I haven’t written a show review in… I don’t even know. A long time. I COULD just go look at the archive, I suppose, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s NXT time!

If you read any wrestling news sites, I’m sure you’re aware by now that a lot of people are pretty hyped about NXT. It’s providing a lot of hope for what WWE could be like in the future, which is helping a lot of fans deal with what WWE is like in the present. I haven’t watched the episodes of NXT leading up to Takeover II, because the Network in Canada is a weird combination of actual cable channel and limited on-demand content (which my provider doesn’t even carry). Nevertheless, podcasts and written reviews have kept me up to date with what’s going on, and these NXT specials have thus far been worth going out of my way to watch, so let’s get started!

The opening video is a great manipulation of the usual WWE “Then. Now. Forever” opener, but focusing on “now” and with NXT footage spliced in like it’s, well, taking over. I don’t know if that’s the normal format for the NXT opening, but I liked it a lot. Very nice touch.

NXT TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: THE ASCENSION (c) vs. LUCHA DRAGONS

This is easily the best Ascension match I’ve ever seen, and I think there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s their best match ever. I generally enjoy Viktor, as he used to be an indie guy in my area, and he does a good job in this match as a base for Sin Cara and Kalisto’s aerial offence. Sin Cara and Viktor start, with Sin Cara proceeding to be more interesting in one offensive exchange than he has been since Mistico went back to Mexico.

It’s shortly after that exchange that I noticed that the ring apron facing the hard camera has a video screen on it. The ring apron. Has a video screen. In this case, it’s reminding viewers that this match is for the Tag Team Championship. I don’t know if it’s going to be a special piece of set dressing for these NXT specials or if it’s going to be a regular feature of the staging, but I like it.

Back to the match, Sin Cara was isolated for the bulk of the bout, which I think is going to be the structure of most Lucha Dragons matches. Kalisto’s offence is so exciting that he’s a perfect hot tag, and Sin Cara works well as the guy who takes most of the punishment but can still contribute interesting offence. Notably, he hit a really great suicide dive that took out both members of the Ascension AND looked like an actual offensive move, not just an awkward flying shove.

Sin Cara and Kalisto captured the NXT Tag Team Titles when Kalisto pinned Viktor after Salida del Sol.

Following the tag title match and a follow-up promo that was inconsequential, a video package hyping NXT Champion Adrian Neville aired. Neville comes off vaguely heelish, which is interesting, and something he’s been doing fairly regularly, so I’m thinking they might be going somewhere with it in a slow-burn fashion. I also really like these sit-down interviews that NXT does. They feel fresh and also allow for more subtle and nuanced character than promos that require a guy to stand in the ring and talk over fans who may or may not be willing to play ball.

CJ PARKER vs. BARON CORBIN

I didn’t watch the pre-show, but apparently this was set up on there. I’ve never seen Baron Corbin before, but he’s huge and has a chest tattoo that looks like it was originally scaled for an 18th century ship sail. CJ Parker’s entrance music is really great. CJ Parker is not. He gets shitkicked by Baron Corbin in like 10 seconds.

Afterward, we get another promo package for the main event, this time highlighting Tyson Kidd, who I don’t think anyone would have expected to be as good on the mic as he has been during his heel run. I love how NXT handles characters, and Tyson Kidd is a great example. He’s a heel who is a heel because his wife gets more attention than him, and he wants to prove that he’s worth paying attention to. So simple, and well-executed.

We also get a hype package for the hair vs. hair match coming up. It’s fine, and gives us important information about what a bucket of white foam can do. FORESHADOWING.

HAIR vs. HAIR: ENZO AMORE w/ Big Cass vs. SYLVESTER LEFORT w/ Marcus Lois

Enzo Amore and Big Cass must have charisma instead of blood. There’s more personality in these guys than in 90% of the WWE babyfaces combined. Sylvester Lefort and Marcus Lois are also there.

I was excited about this because hair matches are so rare, but this was bad. Neither guy has any offence, and everything was clunky and awkward. Enzo won with an O’Connor roll with the tights pulled, so he’s already embracing the WWE babyface moral code of “I’m the good guy so I can do whatever I want without consequence.”

Cass and Enzo try to take Lefort to the bucket of goo from the video package (which is hair remover, in the story), but Marcus Lois rescues Lefort with an attack from behind. He knocks Cass down with a forearm smash, then he himself falls down and starts selling for literally no reason. Lefort escapes, but Lois is too slow and gets the bucket dumped on his head.

Tyler Breeze hype package for the main event. Surprise, it’s good. His boots look like those stupid dreadlock things that raver chicks wear.

