The NXT Step for a Legend III: No One Was Ready

In Summer 2015 I wrote about my favorite wrestler’s Shimmer career and impending signing with WWE in NXT Step for a Legend. A year and a half later I looked at her impressive initial period during that new phase of her career in NXT Step for a Legend II. Here I’d like to share one last NXT Step piece featuring Asuka looking at the end of her time in NXT, being called up to the main roster, and the start of her main roster run culminating in her first Wrestlemania last night.

 

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The first half of 2017 saw Asuka continue her domination of the NXT women’s division. In May Asuka passed Goldberg’s legendary (recognized) 173-0 win record to obtain the longest such undefeated streak in wrestling history. Goldberg himself acknowledged the accomplishment on Twitter and commented that “‘the streak’ is in good hands.” WWE themselves seemed a little tentative to promote it at first though, possibly due to the possibility of wanting to end it before she was called up to the main roster. More on that later.

 

Even in light of the dominance described above, Asuka still consistently elevated her opponents in defeat through both the skills they further developed by being in the ring with the veteran and strong showings against her. One particularly strong example of such was an incredible Last Woman Standing match she had with Nikki Cross in July 2017, which was perhaps the best match of either’s NXT tenure. That match was a additional treat for me in being a rematch from one of the first few live matches I saw of either from back in Spring 2014 at Shimmer, and it was interesting to see the two face off again at very different points in their careers.

 

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Ember Moon was also a persistent rival for Asuka in NXT, and often it seemed the champion had to resort to shortcuts to fend off her challenges and keep the title. As NXT Takeover Brooklyn III approached it seemed conceivable that Ember would finally hand Asuka her first loss and take the NXT Women’s title, sending Asuka on to the main roster. Instead the champion prevailed once again in an excellent match I was extremely lucky to have seen live and that, unbeknownst to those watching at the time, would be Asuka’s farewell to NXT anyway. It was reported shortly after that she suffered a collarbone injury during the match, would be vacating the NXT Women’s championship, and when she returned to action it would be as a member of the RAW roster. She hold the longest title reign of any kind in NXT history, recognized as 523 days (through to the date when the segment with her vacating the title aired on TV). She was far from finished collecting records and accolades.

 

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Fantastic depiction of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

Asuka made her main roster debut at TLC 2017 in a match against one of her early NXT opponents in Emma. From there she carved out a path of success just as she had in NXT, continuing to build her undefeated streak (now fully emphasized by WWE at all opportunities) against top names like Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, and the woman Asuka had taken the NXT title from in the first place, Bayley. She also was the sole survivor in her Survivor Series debut, and won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble in January 2018, giving her the choice of champions to challenge at Wrestlemania. She was one of the obvious, and fitting choices for that honor, although the underlying disconnect that someone holding the longest undefeated streak in history and had pinned Raw’s champion in non-title competition needed to win the Rumble to earn a title shot was starting to convey the booking difficulties surrounding the streak. The Rumble match was excellent, and seeing Asuka victorious in a “PPV” main event (something curiously absent from her NXT run) was glorious. 

 

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Asuka would decide to challenge Charlotte for the Smackdown Women’s title in what looked on paper to be a setup for an excellent encounter giving Asuka her first main roster title. Instead at Wrestlemania last night “The Empress of Tomorrow” shockingly tapped to “The Queen’s” Figure Eight ending the streak at 914 days and making her record 267-1. Given the rumors swirling that WWE had Ronda Rousey penciled in to eventually end the streak down the road this was even more of a surprise. I have reservations about having the first ever Women’s Rumble winner fail in her title bid as well as having Asuka’s streak end as a challenger rather than have someone get the boost from taking a title off her to end it, but Charlotte was a fine choice (certainly preferable to the rumored plan) and the match was the expected fantastic contest that ends the streak on a high note. After the match Asuka embraced Charlotte in respect and admitted “Charlotte was ready for Asuka” in a show of humility playing off her “no one is ready for Asuka” catchphrase she used for the duration of the streak. 

