NXT celebrated the five year anniversary of perhaps its most significant show ever on Saturday night. Takeover XXX did not fully live up to the standard set by the best of is predecessors, but as soon to be definitively stated, there’s really no such thing as a bad Takeover. NXT’s special event brand is the best in pro wrestling over the past half decade, so in honor of its 30th show, here is the first half of the thirty Takeovers ranked, with the Top 15 on display at my old stomping grounds, wrestlingheadlines.com.
Tie for Last Place: The original Takeover and Takeover: Fatal 4-Way
For all I know, these hold up well to long-term scrutiny, but I did not truly adopt NXT into my wrestling viewership habits until the third Takeover in December 2014. I have watched the top matches from these cards, but the investment was not there. As such, very little stands out about these original Takeover cards.
My memory of Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch skewed my perception of this overall show. That match was so good and continued the upward arc established by Banks vs. Charlotte six months prior that it made me forget that this was the weakest Takeover of my personal history with the brand. Sami Zayn being injured certainly did not help, as it prevented him and NXT Champion Kevin Owens from delivering the logical follow-up to their somewhat controversial yet outstanding title bout from the previous Takeover.
#27: The End
There are two matches on this card that could swing your opinion toward higher or lower ranking position: Nakamura vs. Austin Aries and the Steel Cage main-event between Balor and Samoa Joe. NXT, by June 2016 had already created an expectation of greatness each time out, so my opinion that the aforementioned pair of matches (which formed the foundation for this event) were merely quite good skews my ranking toward the lowest tier in Takeover lore. I could watch American Alpha vs. Revival matches all day, granted; the Tag Title show-stealer was not, however, enough to off-set two not particularly memorable headlining bouts and a couple of other ho-hum matches.
#26: San Antonio
It is interesting to look back on this show within the context of NXT history. Nakamura and Bobby Roode represented an era along with Samoa Joe. They were top stars from other recognizable promotions that were presented extraordinarily well with WWE production values. In a workrate-driven enterprise, though, they routinely had the show stolen from them. At San Antonio, Nakamura and Roode was the only match given the chance to shine, and shine I certainly thought that it did. I rate their match higher than most, boosted in part by their dynamic entrances and their places at the time in NXT lore. The rest of the show was skippable.
In discussing The End, I mentioned the swing matches that could sway an event’s ranking. The triple threat Tag Title match would be the swing for Orlando. To me, it was like a basketball game that seemed headed for a distinction among the best ever, only for the final minutes to be riddled with technical fouls and a late one-sided surge, causing the overall game to be memorable but not as good as it could have been. Roode and Nakamura followed up their San Antonio match nicely (again, much higher rated by me than most) and Asuka vs. Ember was a rock solid first chapter in their underrated rivalry, but I would say this show was a better tag title match climax away from jumping up five spots.
We need a London II for my UK brothers and sisters in wrestling fandom arms. The original was a rock solid show without a true peak. Joe vs. Finn Balor was right at the 4-star level, the Revival did some good work with The Realest Guys in the Room, Bayley carried Nia Jax to a surprisingly good match, and Asuka combined with Emma for the latter’s best ever match, but great matches have become a dime a dozen in Takeover history and the lack of a standout performance that echoes through eternity renders this show a little bit lesser historically even if it was the better than the sum of its parts.
#23: Brooklyn II
The second half of the show was very engaging, if not a little bit disappointing. One hallmark trait of Takeover in the modern era has been the ability of the talents to rise to the challenge established by excellent matches early on the card. DIY and the Revival absolutely killed it in August 2016, but unlike a lot of the Takeovers that followed, their contemporaries struggled to rise to the challenge. Not to say that Asuka-Bayley II and Joe-Nak were not good matches, but Dallas earlier that year proved that most of the card could knock it out of the park on a bigger stage and that just did not happen when Takeover returned to Brooklyn.
**Recency bias alert** / I was texting with my pal, Dave Fenichel, throughout the show, and before the main-event, we were both really impressed with Takeover XXX. Cole vs. McAfee was as good as it could have been (praise to AC, sign McAfee); Kai vs. Shirai overcame an ugly botch at the word go to have a very good women’s title bout; Balor vs. Thatcher was a really good change of pace; the Ladder Match was absolutely fantastic. So, four for four going into a big time fight between Keith Lee and Karrion Kross. Then, the most boring match in NXT Takeover history took place, as Lee and Kross stunk the joint out inexplicably. It’s 2020…you can tell a story, but 20-minutes of arm locks and strikes was the most off-brand thing NXT could have possibly offered in its headliner. Bummer. I feel bad for both of those guys.
