The last year or so has seen NXT truly revitalise itself.
After being such an incredibly successful product, it took a bit of a nosedive as it lacked talent, due to constant call-ups, and it was definitely going though a dry spell.
But from Takeover: San Antonio to Takeover: New Orleans, the show has reached even bigger heights; with the latter having a case for being one of the best wrestling PPV’s ever seen.
With NJPW’s number one cheerleader, Dave Meltzer, even giving three, 5-star ratings to NXT matches this year, NXT is DEFINITELY doing something right.
However, the standard was set sky-high after the nearly flawless New Orleans show. Tonight is the first post-call-up show since New Orleans.
Sanity, Authors of Pain, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, No Way Jose, Drew McIntyre and Ember Moon. That’s a big list of big names that the yellow brand lost and it’s positive to see how NXT has coped.
Tonight, there’s only one match that even remotely resembles a match from New Orleans, and it’s the sequel to the Match of the Year contender that Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa thrashed out on Bourbon Street. Other than that, it’s a set of fresh new matches.
The new North American Champion, Adam Cole BABAYY, is conspicuously absent – alongside EC3 – but there’s enough talent here to gloss over their missing presence.
NXT Tag Team Championship
Undisputed Era (c) vs Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch
As someone who doesn’t watch NXT regularly, this is a strange one to me. All I know is that Lorcan and Burch have picked up some wins over the Undisputed Era, which to be fair is as good a reason as any to be number one contenders.
In recent memory, most Takeover Tag Matches have involved The Authors of Pain in some way or another, so this is the beginning of the moving on process.
It’s Kyle O’ Reilly and Roderick Strong representing the Undisputed Era tonight.
You can’t beat a smarky crowd, despite being heels; the crowd is UNDISPUTEDly on the side of Roddy and Kyle. Perhaps testament to how little the crowd cares about Lorcan and Burch.
Either way, Reilly took control of the match for his team with his unorthodox ground style. Burch got worked over for a while before eventually getting the ‘hot’ tag? The crowd weren’t exactly hot for it.
But BOY, the crowd gravitated towards them once Lorcan started busting out a large array of offense. Mean spiral uppercuts that would be comparable to Cesaro’s, forceful lariats that could unseat a horse, over-the-top rope dives; it was beautiful, suddenly they’re faces again!
As a matter of fact, they were one second away from winning the titles, until O’ Reilly made the save. They continued the attack, until Lorcan was shoved off the top rope, flipping in mid-air, and landing back first on the edge of the apron; crashing to the floor and hopefully a hospital bed below.
The crowd was so hot for the final stretch of this match.
It was insane. From Lorcan’s double blockbuster to the outside, to Adam Cole’s coldly-received dismissal to O’ Reilly simultaneously escaping a submission and breaking up another.
Eventually, The Undisputed Era made Lorcan and Burch succumb to their finisher and put them away.
That was a tremendous match and also a star-making performance for Lorcan in my eyes.
Ricochet vs The Velveteen Dream
“Anything you can do, the Dream can do better.”
NXT are so good at building feuds and telling stories it’s untrue.
The popular debut of a new, established star, the jealousy of the young upstart who wants the spotlight. This has become a dream match. In just over a year, The Velveteen Dream has become one of the hottest prospects in the world today.
A trash-talking, third-person Velveteen Dream is endlessly entertaining. Ricochet’s high-flying antics are equally entertaining.
Did someone whisper Match of the Year contender?
Dream comes out looking boasting a HULKING physique and tonight his charisma and confidence looks to be RUNNIN’ WILD.
Confirmation that the Hulkster will be on WWE TV sooner rather than later.
This has a big match feel. They stood face-to-face with a nice close-up of both of these warriors. Let’s go.
It always feels like a big-time Velveteen Dream match tells a constant story throughout, this is no exception. Ricochet busted out lots of aerial awesomeness early on and even did the classic flip sequence into his superhero pose. Dream hated this.
