Friday, April 19, 2024

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NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable in Review: Blood, Sweat and Tears

Last night at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, NXT continued one trend and started another: embarrassing those booking the main roster Divas and doubling its Divas offering by showcasing two women’s matches.

Yes, for the first time ever, two Divas matches inhabited the card. Also for the first time ever (that I can tell), the NXT Divas put on the longest match of the night. If you completely ignored the main roster (something I wouldn’t advise, as tempting as it may be), you’d think the WWE was one of the most progressive wrestling companies around. Great wrestling from men and women? It’s like if ROH or New Japan deigned to actually maintain a women’s division.

The first match of the night saw soon-to-be main roster Diva Charlotte (Treasure those extra minutes while you can!) and Bayley take on new Diva Dana Brooke and Emma (Treasure those extra minutes while you…oh.)

Dana and Emma make their entrance first, Emma co-opting Dana’s theme and making me irrationally dislike the theme even more. If you (like me) thought the music was ill-fitting before, wait until you see Emma walk out to it! Dana’s look has alientated me even more. I just don’t get it. I’m not sure I ever will. She just doesn’t click for me. Nothing about her seems to gel. The three Divas surrounding her feel like fully realized characters, while she comes across as a ton of ideas mashed together.

Okay, enough Dana hate. Charlotte gets her own entrance, followed by Bayley’s. Bayley is again wearing her streamer sleeves (Yay!) and hands out slap bracelets to some eager young fans. I really want to see those inflatable dudes in a big WWE arena. Would that make it the most intricate main roster Diva entrance ever?

Bayley and Dana starts things off, Dana shoving Bayley roughly out of the opening tie-up. She taunts Charlotte, giving Bayley enough time to ho
Eist her up and carry her to her corner. Bayley invites Charlotte to tag herself in, and she does, entering the ring and viciously taking down Dana off of a slingshot move by Bayley.

Charlotte locks in a full nelson on Dana and allows Bayley to tag back in. She lands a chop across Dana’s chest. When Charlotte frees Dana, the new Diva crawls quickly to her own corner, tagging in Emma.

Emma tries to stand toe-to-toe with Bayley, but she finds herself shoved to the mat, Bayley already having it *up to here* with her shenanigans. Emma slips out of the ring as the commentary team covertly acknowledges her arrest last year (???) and Bayley follows. She tries to use Dana as a human shield, but Bayley has no qualms about taking her out either. She hits Dana with a dropkick through the turnbuckle, taking out both Divas.

Bayley sends Emma back into the ring and heads to the second rope, prepping for a high risk move. Dana pops up, though, providing a distraction that allows Emma to yank Bayley off the ropes, causing her to smack the back of her head against the top turnbuckle. Ouch! Emma goes for the cover, but Bayley kicks out at two.

Emma lands some kicks and slams Bayley’s face against the mat before going for another cover and getting the same result. She then takes aim at Bayley’s neck, twisting her head sideways in a submission hold. Emma eventually releases the hold, but Bayley can’t regain control. She’s taken to Emma’s corner, and Dana is tagged in. Dana stomps Bayley’s midsection a bit before tagging Emma back in.

The Divas get into a quick tag rhythm, tagging in, laying in a few stomps and tagging out. Emma eventually tags in for an extended stay, tossing Bayley across the ring and hitting her with the Emmamite sandwich. She tries to put Bayley away with a pin, but only gets a two count.

Emma toys with Bayley, mockingly hugging her before socking her right in the jaw. She gets a little too comfortable, taunting the crowd and allowing Bayley to sneak up on her with an impressive release suplex. This allows her to get to her corner, tagging in Charlotte just as Dana comes charging into the ring off of her own tag. Charlotte takes control, knocking Dana off her feet with a series of chops and hitting a neckbreaker.

Dana reverses a whip into the ropes, but Charlotte hangs on, coming off of the ropes with her own momentum and planting Dana with a kick that flattens her. Emma tries take out Charlotte, but she is chased out of the ring, providing a distraction that allows Dana to attack Charlotte from behind.