 

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Another incredible rendition of Asuka by Rob Schamberger.

 

What’s most amazing about all of the above though is that all of it has been accomplished with Asuka still just six months into her main roster career at WWE, with a great deal ahead of her. She’s one of the most charismatic and technically proficient wrestlers in all the world, and I of course look forward to seeing what her future holds.

 

The NXT Step for a Pirate

The signing of Stardom’s Kairi Hojo in early 2017 by the WWE created immediate buzz and excitement. It was wonderful to see that feeling build in anticipation as the Mae Young Classic and her debut as Kairi Sane approached.

 

Kairi is a masterful ring technician, measuring everything she does carefully and exerting expert body control for maximum visual impact. Her trademark diving elbow from the tope rope looks as beautiful as it does devastating. Her excellent selling draws the audience in and invests them emotionally in her matches, yet she always believably feels like a threat to her opponent no matter how much punishment she’s taken or how much bigger her opponent is. She brings something special and unique to WWE, and the hype surrounding her debut as it approached showed they realized it.

 

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My own perspective on Kairi’s pre-WWE career was bit different from when I wrote about Kana (NXT Step for a Legend) and Johnny Gargano (NXT Step for an Icon) heading to NXT, as I’d only seen her live on two occasions (though she essentially wrestled twice on each show). Even from that small sample it was easy to see the command she has of her craft.

 

My first time seeing Kairi live was under unique circumstances, as she was involved in Act Yasukawa’s retirement match at Climax 2015.

 

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Act’s retirement match and ceremony had an incredible atmosphere around it, and the entire spectacle was awesome to be at live. Kairi teamed with Act & Haruka Kato vs. Holidead, Kris Wolf & Kyoko Kimura in a match that went on for about 10 minutes, with back and forth action that saw Act and her teammates, particularly Kairi, more and more at odds. Both Act and Kairi did a phenomenal job at portraying two people who thought they had reconciled but were just never meant to get along. Things eventually exploded and the two fought into the crowd with everyone else along for the ride, resulting in a double countout.

 

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Then the “real” match began, as Act rejoined her former Oedo Tai stablemates leading to Act Yasukawa & Kyoko Kimura vs Haruka Kato & Kairi Hojo. This was a fitting send off, with Act and her teammates clearly enjoying themselves against long time rivals. Kairi was clearly genuinely emotional as she helped bid farewell to her fellow wrestler’s career.

 

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The following year I was back for Climax 2016 and saw Kairi in a pair of equally impressive matches at opposite ends of the spectrum. In a special contest model Nana Suzuki made her debut in a singles match against Hojo, one of Stardom’s aces. Nana actually played her role as an overmatched but determined underdog well and the match was quite good, due in no small part to Kairi playing her own role of dominant veteran absolutely perfectly. She knew exactly how to rightly control most of the offense and avoid reducing her own standing yet still make her rookie opponent look strong. That takes an incredible amount of skill and a deft touch, and the two told a great story here.

 

 

Later that night Kairi told a completely different story as she and partner Yoko Bito looked to regain their Goddesses of Stardom Titles from Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu). This time Kairi was in some sense the underdog, as there was a lot of interference from the Oedo Tai entourage outside the ring. The stacked odds and again excellent awareness of the story being told combined to generate quite the conquering hero reception for Hojo & Bito when they finally overcame it all and took their belts back. It was a treat not only seeing Kairi perform twice, but in such different (but complimentary and consistent) circumstances.

 

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Fast forward back to a few months ago and Kairi entered a WWE ring for the first time as part of the Mae Young Classic. It was certainly no surprise when she provided several of the best matches of the whole thing, including a show-stealing first round encounter with Tessa Blanchard, great bouts with Bianca Belair, Dakota Kai, and Toni Storm, and a fitting finale to the whole thing against Shayna Baszler. Seeing her joy at becoming the well deserved first ever MYC winner was wonderful. Since then she has become an integral part of NXT’s women’s division, and is likely to feud with Shayna Baszler and eventually progress to a one on one challenge to champion Ember Moon.

