Saturday, May 18, 2024

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NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in Review: Bayley’s Crowning Moment

Last night, the NXT Divas managed to raise the bar once again in the first live special off of their home turf. NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks took a break from the main roster to defend her title against the ultimate underdog, Bayley, in what was billed the co-main event of the evening. I’d speculate as to whether or not the match lived up to the hype, but I spoiled that in this review’s opening sentence, so…

Before we can get to the big match, we had a few other Diva appearances of note. First, we had WWE Hall of Famer Lita take a seat on the panel for the Kickoff show, joining Renee Young, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves:

On the main show, new Diva Nia Jax got her very own teaser promo:

The video features a voice over from Nia herself. She hypes herself, claiming that greatness is her destiny. I’m guessing they’ll play heavily on her relation to The Rock when she makes her debut. We’ll see how that goes!

Shortly after, Alexa Bliss met her match during the NXT Tag Team Title match. She accompanied Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy to the ring, as usual, but their opponents The Vaudevillains had some backup of their own: Blue Pants.

Near the end of the match, Alexa’s attempts to interfere are thwarted by Blue Pants, who follows her into the ring and tackles her. This opens the door for The Vaudevillains to grab the win and become the new NXT Tag Team Champions.

I’m not sure if this will lead to a genuine WWE deal for Leva – her joining The Vaudevillains felt like a temporary gig rather than a long-term partnership – but her WWEShop t-shirt may indicate otherwise. Either way, she’s worked long and hard for this moment, so it was exhilarating to see her enter to such a huge reaction. The WWE would be foolish to not try to capitalize on that in the long term, and I’m not just talking about t-shirt sales.

Before we can get to the co-main event of the evening, Stephanie McMahon comes to ringside to introduce the competitors. Also at ringside are Sasha’s Team B.A.D. partners Naomi and Tamina Snuka and…. Kana??? Let the signing rumors begin! That would be NXT’s first prestige Diva signing, right? I could see them treating it like the signings of Finn Balor and Apollo Crews and announce it with tons of fanfare, so if it’s happening, we won’t be in the dark for long.

Stephanie takes the mic, hyping the show before turning to the Divas match. She references the Diva Revolution, reminding the fans that it all started in NXT. She quotes Triple H, who said that he doesn’t just “put” them in the main event: they are the main event. A-fucking-men!

She introduces an excellent video package, which details how Bayley, despite being “left behind” in the wake of the Diva Revolution, is poised for greatness.

After that, Sasha and Bayley make their entrances, Sasha actually getting a custom entrance complete a Cadillac and bodyguards. Love. It. More of this for the Divas, please. Things like special entrances can easily instill a “big match” feel before the bell even sounds.

And speaking of the bell, there is goes! Off the bell, Sasha opts to play mind games with Bayley rather than deliver the first blow. Soon, Bayley’s had enough, and she tackles Sasha. The two trade blows to start things off. Bayley runs the ropes and hits a low clothesline, going for an early pin. Sasha kicks out. Bayley lifts Sasha, but Sasha takes control, sending Bayley into the corner twice. Bayley starts to “hulk up”, though, and turns the tables, pounding Sasha’s head against the turnbuckle. Bayley then lifts Sasha and puts her in the tree of woe, hitting a springboard elbow drop that drops Sasha to the mat. Another pin attempt, another kickout by the champ. Off the pin, Sasha pulls Bayley into a surprise roll-up, but Bayley kicks out.

Bayley is sent into the corer, but knocks away Sasha and hits an arm drag off the second rope. Sasha exits the ring for a breather, but Bayley gives chase, hitting her with a dropkick around the ring post. She tosses Sasha back into the ring, but Sasha takes back control, pulling her to the corner and going for a drop knee drop. Bayley slips out of the way, though, and the two do battle on the top rope. Sasha goes for a superplex, but Bayley fights her off. Sasha nails Bayley’s knee, though, sending her all the way to the outside.

Sasha taunts the crowd as Bayley recovers and reenters the ring. Sasha stays on her, beating her down, running the ropes and hitting her in the back with an elbow. She slaps Bayley across the face and goes for the pin. Bayley kicks out. Sasha continues to wear Bayley down by locking in a submission, twisting her head by the jaw. Bayley tries to fight back, but Sasha manages to lock in a straightjacket hold, one knee between her shoulder blades. Bayley soon gets to her feet. Before she can fight out, though, Sasha tosses her into the corner. Bayley starts to battle back, but Sasha fends her off and props her up in the corner for the double knee drop. She misses it again, Bayley slipping free. Sasha catches her in a headscissors, though, sending her face-first into the middle turnbuckle.

Once again, Sasha sets Bayley up across the ropes, this time on the very top. She finally hits the drop knee drop! She covers Bayley, but Bayley manages to kick out. Sasha stalks Bayley as she crawls to the corner, talking trash and calling her “pathetic.” Bayley responds with a blow of her own, taking Sasha out and pounding her on the head. She sends Sasha into the ropes, but Sasha reverses it, grabbing Bayley by the hair and sending her through the ropes and to the outside. Sasha follows, removing Bayley’s hand brace and tossing her back into the ring.