Dana tags in Emma and the two go for a double clothesline. Charlotte cartwheels over their arms, though, and takes both out with an impressive double DDT. Charlotte kips up, all fired up, and goes for the pin on Emma, who kicks out. When on her feet, Emma fights off further attacks from Charlotte and takes to the top turnbuckle. She hits Charlotte with a crossbody, but the second generation Diva continues the move’s momentum, flipping over and immediately setting Emma up for a figure four leglock. She bridges it into the figure eight leglock, and Emma looks ready to tap when Dana enters the ring to break the hold. However, Bayley’s in just as quickly, sliding under the submission hold and slipping behind Dana, grabbing her and taking her out with a Bayley-to-Belly suplex!

Meanwhile, Emma is dazed, looking around for Charlotte. The former Women’s Champion comes up behind her to hit the Natural Selection! Charlotte pins Emma for the three count and earns the win for her team.

Post-match, Bayley and Charlotte celebrate, trying out each other’s taunts: the Flair family strut/Woo! and Bayley’s high fives. Happy ending!

Next up, we have an appearance by Carmella, who accompanies Enzo Amore and Big Cass to the ring for their Tag Team Title match against Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy.

Prior to the match, we caught a glimpse of Carmella and her boys outside the arena before the camera ran off to find Hideo Itami, who has sustained a mystery attack:

Tag match time:

Partway through the match, Carmella’s budding enemy Alexa Bliss makes a surprise appearance, taking out Carmella and costing Enzo and Cass the match. She celebrates with Murphy and Blake, making it clear that this Diva is now less Queen Elsa and more Evil Queen. You know, the one from Snow White. Preferably the beautiful, badass version Charlize Theron played in that movie nobody liked. Bring on the all-black!

I’m excited to see more of this Carmella/Alexa feud. It’s one of four (count ’em – FOUR) Diva feuds addressed on this show. I know, my head is spinning too.

Last (but obviously, stupidly not least), we have the much-hyped NXT Women’s Title match. The Boss herself, Ms. Sasha Banks, defends the belt against Becky Lynch:

Prior to the match, we’re treated to an awesome video package. It lends the match a big fight feel, which is something (of many things, apparently) that the main roster should take notes on.

Listen to me carefully, powers-that-be on the main roster:


Ahem. Anyways…

After the video package, we see both Divas mentally prepare themselves backstage before making their way to the entrance ramp. I don’t watch much MMA or boxing, but that little touch gave me a Ronda Rousey vibe. I’m sure it was intentional.

Once both Divas are in the ring, JoJo gives them the full title match treatment, giving them great introductions to the fired up crowd. Becky’s sporting a look that, at first glance, gave me major Litacirca-2003 vibes, a look I loved. On second glance, it wasn’t quite that – the shiny, ruffly shorts and all – but I think she’s zeroing in on a great look. She’ll get there. The hair may be a point of debate, but I think going all hyper-glow with it is a good choice. If she’s going to rock either a steampunk or a Mad Max post-apocalyptic chic look, she might as well go all out with it, The Fifth Element hair and all. In fact, she should wipe grease over her eyes and channel another awesome Charlize Theron character. No one will fuck with her.

Enough talk. Let’s get to the match!

We start things to the tune of competing “SASHA’S RACHET/NO SHE’S NOT” chants. The Divas tie up, Sasha backing Becky into the corner and slapping her in the face a few times. She’s fired up. Becky fires right back, wrenching Sasha’s left arm behind her. She lets go, allowing Sasha to run the ropes. Becky flattens herself, tripping Sasha up. She pulls her into a cradle pin attempt, which Sasha flips into a pin attempt of her own, which Bayley flips into a pin attempt of her own, which Sasha flips into a pin attempt of her own, which….. Becky bridges out of.

Becky gets to her feet and tries to pull Sasha into a backslide pin, but the Boss prevents it, keeping herself upright. She takes a wild swing at Becky, but it’s ducked. Becky runs her up against the ropes, but Sasha hangs on. Becky is resourceful, though, and manages to pull Sasha free from the ropes and roll her into a pin.

