Sunday, June 23, 2024

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NXT TakeOver: London in Review: Twice as Nice

NXT TakeOver: London continued the Divas division’s streak of great, memorable TakeOver matches. For the first time, though, it brought to the table two Divas matches that were equal in hype: NXT Women’s Champion Bayley put her title on the line against the undefeated Nia Jax, while the similarly undefeated Asuka finally clashed with Emma.

These two matches accomplished their individual missions in unique ways that, at multiple times, brought the London crowd to their feet. You didn’t get the sense that Asuka and Emma were playing second fiddle, nor that Bayley and Nia were coasting on title match prestige. These women continued the legacy of Divas stealing the show and, crucially, pointed us towards an even brighter 2016.

On the pre-show, we were treated to another panel appearance by Lita, as she, Renee Young and Tom Phillips ran down the card and voiced their expectations leading into the show:

On to the main show! We kicked off TakeOver: London with Asuka and Emma’s match. That scheduling, in itself, must have been a vote of confidence by the Powers-That-Be. They knew Asuka and Emma would be able to get the crowd fired up right out of the gate, and that they did:

Asuka’s enters first, mask in place. Emma enters with Dana Brooke by her side and a pair of sunglasses on her face.

The match begins with a chorus of “Asuka’s gonna kill you” chants. Emma ducks the opening tie up and narrowly dodges a spinning heel kick. Emma backs into the ropes and then reluctantly circles Asuka again, tussling until Asuka catches her in a waistlock. Emma immediately tries to reverse the hold, but Asuka grabs hold of her arm and twists it, taking back control. Emma turns the tables, grabbing Asuka by the arm and wrenching it. Asuka quickly does the same and sends Emma into the ropes.

When she hits the ropes, Emma hangs on to them, leaving Asuka to miss her dropkick and hit the mat. She goes for the pin, but Asuka kicks out. Emma pulls Asuka up by her arm, but Asuka quickly turns the tables. Emma flips forward, but Asuka doesn’t let go. She tries again, but its still no good. Emma eventually reverses the hold, and the two trade control until Emma elbows her way free. She runs the ropes, only to be chased down by Asuka and locked in an armbar.

Emma frantically gets to the ropes, breaking the hold with her boot. Asuka kicks Emma, chasing her out of the ring. She goes out on to the apron and lands a flying hip attack from the apron! She then sends Emma back into the ring and thwarts a sneak attack by Dana. When Asuka climbs onto the ring apron, Emma sends her off it with a dropkick. Emma follows her outside and pummels her back. She and Asuka reenter the ring, Emma stomping on Asuka in the corner before choking her with her boot.

Emma hits another dropkick and goes for the pin, but Asuka again kicks out. Emma plants her boots on Asuka’s shoulders and grabs hold of Asuka’s arms, tugging them. Emma pulls Asuka’s legs up for another pin attempt. Asuka kicks out. Emma continues to dominate Asuka, wrapping her in the ropes and then planting her back with a kick. Another pin attempt, another kickout by Asuka. Emma pummels her in the head as the crowd uses the football “OLE!” tune to chant “ASUKA!”. Emma locks in a full nelson on Asuka, but she soon starts to fight back, running the ropes and taking Emma down with a backslide pin. Emma kicks out. The two stay connected by the arms, but Emma takes back control with a vicious clothesline. She covers Asuka, but it’s not enough for the pin.

Emma sends Asuka into the corner hard, and she falls to the mat. Asuka screams in anger. Emma takes her to a neighboring corner and then sends her into the opposite one, again sending her falling to the mat. Asuka screams again. When Emma tries to whip her into the opposite corner, Asuka blocks it, earning a slap from Emma. Emma tries to whip her into a corner again, but Asuka leaps onto the ropes and comes flying back at her with a missile dropkick!

Both Divas get to their knees and trade blows. Emma gets to her feet first and runs the ropes, only to be met with a series of kicks from Asuka. Asuka lands right hands and backs her into the ropes. Emma reverses her whip into the ropes, but Asuka hits her flying hip attack on the return, flattening Emma. Asuka nails Emma with a flurry of kicks to the chest, but Emma catches her final one, swinging at her and missing. Asuka misses her kicks as well, and Emma rolls her into a pin attempt. Asuka kicks out and responds with another flurry of offense, hitting another hip attack and going for the pin. Emma kicks out.

