NXT TakeOver specials have come to represent excellence in the world of professional wrestling. While critics are often less than complimentary about WWE’s main product and its highest-profile shows, it is hard to pick out a single TakeOver that wasn’t at least very good. There are several that hardcore fans readily rank among the best WWE events of all time.
A part of what has helped every TakeOver deliver is the shows consistently serve up hidden gems—undercard matches that may or may not possess much in the way of hype, but wind up captivating the audience and stealing the show. On the flip side, because TakeOvers tend to be so good, it can be easy to forget there have been some underwhelming matches embedded in them.
This article takes a look back at five TakeOver matches that wound up stealing the show and five that disappointed most fans.
10 Stole The Show: Aleister Black vs. Velveteen Dream, War Games 2017
When Aleister Black and Velveteen Dream clashed at NXT TakeOver: War Games 2017, they each had a fair bit to prove. While Dream had come a long way with his character work, this was his first true showcase match. Black was already on course to becoming one of NXT’s top stars but was still developing.
The story of these men battling for respect captured the audience’s imagination and paid off with an absolutely sensational match. While War Games itself was the show's central attraction, Black vs. Dream gave that spectacle a run for its money and signaled the arrival of two of NXT’s best and brightest prospects. Black wound find himself in the NXT Championship picture in a few months’ time—winning the title over WrestleMania weekend. Meanwhile, Dream began his ongoing journey to becoming one of the developmental brands most compelling young stars.
9 Disappointed: Finn Balor and Hideo Itami vs. The Ascension, R Evolution
Hideo Itami came to NXT with a ton of buzz, as hardcore fans were conscious of stars like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan citing him as an influence. Finn Balor had also made a name for himself in Japan and felt like a big signee. As such, seeing this team of new arrivals square off with the dominant monster heel team of NXT at the time, The Ascension, felt like a fun attraction.
While by no means terrible, the resulting match was not great. Balor immediately came across as the star of this four-man cluster. Itami performed well but didn’t exactly dazzle in his inaugural outing. Most of all, though, Konor and Viktor were exposed for what they are—a pair of big-bodied guys lacking polish despite what their largely dominant run may have led fans to believe. This match proved prophetic—Hideo Itami would never capture gold in NXT and only made it as far as 205 Live on the main roster. The Ascension floundered nearly immediately upon their call up. Only Balor would thrive atop NXT and have a meaningful main roster tenure.
8 Stole The Show: #DIY vs. The Revival, Toronto
After Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa stole the show with The Revival at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II. Later on, they doubled down with a sensational best two out of three falls match in Toronto.
The story of Gargano and Ciampa in NXT is one of two guys WWE didn’t have plans for; however, time after time, the pair won over the powers that be by virtue of truly sensational in-ring performances. The Revival had already established themselves as a top-notch team, and while American Alpha may have been their greatest rivals on paper, it was #DIY that ended up producing the very best matches with them by virtue of their underdog prowess and ability to keep pace with the Top Guys.
7 Disappointed: Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe, The End
Finn Balor and Samoa Joe were both standout talents in NXT and the idea of them clashing at the top of the card, let alone in a steel cage match with the NXT Championship on the line, sounds like it ought to have created a heck of a big match scenario.
For everything this pairing had going for it, Balor and Joe didn’t quite click to make the five-star magic fans expected. Moreover, the writing was on the wall that Balor was on his way up to the main roster. This title rematch felt like a formality before Joe could move on to his next challenger.
6 Stole The Show: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, Brooklyn
There are many points fans will suggest defined WWE’s Women’s Revolution. One of the earliest and most widely agreed upon is the night when Bayley and Sasha Banks stole the show.
NXT’s women’s division grew nicely in the developmental brand’s first years, with Sasha Banks emerging as a brilliant heel champion, both as a character and in-ring performer. Bayley grew into the role of underdog hero right beneath her. This match between the two was in many ways the culmination of that first full-fledged generation of female stars in NXT, as Banks joined Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch in moving up to redefine women’s wrestling on the main roster, while Bayley became the anchor of developmental.
While debatable whether this is the greatest women’s match in NXT history, it is on the short list and was the best match in a TakeOver full of excellent contests, making it feel immediately historic.
5 Disappointed: Austin Aries vs. Baron Corbin, Dallas
The match between Austin Aries pitted two of NXT’s extremes—a guy who had developed a celebrated career on the indies in Aries, opposite a homegrown big man talent WWE was molding into a wrestler. Corbin was reasonably good and was pushed enough that it seemed WWE was serious about him, while Aries had a buzz upon his arrival in the WWE system.
This match wasn’t particularly bad but it also wasn’t the coming out party fans hoped for from either man. It was a perfectly average match that highlighted few of either man’s greatest strengths, in some way foreshadowing the lackluster runs that would follow for each man in developmental and on the main roster.
4 Stole The Show: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn, Dallas
Over WrestleMania 32 weekend, Sami Zayn was set to graduate from the main roster, as WWE went so far as to book him for the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match at ‘Mania itself the day after he worked his last TakeOver. In that NXT finale, Zayn met Shinsuke Nakamura who was in some ways cast as his replacement. An accomplished wrestler from outside the WWE system who was prepared to step in as an upper card to main event level guy for the black and gold brand.
Though Nakamura and Zayn had never worked a match together before, they demonstrated instant chemistry. Both men played to their strengths with Nakamura working stiff and Zayn playing his loveable face character perfectly. The result was an instant classic that many considered the best match of that WrestleMania weekend, if not WWE’s entire year.
3 Disappointed: Velveteen Dream Vs. EC3, Brooklyn IV
Velveteen Dream has built an impressive resume in NXT and particularly on TakeOver specials. While his bout with EC3 wasn’t actively awful, it did offer some insight into EC3 and his future in WWE. The latter Superstar underdelivered in what should have been a showcase match for him, highlighting that while he’s a skilled talker with a great look, he’s still not necessarily equipped to hold up his end of the bargain in a big-time TakeOver showdown.
Dream won in a nice step toward further legitimizing him as an upper card threat, but the limited success of this match also hinted at the low ceiling over EC3’s WWE prospects, including his to-date dismal main roster run.
2 Stole The Show: Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks, Unstoppable
Before Sasha Banks faced Bayley in Brooklyn, and ages before Becky Lynch became The Man, two of NXT’s best female talents squared off at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable. Banks vs. Lynch was a unique encounter, pitting Banks as an undersized but vicious heel against Lynch as a face with the power and submission style to largely dominate but can't quite get the job done.
Perhaps it’s because there was no title change and Banks went on to a bigger rivalry, or perhaps it’s a matter of Samoa Joe’s surprise debut stealing the show later on, but this match tends to get overlooked. At the time, though, it represented one of the best women’s matches under any WWE brand.
1 Disappointed: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe, Brooklyn II
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II had all the makings of a huge match for NXT, with two of the best-respected veterans of the wrestling business squaring off with the NXT Championship on the line, headlining an event that was established as NXT’s biggest annual spectacular. Moreover, it marked Nakamura’s coronation as the new face of the brand.
This match largely underwhelmed, though. It was competently worked with some decent spots but paled in comparison to preceding matches like #DIY vs. The Revival and Asuka vs. Bayley. Generally, the event was a very good one; nevertheless, it was hard to consider this main event a success by the lofty standards TakeOver specials had established by that point.