One year ago, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn took a surging brand and elevated it into another stratosphere. The show featured several in-ring classics, including a showdown between Bayley and Sasha Banks that was widely recognized as one of the best matches of the year in any company.
TakeOver: Brooklyn, NXT's first ever special outside the confines of Full Sail University, completely changed the future of NXT. Live event tours under the NXT banner expanded well beyond Florida, where they had largely remained the last few years. Two further TakeOver specials -- one in London and one in Dallas during WrestleMania weekend -- were made possible by the success of TakeOver: Brooklyn at the box office and through the overwhelmingly positive response from fans.
These are the kind of expectations that NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II has to live up to.
Of all the contracted superstars that appeared on this show one year ago, only Bayley, Samoa Joe, Tye Dillinger and Blake and Murphy remain on the NXT roster. Joe and Bayley have two of the four most prominent spots at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II, but the rest of the card bears little resemblance to its predecessor.
That being said, all three title matches are based around compelling stories that have been given ample time to grow over the last few months of NXT broadcasts.
Shinsuke Nakamura's ascension to the status of No. 1 contender for the NXT championship has been compelling to watch, and the conflict with Samoa Joe is reaching its peak at just the right time. Bayley's return to the scene of her greatest triumph is contrasted by her current struggles against Asuka. And as for the NXT tag-team championship showdown pitting The Revival against Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, the latter have been well-positioned as underdogs who are still fully capable of taking the next step, thanks to their exploits in the ring both with and against each other in the last few weeks.
The rest of the show offers a pair of debuts that should be crucial to how NXT proceeds in the future. With the departures of top-class talent like Finn Bálor, Kevin Owens, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Sami Zayn, Becky Lynch and American Alpha, there has been a need for new talent to step up and take over the top spots.
Bobby Roode is making his long-awaited debut against another newcomer, Andrade "Cien" Almas, in what should be a strong showcase for both superstars. Ember Moon makes her first NXT appearance against Billy Kay, in a match that could go a long way in determining whether one or both of them can provide a well-needed shot in the arm for the depth of the NXT women's division. With the recent departures of Nia Jax, Carmella and Alexa Bliss -- and the high likelihood that Bayley will soon get a promotion of her own -- the opportunity to stand out right away is there for the taking.
Here's a deeper look at the four matches that have had extended builds towards Saturday night's conclusions in Brooklyn -- the three championship matches, as well as the culmination of the ongoing feud between Austin Aries and No Way Jose.
NXT championship: Samoa Joe vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
NXT has made a habit of taking dream matches that no one thought were possible -- due to geographic, contractual or other seemingly impassable barriers -- and making them a reality. That trend continues in Brooklyn in the NXT championship match, as Samoa Joe defends his title against Shinsuke Nakamura.
Since his debut at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, Nakamura has had high-profile matches against Zayn, Bálor and Austin Aries, but each of those matches has only had a small build with most of the hype generated by the spectacle of seeing the match itself. Each of those victories helped tell the story leading up to this championship match in Brooklyn, but for the first time since his debut, Nakamura has been given the chance to tell a well-rounded story with Joe.
It has taken some compelling twists and turns along the way as Samoa Joe, who was very vocal about not getting a fair shake in his pursuit of the title when Bálor held it, tried denying Nakamura a rightful chance of his own until general manager William Regal stepped in and made the match.
Nakamura's style is unlike that of anyone in NXT -- or the world, to be quite frank. His seemingly violent strikes are deadly serious, but his ability to be an eccentric has also been on full display.
- WWE (@WWE) August 19, 2016
This has the makings of an incredibly stiff match, and with both competitors owning compatible styles of in-ring work it has the potential to stand up among some of the biggest and most revered matches in NXT history if all goes according to plan.
NXT women's championship: Asuka vs. Bayley
Every time Bayley had to jump another hurdle on the path to her first NXT women's championship victory, an opponent would bring out an aspect of her personality or her repertoire in the ring that we previously didn't know was possible. As she dispatched all three of her fellow "Horsewomen" on her way to victory in Brooklyn, or in defenses against Banks and Nia Jax, each match pushed her to be that much better in order to secure victory.
- WWE (@WWE) August 18, 2016
All of this went by the wayside in Bayley's showdown with Asuka at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, as the undefeated Japanese superstar took everything Bayley had to throw at her and then some. By reducing Bayley to an unconscious heap in the middle of the ring, Asuka sent her opponent spiraling to the back of the line and, worse yet, left her incapacitated for several months.
Bayley had to prove herself, step-by-step, all over again. She has added an edge to her personality in response to Asuka's dominance that not even Charlotte or Sasha Banks could bring out, and it has led to the kind of depth that many feel was the final missing piece of the puzzle before Bayley could successfully move on to either Raw or SmackDown.
Asuka has the makings of a long-time champion in NXT, and Bayley seems to be on her way out of the door, but both women have the opportunity to prove just how much each of them have earned the lofty positions they've reached. Bayley has proven her ability to get the best out of her opponents -- her matchup with Banks in 2015 serving as the best evidence of that -- and this match has all the makings of another potential show stealer.
NXT tag team championship: The Revival vs. Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano
It has been quite a run for Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. The two independent wrestling veterans got paired together as a tag team at an NXT TV taping in 2015, and over the course of the last year, each has proved that they not only belong in NXT full-time with their work in the ring, but that they're deserving of the tag-team championship match that awaits them in Brooklyn.
That has been especially clear in their performances the last couple of months. Gargano and Ciampa defeated the Hype Bros, TM 61, the Vaudevillains and the tag-team champions The Revival (twice, I might add) in matches that were chock-full of compelling spots and great storytelling. The match that really put the pair over the top, however, was a singles match against one another in the first round of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.
In a match that many cited as the best of a strong first round of the CWC, each man proved how viable he was as a single competitor -- and simultaneously proved how in sync they can be as a team.
The Revival shocked the wrestling world in regaining their tag-team championships in American Alpha's first title defense after TakeOver: Dallas, and the two-time champs have been revitalized since putting the gold back around their waists. Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson are as old school as modern wrestling gets, and the combination of their win-at-all-costs style and high-level mat wrestling ability has taken them a long way in NXT.
Making Gargano and Ciampa jump through hoops to get this match has worked wonders in raising the tension level of this confrontation, and the NXT tag-team championship match should be a great proving ground for all four individuals come Saturday night.
No Way Jose vs. Austin Aries
Getting a comedy-based character over with the crowd is one thing, but successfully taking on a more serious edge as a competitor once that happens is a far greater task.
With a name like No Way Jose, and a character that turns everything into a dance party, Jose had a long way to go to excite the Full Sail crowd and get them behind him, but in his first few months on-screen, he has made quite a bit of progress in that regard.
- WWE (@WWE) August 18, 2016
It remains to be seen if the Brooklyn crowd will be equally into No Way Jose, but having Austin Aries across the ring will certainly be a helpful step in the right direction. Aries is the most natural bad guy in NXT right now, and with a nice assist from No Way Jose, Aries has gone over to the dark side quite successfully after ending the pair's dance party in a beat down.
This match will be a true test for both competitors. For No Way Jose, this is a far greater stage than he has ever been on. For Aries, it's a chance to prove to WWE fans (and brass alike) that he can live up to the moniker of "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived."