NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV (18/8/18) Review

WWE Photo

Good things are happening to good people. Credit: WWE

It doesn’t matter how the build has gone or who is on the card, NXT TakeOvers always deliver. So, how excited should we be when we go into one where the card looks damn good? The Undisputed Era vs Moustache Mountain? Yum. Baszler vs Sane? I want a bit of that. Adam Cole vs Ricochet? Yes, please. Ciampa vs Gargano? Well, to be honest, we’ve probably seen that enough, but it will still be good! TakeOver Brooklyn IV was all set-up to be a classic. I guess we should find out whether it was.

The Undisputed Era (Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly) defeated Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven and Tyler Bate) to retain the NXT Tag Team Titles

Bate's attempts to tag Trent Seven come up short.

So close. Credit: WWE

I think most wrestling fans are guilty of over-egging how good NXT is. Please don’t take that as me saying it’s terrible because it’s not, but we all get a bit carried away (myself included), particularly when we’re comparing it to the main roster. However, there’s one place where said enthusiasm is not hyperbolic, and that’s the tag division. Since American Alpha and The Revival took things to the next level, tag-team wrestling in NXT has been lapping every promotion that I currently watch.

And, in what will presumably be the final chapter of their feud, Moustache Mountain and The Undisputed Era have assured their right to stand next to those teams. This was outstanding and worked as a perfect cap to what might be the best feud of the year. They wrestled like two teams who despise each other and yet know each other inside out. Going at full throttle as the momentum switched from man to man. They took the classic WWE tag formula and dropkicked it out the window as they proved that old-school heat sections are not needed to make tag wrestling exciting. Instead, they focused on how each man brought something different to the action. Seven’s stiff strikes, O’Reilly’s submissions, Bate’s athleticism and Strong’s Backbreakers. Each tag changed the dynamic of what was happening in the ring.

I did have one problem with it, though, and weirdly it came in what was probably my favourite spot. In a reversal of their last match, Tyler Bate found himself stuck in The Undisputed Era’s corner having his leg destroyed by O’Reilly. Seven, meanwhile, was stood on the apron screaming at his young protege to fight back and yet worried that he just couldn’t. He picked up the towel and considered throwing it in, only to defiantly launch it into the crowd and go back to encouraging Bate as he dragged Kyle across the ring. It was a fantastic sequence that brought the fans to a fever pitch and set up the sublime closing stretch as Bate’s knee would ultimately prevent him from getting the victory.

You’ve got to ask, though, why didn’t Seven get in the ring and break-up the submission? WWE has taught us for years that to win a tag-team match, you must first take the other guy out somehow. Seven choosing to stand on the apron made perfect narrative sense and added to the situation, yet it also clashed with years of inbuilt knowledge from watching this promotion. No-one has ever been disqualified for breaking up a pin or submission.

That complaint is the epitome of nitpicking. The truth is that this was fantastic and a tremendous conclusion to a feud that has consolidated The Undisputed Era as one of the best things on NXT and established Moustache Mountain as a top-tier tag-team.  To pretend otherwise would be silly.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

The Velveteen Dream defeated EC3

WWE Photo

Around they go. Credit: WWE

The over-enthusiasm for NXT is personified in The Velveteen Dream. Velveteen has established a fantastic character and had some solid matches when put in the ring with super workers. However, he’s also shown that’s he not ready to lead the dance and had an average at best showing against Kassius Ohno which is always a worrying sign.

All of which made this the perfect chance to evaluate where he is right now. EC3 is many things, yet a fantastic wrestler is not one of them. His strengths come in his character work, so while a feud between these two makes a lot of sense, there was every chance it would fall apart in the ring. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but it’s also hard to call this a great match. While Dream is getting better, his calls for Vince to call him up are still premature.

The thing that stood out about this was how slow it felt. The word lumbering fits EC3 like a glove as he struggles to move his muscle-clad frame. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that they were going from spot to spot instead of telling a coherent story. There was a story there (EC3’s power gave him the early advantage until Dream found a way to negate it), it just felt like one they had rehearsed. Honestly, they probably suffered coming after Moustache Mountain and The Undisputed Era, as their smoothness highlighted the lack of it here.

I also don’t want this to sound entirely negative because there was a lot of good here. I don’t think Dream would have been able to have this match six months ago. Carter’s flaws would have dragged him down. Plus, the guy exudes charisma. At one point, the fans seemed to get distracted by something happening in the arena, and it took all of one twirl of Dream’s hips to get them back. He’ll be a star, let’s just give him the time to get there on his own.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Ricochet defeated Adam Cole to win the NXT North American Title

The One and Only takes flight in his title quest.

Here comes Rico! Credit: WWE

Adam Cole is one of the few big name indie guys who has gone to WWE and become a better wrestler. For years I’ve had Cole down as someone who was over as hell, despite having done little to earn it in the ring. In recent times, that hasn’t been true. Cole is getting it done between the ropes now too.

This match served as a nice contrast to EC3 vs Dream. While I thought their story was told via a lot of clunking, Cole and Ricochet nailed the tale they were going for. Cole came into this one looking to floor Rico. Early on, that was working for him. He was a step ahead, always able to slip out-of-the-way of Ricochet’s latest attempt to take to the air or even shove him off the turnbuckle if moving wasn’t an option.

Brilliantly, the moment where that changed was the moment where Cole came closest to winning. Connecting with a picture perfect Superkick off a Springboard Moonsault attempt, Adam followed up quickly with a Brainbuster onto his knee and looked to have put the Future of Flight away. Except, Ricochet kicked out.

The way Cole sold the moment was perfect. He looked devastated, and you could see the confidence drain out of him. That confidence then headed across the ring and into Rico. Cole was still trying to slip away, but now there was no escape and when he retreated to the apron to avoid the 630 Ricochet gave chase and hit a beautiful Hurricanrana to the floor. That was enough to make sure that when he went up top again, he was coming crashing down.