Asuka soaks in the crowd reaction, dragging Emma around by her hand. Emma frees herself and back into the corner. Asuka comes charging and Emma dodges it, locking in the Dilemma! Emma hits a butterfly suplex into the turnbuckle and then hits the Emmamite sandwich! Emma goes for the pin, but Asuka kicks out!

Emma goes for another pin, but Asuka kicks out once more. Emma drags Asuka’s face against the mat and then goes for the Emma Lock, but Asuka catches her by the leg! She locks in an ankle lock! Emma gets to her feet to get free, but Asuka catches her and sends her flying with a German suplex! She then blasts her with a kick to the jaw and goes for the pin, but Emma kicks out!

Asuka grabs Emma by the hand and goes for the Asuka Lock! Emma flails around, trying to block it, and she backs Asuka – along with the referee – into the corner. As the referee is distracted, Dana hands something to Emma, but Asuka grabs it! The Divas fight for it until Asuka grabs it. The referee sees her with the foreign object and scolds her, allowing Emma to roll her up!

Asuka kicks out and immediately locks in the Asuka Lock! Dana distracts the referee as Emma taps, and while the ref doesn’t see this, he does eject Dana from ringside. Asuka is distracted by this, and Emma tries to ambush her, but Asuka responds with a spinning heel kick that lays her out! Asuka covers Emma for the pin and the win!

In a post-match online exclusive, Dana made it clear that things aren’t quite finished between she, Emma and Asuka:

I wonder what that means. Will they up the ante and force Asuka to bring in Athena as backup? Will I ever stop trying to predict Athena’s debut?

This match is followed by an appearance by Carmella, who accompanied Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady to the ring for their NXT Tag Team Title match against Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson:

Later on, Nia is interviewed backstage before her big match:

Nia says she’s going to do to Bayley what she’s done to every other woman she’s come across in the ring. Before she can complete her thought, though, Asuka appears, sharing a quick staredown with her. Afterwards, Nia finishes her thought, promising to dominate and destroy Bayley.

Next (after yet another fabulous video package by the folks at NXT), it’s time for our Women’s Title match! Nia makes her entrance with a unique cape-like accessory on her shoulders, while Bayley’s got on her usual arm streamers.

After the customary title match introductions, Bayley ducks Nia’s opening attack twice, backing into the corner and evading her before attempting to take her down for a crucifix pin. Nia stops her, but Bayley still manages to back her into the corner, nailing her with elbows. Nia catches Bayley and tosses her across the ring. She headbutts the champion and fends off her attacks, dropping her shoulder onto her knee.

Nia locks in a half nelson, tossing Bayley around like a rag doll. After a while of this, Bayley starts to fade, but somehow gets free. When Nia scoops her up again, Bayley slips onto her back and locks in a dragon sleeper! Nia knocks her off of her back quickly by backing her into the corner. Bayley ducks her follow-up attack and hits her with back elbows before climbing to the second rope. Nia knocks her off and lifts her up for a Samoan drop, but Bayley slips free and hits her with a dropkick to the knee. She hits another dropkick – this time to the face – and then climbs to the top rope, hitting Nia with a back elbow. Through all of that, Nia still stands!

Bayley climbs to another corner, hitting another flying elbow, but it still doesn’t knock Nia down. When she tries for a third time, Nia simply swats her out of the air. Nia grabs Bayley by the throat, but Bayley locks in a triangle choke! Nia lifts Bayley up bodily, taking her to the corner and propping her atop the top rope.

Nia preps for a top rope attack, but Bayley fights back, shoving her all the way to the mat. Bayley then climbs to the top turnbuckle and hits a flying senton! She does for the pin, but Nia kicks out with authority, sending Bayley out of the ring. Bayley slips back into the ring, but is quickly taken down with a Samoan drop. Nia covers Bayley, but the champ kicks out! Nia takes Bayley down with two Samoan drops and a legdrop before going for another pin. Still, Bayley manages to kick out! Nia paces around before pulling Bayley to her feet, sending into the corner and hitting a series of splashes. She then tosses her across the ring by her head.

The referee checks out Bayley, but she’s conscious, so Nia is allowed to pull her to her feet again, hitting a legdrop over her shoulder and then three more onto the back of her neck. She covers Bayley, but it’s not enough!

Nia watches Bayley as she crawls to the corner, pulling herself to her feet. Nia squashes her in the corner, dropping her to the mat again. Nia lifts her into the top rope, trying for a top rope Samoan drop. Bayley locks in a guillotine choke! Nia stumbles to the middle of the ring, Bayley holding on tenaciously. Somehow, Nia finds a way to free herself, slamming Bayley to the mat.

