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Well hello, ladies and gentlemen. The 30th Takeover inspired me to do some historical contextualization, given what the NXT brand’s special events have meant to my wrestling fandom these past six years. I actually did rank the bottom 15, as well, over on my new blog: escapetosportsentertainment.com, where you can find a brief review of my thoughts on a Takeover XXX that I felt was dragged down by the most boring match in Takeover lore in Lee vs. Kross. I certainly welcome your comments below on the best ever Takeover in your opinion and your thoughts on last night’s show.
Only two of its six matches really hold up to the test of time, but it gets to this spot in the rankings on account of what it meant to the brand’s history. What would NXT be without this show? It might well be the most historic event in the franchise, given that it was the first time that they sold out a basketball arena. Balor and Owens, in the NXT on the Network era, have been arguably the two most successful NXT to WWE male stars, and they met in the main-event here. The night will always be remembered for the Banks vs. Bayley performance, though. It holds extra value to me because for the only time that I’m aware of, there was a “DOC LOP” sign held up prominently all night in the upper right hand corner. That was so friekin’ cool!
Though one of the Takeovers in which the quality clearly peaked in the middle of a show sandwiched by less memorable matches, I have always been a big fan of this card. Roode and Tye Dillinger started the night out just fine, mainly in the sense that they were both so damn over. The Dusty Classic Final was rock solid and brought back the shark cage gimmick. Later, Mickie James made a really nice return against Asuka at a time when Asuka felt like a MASSIVE star. Nakamura vs. Joe II continued their “these are major players and it feels like it” main-event run, though I never really enjoyed their work together much. Borrowing from the Respect thought-process, this event gets a boost historically from being home to the all-time, Top 5 NXT match between DIY and the Revival.
#13: War Games 3
Time will tell if the female roster members will get their own War Games match each year, but their first foray into the environment was tremendous, in my opinion, building a mystique around Rhipley that has helped ease the questionable treatment of her character after losing the title. The men’s version that year was very good too, second best among the three thus far, thanks in no small part to the shocking one-night return of Kevin Owens. I was lukewarm on the second match of the night, but will admit it was aesthetically quite good. It was Balor vs. Riddle that swung me on this show overall. Balor’s move to NXT when it earned its Wednesday night USA Network show was itself a shocker and it was a blast to see him in a new role, having the chance to deliver a standout performance again.
#12: In Your House
Perhaps it was due to the COVID era in which it took place, but oh how refreshing it was to watch In Your House as produced by NXT. I so badly needed the escape in that moment and accordingly I will always remember this show fondly. It lacked the awesome match that all modern Takeovers possess, but everything was fun and tonally on point for what the event simply had to offer. Lee vs. Gargano was right up my alley, Priest vs. Balor was excellent, and the women’s division was very well showcased with a strong opener and a great main-event (only the second women’s main-event in Takeover lore). I was particularly fond of the main-event, which was a showcase for Shirai, who took over as face of the division that night.
It speaks to the incredible quality of the Takeover stretch begun in 2018 with Philadelphia that something like XXV almost feels like a bit of a letdown. Shirai vs. Shayna, looking back, probably should have been one of the greatest women’s matches in event history, but they underachieved, in my opinion. Fortunately, Cole vs. Gargano 2, before they ran it into the ground later, was one of the 5 best Takeover matches. I’m a standard, one-fall-to-a-finish guy; that is the match type that has produced the majority of the greatest matches ever. Of course, Ladder matches have produced a lot of candidates too, and the four-way Tag Title bout was itself a sight to behold and a breakout night for the Street Profits. Riddle vs. Strong was 4-star caliber and I rather appreciated the way that Breeze was used as an NXT legend. Truly, a great show overall, even if it seems like it should’ve been greater.
The Takeovers have strange names era peaked that night in Winter Park, Florida. As someone who greatly values history as a primary quality to evaluate when ranking shows (or matches or wrestlers) against one another, it is hard for me to overlook what this Takeover meant to the franchise. The first half was predictably forgettable and very standard for that period in NXT, but the second half set the stage for everything that we would come to expect from the yellow brand. Finn Balor burst onto the scene, showcasing the Demon character in a moment I’ll never forget. Then, Banks vs. Flair had what was comfortably at the time the greatest women’s match in North American mainstream wrestling history. The main-event between Neville and Zayn that followed Sasha and Charlotte was among the Top 5 matches in NXT history; it still holds up to this day amidst six years of perception-altering peers that join it in that conversation. I would never written a word about NXT if it were not for this show.
The swing match is something I’ve cited frequently as a column writer. Basically, it’s the match on the card that sways your opinion of the overall show. I think for Phoenix it was the main-event. Black vs. Ciampa had the show stolen from it as many other NXT headliners had before it, but I still thought it was a 4-star level performance. The opener, featuring Undisputed Era vs. the War Raiders at their WWE apex, was one of the most underrated matches in event lore, and challenged an absolutely awesome Gargano vs. Ricochet North American Title bout for match of the night honors. Gargano and Ricochet had a lot of hype to live up to, but they knocked it out of the park. Belair vs. Bazsler was really good too.
Call me old school, but I still very much prefer a card format that peaks with the last match of the night. Takeover history is littered with shows that feature a main-event that could not live up to the standard of matches lower down the card. Philadelphia got it right. Gargano vs. Andrade is in my opinion the best match in NXT history, a 5-star classic in the running for best match I’ve ever seen. Cole vs. Black complimented it well in the semi-main-event spot. Ember Moon battling the Queen of Spades over-delivered in just 10-minutes of action. The opening tag title bout was just a good opener and not a home-run, but it allowed the event to have an escalating pace. The traditionalist in me thinks the world of TO: Philly.
#7: Brooklyn 3
Of course, an all-night competition for the match of the night works for me, as well. I’m biased toward Brooklyn 3 because to date it is the only Takeover that I’ve attended in person, but from Gargano vs. Andrade in the featured non-title mid-card spot (now largely extinct in NXT) to the chaotic tag title match to the strong style change of pace in Itami vs. Black to the fabulously historically underrated Asuka vs. Moon classic that won the aforementioned best match competition to another underrated gem in Bobby Roode vs. Drew McIntyre, Brooklyn 3 never had a down moment. It also never had an unforgettable peak like so many Takeovers are known for; it was just a really, really good wrestling show from start to finish, and that is something to be remembered fondly too.
#6: Brooklyn 4
In the other half of this column, I derided NXT for running Cole vs. Gargano into the ground. I could do the same to Ciampa vs. Gargano as well, but it is unquestionably the defining rivalry of the brand’s history and if there is one feud that deserved to go three straight Takeovers, it was theirs. I loved their Last Man Standing match at Brooklyn 4, which was one match short of a near-perfect show. Undisputed vs. Mustache Mountain was incredible to open the show, Cole vs. Ricochet was the best traditional mid-card style match in NXT history, and Kairi Sane gave Shayna the best match of her dominant run as the women’s division’s figurehead. New Orleans a few months prior was so amazing that I think it skewed perception of the show’s surrounding it. Brooklyn 4 was an instant classic; a legit contender for the top spot, even if it wasn’t New Orleans good.
#5: War Games 2
What a stacked roster NXT had in 2018. Even though the hyped Shayna-Kairi fourth match underwhelmed and the opener was kind of a segment, the final three matches on this show were absolutely amazing. War Games was the best of the four since the gimmick’s return, with the right mix of babyface stars to compliment the heel Undisputed Era, but it was the Gargano-Black and Dream-Ciampa matches that truly elevated this Takeover above so many in its class for a Top 5 spot, each match a candidate for the Top 10 overall in the history of the franchise if you ask me. Also, given how the card was structured, there was more of a flow across the total event run-time, so it was not quite as exhausting as some of the show’s ahead of it here.
#4: New York
Man, this is challenging. I had New York ranked as high as #1 over the past few months while slowly chipping away at this. What it came down to for me was that the show’s ahead of it had more engaging Women’s Title situations, whereas New York took the cheaper route with a 4-way (not a fan of that). Dunne vs. WALTER, though, nearly elevated the event back to the top spot in spite of my previous nitpick. Dream vs. Riddle was actually my favorite match on the show, but conventionally I can readily admit to understanding the love for Cole vs. Gargano, even if the gimmick isn’t something I’m personally fond of. Props to the tag team opener too, as the War Raiders really did their reputations justice to cap off their short but impactful run in NXT.
#3: New Orleans
Controversial pick, I would surmise, as its so rare that you would ever see a pair of 5 star matches bookending a special event. That said, I was never that high on the Black vs. Andrade match, which was very good but not particularly memorable. The Shayna-Ember Moon bout showcased the middle-tier of the Queen of Spades formula and the tag title situation delivered us more of an angle than a match (we got Roddy in the UE from it). So, your opinion of the show basically hinges on how much weight the Gargano-Ciampa and North American Title Ladder matches have with you. For me, they are two of the five greatest NXT matches ever, but we’re ranking the shows overall, not their peaks. Unbelievable night, though. We’re picking nits when we get down to this level of awesome, trying to pick the most awesome.
The first Takeover to ever optimize what NXT could be, Dallas was in my opinion the show that set the tone for everything else that NXT Takeover has become. I’ve called Takeover the best special event franchise in pro wrestling. That reputation was built by nights like Dallas. A certain amount of history had to be already built for something like Dallas to happen, it must be said. It’s kind of like the WrestleMania 3 of Takeovers, in that it built upon what the brand had established already to deliver a new standard. Asuka vs. Bayley needed NXT to build its identity to maximize what it became. So did Nakamura vs. Zayn. Bayley and Sami were the gatekeepers, Asuka and Nak the key masters. Takeover in all its glory was unlocked in Dallas. American Alpha vs. Revival brought tag team wrestling to the highest level it had been in……..God I truly cannot remember any similar prior peak for the genre since TLC; Balor vs. Joe was the finest effort in both their NXT careers (thanks to the blood they tried to stop). You add those two elements to the aforementioned mix and Dallas just became this “other” in Takeover history that I only think has truly been topped once (maybe two or three times given my struggles to rank the Top 4).
We have not had the time to properly contextualize 2020, in part because it’s still 2020 and in part because a month after this show we were dealing with what 2020 will be known for. Immediately after it ended, though, I openly wondered if it was the best ever Takeover. Six months removed, studying the various elements that shaped these rankings, I honestly think it was. The added length gave the lived up to standout potential of the Top 4 matches a chance to breathe. Kai vs. Nox was really good and also a chance to get 20-minutes to come back down to earth from the insane display from Dijakovic and Keith Lee ahead of the fantastic Gargano vs. Balor match (the best match of Finn Balor’s career. Rhipley and Belair followed up in match 4 with another strong match from the women’s division that flowed well into a tag title bout that entered itself quietly into the Takeover tag match pantheon. Also, this was the rare night when the NXT Title match (between Ciampa and Cole) arguably maintained the position it warranted as the headliner, despite strong bids to upend it for match of the night by two (or three) other classics. I think, when time’s test is passed, we’ll look back at Portland as the night when NXT set a new standard, combining all the elements that made previous Takeovers so successful.