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Reviews Wrestling

NXT Takeover Brooklyn II Live Thoughts

August 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, NY

Last year’s NXT Takeover Brooklyn was a great show and an incredible experience overall. Add in an opportunity to see my favorite wrestler live for the first time since she was signed, and possibly the most charismatic wrestler in the world for the first time ever, and I was beyond excited for NXT’s return to Brooklyn.

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Small fortuitous moment on the way in, as the location of our seats took us right by the announcers table for the pre-show. Was neat to see them so close.

The pre-show portion was a decent enough way to kick off the festivities. As with last year whoever was in charge of match order was spot on and made the wise choice to send out surprising crowd favorite “Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger out to open against Wesley Blake. Dillinger has been gaining steam and the soft face turn of simply booking him against heels is the right way to go with him. “Murphy’s Better” chants greeted Blake alongside constant cries of “TEN” for Dillinger from the loud crowd, and while basic this match was a great start to the show.

The Authors of Pain are a bit plodding for my tastes, but they have some impressive power spots and bring something new to the division, and TM61 at least got to show a little life against them before being squashed like pancakes.

Moving on to the show proper, No Way Jose vs Austin Aries was again a perfect choice to start with. Aries is always crazy over in NYC and looked sharp and motivated, and Jose somewhat surprisingly hang in nicely and had a good portion of the crowd behind him by the end. I personally don’t really care for the gimmick, but Jose’s coming along very well and is clearly putting in a lot of effort to be the best wrestler he can be. That’s all I ever ask from anyone, and kudos to him. Despite the cheers he received Aries stayed well within his heel persona and mannerisms, which paid off big time when Hideo Itami (KENTA) saved Jose from a post match attack to a huge reception and loud boos for Aries (again, a huge accomplishment in Aries friendly NYC). Even better, Hideo was allowed to break out the GTS, which had the crowd going WILD.

Speaking of the crowd going wild, I had maintained before the show that while Ember Moon (Athena) is a phenomenal athlete in general, if they wanted to get her over instantly all they had to do is let her keep her finisher. Sure enough, she ended a short debut contest against Billie Kay with her “diving corkscrew stunner” (the obviously-was-always-going-to-be-renamed “O-Face”) to send the fans into an absolute frenzy. Decent enough match before that too, although the finish is all anyone will remember. I like Kay’s new look and heel tendencies, which should bring fresh life into her character, and Ember’s entrance and red contacts add a nice distinctive feel to her presentation. And as a huge fan of Shimmer it was a special treat for me to have two matches on this card exclusively featuring Shimmer alumni.

The almost Wrestlemania-like pageantry  done with NXT Brooklyn entrances is awesome in general, and one of the best was next as Bobby Roode practically descended from the heavens on an elevated platform as his AWESOME theme music echoed throughout the stadium as nearly everyone sang along. Perhaps not great for a heel, but it certainly adds to his presence and made him look like an immediate star.

On the other hand, poor Andrade “Cien” Almas was totally sent out to die in his ridiculous getup trying to work face against Roode. He tried, but NYC’s pre-established bias combined with Cien being a little sloppy at times made the task impossible and Roode was the clear favorite no matter what dastardly things he did. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Roode using the pump handle slam as a finish, but while it’s not one of my favorites either a derisive heel like Roode is better served by a no nonsense finisher than something flashy, so I don’t mind it that much. Great debut for Roode in terms of presence and being memorable, but match was nothing and their going to have a hard time getting him over as a heel instead of being cheered.

 

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Between the CWC first round match and their ascension up the tag ranks in NXT, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have been given a lot to work with recently and have been consistently knocking it out of the park. I was a big fan of both on the indies and it great not only to see them gets these opportunities but also to see their incredible chemistry as a team. The arena was fairly rabid in support as the duo came out for the NXT Tag Title match against The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) (c). The Revival are the best old school style team I’ve seen in ages, and I get a total Arn Anderson and <insert random AA partner name here 😉 > vibe whenever they wrestle.

The match was fantastic, with natural babyfaces Gargano and Ciampa constantly getting the better of the champs until Dash and Dawson would cheat for the advantage and then grind away at the “upstarts.” Finish could have been a touch better executed, but overall this was excellently built and performed and was neck and neck with the other two title matches for best of the night.

