Retro Review

Retro Review – NXT Takeover

With the 25th NXT TakeOver this weekend, Matthew Roberts goes back to review the first ever major events in the brands history.

With the latest NXT Takeover just around the corner, Matthew Roberts fires up the TWM Time Machine to go back to 2014 and the first ever Takeover.

There’s an argument that NXT specials have provided, dollar for dollar, the most consistently great wrestling experience of the past five years. The first NXT Network special was labelled as “Arrival”, so May 2014’s special was the first in the series that continues under the same name to this day.  Has time been kind to it? I was eager to find out, not least because this was a show that I had never seen from start to finish before, not having had the Network at this point. 

The video package that sets the scene/opens the show is a fantastic piece of work. The NXT talent that is taking over WWE that it showcases have had varying degrees of success since then but it is a reminder that before NXT morphed into the WWE’s corporate version of the Indies it’s purpose was to season less well known names (and the occasional “Indie darling” as well) for the main roster.  Some would argue it should still be about that but that’s an argument for another time. 

We kick things off with Adam Rose against Camacho.  It’s not the most auspicious of starts; the only real interest I had was noting that Becky Lynch and Braun Strowman were part of the Rose Buds.  There is no denying that Rose, or at least his act, was super over in the confines of Full Sail.  Some will use that as a stick to beat his failure on the main roster with.  I’d argue that his lack of success somewhat highlighted flaws that were prevalent in the presentation of NXT then, and to an extent to this day. What works within NXT won’t necessarily translate to the “mainstream”; and sometimes we see all that someone has in NXT.  When they “move up” there’s nothing new to the act.  Rose suffered a little bit from both.  This was an acceptable opener, but is a good few notches below what people would expect from a Takeover in 2019. 

The same issues can be noted in the NXT Tag Team Championship match between The Ascension and Kalisto & El Local.  By the time the Ascension made it to the main roster, they’d pretty much played out their “monster heel” shtick already.  And once the WWE decide they’re not booking them like that in the “big time” their goose is pretty much already cooked.  This was little more than an extended squash, harmed by the fact that El Local messed up a few spots.  This would have achieved much more for the reigning champions if it had been half the length. 

Things thankfully pick up with a No. 1 Contenders match for the NXT Championship as Tyler Breeze battles Sami Zayn.  The benefits of building someone up to look like a star can clearly be seen in the pre-match Breeze video; it’s something simple that a lot of promotions seem to forget but if you portray someone as a star, or something special to watch, fans will generally be more likely to accept them than they would if you bring in someone with no fanfare and start jobbing them out within three weeks of their debut.  The match is fantastic, with both men putting their best feet forward and having wonderful chemistry.  One big positive about NXT (at least in terms of their feature shows) is that Breeze wins clean here and there are precious little shenanigans.  Done correctly, losses do not need to derail someone.

After an interlude where Rusev plays the evil foreign heel and then batters American Superhero™ Mojo Rawley seems incongruous within the context of modern-day NXT but is a fun diversion.  We then get the match for the vacant Women’s Title (that Paige had to give up when she moved to main and won the Diva’s Title there) between Charlotte and Natalya.  As the WWE as a whole didn’t really trust the women at this point to get over on their own merit (even NXT was a little slow to cotton on to the fact that they could) we get Ric Flair and Bret Hart at ringside.  To be fair though, other than reacting to the action they do very little.  Could this have been the last time that Natalya didn’t somewhat phone it in?  Regardless of that, despite Charlotte being very green still here, it’s clear that she is a star in the making.  NXT (and the main women’s roster) and Charlotte would go on to much better matches than this but this is a solid bout that feels like a special moment. 

We end with the NXT Championship match between Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd. Kidd had “dropped down” to NXT from the main roster so despite the fact that he did very little in singles competition there this was portrayed somewhat as an NXT guys chance to show that they were as good as those on international TV every week.  A slow start was deliberate so that they could eke out the tension and the drama as the match progressed and the fans were fully invested.  Neville deservedly took the win in a very exciting contest. 

Judged against the critically acclaimed juggernaut that Takeover has become these days, this inaugural Takeover event could seem mildly disappointing, at least for the opening third.  But the last three matches range from good to great and you can still certainly feel the “breath of fresh air” vibe that NXT brought to the party in 2014.  If you’ve never seen the show, it’s a fascinating look at the early days of NXT.

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