 

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Incredible art print depicting (and signed by) Kairi by Rob Schamberger.

 

Kairi Sane is the epitome of the cliche “a joy to watch,” and I wish her all the best as this exciting new phase of her career continues.

Mae Young Classic Finals Review

maeyoungclassic

 

After four previous rounds featuring thirty matches it’s all down to Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler to see who will be crowned the inaugural Mae Young Classic winner.

I watched this live, so while it’s taken a while to catch up on writing up the previous rounds to get here the thoughts are from the initial airing. I wasn’t sure who would win. I predicted this final with Baszler taking it before the tourney started, but going into the match were reasonable arguments for either outcome.

 

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

Semis: episode eight.

 

Mae Young Classic Final

 

 

 

“I want to prove size is not what it takes to be #1.”

“I wanted to send a message. Everyone knows now. If people weren’t shaking in their boots before, they definitely are now.”

Great video package hyping the final, both highlighting the competitors and making winning seem important. Why this wasn’t all over RAW and Smackdown is beyond me.

There’s a special guest feature with interviews focusing particularly on HHH, & Steph, WWE’s 4 Horsewomen, some of GLOW’s cast, and MMA’s 4 Horsewomen (well, Rousey). Did it’s job to make this seem like an important event, although the continued not-so-subtle use of the tourney as a backdrop building a feud between the two 4 Horsewomen factions is a bit heavy handed.

The final video packages with the two competitors specifically addressing each other were incredibly well done. Shayna talking about Kairi’s perseverance and wanting to finally break her will in front of her fans while Kairi acknowledged Shayna as a MMA star but said it doesn’t matter because wrestling is “my turf” was pitch perfect.

Lots of crowd shots of attendees such as Beth Phoenix, Alundra Blayze, prior round competitors, etc.

Around ten minutes of well done hype is over and it’s time for the match to start.

 

Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler ***3/4

Commentary highlights past accomplishments of both participants during entrances, including the fact that both have won important tournaments in their areas of expertise in a really nice touch. They’re walking a fine line of trying to make Shayna seem dangerous and dominant while still making it believable that Kairi has a legitimate chance against her, and doing it quite well. Specific mention of Kairi being a top star and multiple champion in Stardom.

Kairi showing no fear in the face of the 6 inch taller and about 50 pound heavier Baszler, raising her elbowpad defiantly into Shayna’s face during the ring announcements. Crowd is split and vocal.

The first exchange features Shayna going for submissions and Kairi reversing them into pin attempts. Great way to start. From there the story is Baszler’s strength, submission skills, and powerful strikes against Kairi’s speed, resiliency, and experience edge.

As I’ve stressed before Kairi’s selling is absolutely amazing. Little touches in the way she reacts to being hit and the pain she conveys when trapped in submissions makes everything Baszler does seem that much more lethal.

As the match goes on Shayna focuses her attack on Kairi’s elbow and Kairi targets hers on Shayna’s ribs. Nice strategy and psychology. It paid off in spades for Kairi in wonderfully logical fashion when she was able to land shots to Baszler’s ribs to become the first person to break out of Shayna’s deadly Rear Naked Choke. Great tease of a finish there as Baszler had reversed Kairi’s top rope forearm into the choke and it was a plausible end to the match.

Other highlights included them exchanging hard shots on the top turnbuckle leading to Kairi nailing a hanging double stomp, a beautifully targeted sliding forearm in the corner again to Shayna’s ribs, and of course the InSane Elbow connecting to give Kairi the win and the tournament.

 

 

Shayna accepted Kairi’s help to get to her feet afterwards and hugged Kairi in a gracious show of respect in defeat. It was the right call – Baszler’s heel persona can be reenforced later. Baszler sold the ribs constantly during the aftermath. HHH, Steph, and Sara Amato come in to congratulate Kairi and present her trophy, and we end on her celebrating her victory.

 

Winning the MYC put Kairi in the title picture for Asuka’s vacated NXT Women’s Championship, and Baszler has since been officially signed and I’d imagine is likely to show up directly on the main roster at some point to jumpstart a 4 Horsewomen feud.