But Dream got the upper-hand and started to imitate Ricochet’s moves, slower but effectively. Then a couple of dives from Ricochet and the momentum switched again. I swear, if I attempted even one of Ricochet’s vast arsenal of manoeuvres, I would be in intensive care for six months…
Rolling Death Valley Driver off the top from Dream. A suplex from the apron to the floor. Spike DDT’s. Just wow. I honestly got worn out just watching these two incredible athletes.
Also, to people who say Ricochet can’t/doesn’t sell…you can go suck a lemon.
The closing sequence of this match defied the laws of physics. From Ricochet performing a shooting star, halfway across the ring, to Dream doing his Purple Rainmaker elbow three-quarters of the way across the ring. It’s action that any human being should watch and marvel at.
In the end, the 630 was the final nail in the coffin for the Velveteen Dream.
This match was absolutely fantastic and lived up to every inch of the hype. It’s another big PPV loss for Dream, but it really doesn’t hinder him. Every single one of his Takeover matches are becoming a treat. He’s still only 22…yeah, I’m crying inside too.
NXT Women’s Championship
Shayna Baszler (c) vs Nikki Cross
Perhaps the only woman crazy enough to face Shayna. She may be the only credible challenger left. It’s the only aspect of NXT that I feel hasn’t really recovered since the departure of Asuka, even going back to the departure of Charlotte, Becky, Sasha and Bayley.
I’ve gotten on on-board with Shayna though. I wasn’t too happy when she beat Ember in April, but she is a legit badass and her ability is there.
Nikki..well, she’s a whole new breed of crazy. I love it. Straight from the start she baited Shayna and actually instilled some fear into her.
There were some rough spots in this match. Shayna back dropped Nikki on the steel ramp which looked nasty, Shayna delivered some really ugly knees to the face of Nikki, there was even a back drop onto the ‘hardest part of the ring too’. It sadly had the feel of a sprint finish as the match wasn’t given enough time.
They achieved a lasting image that will be used in many a highlight package for Shayna though as she choked out a smiling Nikki Cross, silencing her one and for all.
I still think that this continues to be the weakest aspect of NXT. Shayna is going to keep choking people out and looking dominant, someone is going to have to step up sooner or later and push her to her limits.
Aleister Black (c) vs Lars Sullivan
On paper, this is an intriguing match. Sullivan is a prototypical brute. Big, strong, ugly and effortlessly overpowers his opponents. On the other hand, Aleister Black has quite simply been one of NXT’s greatest ever assets. He. Has. Everything.
But I have to wonder if this is another match that’s designed to be short and sweet to both; cater to Sullivan’s limitations and also give more time to Gargano/Ciampa II.
That’s my gut feeling. If this is over 10-minutes I’ll be surprised.
Y’know what, big props to both guys here. This was so much better than I thought it was going to be. A huge man like Aleister Black was made to look a pea. Yet, Black also still looked like the efficient force he’s been made out to be all this time.
They both utilised psychology well here with Black selling the knee and Sullivan trash-talking Black. Such is the dominance of Black that even the 300lb monster needed to systematically breakdown Black.
But boy did they F up at one point. That Black Mass botch was horrible. There was at least two football pitches between Aleister’s boot and Sullivan’s face. But we’ll try and look past it.
The psychology continued all the way until the finish when it took an unprecedented two additional Black Mass kicks to slay the beast. Botch aside, credit to both men here. A very watchable NXT Championship Match. If Sullivan can keep improving, then he has a bright future.
Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa II
I think NXT’s storytelling has peaked with this feud. You just can’t do it better than this. I think it speaks volumes that this is the main event for the second show in-a-row; ahead of NXT Title matches.
The animosity between these two has now been brewing for a full year. It started at Chicago last year, they battled at New Orleans and now it’s part two. Their match at New Orleans was a 5-star classic for the ages; this may very well join it.
It’s no DQ again, but I’m expecting a bigger emphasis on weapons this time. Oh look, they both have crutches in hand.
Johnny, in a Captain America-esque get-up, is already throwing Ciampa all over the place. Announcers table. Steels steps. It’s chaos within the first minute.
A fan yelling, ‘YOU’RE THE DEVIL CIAMPA’, had me in stitches! The fan investment in this feud is second-to-none.
