Just Business: The Sunday Column presents NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, For Your Consideration


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Just Business: The Sunday Column presents NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, For Your Consideration

WrestleMania III – that’s the show that I have come to liken the original Takeover: Brooklyn to in my mind.

It’s a strange comparison to make, I know. WrestleMania III was practically a pop culture moment and the event that really birthed the modern WWE product as we came to know it for decades thereafter. Its main event is wrestling iconography, its Intercontinental Championship Match a style guide that remains referenced to this very day. Takeover: Brooklyn from 2015 can boast no such high notes.

I draw the parallel in my mind because, to me, Takeover: Brooklyn was NXT’s ‘WrestleMania III moment.’ It was at Brooklyn in 2015 that the sleeping giant awoke and NXT took the major step that its increasingly clamorous fan base had been longing for it to take. Takeover: Brooklyn not only openly acknowledged how the Black and Gold Brand had long since surpassed the scope of its original intention, it proved that NXT events were events with an uppercase E – that they could sell tickets before the fact and sell the critics afterwards.

As WrestleMania III opened the door for ‘the rest of WWE history,’ Takeover: Brooklyn feels like the show that did the same for NXT.

Taking place for the first time outside of Full Sail, it was a Takeover that indulged itself in the typical grandeur of WWE’s unmistakable amplified production values. Its card design was a sign of the brand edging ever closer to the ‘5 Match Principle’ that has heavily defined Takeover as a franchise for the last two years and change. Its altered use lighting to black out the majority of the live audience may feel like a familiar backdrop now, but felt fresh and revitalising when Brooklyn first aired almost half a decade ago. Its graphics and monochromatic colour scheme, both used in this instance for the first time, have since become Takeover staples in their own right. The show even kicks off with a lamentably cliché-addled monologue from Triple H leaning heavily into his cornier showmanship – it might not have gone on to become a permanent fixture, but it was a cringe-worthy addition to a number of Takeovers later down the line.

It is easy to forget, given the formulaic manner in which wildly successful Takeover events are now churned out at such pace and to such acclaim they might be likened to professional wrestling’s version of the Marvel Studios juggernaut in Hollywood, just how much of a change Takeover: Brooklyn was when it aired. For all the use of puns in the titles of the first generation of Takeover events that aired exclusively from Full Sail University – R Evolution, Evolution and so on – it was really only when the franchise ditched its strict adherence to variations of the same lexicon and instead sub-titled itself with the name of the host city that it ‘evolved’ in its own right.

The birthplace of that evolution was Brooklyn, August, 2015.

Change is, in fact, the most prominent theme of the event itself, being as it more closely resembles today’s additions to the franchise in comparison to the Takeovers that came before that summer’s night four years ago. From the NXT Women’s Championship Match throwing gasoline on the fire of the ‘Women’s Revolution’ by breathing the rarefied air of a match that helped move us toward paradigmatic change, to the outgoing Kevin Owens coming up short in his efforts to recapture the NXT Championship and, in so doing, essentially providing NXT’s first generation of talent their curtain call, right through to the curtain jerking opener playing out as a succinct, unmistakable and utterly singular demonstration of the philosophical change in talent recruitment that came about because of NXT’s undeniable successes, Takeover: Brooklyn is quintessential viewing for the NXT fan for reasons stretching beyond the historical. They are, in the frame of professional wrestling, more specifically within the frame of WWE, cultural as well.

Once you begin your reading of the subtext of the card’s featured bouts and what it is they might be considered to mean, the justifications for revisiting the original Takeover from Brooklyn very quickly begin to start tumbling over one another, the show is that strong a success. If you want the match quality, it’s there. If you want thematic cohesion, it’s there. If you want historical change, it’s there. If you want ‘first-evers,’ emotionally memorable moments or robust character development, they’re all there.

Among them all, the cornerstone is the theme of talent recruitment and how it was beginning to change. Brooklyn’s main event that year was a Ladder Match between two global wrestling stars who were still then very much primarily trading on the reputations they had built for themselves away from the hallowed halls of WWE – reputations that, even as shortly removed as a couple of years before, would likely have gone completely unrecognised, but here are starting to be embraced.

The show’s opposite bookmark to that main event is perhaps the opus of ‘Tyler Breeze Specials’ in Takeover’s history, at least in the context of profile. In the character’s one and only appearance ever for the company, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) legend Jushin Thunder Liger takes on Prince Pretty in a short but punchy affair that would have been inconceivable prior to NXT’s success, even inconceivable during the earliest stages of the success that, by the time of that first Takeover: Brooklyn, seemed to be hitting its first boom. An international talent actively and fully contracted to a competing organisation from the far side of the world being provided a featured, highly promoted spot on a big show’s card? What a change it marked.

The theme really comes to its head in the form of the underappreciated competition between Baron Corbin and Samoa Joe, though. In a match that might remind now-jaded viewers of how the lamentably handled Corbin once showed great promise, the two heavy hitters slug it out in a hard-hitting contest full of naturalistic movement and wonderfully uplifting little touches that show true commitment to the art form, but the take-home is not the bout’s surprising quality. Rather, it is the nature of its narrative. Joe and Corbin’s feud was one actively built on the foundation of the growing influx of ‘Indy Darlings’ being aggressively recruited by NXT, and how that philosophy was felt by many to be a counterweight to the previously established developmental method of taking athletes with potential from outside the wider industry and forging them entirely in-house. Whether it was Corbin’s boasts of “never having head of these people” or Joe’s counterpoint that “they called me, Baron,” theirs was a narrative that wore its intentions on its sleeve: to openly recognise that NXT was changing the culture of all of WWE from within, and doing so with rousing success and snowballing momentum.