Great endcap to a great tournament overall, and it was wonderful to see this spotlight on women’s wrestling featuring so many exceptional competitors.

Mae Young Classic Episode 8 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Here we go. These were the last matches that was taped over the July weekend and this the penultimate episode of the tournament.

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

Round 2: episodes five and six.

Quarters: episode seven.

 

Semi Finals:

Opening video package spotlights recaps the quarter finals and shows how each of the four remaining wrestlers advanced.

Crowd’s still nicely fired up despite two long days of tapings.

 

1) Shayna Baszler vs Mercedes Martinez ***

These two are stablemates on the indies (along with Nicole Savoy) in Trifecta. Mercedes is also the reigning Shimmer champion. Shayna justifies her post match actions towards Candice LaRae in her quarter final as sending a message in the build up video, while Mercedes talks about her long path to get here. They reference Mercedes being Shayna’s mentor and show footage of them together without mentioning Trifecta by name. Really good build up stating winning is more important to both than their history and pitting the experienced veteran trying to culminate her journey against the hungry, dangerous protege willing to stop at nothing to claim this for herself. 

Camera lingers of course on Rousey and company in the front row as Shayna comes out. Handshake to open, which is more respect than Shayna’s given anyone else in the tourney. Mercedes is the first to go heavy with the strikes and the story seems to be seeing if Shayna can take as well as she gives. Good approach.

Nice spot early on sees Mercedes seemingly about to go for a running kick on a seated Baszler, who is ready to counter it. Mercedes instead slips around and applies a chinlock. Crowd oohs in appreciation of her outmaneuvering her opponent.

After more dominating offense from Mercedes Shayna’s finally had enough and takes over with a frustrated flurry of strikes. Now Baszler in firm control for a bit, but Mercedes eventually reverses a submission into the Regal stretch. When Baszler powers out they end up exchanging strikes on their knees. After more back and forth once they get to their feet Mercedes hits the Fisherman’s Buster, but takes too long recovering and only gets 2 when she finally covers Baszler.

Martinex just wears Bazler out with a pair of Saito suplexes and a German, then goes for the Fisherman’s again. Baszler fights it off once, then reverses another attempt into a suplex. At the top, she reverses direction and drop Mercedes right into the choke. Mercedes fights longer than anyone else has, but has to tap.

Good, hard hitting match here with another cool finish of Shayna smoothly transitioning into her finisher. Easily Shayna’s best match of the tourney so far. One half of the finals is set.

 

Baszler selling effects of the battle, furthering the story of this being her biggest test to date. Stephanie, HHH, and Sara Amato are in the ring to congratulate her. Martinez hugs Baszler in congratulations and HHH presents Baszler with a rose bouquet signifying her win. I understand the real emotion behind the way this played out, but after being built up as a cocky heel for three rounds Shayna should have continued that role here instead of playing mutual respect with her mentor. The crowd was already cheering her a little because of her deadly finisher and skills. This made her a full face going into the finals. Of course that said, her opponent will be a bigger face, so perhaps it doesn’t matter much.

 

2) Toni Storm vs Kairi Sane ***1/2

Kairi sites Storm’s “classic wrestling technique” as her strength, then we cut to footage of Storm’s swivel “hip” attack to a seated opponent’s face. Sigh. Kairi plays up her elbow drop as the equalizer, and both are determined to win. Short and to the point.

Kairi salutes the trophy with a determined look on her face on her way to the ring. Near everyone has been acknowledging it in some way as they come out, and again little things like that really do a lot to drive home that there’s value and prestige to what they’re all fighting over.

Great chain wrestling sequence to start with constant smooth reversals from both. Insert shows Bazler watching on from the back. The early going is about them feeling each other out and mostly having an answer whenever the other gets an advantage. Well done. A bit in, Kairi goes for a crossbody from the top to Storm on the outside and Storm doesn’t quite catch her flush, leading to Kairi taking a header into the steel mesh ramp as they land. This is no doubt where Kairi got the concussion she was out with in the weeks following the tournament, and it’s amazing she didn’t get knocked completely cold there.