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Time to show my bias: Kana (Asuka) has long been my favorite wrestler in the world, and as I wrote about after Takeover Brooklyn last year her surprise appearance there left me floored and intensely curious about her future. So with all due respect to all the other amazing athletes on this show, Asuka (c) defending her NXT Women’s title against Bayley is the match I went to see.

 

It delivered. 🙂 Maybe not quite up to last years Bayley vs Banks title match due to a lack of believable points at which Bayley looked like she could have defeated the champion, this was still an incredible back and forth contest that I enjoyed a touch more than their first encounter. The buildup was great and the continued story of Bayley now knowing what she was getting into and being determined to use that knowledge to defeat the undefeated provide a compelling backbone to the match. The crowd was appropriately split and behind both competitors, and while Asuka showed a bit of her bullying tactics neither really worked heel.

 

I would have reversed the order of them kicking out / escaping each other’s finishers, as Bayley being the first person to ever break the Asuka Lock without getting to the ropes made it quite obvious Asuka was kicking out of the Bayley-to-Belly she received seconds later. Still it’s an appropriate way to show toughness and determination in big matches and worked brilliantly in that respect. I know there have been some complaint about Asuka steamrolling the division, but Bayley got to push her further than ever and Asuka’s win here was the right call. Her long, dominant reign will eventually make a star when someone unseats her (like say, Ember Moon down the line).

 

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Show of respect between Asuka and Bayley after the match, then the champion left first to allow Bayley some spotlight to hug her compatriots at ringside and essentially say goodbye to NXT. Great stuff. Was such a treat to see Asuka wrestle live again.

As I previously mentioned Roode’s entrance was fantastic, and Asuka, Bayley and Ember all had impressive ones as well, but NOTHING was going to top Shisuke Nakamura coming out to a live violin version of his theme song. before his NXT title match against Samoa Joe (c). The presentation was top notch, with numerous rotating spotlights on the violinist giving way to red lights when Nakamura came out. As with Roode the entire crowd was singing along. Was incredible to be there live.

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The no nonsense champ glared his way out to the ring as normal, providing a nice contrast to the flamboyant and charismatic challenger. As good as Joe is, there was no split crowd here. They built the story and tension between the two perfectly leading up to this, and Nakamura’s eccentric charm had the audience FIRMLY behind him.

I’d never seen Nakamura wrestle live before, and it was a privilege. This was two professionals holding the crowd in the palm of their hand and beating on each other until one fell. Worthy main event, and the title change was a HUGE moment. NXT now has two undefeated champions reigning over their singles divisions.

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Overall

What a follow up to last year’s historic show. This was possibly a touch better, featuring three incredible matches on top and a strong undercard with big debuts. Not as many surprises as last year, but sometimes things should be predictable because they are logical and appropriate. The atmosphere live was absolutely electric and a joy to be a part of.

I said it last year and am happy to say it again: shows like this are why I watch wrestling.

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Reviews Wrestling

WWE Extreme Rules 2016 Live Thoughts

May 22, 2016 in Newark, NJ

WWE came to the Prudential Center in Newark for Extreme Rules this year, and while I haven’t been enamored with their direction recently, I like enough of the roster individually to give it a shot and attend my first live WWE pay-per-view (strange as that seems). I unfortunately ended up having to leave a bit early and missed the last two matches. Of course I will only be talking about what I saw. Shame missing Styles, but I have seen him live before and I had no illusions that he would be winning anyway.

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Decent view of the ring for not having a floor seat, but there was no indication when I got the ticket that I was behind the set and wouldn’t be able to see the entrances (and because of the “entrance videos” playing wrestler entrances aren’t shown on the screens either). A bit disappointing considering how much time is devoted to them. I’ve never been to any type of event before where there was an obstructed view of part of the show and it wasn’t marked when purchasing the ticket. They get away with it by claiming only the ring matters, but it’s still sketchy. Oh well. As I said I could see the ring fine, so good enough I suppose, and I’ll know better next time.

