Praise the Lord, it’s time for another Takeover show, and today NXT, the Little WWE Engine That Could, has hit the big time. Summerslam weekend, New York City, Barclay’s Center, a sold out 15,000+ crowd. Let’s see if the crew can live up to the expectations.
And we’re already ahead as the show kicks off with some of the best things about NXT specials: a HHH self-congratulatory promo, a big Tyler Breeze entrance, and Jushin Thunder Liger. Or, as my mother calls him, Juicy Thunder Liger. There are times when I get a serious ‘smarky mindtrip’ feeling watching WWE now, most recently when I went to a house show headlined by Jon Moxley vs Tyler Black. But seeing Jushin Liger work a one-off match for WWE’s developmental show is probably the biggest smarky mindtrip of all. What a time to be alive.
This was fun as exactly the kind of showcase you’d expect. Liger laying on the turnbuckle and taking selfies with a furry stick was everything I hoped it would be. Tyler Breeze was the perfect opponent for Liger, because there’s nobody else who has such a fleshed out personality for Liger to mock, combined with such mediocrity in the ring so as to bump for Liger’s spots and not overshadow him. A good start.
Now is as good a time as any to stop and exclaim that THEY STOPPED LIGHTING THE CROWD AND IT WAS AMAZING. Argh, that felt good. This is the best thing about the show thus far. NXT always looks and feels so much different from a WWE show, and today they managed to hold an NXT show in a giant packed out arena and still retain that unique vibe. The black-and-white colour scheme was rad too.
I’m big on the Vaudvillains. They are so distinct and complete as a package, from the gimmick to the look to how they work. Simon Gotch showed a lot here. Everything he does, every strike, it all comes from a unique place and again, is perfect for the gimmick. This is a weird connection to make, but like I remember playing the old Smackdown games and in Create-a-Wrestler they had different settings for how a guy moved and walked, and along with Default Superstar and Default Diva, there were options for guys like RVD and Jeff Hardy, because the way they moved was so unique. That is what wrestling needs, that variety. A lot of guys, even if they have unique or interesting characters, in WWE they can get in the ring and still move through a match in an entirely cookie cutter, default manner. Same walk, same movements, same looking strikes, same Irish whips and rope running, same foot up in the corner, same everything, just plugging in different signature moves. Gotch and English, those guys have a style all their own.
Anyway, I had missed too much NXT lately to know what was going on with the Vauds recruiting a girl, but the crowd sure as hell knew where they were going with it. Blue Pants! Seeing a girl named “Blue Pants” making her entrance to the tune of Big Cass singing the Price is Right song and getting a bigger pop than Jushin Thunder Liger is just about NXT wrapped up in a nutshell. This match was actually pretty good and better than I expected going in. The heels’ launching neckbreaker was cool, as was English’s senton, and the finish felt good. I had such a good time with all this that it made me forget that they somehow managed to screw up Enzo and Cass winning the tag titles in Brooklyn. (But now that I mention it…how on earth did they screw up Enzo and Cass winning the tag titles in Brooklyn??)
Ty Dillinger working wacky mannerisms into his game is strange as hell to me. Like the “10” stuff I can get, but when he’s making weird jerky movements and all…I dunno, he looks like Gavin Spears trying to play a weirdo. Just dial it down to five. I know I just said that guys need to have unique ring styles, but not every heel needs to work a crazy twitching gimmick either. Especially not Gavin Spears. Anywho, this was one of those debuts that is there so we can say it happened, rather than anything to be enjoyed in real time. I dislike debuts that involve the debutant selling for a jobber for most of the match, and this was no different. On the plus side, I’ve never seen Uhaa before, and my initial impression is that he’s like Lashley if Lashley had any charisma or pro wrestling talent whatsoever. I am already a fan of his super slick heavyweight high-flying game.
Just when I thought NXT couldn’t get any cuter, Regal goes ahead and announces the DUSTY TAG TEAM CLASSIC and I have a full on smarkgasm. Fun times ahead.