KENTA’s Debut

It’s not a match, but I didn’t want it to get lost in the series of promo segments that surrounded it. William Regal is introduced, and he brings out KENTA after a video package of WWE superstars telling you that KENTA is a big deal interspersed with photos from Weekly Pro Wrestling. KENTA comes out, and I get goosebumps from his entrance. Maybe Cass and Amore got their charisma blood from this guy. KENTA speaks in English a little bit, then in Japanese for a while, then again in English, the upshot of which is that he’s changing his name to Hideo Itami as a tribute to one of his heroes, who goes unnamed. I’m not sure why they’ve spent so much time calling him KENTA just to change his name, but as far as ways to address the name change goes, this was fine.

The real meat of his segment was then the Ascension arrived and chucked KENTA, er, Itami, to the floor. They bitched to Regal (the new NXT Commissioner) about losing the tag titles, then a straight up “OH SHIT” moment occurred.

Itami stepped back into the ring, tore off his jacket, and proceeded to beat the shit out of the Ascension. By himself. Not only has nobody ever stood up to the Ascension, nobody’s even come CLOSE to making themselves look like a physical equal to Team Hoss. Notably, Itami used a Yakuza kick and a rolling elbow to dispatch the Ascension, signature moves of Toshiaki Kawada and Mitsuharu Misawa, respectively. Itami then grabbed a chair, seemingly to defend against an Ascension counterattack, but instead he set it up in the middle of the ring, sat down, and motioned for the former tag champs to “bring it on.” The Ascension bailed. NXT made a new guy with limited English a HUGE FUCKING DEAL in about 5 minutes of airtime.

You need to go out of your way to watch this segment. The hair on my arms was standing up throughout the entire Ascension/Itami brawl, and I can’t wait to see more of Itami.

BULL DEMPSEY vs. MOJO RAWLEY

Well this was a thing that happened. Bull Dempsey shitkicked Mojo and beat him with a diving headbutt. At some point he split Mojo’s cheek open. This was maybe two minutes.

Afterward, we join Enzo Amore and Big Cass, as Enzo laments not getting to see anybody bald even though he won the hair match. As luck would have it, they stumble upon Lefort and Lois, the latter of which has his head covered with a towel. Cass hauls him out to the ring where Enzo takes the towel away in a ridiculously uncoordinated facsimile of a normal dancing jab series. Lois has a few chunks of hair left and his eyebrows are missing. He freaks out and bails. Enzo riffs on his SAWFT catchphrase, calling Lois BAWLD. Enzo is a great talker. He is the opposite of great at wrestling.

A video package of sit-down interviews intercut with footage from recent weeks of NXT TV detail the history between Bayley and Charlotte, going all the way back to Takeover when Charlotte won the belt and the fans at the aftershow chanted for Bayley to be her next opponent. Again, this was really good. The moral of the story is that, like WWE, NXT is really good at video packages. The use of the UFC-style talking heads is unique to NXT, though, outside of its use in promoting the Lesnar/Cena Summerslam feud.

NXT WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: CHARLOTTE (c) vs. BAYLEY

Charlotte’s theme music is just wonderful. It’s the perfect blend of an homage to Ric Flair and Charlotte’s personal “flair.” Puns, you see. I like it a lot. Bayley’s music sounds like a late ’90 pop radio track, but with car dealership flailing tube men.

I’m going to make a controversial statement: I think Charlotte is better than Paige.

Whereas Paige is a good worker in the ring, Charlotte is an overall better wrestler. Her facial expressions are emotional, her mannerisms communicate her character without her needing to speak, and her moveset is so versatile. Look no further than the figure four headscissors that a portion of the mid-match was built around. Charlotte took a nod to her father and turned it into several minutes of Bayley getting hope spots and Charlotte squashing them in different ways each time while still using the figure four.

I could go move by move, but I don’t want to read that stuff so I’m not going to write it. Suffice to say, this match is very good. It’s not as good as Charlotte vs. Natalya from the May Takeover show, but this one is still worth going out of your way to watch.

After the match, Sasha Banks comes out and starts to bully Bayley, continuing the feud that they’ve been involved in leading into Bayley’s title shot. I quite liked the camera work showing Charlotte watching the altercation on the screen and looking back, conflicted about what to do. Her eventual reaction was wonderfully nuanced. She saved Bayley, who had earned her respect, but did so without siding with her. She didn’t turn babyface and become allies with Bayley, but she wouldn’t stand to see a worthy opponent abused by a wrestler who hadn’t proved herself worthy of even being in the match. At the same time, she didn’t attack Banks. It was almost like watching a bouncer remove a drunk from the bar. There’s no malice, but the behaviour is not okay and must be corrected. I’m interested to see where this story goes. Bayley has a clear story culminating with a title victory, but Sasha Banks is going to play some sort of role in keeping her away from the title, whether that be by feuding with Bayley or by entering into a program with Charlotte that keeps Bayley away from the title picture.

I really like that women’s wrestling exists that I can enjoy and be excited about from not only a match quality standpoint, but as stories.

The final hype video for the four way followed, focusing on Sami Zayn. Like it’s three predecessors, it was also very good. Sami Zayn is much better in these sit-down interviews than he is in the usual WWE-style backstage fare. The difference isn’t as significant as it is for Adrian Neville, but both of them are much better suited to these UFC style talking head promos.