When Nia reaches down to grab her, Bayley locks in the choke again! Nia gets to her feet, taking Bayley with her. Nia drops her once more. Bayley locks in the choke a third time! Nia gets to her feet, but drops to one knee, then onto her back! Nia sits up again, but Bayley won’t let go! Nia fights, but eventually is forced to tap out. Bayley is still your Women’s Champion!

Post-show, Bayley talked about her big victory:

Bayley complimented Nia, admitting that something about Nia messes with one’s mind. She put her victory down to experience, saying that it gave her what she needed to persevere. She also complimented the raucous crowd, adding that she can’t wait to come back to the UK.

Thoughts: Wow. Another TakeOver, another great showcase for the Divas. This was the third time two Divas matches have been booked on a TakeOver special, but it was easily my favorite of the three in terms of delivering two high quality matches that put over characters and advanced storylines. Unstoppable and RESPECT had fantastic Women’s Title matches, of course, but the lower card Divas matches certainly played second fiddle. Here, the matches felt almost even in hype and quality. That’s not a knock on Bayley and Nia’s match, but more so a reflection on how Asuka and Emma really stepped up.

Asuka and Emma’s match was every bit as great as I was hoping it’d be. Emma proved herself more than capable of keeping up with Asuka’s pace, and she managed to sell her intimidation while holding her own in the match. That’s not something not every Diva could pull off: looking tough and talented while still portraying the cowardice of a heel. I can’t stress enough how much her NXT return has revitalized her. It’s given her a new lease on life, and she’s run with it. Asuka was, of course, a wonder to behold. The crowd absolutely adored her, and with good reason: her style makes each match one hell of a ride. The way she locked in that last Asuka Lock, coupled with the insane crowd reaction, made the moment feel like something out of a Ronda Rousey fight: edge-of-your-seat, exhilarating sportsmanship.

Dana has come so far. She didn’t do much here other than interfere every now and then and talk trash, but the way she handled herself spoke of the comfort she has in her character: she’s owning it. She still has work to do on her mic skills, but she’s far from the mishmash of concepts she started out as.

Bayley and Nia’s match surprised me. I knew the bookers would find a way to craft a match that exploited Nia’s strengths and hid her weaknesses, but I didn’t expect them to do so so creatively. The build-up to it left a lot to be desired, but they more than made up for it in the story they told within the ropes. Each Women’s Title TakeOver match has told its own story, and this had a definite narrative, Bayley overcoming the unstoppable Nia by pulling out every trick in her book and not just relying on what got her to the dance. Bayley, like few Divas before her, modifies her move set and strategies based on her opponents, and it was never more obvious than here. You get the sense that she intensively studied Nia’s previous matches, looking for what worked for her opponents and what didn’t. Not only did that make the match feel real, but it enhanced Bayley’s character. She is the superfan, after all. If anyone could read their opponent like a book, it would be the woman that eat, sleeps and breathes wrestling.

I loved the series of chokes Bayley busted out. They threw something new at Nia, making her defeat believable. She doesn’t look weaker for it, as she’s still undefeated by pinfall, and you can be assured that she do her best to prevent anyone from exploiting that weakness again. Again, these moments gave me Ronda Rousey fight vibes, thanks to the sudden momentum shifts and the crowd’s reactions. It was just epic, making for a thrilling match. While it wasn’t one of the best Divas TakeOver matches ever, it certainly was satisfying from a storytelling perspective.

Perhaps most importantly, both of these matches helped push the division forward while continuing the legacy of women stealing the show at TakeOver specials. Having great matches is always an achievement, but there’s something very valuable in putting on well-received matches using the women that are current members of the division. That’s by no means a knock on Sasha Banks – she absolutely killed it in her Brooklyn and RESPECT matches. It’s just good to see the current division being built up by this kind of exposure. It gets fans excited about the future of the division and the many kinds of women it showcases. It also helps build up future “Sashas”: women who almost effortlessly steal the show whenever called upon. Think of it as NXT investing in its own future.

Speaking of the future: I’m really curious to see where we go from here. Asuka and Nia had their “moment”, but Dana and Emma seem to still have their sights set on Asuka, so where is this going? Who is challenging Bayley next? I honestly don’t know. NXT rarely does me wrong, though, so I’m willing to sit back and trust that whatever comes, it’ll make for one hell of a show.

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