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We are approaching that extraordinarily exciting time period of wrestling. The culmination of a year’s worth of triumph, failure, broken bones, and heart-wrenching moments all packed in to one super-card extravaganza. I am talking of course about WrestleMania, but at the same time I’m describing my sentiment towards every NXT Takeover special ever. LIKE EVER.
Even in these last several tapings that have been somewhat lackluster, NXT has still been able to peak enough fan interest storyline-wise to garner viewers for their bi-monthly pay-per-views. Going back and rewatching the early days where all the Takeovers were Full Sail only makes the nostalgia of that venue all the greater, but it’s also a reminder of the excellent displays of in-ring action and appropriate send-offs of talent to the main roster that NXT has given us. While this list didn’t take me a long time to make, I’m sure several matches could have been subbed in at any point. Here are the top five Takeover matches so far.
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bobby Roode Takeover San Antonio
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe Takeover Toronto
- Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe Takeover London
- American Alpha vs. Revival Takeover Dallas
- DIY vs. Revival Takeover Brooklyn, Asuka vs. Bayley Takeover Dallas
- Sasha Banks vs. Bayley Takeover Respect
- Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor Takeover Brooklyn
(5) Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn: NXT Arrival (the 1st Takeover)
It would be unfair to talk about the early success of NXT without mentioning the impact that the first special had on the brand. Technical difficulties aside; Arrival was highly praised for it’s match quality and creative storytelling and a great deal of that praise comes because of the opening bout. Cesaro and Sami Zayn (you’ll see the latters name a lot on this list.) had the important task of opening the first event that would ever premiere on the WWE Network.
Fortunately, that task was handed down to two of the best workers currently on the roster aside from A.J. Styles. While their two-out of-three falls classic at an NXT taping was passed around the IWC like a spliff at a house party; in my opinion this rematch was even better.
In the opening minutes we are treated to some of the most unique counters and displays of strength one can witness but it’s the closing sequences that crescendo this affair to the stars including one of the crispest Rolling Yoshi Tonic’s (sunset-flip powerbombs) EVER. After a rivalry that lasted through several epic showdowns, these two would put an exclamation stamp on this feud, and would end things with an embrace to a standing ovation. It would be a while before Sami would get called up, but when he did he and the Swiss-Superman would pick up right where they left off. BRAVO GENTLEMEN.
(4) Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn: Takeover Dallas
This is my favorite time of wrestling. Right now. This era. While I still love a great promo as much as the next guy I prefer the matches themselves, and the current in-ring action that we are treated to (in any promotion not just WWE) is the best it’s ever been. While I hopped on the train late, I finally started branching out and finding Nakamura matches (his bout with Zack Sabre Jr. being my first) and thought to myself, “My god, this guy is a star.” There’s a reason guys like him never come to the WWE, though; because they would be treated as second class. So when the news broke that Shinsuke had indeed signed, you could imagine my worry, and the worry of every wrestling fan, that they would mess it up. That’s not what happened. THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED AT ALL.
On the other side of the spectrum, we had Sami Zayn, who had hit his glass ceiling in NXT, and was aiming towards the main roster. He wouldn’t go without a goodbye, though, and General Manager William Regal couldn’t think of a better way to do it then by booking Sami in a high profile match with the debuting King of Strong Style. The only reason this fight isn’t higher up the list is this: Any match has the potential to be great, but it’s a great build that gets us there, and this was merely an announcement. These two had no inner conflict. No real reason to fight one another other than the spectacle of two of the greatest workers squaring off. THAT TURNED OUT TO BE ENOUGH.
Even though most could guess the outcome, we were given a match that was so good that it sparked a new chant: “Fight Forever.” Whether you were fortunate enough to be in Dallas or watching at home on the network, that rang true. We could watch these two fight forever. Not only that, but even with the lack of build, Shinsuke and Sami told a novella of a story. NXT is Sami’s brand, he’s not going to lie down for no international superstar. On the other hand, this is WWE, and Shinsuke is looking to make his debut mean something. I swear I’ve only seen grown men cry from excitement two times in my life: When The Force Awakens trailer came out, and when these two had concluded their masterpiece. The fact that they called the whole match on the fly just adds to its legend.
(3) Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn: Takeover Revolution
I could certainly be in the minority on this one, but Takeover Revolution still stands as one of my favorite pay-per-views due to its LAYERED details of storytelling. Neville (remember when he had a first name?) had been holding onto the NXT Championship a record 287 days headed into Takeover. Sami Zayn had failed at capturing the gold on more than one occasion, and his reputation of not being able to “win the big one” continued to follow him (something that even Neville told Sami weeks before their match).
