NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV
August 18, 2018
Barclays Center
Brooklyn, NY

Watch: WWE Netework

All year long the NXT brand has outshone the WWE’s marquee offerings and the fourth edition of NXT Takeover: Brooklyn raised the bar quite high for a SummerSlam card that inspires more dread than anticipation.

The main event of Tomasso Ciampa versus Johnny Gargano for the NXT Championship could have been crippled by a hated stipulation and melodrama; instead it managed to emerge from the night limping but not entirely dead in the water. The undercard was where the show shined. A trio of fabulous title bouts delighted the live audience and myself watching from the comfort of home.

NXT Tag Team Championship Match
The Undisputed Era © def. Mustache Mountain

I’ll freely and unapologetically admit I missed the first two matches between the dojo pals and the British lads with fine facial hair, but after seeing this match, I’m sure the hype around the rest of the rivalry is real. This match was everything you want in an opener: fast-paced and full of crisp action. There wasn’t a moment wasted in the bout, and one dared not blink, or they would have missed something.

While all four men performed exquisitely, Kyle O’Reilly and Tyler Bate stood out. O’Reilly’s MMA themed offense has found new life in the WWE. No longer is it robotic and prone to be used randomly as a signature move; now it has a purpose, to maul and maim an opponent’s injured limb, and his work on Bate’s knee was sublime. Speaking of Bate, he sold the knee perfectly, especially in the closing stretch went it caused him to lose precious time in setting up potentially match-ending moves. However, he also demonstrated a well-rounded arsenal of moves reminiscent of classic junior heavyweights: strength, striking, and aerial ballet to boot.

And so the performance of the two built to a climax, one where Bate ran out of adrenaline, and O’Reilly’s handiwork bore fruit, thus allowing The Undisputed Era to dispatch of Bate and quickly finish off Trent Seven with their variation of Total Elimination. ****¼

Velveteen Dream def. EC3

Giving either the Velveteen Dream (who is still green behind the ears) and EC3 (not a known ring general) a significant amount of in the ring is a gamble, but this time it paid off. The two told a neat story from bell to bell. EC3 dominated early thanks to his power, and the Dream couldn’t buy any luck–the poor guy got punted from the top rope and landed crotch first on the ring ropes. His fortunes changed when clanged EC3’s head off the entrance ramp with a DDT.

From there, the Dream found his inner street fighter and used the environment to his advantage. He sent EC3 face-first into the ring post and the broadcast booth and further targeted the neck with neck breakers. Even the rest holds, a bane of previous Dream matches, made sense because they targeted said neck. Don’t get me wrong the contest was not without flaws, it drug in spots, but the structure led to a believable finish, a DVD/flying elbow drop combo on the ring apron, to give the Dream his signature win in NXT. ***

NXT North American Championship Match
Ricochet def. Adam Cole ©

Not often is it that one moment truly captures the essence of a wrestling match. When Adam Cole hit Ricochet flush with a superkick during the high flyer’s attempted springboard moonsault and followed it up with a brainbuster onto the knee, he knew had the contest in hand.

Then the challenger to his North American Championship kicked out.

And the look on Cole’s face was priceless. The former ROH World Champion was on the verge of tears. He knew that was his best shot and anything else would come out of pure luck because in that moment Cole knew without a show of a doubt that Richochet was better than him.

Everything leading up to and after that reinforced the point. Cole did his damndest to slow Ricochet down with neck-centered offense and grounded holds. Ricochet kept going to the air, though, and each move looked more impressive than the last. Even the finish, where it looked like Cole had outsmarted his foe by sliding out the ring, saw Ricochet outdo Cole again by merely bounding over the ring ropes and spiking him with a rana on the floor; the 630 senton that followed put an exclamation mark on the Kentucky native’s in-ring superiority. ****

NXT Women’s Championship Match
Kairi Sane def. Shayna Baszler ©

In the face of adversity, a person has two options, fold or carry the fire. Kairi Sane faced such a choice in the fight of her life against the wrecking machine known as NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler. The former STARDOM standout chose to try and burn Baszler’s title reign to the ground.

Sane certainly struggled to get a spark with her kindling after an early flurry of offense, though. Baszler quickly asserted control of the contest by torquing, stomping and grotesquely kicking Sane’s knee. It suddenly looked like the match was heading toward another decisive defense y Baszler.

Then Sane ignited an inferno with two words, “Come on!”.

Strikes and high impact moves such as a picture-perfect spear followed the fierce battle cry as Sane put her heart and soul into the comeback. She kept on trucking through a Baszler kick out of the Insane Elbow and reached the ropes when it looked she was going to pass out in the champion’s rear naked choke. Finally, in desperation, when her third Insane Elbow attempt failed, Sane countered the choke and pinned Baszler in her most prone moment, showing that within her beats the heart of a true champion.

Kudos to the ladies for telling an extraordinary underdog story. Baszler in this best bully in NXT today and she put in another quality performance here. Sane sold her injured leg well and demonstrated remarkable spirit to get the crowd solidly behind her. The knee being a non-issue in the finish hurt the fight in my eyes, but it did leave open the door for a rematch, which I eagerly anticipate. ****1/4

NXT Championship Last Man Standing Match
Tomasso Ciampa © def. Johnny Gargano

The only logical place to begin my analysis of the main event is to start at the conclusion. I’ve seen polar opposite reactions to it, from the finish being one of the most creative in recent memory to one that reached Dean Ambrose’s exploding screen of doom in titanic stupidity. I fall somewhere in the middle, but more on that later.

The proper bookend happened much earlier in the contest. The moment Ciampa floored his archenemy through the barricade with a chair-assisted running knee strike followed by the champion’s hastily assembled pile of chairs, assorted rubbish, and the timekeeper I thought I was witnessing a masterstroke, everything in that spot made sense in the narrative of the feud. Gargano would have fallen to the move that dissolved his partnership with his kayfabe best friend. Ciampa would have benefited from it because the sheer brutality of the maneuver would have heightened the growing aura of danger around him, while the pile would have suggested his growing fear that he can’t stop the monster he created in the avenging Gargano. It is disappointing that such a fantastic opportunity was wasted, but there is merit in the fight’s true terminus.

Earlier in the match, Gargano went back to program’s defining weapon–a crutch. After pummeling Ciampa to the point where the medical aid splintered, Gargano carelessly tossed it aside. Later, Ciampa used to it prop himself up to beat the ten count after a super kick-aided fall through a pair of tables. The handcuffs, like the crutch, proved to be critical to Gargano’s undoing. His obsession to not only end Ciampa but do so in a manner that mirrored their earlier encounters is what propelled Ciampa across the finish line, much as it has over the last third of their feud.

The drawback was that it was one of several sequences that added too much runtime to the fight. It, the battle over the table and the air raid crash through the broadcast booth were too much. One of them would have been fine, but using each of the trio was overkill; which is a shame because I think the contest skirted the usual tropes of the stipulation well. It didn’t have an abundance of ten counts, and use of plunder mainly felt logical and fit in the flow of things. All in all, the main event was an enjoyable contest that was good but could have been great. ***3/4