For our second installment of Scholar Vision, I found myself in New York City for two Pro Wrestling events on consecutive nights at The Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The main event was SummerSlam 2015 on Sunday August 23rd, WWE’s second largest pay per view of the year (behind Wrestlemania) and the undercard was NXT Takeover on Saturday Night. For the non-wrestling enthusiasts out there, NXT is WWE’s developmental promotion which typically films out of Full Sail University in Florida. NXT Takeover in Brooklyn at The Barclays was the first major NXT event held outside of Florida, and boy was it a smashing success. In fact, the best match of the weekend, and quite possibly the match of the year across any Pro Wrestling promotion took place during the NXT Takeover event, a Divas match featuring two outstanding young women who are primed to takeover (pun intended) the industry in the coming years. More on that shortly.
Accompanied by my lovely girlfriend, we arrived in New York early Saturday afternoon and checked into a hotel on Orchard street in Manhattan’s the Lower East Side, about a 20 minute train ride from The Barclays in Brooklyn. Though due to circumstances that forced us to alter our original plans for the weekend it was a last minute booking, it turned out very well for us as all things considered the two night stay ended up being very affordable and featured an extremely comfortable bed and a beautifully fantastic view of both The Freedom Tower out of one main window and the Empire State Building out the other. Orchard street and the surrounding area featured a bevvy of bars, restaurants, bodegas, and places to shop, so though we were on a fairly tight schedule to ensure we were at The Barclays for the two events, we were able to enjoy the town. If you ever end on Orchard st., I highly recommend the burgers at the Hair of the Dog bar. At half price beers for a good chunk of the weekend and featuring a couple of Beer Pong tables, it’s a fun place to hang out.
Our trip also featured a day spent at Coney Island, taking in the boardwalk, amusement park rides, and some good eats. For some reason I never knew that people actually swam at the beach at Coney Island. I had just assumed it was the rides and the restaurants, so given the fairly warm late Summer Sunday, it was nice to walk out onto the pier, watch people enjoy the ocean water, and take in the Coney Island experience. We had some good food at Tom’s Coney Island (the Cherry Lime Rickey was delicious, I could’ve drank 4 of those things), got on a ride, and walked out onto the pier to take in the sites of people fishing, selling waters and mangoes, and just enjoying a beautiful day. All in all, it was the perfect pre-game for the main event of the weekend, SummerSlam 2015 which at four hours was the longest SummerSlam in WWE history. With special guest host Jon Stewart in the fold and featuring a main event between future WWE Hall of Famers, The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, we were surely in for a treat. And truth be told it was wildly entertaining.
WWE Superstars always save their best work for the big events and SummerSlam was no different. The Seth Rollins vs. John Cena “title for title” match (with Seth as the WWE Champ and John Cena as the US Champ each putting their championship on the line) was a great display of athleticism and ended with a Rollins victory by way of a Jon Stewart chair attack on Cena. Both The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar have great entrances. Watching them both live was awe-inspiring, especially The Undertakers’. The ending of that match was a bit perplexing as Brock got Taker to tap out to his patented Kimura Lock submission maneuver, but the ref didn’t see it. The Bell Keeper did see it however, rung the bell, causing the ref to run over to that side of the ring to advise that no pin was made and the match had to continue, giving Undertaker just enough time to hit Brock with a low blow while the ref wasn’t paying attention.
A testicularly hobbled Brock then fell victim to Taker’s Hell’s Gate submission maneuver, and though he managed to flip Taker the bird while falling victim to the hold, he didn’t have enough to break it, passed out, resulting in a Taker victory. Both were the type of endings that drive some fans crazy, but that’s the Pro Wrestling way and I for one loved it. For every 10 “clean” matches, there has to be 2-3 wacky endings to keep feuds and storylines going. It’s what you sign up for as a wrestling fan. Given these two matches along with the bulk of the undercards were excellently performed and with a rowdy Brooklyn crowd going nuts the whole time, I was more than satisfied. It was a fun, historic night. I’ll take it.
That said, let’s backtrack a bit and discuss the NXT Takeover event. Under the guidance of WWE Hall of Famer, its current Chief Operating Officer, and 14 time World Champion Paul Levesque, pka Triple H, the NXT brand has grown rapidly over the past few years with alumni such as current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, the Swiss Superman Cesaro, the high flying Adrian Neville, and the anti-Diva Paige already having had a culture shifting impact on the main roster. This year’s NXT Takeover event featured two main events, with current NXT Champion Finn Balor taking on former NXT Champ Kevin Owens, a wildly entertaining big man who’s meteoric rise to stardom over the past few months features several no-nonsense promos and a victory over WWE’s biggest star, John Cena, in his first match on the main roster mind you.