The Joe/Corbin video package was great, and it kind of did its job in making me fucking hate Baron Corbin even more, although probably not in the way they intended. I don’t know if this was the first time they played up the football scholarship aspect of his personality, or if I’ve just missed it, but either way, wow. Baron Corbin is terrible, and one of the reasons why is that they have no earthly idea who he is supposed to be. He has this tatted-up, lone wolf, biker look – but then he does this interview bragging about his college education and being a football star. He’s supposed to be this dangerous machine who flattens guys in half a minute – but he has this totally unthreatening skinny fat look and no intensity in the ring to pull it off. There’s just no definition to him. He’s like the anti-Vaudvillains in terms of a coherent package: he doesn’t talk the way he looks, he doesn’t act the way he talks, he doesn’t wrestle the way he’s billed. He’s just a big hodge podge of crap.
So by the time this match begun I was begging for Joe to kill this fucker. And luckily for me Joe did proceed to kill this fucker for most of the match. I enjoyed it. Especially rad were Corbin’s big bumps on the outside, Joe’s wicked ass spinning backfist, and the surprise finish, which I wasn’t expecting at all. Tap fucker! Oh God that reminds me that some point in this match Corbin busted out a heel hook. And people got mad when Michelle McCool used a heel hook? Michelle was Ric fucking Flair compared to this bellend.
I watched the show in order, but I am going to talk about the main event here before I start on the girls. Partly because I have the most to say about the girls, partly because I went back and watched Sasha/Bayley again after the ladder match and pretended it was the real main event. The lip service making it the “co main event” was nice, but they really dropped the ball in not putting the girls on last and really making a statement. They wouldn’t have had any trouble coming on after the ladder match, trust me, and if anything these girls matches are killing my interest in the NXT Title matches that follow them.
Owens sitting in that ringside chair waiting for Balor to finish his stupid entrance was boss. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good this was, and how much I enjoyed it. In 2015 one tends to ratchet down expectations for gimmick matches, but this was quite a brutal affair. They both took horrifying bumps into the ladder, and Owens in particular did an awesome job “using the weapon as a ladder”. Him being backdropped onto that open ladder was sick as balls, as was the final bump he took onto the ladder bridge where his head snapped back. These guys were killing themselves, and ended up having this really tight, nasty ladder match with no laying around or convoluted furniture building, but lots of violence and cool spots. The finish was great because they took what is usually a contrived spot – eschewing the belt in order to hit a pretty move off the ladder – and made it totally logical, because Balor tried and tried to reach and realised he was too far away, and only then did he do the next best thing, use the height to hit the ultimate stomp on Owens. This was really well done, easily the best ladder match I’ve seen since that Dolph/Harper one, whenever that was.
So, onto the real main event. One hardly knows where to begin. I have reached a level of Zen with Stephanie McMahon where she can be as masturbatory as she wants on TV and I won’t even care. This video package was something else. It put everything into context, and the visual retelling of how the Revolution left for WWE and left Bayley behind was on point. As was Bayley wanting to show her mother she could win the big one, and then coming out with Dusty Rhodes polka dots. All the fucking feels.
I was so ready for this and feeling so good about Bayley, and then Sasha Motherfucking Banks went all “First let me hop out the mo’fuckin’ Porshe” and reminded me that she is the greatest wrestler in the world. Sasha coming out in a car like that takes her one step closer to Eddie Guerrero and let’s face it, she’s already well on her way. I am more awake right now than I have been in over a week.
When they were seconds in and Bayley no-sold the turnbuckle smashes and fired up in a tribute to either Dusty or all no-selling babyfaces ever, I knew this shit was on. That’s actually one of the key aspects of the match, how fired up Bayley was. She came out with such a game face on, and at every chance she was running at Sasha, raining down punches and screaming it out. This was a match she was NOT going to lose, whatever it took.
And what it took was unbelievable. God I loved so many moments in this. Sasha’s struggle to hit the double knees. What I loved most was that on a card with a ladder match, the biggest “OOOH!” anticipatory pop of the night was for Sasha putting Bayley on the top rope for the ultra mega double knees. Loved Sasha’s sick hand work. When she had Bayley in the Bank Statement and started stomping on the broken hand I fucking lost it and never regained it from that point on. The roll through, the reversal, the Belly-to-Bayley nearfall. Fuck. Bayley fucking landing on her head and dying, then busting out the fucking REVERSE RANA OF DEATH for the finish. Fucking fuck. I loved everything. These girls fucking nailed the shit out of this.