Sasha kicks out and comes back fighting, but Becky grabs hold of her left arm again, twisting it. Sasha’s not having this, though, and shoves Becky off of her, going for a pin. Becky kicks out in her own unique way, using her core strength to simply stand up. She runs the ropes and ducks Sasha’s flying attack, slipping under her and grabbing one of her boots. Keeping Sasha on her stomach, she tries to lock in an armbar on that left arm, but Sasha twists free, crawling across the ring and putting some distance between them.

Sasha regroups a bit, Becky staring a hole straight through her. She charges back at Becky, but only does her arm more damage when Becky captures it, straddles it and stomps her weight onto it. Sasha gets taken down with a series of arm drags and, frantic to free her bum arm, backs Becky into the corner. The referee forces a break, which Sasha obliges, following it up with a sucker punch to Becky’s face.

When she goes in for another attack, Becky slips out of the corner, using the second rope as momentum and kicking Sasha square in the chest. Sasha is booted through the ropes, but manages to stay on the ring apron. Becky follows her, hopping over the top rope with ease. She tries to kick the prone Sasha right in the face, but her boot is caught, and Sasha sweeps Becky’s leg out from under her, forcing her to eat ring apron…and probably a few of her own front teeth.

Becky writhes on the floor outside while Sasha catches a breather. She eventually grabs Becky to toss her into the steel post, looking to scramble the remainder of Becky’s brains. She tosses her back into the ring and follows, breaking the referee’s count. She goes for the cover, but Becky manages to power out.

Sasha takes her time continuing the attack, pulling Becky to her feet and wrapping her up in the ropes. She taunts Becky and the crowd while doling out the punishment, nearly pulling Becky’s left arm out of its socket when she hangs from it. She pauses after freeing her to do a little Becky-esque head bang, returning to the action only to be met with a small package pin attempt by Becky. She kicks out.

Becky fights back and attempts a clothesline, but Sasha catches the arm, draping it across her and knocking her off her feet. She goes for another pin attempt, but Becky kicks out. Sasha stays on Becky, wrapping both of her arms around her own neck in a submission hold. Becky slowly gets to her feet, but Sasha isn’t about to let go – she brings Becky back down harshly, planting both knees into her back and modifying the hold. When Becky doesn’t tap, she modifies it again, turning Becky onto her stomach and shaking her roughly.

Sasha switches positions yet again, planting a boot between Becky’s shoulderblades to add pressure. As Becky again fights to her feet, Sasha maintains her grip. It takes two barrages into the corner and the threat of a third for Sasha to finally let go, and she does so by tossing Becky into the corner herself. Becky starts to fight back, but Sasha puts a stop to it, draping her across the ropes and going for her leaping knees attack. Becky tries to block it by holding on to the ropes, but that only gives Sasha a better idea, and she plants both knees on Becky’s bad arm instead.

She drags Becky to the middle of the ring and covers her for the pin, but Becky manages to kick out. Try as she might, Becky can’t stop Sasha from continuing the assault on her left arm, and the Boss stands up, extending the arm up high so she can better hyperextend it. Sasha even steps on it, pressing it all the way to the mat, drawing a wail of agony from Becky. Sure, arms bend that way, but God, that looks painful.

With one last stomp, she lets go of Becky’s arm and covers her for the pin. Becky, somehow, kicks out. Sasha’s back on the arm, locking in a more traditional armbar this time. Becky gets to her feet to force Sasha’s shoulders on to the mat, but the pin is short-lived, and Becky’s soon back on the mat, Sasha increasing the pressure on her arm and kicking her in the head. Sasha switches the hold up, wrapping Becky’s arm around her leg.

