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NXT Thoughts- Ember Burns, Asuka Kicks, & Kona Creeps

- The last NXT episode before Takeover begins with a shot of the commentators by the side of the ramp, and it's then I realise that this will be Percy Watson's first Takeover. It feels like he's been part of the team way longer than 2 months. Not really a compliment, he just feels like part of the furniture. Not sure why they messed with the Graves-Phillips duo, either because Vince has a fixation on 3 man commentary teams, or to fill some BS diversity quota with the broadcasters. Saxton has started to grow on me with his unwavering enthusiasm, but Otunga on Smackdown and Watson here on NXT are so bland. They make me miss Booker T- he wasn't the world's greatest commentator either, but he at least had a personality.

-Anyway, I've written too much about the commentators, they're not the stars, the wrestlers are. The first star makes her appearance for the opening match, Ember Moon. God, her theme is awesome.

-Liv Morgan actually impresses a little here as Ember's opponent. I've never been much of a fan, but she's making steady improvements in the ring. One of my problems with Liv is that she doesn't look physically threatening in the slightest- she's gorgeous, but lacks any kind of muscle tone of an athlete, and her character doesn't have a badass aura. A bit like a female Enzo... minus the gorgeous part. She's building a fast paced, almost lucha style that suits her very well. I also liked the addition of a guillotine choke to her arsenal. Her long limbs make her a believable submission threat. Ember tosses Liv to the outside to escape the hold in what looks like a nasty bump for Morgan. This is shortly followed by the Eclipse diving stunner to give Ember the win, presumably keeping her strong ahead of a Wrestlemania weekend showdown with Asuka. That's the biggest women's match NXT can deliver at that point, and having Asuka lose the title in tomorrow's Fatal 4 Way would be an anticlimactic end to a strong title reign. It might be a strong match in execution, but it really should be a glossed up filler match for Asuka's reign.

-Side note, the Eclipse is on the shortlist of my favourite finishers right now, along with Mustafa Ali's reverse 450, AJ Styles' Phenomenal Forearm, and two of my all time ones in Jericho's Codebreaker and Lesnar's F5.

-Roderick Strong seemed a little over cocky and heelish backstage against Andrade "Cien" Almas. I haven't really been impressed by Strong yet anyway, good chance I'm on Team Almas for tomorrow.

-Paul Ellering, despite his apparent reputation as one of the great managers (never watched in his prime, so I don't know if that's just Corey Graves hyperbole), isn't a very good promo at all, or at least is yet to give a strong one in NXT. So I was happy to see him restricted to pretaped soundbytes over footage of the Authors of Pain kicking ass. I think this will be the true test of how good DIY are. I think they're outstanding, but they have a hell of a task ahead of them carrying those green guys to a Takeover-quality match.

-No Way Jose vs. Kona Reeves. Interesting little story being put over here on commentary- Reeves thinks he and Jose are great friends, but he's a bit of a creep and Jose sees them as more acquaintances. I can relate to that! This match appears to be largely about getting over Kona's character, more than just having a basic squash match, and Kona- to his credit- is selling the shit out of it. I liked Jose using the pop-up punch... trying to think if he's used that before? I know he's had the big punch as a signature, but I don't recall him throwing his opponent in the air to do it. It's a nice contrast to his happy character, you might expect a fancy move there, but nope, BOOM, punch in the fucking face. I enjoyed this segment, Jose has grown on me a lot in recent months, and Kona played his role well.

-The strumming of a guitar makes me reevaluate my enjoyment of this segment, as Elias Samson enters the arena. Nooooo! Why is The Drifter a thing? He's a more jacked Damien Sandow, except worse in the ring and doesn't even have a tenth of the charisma. The only positive I can give him is that his reactions to the "go away" heat from the crowd are decent.

-Chris Atkins, an Aussie boy, makes his entrance on NXT. He's jacked as fuck, something like 6'7" and 300 pounds. Once again, as I've said in recent weeks about large performers in the women's division, I don't understand why they're using performers of that size to be squashed on TV. Have them just build their skills on the house show circuit and dark matches until they're ready for their own proper TV role. It looks ridiculous seeing Eric Young easily pound him down with some forearms. The match isn't even booked as if Atkins was a big man, at least have the veteran who's giving up a good 80 pounds get the advantage through outsmarting or shenanigans- the quick distraction from Sanity doesn't account for a big man dropping so easily, sorry. And Atkins is too big for Young to hit his wheelbarrow neckbreaker finisher correctly. Ugh. Tl;dr- jobbers should never be significantly larger than the Superstars they're jobbing to.