The first pre-show happenings featured The Dudleys came out to fire up the crowd by playing off ECW nostalgia then turn them on a dime with insults. I have to say, from about 30 ft away and without being able to see the entrance and thus having no warning, their pyro was INSANELY loud and startling. As the Dudleys run down the crowd Enzo and Cass’s music hit and the everyone goes nuts for Big Cass. He does a strong promo overall where he mixes admittedly hokey insults with Enzo’s usual intro for them. The Dudleys jump him but he gets the better of them and does his sing-a-long to finish the segment. Fine to rile the crowd up, although I don’t know why this couldn’t have resulted in a match between Cass and one of them instead and accomplished all the same things (and more) in a more logical way.

Baron Corbin vs Dolph Ziggler suffered a bit from the stipulation, as they did NOTHING no-DQ until the finish. So the audience was just waiting for the ballshot all match. Big win for Corbin regardless, hopefully he’s on to other things now.

Still surreal seeing Anderson and Gallows as The Club in WWE. They faced the Usos in the opener for the PPV proper. Not sure these teams have the chemistry against each other they need for this extended feud, but there were a couple nice spots and the right team went over.

US Champion Kalisto has been booked extremely weak since winning the belt, and his challenger Rusev is one of the only wrestler in recent memory to have a dominant reign, so the cheering dynamic was quite “backwards” here. Rusev dominated and took back his  US Title with a nasty new Accolade variation to a hero’s ovation from the crowd. Accomplished what it needed to.

 

Man, Newark loves itself some New Day. They get crazy cheers for any and every thing they do. Xavier and Big E defended against The Vaudvillains in a fairly straightforward victory for the champs. The Vaudvillains still haven’t gotten much heat with the crowd, and given New Day gets cheered for heel tactics it’s hard to establish heels against them. I adore the shining wizard though, so Xavier’s finish gets bonus points.

Miz defending his Intercontinental Championship against Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro was the match I went to see. Miz has gotten a lot better recently and is really finding the right character now, but the draw was the three challengers. I’ve watched them all before WWE, have been thrilled to see them continue to evolve and improve, and it was a treat seeing them go all out against each other for a title on a WWE PPV.

The crowd was super-hot throughout this match. As far as we were concerned Owens was as much a face as Zayn and Claudio. Although he did get some massive heat for interrupting a tower-of-doom spot. They all used the 4-way format to its fullest, with several great multi-person spots and believable near-falls. The latter was particularly impressive – there were numerous places where the match could have ended and felt natural that were broken up by another of the participants. It really worked the crowd into a frenzy.

While I understand the storyline advantages of Miz stealing a win and retaining, the crowd was ready for a face victory and Cesaro is eating far too many pins after his white-hot return. Minor point in the grand scheme of things though, as the match was fantastic regardless.

Tough spot for these Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho having to follow that with their Asylum match. Not just because of the quality of the proceeding match topped with the Miz’s victory punching the wind out of the crowd a bit, but given the Asylum format no one believed the match would end before they cycled through all the weapons. So everyone sat on their hands for half the match.

I enjoyed parts of the match, such as a visually awesome fire extinguisher spot and their use of the thumbtacks, but this really dragged as they claimed the weapons one by one. The attempted straightjacket strapping also broke up the flow of the match. And I have no idea why the ONLY weapon not used was the one they centered the buildup around and that everyone was waiting to see used.

 

Overall

The IC match knocking it out of the park, nothing being actively bad, and some nice highlights throughout the night made my evening enjoyable despite not seeing the whole show. But as usual lately with the WWE, this could have been a LOT better with just some minor tweaks, which is a bit frustrating.

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Reviews Wrestling

NXT Takeover Dallas IPPV Live Thoughts

April 1, 2016 in Dallas, TX

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Great looking card overall, but even more than Nakamura’s debut or Joe’s or American Alpha’s title opportunities I’m most looking forward to the Women’s Title match. Asuka has been my favorite wrestler for years (as Kana) and I’m beyond excited to see her first title shot in WWE against an equally excellent wrestler. Should be an incredible night all around.

