Thursday evening brought us the second NXT special to air on the WWE Network, and all in all it was a very good show as the feeder promotion looks to find its bearings and gain more individual momentum. In honor of its effort, I hereby present seven lessons we learned during NXT Takeover. Why seven? I'm not entirely sure, but we'll say it's in honor of Jeri Ryan. That in itself is an excellent reason for anything. Let's get cracking.
1. Adam Rose Can Wrestle
This might be a bit of a surprise for anyone who's only familiar with Rose from his recent bits on WWE programming, as creative has not given him that much to do of a physical nature. (I'm only slightly counting his win over Damien Sandow, due to the amount of distraction and interference.) The former Leo Kruger is no stranger to the inside of the squared circle, however, as he is a multi-time FCW champion and appeared inside the Top 100 of Pro Wrestling Illustrated's wrestler rankings in 2012.
Rose was matched up against Camacho, son of the famously tough Haku, and it allowed for some excellent moments on both sides. Camacho's offense was ferocious and had the potential of derailing Rose's excitement and energy several times, but Rose had an overwhelming amount of crowd support and put it to good use, channeling days gone by with his pseudo-"Hulking Up" routine and eventually winning the day with his Party Foul. Not sure how I feel about Party Foul being the name of a finishing move, but I'll go with it.
The jury is out on Rose's gimmick in terms of where the WWE will go with it, but there can be no doubt crowds are receiving it well and it affords some really great opportunities in terms of writing. Presenting it as a big deal makes it a big deal, at least for now. That momentum won't last forever, but it provides a very solid counter to the dark storylines surrounding such characters as Kane and The Wyatt Family, and that's important for the WWE and its PG rating. Rose is fun, even if we don't quite "get" him yet, and wrestling should be fun at times. Takeover went a long way toward establishing that Rose can get it done between the ropes, however, and that's equally important.
2. The Ascension Have No Competition
The Ascension have been NXT tag team champions since October, and as we saw last time NXT aired a special (Arrival), the competition is not exactly enough to make them really work for it just yet. At that event, they defeated the very over but very elder Too Cool, so at least this time the opposing team was in their age range. The opposition was provided by Kallisto, the highly-regarded former Octagon, Jr. who made his hay in AAA and CZW among other promotions before signing with the WWE in May 2013, and El Local, the artist formerly known as Ricardo Rodriguez who was actually part of the initial forming of The Ascension stable in NXT.
The Ascension have a bit of an Acolytes vibe, and that's a good thing. The current tandem of Konnor, who started his WWE journey in 2005(!) and is a former DSW champion (not the shoe place) and Viktor, trained in the Hart Dungeon and no stranger to great matches with equal talent since his signing in 2011, have definitely been finding their niche in regards to ring work and promos, and it showed here. They are presented as a powerhouse team and they've run roughshod over the division since forming. Triple H has commented several times on his desire to return to wrestling's roots with a focus on tag teams, so it will be interesting to see what the plans are for The Ascension as it relates to the main roster. Right now there is no need to rush them up, because it would leave the NXT tag division flat.
3. Tyler Breeze Is Damn Good
If you expected to see kudos to Sami Zayn in this space, I'm hoping you don't need me to tell you how epically good he is. His work in and outside of NXT speaks for himself, and he should be on the main roster already in my view. One major takeaway that was far more surprising, however, was how very effective Tyler Breeze was opposite Zayn in the number one contender's match. Breeze has been through a litany of characters since his indoctrination into the WWE system, but his current selfie supermodel is a perfect balance between the now and the easily hated. It's very simple, and it works. But it works even better when you can back it up in the ring.
Zayn is an excellent opponent, and can bring a decent match out of anyone, but Breeze was very aggressive throughout this match and working against a crowd that overwhelmingly supported his rival. The match was a near-fall heaven and gave both wrestlers a chance to show off their impressive repertoires and dynamic offenses. I especially liked the ending, where the old heel staple low blow was utilized in order for Breeze to advance. It left questions as to just how accidental it was, and that's perfect for a character such as this. Really eye-opening stuff and an indication that Breeze can be a main-event player in the big leagues in his own right.
4. It's Fun Watching Mojo Rawley Get Squashed
Rawley, the former NFL defensive tackle, is another example of a very big, very impressive man with a very odd, very underdeveloped gimmick. He is hyped. Like, all the time. And that's about it. It's fun for about six seconds, but then it gets old, and I hope for his sake he works it out. If not, we can at least be assured he'll be available for the Santino/3MB spot of comedy and crushing.