-Damn, this Damo/Killian Dain guy has insane quick burst speed for such an imposing monster. Killer running senton there.

-Get well soon, Shane Thorne. His knee injury will keep him out 7-9 months, which is a shit go. What does Nick Miller do during that time? I don't think he has it in him for a singles run, but it doesn't seem fair that he sits on the shelf for the better part of a year because his partner's out. Terrible timing too, it seemed as if TM-61 were really starting to catch on.

-Nice video package on Nakamura vs. Roode. The production crew unfortunately don't have a wealth of actual Nak/Roode interaction to draw from, but they worked around it well. I think Nakamura and Roode both have a bit to prove here- their star power far eclipses (sorry Ember) anything they've been able to do in the ring so far in NXT. Nakamura had an amazing debut against Sami Zayn, but hasn't come anywhere close to that level since. Roode's NXT high point was at Takeover Toronto against Tye Dillinger. There's a good chance the crowd made that match seem better than it was, they were red hot, being the opening match and it being Canadian vs. Canadian. Might watch that one back tonight. But yeah, a lot of questions whether Nakamura and Roode can deliver the kind of high quality match expected on a NXT Takeover. Revival aren't on the card, so it's their responsibility to deliver MOTN.

-Time for the Women's Fatal 4 Way face-off. Peyton and Billie are out first, and their double act is continuing to really work for me. Besides being mega hot, the confidence and poise from the Aussie girls is off the charts right now. They deliver a quality tandem promo before the arrival of Nikki Cross. I've heard good things about her wrestling ability- can she bring it outside of her "crazy" persona?

-Asuka just might out-crazy Nikki right now. She storms the ring and the fight is on. So much for the promise of no physicality- no one actually believed Regal when he said that, did he? Peyton and Billie get a brief advantage before getting cleared from the ring by Asuka and Nikki. It's clear the Aussies are background players here, sadly.

In a rare case of intergender violence, Asuka and Nikki kick the fuck out of the male security guards who are trying to restrain them. I could go on a rant about the double standard involved in this, where men can only touch women in the most accidental manner, while these two get to unleash hell on a dozen or so security, but it does make the women look strong here. Plus, you never see the security actually try and fight the wrestlers, it's always about restraint, so the idea that their fight couldn't be contained is a cool concept. Big dive by Nikki Cross ends the show on a high note- pun intended.

Dramatic conclusion to NXT. They've taped some things out of sequence- the return of Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno was meant to happen on this episode according to the spoilers (It's been plastered all over the WWE website and their social media, save the hate mail). It seemed kinda weird to have a big segment like that on the go-home show for a Takeover, so I'm glad they saved it- guess we get that next week.

Takeover San Antonio is definitely the weakest yet on paper, but they've had a few like that recently, and they still delivered on the night. Triple H was candid in a conference call this week, admitting that NXT is in a rebuilding phase and he wasn't exactly happy with where things are at. I believe there was a few call ups to the main roster that happened too soon- specifically I think Baron Corbin, Apollo Crews and Nia Jax needed another year in NXT- both to develop and to boost the brand at the same time.

This Takeover is a chance for a lot of "homegrown" talent from the Performance Center to shine, rather than just the heralded indy guys. Yes, Nakamura and Joe are the main event, but below them we have Peyton, Billie, Authors of Pain, Dillinger (to an extent). Also, No Way Jose vs. Elias Samson has been added to the Takeover Pre-Show- I don't recall Takeover Pre-Shows having matches before? But there's another two PC products that have an opportunity to set the tone for the show. It should be an interesting show, whatever happens. On a personal note, Takeover might be the last wrestling show I watch live, due to work, until I attend Wrestlemania week live in person! Which would actually make Takeover Orlando my next live show, but splitting hairs. Excitement level is high!

Until next time, take care,


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Image of Mick Robson, founder of The Arena Media

Mick Robson is a freelance writer from Australia. A lifelong fan of pro wrestling and MMA, he endeavours to bring that passion through his coverage in news, reviews and opinion pieces.

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