A sign saying ‘Use this Johnny’ fends up being a conveniently wrapped STOP sign. The crowd pops, ECW chants erupt and Ciampa gets lit up with sign shots. Also, I know that that fan is an obvious plant, but how would a fan be able to sneak a full-size STOP sign into the arena? Wrestling logic. Can’t beat it.
Anyway, the war rages on as Gargano comes flying off an elevated platform onto Ciampa, taking him out. Out come the weapons as predicted. Only wrestling makes you miss the sight of trash cans and trash can lids. Ciampa tries to stomp Johnny’s head into a chair, probably not the first attempt at murder we will see in this match.
Oh and here’s attempt #2. Now I have to say, I’m not a fan of this spot. It’s cool as hell, but wrapping a steel chair around someone’s neck and crushing it into the steel steps is a plot device designed to write someone off TV for weeks/months. It shouldn’t be used mid-match as it really undersells the impact of it.
Nevertheless, Ciampa is trying to end Johnny. If that wasn’t bad enough, an impromptu running knee strike with a trash can lid, twice, won’t help either. But at least you can now have trash can lids with an exclusive Johnny Gargano face imprint. Then to compound everything, Johnny is dropped onto the steel steps. Anyone got a towel to throw in?
Then we go old-school, TNA-Bully Ray circa 2013. Ciampa uses bolt cutters to tear the ring apart, pull back the thin padding and expose the unforgiving wooden boards.
We temporarily forego its use as they fight away from it, but it’s not long before Johnny springboards over the top rope and eats a face-full of trash can lid.
There are some sickening purple and black welts sprouting all over Ciampa’s back from vicious leather belt shots earlier on from Johnny. Gargano unleashes a chair assault on Ciampa’s injured knee that he injured in Chicago last year.
The first-half of this match has been about the raw physicality and punishment these two could inflict on one another. I think the second-half will all of that AND MORE, but with even more storytelling.
So it begins, we get a throwback to Chicago last year, both arm in arm as they walk to the back. Ciampa is yelling saying that they were friends and it didn’t have to be this way; then launches him into the stage.
We’ve now teleported to the top of some stacked boxes – a good 10-12ft above the floor – and conveniently, there’s two tables down in the chasm below. We’re now reminiscing about the end of Chicago last year again. Ciampa picks Gargano up, spits on Johnny’s wedding ring and throws it away.
This understandably infuriates Gargano who drops himself and Ciampa 10-12ft, through the two tables below. It looks painful as hell.
Gargano sits down looking at Ciampa, who is now being strapped to a gurney, and realises his wedding ring is no longer on his finger. So off he goes, dragging the gurney back to the ring. He senselessly beats up Ciampa, assaults some officials, handcuffs him, senselessly beats up again and makes him tap out; TWICE.
But the ref is absent for some reason, Johnny climbs outside to the apron, but Ciampa clamps Gargano in his biceps of life and pulls off a desperation DDT, onto the wooden boards. His lifeless body then falls onto Johnny Wrestling’s. 1-2-3.
This is in in the upper-echelons of a 5-star matches. No 18-Star ratings or any nonsense here. This is an all-time great. The calibre of matches we’ve had across various promotions in the last 2-3 years has been a privilege. In terms of atmosphere, story, wrestling, investment, violence etc, it just doesn’t get better than this.
This is your MOTY. This somehow bettered New Orleans. This will be EXTREMELY hard to unseat as the king of 2018 WWE/NXT matches.
NXT Takeover just continues to be the standard bearer in WWE. It’s the wrestling show that you want, and it delivers all of that and more. A tag match that completely and utterly over-delivered, the astonishing duality of Ricochet/Velveteen Dream perfectly capturing athletic ability and storytelling and a sequel that supercedes the original.
A minor dip in quality with the women’s match doesn’t hurt the show and the NXT Title match was another that probably achieved more than we thought was possible.
A show that very possibly may stand as the second-greatest Takeover of all-time; behind New Orleans. Bravo. Brooklyn has another job to do top the last shows.