Monday, May 23, 2016

Fake Fighting Frenzy -- NXT TakeOver Dallas: Capturing a Moment



There are times in this life where you find yourself in the exact right place at the exact right time and you are blessed to experience one of those perfect moments in life where time seems to stand still long enough for you to come to the realization that you will never forget this moment. They are forever bookmarked in your mind, heart, and soul, eternally frozen and captured in time. They are the stories you tell all your friends and family every time something comes up in conversation that reminds you of it--or even sometimes when nothing does. The stories your friends and family get tired of hearing you tell but perhaps never tire of the enthusiasm with which you tell them. The stories that radiate within you and without, defining who and why you are and what and how you love.

This is one of those stories.

I have been a professional wrestling fan for the better part of the 31 years I've been alive and perhaps the greatest reason I continue to love wrestling is moments like this. The era that I became really hooked on wrestling--the Attitude Era--was defined by these moments. Stone Cold Steve Austin driving a zamboni into the arena or giving The Corporation a beer bath. D-Generation X showing up at WCW Monday Nitro in a tank. Hulk Hogan turning heel and joining the nWo. You just had to tune in every Monday night because you never know what moment you might miss out on. I know I will never forget watching live (live to tape, technically, but whatever) as Mankind won the WWE championship in front of a crowd that was cheering him on as passionately as sports fans cheer on their team.

As my love and appreciation of professional wrestling has grown, over the years, I've gotten to watch some pretty special matches live on pay-per-view and the WWE Network and even Raw. I've begun to appreciate, more and more, everything that goes into having a great match. But I had never been in the building to watch one of the greatest matches I've ever seen in my life. The more great matches I got to see, the more my desire grew to be a part of one of those transcendent moments in the sport that will go down forever in wrestling lore. I came damn close when I attended WrestleMania 31 and saw the amazing Brock Lesnar v. Roman Reigns match that ended with Seth Rollins cashing in Money In the Bank. It was certainly one of the best matches I've ever seen and an incredible moment but it wasn't at the level of some of the cataclysmic events in wrestling history. I still craved that.

Let me back up. Before I get into the transcendent performance put on by Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura, I should really recap the rest of the show, because it was an amazing show from start to finish.



American Alpha v. The Revival

It's easy to forget that there were two other 4+ star matches on this card. This was the only match in which I had much of any rooting interest but hot diggity damn did I want Chad Gable and Jason Jordan to take the tag titles. Not only did they do just that but they did so in the best way possible--Gable, Jordan, Dash, and Dawson put on an absolute clinic of tag team wrestling. I don't know what it is about the NXT tag team division but these guys understand the dynamics and the psychology of tag team wrestling better than anyone we've seen in a while. And not just these two teams but the Vaudevillains, Enzo and Cass, Blake and Murphy, everyone.

Just watch the way these two teams embody the central dynamic of tag team wrestling--keeping your opponent away from his corner v. trying to reach out for the hot tag. Look at Gable reaching out over both Dash and Dawson for a tag, missing it, and pulling them into a double DDT instead. Look at Dash Wilder crawling under the ring to pull Jordan off the apron just as Gable dives for the tag. Look at Wilder tag himself in while Dawson is on Gable's shoulder. Look at Gable crawling through Wilder's legs for the hot tag. LOOK AT JASON BY GOD JORDAN, THE HOTTEST HOT TAG IN PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING. I wish I had been close enough to see his face on this hot tag because JESUS CHRIST LOOK AT HIS FACE. Jason Jordan is Mojo Rawley if he actually stayed hyped and I've never even seen him this hyped.

Not only that but the other tag team stuff was super on point. Gable returning Dawson's slap, leading to a stand-off between all four men in the center of the ring. The dueling German suplexes with Dash and Dawson holding onto each other for dear life (pictured above). The head clunk on the outside. Wilder diving in front of Dawson to shield him from Jordan's corner spear. This stuff is so beautiful. If it wasn't for the big botch by Dash and Dawson, this would be a 4.5 star match--and even that was partially salvaged by the crowd chanting "YOU F*CKED UP" and "BOTCHAMANIA." Although the highlight of crowd moments for this match was obviously the "WHICH ONE'S DAWSON/WHICH ONE'S DASH" chant. Great stuff all around.

⋆⋆⋆⋆1/4

Austin Aries v. Baron Corbin

This was easily the worst match of the night and that's not even an insult. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this match other than Aries going over Corbin but it's understandable to want to give a new guy a rub instead of having him lose his first match. I just didn't like how ineffectual it made Corbin look. I've really enjoyed watching the story of his hatred for all the new indie guys he keeps getting passed over for unfold and I really wanted to see it carried forward as a running them for him. I wanted to see him run through all the indie darlings on his way to capturing the NXT title he so richly deserves. Thankfully, he got to win the Andre the Giant Battle Royale and is now tearing it up on Raw.

