QUESTION OF THE DAY: If you gave it some real thought, where do you think Dunne vs. Bate would rank among Takeover history’s greatest matches?
Perhaps the most difficult decision that I had to make for my latest book, The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era, was to leave NXT out of the mix. The research phase of that project started two years prior to NXT becoming what we now know it to be and, because I think it fair to state that we are still developing a sense for how we are going to historically judge NXT against its main roster peers, particularly as it pertains to the yellow brand’s impact and scope, I just did not feel it was yet appropriate to put NXT on par with WWE proper or NWA/WCW lore.
Nevertheless, I love NXT, and out of a desire to study and contextualize the greatness from the canvas of its signature event, Takeover, this project was born. For my book, I crafted a detailed formula to thoroughly assess the various aspects that shape how fans and pundits use the term “greatest.” I took that formula and tweaked it to fit NXT Takeover. On a 1-5 star scale, appropriately, I graded the best match in each of the top rivalries in NXT history, picked from a pool of consensus classics, on the psychology, storytelling, selling, execution, and climax of their in-ring performances, their historic ramifications on NXT lore, the setting (as defined by a pre-made scale for crowd size), the strength of their pre-match build-up, and the rating given by Dave Meltzer to account for popular opinion, as well as a few additional points (not on a scale of 1-5, mind you) for any intangible qualities (i.e. a special entrance, an innovative move or sequence never before seen, a rivalry-befitting gimmick, etc.). The sum total of the scoring yields the rivalry’s standing, which will be continuously updated as this long-term process advances.
Read the full introduction here.
Psychology: 4.5 / Historic: 4 / Setting: 5 / Storytelling: 5 / Selling: 4.5 / Climax: 4.5 / Execution: 4.75 / Popular Opinion: 4.75 / Build: 3.5 / Intangibles: +3
Total Score: 43.5
It was matches like this one that made me want to put NXT Takeover under the microscope, because it is matches like this one that has helped forged an already incredibly legacy for the event in just five short years.
Pete Dunne’s victory here set NXT UK in motion as far as I’m concerned, because as successful as the UK Championship tournament (won by Tyler Bate to the surprise of many) was at the very beginning of 2017, The Bruiserweight is the wrestler most responsible for the UK title and the NXT UK brand gaining greater awareness.
Think about the venue in which Dunne won the title in an instant classic that had Jim Ross guest commentating specifically for it: the All State Arena in Chicago. It has been easy to get hung up on the massive stadium venues that host WrestleMania each spring, but All State is second only to Madison Square Garden on the list of iconic WWE arenas, so to have stolen the show (and, to quite a few, the WWE year) in the Windy City was a major boost to creating brand equity for the UK division that 18 months later became an NXT UK television show on the Network with a real home across the pond.
For myself and others who think like I do, Bate vs. Dunne at TO: Chicago put both the UK scene and the modern UK style at the forefront of the wrestling business.
Comparing it to a WrestleMania counterpart, I see Dunne vs. Bate in a similar way that I view the Triangle Ladder Match, in that it broke new ground for a particular style of winning over the audience and featured wrestlers who needed a unique avenue to gain that kind of traction. There was innovation aplenty, and much like with the stunt brawl extraordinaire in 2000, things like Bate’s amazing strength and balance (see airplane spin like no other) and Dunne’s ability to manipulate a joint were largely novel to the more WWE-centric enthusiast at the time. That the psychology of the match and the subsequent prompt for the majority of the selling had their tones set for the run-time by these aforementioned individually incredible displays only amplifies the collective achievement and serves to help you understand why it ranks so highly in Takeover lore.
It was an epic, Neville vs. Sami Zayn or Ciampa vs. Gargano-type storyline build away from being the complete NXT package, but it absolutely is an epic performance that, by my estimation, should stand out among its peers even as the field of Takeover classics becomes deeper.
Psychology: 5 / Historic: 3.5 / Setting: 5 / Storytelling: 5 / Selling: 5 / Climax: 3.5 / Execution: 4 / Popular Opinion: 4 / Build: 3.5 / Intangibles: +1
Total Score: 39.5
What is interesting about this match is how much it stands in contrast to virtually everything else on the list. There have been some marvelous character touches in NXT history, but this one reminds so much of the undervalued masterclass in sports entertainment performance art that was WrestleMania VII’s Macho King vs. Ultimate Warrior Career Match, personically loud and full of flair, and even featuring a cathartic post-match moment; few greater compliments could be paid, so far as my opinion is concerned.
The Dream’s coming out party seemed to bring out the very best in Black, so insomuch as it should be remembered for Patrick Clark’s alter-ego and the charisma he put on display to rousing applause, it remains the most characterful match of Black’s NXT career. Make no mistake that Black deserves the praise he receives from so many – he is very skilled in the ring and has a uniquely affecting gimmick and presentation – but the emotionally robotic mid-1990s Undertaker shtick needs a Mankind to unleash its full potential and to take the next storytelling step from bell-to-bell. The act works optimally when it has a real bumper of an old school heel selling it, injecting it with a personality-steroid, if you will.
Every character needs its ideal foil to manifest greatness in the ring that extends beyond feats of imagination-stretching athleticism, and for the silent warrior type, pomp and circumstance is like fire to the ice. From the fantastic airbrushed tights to the outlandish facial expressions to the total ownership of every gesture and movement, The Velveteen Dream offers one of the most bombastic personas that we have seen under the WWE umbrella in a long time, reminiscent of “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Wow, by the way, that Dream has also drawn comparisons to Randy Savage and Mick Foley in these two hundred some-odd words on the subject.
Basically, it stands out for the simplicity of its story but also for the expertise in which that simple story is told, it shines for remaining such a pleasant surprise (a four-star effort exceeding three-star expectations), and most of all it is special on account of how well the characters meshed on the night. It is a true gem and a personal favorite in NXT lore.