Monday, November 21, 2016

Best Coast Bias: the Emperor Strikes Back

The guy in the red and black won
Photo Credit:
It was already evident from the outset just by having their latest Takeover in the Air Canada Centre that NXT was marking a trail into uncharted territory. It became hyper apparent by the end of the show that they weren't just doing so geographically, either. While the Revival's second holding of the NXT World Tag Team Championships ended on the eve of 2016's Survivor Series, Takeover: T-Dot ended with Samoa Joe hoisting the Big X overhead as a successful if slightly chicanerous result of him being the first to drop an L on Shinsuke Nakamura.

In the process, as the black and yellow imprint heads into '17, they may, well, probably, will have their first singles trilogy over their most prestigious belt. But before we delve further into that development, let's focus on the evening's best match and the trilogy of ever-increasing awesomeness that the contretemps between the Revival and hashtag Do It Yourselves has spawned on the back end of this year.

To paraphrase a wise apparition, on a long enough title reign the survival rate for every one of them is zero. DIY had proven they could beat the Revival before the Southern boys made NXT history by recapturing the straps. In Brooklyn, in their first MOTYC, the Revival proved why they were the most decorated tag team in the history of the brand and earned a clean (and also slightly chicanerous) submission win in the center of the ring. On that night, Johnny Gargano tapped out. On this night in Toronto he was the one who made Dash Wilder tap out, because NXT is a place imbued with goddamn magic more often than not.

That was the culmination of their latest and greatest MOTYC, a two of three falls match that did more than steal the show and butted its head against the ceiling of instant classic status. Gargano ate a Shatter Machine more notable for its suddenness and adeptness at countering his slingshot spear than anything else, and put the then challengers in the spot they made their names off of in Full Sail, fighting out from underneath.

The second fall saw the Revival further deplete Johnny Wrestling's health meter by using a series of double teams up to and including the Hart Attack (well, they were wearing pink on black) to try and sweep away the thorns in their sides; keeping in mind this is NXT and previous two out of three falls matches haven't gone distance before, it certainly seemed that the possibility was in the offering. Yet he managed to get loose and tag Ciampa, and one Impact Sandwich (whatever you call their combination basement superkick/Knee Trembler) later it went to a third fall that seemed to be the logical end point of everything that came before it.

Boy howdy.

In a nice subtle inversion of trope, it started out with contemptuous brawling before settling down into something resembling a wrestling match--admittedly by two dyads who still despised each other. The Revival unveiled new double teams on their way to reinjuring Gargano's knee and locking in the inverted figure four a la Graves that'd won them the Brooklyn match, but here they'd only done a belt shot to the shin's worth of damage instead of the borderline Pillman job they'd dished out back in August, and thus after an extended period of jeopardy the Ohioan managed the safety of the ropes. From there, things slowly then rapidly fell apart for the ex-Mechanics. They tried to put away GarCiampa with their own finisher only to fall victim to the Shatter Machine, even if they survived it. The referee caught Dawson trying to cheat to win. And eventually, in the final grains of their title hourglass, they were hemmed up practically face to face with Wilder locked up in Gargano Escape and Scott falling victim to the bridging Fujiwara armbar Ciampa had corralled him in to cut him off from breaking up the hold the same way he'd broken up the Shatter Machine pinfall on his partner.

They yelled at each other to not tap, reached towards their other half for the succor they were used to providing themselves in hopes of an exit. But the only thing that slammed shut were the doors on their title reign, to the exultations of Gargano, Ciampa, and the crowd alike. If for some hideous reason you only have time for one match from NXT's maiden voyage to the Great White North, this is the match to push all your chips to the middle of the table on.

It kind of makes you wonder what the rematch's rematch is going to look like, and in that aspect it mirrored the somewhat surprising main event result.

Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura facing off against each other sometimes feels like the reason wrestling fans get to have sight. In that aspect, their second affair for the NXT World Championship succeeded wildly. There was the part in the beginning literally starting a millisecond after the bell rang where they beat the crap out of each other, there was the rising action and climax where they beat the crap out of each other, and if you liked that you probably liked the ending, in which Joe finally beat the crap out of Nakamura so bad he actually pinned him for a three count and got to celebrate with the championship he deems his property to close out the show.