Mere seconds later, Sasha dumps Bayley out of the ring again, taking her to the steel steps and slamming her bad hand against them. She stomps on the hand and then wedges in between the steps and the ring apron, slamming it again. Sasha reenters the ring and taunts the crowd as Bayley tries to regroup and the referee assesses whether or not she broke her hand. Without warning, Sasha comes flying out of the ring, over the referee, taking out Bayley!

Sasha tosses Bayley back into the ring and goes for the pin. Bayley kicks out. Sasha takes Bayley’s hand and tries to skin the cat, scaling the turnbuckle, but Bayley sends her all the way to the floor outside for a rough landing. Sasha makes her way back into the ring and the two go blow-for-blow on their knees, slowly getting to their feet. Bayley takes control, knocking Sasha off her feet repeatedly with double axe handles. She gores Sasha in the corner and hits a back elbow before sending Sasha into the corner with a suplex!

Bayley goes for the Bayley-to-Belly, but Sasha blocks it! Bayley sends Sasha into the corner and roll her up, but Sasha rolls through! Sahsa blocks Bayley’s follow-up attack and hits the Bank Statement! Bayley is desperate, stuck in the submission hold. Sasha stomps on Bayleys bad hand as she reaches for the bottom rope, but Bayley find it in her to lock in a Bank Statement of her own! Sasha manages to catch her boot on the bottom rope and break the hold.

Sasha fights off Bayley and grabs the ropes, but Bayley pulls her free and hits the Bayley-to-Belly! She covers Sasha but only earns a near fall. Bayley pulls Sasha to her feet, lifting her up to sit on the top rope. Sasha blocks Bayley’s top rope Bayley-to-Belly attempt and knocks her off, but Bayley returns with a forearm! She tries to hit a high risk move off the top rope, but Sasha tosses her off! Bayley has a sick landing, nearly falling on her head.

Sasha comes flying off the ropes, taking Bayley off her feet! She goes for the pin, but Bayley somehow kicks out. Sasha lifts Bayley up to the top rope, but Bayley fights her off. Sasha joins her up there. Bayley takes back control and hits her with a reverse Frankensteiner off the top rope. She hits the Bayley-to-Belly and pins Sasha! Bayley is your new NXT Women’s Champion!

The crowd is electric as Bayley is handed her new championship. She’s soon joined by Charlotte and Becky Lynch, who lift her onto their shoulders. Shortly after, Sasha joins them, completing the Four Horsewomen reunion. The four have a group hug, emotionally saluting Bayley and symbolically passing the torch.

Thoughts: Holy shit. Somehow, someway, the NXT Divas manage to outdo themselves again and again. It’s become a trademark for them, these matches that put you, the viewer, through the ringer. You feel like you’ve been in the match yourself, feeling the highs and lows, gasping when they take hard falls and yelling when there’s a surprise near fall. It’s becoming old hat for the NXT Divas division, but the feeling hasn’t come even close to wearing off yet.

I’m excited to see where the division goes from here, with new Divas like Nia Jax on the cusp of their debuts. It’s in good hands, though: Bayley will make an excellent figurehead, and it will be refreshing to see a pure babyface at the top, fending off all these newcomers as they vie for her title. New Divas, fresh combinations, unique feuds? Bring it on!

One thing I love about these NXT live special matches is how different they all are. From the very first NXT live special match between Emma and Paige at NXT ArRIVAL to last night, every single one had its own feel, its own story. This match was the completion of Bayley’s “hero’s journey”, of course, but was also about Sasha’s ego getting checked and both women being propelled by the historic crowd’s infectious enthusiasm into taking humongous risks.

They didn’t merely repeat Becky and Sasha’s bruising match, though: this match had its own risks, its own memorable spots that fit the their unique chemistry and relationship. This was about Bayley being given every chance to quit, to fall short, but battling back, her guts and the crowd’s encouragement driving her forward. This was about Sasha having climbed to the top and come back to her old stomping grounds to prove why she’s the one who made the Divas Champion tap out last Monday. Even though she was the kayfabe “favorite” to win, she was the one with a chip on her shoulder. It felt like she had more to prove than the fans’ beloved Bayley, at least in her own mind. She had a SummerSlam match to worry about, too, so the last thing she wanted was to be “shown up” on the smaller stage.

It’s this kind of nuance that the main roster matches still lack, even in the era of the Diva Revolution. I can only hope that the main roster Divas’ longer matches will soon be joined by another key aspect of NXT’s success: pure storytelling. Not just heel vs. face: motivation, psychology, history. All of that made Bayley vs. Sasha a Match of the Year candidate as much as the exciting spots and raucous crowd reactions did. All of this, in a nutshell, is what the WWE should be aspiring to: making the Divas’ matches matter. Making the crowd care. The story matters just as much as the in-ring action, and delivering only one of those will only get you half way. The Diva Revolution may have started in NXT, but it’s still got plenty to learn from the “minor leagues” if the WWE wants it to be deemed a success.

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