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Starting out with one of the three huge title matches: The Revival (Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson) (c) vs American Alpha (Chad Gable and Jason Jordan) for the NXT Tag Team Championships. Unsurprisingly, the crowd is pumped for American Alpha. Disrespect from Dawson right away. He and Dash are great heels. Classic tag formula here. Alpha keep taking over with athleticism, and Revival cheats to reverse. Simple, effective storytelling. Alpha are so much fun to watch. They really need to be called up to the main roster while they’re still red-hot. Stereo German suplexes by Alpha pops the crowd huge. Blind tag and ambush by the champs and they finally establish some extended offense.

They keep Gamble grounded for a while, then he hits a double ddt for a hope spot. Jordan gets taken out by Dash to prevent the tag though. While Jordan objects Dash and Dawson unfortunately botch a double team, derailing the match for a bit. They get back on track once Gable gets the hot tag for real and Jordan destroys the Revival until he becomes the victim of a double team  and an illegal pin attempt. He survives though and keeps fighting through every dirty trick the champs have. Gable comes in and the near falls are fast and furious. He and Dawson are putting on a great display here. Jordan with an amazing blind tag leading to a spear on Dawson. Another tag and Alpha hit their finish for the titles!!!

Fantastic opener.

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Surreal to see Austin Aries on WWE tv. The result here will tell a lot about their plans for Aries. Baron Corbin could use the win, but if Aries is staying for a while no way he loses his debut. Aries charges right for Corbin to start, exactly the right move considering how Corbin attacked him previously. Good display of psychology as Aries finds ways to get the advantage despite Corbin’s size. It eventually backfires though as Corbin elevates him into a stun gun to take over. Corbin mauls Aries for a while, playing a cocky, bruising heel well. He’s improved by leaps and bounds during his time in NXT.

Though as I say that this has slowed down a little too much. Corbin is crossing the line from deliberate pace to stalling. Aries should be showing more in his debut. Aries takes back over and begins flying around, which is more like it. Corbin hits a big spinning belly to back (called Deep Six by the announcers) on the outside and Aries just makes it back into the ring before being counted out. Corbin beats Aries down after  a taunt and goes for the End of Days, but Aries counters and gets a tight roll up for the win. Feels like it could have been better, but still a good debut for Aries with a strong story of the veteran being a step ahead.

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Speaking of surreal moments, here comes Shinsuke Nakamura to the WWE. Watching Sami Zahn bounce around like a pinball for the King of Strong Style should be incredible. Nakamura’s presence and charisma is off the charts. Crowd is electric. Dueling chants start as soon as Nakamura reaches the ring. Beautiful exchange of chain wrestling and agility early on. After Zayn starts to get ahead a bit with arm drags, Makamura pull outs the strikes and knocks Sami right down. Every time Sami tries to counter a hold or push back, boom another crazy kick. Sami finally gets the advantage with a big suplex and extends it with his own strikes. Then Nakamura goes outside and blindsides Zayn with more innovative kicks and knee strikes. Sami eventually goes to high flying antics to swing the momentum back his way. This is a total chess match: constant move and counter move in the most impactful ways possible.

Forearm strike exchange in the center of the ring and instead of “yay-boo” from the fans we get “yay-yay.” Glorious. Nakamura’s nose is bleeding, so he… keeps the forearm exchange going for another ten or so iterations. Nakamura gets the better of it and just beats Sami down against the ropes. King of Strong Style chant and Nakamura goes for running knee, but Sami hits a huge clothesline. They fight over a hold then Sami decides to deliver some of Shisuke’s own medicine and just kicks him down in brutal fashion. Koji clutch(!) by Zahn in center of the ring. Nakamura rolls back into a pin attempt and Zahn has to break. Nakamura with a big enzugiri and the crowd chants “fight forever.” Works for me.

Some more back and forth the Sami goes for the diving DDT through the turnbuckles outside and Nakamura counters with a kick to the face! My lord. Nakamura blocks the exploder in the corner, goes up top, and hits a knee to the back of the head. Bomb Ye and that’s it! As awesome as expected. Nakamura is here, emphatically. Show of respect after the match and well deserved chants for both men.

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And here we are. The undefeated streak against the title. Great video package emphasizing Bayley’s never quit attitude and ability to overcome the odds against Asuka’s path of destruction.