At the very last taping before Revolution, Sami and Neville would have a final segment which involved the “likeable one” slapping the absolute spit out of the “man that gravity forgot.” It was a shocking moment, especially considering the friendship these two have testified they share for one another. As Zayn’s underdog status began to grow, so did his support from the Full Sail Universe. While both men were certainly labeled as a babyface, the WWE Universe had clearly chosen a side. As the match began, both competitors had high levels of focus as they shared the heat/comeback formula to a point where it seemed as if this was a “shoot” fight.
I’ve said this before, but when two guys face one another often it only makes sense for them to be able to scout/predict the others moves much like a coach would gameplan for a certain familiar team. When this does happen it feels much more like an athletic contest than a synchronization of choreography adding anticipation and suspense even at spots that we are familiar with. For example: Sami goes for a Blue-Thunder Bomb, Neville shifts his weight and transitions into a frankensteiner. (BRILLIANT.)
What really catapults this match is the well-known referee bump: Zayn is presented with a unique opportunity (thanks Dario) to attack Neville with a foreign object without being disqualified by the now unconscious referee. However, would Zayn really want to triumph in such a dishonorable manner? WE SEE HIM GO THROUGH THAT THOUGHT PROCESS UNTIL EVENTUALLY… he decides “No. I’d rather lose than be a cheater.” This makes his eventual victory all the greater because it involves such immense character progression.
In a world where the heel and babyface personaes are very gray; Sami Zayn is good guy through and through. Such levels of emotional commitment are hard to find anywhere let alone a wrestling match. And if the post-match celebration afterwards are not enough to propel you into Zayn’s corner, than the moments closing Takeover Revolution would certainly do it for you. If you haven’t seen it… then SPOILER… it’s up there with MITB 2011 as a greatest PPV ending ever.
(2) DIY vs. The Revival two-out of-three falls: Takeover Toronto
The Revival should already be getting Hall of Fame statuettes being built for them at WWE HQ’s in Connecticut, because they have reenergized tag team wrestling forever with there “all that is old is new again” formula, but with an added twist of masters of psychology, and masters of manipulation. No team prepares better than Dash and Dawson, and if you need proof watch any of their matches from the past year-and-a-half. Cutting off the ring, targeting a limb, distracting the ref, eye-rakes, scouting, double-team maneuvers! My God, they have an answer to everything. Their skills in the ring match up perfectly with their personas outside of it: Cocky arrogance with equal parts violent determination. You wouldn’t want to have to face these guys in a two-out of-three falls match because that means you would have to beat them twice and that is mucho difficulto.
The perfect antithesis to these two? Team DIY, Johnny Gargano and Tommasso Ciampa: One a legend for his technical ability and the other a psycho killer. (NUFF SAID) Both of these guys were well known for their work in the independent scene, and it was never certain that they would be anything more than just enhancement talent. That is, until they got in the ring and instantly proved that they not only belonged, but they were taking over. Without spilling out too much detail this match included: Tons of last minute pin break-ups, stolen finishers, a come-from-behind victory, spot-on commentating from Corey Graves, reversals, chain-wrestling, and of course, a double-tap out that was only made sweeter by Dash and Dawson holding hands like the besties they are.
I was certain that the match these four had at NXT Brooklyn was the best tag team match I’d ever seen, but that was only chapter 1 in what turned out to be the best match of 2016. WE ARE NOT WORTHY.
(1) Bayley vs. Sasha Banks: Takeover Brooklyn
It’s hard to write about this match and not become overwhelmed with tears of joy. While some view the “hugger” as the female John Cena, her loyal NXT followers know that’s as far from the truth as there is. Bayley is the ultimate underdog. Much like Sami Zayn, time and time again Bayley would fail to win the big one, but time and time again she would scratch and claw her way into title opportunities.
As NXT prepared to invade Brooklyn for their first Takeover outside of Full Sail, a revolution of women’s wrestling would invade the main roster of WWE. It was about damn time. For years the women’s division has seen its fair share of outstanding Superstars, but the focus always seemed to be on sex appeal rather than the women themselves. (Not their fault; that’s what happens when an old dirty bird runs the WWE.) Even when that wasn’t the case, the division was always presented as second tier to the men, something that NXT would remind us was a non-progressive idea. THAT MINDSET WOULD CHANGE.
As the popularity of NXT began to grow, so did the perception of women’s wrestling. Fan-bases young and old started to appreciate the competitive nature of what was happening, hence a revolution. That revolution would consist of calling up the very best that NXT had to offer: Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and current NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks. (The company was so high up on Charlotte and Sasha that they were CLOSING house shows in the most extreme wrestling cities in the U.S.) You’ll notice one name missing from that list, though: Bayley.
