Wrestling Review: NXT TakeOver: 36 (2021)

In the main event of NXT TakeOver: 36, Karrion Kross must defend his NXT Championship against the former 2-time NXT Champion in his own right, the returning-to-in-ring-competition Samoa Joe. These two have been at each other’s throats over the last months, as the then-non-competitor Samoa Joe claims he was provoked by Kross into actions Joe did not want to take. Have the excursions to Monday Night Raw proven too much for the defending NXT Champion, or will Samoa Joe’s layoff prove too high a hurdle to overcome? Meanwhile, from the NXT UK brand, the 870-day reigning United Kingdom Heavyweight Champion, “Der Ringgeneral” WALTER will defend his title against the only man to pin him in WALTER’s entire tenure in NXT UK, “The Mad Russian” Ilja Dragunov. These two had not just the WWE match of the year last year, but one of the best matches in all of pro wrestling period and now, ten months later, Ilja Dragunov will be looking to do all he can to seize the tightest held Championship in modern WWE history.

The NXT Women’s Champion, Raquel Gonzalez, will also face one of her toughest tests to date, as she defends the NXT Women’s Championship against her long time friend turned bitter, jealous, vindictive enemy, Dakota Kai. Kai claims to have plucked Gonzalez from obscurity, and taught Gonzalez everything Gonzalez knows; but did Dakota Kai give away all of her secrets? For Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly, there re no titles on the line, but there needs to be a winner in the Undisputed Finale. Months of violent brawls, bone bending technical wrestling and sneak attacks have left no other option but to end this once and for all, with Three Stages of Hell. The first match of their series will be a straight wrestling match, as chosen by Kyle O’Reilly; the second will be a street fight, as chosen by Adam Cole and; if required, the third and deciding fall will be decided inside a steel cage. Finally, kicking off the show will be the arrogant LA Knight defending his Million Dollar Championship against his former challenger, and more recently his former butler, Cameron Grimes. With WWE Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase in Grimes’ corner, however, the stakes could not be higher: if Cameron Grimes cannot claim the belt DiBiase made famous, then DiBiase will replace Grimes as LA Knight’s butler.

+ WALTER (c) vs Ilja Dragunov (NXT United Kingdom Championship): I’ve handed out a few double negatives, but I don’t think I have ever given a match a double positive before. This was the WWE match of the year (as their match last year was then, too), and I am willing to stake this entire website on that fact. There is nothing that anyone could do that would be even close to the intensity, precision and story telling these long time friends and rivals can put on together. WALTER is phenomenal in everything he has ever done, and this was no exception but I’ll be damned if Dragunov isn’t joining that group in my mind as well
+ LA Knight (c) vs Cameron Grimes (w/ Ted DiBiase) (Million Dollar Championship): this was perfectly fine, but I don’t for a single second buy that the Million Dollar belt is more important than the tag titles, Women’s tag titles, North American Title or even the other NXT UK titles. Knight has finally come into his own as this jerkass rich guy, and despite DiBiase often losing what he is supposed to be doing, Cameron Grimes more than enough makes up for it. Cameron Grimes would be a god damn megastar anywhere else in the world, but I just have no faith
+ outside of the match quality themselves, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a PPV event that was just five, one-on-one matches to determine the better competitors. I like this

Karrion Kross (c) vs Samoa Joe (NXT Championship): I am a very, very long time fan of Samoa Joe, but age is a fickle mistress and even he was not able to drag something watchable out of the worst NXT Champion in memory, Karrion Kross. I don’t know what it is about Kross, but he looks like a (very muscly) dweeb, he can’t wrestle well at all, and he never sounds convincing. Add in the fact that apparently Scarlett is no longer part of his act (?) and what are you even left with? All the smoke and mirrors of a good entrance mean nothing when the match begins. On the opposite side is Samoa Joe, who doesn’t get a ‘cool name’, fancy entrance or need a manager, and he is probably one of the greatest of all time
Kyle O’Reilly vs Adam Cole (3 Stages of Hell Regular Singles/Street Fight/Cage Match): how else to say it but we’ve literally seen this before. A singles match and street fight have no important when we’ve already seen the outcome, and more so the fact that as a three stages of hell, you can safely predict that of course there will be a third stage so nothing before that even matters. The wrestling was fine and the athletes themselves looked fine, but even Adam Cole busting out a Lockjaw, the finishing submission of his AEW Women’s Champion girlfriend, Britt Baker was not enough to save this from the repetitive slog it was. I like Adam Cole, though I don’t claim to be his biggest fan, but Cole/Gargano/Ciampa ruined how matches used to be in NXT
Raquel Gonzalez (c) vs Dakota Kai (NXT Women’s Championship): so the simple deal is this: Raquel is big and looks good, Kai is small and wrestles great. This story has been simultaneously rushed and a long time coming, but the recent build up has been such forced garbage that it was hard to take much of it seriously. Dakota Kai is surely one of the better workers in NXT right now, and I do strongly believe that Gonzalez will one day hold her own as ‘the big guy’ of a women’s division, but this wasn’t that
– it is such a shame that NXT’s weekly TV show is just so horrible, because these TakeOver shows are usually really good. If Dragunov had not randomly, and so bafflingly lost on NXT two weeks ago, the WALTER/Dragunov match would have been between the unbeatable champion and someone who had not lost all year. In that same match,

> the elephant in the NXT locker room (I’m overly proud of myself for that easy pun) is that there have been so many call ups, firings and contract lapses that who even knows what the roster of NXT will look like in the coming days. With one exception, I personally don’t expect to see the losers of the matches from this show on NXT ever again

Should you watch this event: Sell your soul to witness the religious experience that is WALTER/Dragunov. I’d usually say ‘take or leave the rest’, but this time I don’t even think being a fan of anyone would be worth watching the rest.

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