TakeOver: Brooklyn III is coming up on August 19 (Happy birthday to me), so I thought it may be a good time to rank the 10 best matches in the event’s somewhat short history beginning in 2014 at the original NXT arRIVAL through May’s TakeOver: Chicago. Despite there only being 16 NXT special events (formerly known as PPVs) with only 5 to 6 matches per card, it is surprisingly hard to narrow down 10 of the best matches. Many of these will be expected, but maybe a few will be surprises.
Also as a disclaimer: These are my opinions. What one considers a great match is very subjective based on the person’s tastes. I personally prefer when there is a good story being told which makes me actually care about the outcome. After that, I do appreciate a great wrestling match with great crowd investment (which is linked to the story) as much as the next person.
Honorable Mentions: Asuka v. Bayley (TakeOver: Dallas), Adrian Neville v. Tyson Kidd (TakeOver), Finn Balor v. Kevin Owens (TakeOver: Brooklyn), Bayley v. Sasha Banks (TakeOver: Respect), Shinsuke Nakamura v. Samoa Joe (TakeOver: Brooklyn II), Authors of Pain v. #DIY v. Revival (TakeOver: Orlando).
- Kevin Owens v. Sami Zayn – NXT Championship (NXT TakeOver: Rival / 11 February 2015)
Yes, we have seen Kevin Owens/Steen face Sami Zayn/El Generico a million times and watched them do every spot imaginable, so what made this one a special match? Quite simply, it was the story of Sami Zayn. Just 2 months prior, Owens had made his much-hyped NXT debut. Within 2 hours, he had gone from that high to assaulting his best friend moments after he achieved his dream of winning the NXT championship. The build-up was so amazing as it built off a practically decade-long feud and the heel goading the proud babyface into defending the title in a match he most definitely didn’t deserve.
The match itself was something we’ve seen many times, but the key in this one was Zayn’s selling. After selling a head injury after a dive to the ramp, Owens proceeded to power bomb Zayn over and over. At one point, Zayn managed to kind of turn to his side to ‘kick out’ of a pin, refusing to quit despite being seriously injured. Owens proceeded to continue the power bombs until the referee finally stopped the match and awarded the title to Owens. It was a shocking ending to the match and amazingly effective due to Zayn being one of the best sellers in WWE. I think this was the first of several matches that guaranteed Owens’ success on the main roster.
- American Alpha v. The Revival – NXT Tag Team Championship (NXT TakeOver: Dallas / 01 April 2016)
American Alpha had one of the best build-ups in NXT history for a tag team. If you remember, it all started out with a heel-like Jason Jordan looking for a suitable tag team partner and always being disappointed. During that time, Chad Gable kept bugging him to team up and Jordan would brush him off. They finally teamed up and started getting wins, but Jordan was still not 100% committed. It was during this time that they started to really get over. Their backstage promos were excellent with Jordan initially refusing to take part in the ‘Ready, Willing, and Gable’ catchphrase. It was also a good formula: Gable had a very Kurt Angle-like move-set and background and could sell until the bigger Jordan got the hot tag and cleaned house.
Getting to the match, it was the first match on a loaded card on WrestleMania weekend. To say the crowd was hot would be understating it immensely. This was a great match that ended with the baby faces conquering The Revival and winning the tag team championship. This match is often overlooked due to the rest of the card being so strong, but it set the bar for NXT tag team matches moving forward.
- Sami Zayn v. Adrian Neville – NXT Championship (NXT TakeOver: R Evolution / 11 December 2014)
Once again, this match being on the list has little to do with in-ring wrestling. Although this is Zayn and Neville, so it was excellent in that regard as well. As with the other Zayn matches, this is largely all about him. There’s a saying in wrestling that the money is always in the chase and NXT proves this simple thing over and over again. In this case, Sami Zayn was the underdog who always came up short in the big matches. Neville had enjoyed a decently long title run and played the part of an arrogant baby face (Think of Asuka currently). After being called ‘too nice’ to win the big match, Zayn asked for one more shot at Neville’s championship. If he didn’t win, he would quit NXT.
So now the biggest underdog in the world says he’s leaving the company if he doesn’t beat Neville. Naturally, it was a great match that told a great story. Zayn worked to resist the urge to cheat and compromise his morals when he had the opportunity, but also didn’t allow himself to get beaten by dropping his guard afterward. The icing on the cake was the shocking double-cross by Kevin Owens after the match and the rest, as they say, is history.
- Finn Balor v. Samoa Joe – NXT Championship (NXT TakeOver: Dallas / 01 April 2016)
Balor and Joe always had great chemistry in NXT, but this match stands out for me. The main reason is simple: blood. To be sure, there were other factors: WrestleMania weekend, large and hot crowd, Linda and Stephanie McMahon in the front row (along with other wrestlers scattered around). It had a big match feel. Very early on, Joe and Balor butted heads and Joe was split open. I know there are arguments for and against blood in wrestling, but that added so much extra drama. An enraged and bloody Joe was a genuinely intimidating thing.