She gets right up and rolls Storm into the ring to continue. She works Toni’s back for a while with crab variations, but then gets caught with a nice kick counter by Storm when she goes for a sliding strike. Storm follows with a nice release German that sends Kairi to the corner and hits the running hip attack, but Kairi explodes out with the spear to counter a second. Great sequence.

Kairi’s got a nasty welt forming on her face from hitting the ramp. They both struggle to their feet and exchange hard strikes for a while, which Kairi eventually gets the better of to put Storm down and go up for the elbow. Storm gets to her feet and catches Kairi on the top turnbuckle though, pulling her off in Muscle Buster position and dropping into a Fisherman’s suplex for an extremely close 2. Toni’s in shock. She sets up for Strong Zero but Kairi fights out. Kairi looks to capitalize with a back fist but it’s blocked and Storm takes her down into a bridging armbar on the arm Storm’s been working all match. Storm’s working of the hold combined with Kairi incredible selling and expressions makes this look deadly. Kairi toughs it out and eventually manages to turn onto her back beneath Storm and roll the latter up for 2.

A hard strike from Storm lays Kairi out and Storm hits the top rope legdrop that beat Viper to Kairi’s back, but Storm’s hurt too from the move and can’t cover. Kairi’s actually the first to crawl up. When both are on their feet Kairi nails the backfist this time to put Storm right back down and abuses Storm’s back some more. With Storm face first on the mat Kairi goes up again and this time her beautiful signature elbow drop connects to Storm’s back and the after that the pinfall is academic.

 

Perfect endcap to the pre-taped rounds and one of the best matches in the tourney. This is the performance I’ve been waiting for from Storm, and Kairi has just killed it all tourney long.

Kairi’s crying in joy as her hand is raised and gives Storm a huge hug as the latter congratulates her on advancing. As with Shayna, HHH, Steph, and Sara come out again to celebrate with the winner.

 

Baszler comes out to square up with Sane at the top of the ramp, Kairi offers a handshake with a respectful smile, but when Baszler ignores it to stare her down and place her fist under Kairi’s chin the Pirate Princess gets a deadly stare of her own in her eyes and simply returns the gesture. Great moment resulting in a fantastic visual to build anticipation for the final. Kairi shakes her head at Baszler to indicate she can’t be intimidated, then pulls her arm back only to present the other in her standard way of calling for the elbow drop. Shayna smirks slightly and they keep eyes locked as we fade out. That whole confrontation was pitch perfect.

 

——-

This is the final I expected, and Baszler’s strength and grappling against Kairi’s speed and explosiveness is a great pairing. Two extremely good matches here set it all up wonderfully. One match to go.

Mae Young Classic Episode 7 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

And round 2: episodes five and six.

 

Quarter Finals:

Opening video package spotlights all eight of the remaining wrestlers and who they each beat to get this far in a nice touch. Six of the eight (all but Storm and Sane) are former or current members of the Shimmer roster (including current champ Martinez), which is great to see.

 

1) Abbey Laith vs Mercedes Martinez **3/4

Commentary’s a little better here with the previous rounds to refer back to and provide structure for them. They focus heavily on Mercedes being the most experienced participant left, both in terms of the advantage it gives and the nagging injuries she may have hindering her.

This was all about the two just straight up striking at each other until one fell. Abbey had a nice dive from the tip onto Mercedes on the outside at one point, as well as a close near fall off of a sweet German suplex (one of her finishers on the indies). Their kick exchanges looked stiff as hell and were a highlight here. Mercedes planted Abbey with the Fisherman’s Buster to win this one. Solid.

In some ways I would have preferred Laith advancing, but she got a decent chance to shine in the tourney, I understand why Martinez won, and the competitor using Mae Young’s finish going out in the quarters instead of marching to the finals gives a nice appearance of unpredictability.