#21: Chicago II
Admittedly, the 2018 and 2019 concept of taking a hot rivalry and running it over and over again on Takeover did not appealed to me, and thus I felt the Gargano vs. Ciampa headlined Chicago show to be a mixed bag. Lorcan and Burch vs. Undisputed Era to open the show was absolutely excellent, as was Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet in perhaps the forgotten classic of the franchise, then there was a considerable downshift in quality before Ciampa and Gargano delivered in their New Orleans rematch. Should Triple H have chosen to let Ciampa and Gargano have a standard match like he did with Johnny Wrestling and Adam Cole a year later, I think I might feel slightly more enthusiastic about this show, but to basically run variations of a similar gimmick for three straight Takeovers? Helluva match, but the least engaging of the three.
#20: War Games
Black vs. Dream challenges Ricochet vs. Dream as the leader in the forgotten classic category, its strengths being more in storytelling than in aesthetic magic making it more of an engaging rewatch than some of its flashier peers. It was the standout match on this card, in my opinion, even though 2017 saw the return of the iconic NWA/WCW gimmick. War Games was a wild experience. You could call this first NXT iteration another good example of a swing match. I’m in the “very good” camp on it, but I can see how others would love it or hate it as opposed to more middle place position. It was certainly fascinating to see it after a near 20 year absence. McIntyre vs. Andrade was quite good too.
#19: Toronto II
Perhaps it was a victim of its time. By last summer, Takeover expectations were always enormous, so it did not feel in the moment like NXT put its best foot forward with its return to Toronto. Cole vs. Gargano III felt like overkill, even though it was still great by conventional standards. Io Shirai vs. Candice LeRae stole the show, but nothing else really rose to that level, in terms of establishing a legacy from bell-to-bell. That said, it was still a really good show in the “there’s no such thing as a bad Takeover” era. The main thing holding it back is one of the two or three worst Women’s Championship matches in Takeover history, a real missed opportunity for Mia Yim to breakout on NXT’s top stage.
The enduring legacy of the Banks vs. Bayley Ironwoman Match sets an otherwise above average event apart. Aided by a night built around the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, which itself endures well, Banks and Bayley’s superb rematch from their all-time classic in Brooklyn is among my personal Top 6-8 NXT matches, showcasing Banks at her absolute storytelling zenith and Bayley in a role that reflects back as vital to the growth of NXT in 2015 (as well as putting on display the unlimited potential her character had on the main roster before Vinnie Mac fumbled her ball at the 50 yard line, an egregious error that took her years to overcome). Name 5 more memorable moments than Sasha stealing Izzie’s Bayley headband…
2017 was an interesting year for NXT. It was the first time that the brand had to truly reload, with all of its original cornerstones having moved on. Frankly, the black and gold adapted quite well, as evidenced by shows like this one, which helped establish the aforementioned “NXT Takeovers are never bad” template mentioned previously. Tag Team wrestling got its well-earned and to date only main-event; Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne burst onto the North American scene with a rocket-buster and blew the tag team ladder match out of the water, but the end of the DIY chapter in NXT’s greatest-ever rivalry was certainly memorable too. The rest of the show was good, as well, highlighted by a nice challenger-of-the-month win over Hideo Itami by Roode.
The Takeover formula was still being developed here. It really was not until 2016 that they figured it out and even later that they stuck with it. Rival was the tale of two halves, the first three matches completely and utterly forgettable and the last three matches totally and utterly unforgettable. The main-event is the swing match for sure, with Owens vs. Zayn opting for storytelling over the headlining style we would later see from the brand, but it watches back as a tremendous change of pace from its NXT Takeover main-event peers. In the semi-main, the Women’s Revolution earned its moniker with the Fatal Four-Horsewomen-Way. Tucked underneath those title bouts was the Neville vs. Balor match that set the tone for the rest of the night; Takeover eventually got away from having much of a true mid-card, but if it had established it across the years, Neville-Balor might’ve gone down as the Savage-Steamboat in NXT special event lore.