You could feel their frustration every time the match was stopped to try to clean up Joe’s face and the match was very physical. There was great drama and both guys looked and acted like they’d just been in a shoot fight after the match. If I’m trying to promote Joe as an equal to Brock Lesnar, I’d be showing clips from this match. This is undoubtedly my favorite match of both Joe’s and Balor’s in NXT.
- Sami Zayn v. Cesaro (NXT arRIVAL / 27 February 2014)
Look who is on this list again: Sami Zayn. This was the very first match on the first NXT special event and also the very first live event to air on the brand new WWE Network. No pressure, right? Cesaro and Zayn had feuded the year prior to this with Zayn getting the first win, but then losing out to Cesaro several times after that. This match was the first I’d ever seen of NXT and it blew me away. The announcing style was so much different from the main WWE shows and I remember it being so refreshing.
In the match, Zayn played the role he is best at as the underdog. It saw him absorb a ton of punishment and continue getting up to fight after Cesaro urged him to stay down. There were several believable false finishes before Cesaro finally got the win. Post-match, Cesaro and Zayn hugged, which proved that Zayn had earned Cesaro’s respect after all. It was a simple story and both guys look like a million dollars after the match. This is easily Zayn’s second best match in NXT.
- Asuka v. Bayley –NXT Women’s Championship (NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II / 20 August 2016)
In Dallas, Asuka had beaten Bayley via technical knockout/stoppage after Bayley had passed out in the Asuka Lock. There was also the added intrigue of Bayley not being on the main roster along with the other members of the Four Horsewomen and would this be her last NXT match? So while I think everyone knew that Bayley was not going to beat Asuka, no one knew what exactly was going to happen. I thought this match was even better than their Dallas match and was also enhanced by having Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks in the crowd to watch.
In the end, Bayley managed to fight out of the Asuka Lock, but she was ultimately beaten decisively in a scene that sort of reminded me of Shawn Michaels’ retirement match against the Undertaker. She kept telling Asuka to bring it and she went down swinging after a knockout blow. After the match, Bayley got a big send off from the crowd and the Horsewomen in the crowd. It was a very cool scene and a fitting end for the female version of Sami Zayn and the best female baby face maybe ever.
- Tyler Bate v. Pete Dunne – UK Championship (NXT TakeOver: Chicago / 20 May 2017)
This match is an example of a match basically revolving around winning a championship. There was no pre-match drama or deep storylines coming into this match. Adding to the big match feel, Jim Ross was on commentary. This is just 15 minutes of unbelievable wrestling. There isn’t much else I can say other than to go watch it.
- Bayley v. Sasha Banks – NXT Women’s Championship (NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn / 22 August 2015)
This match was the true epitome of the women’s revolution around the time the main roster shows were starting to coin the phrase. Once again, what made this great wasn’t just the wrestling, but the storyline. This was also the first televised event outside of Full Sail, so there were about 15,000 in attendance rather than 400. Bayley had been in a storyline a lot like Sami Zayn had in the previous year where she was always too nice and always came up short in the big matches.
In Brooklyn, Bayley and Sasha proceeded to set a bar that arguably hasn’t been topped since. I love Asuka and she’s had some matches come close to this, but nothing has ever topped it. Once again, Bayley’s triumph proved that old saying once again: the money is in the chase.
- #DIY v. The Revival – NXT Tag Team Championship (NXT TakeOver: Toronto/ 19 November 2016)
This match used the same formula as American Alpha versus Revival in Dallas earlier in the year. The difference being that #DIY was a much more relatable team with a little more personality. Once again, #DIY came in chasing the tag titles as the underdogs. Once again, the underdogs heroically win and the crowd loses its mind. On top of that, this is probably the best tag team match I’ve ever seen in WWE, period. I was actually sad for them because it would be my match of the year if not for #1 on this list.
- Sami Zayn v. Shinsuke Nakamura (TakeOver: Dallas/ 01 April 2016)
You probably expected this. There were so many things going for this match. It was likely Sami Zayn’s last NXT match and it was WrestleMania weekend. Zayn, now the NXT veteran, was full of pride and wanted to defend his home base against the debuting Nakamura, who was only one of the biggest wrestling stars on the planet. I said at the time that this was the best WWE match since Undertaker and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25 and I still stand by that assessment in 2017. This was 20 minutes of hard-hitting drama and emotion that ended with the crowd’s send off for Sami Zayn. Just an unreal spectacle and words cannot do this justice.
In putting together this list, I noticed a few things about NXT. First, the storylines are very simplistic. That’s not a bad thing at all because it works. The baby face is almost always the underdog and is always chasing the heel champions, but never all the championships at once. They usually will focus on one at a time so the others don’t get lost in the shuffle. It just works. Second, Sami Zayn is the best wrestler in NXT history. He delivered again and again and again with every opponent he worked with. He makes his opponents look amazingly good while at the same time getting you emotionally invested in his well-being. It is a total shame to see how he seems to be used on RAW when we have all seen what he is capable of given the opportunity.