Sunday, November 20, 2016


After 25 years of on-and-off wrestling fandom, I finally attended my first actual live event.  When some friends announced they had tickets to the NXT Takeover show in Toronto, I couldn’t help but feel that it was time to finally check this one off my bucket list….well, ok, it wasn’t particularly high on my bucket list.  Maybe page seven at the earliest.  Certainly well after ‘get in shape, for the love of god’ but at least still ahead of ‘get that Stephane Dion 4 Life tattoo removed.’  (Political comebacks happen all the time!)

To clarify….the NXT promotion is essentially the ‘minor league’ of WWE, intended as a training ground for up-and-coming wrestlers or proven veterans getting used to WWE’s presentation and in-ring style.  Its shows tend to be fairly meat-and-potatoes straight-forward wrestling action, which thus makes NXT pretty great since it’s refreshingly light on the usual WWE nonsense.  You also get the rare chance to see world-class pro wrestling talent on a relatively small stage; it’s like if an NHL team signed a star Russian player and had him in the minors for a while to get used to North American hockey.  So it would be like seeing Alex Ovechkin show up at your little rinky-dink local arena, the picture of overqualified.  Well, ok, the Air Canada Centre isn’t a “rinky dink local arena,” but still, whatever, analogy win!

In this case, you have Shinsuke Nakamura, arguably the best wrestler in the world and headliner of multiple giant stadium shows in Japan…’stuck’ main eventing NXT cards instead of mixing it up with John Cena, Randy Orton, etc. on the proper WWE roster.  Since wrestling in Japan, Mexico, Europe, etc. is different than wrestling for WWE, I can understand the company’s logic in wanting to acclimate everyone before just throwing them out there on TV.  But for the likes of Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Asuka, Bobby Roode, how much ‘development’ time do they really need?  To use my airtight hockey analogy again, if Ovechkin scored five goals a game in the minors, I’d think his NHL team would realize pretty quickly that the guy was ready.

Then again, the NHL team probably also isn’t counting on Ovechkin to prop up its minor league team.  It seems like WWE didn’t really intend NXT to become as popular as it is, and thus they’re now seeing it less as a developmental facility than as its own unique brand.  And, if you’re going to be taking that brand out on the road to arena shows, you need some big names to promote.  Nakamura, Joe and company will make it up to WWE eventually, though for now, they might as well sell some tickets rather than being thrown into the WWE shuffle. 

Anyway, the show itself was a lot of fun.  Being my first time at a wrestling show, it was fun to go along with all of the standard wrestling fan tropes — counting along to the ten punches in the corner*, booing heels for cheating, booing the ref for missing a tag, etc.  The newest thing is singing along to a wrestler’s entrance music, which helps since a few of the NXT themes are insanely catchy.  This also translated to singing Nakamura’s music while trying to inspire him to fight back from a tough situation against Samoa Joe. 

* = thanks to the popularity of ‘The Perfect Ten’ Tye Dillinger, fans kept chanting TEN TEN TEN for most anything all night.  This included yelling TEN for every number as the referee was trying to make a countout when a wrestler was outside the ring.

It should be noted that the actual wrestling itself was pretty terrific.  The two highest of highlights were the main event and the tag team title match.  Nakamura and Joe are both devotees of what the Japanese call strong style wrestling, which is when you essentially hit each other as hard as you can while still keeping it ‘fake.’  I swear, watching it live, the match had a legitimate real-fight feel.

As for the tag title match, it was legitimately great choreography.  The Revival are basically NXT’s old-school ethos in a nutshell — their actual gimmick is that they’re “reviving” the 80’s heel tag team style of the Midnight Express, the Andersons, the Brainbusters, etc.  So they use all the old tricks updated with crisp modern wrestling.  These guys are amazing, yet so good at being heels that you totally buy into booing the hell out of them.  Their opponents (Team DIY) were just as good at being faces, with great comebacks and escapes from various dire situations.  This match went about 20 minutes, was best two-of-three falls, and was an absolute blast, with the feel-good ending of DIY winning the titles to cap off their long rise to the top.

This show was so good, I can hardly wait to see my next wrestling event in 2041.

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