NXT Women’s Title: Bayley (c) vs Asuka

Big ovation for both. Asuka with a spin kick right away to make sure Bayley’s paying attention. Lockup and quick feeling out period of counter wrestling, but Asuka with a hard right hand to break. Bit of back and forth and Asuka misses taking her head off again by inches. Asuka starts to pull ahead with strikes and hits the hip attack, but misses a second and gets hung up in the ropes allowing Bayley’s first real advantage of the match. She presses the advantage a little, showing she can hang with the dominate challenger, until Asuka counters into a Fugiwara armbar out of nowhere. Bayley makes the ropes, then hangs Asuka up in the corner. Asuka fights out, but gets caught in another corner for a top rope hurricanrana. Bayley with a guillotine, but Asuka eventually counters with an anklelock. Bayley fights and fights and eventually rolls forward to send Asuka outside. Bayley dives outside feet first into another hurricanrana.

Back in and her forearms are just making Asuka mad. She takes over with a dropkick and begins unloading the strikes. Sliding kick gets two. Bayley catches Asuka out of a hip attack attempt, Asuka tries to fight out, but Bayley eventually hits the belly to back. Asuka with a kick to the head and they’re both down. Dual dropkick attempts leads to a strike exchange, Asuka gets the better of it but Bayley counters a kick into an ankle lock. Asuka selling AGONY until she gets the ropes. Bayley viciously going after the legs. Asuka with the flying armbar, into a cross armbreaker attempt, into a Fujiwara armbar, escaped by Bayley. Beautiful sequence.

Asuka lock countered. Sliding clothesline by Bayley for two. Baylay looking for the submission that beat Sasha. Asuka tries to fight out, so Bayley converts to a pin attempt for two. Kick to the head and Bayley’s out on her feet. Cross armbreaker, into the Asukalock!!! Bayley fights to her feet, but Asuka takes her back down… and Bayley passes out! NEW NXT WOMEN’S CHAMPION! YES!!! Great performance from both, and Bayley never gave up. Asuka stares at the fallen Bayley and then walks away. I have a feeling we’re not done with this…

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Well, if anyone was going to be able to follow that last match Joe and Balor are certainly the right choices to try.

NXT Championship: Finn Balor (c) vs Samoa Joe

Last time Jack the Ripper, this time the Demon is out with a chainsaw. RUN JOE RUN! Finn thankfully leaves it in the aisle. Joe looks like he’s ready to kill Finn during the introduction / stare down. Going straight at each other. Joe keeps tossing Balor out, but Balor returns the favor and then catches Joe with a dive. Joe bleeding profusely already. Looks like he was just caught wrong by one of Finn’s punches. He tosses Balor into the crowd hard, but Finn eventually comes back with a flying forearm off the railing. Ref tries to check on Joe, but Finn won’t let up, and their just laying into each other. Balor back outside, and here’s Joe with a dive through the ropes to wipe him out.

Dr trying to tend to Joe’s cut and Joe wants none of it. He finally lets them treat it for a minute then runs straight back to go after Balor. Big STO into a hold on Finn. He fights out, but gets caught with a big kick from Joe just as Finn tried to build momentum. And the refs are treating the cut again, to the crowds dismay. Balor up and taunting Joe. Drs out of ring and Joe resumes beating the tar out of Balor. Setting up for the Muscle Buster, Finn fights out, but gets caught diving from the turnbuckle and Joe wipes him out with a kick again.

Challenger is dominating at the moment, but Finn with a dropkick and both are down. Both up before ten and now the champ strings together a series of strikes to take over. Joe knocked outside, sliding dropkick from Balor, then the ring apron running kick to Joe’s face. Back in, but Joe counters the slingblade and the challenger is in firm control again. Joe swats away a dropkick and hits the senton in a great sequence.

Joe with the powerbomb, and transitions into his Boston Crab variation on the kickout. Transitions into a crossface, but Finn rolls out and hits a double stomp. Slingblade, dropkick into the corner, but Joe catches him when he goes up. Enzugiri, muscle buster, but Finn kicks out at two! And Joe is ANGRY. They fire away on each other, leading to the pele kick by Finn and both are down again. Slingblade and dropkick again. Coup de Grace connects, but the Bloody Sunday is countered into the Coquina Clutch. Finn with the Bret Hart sleeper counter … for three! Surprising loss for Joe in an excellent war. Great finishing sequence in particular.

