It’s fair to say that both nights of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver ended up living up to the hype. Some might even say that the two-night format has been a huge success.
In the eyes of this writer, the first night was the better of the two outings. Tommaso Ciampa vs. Walter so far has been WrestleMania’s best game of the week, with these two tough hitters setting up a physicality clinic. Everything about the match felt fair: The fight didn’t go beyond its welcome and had one of the best ring psychologies I’ve seen on an NXT show in quite some time. Walter injuring his hand, cutting off the announcement table and selling it in every little thing he did throughout the fight was a thing of beauty.
The first night also featured an absolutely outstanding main event, with the main roster (one might assume) linked to Io Shirai dropping out of the NXT Women’s Championship after a 304-day reign at rising star Raquel Gonzalez. In a venture that has at times been shy about tying the rocket to the back of a new star in recent years, they spared no expense to make Gonzalez look like a million bucks with his title win. Gonzalez, who kicked off Shirai’s top rope moonsault, has made the new NXT Women’s Champion a dominant force.
Another great outing was sandwiched between those two matches, with MSK winning the NXT Tag Team Championships by beating young veterans Grizzled and Legado Del Fantasma. Ironically, these are the two teams MSK beat in the final and semi-finals of last year’s Dusty Classic, the team’s night out with NXT.
It was the three successive matches that brought the first night to a close, a tough line to beat which has so far made it the best night of the week so far. The second night was by no means a bad show, although it never seemed to exceed what we saw 24 hours earlier. For me, the highlight was that Karrion Kross beat Finn Balor in an NXT Championship fight that often referred to a “big fight feel”.
I enjoyed the unauthorized Kyle O’Reilly vs Adam Cole match that closed NXT TakeOver on the second night, even though the match could have had about a 10 minute cut. Plus, this themed music just isn’t going to cut it for either. But what a finish! Luckily this was the last one because as good as Balor / Kross was, it’s hard to keep up with a broken step and a knee coiled in a chain leading an opponent through a chair.
Johnny Gargano and Bronson Reed had a great outing after a shaky start, Gargano continuing to live up to the name ‘Johnny TakeOver’. While I still prefer the Gargano as a babyface, they are all-in on “The Way” and Gargano’s time as an NXT North American Champion still has some fuel.
The NXT Women’s Tag Team Championship Match suffered a few hiccups (thankfully Shotzi Blackheart is doing fine), but it also served as a reminder that the dynamics of the Women’s Tag Division at NXT are already so much better than what we’ve seen with the Women. . division of tags on the main list. Blackheart and Ember Moon actually feel like they belong on a team rather than a forced team, which is so often the case on Raw and SmackDown.
I was not as high as the others in the opening games on both nights. Kushida vs Dunne featured two of my favorite artists to watch in NXT, but I felt like something was missing. It was a good game, nothing spectacular.
I felt similar about the classification match between Santos Escobar and Jordan Devlin. While my Twitter timeline (@ryandroste) was jumping for all the big moves and rightly so (a Spanish Fly and a Moonault off the scale ?!), I felt like the match left a lot to be desired from a psychological standpoint. If someone sells an injured knee from scaling shots early in the game, I want to see them continue to sell that injury throughout and not let it go completely. If you need an example, look at the exceptional work of new NXT Champion Karrion Kross in selling his abdomen injury to Finn Balor throughout, even in his celebration of the post-game victory.
Overall, both nights of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver got better over the shows, and you’d be hard pressed to be disappointed with what we saw on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, collectively.
Will WrestleMania live up to NXT TakeOver’s standard?
So now we find ourselves in a similar position to last year. NXT TakeOver has set the bar high, a bar that might be hard to meet for WrestleMania. This year already seems to be one of the most under-publicized WrestleManias in history from a creative standpoint, and the task of having to keep up with two really good nights of action from your own business (NXT) isn’t not easy.
Of course, the main roster is packed with talent and the two nights of WrestleMania 37 certainly have the potential to surpass what we’ve already seen this week of NXT. No matter what we see when it comes to building a WWE PPV event creatively (good or bad), the list usually rolls out in the ring when the lights come on. I don’t expect any different this Saturday and Sunday night.
While the biggest problem in WWE is still a creative problem (long-term storytelling), their PPV events generally offer some great in-ring action that can be enjoyed by almost anyone when watched on their own. On my podcast, Top Rope NationI often say that WWE PPVs are almost always great when viewed in a vacuum (you’re pretty much guaranteed a good match and a fun night out). It’s that bigger picture, with the exciting build that makes the fanbase plan to see these matches for a week, that was missing and kept WWE’s PPVs from going from good to big.
That’s not to say that the creation of NXT has blown us away in recent months, either. However, the brand feels like it is turning a corner and heading in the right direction again. WrestleMania 37 has a chance to do so for Raw and SmackDown.
Will WWE follow NXT’s lead? We’ll find out by the end of Sunday night. Enjoy WrestleMania 37!