The best weekly wrestling show on television returns to Brooklyn for the 4th time this weekend. Apparently, SummerSlam is also this weekend, which is something I actually forgot about until I started writing this article.
What I didn’t forget about was the summer oasis that is NXT. Yet again, our pals from Florida are stacking a card that will undoubtedly please even the most cynical of wrestling fans. It’s becoming old hat to write about how they constantly put on the best shows of the year as the worst TakeOver this year will be better than the best main roster PPV by a large margin.
One reason it works so well is the weekly content is packed into a one hour show. When you have so much talent and so little time, the writing absolutely can’t be lazy; there just isn’t room for it. You can mail in an episode of Raw because next week, there will be another 3+ hours of new stuff. It’s a lot different when there’s only sixty minutes to fill. It trims the fat, and forces everyone to be at their best at all times. By not having every wrestler on every show, it allows for everyone to feel important. Would Velveteen Dream be as successful as he is if he came out every week to cut meaningless promos? Well, he probably would because he is a treasure, but you get the point.
On name vaue alone, tonight has the chance to be one of the best TakeOvers ever, which is saying something. You can make an argument that every match has a chance to be match of the night. Now like we always do at this time, let’s rundown the card and see how TakeOver Brooklyn should shake out.
EC3 vs. Velveteen Dream
This match might not be for a formal championship, but it absolutely is for the championship of my heart. The video of the two of them by the pool should be nominated for best short film every year for the rest of time. I listed this match first because it’s the only one where I’m not sure the actual wrestling will be great. For all of EC3’s strengths, and they are many, he really isn’t a standout in-ring performer. That doesn’t mean he isn’t good, but he doesn’t really do anything that makes you want to re-watch his matches. I’m pretty well sold on Dream being an excellent worker, I’m just curious as to how their styles will go together. I also can’t wait to see Dream’s ring gear. I hope he get Dixie Carter’s face airbrushed on his tights.
Dream is in this weird place where he doesn’t need to win to feel important...but he probably needs to start winning. That’s kind of what happened with Bray Wyatt; he was so over just based on him, that it didn't matter if he won or lost. (Until he lost all the time and guess what? It actually wound up mattering.) I’d like EC3 to win because he needs it more, setting up an easy redemption story about how Dream can’t win on the biggest stage. People already cheer for him, so just lean into that a little bit more and have him go over big at the next TakeOver.
NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane
One of the main (and few) criticisms I have about Baszer as champion is that all of her feuds and matches, with the exception of Nikki Cross, kind of follow a similar formula: Big, bad MMA fighter turned wrestler can IRL beat down any of her smaller, weaker opponents. It’s tried and true, and it absolutely works for her. It doesn’t ask her to do anything she isn’t comfortable with while buying time for her to gain experience and round out her skill set. That’s how you develop a talent and how you make someone a real star. You play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses.
NXT is perfect, because they haven’t handled Sane well at all. They failed to capitalize on her momentum from winning the first Mae Young Classic and from having the best finisher on the roster. Don’t get me wrong, she still feels important, but not nearly as important as someone who won the first MYC should be.
What it ultimately comes down to is this: I haven’t really felt emotionally invested in any of the women’s title matches since Baszler has had the belt as the stories just haven’t quite been there. I think this one comes the closest with Sane finally getting the coveted ‘mean streak’ on this week's NXT. The three elbow drops combined with the shot of her locking in her submission while staring at the champion did more for me than any of the promo work combined. But, this just doesn’t seem like the right time to take the belt off of Baszler as it makes too much sense keeping it on her at least up to the Evolution event in September.
NXT Tag Team Champions The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong) vs. Moustache Mountain
The Undisputed Era continues to be one of the best things on television week after week. Their smarmy backstage promos are always unnecessary and utterly fantastic. Everything they do is slimy and skeezy and I love it. I even love that they keep Bobby Fish around while he rehabs his injury just so he won’t get a big return pop. I just love it all.
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I didn’t appreciate tag team wrestling like I do now. I would always like one person in a team more than the other, and wondered why I couldn’t see more of just them. Now at the wise and sage-like age of 32, I’ve come to appreciate the perfection of tag matches. Tag teams aren’t keeping my favorites from me; they’re making me like my favorites more. Like I said earlier, it’s so important to accentuate a wrestler's positives while hiding their weak points, and tag wrestling does that. Strong is perfect in this way. He can get tagged in, do a million moves (his strength) and not have to continuously sell (his weakness).
This match could steal the show. I’ve written like 200 words and haven’t even touched on how good British Strong Style is, or how well they can play to an audience. Trent Seven and his perfect hair is one of the better tag workers around. Tyler Bate is an absolute stud who can do just about anything in the ring -- from deadlfiting a 300 pounder like WALTER to a shooting star press -- his potential is almost staggering. Putting those two with absolute workhorses like Roddy and O’Reilly is a recipe for fireworks. Just look at how good the tag title match was at the last TakeIver. No disrespect to Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan, but Seven and Bate are just better. I have high hopes for this match and wouldn’t be surprised to see the titles change hands.
NXT North American Champion Adam Cole vs. Ricochet
This is the first proper showcase of Cole since he came to NXT as this is his first one-on-one matchup on a TakeOver card. He showed up last year in Brooklyn to beat down Drew McIntyre and since then, he was in a War Games match; a street fight; and a ladder match AND a tag match on the same night which is insane. I can’t remember another time a big name has gone a full year in the company and hasn’t wrestled a regular singles match on any of the big shows they were on. There isn’t any rhyme or reason behind it, but it's still weird.
Anyway, this match is going to rule and should play to the strengths of both guys. Cole is better wrestling as a heel on top, and it goes without saying that Ricochet’s clear strengths are playing the high flying babyface. The crowd is going be beyond hot for both these guys. Their insane natural charisma is really only matched by their wrestling ability. What’s really cool is how different the charisma is. Cole is one of the best mic workers in the entire company and carries himself like a star. Ricochet doesn’t have anywhere near the same promo skills, but is arguably the most physically gifted wrestler in the entire world.
As an aside, Cole’s presence kind of needs to seen to be believed. Of course the crowd goes nuts for him whenever he’s on, but seeing it live is something else. I was live at an EVOLVE show when he wrestled WALTER in a non-brodcast match and the building went nuts when he came out even after a tremendous card finishing up a doubleheader of wrestling. Not one person was sitting down; the dude just has it.
Let’s say Cole retains here and continues to establish the North American championship as important. The title is still new and the midcard is flush with people ready to come after it. Put Ricochet on Raw right now while he can still move like he can.
NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano - Last Man Standing
So it’s come to this: These two one more (last?) time for the NXT championship. Did Aleister Black’s injury speed up the timeline for this feud? Sure. Is that a bad thing? Sure isn’t. I wasn’t crazy about Black’s run with the title because no matter what he did, he was always going to play second fiddle to whatever the latest chapter of the Gargano/Ciampa story was. That’s not necessarily an indictment on him, it's just that there are more interesting and better guys right in front of us. Ciampa really is on Emperor Palpatine levels of evil right now and everyone needs to step aside and respect the one true king.
This is a match that doesn’t really need a preview. I don’t need to write how it's going to be real good because if you are reading this, you presumably have eyes and have watched NXT before. I just wonder what story there is left to tell. Do we really want to see a long Gargano redemption story? Didn’t we already kind of see that while Ciampa was out? Didn’t we see him fighting through the spectre of Ciampa, finally moving past him, only for him to return and send the whole thing back to square one?
That Gargano and this Gargano are two different people entire with one thing in common: a singular focus on Tommaso Ciampa. While the first version tried to move past the obsession, to get over the betrayal and become his own person, the current version is nothing like that. This version is only focused on destroying Ciampa, and taking everything from him. This version is also flat out unlikeable. If it wasn’t for how great Ciampa is at playing his role, no one would be rooting for Gargano. He’s completely unlikeable and hard to root for, which all leads to one question. What next?
Gargano has already put his NXT career up once against Andrade "Cien" Almas, so would they really go to that well again? And if he wins the title, then what? We do this again in the fall? Now seems like the time to end everything once and for all. It’s the rubber match of the greatest feud and greatest story in the history of NXT, and it’s a Last Man Standing match. I have absolutely no idea which way this will go but I am so, so excited to find out.
Follow along with our live coverage tonight.