WWE NXT – TakeOver Brooklyn turned NXT’s Wrestlemania

16th August 2017

  • Sean CoyleESPN

One of the biggest internal side effects that came with the WWE network’s launch in 2014 was increased visibility on the company’s recently renamed development area, NXT. Weekly NXT shows and specials provided a platform just as a transforming class of NXT stars was adopting it, and that convergence enabled something that went well beyond the mere evolution of the next generation of stars.

NXT became a brand of its own with the ability to go it alone, with dynamic cast and storylines that sparked a unique fan base. There were sights along the way, but the only moment that showed what NXT had gotten as loud as possible came with the first edition of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn on August 22, 2015.

Like NXT as a whole, its special events got off to a bad start, but had an impact from the start. The forerunner to the TakeOver specials, NXT Arrival, aired as the first live event ever to air on the network three days after the WWE network launched. The show, highlighted by an instant classic between Cesaro and Sami Zayn and a Bo Dallas v Neville main event for the NXT Championship, set the bar pretty high.

The first five TakeOvers from May 2014 to May 2015 were within the friendly confines of Full Sail University. But from the moment the show first hit the streets, to the first TakeOver: Brooklyn event the night before SummerSlam, NXT made a whole different leap.

NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn I.

The event was a major breakthrough for the brand in many ways, not least in terms of the scale of the event. Up until that point, NXT superstars were performing for their weekly shows and takeovers in front of 400 to 500 viewers from their home base at Full Sail University. The Barclays Center allowed over 15,000 fans to sign up and the pressure to deliver was high, but the boy did it.

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Looking back on that first TakeOver: Brooklyn map, the concentration of star power is breathtaking. With the exception of Jushin “Thunder” Liger, who appeared in a one-off match against Tyler Breeze, and former NXT tag team champions Blake and Murphy, every other cast member on the show made the main list. The main event ranked match of former NXT and world champions Finn Balor and Kevin Owens was topped by a 2015 Match of the Year contestant in which Bayley found her ultimate triumph over Sasha Banks.

2015 was a big year for women’s wrestling. It was the beginning of the first Divas Revolution, later the Women’s Revolution, in which attention to women’s wrestling has steadily increased since then. Just a month before TakeOver: Brooklyn, three of the company’s most talented female performers – Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch – were featured on the main list. They gave an instant jolt to the women’s division, which featured on Raw and SmackDown.

But Banks still had a lot to do as the reigning NXT women’s winner. She used her title against Bayley, arguably the most popular wrestler in NXT history. After washing out both of the women’s NXT championship tournaments in the first round, Bayley slowly fought her way up but kept falling short. She lost her first two NXT title shots to Flair and then continued to hit the roof against Flair, Banks and Becky Lynch, including a four-way game between the women who would become known as the NXT’s “Four Horsemen” at the Banks won the title.

After Bayley left her demons behind and dispatched Lynch, Flair, and Emma for consecutive weeks to avenge the losses of the past, she was ready to make her claim. She got her shot at Banks on the largest possible stage, and the result was one of the greatest female wrestling matches in WWE history.

After one of the best women’s games in WWE history, with Bayley eventually becoming the NXT Women’s Winner, NXT’s Four Horsewomen shared an emotional moment in front of the Barclays Center audience. Provided by WWE (@WWENXT)

Bayley and Banks wowed the crowd with well-timed sequences, innovative spots, and an incredible story that ultimately confirmed Bayley’s ability to win the big match. To top it off, we had the enduring image of Bayley, Banks and their Four Horsewomen of NXT mates Charlotte and Lynch, who celebrated the post-game performance emotionally. It was one of the most memorable moments in NXT history.

The game was so highly rated that it earned the NXT Year-End Award for Overall Game of the Year.

Not to be outdone, Owens was featured in the final fight against Balor – two superstars who could realistically headline WrestleMania in the not-too-distant future.

The match is often overshadowed by the previous women’s game, but Balor and Owens made the effort in the first NXT ranked game that remains one of the best main events in TakeOver history. It cemented Balor as the brand’s top star at the time and raised the bar for all future major TakeOver events.

The Vaudevillains had their big moment, accompanied by “Blue Pants” (Leva Bates), when they became NXT Tag Team Champions. Aiden English was actually one of the first to say NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn was NXT’s WrestleMania. Baron Corbin took a big step forward in an exchange of blows against Samoa Joe. Apollo Crews made his debut against Tye Dillinger, and Breeze got one of the greatest opportunities of his wrestling career when he faced Liger in his only WWE appearance to date.

The first TakeOver special in Brooklyn was of course remarkable. It set the stage for NXT to tour the world and TakeOver specials that could fill much larger venues for all but two future instances. However, when TakeOvers got tied to the top WWE pay-per-views, there was yet another interesting convergence. With SummerSlam locked in the same location (and counted) for four years, NXT hit the same building every time for TakeOver specials.

And after NXT first blown the roof of the Barclays Center, it proved that his home away from home was definitely Brooklyn.

NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II delivered on many fronts, including the first over-the-top “Glorious” entry for a debut by Bobby Roode. Nick Laham for ESPN

NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II

The star power of the event went through the roof again, with the notable in-ring debuts of current NXT mainstays Ember Moon and NXT Champion Bobby Roode. But when it was all said and done, everything that happened in the ring was once again an example of how special an event NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn had become. One only has to watch the mesmerizing spectacles of the Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura entrances to see how far things had come.

Tag team wrestling has always been a strength within the brand and that was never more evident than when NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival successfully defended their title against the beloved duo called #DIY. Loud chants echoed through the building as both teams had a match of drama and believable near-falls that became another Match of the Year contestant. The crowd was so excited behind Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa that when #DIY lost the match, the air was sucked out of the field; This match would ultimately improve the tag team title matches at the next four TakeOver events.

The women’s championship game closed the loop when Bayley’s last chance at the NXT Women’s Championship was denied by Asuka, who was still in the early stages of her 500-day reign.

At the end of the night, we saw the first chapter of the most intense rivalry in NXT history when Nakamura challenged Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship and won that title for the first time. Their rivalry continued through late 2016 and early 2017.

WrestleMania has been the WWE Super Bowl for 33 years. It is the event that every superstar wants to attend and that attracts the most attention. While NXT still has decades to get closer to something resembling this level of awareness, it’s not too early to realize that TakeOver: Brooklyn has become the most anticipated show on this brand’s calendar by being in the past Years ago was thrown out of the park.

TakeOver: Brooklyn III is set to continue that trend on Saturday, and the staggering map shows every sign of yet another top-notch spectacle – one that is sure to be worthy of being NXT’s biggest showcase of the year.

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