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    Monday, November 19, 2018

    The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: NXT TakeOver: WarGames II

    Before we start with this (late TakeOver review), I want you to look through your list of friends who are wrestling fans.

    Now, from that list, who among them only watch the main roster shows?

    Among those friends, how many of them say that they don't have time to watch NXT but constantly whine about main roster booking?

    Whether you have one or 10 names doesn't matter. What matters is how you'll convert them into being NXT fans. And if you need just one show to do that, TakeOver: WarGames II might just be that show.

    TakeOver: WarGames II—like all of NXT's TakeOver specials—had time in abundance. In fact, heading into the show, I was wondering how much time each match would have since there were only four announced matches on the card. By the time the show ended, I felt satisfied with its pacing and, for the most part, the time allotment for each match.

    The WarGames match, which closes the show, fittingly ran for almost an hour. It made sense because it was the boiling point for all these intertwining arcs—some of them drawing their beginnings from almost a year ago. I didn't realize how cleverly this story was written until I saw the video package, which managed to stitch together how and why it made sense for Ricochet, Pete Dunne, and War Raiders to team up against The Undisputed ERA.

    Yes, they seemed like a ragtag group of babyfaces who weren't on the same page. The way they'd been booked leading up to the show itself also implied that. But by showing us that video package before the actual match, it shed light on what the stakes were for both teams. For the babyfaces, it was to finally put these villains in their place after all the hell they'd had to endure. For the Undisputed ERA, it was their first official match as a complete unit of four. They had to prove that they were every bit as united and cohesive as they said that they were.

    There was enough time to focus on subtler narratives that added layers to the overall story. You had Bobby Fish being in his first match since returning from injury. There was Pete Dunne, who had suffered an injury before TakeOver, and was severely limited by it. Adam Cole still had that chip on his shoulder from being unable to defeat Ricochet in a rematch for the North American Championship. All these subnarratives just made the larger arc more meaningful because it raised the stakes for everyone. And the best part was that there was enough time to tell all those stories.

    That's something that the main roster clearly can't do because they have too much talent than they know what to do with. Oftentimes, you'll have big shows overloaded with eight to ten matches per show, where a story is barely told. But on the flip side, you get to see so-and-so Superstar perform for seven, eight minutes on-screen. It's a weird type of opportunity cost that takes away from the viewer experience because it results in boring programming and sometimes, non-sensical stories like the brand warfare arc in this year's Survivor Series, which will be discussed in its own review column.

    With NXT and its shows, fans are able to see a character go from point A to point B in a match. We saw the journey that the babyface team went through in WarGames from their bickering over who gets to enter the cage first to Pete Dunne and Ricochet eventually putting Adam Cole away and standing tall together. We saw Velveteen Dream go from flamboyant upstart to a legitimate star right before our very eyes. We saw Johnny Gargano's dickish side fully realized and put down as a reminder that karma exists and that you eventually get what you give. And we saw Shayna Baszler realize that she ultimately can't beat Kairi Sane on her own, which is why she absolutely needs Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke to help her defeat the Pirate Princess.

    Time allows these matches to breathe and for these layers to be peeled. And that's what lets us viewers get invested in these characters. We want to know what happens next and how they'll get there. And we trust that NXT will do the logical thing to get us to that point. When Roderick Strong joined the Undisputed ERA, he went cynical and concluded that if he couldn't beat the team that kept jumping him, he might as well join them and take part in the spoils. It's a fucked up (and defeatist) way to think, but it makes sense—unlike a team captain forming her brand's five-woman lineup, forcing two best friends to fight over the final spot, having the existing members beat said best friends so neither of them qualifies, and then putting the two best friends in the team anyway because two existing members had to be replaced.

    TakeOver: WarGames II wasn't the best show that WWE put up this year. If we're going to narrow our choices down to NXT specials, I'd pick TakeOver: New Orleans as the one that set the bar. But WarGames II came close enough that I'd highly recommend it to a friend who needs just one show to be convinced to stick along for the ride. A.

    Not-So-Full Sails

    • I was a bit disappointed that Ohno vs. Riddle was a seven-second squash. But I trust NXT to tell the larger story here, which is Riddle's rise and Ohno's descent into dark jealousy. And knowing what I know now about the whole show, it was a nice contrast to all of the matches that took place.
    • Aleister Black vs. Johnny Gargano was my favorite match and my Match of the Night pick. Those two told a story so well that it hooked you from start to finish. I can totally buy into Johnny Asshole and I'll admit that I even wanted Aleister Black to kick him into oblivion. Everything they did meant something to the overall story, which made for a satisfying bout.
    • Now that Velveteen Dream has proven that he can be a convincing babyface, I hope NXT commits to him being face for good. I'd love to see this new direction in his character the way Johnny Gargano embraced his inner dick.
    • I didn't realize how badass the line "I will absolve you of your sins," can be until Black said it to Gargano before kicking the latter's head off. I can't wait to go to confession now.
    • After that two-out-of-three falls match, I felt that Shayna Baszler just treated Kairi Sane the same way Ariana Grande did her exes. Thank u, next.
    • If the rules of WarGames state that leaving the cage results in your team losing, then how does it make sense for Ricochet to climb to the top of the cage and risk being pushed off by an Undisputed ERA member—something which totally happened, by the way? Yes, that spot ultimately led to Ricochet's insane double rotation moonsault off the top of the cage, but logically, if he didn't initially mean to do that, then why risk inadvertently losing it for your team?
    • All that said, I love the format of this year's WarGames match way more than last year's, which was too confusing for my life. Let's stick with the classic format from the WCW days moving forward, okay?
    • Warpaint on all the babyfaces in the main event was a grade-A badass look. 
    What did you think of this year's TakeOver: WarGames? Did you like this year's WarGames match better than last year's? Which match was a Match of the Year candidate for you? Hit us up in the comments section below!

    Images from WWE


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXTLucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: NXT TakeOver: WarGames II Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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