⋆⋆⋆

[FAST FORWARD]


Asuka v. Bayley

For these two women to be able to lasso the crowd back into consciousness after Zayn/Nakamura is a feat unto itself. With no cool-down match between the two, I expected the crowd to be dead for this one but within minutes they were going wild and chanting "THIS IS AWESOME" and all was right with the world. Major props to these awesome women. The story is great. Bayley knows she has to keep Asuka grounded and is able to for a while. She wrestles one of the smartest matches she's ever wrestled but Asuka is just too overpowering and all she needs is one opening and before you know it, Bayley is passing out in the Asuka lock. Superb.

⋆⋆⋆⋆

Finn Bálor v. Samoa Joe

This one was hurt a lot by the fact that Joe got busted bad in the opening moments and the referee and trainers had to keep stepping in to clean him off. It was crappy and it led to some hilarious anti-PG chants but it had nothing to do with PG. Joe was cut under his eyebrow and getting that much blood in your eye is very dangerous. They still had a hell of a match--both guys (especially Joe) compensated for the stoppages by going HARD in between them and they played into the story of the match with Joe becoming more and more infuriated by them and, therefore, more vicious. Joe was mostly dominant and, in retrospect, I like the finish because it continues the story that Joe is dominant and overpowering and Finn has never lost as Demon Balor but STILL has to find ways to barely escape with a win against Joe. I also really loved the move to have Joe take the title at a house show when Balor didn't bring the Demon because not only does it keep the Demon undefeated but it harkens back to--and hopefully helps revive--a time when anything could happen in WWE, even at a house show. Like when Diesel won his first WWF title at a house show.

OK. Now that that's out of the way...


I have never seen anything like Sami Zayn v. Shinsuke Nakamura. A month and a half later, I feel like I can say with confidence that this was one of the top five matches I've ever seen in my life and the stiffest match I've ever seen. So many people talk about Ric Flair v. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleWar 1989 as the greatest North American wrestling match of all-time, in large part, because of the stiffness. I've never really seen the appeal of that match, although I do see its merit. This match is stiffer. But it's so much more than that.

For starters, I don't think I've ever heard a crowd that was more STOKED to be watching two guys wrestle than Dallas was to see Sami Zayn and, more so, Shinsuke Nakamura. Maybe the Minnesota crowd that chanted "THIS IS AWESOME" before the Shield and the Wyatt Family even locked up but even that doesn't compare to this. The crowd wasn't just SUPER LIT, they were super lit for the ENTIRE MATCH. Their level of excitement only seemed to grow as the match went on. I'm struggling to describe the amount of STOKED I experienced in that room. It was a spiritual experience.

HO-LY-SHIT! HO-LY-SHIT! HO-LY-SHIT!

THIS IS AWESOME *clap clap clapclapclap*
THIS IS AWESOME *clap clap clapclapclap*
THIS IS AWESOME *clap clap clapclapclap*

THIS IS WRESTLING *clap clap clapclapclap*
THIS IS WRESTLING *clap clap clapclapclap*
THIS IS WRESTLING *clap clap clapclapclap*

NA-KA-MU-RA!!!
SA-MI-ZAYN!!!
NA-KA-MU-RA!!!
SA-MI-ZAYN!!!

BOTH THESE GUYS! BOTH THESE GUYS! BOTH THESE GUYS!

FIGHT FOREVER

That's the one that will be forever emblazoned in my memory. We were so happy we couldn't even stand it. We had almost forgotten that this thing we love so much could be this good. We never wanted this to end.


You have to work for it a little, but there's also a pretty compelling story there. It's Shinsuke Nakamura's North American debut and Sami Zayn's farewell match in NXT. It's the ultimate conclusion to one of the great character stories in wrestling--Zayn's rise--and the beginning of, potentially, an even better one. It's the passing/taking of the torch. A turning over of the keys to NXT. Not only that, but it's also one of the simplest and most effective wrestling stories ever: two of the best on the goddamn planet with everything to prove and all of the incomprehensible will and desire to prove it. I will watch the sh*t out of that 11 times out of 10.

And, I mean, what can I even say about the wrestling? Every forearm and every knee strike looked like Literal Death because it was. The tit for tat of it was so brilliant. Two guys just throwing because if they don't there's a small chance they could Literally Die. So many beautiful spots. The timing between these two guys was perfect from the opening bell--like that opening sequence where Zayn barely avoids getting his face both kicked off and then stomped in. I was waiting all month for that spot where Zayn goes for the through-the-ropes DDT only to get his skull cracked. I started elbowing my friend yelling "LOOKLOOKLOOKLOOK HE'S GONNA CATCH HIM HE'S GONNA CATCH HIM OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" And when they both just started kicking the fuck out of each other's heads when each of them were down on the bottom rope, I just kept screaming "OHOHOHOHHHOHHHOHHHHHOHHHHHHH!!!!!!" It was...beautiful...

I will never forget this. I was in the building for one of the top five greatest matches I've ever seen in my life. That's every wrestling fan's dream. That's bucket list material. Moments like this one are the reason any of us is a wrestling fan. The opportunity to share such perfect, eternal moment in time is one of the greatest privileges in this life or any other. And when we do, it's almost impossible to feel anything but gratitude.

⋆⋆⋆⋆

No comments: