Another WrestleMania Weekend offers up another NXT Takeover, and the special events for WWE’s feeder brand continue to prove to be the most reliable franchise quite possibly in all of professional wrestling. I have said it many times before and am sure I will say it many times again: the Takeover formula is entirely predictable, in both its design and its unfathomable rate of success. At this stage, you know exactly the sort of show you will see and while, on one hand, a critically minded fan might chastise the growing homogeneity (I wouldn’t be able to tell you which matches happened on which card because I find that they all tend to blur together in my memory, honestly), it is the formula that relaxes me into knowing I can watch a Takeover and, at the very worst, be sure of how I’ll feel at the far end. I would kill for that sort of reliability on the main roster.
The truth is that the style of matches most often seen at Takeover events – on NXT in its entirety, for that matter – are a little too heavy-handed for my tastes; for the sake of full disclosure, that most applies to Johnny Gargano’s efforts. That being said, I do not for a second deny that it is a style most predisposed to the taste of the average wrestling fan of today, and the rabid responses from the live crowds make even the matches least to my liking difficult not to get some enjoyment out of.
Takeover: New York was prototypical, then. It garnered those same responses, deployed matches in that familiar style and once again was able to achieve rousing success, met with enthused applause from the internet-dwelling fan base. The Two Out of Three Falls Match for the NXT Championship between Gargano and Adam Cole of Undisputed Era and the opening NXT Tag Team Championship Match between War Raiders and Ricochet and Aleister Black bookended the event with bouts of the most instantly recognisable kind, and the most reliably successful. Contrasting with one another nicely, that the main event signalled the beginning of Gargano’s reign and the curtain jerker seemingly signalled something of an end for the apparently main roster bound Ricochet and Blake ensured Takeover: New York felt like another of those tent-pole waypoints in the continuing history of the American NXT, lending Friday’s event all the more istoric weight.
The women’s division continued its efforts to rebuild with a nicely action packed four way, but it was the two men’s matches in the middle of the card that most wooed me, both contented to merely flirt with the more indulgent habits of the prevailing match style in NXT rather than plunge into fully and immerse themselves, as a Gargano might. Velveteen Dream’s defence of the NXT North American Championship opposite Matt Riddle proved itself rivetingly intelligent, further establishing Riddle’s value as one of the more cerebrally accomplished performers on the brand. As it concluded, its bullet-straight narrative was one I was already intending to revisit at the first opportunity. And while Walter’s victory over Pete Dunne for the NXT UK Championship was arguably the most predictable result of the night, the match itself did not disappoint. NXT UK has quickly become one of the strongest brands in all of WWE, creatively speaking, to my mind outdoing even its older American cousin, and the ending of the Bruiserweight’s time on top felt appropriately momentous thanks to the character-driven viscera of what proved a beguilingly brutal bout. Walter lived up to his hype for the uninitiated, while Dunne can rest easy knowing it was far from a ‘bitter end’ to his historic time as champion.
It was another fine showing from NXT on Friday, then, and we only accelerate further as we begin to approach WrestleMania itself. Time, then, to share a few final thoughts before the thirty-fifth Showcase of Immortals unfolds before us – and my thoughts primarily dwell on the marathon run-time for which we as fans will be sat in our chairs ploughing through a card of no fewer than sixteen matches.
I firmly believe WWE have in them a fantastic WrestleMania even of this remarkable length, but achieving a fantastic WrestleMania in this current environment will ultimately depend on card structure. In this I agree with my venerable cohort Maverick, but thanks to precedent we would be unjustified in placing such faith in the ‘E of today. It is fitting, however, that the same cohort of mine, Maverick, in a throwaway line to me in recent days, hit upon a second possible solution when it comes to easing the digestion of a contemporary mega-long ‘Mania.
I have been saying for some time now that WrestleMania no longer resembles its perennial comparator, the Super Bowl. With the yearly additions of events like NXT Takeover and the Hall of Fame, with Axxess bigger than it’s ever been this year – including the Worlds Collide event taking place over two days – and with ‘Mania cards growing ever bigger every year too, it has instead come to resemble more of a music festival; I like to think of it as the Glastonbury of wrestling, more than anything else now. In drawing such a comparison you arrive at the apparently unavoidable conclusion that the most sensible move is to split even WrestleMania itself up across two days, as New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) intend to with their WrestleKingdom event this coming January.
