With the WWE Network now comfortably and consistently over 1mm subscribers, it’s safe to say Vince and co. are pleased with how their still-new streaming service is performing. That said, it’s still only about 1/3 of the total viewership of Raw. Which means there’s about 2 million other people in the US who don’t have the network yet watching WWE’s flagship show. And about 1/2 the people who watch Smackdown, the understood #2 show, are also not watching the network. So there’s work to be done.
And yet, you can’t fault the network. There’s a lot WWE could do to improve the WWEN, but that’s not to say what they’re doing right now is bad. They’ve done a good job with their new shows and their documentaries, but the crown jewel of the WWEN has to be NXT.
I’ve written thousands of words on this site about how great NXT is. Simply put, if you’re not watching it, you’re missing the best traditional wrestling show out there today. In a little over a month, NXT will air it’s tenth Takeover special. These specials have been the semi-occuring PPV-like supercards that have shaken up the roster, stirred up new feuds, and satisfied months of buildup. They pack more emotion, drama and energy into each of their two hour runtimes than a whole year’s worth of three hour WWE PPVs.
If you’re new to the WWE Network, new to NXT, or just looking to relive what makes NXT Takeover such a treat, I’ve got just what you need. This is my top ten list for NXT Takeover. These are the ten best matches to take place on an NXT Takeover special (and one from the original NXT supershow: ArRival). Watch these ten and see for yourself why NXT is the best thing in
sports entertainment pro wresting today.
10. TAKEOVER VIII – RESPECT: Baron Corbin & Rhyno vs Jason Jordan & Chad Gable
It was a tossup between this match at one from the second Takeover event (which, as a result, didn’t find a place on this list) pitting Adrian Neville against Tyson Kidd. I went with this match because it was the most entertaining tag match I’ve seen in ages. Gable and Jordon were still a relatively new team at this point and while they’ve proven themselves to be one of the best right now, they were already showing their skills in this match. The finish is as memorable as the fact that Baron Corbin and Rhyno—two guys not known for the workrate—kept up with the athletic supermen and never lost a step in so doing. This is a great tag match and maybe is the highlight on an otherwise average Takeover show.
9. TAKEOVER VII – BROOKLYN: Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens
This is the rematch to their great contest in Japan. In their first match Balor defeated Owens to win the NXT title. A rematch was soon announced with the added stipulation that it would be a ladder match. Owens previous feud with Sami Zayn was emotionally charged and felt very raw, while early on his feud with Balor seemed to be missing a spark. They found their spark in the buildup to this match. Unfortunately the crowd was a little out of it, having just watched the show-stealing women’s title match from earlier in the night. That hurts things a bit, as does the inevitability of the finish, since KO had already been called up and was set to compete at SummerSlam the next night. Still this is a great showcase for both men, and a very old school ladder match, without the over the top shenanigans you expect to see in a Money in the Bank contest. This match was down and dirty and it worked.
8. TAKEOVER III – FATAL 4WAY: Adrian Neville vs Tyler Breeze vs Sami Zayn vs Tyson Kidd
The early Takeover specials are interesting to go back and watch. These are the days before the brand recieved an influx of indie superstars like Hideo Itami, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and others. Here the new player was a demoted Tyson Kidd. Fans weren’t quite ready to accept him as someone worthy to compete for their NXT title, but he worked hard and honed his cocky character, winning over the fans in the process. His in-ring work improved too, and no match better showed that than the main event of the third Takeover. This match was balls-to-the-wall insane. False finishes fly all over the place and no matter how many times you watch it, you’ll still be fooled into thinking its over before it is. The match was also lightning-fast with each of the talents getting a chance to shine and almost steal a win.
7. TAKEOVER IX – LONDON: Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe
This match marks the renaissance of Samoa Joe. When he first came to NXT he was leaner than he had been in years but there was a spring in his step that was missing. He moved a little slower, a little more “by the book” and seemed to be lacking the fire that he once had. Turning heel rekindled that fire and it’s not too controversial an opinion to say he was the better worker in his title match against Finn Balor. As beloved as the painted-up champion is, the heel challenger walked away earning fan’s respect (though his character is still despised) for his great work in this match. The London special wasn’t on the level as some other Takeover events, but this match was certainly a highlight.
6. TAKEOVER V – RIVAL: Sasha Banks vs Charlotte vs Bayley vs Becky Lynch
History will remember the Paige vs Emma match at ArRival as the true birth of the NXT women’s division. History will remember Bayley’s climb and drive to win the championship as perhaps the pinnacle of that same division. But when you read the personal history of one wrestler—Sasha Banks—this will be the match you start with. She had already adopted her “BOSS” persona by this time but this was the match where it all came together. This was the match where you saw why she didn’t just call herself the Boss, she is the Boss. This is the showcase of the four horsewomen of NXT. They would later embrace at the Brooklyn show, but here they competed in a fatal four way for Charlotte’s women’s title. There were big spots, amazing false-finishes and a memorable ending. On a stacked card where every match exceeded expectations, it was the women who stole the show and forced everyone to say “the women are on the men’s level.” That’s an understood thing now a days in NXT, but it started with this match.