 

Overall

This show looked insane on paper, and it was just as incredible as expected. WATCH IT!

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Japan Wrestling

The NXT Step for a Legend

It’s been a little bittersweet over the last few years as more and more wrestlers I’ve watched on the indies go to the WWE. It means less opportunities to see them wrestle live, but I’m always thrilled for their success and what being signed means for their careers. Bryan Danielson, Claudio Castagnoli, Kevin Steen, Sara Del Rey, Uhaa Nation, and several others were all favorites of mine that got noticed for their excellent work and received an opportunity to work for the biggest pro-wrestling company there is.

But none of these announcements has excited and surprised me quite like the unexpected appearance of Kana during NXT Takeover Brooklyn.

 

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The World Famous Kana at Shimmer 68.

 

I was unfamiliar with Kana before her Shimmer debut on volumes 41-44, but she made a lasting impression fast. With a unique look and aura and incredible ringwork, she went toe-to-toe with some of Shimmer’s best that weekend (Sara Del Rey, Cheerleader Melissa, Mia Yim, and Lufisto) and beat most of them. It was a fantastic first impression and instantly made her one of my favorites, a status that only grew stronger over time. Her match against Ayako Hamada at Volume 50 is still my favorite Shimmer match ever.

 

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Kana and Lufisto get ready for a four team tag title match at Shimmer 53.

 

My first opportunity to see her (and a lot of other phenomenal athletes) live was Shimmer 53 as part of all the wrestling hoopla surrounding Wrestlemania in NJ in 2013. As part of a four-team tag title match she didn’t get a big spotlight but still managed to shine during her exchanges. It’s always an amazing feeling to get to meet one of your favorites and I was also able to get a beautiful piece of commissioned art of done by Rob Schamberger signed by her.

 

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A goofy looking fan meets a world traveled wrestler at the top of her game.
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Incredible rendition of Kana by Rob Schamberger, signed by both. 🙂

 

My first trip out to Berwyn, IL for a Shimmer taping weekend was in April 2014 and I can’t recommend the experience enough. Two full days of incredible wrestling featuring some of the best on the planet. It was again a thrill to get to see Kana live and her singles matches against a variety of up-and-comers (particularly the Galaxy Famous Nikki Storm) were a joy.

 

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Kana exhausted and likely a bit dazed moments after her hard hitting Shimmer Title match, but still friendly and cheerful with the fans.

 

My second Shimmer weekend in October 2014 now looks like it may have been Kana’s last, as she missed this past April and is likely headed to the WWE. If it was she had a great showing to finish up on. She had her first shot at the Shimmer title in an excellent rematch I’d been waiting a long time for against Cheerleader Melissa in the main event of Volume 67. On Volume 68 she and regular tag partner Lufisto wrestled Saraya Knight and Mayumi Ozaki in a no-DQ match that spilled around the arena a bit.

The next day another great wrestler with a bright future, Kay Lee Ray, faced Kana in a fantastic contest. Kana finished the weekend with another solid match against Courtney Rush.

 

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Kana in some trouble vs another favorite of mine, Kay Lee Ray.

 

A couple months ago Kana announced a “hiatus” from wrestling. There was a lot of speculation without much info, and while WWE’s recent visit to Japan certainly presented the possibility of her being involved in negotiations, nothing was confirmed so it was just one more theory in the pile. Her appearance at NXT was a complete shock and I did a double take when I saw her up on the screen next to Flair and Slaughter. It was another awesome moment for me as a wrestling fan at a show absolutely filled with them.

While nothing’s been announced, WWE having Kana travel for NXT Takeover and showing her as part of the broadcast points heavily towards her being signed. The fact that she was named (with their standard slight spelling tweak for copyright) indicates if so her background and experience would likely be (rightfully) acknowledged instead of treating her like a rookie.

 

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Kana was gracious enough to agree to a pic at the Shimmer afterparty during Shimmer 63-66 weekend.

 

It will be a very different chapter of her career, but I’m extremely happy for her and excited about all the possibilities. Best of luck to a true superstar.