Becky manages to roll over her shoulder for another pin attempt, but Sasha again flips back to the hold, holding on with a vice grip. Soon, Becky again rolls back, but instead of a pin this time, she decides to simply lift Sasha bodily, somehow finding the strength to pull her up onto her shoulder and drop her straight onto her back. Well, that’s one way to get out of a submission hold…

As both Divas catch their breath on the mat, the fans show their appreciation, chanting, “THIS IS WRESTLING!” They get to their feet, Becky taking control with a string of offense. When Sasha backs into the corner, Becky comes charging, but is vaulted over the ropes and onto the ring apron. Becky battles back, though, slamming Sasha’s head against the turnbuckle. She then climbs to the top rope and blasts Sasha backwards with a high impact dropkick. She covers Sasha, but it’s not enough for the three count.

Becky tries to even the odds by grabbing hold of Sasha’s left arm, but Sasha isn’t having that. She fights Becky off and shakes her off completely by skinning the cat and sending her flying across the ring, punctuating it with two charging knee attack into the corner. She folds Becky up for the pin, but the resilient Becky powers out. She tries for another pin, but gets the same result.

Sasha surveys Becky a bit before bringing her to her feet, jawing with her a bit and slapping her across the face. Becky responds with an uppercut, leading to an exchange between the two that ends in Sasha once again capturing Becky’s left arm. Becky, desperate to avoid another lengthy armbar, tosses Sasha out of the ring. She follows, keeping control and yanking Sasha against the ring post, doing some major damage to her left arm. Drawn by the referee’s ever-increasing count, she tosses Sasha back into the ring and follows her.

Becky slams Sasha with a release suplex and kips up, planting a leg drop on Sasha’s arm before locking in a unique armbar of her own, using her feet to hyperextend Sasha’s elbow. She releases the hold, only to send Sasha flying with another release suplex. She covers Sasha, but the champ kicks out at two.

Becky is at a loss, but attempts a third suplex. Sasha slips out and turns the tables, going for a suplex of her own. Becky blocks it, though, and rolls it almost hypnotically into an armbar! Sasha looks like she’s far from the ropes. Will she tap?

The answer is no, but it takes a while for her to crawl over to the bottom rope and grab hold of it. When she does, Becky hangs on for as long as the referee’s count will allow. She eventually lets go, the referee preventing her from attacking Sasha while she’s propped up against the bottom rope. When she gets close enough, Sasha grabs her and tosses her through the ropes and to the outside. Sasha, seeing Becky in prime position for a suicide dive, comes flying through the ropes. Becky, despite taking a tumble, catches her, and after some contemplation rams her against the steel steps.

She tosses Sasha back into the ring and, exhausted, makes one last gutsy attempt at putting the match to bed. She climbs to the top rope. Out of nowhere, here comes Sasha! She grabs Becky by her bad arm and drops them both all the way to the mat. She then immediately locks in the Bank Statement! Becky fights frantically, but she can’t escape, and is soon tapping out, awarding the victory to Sasha. The winner and still your NXT Women’s Championnnnnnnn…

After the match and Sasha’s celebration (Do not try to lift her bad arm, Mr. Referee), Becky is left alone in the ring, and the grateful NXT audience gives her a standing ovation. Ditto.

If all of THAT wasn’t enough, we also caught a glimpse of former TNA Knockout and rumored NXT trainer candidate Sarah Stock, the artist formerly known as Sarita. She was one of the women taking selfies during Tyler Breeze‘s entrance at the top of the show. Alongside her were NXT Divas Dasha Kuret, Gionna Daddio and Jasmin:

That woman could wrestle the pants off most men and can rock a technicolor faux fur hoodie. What can’t she do?

Thoughts: The tag match obviously won’t be topping anyone’s list of top Divas TakeOver matches, but that’s not a huge slight to it: it’s just in really, really good company. Hell, if we had anything like this at Payback on Sunday, most Diva fans would’ve been applauding. Still, I doubt anyone was expecting a classic from it. Personally, I was just looking forward to seeing Emma and Bayley hash things out. Unfortunately, we didn’t see as much of that as I’d like. I really wish NXT would’ve booked them in a singles match, but do understand the temptation to get Charlotte on the card. She draws a level of energy from the crowd that few Divas can.

Dana still isn’t lighting my world on fire, coming across as a bland heel destined for jobber status on the main roster. That’s harsh, I know, but I. Just. Don’t. Get. Her. She’s surrounded by so many great, dynamic Divas that it’s become painfully obvious how much fine tuning she needs. Her character, her move set, her music, her look, her body language – none of feels cohesive. If NXT is set on pushing her (and booking her in a TakeOver match so soon after her debut means they are), they need to define her. An arrogant bodybuilder/fitness competitor with rocker chick music and ring gear that’s the lovechild of Trish Stratus and Beth Phoenix‘s is the opposite of defined. It’s all over the place.

Sorry. That was too much energy expended on bitching. I just have a lot of Dana Brooke feelings, apparently.

So, in a nutshell: this was a fine tag match that wasn’t destined to reach the high bar Divas TakeOver matches have set. It just wasn’t meant to. Its most important function, to me, was to make this the first NXT live special to book two Divas matches. By that token, it wasn’t a waste by any means. It was a fun little match with a feel-good moment that the crowd was very into. It was massively overshadowed by the Women’s Title match, sure, but so was every other match on the card not featuring a surprise appearance by Samoa Joe. Even as the “B” Divas match, it outshone most of the Divas matches we’ve gotten on the main roster lately. I won’t deny that a lot of that was due to the fantastic crowd reactions, but still!

And now for the Women’s Title match… wow.

Whether it’s the best Divas NXT match so far is up for debate. I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite, but one thing that struck me was how fresh it felt. All of the others had more history behind them and, though that’s an asset to story-building, it kept the matches from feeling totally new. This felt new. The moves, the pacing, the chemistry – it all felt fresh and added to the awe-inspiring nature of the match.

Most – if not all – of the NXT live special matches have ended with all the competitors looking exhausted, the lengthy matches taking everything out of them. This was the first time that exhaustion felt like the result of debilitating pain, Sasha and Becky outright torturing each other. The result was one of the most brutal non-stipulation Divas matches we’ve seen in some time. See? They don’t need weapons to bring the brutality. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the brutal stipulation matches. But if the WWE is as averse to putting Divas in them as I think they are, at least we know the Divas are capable of doling out career-shortening punishment without getting themselves DQed.

This, honestly, felt like the first NXT Divas match where an ambulance ride should have been in order for both women. They brought psychology, but not in the pure way: they took chain wrestling and slapped it with a pillowcase full of bricks. It felt real. It exhausted me, and I was just recapping the damn thing.

And can we talk about how this match, clocking in at 15:28, was (apparently) the longest bout on the card?? How? When? Is this real life? Can I manage to reference a meme from after 2008? The answer is no. Not now. I’m too flabbergasted. I don’t remember what the longest Divas match on record is, but this has to be near the very top, if not #1.

Sasha is a star – there’s no debating that. She’s long since overcome the blandness that plagued her very early NXT days, a shutter shades-wearing butterfly emerged from a cocoon. Becky is well on her way, coming into her own and carving out a place in the division with a unique, bombastic move set and eye-grabbing look. Few expected her to win here, but that didn’t matter: we knew that this match gave her the first chance she’s had to tear the house down in NXT. Boy, did she deliver. This catapulted her right to the top of the division, like some shooting star with the hair to match.

Most importantly, though, this match made the NXT Women’s Title feel like something these women would sustain permanent damage to obtain. That adds prestige and importance to your title. That’s why (amongst many other reasons) this young title holds more weight than the Divas Title. Divas can hold the butterfly belt for the better part of a year and extol its value to they’re blue in the face, but it’s not until the women give their blood, sweat and tears in order to win it that it becomes truly valuable. The stakes need to be raised. The matches need to matter. The Divas need to be given time to show what they can do. These things have been stated over and over and over and over again in the shadow of the #GiveDivasAChance explosion, but the WWE has yet to hear reason. NXT, however, has been subscribing to this belief for a long time now. This makes me wonder if we just have a communication problem. Can the WWE not hear us? Maybe NXT can do us a solid and pass the message along.

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