5. TAKEOVER VI – UNSTOPPABLE: Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch
The story building up to this women’s title clash was hastily put together, at least when compared to other NXT title matches. Becky had been a sidekick to Sasha and lacked a lot of personality and identity, but after winning a number one contenders match, the creative team at NXT did amazing work getting her over and making her a threat to the title that fans could get behind. Their match was brilliant. Not “brilliant for a women’s match” but brilliant. Though Becky had only been a babyface for less than a month, by the end of the contest, the NXT crowd was singing her theme song in a show of solidarity and support for such a gutsy performance.
4. TAKEOVER V – RIVAL: Finn Balor vs Adrian Neville
The fatal four way women’s title match may have stolen the show at Takeover:Rival, but on a techincal level nothing topped the fast and furious masterpiece between Balor and Neville. These two indie darlings—the former Pac and Prince Devitt—showed the world that the future of WWE wasn’t in giant meatheads, but was in lightning quick performers who moved like gazelles and punched and kicked like Street Fighter characters. If you’re new to NXT and you only know Neville from his work on Raw, you owe it to yourself to watch this. Even though this was basically his swan song and he had already done his work as champion, this match showcases the unbelievable talent that Raw has yet to really tap into. If you’re new to NXT and you don’t know Finn Balor except by reputation, here is a showcase match for him as well. From his elaborate entrances to his almost ballet-like fluid movement, there’s no more captivating NXT superstar than him.
3. TAKEOVER I – ARRIVAL: Sami Zayn vs Cesaro
Technically this is not a Takeover match, as the first “Takeover” event would be a few months later, but this was the first NXT supershow and the first live broadcast on the WWE Network. It was mainevented by Adraian Neville and Bo Dallas, currently two meandering Raw superstars, just to show you how far the brand has come. But it was the opening match that showed everyone what the WWE’s yellow brand could do. For many this was their introduction to Sami Zayn. For others it was their chance to see Cesaro’s skills on full display. This was actually the third encounter between these two, and you really owe it to yourself to track down the first two fights they had. Still, if this is the only one you see, you’ll see enough to hook you on NXT. If I could only show one match without any context; if I could only say “watch this and tell me what you think” without the opportunity to set up the backstory, it would be this one.
2. TAKEOVER VII – BROOKLYN: Sasha Banks vs Bayley
This title match between Sasha Banks and Bayley was literally years in the making. They both began as nobody divas in the then-small NXT before the brand even had a championship for the ladies. Women’s wrestling was still regarded as a bathroom break in WWE and even on NXT it was less of a priority than the rest of the show. By the time they finally had their climactic battle NXT had risen to being a true alternative for frustrated fans, and women’s wrestling in particular had become the posterchild for all that was good about “good wrestling.” The two who best embodied the rise of women’s wrestling in “WWE” had their final battle (so far) in the co-mainevent of the biggest show in the brand’s history. Almost 15,000 were on hand to witness the match, and not a soul was in the bathroom. Everything from the grandiose entrances to the in-ring introductions elevated the contest and made it more than just another match. It didn’t matter that they were women. It mattered that they were two characters that fans had become invested in and were finally witnessing them rise to the level of respect they deserved. They would rematch in a true main event match a short while later, but this is the match that will be remembered, and rightly so.
1. TAKEOVER IV – R-EVOLUTION: Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville
This match, and the show it main-evented, is still the apex of NXT. The Brooklyn show illustrated how far the brand had come, and it’s a close second, but this show is the best NXT show ever produced. And the main event was the perfect capper to it. Zayn’s quest to win the NXT championship was a long one and the road ended with a man he called his friend. Neville, meanwhile, got to show how far he had progressed as a character, showing amazing range while dancing between confident and cocky. He was never a true heel but he teased an edge to his character with depth he’s sadly not allowed to display on the main roster. The crowd hung on every strike, every suplex, every top rope maneuver, every near fall. By the time it was over, the tears were flowing—alongside the confetti—in the crowd and in the ring, and both were well deserved. This is the best of NXT. This is the match (as the climax to months, if not years, of buildup) that makes NXT the best.
That’s my top ten. What do you think? Leave a comment if you have a match in mind that didn’t make the cut.
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Here’s to NXT’s next spectacular: Takeover-Dallas!