In Brooklyn it felt like Joe's animus was free-floating; as an indirect result he ended up virtually fleeing for the back post-match wondering how much of his jaw had left its moorings. Here, in addition to the general violence he localized it on the Champ's left area right above his...shin. Joe landed a huge kick in the opening half minute to the back of his left knee that looked and sounded like it genuinely hobbled Nakamura for a bit. So Joe took that tear and ripped a seam with everything from more kicks to submission holds and even schoolyardesque barrel rolls. The King of Strong Style wears the crown for a reason -- he even got off an essentially snap Kinshasa off out of a sunset flip attempt -- but delivering it on a weakened knee gave Joe just enough to be the first man to kick out of it. When Nakamura managed to elude the Coqina Clutch's most deleterious affects, Joe strung together a German, dragon (!), straightjacket (!!) suplex trifecta.

Nakamura's response to this was to kick out (!!!) and then enzu-Kinshasa Joe out of the ring. Corey Graves pointed this out even before it became writ large; all Nakamura had to do was stay in the ring and let Joseph get himself counted out. But he wanted an exclamation point, and as a result it was the death sentence for his title reign. That and S.J. distracting the referee just long enough so he could sneak in a low blow. It was the Samoan's exclamation point to deliver at that point, and the STJOE into the ring steps, the move he hospitalized Shin with after Brooklyn, was the most effective setup for the Muscle Buster possibly in his career. It wasn't the most shocking result in NXT's 2016, but the Canadians' reaction evoked if not exactly echoed the stunned buzz that occurred when Asuka ended Bayley's title in Dallas WrestleMania weekend.

Where this leads is obvious. Nakamura's so Ali his finisher is named after the Rumble in the Jungle and Joe's name is literally Joe like Frazier, the super talented heavyweight with a surfeit of punching power and a Ruffles factory on his shoulder due to the fact he's operating in the shadow of a more beloved contemporary who's still kind of a dick but will get more props than he will because the fans love him and he makes for good copy. So this is leading to their own Thrilla in Manila. What form it takes, maybe the first ever Last Man Standing match in NXT's history, though that is completely baseless speculation wholly generated by memories of the greatest fourteen round fight in heavyweight championship history, is up for 2017 to unveil.

Those were the big two takeaways from T.O. T.O., not that anything else on the small card wasn't at least serviceable to very good. For TM61, Tye Dillinger and Mickie James alike, their fates were fait accompli. In earning the Dusty Classic trophy, the Authors of Pain already have hardware and a win against the champions before they became the champions (the same way #DIY was in that situation earlier in the year). By prevailing in the opener after being sung out to the ring by a children's choir because he's Glorious, Bobby Roode stays undefeated and on the short list of potential NXT World Championship titleholders next year once Joe and Shinsuke settle their score. As for Mickie James, you could save the jokes about James Storm shoving her in front of a train; this is NXT, and Asuka is the goddam train. Mickie looked good in her WWE return and showed sporadically why she garnered six titles in six years when she was a main roster mainstay.

She still isn't Asuka. That's been the entire point of the past year plus now: nobody's Asuka, and if she fought God it'd be a pick 'em. Asuka turned a kickout into her signature Lock, and that settled that. Well, mostly, Mickie offered the Hand of Friendship post-match and Asuka raised the belt in her face and traipsed off. The crowd oohed, loudly, at the slight. But they didn't boo, because a) she's Asuka and b) fuck you, Mickie James or anybody else fool enough to step to me, that's why.

The surprising and wholly logical main event put a welcome air of unpredictablility into the scene with regards to the top male singles title, the tag division is better and hotter than its ever been, and as long as cannon fodder keeps providing itself to the former Ms. Most Dangerous, you'll have compelling title matches while the new blood in that division gets the time and space to become Things rather than Victims. (Sorry, Liv.)

What little brother has cooking leading into and kicking off 2017 is unknown. What is known is that the trip into whatever NXT turns into and becomes come next Thanksgiving will arrest eyeballs, especially if their Takeovers keep living up to their names.