NXT CHAMPIONSHIP FATAL FOUR WAY MATCH: ADRIAN NEVILLE (c) vs. SAMI ZAYN vs. TYLER BREEZE vs. TYSON KIDD

WWE style fatal four way matches are strange beasts. They’re triple threat matches with everything magnified. I’m not sure why they don’t just pair off into two separate mini-matches that interact. At any rate, this match highlighted both the best and worst elements of a WWE fatal four way. When more than two of the participants got together, there were some really exciting sequences, but there were also extended periods where two guys would pretend they were dead on the floor while Tyson Kidd put somebody in a headlock.

For future reference: tornado style matches like this should never have rest holds. Ever.

Adrian Neville was in the strange position of either stealing the show or being noticeably absent. Tyler Breeze was mostly just the latter, to the point that I’m not entirely sure why he was even in the match. Neville had a fantastic spot where Sami Zayn was hitting the ropes in preparation for a dive onto Kidd and Breeze, but at the last moment Neville hit a springboard moonsault onto the heels, cutting Zayn off and teasing what would happen later in the finish.

There was the obligatory Tower of Doom, which the commentary sold like it was the most devastating and unique spot ever to occur… in every indy multi-man match. No, but seriously, you’d think they were calling Brock Lesnar and Big Show destroying the ring. Tyler Breeze had exactly one sequence in which he was relevant, as he hit each other opponent with a big kick and tried to pin each of them in succession, hoping one had been knocked out. The rest of his existence in the match was to take cool-looking moves and to catch dives. Now that I reflect on it, I kind of wish he had been left out of the match entirely and given a strong undercard match. If they weren’t going to build on his number one contender’s win from Takeover The First, they might as well have given him something productive to do. Although I guess allowing Sami Zayn to hit his sweet tornado DDT through the turnbuckle as productive. Still, Breeze holding his title shot over the heads of the other wrestlers while taking easy matches and watching them destroy each other would have been more intriguing than tossing him into a four way where he was the fourth most important guy.

The finishing sequence saw Sami Zayn go berserk and dispose of Neville (and almost himself) with a suicide dive, Breeze with the aforementioned diving-through-the-turnbuckle DDT, and Tyson Kidd with the Helluva Kick. Unable to get back into the ring in time and seeing his title slipping away, Adrian Neville yanked the spotlight away from Zayn for the second time in the match. This time, he yanked the referee out of the ring, breaking up the count which would have seen Zayn capture the gold. Zayn took exception, ate a superkick, and Zayn hit the Red Arrow on Kidd, who was still out from the Helluva Kick. Neville retained, and looks like he’s going to start shifting into a heel role against Sami Zayn. Neville was in an interesting grey area between face and heel, as a character, prior to Takeover II: The Re-Takeoverening. His offence makes him a pretty natural babyface, since people like to watch hobbits do flips, but his character behaves like a heel frequently. Not in the “WWE babyfaces are asshole bullies” way that enrages me on a regular basis, but in a much more subtle way. Neville is kind of a dick in verbal exchanges with his potential challengers, but in a more muted fashion than a Sheamus or a John Cena. The thing is, the fact that he did stuff like that makes what he did to Sami Zayn on Takeover feel like a natural evolution of his personality than a wrestling turn. Am I building a more nuanced narrative out of what was likely “well he’s kind of shit at talking as a babyface, so let’s just make him a heel?” Probably.

I’m very interested to see how a short, jacked, flippy heel whose accent is thicker than his legs will work out. I don’t subscribe to the theory that heels can’t do cool moves, so I’m open to the idea of a sawed-off dickhead with a bulletproof finisher that is mind-boggling in its flipositude.

Meanwhile, Tyson Kidd continues to be the most interesting character in the NXT main event picture, and will probably evolve further now that he’s been pinned on two consecutive Takeovers following Neville’s Red Arrow. Sami Zayn has a clear program with Neville, which I suspect will lead to Zayn taking the belt from Neville at the next special so that Neville can move up to WWE and be British Evan Bourne. Zayn is very good in the role of “runner up trying to finally win the big one,” so I think that will work out nicely for everyone involved. Tyler Breeze… the fuck is Tyler Breeze going to do now? He was presented as the fourth most important guy in the match, and there was no clear set-up of a future program for  him. I could see a transitional Kidd/Breeze feud where they blame each other for neither of them winning the match, but otherwise it seems like the main event scene will need a reshuffling of the players to make sure that everyone has something to do.

Or KENTA/Hideo Itami will show up on the next episode of NXT television and murder everyone, build a throne from their skulls, and sit atop it with the NXT Title. Or maybe they’ll use this opportunity to restructure the roster so that Lucha Dragons have people to wrestle, because people like flips and a throne of skulls in Florida would probably smell bad enough to clear out Full Sail.