NXT TakeOver 36: NXT at Its Finest

Karrion Kross vs Samoa Joe NXT TakeOver 36 Results

At its finest, pro wrestling satisfies an ancient urge in its audience, hearkening back to human history’s first entertainments. The broad but morally tinged comedy of folklore’s tricksters, the blood sports of gladiators, the death-defying risks of bull jumpers, the archetypes of heroes and villains, all live in the art form. Pro wrestling is very real in terms of the blood, sweat, and tears that its performers put on the line, and the audience who crave to be moved by what they see. August 22’s NXT TakeOver 36 delivered much of what makes pro wrestling a powerful art form, pathos in its storytelling and visible physical sacrifice on the part of its performers. 

NXT TakeOver 36 Was Wrestling At Its Finest

Raquel Gonzalez and Dakota Kai’s match for the NXT women’s championship traded on a well-worn narrative in pro wrestling programs: friends turned to rivals. Kai gained Gonzalez as an ally in 2020, in her quest to humiliate and decimate former friend Tegan Nox. The two then became a dominant force on NXT’s women’s tag team division. They won the first-ever women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, and were the inaugural NXT women’s tag team champions, after losing out on the  WWE womens tag team championship titles to Shayna Bazler and Nia Jax. When Gonzalez won the NXT women’s title from Io Shirai, Kai was her loyal enforcer. The recent twist, that Kai was only biding her time while Gonzalez eliminated her rivals for her, winding up for her own strike at the women’s championship, was a bit contrived, but a serviceable pretext to get them in the ring as rivals rather than allies.

Both Kai and Gonzalez gave their all to that narrative in their August 23 TakeOver match. Gonzalez is a punishing competitor, but Kai was able to use her intimate knowledge of Gonzalez’s style and her own considerable share of grit to withstand some of Gonzalez’s most hard-hitting slams and punishing submission maneuvers. Gonzalez, whose combination of towering height, physical strength and sang froid has led to comparisons to Kevin Nash, played her part, visibly flustered at Kai’s will, but also at facing her only friend on the roster in the ring, vying for her title. She put Kai away with a pin after her “Chingona bomb” finisher, but former NXT UK women’s champion Kay Lee Ray walked out seconds after Gonzalez successfully defended her title. Gonzalez’s next challenge seems to be upon her, but Kai is probably still a factor in the women’s title race. 

Another NXT UK act bringing their story stateside were WALTER and Ilya Dragunov. The “Ring General”, the leader of the Imperium faction, is the longest-reigning champ of WWE’s modern era, his NXT UK reign extending for 800+ days. Dragunov and WALTER brought European wrestling to the Capitol Wrestling Center: no knee pads, punishing submissions that hearken back to the British tradition of ‘catch as catch can’ shoot wrestling of the 19th century, classical Greco-Roman wrestling, and the transmission of martial arts throughout colonial holdings and back to Europe. One can imagine that late 19th century crowds watching the carnival shooters of old saw much the same brutal passion plays that the CWC crowd did as the two took and dealt punishment. The match was lengthy, but Dragunov managed to scrape a victory by submission. The 800+ day reign ended, the Ring General was defeated, and Dragunov was visibly bloody and bruised by the battle’s end, emerging as the new NXT UK champion.

The bout between Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole was also lengthy. Scheduled for three falls, their match was the third and possibly final installment of a saga much like Kai’s and Gonzalez’s: former friends turned to bitter rivals. As part of the Undisputed Era faction, O’Reilly, Cole, Bobby Fish, and Roderick Strong’s brotherhood and devotion was at times a bit heavyhanded, but such a known factor that it made Cole’s heel turn legitimate. O’Reilly became the focus of his ire, and the two have had two previous bouts in the TakeOver series. This, the third time they faced each other, had an albatross over it, Cole’s real-life contract negotiations and unknown future with WWE. Since UE’s split, Cole’s heel persona has been a successful character revitalization, while O’Reilly’s fortunes have been more mixed: his Brazilian jiu-jitsu informed ring style has been showcased at advantage, but he has struggled to make his babyface character land in the edgy NXT environment.

Cole’s and O’Reilly’s in-ring storytelling, however, had no weak spots. The two held nothing back, giving their bodies utterly to their Cain and Abel epic of brother against brother. Kendo sticks, steel steps, garbage cans, all became weapons in the ‘street fight’ stipulation. The two took each other past their limits, incapacitating each other at one point with simultaneous kicks. When the final stipulation, a steel cage, came into play, Cole handcuffed O’Reilly to the cage’s walls. Remarkably, O’Reilly managed to use his free hand, and his legs, to place Cole in submission. It was a triumphant, heroic moment for O’Reilly, whatever the future holds for him and Cole. 

Cole was an early irritant to Samoa Joe when he became the muscle for General Manager William Regal. However, the true thorn in his side emerged as NXT champion Karrion Kross. Kross has been a compelling tweener and a dominating fighting champion since taking the title for the second time in April 2021. Though Samoa Joe began only trying to reign in Kross’s backstage anarchy, their issues escalated and he was cleared to face Kross in the ring for the NXT championship. Joe’s mic skills are legendary and scathing, while Kross’s enigmatic aura of menace is palpable-the two have been electrifying adversaries. The shadow of Joe’s recent past with WWE stalked the match between the two: after a severe concussion, Joe was sidelined to Monday Night Raw’s commentary desk in 2020, and then released in summer 2021; Triple H quickly intervened, tapping him for the NXT roster. The knowledge that Kross’s reign was likely ending so that he could become a full-time part of the Raw roster also loomed.

However, the chemistry between Kross and Joe couldn’t be dampened. Although it was his first return to the ring since February 2020, Kross did not take it easy on Samoa Joe, feeding him the diet of suplexes and submissions which all of Kross’s NXT adversaries have been subjected to. Samoa Joe and Kross both utilize submission finishers to lethal effect, and both have punishing strength, but Joe took masochistically gutsy babyface risks whose optics were even more compelling given his recent medical history. Kross took punishment too, especially on the receiving end of Joe’s final suplex, inert as Joe covered for a pinfall victory. Samoa Joe prevailed, making NXT history as the brand’s first three-time champion.

NXT Takeover touched primordial nerves, and its matches delivered high on the blend of real-life factors masked and heightened with storytelling, the psychology and physical sacrifice of its performers, that keep the genre’s faith with the pro-wrestling audience.