First up, NXT Takeover. Here are my takeaways:
Adam Cole and Aleister Black are crazy.
Johnny Gargano is really good.
Adranae Cien Almas isn’t bad either.
OK, a little more than that. The NXT Women’s Title match went down a little different than I expected. It was a decent enough match, with a pretty clever finish. They needed to either have Shayna Baszler win the title without making Ember Moon look bad or vice versa. They chose the latter. Baszler just wrecked Ember’s arm before getting caught and then destroyed her after the match. It’s a good way to set up a future match where Baszler can win the title without it looking like it was too early. Ember continuing to sell the arm the next night in the Women’s Rumble was a nice touch of continuity (and Asuka attacking it was pretty savage).
The Cole/Black Extreme Rules match was absolutely insane. Those two guys did some totally dangerous stuff, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long time, and that I can stand to not see again for a while. For a long time now I have been opposed to doing these kind of matches, because I don’t want them to become a regular thing given how legit dangerous they are. But I made an exception here, and as long as they only pull them out occasionally I can live with it. So in other words, the match was really good beyond the extreme stuff. Between this and his brief but good performance in the Rumble the next day I came away more convinced about Adam Cole than I had been up to this point.
And then the main event. What a match! Lots of people were calling it match of the year already and it was just January. I was skeptical until I sat down and watched it for myself, and then I agreed. It was the best wrestling match I’ve watched in a long time. It had a perfect beginning with a really smooth amateur wrestling exchange like we used to get all the time, and then transitioned into the up tempo stuff without a hitch. They didn’t rely on too many highspots, no killshots invalidated by kickouts or comebacks 30 seconds later, and both guys sold each other’s stuff like it mattered. I immediately thought of Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat as I watched it, and that’s the highest praise you can get from me. The interference by Zelina Vega was well timed and didn’t diminish what was going on in the ring. As close to a perfect match as you’re going to get. As for the finish, I know a lot of people wanted Gargano to win the title but I think Almas retaining is for the best for now.
Now on the Rumble show itself. The Rumble matches overshadowed everything else as they are wont to do, and this time that was a great thing. Both matches were booked precisely as they should have been and in each case the right person won. On the men’s side Shinsuke Nakamura pulled out the victory, to the relief of all the Roman Reigns haters out there, and on the women’s side Asuka got the crowning moment that impatient people on the internet were waiting for. Both matches had a lot worth talking about so let’s dive in.
The men’s rumble needed more than anything to stick a landing that would go over well with the live crowd. Which of course meant no win for Roman Reigns or John Cena. It also narrowed the field to a few guys the crowd would legit be happy for – Nakamura, Finn Balor, Rusev, Big E or Kofi, and maybe Elias. It also needed some more spicy booking throughout the middle and end than we’ve gotten lately. They delivered in spades.
The returning legends only took two spots this year, one for the Hurricane and the other for a back in shape and ready to fly again Rey Mysterio Jr.
Hurricane with Roman, whose late brother he used to team with.
As packed as the main roster is now you don’t need four or five spots taken by guys who haven’t been there for years so keeping it to two was a good idea. The bits with Kofi Kingston and Heath Slater were well done, and Elias walking to an empty ring while singing and playing was good. But the best stuff came at the end.
The final six – Cena, Reigns, Mysterio, Balor, Nakamura, and Randy Orton – went into a Ruthless Aggeession Era (Cena, Orton, Orton) vs Newer Names (Reigns, Balor and Nakamura) standoff and then the Final Four was a Company Guy vs Internet Favorite face off with Reigns and Cena on one side vs Balor and Nakamura on the other. And Nakamura prevails over the two Company Guys to win. You couldn’t ask for a better setup to a finish or a better ending.
And now for the ladies. First, I was legit worried that the bookers weren’t going to give it the attention to detail that it deserved, that they were just gonna run the women out there and say ‘yay! Girl power!’ without doing any real story crafting. Thankfully I was wrong. We got era vs era face offs featuring Nia Jax vs Beth Phoenix and Sasha Banks vs Trish Stratus. We got a callback to an NXT feud when Asuka faced current NXT women’s champ Ember Moon, and what may be the seeds of a heel turn from Banks when she tossed Bayley out.
Just as important we got all the other bells and whistles that have been common to the men’s rumbles over the years from returning legends (Molly Holly, Lita, Torrie Wilson, Michelle McCool, Jacqueline and Vickie Guerrero joined Stratus and Phoenix as returnees from the past and mostly looked like they could still go a little) to partner on partner betrayal and a cool escape from elimination by Naomi. In this case it made sense to let in as many returnees from days past as you could because it was the first women’s rumble; in a year or two that will need to get cut down just like with the men.
The match and all the hoopla around it was both an achievement and an apology of sorts. The many backstage photos of the current women wrestlers with their predecessors were great displays of respect and admiration, like this one:
Women’s Icon Trish Stratus poses with he Bellas while Nia Jax snaps the picture.
At the same time seeing Trish, Lita, etc was also a reminder of the crappy material they were given to work with at the time, be it bra and panties matches and getting felt up by Vince on camera like Trish and Torrie endured or relegation to two minute matches like Phoenix and McCool were stuck with. And while the ladies who participated mostly looked like they could go now it sure would have been nice if they got to do this when Banks, Becky Lynch et al were watching them on TV.
That being said, this was a good step. It can be really maddening to have to reward someone for essentially being super late to the party and taking baby steps but that’s the life of pushing for progress. If we want more, and I hope we do, then we have to keep watching, keep buying, and keep pushing them to do more. If what attempts they do make bring no return on investment, then we won’t even get that. That’s way the game is played, fair or unfair.
The other matches on the card were perfectly fine filler, watchable enough and not that important in the grand scheme of things. Pretty much every result was what I expected. Which is fine so long as you weren’t counting on them to make your weekend. But the big matches delivered in a big way and made for a great cap to a great wrestling weekend.