More than anything else in the world, I absolutely loved it when Byron brought up the fact that Sasha debuted as a babyface and then turned heel and started winning. Not only is that a little detail that is actually used in NXT instead of ignored, but it provided the other key to this match, and really it’s the thread that ties it all together. Sasha Banks is that particular kind of heel: a villain who really wishes they could have been the hero. Sasha is not an evil person. She’s a heel not by birth, but by choice. She debuted as a face and wasn’t getting anywhere, so she made the decision to be the bad guy instead. And it paid off, she started winning, started making inroads, and eventually won the Women’s Title. Being a heel works for her, and this is freely acknowledged on commentary as a matter of course. She gets to take shortcuts, beat people up, throw shade, and piss off whoever she wants. Being a heel is easy. It’s the low road. Sasha knows this, and deep down inside, no matter how successful she is, she will always resent the fact that she had to do it this way, that she couldn’t take the high road. And she will always resent someone like Bayley who has.
THAT is why Sasha has a problem with Bayley and her “fairytale”. That is why Sasha feels the need to browbeat Bayley mid-match. She’d never admit it, but she wishes that it was her, that she could have her fairytale instead of having to be the asshole all the time. It’s easier, but it’s also a bad taste in your mouth when it’s so easy for people to hate you, that they couldn’t lift you up like they lift people like Bayley up.
You can see this in moments in this match even. Why does Sasha, a heel, bust out a cool somersault plancha? Why does she scramble to get back in the ring instead of taking the countout? People’s true nature comes out in the face of adversity. When push comes to shove, Sasha may be arrogant and self-centered, but she isn’t evil. She isn’t a coward. She’s a competitor, and she’ll do whatever it takes to win. In the heat of the moment she doesn’t even think to try to milk a count out. She doesn’t hesitate to bust out a crowd-pleasing move. She’s a fighter and she wants to win. And when it’s all over she comes over and hugs the hero who beat her fair and square. She knows that as a villain her role is to succumb to fate, and as a real person she appreciates what was accomplished here. She was proud. She can go back to being a bad girl tomorrow, because it works for her, but right now, she’s letting that little good girl inside peek through.
An era that began when this crop of girls hit the scene years ago has ended. We’ve seen Sasha turn heel, Becky turn heel, Charlotte turn heel…and Bayley stay perfectly lovely. We’ve seen Charlotte win the title, Sasha win the title, Becky get her shot…and Bayley wait in the wings. We’ve seen Sasha, Charlotte and Becky get called up to Raw…and Bayley get left behind on the DL list. This was Bayley’s moment, not only to place herself on the level of the other Horsewomen, but to prove that you can succeed if you stay true to yourself, if you do things the right way, not the easy way. If you want to be the hero, you can be the hero, if you work hard and overcome any adversity that comes your way. That was the moral of the story, overcoming adversity. Bayley did that. She got her fairytale.
And I got mine. After Sasha-Becky I called it surreal, both the treatment of women in NXT, and everyone’s sudden interest in women’s matches on a serious level. It is still pretty surreal to me, and this more than anything else yet is vindication. Vindication as a fan of female wrestlers in WWE. I have lived through the years of two-minute TV matches, of getting eight minutes on PPV if they’re “lucky”, of pointless battle royals where they get one move each, of no storylines, no distinct characters, no promo time, no protection, no promotion. Of announcers guffawing through their matches, if they pay attention at all. I have always watched these matches and found a lot to love in them, found the best in them, because I can see that these women are trying to make the best of them too. But for all the times that I wished they could get just a little more time, a little more respect, a little more…help…this feels unbelievable.
I honestly wasn’t sure that wrestling could make me feel like this anymore. The main WWE shows just wash over me now, I enjoy the good matches when I see them, and I can even get excited about something like the story of Cena’s US Title run, but I thought that my days of jumping up and down screaming at the telly type-reactions were over. Wrestling had passed me by. But then there’s a match like this that makes all my dreams come true, that portrays women in ways I’d only imagined, that has a hook, a great face and a great heel, that blows me away with every move they hit. And suddenly I’m jumping up and down, screaming at the telly. And for half an hour I am in love with pro wrestling again. And that, also, feels unbelievable.