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The top 10 matches of NXT TakeOver
History was made on Feb. 27, 2014, when NXT ArRival streamed on WWE Network, becoming the first live special to be shown on WWE’s then-nascent, and now-award-winning, subscription service.
If the programming choice to lead off with an event from WWE’s developmental brand seemed bold at the time, it must be considered prescient through a 2018 lens. ArRival gave credence to a phenomenon that, to that point, had been mostly experienced on the underground; and even though it didn’t officially carry the TakeOver prefix, ArRival laid the foundation for NXT’s critically acclaimed series.
Since then, TakeOver has produced a trove of must-see matches. To attempt to narrow down the 10 best is no easy task. If anything, it’s a reminder of the embarrassment of riches birthed by the black-and-yellow brand. Still, we tried.
Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro (NXT ArRival)
You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and the opener of NXT’s inaugural live special, by any measure, far exceeded “good.” Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro was the perfect encapsulation of the NXT revolution. It focused on the drama of fierce in-ring competition, with Zayn desperately searching for his first win against Cesaro. It showcased spectacular innovation and unworldly athleticism, like Cesaro catching Zayn’s moonsault and turning it into a backbreaker. It brimmed with emotion, thanks to Zayn’s gutsy performance against the machine-like Swiss Superman. This match wasn’t just a proper introduction for NXT novices; it set the standard for all TakeOver classics to follow. — JOHN CLAPP
Asuka vs. Ember Moon – NXT Women’s Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III)
As all of us now know, nobody in NXT was ready for Asuka. Yet, over the course of her remarkable 523-day NXT Women’s Title reign, no one posed a greater threat to Asuka’s dominance than Ember Moon, and at no point did Moon come closer to toppling Asuka than at TakeOver: Brooklyn III.
The War Goddess threw everything she had at Asuka, and the NXT Universe’s astonishment grew with each near-fall that The Empress of Tomorrow survived. Their disbelief when she kicked out of Moon’s Eclipse may well have registered on the Richter scale. In the end, Asuka protected her streak, but even she knew the outcome was dangerously close to swinging the other way. — JOHN CLAPP
Authors of Pain vs. #DIY vs. The Revival – NXT Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Elimination Match (NXT TakeOver: Orlando)
This Triple Threat Elimination Match for the NXT Tag Team Titles had everything you could want from tag team wrestling. The Revival typified the old-school wrestling bad guys, The Authors of Pain were the unstoppable monsters and #DIY were the fan-favorites who electrified the crowd. Though it’s impossible to pick just one moment that stood above the rest in this high-energy clash, Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder joining forces with bitter rivals Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa to powerbomb Rezar through a table was an unthinkable scene that is forever etched in the minds of those who saw it. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley – NXT Women’s Championship Fatal 4-Way Match (NXT TakeOver: Rival)
If you’re looking for the moment when Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley stopped becoming NXT Divas and started becoming the Four Horsewomen, this match is probably your best bet. Charlotte and Sasha had been holding down the fort as the Women’s division’s top players, but Bayley and Becky were bubbling right under the surface. This four-way dash to the NXT Women’s Championship, then, was the proverbial explosion, a landscape-altering event that divided the Women’s division history — all of it — into two periods: Before and after. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT TakeOver: Dallas)
Shinsuke Nakamura could have easily been fed a tomato can for his much-anticipated NXT debut. Instead, he faced the biggest litmus test imaginable in NXT ace Sami Zayn who, realizing his days in the black-and-yellow brand were ending, wasn’t about to leave without a hellacious fight. It was a daunting sink-or-swim scenario, and The Rockstar responded like Michael Phelps. He and Zayn battered each other with such gusto that it inspired the NXT Universe’s first “Fight forever” chant. The match was unforgettably hard-hitting, but it also marked a true sea change for NXT as a whole: Zayn’s NXT run was over, and The Strong Style Era had arrived. – JOHN CLAPP
#DIY vs. The Revival – NXT Tag Team Championship 2-out-of-3 Falls Match (NXT TakeOver: Toronto)
#DIY and The Revival’s rivalry may be one of the greatest in NXT’s history, due in large part to their emotional in-ring wars. A traditional tag team contest wasn’t going to settle this conflict as they put on a classic in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match for the NXT Tag Team Titles in Toronto.
Everything that is great about tag team wrestling was on full display in this bout, including incredible teamwork and cunning in-ring psychology from both sides. The match also showed why NXT fans fell in love with Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa. Not only did #DIY finally achieve their dream of becoming NXT Tag Team Champions, but they did so in heroic fashion, battling back from a 1-0 deficit to win via double submission. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne – WWE United Kingdom Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Chicago)
NXT fans knew they were watching something special when two relatively unknown prodigies from WWE’s nascent U.K. roster took center stage at TakeOver: Chicago. Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate’s pure, unadulterated slugfest was just what the Windy City crowd wanted. However, both men demonstrated they were far more than just rough-and-tumble brawlers from across the pond as they battled inside and outside the squared circle at a fevered pace. The clash’s high point came when Bate followed a picturesque moonsualt to the outside with a stunning corkscrew 450 Splash. In the end, however, the savage BruiserWeight got his revenge — as well as the U.K. Championship — via the Bitter End, and he cemented this contest as one of TakeOver’s best. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Sami Zayn vs. Neville – NXT Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: R Evolution)
The old idiom is that “the money’s in the chase.” Whoever said that would probably make an exception for this satisfying culmination of Sami Zayn’s two-year climb up the NXT mountaintop, in which he overcame every single one of his temptations and shortcomings, one after the other, to dethrone Neville and win the NXT Championship. It was more than a masterful display of a Superstar coming into his own. (Though Neville, straddling the line between unbeatable champion and a panicked titleholder trying to stave off defeat, is particularly marvelous here.) It was Sami’s then-young WWE career condensed into a single, compactible story. Much like the man himself, it’s something to see. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks – NXT Women’s Championship 30-Minute WWE Iron Man Match (NXT TakeOver: Respect)
By the time TakeOver: Respect rolled around, Bayley and Sasha Banks had already etched one classic: The Huggable One’s feel-good NXT Women’s Title win at TakeOver: Brooklyn. What separated their rematch was the historic importance. It wasn’t just the first time female Superstars had main-evented a WWE Network special, but also the first Women’s WWE Iron Man Match ever.
The fight was rugged. In her pursuit of reclaiming the crown, The Legit Boss was at her cantankerous best, brutalizing her on-again/off-again friend and going so far as to push Bayley super-fan Izzy to tears. Bayley, no longer a doe-eyed puritan, knew she had to match Banks’ ferocity, and she demonstrated a previously unseen edge. The match went down to the wire. After both Superstars notched two falls apiece, Bayley scored the winning submission with just seconds to spare. The preceding 1,798 seconds, meanwhile, were nothing less than pure magic. — JOHN CLAPP
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas – NXT Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia)
Hey, sometimes you hit the bullseye on your first try. But then, if you’re Johnny Gargano and Andrade “Cien” Almas, you fire again and split the arrow right down the middle. That was their NXT Championship Match in Philadelphia, which didn’t just follow up on their initial triumph months earlier in Brooklyn so much as obliterate it from the record books. It has been a long time since a fighting underdog looked this passionate or a champion possessed this much imperious disdain. Each moment of this bout, from the moves to the interaction to the involvement of Candice LeRae (that’s Mrs. Wrestling to you) to the post-match appearance of a wild-eyed Tommaso Ciampa after the dust settled, was pitch-perfect. In Gargano, NXT had its Daniel Bryan; in Almas, its Randy Orton. And now, with this match, its Savage vs. Steamboat. — ANTHONY BENIGNO