Adam Cole def. Killian Dain, Velveteen Dream, Dars Sullivan, EC3 and Richoet – NXT North American Championship (Ladder Match)
Please tell me all of these guys put a down payment on their funeral expenses, because wow, what a ride this was. All six of these men definitely earned their paycheck for the night in a big way, and if I were to describe to you all the moments that made this match epic, I wouldn’t have nearly enough characters to describe the spectacle. The only thing I can say is that this match set the proper tone for the evening and for WrestleMania weekend, and my goodness what a way to kick things off. Richoet began by dictating the pace of the match with a series of unbelievable aerial assaults highlighted by a Shooting Star Press to the outside. You had Adam Cole have his superkick spectacle and tried to gain an advantage by forming an alliance with EC3, and the power struggles between Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain. But if you ask me, the MVP of this match was one Velveteen Dream.
Velveteen Dream busted his ass in the best way here. He got injured early on in the match (I believe it was something with his knee), but he continued to press on and delivered a gutsy performance that reminded me of Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series in 2003. Elbows from Mount Everest, Death Valley Drivers onto ladders and fighting despite getting busted up and the sort, and you have someone that wanted to be remembered tonight. The finish was absolutely spectacular. Lars Sullivan all alone but Richoet desperately climbs on top of him sending him through two ladders. Richoet has the match won, but then Adam Cole swoops in at the last minute to steal the championship, and subsequently, the show. There aren’t enough words I have to describe it, and I don’t usually give five stars to any matches lightly, but fuck it, this one gets the full monty. Incredible performance by all involved, incredible spots, an electric crowd, an equally electric commentary table and you have five stars. Just like that. *****
Shayna Baszler def. Ember Moon (C) – NXT Women’s Championship
I don’t know if I were to pick this match to go on after the ladder match because the crowd would have most definitely suffered from burnout, and I think the women need to be given a proper platform, but I suppose that’s nitpicking here. Their match at this Takeover took on a bit of a different dynamic. Here, we saw Ember Moon sort of taking on a different dynamic, as this go around, it was Ember Moon more on the offensive and targeting body parts on Shayna Baszler to hurt her as opposed to Shayna Baszler being the aggressor in the previous match. I think Ember tried to quicken up the pace and deviate away from the mat style that favored Shayna Baszler, which was nice. I also like how Shayna Baszler was able to show her gutsiness, as she forcefully re-socketed her shoulder that she was selling. However, the most brilliant part of the match was how she adjusted her submission finish. She recognized that one of her arms were injured so she wasn’t able to get the full scope of her submission on. So to apply more pressure, instead of using the injured arm, she used Ember Moon’s hair and used it to add the pressure that she needed to get the victory.
This is all a matter of personal preference, and I preferred the mat-style, submission sequence more in their first match than this one, and maybe having to go on after the ladder match calmed things down a bit, but I did enjoy the match. The finish came a bit of nowhere for me, but it didn’t affect the quality, and I did appreciate the change in style here. ***1/2
Adam Cole (C) and Kyle O’Reilly (C) def. The Authors of Pain and Pete Dunne/Roderick Strong – NXT Tag Team Championship
I knew we were in for some sort of surprise tonight, and we got it in this match, as Roderick Strong turned on Pete Dunne and did what a minority of people expected him to do in this match. Now, I didn’t see The Undisputed Era dropping the tag titles to either team, but they did play it up for a good while. Here, the crowd was quite clearly still recovering from the ladder match, and I was expecting that this was going to be the one to go after the ladder match. That said, the triple threat dynamic worked here, and I appreciated how the instantly got Adam Cole out of the match quickly for obvious reasons.
I think all three teams complemented each other’s styles well, O’Reilly bumped like nobody’s business, Pene’s physicality was awesome and The Authors of Pain did their things as usual. Overall, I didn’t really think the match was all that hot or whatever, but it was definitely great in quality. The crowd was definitely hot for the finish as well, so solid all around. ***1/4
Aleister Black def. Andrade “Cien” Almas (C) – NXT Championship
I think Johnny Gargano clearly has more chemistry with Andrade “Cien” Almas than Aleister Black, but once we got down to the finish, boy did business pick up in the best way possible. Honestly, Zelina Vega is probably one of the greatest God-sends in WWE history, especially when it comes to Andrade “Cien” Celmas. This guy has had a complete career renaissance. He beat Johnny Gargano clean, won the NXT Title from Drew McIntyre and is just an incredible manager. Some may have felt that her interference in this match was a bit over the top, but not for me. Her involvement added just the right amount of drama, and it perfectly corresponded with the near-falls that would take place soon after.
Not only did Zelina Vega’s introduction make Andrade “Cien” Almas a star, but that build ended up making Aleister Black look like the best wrestler NXT has to offer. It climaxed into a fabulous finishing sequence with Zelina Vega being directly involved, and that’s an attention to detail I feel needs rewarding. That along with the fantastic athletic endeavor this match ended up being – is the kind of long-term planning and booking that makes NXT one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences in wrestling. This match was set at a fever pitch, with Aleister Black taking some stiff-looking knees, but by flipping all over the place. Zelina Vega’s interference was plenty, but that finish was beyond brilliant, as it backfired on her and subsequently cost Andrade “Cien” Almas the title. What a spectacle this was. ****1/2
Johnny Gargano def. Tommaso Ciampa – Unsanctioned Match
I don’t think reviewing this match through mere words does it justice. No matter how I may verbalize how I felt about this match, you really can’t absorb the gravity of how otherwordly this was unless you were to watch it yourself. All I have to say is that in all my years of wrestling, I have seldom seen a match that has the perfect combination of wrestling ability and storytelling, along with drama all poured into one. It was like I was watching the final fight scene of a movie but in a wrestling ring. If you are familiar with the history of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, then you would have an extra emotional element added into this. But seriously, the tone was set from Tommaso Ciampa’s entrance. Coming out to no music, and soaking in all of the jeers, hatred and the “F*ck you” chants. He just took it all. I just wished that Johnny Gargano came out to the same thing. No music, just soak in all the cheers and get a nice contrast going before starting the match. Screw all the extra cosmetic stuff.
I’m not going to bore you with some long, arbitrary analyzation, because something like this deserves so much more. The near-falls, the silence in the arena that emphasized how much these two were beating each other up, the clever finish, the story-telling, the brutality. I mean, I am literally at a loss for words. All I have to say is if you love wrestling, this is the match for you. Johnny Gargano is the new Daniel Bryan, and Tomasso Ciampa played an incredible foil to him. It was a lot like watching Naruto and Sasuke fight at the end of the series. ************************
Dallas, Brooklyn, WarGames. Chicago. All some of the best TakeOvers of all time, but is this one better than all of them? Yes. 5 matches, 3 hours of wrestling, and some of the most fun I’ve ever watched sports entertainment. Each and every superstar involved in any way busted their ass and went out there to steal the show, and they freaking did. WrestleMania, I’m not sure how you intend to follow that up, but I hope that they feel inspired by their efforts. This was honestly, literally quite honestly, the best 3 hours of my life watching wrestling. Probably hyperbole if you expand beyond the WWE brand, but you’d be hard-pressed to find 3 hours where you are consistently entertained like this. Call it the WrestleMania 17 of NXT. Two 5 star matches, another banger in the NXT Title match and two other quality mid-card title matches to boot? Goes without saying, thumbs all the way up.