That the match then exceeds expectations is a true boon.

This is not to say that Takeover: Brooklyn is not without its flaws. For one, like with the original Takeover I presented for your consideration two weeks ago, Brooklyn is another entry in the franchise that reminds starkly just how far the Black and Gold Brand has since come with its tag team division. Here the titles are defended by the long-forgotten Blake and Murphy against the colourful Vaudevillains in a functional match that, through the gratuitous cameo of Blue Pants, demonstrates that NXT is nothing if not sometimes unfortunately self-indulgent.

On a similar note, the Takeover debut of Apollo Crews in a contest opposite Tye Dillinger will prove to be a bitter pill for anyone revisiting the event to swallow. Like a bucket of ice cold water, it douses you with the reality that, for all of NXT’s success in its own right, it is a brand that has now long since been at odds with its original intentions as a developmental system. Crews and Dillinger are met with excited responses from the live crowd in Brooklyn, but the way their main roster careers turned out is a story we all know far better than we might have ever liked to, thereby highlighting the silent crises of purpose and function NXT is yet to redress.

And truthfully, although match quality across the board at Takeover: Brooklyn genuinely never dips below the good, many who have since come to adore NXT’s more verbose offerings of its post-Nakamura age specifically may find both the opener and the main event a little underwhelming. There are certainly better examples of both important card placements across the Takeover franchise’s long history.

I would argue that it is the apparent humility with which those matches, and the card in its entirety plays out, that provides Brooklyn with its greatest strength though. The Ladder Match main event is of a more cerebral nature than anything we have seen from NXT in the last two years, following the line that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose laid out with their own Ladder Match mere weeks before this event took place. In that vein the main event owes more to the legacy of earlier Ladder Matches than it does latter-day Ladders Matches and their vacuous post-modern multiplicity.

Likewise, Takeover has boasted a number of opening bouts that would trump Breeze vs. Liger in minute-for-minute quality by some distance, but this does not preclude Breeze vs. Liger having a charm all its own. It’s a vibrant, characterful, colourful encounter, Breeze firing on all his charismatic but intelligent cylinders opposite a Liger clearly relishing his opportunity to shine in front of a less familiar audience. Is it a classic? No, but it’s a delight regardless and adds a major, even singular discussion point to the show’s historical legacy.

While the rest of the card is able to at least meet any prior expectations, the gem in the crown of Takeover: Brooklyn is, of course, the immutable classic for the NXT Women’s Championship wrestled between defending champion Sasha Banks and underdog challenger Bayley.

Banks vs. Bayley is a match that can boast a quality undiminished, if not necessarily enhanced by the passage of time. While neither woman has necessarily lived up to the lofty expectations their match at Brooklyn was likely solely responsible for levying them with as they made their individual migrations to the main roster, their accomplishment on that unique night in 2015 can never be taken away from them. Star ratings may not be this writer’s first preference, but they remain the primary measure of judgement in the pro wrestling critical community, and many of those judges gave the two Horsewomen full marks for their composition that night. With specially produced entrances, a typically effective pre-match hype package, a special presentation from the high profile Stephanie McMahon, a vaunted joint-main event placement on the card and a stunning quality between match bells, everything about Banks vs. Bayley still feels special even now.

There had, of course, been a number of women’s matches by that point already that had somewhat subversively and disruptively defied the historical trend of annual match rankings that so often sidelined female efforts in WWE, but it was Brooklyn’s true success story that took such subversive defiances and re-contextualised as them as the new norm. Some might feel put off by the curtain-tearing, teary eyed embrace of the so-called Four Horsewomen after the emotional journey of Bayley’s capturing of the NXT Women’s Championship concludes, but if nothing else the celebration of those four women – which reaches beyond the confines of the night’s immediate fiction – carves out on Takeover: Brooklyn a momentous tribute to just how much their preceding efforts had finally paid off. Truly, if Takeover: Brooklyn is to NXT as WrestleMania III is to WWE, then Banks vs. Bayley was to that year’s Brooklyn what Savage vs. Steamboat was to that year’s ‘Mania.

And to think it was just a beginning.

Much about Takeover: Brooklyn was just that, though: a beginning. You can talk about its production design, its card design or even its match design, and you will inevitably hit upon at least one discussion point relevant to what the franchise has become today. NXT had put itself on the map long before August of 2015, but Brooklyn transformed Takeover from an optional extra to necessary viewing. The importance of the show’s contribution to the evolution of what may now be the most popular event franchise in all of WWE cannot be understated. Even now, more than twenty-five editions of the show in, we still see elements of that first Brooklyn’s legacy shine through.

Yet, precisely because it was just a beginning, Takeover: Brooklyn was not, to my mind, the best version of Takeover we have seen. My pick for that is somewhat controversial, at odds, as my NXT thoughts often are, with the prevailing picks, but the reasons behind this are reasons I will explore in my next instalment of Just Business, with my retrospective on NXT Takeover: Dallas.

NOW, TELL ME…

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