NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights
The Superstars of NXT set the bar incredibly high, almost unfathomably high, Saturday night with TakeOver: Brooklyn III, an event that saw championships retained and won but the invasion of a potentially unstoppable force grab headlines.
Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish left new NXT champion Drew McIntyre lying to close out the show and perhaps usher in a new era of NXT.
McIntyre defeated Roode to win the title, but it was a champion who retained her gold that stole the show.
Asuka delivered another phenomenal performance, stretching her undefeated streak another night and etching her name in the history books.
From the get-go, though, with Andrade "Cien" Almas and Johnny Gargano tearing down the house, it was clear NXT had a show in store for its fans they would not forget. That was the case inside Barclays Center as the brand laid it all on the line in the name of entertaining fans and evolving itself.
On the eve of SummerSlam Sunday, relive the event that may go down as the best show of WWE's calendar year.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas
Johnny Gargano kicked off the night's festivities, generating an enormous pop as he stepped through the curtain for his match with Andrade "Cien" Almas.
Gargano overcame an early onslaught to fight his way back into the match.
The Superstars unloaded on each other, every strike stiffer than the last. Gargano and Almas countered each other's offense at every turn, the former dodging a running knee strike in the corner but suffering a hip toss into another corner.
Late in the match, Gargano trapped Almas in the Gargano Escape and nearly tapped him out.
Instead, the match continued until Zelina Vega threw a DIY T-shirt into the ring, distracting Gargano just enough for Almas to take control and deliver the hammerlock DDT for the upset victory.
Andrade "Cien" Almas defeated Johnny Gargano.
This was a fantastic match.
Say what you will about a lack of selling, but the action was constant throughout and the competitors never gave the audience a moment to settle down or rest. The counters, the near-falls and the frenetic pace kept the fans in Brooklyn on their feet and guessing as to which Superstar would emerge victoriously.
There are those who will decry Gargano losing, but the brand clearly has plans for Almas, and after so many high-profile losses at these TakeOver specials, he was due to win.
That it came off a psychological bit of interference by Vega not only made that possible but also furthered Gargano's breakup with former partner Tommaso Ciampa, who is recovering from injury.
NXT Tag Team Championship Match: The Authors of Pain vs. Sanity
The war between NXT tag team champions The Authors of Pain and Sanity resulted in a physical battle between the teams Saturday night. Originally slated to be Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain representing the latter, it turned out to be Eric Young who replaced Dain midmatch.
Young found himself isolated from Wolfe for the majority of the match, beaten down by the oppressive champions.
A hot tag to Wolfe led to a strong showing from the German, who broke out and brought a physical intensity and unpredictability to the proceedings.
Late in the match, both Young and Wolfe dove onto Akam and Rezar at ringside. Nikki Cross teased following in kind, only for Paul Ellering to enter the squared circle. The Hall of Fame manager distracted the referee as Cross dove into the waiting arms of Akam.
Dain speared both of them through a table, allowing Young and Wolfe to deliver a combination neckbreaker and score the tag titles.
After the match, Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish hit the ring and obliterated the new champions and stood tall, the titles in their hands.
Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe defeated The Authors of Pain to win the NXT Tag Team Championships.
This was a damn fun wrestling match that had crowd-pleasing spots and a surprising outcome.
Young and Co. spent weeks leading up to the match as the main antagonists, but in Brooklyn, they were the fan favorites and the layout of the match reflected as much.
The official arrival of O'Reilly and Fish as a tag team adds legitimacy to a rebuilding division. By targeting both Sanity and The Authors of Pain, they put the entire roster on notice. They are not established heels or babyfaces. They simply want gold.
That makes for intriguing television and gives management the chance to figure out which role it wants each team in going forward.
Aleister Black vs. Hideo Itami
Aleister Black entered Barclays Center on Saturday night, his theme song performed live, for a showdown with the stiff, determined and driven Hideo Itami.
The Superstars exchanged jarring strikes to start, but Itami gained control, drawing blood from his opponent's mouth and nose.
Black used his trademark kicks and a nasty leg sweep to fight his way back into the match.
An ugly springboard moonsault scored a two-count for Black, but Itami answered with a corner clothesline moments later.
Itami delivered a Falcon Arrow that sent pain shooting up his own spine, let alone that of his opponent.
The Superstars unloaded on each other with a series of strikes. Black caught Itami with a knee but fell prey to a second Falcon Arrow. Black kicked out at two.
