highly anticipated match on the card. Yet even though this was probably only the third best match of the night, it still delivered all the action, stiff kicks and unique counters we were all hoping for. Both men put on outstanding performances, but I walked away from this bout most impressed with Itami. In 2014, this dude came into the company with all the momentum in the world (literally), but a series of injuries have derailed his push and presence considerably. With this bout, I get it. That wasn’t Hideo Itami in there, it was mother-fucking Kenta! The driven, undeniable ass kicker who ruled Pro Wrestling Noah with an iron…uh…knee…and shin…and foot…dude’s got serious kicks, is what I’m getting at. Even though he lost this match, this was the best Hideo has looked since coming to the WWE three years ago. Hopefully his heel turn will inspire more performances like this in the future.
One of the things that made Hideo stand out in this match was his aggression and enthusiasm here. He’s all up in Black’s face before Code Orange has even finished playing his theme and comes right at the Dutch kickboxer as soon as the bell rings. For his part, Black gives a spirited rebuttal to his foe, with both men going strike for strike in the early going. After a bit of the whole Itchy and Scratchy act, Itami takes control and showcases some great heel mannerisms – my favorite being the feigned stomp into disdainful back kick that he’s been doing a bunch of lately. Black appropriately sells the embarrassment of the move and rolls over to see Itami follow it up with Black’s own little prayer taunt, which sets him off and picks up the pace of the match.
The offense here is all crisp, and the high spots have that snap and urgency that is lacking in a lot of WWE style matches. At one point Itami hits an avalanche falcon arrow from the top rope for a close 2 count. Later, he turns a rush of offense into the smoothest and quickest standing falcon arrow I’ve ever seen. Seriously, Hayabusa watched that move like Trent Reznor listened to Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt.” Itami is actually really in control right up to the end of the match, as Black wrigles out of the GTS, ducks a clothesline, then hits his most crisp Black Mass to date for the win. Unreal.
I love Aleister Black. I’m a fan of black metal, I love tattoos. I love shoot kickboxing. Hell, I really like the Dutch. Despite all that – and the fact that he lost – this was Itami’s match, and I’m glad he finally got a chance to prove what he can do in front of the NXT crowd. I hope they figure out what to do with him, because dude is too good to let slip away into obscurity. I don’t know if you stick him on 205 Live, throw him into the flimsy midcard of Smackdown or keep him in NXT, but WWE needs to be careful or they’ll lose their chance to make something of the Japanese superstar. Black, on the other hand, is on a good path. There’s plenty of mystery surrounding the man and he has an effortless charisma that more than makes up for his lack of promo time. It’s clear WWE sees big things in his future, and it looks like that faith is well placed.
Match 4: Ember Moon Vs. Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship
It’s a close call between this and the opener, but I don’t hesitate to call Asuka/Moon II the best match on a stacked card. It had the most developed story (even if the promos weren’t all that great), high stakes and a resonant ending that creates a ton of intrigue as to what the next steps should be for both performers. Both women get new gear and color schemes (Moon going grey/green while the Empress of Tomorrow opts for purple and pink) and Asuka actually came out with a regal looking headdress befitting of her spot as the top female competitor in all of WWE. Much like the Itami/Black match, the tensions are seething even before the bell, especially when it became clear that the crowd was mostly behind the champion.
The match begins in a flash with an enthusiastic Moon hitting a shotgun kick right at the bell and staying on the Empress in the early going. She hits a pretty cool cannonball from the second rope to the outside, but Asuka manages to fight back into the match with a hammerlock suplex onto the ramp. This injures Moon’s arm and gives Asuka a target to work over for the rest of the bout. There’s a lot of arm work here throughout, but Moon does get her licks in despite the handicap. Moon actually manages to hit the Eclipse at one point, with Asuka’s selling for the diving stunner landing somewhere between The Rock and Razor Ramon’s reactions to the move. Unfortunately for Ember, it only gets a 2 count. When she sets it up again, Asuka pulls the ref in her way, but ends up eating a diving crossbody instead. She rolls through and tries to turn it into a small package with a handful of tights, but the ref spots it and stops the count. Moon then hits a thunderous superkick for another nearfall.
Still dazed from the kick, Asuka lays motionless on the mat until Moon is within striking distance. As Ember leans over to grab Asuka, the Empress snatches her arm into a cross armbreaker. When Moon wriggles free she finds herself in the Asuka Lock and despite her best efforts, she’s unable to get out of the hold and eventually taps out. Asuka celebrates with her title on her way to the back, but Moon lingers in the ring for an uncomfortably long time. She slowly stands with tears in her eyes, provoking a standing ovation from the respectful crowd before making her way to the backstage area. It’s more emotion than we’ve ever seen from Moon, whose promos have always felt flat and over-rehearsed rather than genuine. It almost felt like a goodbye to the NXT audience, but it makes absolutely no sense to bring her up to the main roster just yet. She’s got great packaging and is dynamite in the ring (with this probably her best match on NXT television to date), but has a lot to learn as a vocal performer before she’s ready for the larger crowds. Learn from your mistakes with Apollo Crews, WWE!
