A year ago NXT was the new, exciting, kid on the wrestling block, but it had barely gotten out of Florida. They had done a non-televised event around WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, they did some house shows around the Arnold Classic in Cleveland but the idea of putting on a TakeOver outside of Full Sail University was crazy. Until all of a sudden, it wasn’t.
There had been worries that despite rave reviews from the “hardcore” fans, NXT wouldn’t be big enough to sell out the 13,000+ capacity of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The initial idea had been to black out upper-level seating and maybe use an intricate stage to reduce capacity – but then ticket requests came flooding in and all of a sudden 13,000+ tickets were sold. On top of that, NXT may have sold more tickets than SummerSlam itself, but SummerSlam magically had about a hundred more seats. Go figure.
That alone should have let WWE backroom staff know what they had on their hands. Then they stacked the card with brilliant storylines and all hell broke loose. The popularity of NXT, especially of the stars going up to the main roster, exploded again.
Before we go any further into the impact of TakeOver: Brooklyn, let’s look at that card…
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Tyler Breeze
Breeze was one of the best hands in NXT before his call-up and subsequent disappearance into the main roster. His reward for being such a mainstay on NXT was a match against a true legend of wrestling and a man who alone would have bought some eyes, especially far eastern eyes, to the show. Liger started wrestling all the way back in 1984. He has competed against the likes of Owen Hart, Ultimo Dragon and Macho Man Randy Savage, so to be the guy that gets that match was a huge thing for Breeze. While Liger won, the match was a great showcase for Breeze’s spectacular character and heel work.
Blake & Murphy (c) w/Alexa Bliss vs The Vaudevillains w/Blue Pants for the NXT Tag Team Titles
Speaking of brilliant character work, The Vaudevillains were wonderfully over this time last year as gentlemanly, and very manly, faces against the generic, cheating heel champions Blake & Murphy. The match was highlighted by the battle between Blue Pants and Alexa Bliss on the outside as well as the quality work in the ring. When the fall came and the new champions were crowned there was a far bigger reaction than anything they have received on the main roster.
Apollo Crews vs Tye Dillinger
This was Apollow Crews’ NXT debut, making his rise to Intercontinental Championship #1 contender a year later even more remarkable. Crews put on a good display of his athleticism and strength, even if his character was that of a “happy to be there” babyface. His opponent Tye Dillinger is now in the Tyler Breeze role of putting over new talent and guiding the more “indy” wrestlers to a WWE-style match. His “perfect 10” gimmick has evolved into something beautiful and while he is still plying his trade in NXT a call-up should be coming soon. This match was a nice way to introduce Crews as a new player in NXT.
Samoa Joe vs Baron Corbin
Samoa Joe had come into NXT like the force of nature that he is and broken up a Kevin Owens beat-down at the previous TakeOver. A year on he is the monster bully heel champion of NXT, having dispatched Finn Balor at last and defeated the Demon he rules the roost. Corbin, while never quite reaching the heights in NXT, has been promoted to the main roster, won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32 and been positioned well in the post-brand extension world of WWE. Both would consider the last year a very successful one.
Sasha Banks (c) vs Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship
Well here we are, the peak of the NXT women’s division and so far of both competitors careers. Sasha and Bayley tore the house down as the cocky, confident champion tried to beat the belief out of the ultimate underdog. Bayley had long been beloved, Sasha’s heel turn was fading because she was just too good to hate and the atmosphere of expectancy and excitement just pushed this match over the edge. Some of the mystery about who might win was taken away by Sasha being on the main roster already, but when the end came it was just as sweet as hoped. The curtain call at the end was a wonderful moment and well deserved for all the hard work the 4 Horsewomen had put in to raise the bar of women’s wrestling to new heights. While Bayley is still in NXT and spinning her wheels a little she will once again be gunning for the belt at TakeOver Brooklyn against current champion Asuka, Sasha is up on the main roster and carrying the new Women’s Championship, and the division, with style. Brooklyn didn’t make their careers, but it was the crowning achievement of it.
Finn Balor (c) vs Kevin Owens in a Ladder match for the NXT Championship
The main event had a tough act to follow but it did very well. This was Kevin Owens’ last match in NXT as he was already firmly entrenched in the upper mid-card having had a terrific program with John Cena. For Balor, it was his both his first title defence and first ever ladder match. His Demon gimmick gave the match a wonderful spark at the start and of course Owens’ heelishness played brilliantly. The two had a terrific match and are established names on the main roster, they will both be in the Barclays Center again this SummerSlam weekend, except in the big show, not NXT. Balor’s ascent to the main event of Raw is spectacular and special. Owens is also an amazing talent and the two will hopefully cross paths again.
The wild success of the TakeOver: Brooklyn gave WWE the confidence to run TakeOver’s in London last December and Dallas on WrestleMania weekend this year. Their return to Brooklyn is far from surprising and once again it should be an amazing show. NXT has grown exponentially since they crowned Seth Rollins as their first champion, and while there are worries that it is becoming an “indy all-stars” promotion rather than a development territory, I don’t think there is a wrestling fan out there that isn’t excited by the prospect of Shinsuke Nakamura vs Samoa Joe.
This time last year Triple H would have been worried that the show wouldn’t live up to expectations. Now, even with a roster that has been somewhat gutted by the main roster brand extension, there is a belief that the show could be the best NXT have put on to date.
While many of the stars from last year’s show will not be performing for TakeOver: Brooklyn II they are in matches on SummerSlam. Balor could be crowned the first Universal Champion which would be an enormous endorsement of his talents and the NXT system. Sasha Banks is carrying the WWE Women’s Championship into SummerSlam in one of the most eagerly anticipated and well-built women’s matches the WWE have put on in years. Kevin Owens has become a mainstay on the main roster and one of the most liked – and booed – heels on the roster.
TakeOver: Brooklyn provided a test for NXT, and one that it passed with flying colours. Selling out the Barclays Center, and putting on a more critically acclaimed show than SummerSlam, is still the biggest feather in NXT’s cap and repeating that success in 2016 would be incredible – They have the talent to do it, although the storylines are not as stellar as last year. The Full Sail faithful were originally resentful of a TakeOver being taken away from them – which drew the ire of Kevin Owens – now it is a badge of honour that the brand has expanded to such enormous heights. This weekend’s show will be amazing and you shouldn’t be surprised if it is the best thing WWE do all year.
NXT is just that damn good.