Demanding respect from fans, Itami charged at Black and ate Black Mass. The enigmatic, tattooed Superstar Black earned another impressive victory.
Aleister Black defeated Hideo Itami.
This was the worst match of the show, but that is not an indictment. The card had been so incredibly strong to this point that even a really good match would find it difficult to keep up.
The strikes were stiff and the action physically grueling, but in the end, the man we all expected to go over did.
Black is a star in the making, while Itami feels like a Superstar on his last legs in NXT.
NXT Women's Championship Match: Asuka vs. Ember Moon
Months of build led to Ember Moon vs. Asuka for the NXT Women's Championship in what was the most anticipated bout of the card.
Asuka earned the early advantage, delivering a suplex on the ramp that had Moon nursing her previously injured shoulder. She trapped her No. 1 contender in an octopus and then applied the Fujiwara armbar as the crowd broke into alternating chants.
A big enzuigiri by Moon scored a two-count, but Asuka came back with a German suplex into the turnbuckles that had the challenger in great despair.
Asuka tried for the Asuka Lock, but Moon fought it off and applied her own version of the Asuka Lock. The champion attacked the injured limb and reapplied it. Moon countered out, nearly scored a pinfall and landed a lariat clothesline to flatten Asuka as the crowd came alive again.
Moon survived the running hip attack and fought back into the match. Asuka unloaded a series of kicks to the face, but Moon scored a sit-out side slam.
Moon delivered an Eclipse from out of nowhere, but Asuka shot her shoulder off the mat before the ref could count three. Frustration painted the face of the No. 1 contender as the crowd erupted for the quality near-fall.
The referee caught Asuka using the tights, and Moon blasted Asuka with a superkick. The two-count resulted in a near-meltdown from Moon.
Asuka played possum, suckered Moon in and trapped her into the Asuka Lock for the tapout victory.
Asuka defeated Ember Moon.
In defeat, Ember Moon is a bigger star than she would have been by winning this one. She now is no longer the chosen one but, rather, respected by the audience. She has earned her place in title contention, and that is as important to garnering support as actually winning.
The question now is whether the defeat sparks a breakdown in Moon that leads to a heel turn.
The story in the wake of the match is Asuka's greatness. There has never been a female performer who has brought the sense of a big-match environment the way The Empress of Tomorrow has. She is, by far, the best women's wrestler on the roster.
It is almost a shame this was not her swan song in NXT, if only because matches against Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Natalya and Charlotte would be fantastic.
NXT Championship Match: Drew McIntyre vs. Bobby Roode
Bobby Roode's showboating cost him early in Saturday's main event. After repeatedly gaining the upper hand, Roode fell prey to the larger No. 1 contender, who took the fight to the ringside area and delivered a nasty tilt-a-whirl slam to Roode on the ring apron.
A blockbuster neckbreaker on the arena floor allowed Roode to create separation and wrest control from his opponent.
Roode worked over his opponent with the slow, methodical offensive onslaught he brings to every match.
At one point, he had McIntyre hanging in the Tree of Woe, but McIntyre sat up and tossed him off the top rope. Moments later, the Future Shock DDT nearly ended Roode's title reign. The champion answered with a Liger Bomb for his own two-count.
McIntyre exploded out of the corner with the Claymore, but Roode's wherewithal allowed him to drape his foot over the bottom rope, breaking the pinfall. Moments later, McIntyre landed a tope con hilo that wiped both competitors out.
Back in the ring, Roode delivered two Glorious DDTs. On the third attempt, McIntyre blasted him with a headbutt and landed a second Claymore for the pin and the title.
After the match, McIntyre's celebration was cut short by the debuting Adam Cole, who joined Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish in leaving McIntyre lying.
Drew McIntyre defeated Bobby Roode.
The match itself was a fantastic, old-school wrestling bout. It built logically and saw the hubris of the champion cost him the title. McIntyre's journey back to the top of the industry, his redemption story, paid off in spades.
With the snap of a finger, Adam Cole debuted and gave NXT a legitimate championship rivalry to go along with the intensely personal feud between Roode and Roderick Strong.
Add to that the potential implications of Sanity's impending rivalry with Fish and O'Reilly, and there are a lot of moving pieces at the top of the brand.
That makes for an infinitely more interesting product and creates stars of many rather than a few.