Mojo had the unfortunate luck to be in the way of Rusev, who's gotten quite the dominant push since arriving on WWE television a few months back. Rusev is smartly being booked as a dominant enforcer, a brute who will stop at nothing to meet the machinations of his devious manager Lana. It also allows for the ever-popular "This Country is Superior to Your Country" mantra that's been easily pissing fans off since carnies set up the first ring. Such was the case on Thursday, as Mojo brought the American flag to the ring and left horizontal. Oh sure, Rusev was typically dominant and dangerous, but at the end of the day the real lesson learned was there's something fulfilling about watching a hype machine get deprogrammed.
5. Yes, Santa, There IS a Divas Division
It's just NOT in the WWE. One of the best wrestling matches, period, that I've seen on WWE television of late played out during Takeover when Natalya met Charlotte for the vacated NXT Divas Championship. You just read that sentence correctly. If you missed this match, please do yourself a favor and cue it up on the Network if you have it. Or make sure you do when you get it. It will give you an idea of what women's wrestling can be like when it's done correctly, and who the hell knows when you'll see it again.
Having WWE Divas champion Paige at the event was a nice touch, as it acknowledged the power of NXT to catapult their talent to next-level stardom, and managed to make her more developed as a character in ten seconds in front of the Full Sail faithful than a couple of months have on the main roster. Everyone knows Natalya's background as a technical wrestler, and she definitively reasserted it here. As for Charlotte, Ric Flair's daughter was a joy to watch. She matched Natalya move for move and participated in a series involving both famous finishers (The Sharpshooter and the Figure 4) that was unbelievably great. She also recalled the nasty side of Naitch when she kept it going outside the ring. Bonus points.
This match had it all: legends (see next point), great moves (from abdominal stretches to moonsaults, it was all there), and excellent ring timing. Most importantly, it had pure, unadulterated raw emotion, something that is lacking from too many angles and feuds in the WWE these days. From these two slapping each other in rage to hugging in tears in the center of the ring, you got the sense you were participating in something special. If this is the future Divas division, make the future now. It was that good.
6. Legends Make It Better
If everything I just said wasn't enough, I should note that both Ric Flair and Bret Hart were in their respective relative's corners for this match. That in itself made it a big deal. This was not something we'd seen twenty times before. Both men are wrestling legends, of course, and therefore it's well known what they bring to the table. But there was something more here, particularly in the case of Flair. With everything both of these wrestling families have gone through, there had to be a large element of catharsis being played out in the ring.
Ric Flair was more of a fan of his daughter in this match than himself in some of his own matches, and that's saying something. He's always been known to let emotion get the better of him, but rarely in this natural, heartfelt way. I dare you to watch this match and not feel good as a wrestling fan. Any wrestling promoter on earth would gladly give either of these guys a chance to do just about anything they wanted on their program, but this was handled uniquely and perfectly. It added a large amount of cachet and name recognition to the event and it made it better instead of detracting from the in-ring work. Well done all around.
7. Tyson Kidd For President
If you like Daniel Bryan, and I hope you do, then you probably like NXT champion Adrian Neville also. Neville will never be the biggest guy in the room, but he has a thunderous offense with plenty of improvisation and brings his "A" game night after night. On deck for Neville Thursday was fan favorite Tyson Kidd, who's had near-universal acclaim with his ring work in the WWE but has been the victim of unfortunate circumstances or bad booking depending on your viewpoint in attempting to claim the spotlight.
The NXT audience most certainly welcomed Kidd with a level of appreciation that might outrank his standard arena reception, and it seemed to bring him to another level as the match wore on. As a contest, it was about what you'd expect: I found it slightly less excellent than the earlier Zayn/Breeze tilt but far better than plenty of what I've seen on recent PPVs. The two combatants were evenly matched from the opening bell to the very good ending, which saw Neville retain, but Kidd made his point. How this guy can deliver work like this and continually find himself squeezed off the TV cards boggles the mind. He was good enough here to make me consider watching Total Divas. I said consider.
So, there you have it. Seven things learned while watching NXT Takeover. NXT is one of the most underrated reasons to pony up for the Network when you have the chance. This special was better than their last, and I'd expect that trend to continue. WWE's desire to up their game in the "minors" has resulted in lots of time and money being invested in making that product look and feel slicker and more professional, and it shows. As fans of wrestling, let's hope they keep it up. Let me know what your takeaways from Takeover were below.