 

2) Shayna Baszler vs Candice LaRae **

The story here was Candice giving her overpowering opponent more than Shayna bargained for. Like in previous rounds, it wasn’t designed to allow Baszler to show her full range of skills, just flashes of dominance, power, and heel mannerisms. Another out of nowhere but pretty cool finish sees Baszler reverse Ms. LaRae’s Wild Ride in midair directly into the rear naked “sleeper” for a quick tapout.  Baszler viciously keeps it on after the match until Candice passes out. Then after having her hand raised Baszler goes BACK over to LaRae and literally kicks her while she’s down (to the consternation of Gargano, who was in the ring checking on his wife) in mocking fashion. Very well executed for what it was: a vehicle for making Baszler seem dangerous and callous. She’ll face her fellow Trifecta stablemate Martinez in the semis.

 

3) Toni Storm vs Viper ***

This had several fun exchanges and was a much better showcase for Toni than the first couple of rounds. Piper’s versatility was on full display here as she effortless alternated between chain wrestling, displays of her agility, and straight up power moves that made the most of her size. 

I had forgotten who won this so was a bit surprised when Storm pulled it out (with an unfortunately weak looking top rope leg drop to boot that didn’t seem like it would be the finish). I like Storm (and she looked the best yet here), but really wish Piper had advanced. She was extremely impressive in all her matches and more than earned a further look by the WWE. I hope she gets more opportunities in the future.

 

We get look at three of WWE’s Four Horsewomen (Charlotte, Bayley, and Becky) confronting Shayna’s three MMA Four Horsewomen stablemates backstage as the latter were being interviewed about Shayna’s success in the tournament. Rousey’s acting is not good, and the whole thing was surprisingly cheesy and awkward for a ten second posturing segment. The march of inevitability towards the two groups facing off continues.

 

4) Kairi Sane vs Dakota Kai ***1/4

It’s admittedly weird seeing Evie with the size advantage. This featured great strike battles and other highlights including a gorgeous cross run spear from Kairi, a vicious sliding kick in the corner by Kai, and Kairi following up a great double stomp dodge with her beautiful top rope forearm. Kairi’s selling is impeccable, and always does a lot to draw the viewer into her matches. Eventually Kairi lays Kai out and nails her deadly top rope elbow for the win. 

For me, this was the best of the quarters. I’ve heard some were disappointed and yes, they could have done more with a proper allotment of time, but they certainly made the most of what they had to work with and I liked the way this built as it went even within its limitations. Taping four rounds in two days (as well as the general structure WWE used for these tournament episodes) is going to impose some restrictions. I really enjoyed what we got though, and of course with both under contract a future rematch is definitely possible.

 

——-

Solid quarter final round, and we’re down to four competitors left. The pairings are interesting, and while everything’s building towards the final I expected all along getting there has been fun.

Mae Young Classic Episode 6 Review

maeyoungclassic

 

Continuing to (slowly) work my way through.

My thoughts on round 1: episodes onetwothree, and four.

And part 1 of round 2: episode five.

 

Round 2 (continued):

Video packages are getting better and better in hyping up the impending matches.

More clips of MMA’s Four Horsewoman coming to support Baszler. It would not end there…

 

5) Lacey Evans vs Toni Storm *3/4

Hoping to see more from both of these wrestler than what they showed in round 1.

“Oh I’m not gonna lose. No.” Geez Toni, watch the spoilers. 😉

The ref checks Lacey’s gloves and then Lacey removes them, which bothers me much more than it should. Toni’s move of powering herself back to the mat in a wristlock in order to counter it is more weird than unique. And her “hip attacks” (butt butts to her opponent’s face) are not my cup of tea. Lacey countering one into a schoolgirl for 2 was pretty nice though.

Lacey looked much more comfortable with her offense than in round 1, landing some unusual strikes pretty smoothly and controlling most of this short match. Storm was again very limited on offense, doing nothing she didn’t in the first round (butt based offense, a couple of strikes, lungblower, and a Northern lights suplex) except debuting her finisher Strong Zero (Air Raid Crash across the knee) for the win.