More than any match on the card, the bout between undefeated robe-loving murder pimp Asuka and color-coordinated werewolf ninja Ember Moon is a heartbreaking tale. The match of the night, Asuka vs. Ember Moon should be the culmination of the Empress of Tomorrow’s time on the NXT roster. Yes Asuka retained her title and remains undefeated, but what is left for her to do at NXT? You don’t want to spin your wheels and waste her potential by having her wait around until the next real challenger comes around (perhaps MYC competitors like Kairi Sane or Shayna Baszler), so move her up to main and have a tournament to name a new women’s champ among the remaining women in the yellow brand. For Moon, however, the future is harder to plot out. Now that Asuka’s proven the better woman in a (mostly) fair fight, where does Ember go from here? Though she’s proven to be better than the rest of the women’s division, it just wasn’t enough to unseat the champ, leaving her in a largely aimless position for the future.
Match 5: Drew McIntyre Vs. Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship
It’s getting a little trite for me to say this at this point in the review, but this is probably my favorite Bobby Roode match of his NXT career – and it’s STILL only the fourth best match on the card. I’ve never been particularly enamored of Roode’s in-ring style (he’s sort of a lesser Triple H, in character and between the ropes), and he doesn’t really bust out anything new and crazy in this bout, but in Drew McIntyre he’s found a great (physical) foil to help him produce a great WWE-style main event. Though his character work is not quite on the champ’s level, the man from Scotland has a more impactful move set and a distinct size advantage, which helps tell a story the two never got a chance to create on NXT television. Maybe it’s because I mostly picture him standing next to guys like Jinder Mahal, Sheamus and Kane, but I forgot just how huge Drew McIntyre actually is. The man has 4 inches and about 20lbs on Bobby Roode, so when they face off in the middle of the ring, the contrast is astounding. It helps make the moments where Roode is in control that much more resonant and makes McIntyre’s comeback offense that much more believable.
Like Aleister Black before him, McIntyre comes out to live music – this time courtesy of the NYPD Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. Why they had an Irish heritage band perform for a Scottish wrestler I’m not sure (I mean, I’m pretty sure the answer is that they thought no one would notice/care) but that’s neither here nor there. Roode has the same Tom Hanks in Big player piano intro to Glorious Domination and while that may be a little deflating, once those first notes hit and the crowd erupts in song, it really doesn’t matter. It can’t be undersold how over that damn theme is. #GloriousDominationForTheNationalAnthem
As I mentioned before, this was a very WWE style match. It was a very good WWE style match, but it never felt particularly new and/or original. Roode danced around the larger man, while Drew pushed the action and hit some meaningful strikes. This was actually a really well worked match for McIntyre, who even hits a hell of a tope con hilo on Roode mid match that looks like it really hurt. Let’s not sleep on Roode either, as his spinebuster is maybe the best in the game today. Drew manages to hit a Claymore on Bobby only for the champ to get a foot on the rope and roll out of the ring. Later, Roode manages to reverse a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker into the Glorious DDT for a super close 2 count. Seeing the end in hand Roode goes back to the well and hits another Glorious DDT but hangs on to Drew’s neck, he picks him up to go for a second one, but McIntyre fights him off and hits another Claymore for the win. McIntyre is now the 11th man to hold the NXT Championship.
Again, this was a really good match on a night of really good matches. Both men put forward really strong performances and I think putting the title on Drew makes sense. Let Roode finish up his business with Roderick Strong (maybe have Roddy cost Bobby his rematch for the title to set up their next Takeover bout) then send him to Smackdown where he can be the top heel on the blue brand once Jinder is pushed back down the card. McIntyre clearly has a path before him, and while I think he’s good enough to be on main (having already been there before), I like him serving as the anchor for the yellow brand. He and Gargano can be the top faces in the company and develop their characters before eventually getting called up after WrestleMania or later.
But wait, there’s more… (Bay Bay)
As the show is going off the air, Fish and O’Reilly appear out of nowhere to antagonize Drew from the corner. As he turns to address the reformed reDRagon, who should show up? Adam Cole Bay Bay, that’s who! Cole rushes the new NXT Champion and the newly formed faction of former Ring of Honor standouts beats him down. One superkick later, Cole picks up the NXT title, setting him in direct contention for the top prize in the brand. I expected him to get some kind of introduction to the NXT audience at this event, but this is a great way to debut the former Bullet Clubber with impact and a built in storyline. It’s just sad that we’ll have to wait at least two weeks for this trio to explain their motives and goals.
For the past few years the WWE has run NXT pay-per views alongside their Big Four, and in almost every scenario the developmental brand has outshined the main roster. This year’s event will be tough to top. All five matches were good to great, the emergence of this new ROH stable breathed some excitement into the brand and the groundwork was laid for longtime tentpole figures like Asuka and Roode to head to the main roster. Top that, SummerSlam!