This was a great example of how you can take a simple story (two men wanting to prove they’re the better man) and make it complicated. Cole’s facial expression when Ricochet kicked out of the Brainbuster was more character progression than a million promos could ever hope to achieve. It was a man realising in one second that he could not beat the person he was in the ring with and the second he thought that it became true. That’s good wrestling.

Verdict: Four Stars

Kairi Sane defeated Shayna Baszler to win the NXT Women’s Title

WWE Photo

Pissed Off Pirate Princess! Credit: WWE

Anything you can do, we can do better. Adam Cole and Ricochet didn’t get long to revel in the elegant simplicity of their storytelling before Sane and Baszler when out there and outdid them. This time, we got a perfect underdog story as Kairi Sane went up against the big bad bully of NXT’s women division, Shayna Baszler.

Baszler’s earned that title by running roughshod over the division, taking names and tapping people the fuck out. For a while, it looked like that was going to continue. Sane caught her off-guard early on, but when she took control, it looked like being choked out was Sane’s destiny.

Then, Kairi Sane channelled her inner Kota Ibushi. As Baszler kicked her in the head, she fired-up roaring ‘come on!’ into Shayna’s face. It was less Murderous Magical Elf-Man and more Pissed Off Pirate Princess. A devastating series of strikes later and for the first time, Baszler was on the backfoot.

Not that it was easy after that. Shayna is not only a bully, but she’s also a fucking badass. Sane firing up seemed to have the same effect on Shayna, and she got more formidable as the match went on. The Queen Of Spades even kicked out of the InSane elbow, before coming within inches of tapping Kairi out only for Sane to desperately grasp at the ropes. Even in the final seconds, Shayna continued to battle. Blocking the InSane elbow with her feet and looking to slip into the Rear Naked Choke again, only for our Pirate Princess to roll through and steal the three. You don’t beat Shayna Baszler, you survive her.

If you are a wrestler looking to tell an underdog tale, you might as well give up for a bit because Sane and Baszler nailed it here. Baszler was every bit the Minoru Suzuki style badass, looking to put away the latest pesky babyface who dared to stand up to her. Sadly for her, this pesky babyface refused to go down. I get shivers just thinking about it.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

Tomasso Ciampa defeated Johnny Gargano in a Last Man Standing Match to retain the NXT Title

WWE Photo

It’s not over, is it? Credit: WWE

You can say goodbye to the elegant storytelling.

There was a point, about halfway through this, where these two were bouncing from incredible move to astounding move. There were suplexes, Superkicks and all sorts of shit going down. As it flashed in front of me, I was thinking about how much I should like it. It’s everything I adore about wrestling. Yet, for reasons I couldn’t quite figure out, I was bored.

My first thought was that it was a case of diminishing returns. It’s the third time we’ve seen this match in the last six months which might be two times too many. At some point, intensity and hard work aren’t enough anymore. However, I don’t think that’s the case here, because these two are fantastic wrestlers. If you put Ishii vs Ibushi in front of me every day for a week, I don’t think I’d have stop watching come Wednesday, so why would that be the case for Gargano vs Ciampa?

So, I moved to the next theory. The one that proclaims that the problem is that I don’t care. That a feud which has had one five-star match out of me this year (a rating I still believe to be correct), has spiralled so severely away from what it was that I no longer give a shit about it? Aye, we’ve got our bingo.

I don’t care about Ciampa vs Gargano anymore, because Ciampa vs Gargano has now got more in common with Sami Callihan vs Eddie Edwards than the war it was at the start. Would you be that surprised to see Johnny accuse Regal of trying it on with Candice? Because I wouldn’t. It’s become the kind of melodramatic bullshit that would look at home on a deliberately over the top soap. I’m sure Jane The Virgin is using it for inspiration as we speak.

And I guess you could argue that this feud was always that, but I’d disagree. Back in the build-up to Gargano vs Ciampa I, this was built around a friendship gone wrong. It wasn’t any more complicated than that. They used to be friends, then Ciampa felt like Johnny was betraying him, so he got in there first and did it himself. That match ended with Johnny getting revenge which should have been the end of it.

Except, it wasn’t, and this has got bigger and more self-absorbed with every month that has passed. Which is how we end up with 33 minutes of them hitting each other with stuff and me not giving a flying fuck. The subtlety that I praised in the previous match was entirely gone here. Instead, we got long and intense stares. We got Ciampa pulling himself to his feet with a crutch, the symbolic weapon of their feud (they have a symbolic weapon for fuck sake) and we got Gargano telling Ciampa it’s too late for apologies before he Superkicks him in the face. It was the wrestling equivalent of a gaudy neon sign and was so clearly booked by best friends turned blood feud veterans Triple H and Shawn Michaels.

And then it all built up that finish. I mean fucking hell, did you see that finish? Johnny Gargano symbolically wiping himself out in his attempt to take out Tomasso Ciampa once and for all. It’s the kind of booking a teenager would have been proud of because it showed how dark and edgy they were, and they totally got the symbolism, guys.

Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t an awful match. Gargano and Ciampa beat the living shit out of each other, and you’ve got to respect that. But as I watched it, I couldn’t help think of the fantastic wrestling contest they had in the Cruiserweight Classic. A match without gimmicks or fat. I kind of wish we’d just got that instead.

Verdict: Three Stars

Overall Show

Even with my dislike of the main event (I haven’t read any other reviews so I might be alone in that), this was an incredible wrestling show. The other three title matches were sublime while I saw enough in Dream vs EC3 to prove to me that Velveteen Dream is destined for stardom. Once again, NXT delivers.

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