This was fine for what it was. With time and polish (and a new gimmick) Lacey has all the tools to succeed. Storm plays the ragdoll underdog well and I can tell she’s skilled, but honestly she hasn’t been able to show much and so far I’m unimpressed compared to her hype.

 

6) Shayna Baszler vs Mia Yim **1/4

“All it’s going to take for me to beat her is just to exist.” Baszler’s playing the heel well (and that was a great line), but the problem with the message is she’s conceivably RIGHT about having combat experience over everyone else and having an edge because of it. Heels should be talking sideways, not stating truth.

This was interesting, as there was a disconnect between the in ring story and what the announcers / producers were stressing. It was played just right for the story the WRESTLERS were telling (the bragging Shayna found Mia was more than capable of giving her an even fight) but not for the story the ANNOUNCERS were force feeding (Shayna dominantly plowing through her opponents).

The match was good within its constraints, including a gorgeous dive by Mia, nice back and forth striking, and a fantastic finish that saw Mia’s 450 countered into the “Rear Naked Sleeper” for a Shayna victory. On the other hand the compressed length hampered certain aspects, like a tease of Mia’s first round finisher getting no reaction due how early it was done, and having to go to the finish so quickly after Shayna’s legwork leading to a noticeable and unusual lack of selling from Mia as she did a powerbomb and the 450. I enjoyed this overall, but like Mercedes vs Sugehit it was a snapshot of sequences from a longer, better match.

As expected, the focus here was again as much (or more) on the two groups of four horsewomen as the match, particularly afterward when Shayna celebrated with her friends and got into a staring contest with the carefully placed Charlotte, Bailey, and Becky directly across the aisle.  Well, the angle will likely be a success so I’ll keep my complaints minimal, but Shayna’s better than a way to pull Rousey in.

 

7) Dakota Kai vs Rhea Ripley **1/2

Looking forward to this battle of strikers. The mini story of Kai having to go through much bigger, more powerful opponents so far is a nice touch.

Ripley looked a tad lost at moments but in general seems to have good instincts. Better pacing will come with time, and she’s already showing unique touches in her ringwork.

This was a nice little back and forth match with a couple of clever counters and big impact moves to draw the crowd in. Kai eventually moves on with her hanging double stomp, which was 100% the right call. Since they’re both signed, a longer rematch down the road is definitely possible and something I’d like to see.

 

8) Candice LeRae vs Nicole Savoy *3/4

Billed as the “Queen of Suplexes” vs the “Modern Day Mighty Mouse.” Not really digging either nickname to be honest.

“Can Mrs. Johnny Gargano win this one?” I can’t even.

I’ve seen a lot of both competitors (including against each other), and they’re both capable of much more than they achieved here. So the match was disappointing in that regard. It’s like they were going at half speed and the pacing was odd. A very awkward and contrived setup to get to Candice’s Wild Ride for the finish didn’t help. Of course with these two even on an off night there was some solid action mixed in. Most of the criticism I’ve seen has been leveled on Savoy (and no doubt she wasn’t at her best and unfortunately had a lackluster tournament), but it’s more Candice that felt not her usual self to me here.

 

——-

This was definitely the weaker batch of matches of the second round, although there are still highlights. The action isn’t quite what it could be (and the commentary is still driving me insane) but things are unfolding nicely and despite my criticisms the tournament has been interesting and enjoyable. Best of all it’s shining a light on numerous deserving, talented wrestlers and giving them something to fight for that’s portrayed as important. It really makes a difference in getting the viewer involved.

On to the quarter finals with a couple of unexpected names still around and several intriguing matchups.

NXT Takeover Brooklyn III Live Thoughts

August 19, 2017 in Brooklyn, NY

A bit late getting this finished but I still wanted to share my thoughts on what ended up another great Takeover in Brooklyn  I was lucky enough to see live. I thought both the first NXT Takeover Brooklyn and last year’s were excellent.

 

8

 

The previous formula appeared to continue with a big fan favorite opening the (pre) show as No Way Jose came out and the crowd erupted, but he was jumped and laid out by Lars Sullivan to enormous heat. Effective segment to start, even without an actual match.

 

Peyton Royce vs Sarah Logan was a decent little match from both. Royce has been improving lately. I was a bit surprised at result considering Logan was part of the Mae Young Classic, which was just about to start airing.

 

3

 

It was particularly great to see Pete Dunne recovered enough to wrestle after he missed Progress in Queens due to being busted open the night before. He teamed with Wolfgang against Dunne’s regular stablemates in Progress Trent Seven & Tyler Bate. Crowd was over the moon when it became clear who was coming out and these guys are fantastic.

 

The Takeover show proper then started with Johnny Gargano vs Andrade “Cien” Almas. Cien has really found new life as a heel, owning it so much more than his bland babyface character, and the angle with his renewed success and focus due to manager Zelina Vega is great. Gargano is of course the classic overachieving babyface, and perfect at it.  This started a trend for the evening, as literally every match from here on was good for around the first half or so, then reached another gear late and became incredible.

Here the turning point was an INSANE counter from Cien as he flipped out of a top rope sunset bomb attempt and landed on his feet. They built to a clever finish in which Vega threw a DIY shirt at Gargano, which distracted him just enough for Cien to pull out the victory. It gave Gargano an out without halting Cien’s needed momentum.

 

 

The NXT Tag Title match between the Authors of Pain (c) and Sanity was quite honestly better than I expected, with all four members of Sanity getting involved to make it exciting and memorable yet still somehow playing solid de facto babyfaces. The brawl based action was comfortably in AoP’s wheelhouse too and they more than held up their end. The title change was a nice moment, AoP is now free to move up, and RED DRAGON (Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish) make a big statement laying out the new champs afterward.

 

Hideo Itami’s another wrestler who seems to have new life and more motivation thanks to a heel turn, and he’s growing into the character nicely. He did his best to mock and frustrate Aleister Black in a match that as expected built into a great striking battle, but Black eventually came out triumphant with his signature kick.

 

48

 

This was the most uncertain I’ve been going into one of my favorite wrestler’s title defenses, as if there ever was a time to end Asuka’s reign in NXT it was right here. Ember Moon was set up not only as a threat but as the person Asuka needed to stretch the rules to beat last time, and it was totally believable that she’d unseat the dominant champion and Asuka would move on to the main roster. On the other hand having Asuka’s record breaking undefeated streak intact as she was called up also had numerous advantages.

So I was mildly surprised at Asuka’s victory, but I was actually much more surprised at her kicking out of Moon’s deadly finisher. That moment alone made this feel like a goodbye for Moon and not Asuka, and that feeling intensified when Ember seemed to have a bit of a farewell moment after the match. Of course since then it’s been revealed that Asuka was hurt during the match (and finishing and having the great match they did with a broken collarbone is crazy tough), she’s surrendered the title, and is headed to RAW.

 

1

 

Getting back to this match, I really enjoyed it. It built well and got crazy towards the end. Probably the best NXT work I’ve seen from either, and though they didn’t know it at the time they put on a fantastic farewell match for Asuka’s time in NXT.

 

In any of the given title matches for this show I slightly favored the challengers, but didn’t expect all the belts to change hands. Once Asuka retained I was fairly sure Bobby Roode would end up losing in the main event against Drew McIntyre for the NXT title. That feeling didn’t take anything away from the drama of the match, as when done right even a predictable outcome can be highly satisfying.

 

 

Again, this got great late and Drew eventually landed the Claymore to become the new NXT champion. The Glorious One would go to Smackdown a few short days later, and it was certainly time. As big as the celebratory moment was for Drew, a bigger one would follow with the debut of Adam Cole, who used a distraction from Red Dragon to ambush the new champ the way they did earlier and the ex-ROH trio stood tall to end the show. 

 

Overall

Takeover Brooklyn is one of my favorite events of the year, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three. Everything ended up excellent here, and I can’t recommend the replay enough.