The other billed main event is our aforementioned match of the weekend, with current NXT Divas Champion Sasha Banks, a Boston, MA girl who is taking the industry by storm vs. Bailey, billed as your prototypical underdog who’s come up just short in her previous title matches. Not to knock on any of the Takeover matches that night, including the brutal Balor vs. Owens ladder match which featured a Balor victory along with his awesome entrance, but Bayley and Sasha Banks stole the show. These two women quite simply put life and limb on the line to entertain the racuous, Brooklyn crowd. More than once throughout their match, which featured a healthy blend of technical mat work, grappling, submission holds, wrestling chops and punches, and high flying maneuvers off both the second and top ropes, the crowd went nuts yelling “this is awesome!”, “this is wrestling!”, “let’s go Bayley!”, and “let’s go Sasha!”, among other chants. It was the type of match that even someone who still hates on Pro Wrestling for being “fake” would have to appreciate, as sure, the winner is pre-determined as part of the event’s booking, but you can’t fake that type of performance. Those two girls beat each other up to entertain us and performed a nearly flawless match, won by new Champion Bailey, a result most of us saw coming given Sasha Banks’ recent promotion to the main roster.
The post match festivities featured a tearful Bayley surrounded at first by two Divas who were also recently promoted to the main roster, Ireland’s Becky Lynch and Charlotte (WWE Hall of Famer’s Ric Flair’s daugher, a super athletic woman who’s sure to hold WWE Divas Championship gold some day soon). Then however, in a move akin to the infamous “Curtain Call” of the mid-90s by the legendary Pro Wrestling faction known as “The Klique”, Sasha Banks, the heel (or villain) to Bayley’s babyface (or “good” wrestler) of the match, came back into the ring to congratulate Bayley and celebrate with the group. This gesture breaks the Pro Wrestling convention known as Kayfabe, or in lamens terms, always staying in character.
It’s not uncommon for Pro Wrestlers to give interviews outside of their respective promotions, but when it comes to discussing upcoming or previous matches with their opponents, they’re encouraged to stay in character as much as possible, respecting Kayfabe convention, carrying on tradition. You don’t want to give away the match outcome, it’s bad for business. In the age of hyper information, maintaining Kayfabe has become harder and harder as via the internet and social media, fans know much more about their favorite wrestlers today than ever before. But again, for the most part, even if they let loose a little bit as far as intensity goes, they stay in character as much as possible. For Sasha to recognize the moment, say “screw this, I’m breaking Kayfabe” and go celebrate with the other three, and for the crowd to erupt in jubilation (with some even in tears) is emblematic of how fantastic the match was and how appreciative the crowd was of not just the performance, but the impact these four women in particular have had on both NXT and Pro Wrestling in general.
There is a Women’s Revolution currently happening in American sports, with Serena Williams and Ronda Roussey amongst the most dominant athletes across any sport and the US Women’s Soccer Team having won their second World Cup just a few months ago. The women of WWE are no different as the Divas have collectively reached a crossover, mainstream popularity the likes of which have rarely, if ever occurred before. E’s hit show Total Divas speaks to this. And not for their sexuality, though I won’t lie, watching hot women beat each other up in the ring does entice the primordial caveman in me quite a bit, but for their overall wrestling and promo skills. As a collective, the WWE and NXT Divas are better in the ring and better in front of the camera today than they even have been before. Divas matches used to be when many fans got up to go to the bathroom. Today, they’re among (if not THE) main draws on Raw, Smackdown, and pay per view events.
The Sasha Banks vs. Bayley match and the following Kayfabe break between the collective who call themselves The Four Horsewomen (after the legendary WCW faction known as the Four Horsemen, led by Charlotte’s dad, Ric Flair) is in many ways a confirmation of that movement. It was an excellent match followed by a heartfelt celebration of said excellence. It was a beautiful thing to experience live. Who cares if the match itself was scripted? You can’t fake that type of dedication, hard work, and raw emotion. And for that matter, what makes your suspension of disbelief when you play video games or get lost in comic books and/or comic books movies any different than the wrestling fans’ when they’re enjoying their product of choice? Many need their “kid” fix somehow, and whether it’s movies, cartoons, video games, or wrestling, who cares? Nobody cares that wrestling’s scripted and over the top. It’s part of the package. Get over yourself. That said, thank you New York, Brooklyn, WWE, NXT, and particularly Sasha Banks and Bayley for making our weekend Pro Wrestling getaway to The Big Apple a grand success. It was truly a weekend to remember.