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Reviews Wrestling

NXT Takeover Brooklyn Live Thoughts

August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY

I decided to see NXT Takeover Brooklyn over Field of Honor 2015 largely because that’s what my nephew, who would be visiting at the time, wanted. With all due respect to ROH and the awesome looking show they put on last night, the closer we got to this weekend and the more and more that was announced for NXT the more certain I became that I was lucky the way the decision went. Now having seen Takeover I can’t imagine having missed it.

It was a fantastic mix of wrestlers I’ve watched for years in ROH, Shimmer, etc, getting a shot on the “big stage” and unfamiliar newcomers similarly looking for a chance to to step up. And more than a couple of unbelievable moments and surprises.

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Talk about a packed house.

The pre-“ppv” portion of the show started around 7:45. The capacity crowd was pumped up and whoever was in charge of match order and booking certainly knew what they were doing as sending Enzo and Cass out to open turned the hot crowd molten. Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady, Zach Ryder and Mojo Rawley vs Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder was a fun opener that set the evening off on the right note.

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Eva Marie vs Carmella and Bull Dempsey vs Elias Samson were both short, functional matches that allowed the talent involved to get some experience and further their characters without overstaying their welcome. There were a couple awkward moments, and the crowd was merciless tearing into Marie in general, but these were fine outings for all four.

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Awesome appearance number one of the evening for me came next, with a fatal four-way featuring Becky Lynch, Dana Brooke, Emma, and Charlotte. I saw a ton of potential in Rebecca Knox’s early appearance in Shimmer, and after a lengthy absence and talk of her career being over due to injury it’s fantastic to see her back, getting a huge opportunity and making the most of it. This was quite good… except for Brooke, who politely speaking has a LONG way to go. Emma, rocking her new heel persona, picks up the win in what looks like it could have been a botched finish. If it was though they recovered very nicely and Charlotte’s visual pin on Emma after the match followed by solidarity shown between her and Becky ended the segment strongly.

Triple H came out to hype up the crowd and open the “ppv” portion of the show. He pitched a cool idea to start the show, with him spotlighted in silence talking about what NXT is and then bringing up the lights to show the sold out crowd going nuts, and most of the raucous Brooklyn crowd actually seemed to comply reasonably well. Hope it came across on screen, because live it was pretty cool.

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A legend enters his first WWE ring.

The first of three downright surreal moments for me was up next as JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER (!!!) entered a WWE ring to face Tyler Breeze. Watching Liger wrestle the likes of Brian Pillman and Chris Benoit many years ago is part of what made me a lifelong wrestling fan so this was quite the treat. Obviously Liger isn’t what he once was, but he still put on a great show against a game Breeze in a basic but thoroughly enjoyable match. Highlights included Liger stealing Breeze’s selfie stick for some posing, diving to the floor, and hitting his trademark Ligerbomb to win.

The Wolfpack is shown watching in the front row. I never attended a big ppv event before, so I never realized they bring the stars shown out right before putting the camera on them and then take them right back to the backstage area. Seems very weird – you’d think they’d at least be out there to watch a match.

The NXT Tag Titles were on the line next with The Vaudvillains vs Blake and Murphy (c) with Alexa Bliss. Surprisingly hot match, as the crowd was firmly behind the Vaudvillains from the start and got even more so when they announced their counter to Alexa Bliss – Shimmer regular Leva Bates as beloved NXT jobber Blue Pants. This was a solid match with a great finish paying off Bliss getting some comeuppance and providing a surprise title change that the crowd went nuts for.

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The one man nation has arrived.

The debut of indie darling Uhaa Nation, renamed Apollo Crews, was next against Tye Dillinger. The first time I saw Uhaa wrestle live I remarked it was only a matter of time before he got signed. He is unbelievably agile for his size and has the look and bearings of a star. This was a short back and forth encounter that gave Crews opportunity to give the audience a glimpse of what he can do. While I can’t complain about his first impression on people being a standing moonsault, I do kind of wish they let him complete the following half of the Uhaa Combination and hit the standing shooting star.

While our seats had a fine view of the action, we were quite far away and the giant screens above the ring were very important to see close ups of the action and key moments. I mention this because during the entire Crews match (and half the ladder match main event) they defaulted to the NXT logo. I’m assuming this was due to technical problems, but in a venue that holds 15,000 people trying to watch a 20′ x 20′ ring you really can’t have this kind of thing happen.

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“Joe’s gonna kill you! Joe’s gonna kill you!”

Surreal moment number two sees former ROH and TNA world champion Samoa Joe on WWE tv against Baron Corbin. Nice package recapping the feud to bring the audience up to speed. Corbin saying he’s better than everyone else who worked hard to get to NXT because all he had to do was make a phone call countered with Joe saying “they called me” was brilliant. Corbin’s been played up as unstoppable, and I haven’t heard much good about his ringwork but he was fine here going toe to toe with Joe in a strong match. Joe’s victory points towards using him for more than training and putting over new talent, which makes me happy.

More superstars marched out to the front row thrown up on the screen and there’s Ric Fl— OH MY GOD IT’S KANA!!!!!!!!! My favorite wrestler in the world today recently announced a hiatus from wrestling in Japan, which apparently might have been code for “I’m negotiating with WWE.” There were rumors and supposition, but seeing her appear at NXT was a complete surprise. So happy for what this could mean going forward, and the fact that they put her next to Ric Flair and Sargent Slaughter and named her indicates that if she has in fact signed they’ll be bringing her in as the top tier talent she is instead of pretending she’s brand new because she’s not homegrown. I’m still in shock from this.

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Incredibly awesome entrance for Banks, but not quite the best of the night…

Sasha Banks (c) vs Bayley was next for the NXT Women’s Championship. It’s weird how HHH comes across as supportive and important to NXT while Steph seems to be trying to make the spotlight rub off on her and claim credit for other’s success when their promos really aren’t that different. Still, I’ll take the extra attention for the women’s division and having her declare the women’s title match a co-main event was pretty cool.

Again the video package summarizing the feud was excellent and effectively conveyed Banks’ dominating, bullying persona and Bayley’s struggle to prove herself and prove herself while being outpaced by her compatriots. Bayley’s another former member of the Shimmer roster, but didn’t get too much time to shine there before being signed to WWE developmental. Both wrestlers were phenomenal here, and this easily took match of the night on a card filled with more established superstars and great performances.

Everything was pitch perfect. The in-ring story built move by move and had the crowd captivated the whole way. Banks is so good she had to work insanely hard to get booed by the New York crowd, and still managed it well enough to give the key moments extra impact. The meta-story of Bayley’s struggle and hard fought victory finally proving her legitimacy was amazing, and the crowd erupted for her win. And I’ll be damned if I ever thought someone could make a bell-to-belly suplex a believable finisher in 2015. The “curtain call” moment with Charlotte, Becky, Banks and Bayley was just right.

Different stage and name, but same super-awesome Mr. Wrestling Kevin Steen I've watched and adored for years.
Different stage and name, but same super-awesome Mr. Wrestling Kevin Steen I’ve watched and adored for years.

Well, if anyone was going to be able to follow that last match Kevin Steen (Owens) and Prince Devitt (Baylor) are certainly the right choices to try. Steen is an old favorite of mine of the indie circuit and has charisma and presence that’s absolutely captivating. Devitt spent most of his career in Japan, so this was my first opportunity to see him live.

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Balor’s entrance live is beyond amazing.
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The demon emerges for battle.

Kevin Owens vs Finn Balor (c) for the NXT Championship in a ladder match was the second and final main event for the evening. Balor’s full entrance in a packed, full sized arena is a sight to behold. Both wrestlers have legitimate star presence and this match felt like a big deal.

This was an excellent ladder based brawl with some brutal spots that didn’t feel excessive or out of place. New York loves Owens, but like Banks he did an impressive job of turning them against him enough for the story of the match to work as it was supposed to. The match kept building and felt like a real, evolving competition with Balor evetnually surviving Owens’ signature hospitalizing powerbomb to the apron to hit a doublestomp from the top of the ladder and retain his title. Perfect end to an incredible show.

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And still NXT champion.  

Overall

What a night. Easily one of the best live shows I’ve ever been to, filled with great action, a wonderful roster with diverse styles, and downright magical moments and surprises. Shows like this are why I watch wrestling.

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Exhausted but deliriously happy on our way home.