It seemed odd that the one of the most beloved characters in recent wrestling history would be left in the “developmental” program. While the reasoning for that in reality was that NXT needed a female star to help carry the promotion. Angle-wise, it would add an INSANE amount of emotional resonance. It is well known that these ladies were exceptionally close as friends, and their universal praise tagged them as “The Four Horsewomen of Wrestling.” After returning from an injury and discovering that she had been left out of the main roster call-up, Bayley made a choice: “To be the best, you have to beat the best.” Her first victim would be Emma, closing a chapter on a feud that had been plaguing Bayley through many tapings. Moments after her win she would immediately challenge Charlotte; hoping to dethrone the Queen of NXT.
Charlotte accepted. Bayley would triumph.
On a win streak and with momentum, General Manager William Regal awarded Bayley a #1 contenders match for the NXT women’s championship. Her opponent: The Lass-Kicker Becky Lynch. (The technician of the group, and someone who Bayley had not been able to defeat in a singles match-up.)
Bayley would triumph, and earn another title shot at Takeover Brooklyn. This time… against THE BOSS.
Sasha’s current run as champion had been impressive. She won the title in a Fatal Four-way (the only one so far between the Horsewomen) and successfully defended it on several occasions. Sasha’s hot-streak was only matched by her cockiness, knowing full well that on paper Bayley was the least threatening opponent that she would have to face. At the contract signing, Sasha would voice said opinions: “I’m going to teach everyone of these little girls that fairy tales don’t have a happy ending.” Once again, it seemed that Bayley was about to fade into the background.
NOT THIS TIME.
The match would go on second-to-last or, according to Stephanie McMahon, would CO-MAIN EVENT. Bayley came out, full of nerves but as focused as she’s ever been. Sasha would follow with an elaborate entrance showcasing her exuberant confidence and lack of sympathy for the Hugger’s big opportunity. An entrance which included an Escalade and a security detail escort. (An entrance that, IMO, may never be topped.) The bell would ring. The game was on.
What followed was the greatest women’s match in WWE history. Best friends outside of the ring, Sasha and Bayley are just as tuned-in inside of the ring. Their chemistry is incendiary; a parallel between Flair and Steamboat or Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. A slow, methodic approach saw Sasha take early advantage, but Bayley would fire back with her signature high-energy spots. An even trade-off to begin things. Sasha would then exploit Bayley’s injured hand, ripping off the protective brace and slamming it inside the steel steps. While Bayley recovered, Sasha would take her out with a TOPE CON HILO OVER THE REFEREE. (The Barclay’s Center would shake from the noise the move produced.)
Bayley would work her comeback, but an error on her part led to the bouts greatest sequence. Sasha would lock on The Banks Statement, a submission move that probably feels as brutal as it looks. (A move that Bayley has unfortunately succumbed to on previous occasions.) As Bayley slowly approached the ropes for a clean break, Sasha would stomp the injured hand keeping “The Hugger” eligible for a tap-out victory. This was the type of obstacle that in the past would have purged Bayley back to the bottom of the card, but her desire to fulfill that life-long dream of holding gold could not be topped in this moment. Bayley would reverse the pressure, and lock Sasha in her very own submission. While this would not be the end of the match, it was certainly its most exciting minute.
That was until the finish: Bayley would capture Sasha in her patented Bayley-to-Belly suplex, but the Boss would kick out. As the two approached the top turnbuckle for a familiar high spot, things started to become WAY MORE unpredictable when Bayley took an unfamiliar angle. What the hell are they doing?
A REVERSE HURRICANRANA.
Brooklyn turned to a madhouse. And before we could even fathom what we just witnessed, Bayley hits another Bayley-to-Belly.
One… two… three.
Bayley had done it. One by one she took down the best the division had to offer, defeating her greatest enemy, at the biggest event for NXT to date. Post-match we would see the non-kayfabe celebration between the two opponents, and even better, the curtain call of the Horsewomen who would and HAVE changed wrestling for the better.
Sasha and Bayley would go on to OFFICIALLY headline the next Takeover in what some have called an even better Iron-Women’s rematch and, while I’m not disagreeing with that sentiment, I can never see anything toping the level of emotion that this match would deliver. One of the greatest plant and payoffs to a wrestling storyline of all time. A match that is easily takes the honors of this list as the best Takeover match to date.
Agree or disagree?
(Follow Joey Galizia at @RamJam89.)
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