It’s a sensible suggestion; but, if the aim is to ease digestion, I wonder if there is, instead, a third road, and one that prevents any need to so drastically shake up the running order of any given WrestleMania Week.
The ‘Manias of today are beginning to more reflect the overall product WWE offer up, in that fans are best left picking and choosing the parts of it they most want to see and giving the bits they don’t a wider birth. At seven hours long, and this year, we hear, perhaps even longer than that, ‘Mania must become conscious of the fact it is no longer suited to a single dedicated watch, instead offering up a more casual viewing experience best digested in a communal setting; indeed, very much like a music festival.. So in the spirit of this notion, of picking and choosing and diving in and out, why not embrace what this year’s card so inherently suggests: a structure of three pay-per-views in one, either divided according to brand or prominence or simply at random?
And the method is sitting, staring us in the face from the distant past. Famously taking place across three venues interspersed throughout the United States, WrestleMania 2’s critical legacy is a middling one among wrestling minds, but could there be something in the idea of WrestleMania segmenting itself in recognition of its otherwise quite possibly unmanageable size in the current Era? I wonder. Whether allowing the event to take place in three smaller venues with a better, more intimate atmosphere, or reducing the need to artificially inflate attendance figures, or better allowing the company to get everybody on the card, or better allowing fans to know exactly what hour of the show to tune into, or simply allowing any one of a myriad number of main events to get an equal share of the spotlight, while I accept there are issues presented by the idea, I find it an intriguing idea to consider all the same.
Regardless of that specific suggestion, one thing is clear: something needs to change.
And not just about WrestleMania either, but about professional wrestling. This is what I have championed for years now, and wrote about in my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die. Indeed, the view that pro wrestling ought to embrace its fictional nature with more enthusiasm and accept its potential as a performance art rather than its limits as sports entertainment or simulated sport is an argument somewhat espoused in the recent Kenny Omega documentary my LOP namesake Sir Sam reviewed not too long ago.
I raise this because what has become clear since Kofi Kingston cemented himself as a lock for a WWE Championship Match tonight earlier in the year is that fans, possibly the company too feel like one of the heroes in this year’s top three matches must lose even when we don’t want any one of them to. Balance, it seems, between the victories of good and evil must be maintained over the course of a wrestling card because that’s just how it works; nor does this problem just apply to the top three matches at WrestleMania either. Whether it’s Finn Bálor, Kurt Angle, The Miz, Ricochet and Aleister Black or anyone below them on the card, this year’s ‘Mania feels like it cries out for a slew of heroic victories and, in lieu of that, something’s got to give; somebody evil has to win something, right?
My question is this: says who?
Why do we continue to marry ourselves to these vagaries of perception, these needless rules we impose collectively as a community in professional wrestling onto professional wrestling? Why do we feel an obligation to these archaic dos and don’ts that regulated the art form thirty years ago and repeatedly demonstrate themselves unfit for purpose in the contemporary world, where information and creativity are proving as much a currency as the dollar or pound sterling?
My last word on WrestleMania ahead of WrestleMania is this: why can’t the heroes sweep the board this evening? Aren’t we due a feel good moment, as WWE fans? We’ve been through the ringer for the better part of three years now, and it’s been at its worst in the build to this year’s Show of Shows. So I say lean into the idea that the heroes are screaming out to pick up the Ws this evening. Let Finn and Seth and Becky and Kofi and Kurt and Miz and Ricochet and Black and every other ‘babyface’ get that victory, and create a seven hour marathon that feels less like some fractious task and more like a celebration of the change that not only WWE is crying out for, but professional wrestling in general.
Take a second and imagine the buzz you’ll be on at the far end of WrestleMania 35 if the good guys get all those victories, one after another, like dominoes, leaving the product in a place you can’t not be excited for. I know; imagining it may be as close as you’ll get to it, unless it isn’t.
Either way, we’ve not long left to wait to find out. Enjoy the show, folks, and be sure to come back here and share your thoughts on how it all goes in the comments below!
What did YOU think about NXT Takeover: New York? How do YOU think WWE can change WrestleMania to make it easier to get through? And would YOU love to see a clean sweep for the good guys tonight? Sound off in the comments below, over on social media or by joining LOPForums today!
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