This is a lesson in storytelling that’s multi-faceted. Sometimes, it doesn’t get much better than this. The reason why this worked so much for me was the fact that both tag teams tried to see who could implement each other’s style better and it was so freaking epic.
You have The War Raiders doing gymnastics and flipping from the top freaking rope and you have Ricochet doing fallaway slams.
They were also still able to implement their styles to perfection as well. The other hint of storytelling that I loved was Ricochet almost getting counted out, a clear call-back to how their Raw Tag Team Title bout against The Revival ended.
Some of the desperation attempts to break up pinfalls were ingenious as well, from The War Raiders collapsing onto Ricochet to Aleister Black busting out Finn Bálor’s finisher.
The pacing was pitch perfect as well. The action always seemed to progress and never take a stand-still. The finish of the match seemed to quite clearly indicate that this was Ricochet and Aleister Black’s swan song in WWE.
If that’s the case, what a hell of a way to go out. They’ll be remembered for what they did as singles competitors, but they showed their diversity by competing as a tag team. I don’t know about you, but I had a hell of a time watching this tag team match. About as fun as it gets. ****1/2
Velveteen Dream (C) def. Matt Riddle – NXT North American Championship
I was afraid that this match was going to lack the intensity of the match that proceeded it, and boy am I happy I was wrong. This was a fantastic match, and I think that this one was carried by the character work.
The stage was set with Velveteen Dream’s entrance. There’s just a certain charisma about him that’s infective. Matt Riddle carried his weight here as well. He’s immensely talented, and I’m glad he has been given this platform to prove his metal.
I liked during the match how Matt Riddle progressively got frustrated that everything he was throwing at Velveteen Dream wasn’t working. It had me thinking that he was going to fully turn into a heel. But that German Suplex from the top rope into that top rope reverse corkscrew? I would have bet that was the finish.
Velveteen Dream’s energy here was just also fantastic. He knows how to work a crowd with subtleties, but he showed the full essence as to why he’s a popular character. He’s just an incredible performer.
I also appreciated the finish because it protected Matt Riddle. Velveteen Dream didn’t beat Matt Riddle so much as he escaped him. That shows Matt Riddle had him on the ropes, but a quick mistake cost him everything.
While I think it took a teeny bit to get going, once it did, we got a hell of a match. A splendid job by both men, and an entertaining match that had the crowd invested in the finish. ****1/4
WALTER def. Pete Dunne (C) – NXT United Kingdom Championship
Talk about a change of pace, eh? We went from high flying action in the tag team match and tremendous character work in the second to a straight up fight here. Sharp knife edge chops, finger breaking, and face stomping. Seriously, it felt like something straight up out of ancient Greece.
Pete Dunne held the title for nearly 700 days, and I knew this would probably signal the end of his reign. But what I wanted was for him to get a match that was worthy of the person to dethrone him. I’m grateful to say not only did this match meet those expectations, they blew it out of the water.
I envisioned what that match would look like, and the best way I can describe it is this. If I didn’t watch pro wrestling before today, I would think this was a real fight. That’s how much I loved this. You didn’t get the sense either man was holding back.
Pete Dunne’s desperation and pulling out everything in his arsenal was awesome. WALTER was too big for a lot of things Pete Dunne tried to do, but since he’s a badass, he was able to make it work anyway.
WALTER was also just absolutely incredible here. He kind of reminds me of Vladimir Kozlov, but more refined as a worker. You don’t normally see men his size get desperate, but Pete Dunne was more than game and WALTER had to get out of his comfort zone to win. In order to escape submissions, he used his larger frame to get to the ropes. He once even put all of his weight off the mat in a pinfall attempt.
But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, tops that unbelievable powerbomb from the rope. He flung Pete Dunne damn near halfway across the ring. And then he needed to go to the top rope to finish things off.
I got my money’s worth here, and if this was the main event, I wouldn’t have been mad. Just an incredible performance by two men who literally busted their asses to make each other look good. ****3/4
Shayna Baszler (C) def. Kairi Sane, Bianca Belair and Io Shirai – NXT Women’s Championship
I hate that this had to be the odd match out as the women’s match has historically been the NXT match on an NXT TakeOver card that comes before the main event. After what proceeded it, I had no expectations this would be something worth watching.
While the match resorted to the trivial fatal four way trope of having two people fight on the outside and on the j side at a time, I’m thankful to say that there was a lot of good stuff here, and I mean a lot. The teamwork between Io Shirai and Kairi Sane was pretty cool and Bianca Belair getting a chance to showcase her strength was cool as well.
I also think the ladies did about as well as one could expect in their position. They all showcased their character traits well and Shayna Baszler did what she said she was gonna do. Watch the others tear each other apart and pick up the scraps. She didn’t even need her entourage to do it.
Shayna Baszler has essentially beaten everyone there is to beat in NXT, and I’m sure we were all thinking this is where she’d be de-crowned in lieu of a main roster call-up. NXT Champions have been called up with their titles (e.g. Kevin Owens), but the decision to have her retain here was kind of confusing, especially since it was a match where she technically didn’t have to lose to drop the title.
Overall, the ladies get an A for effort and this was a good little sprint in lieu of the circumstances. ***3/4
Johnny Gargano def. Adam Cole – NXT Championship (2-out-of-3 Falls)
So yeah, let’s talk about THIS. You know, considering this wasn’t the original match planned, don’t you think that this is just about the greatest impromptu wrestling match in…well, history? Let’s break it down.
We all knew this was going to three falls. A match like this was going down to the wire no matter what. I’ll be honest in saying the first two falls were kind of dull in a way. They weren’t bad by any means. It just kind of felt out of nowhere and had no heat to it, but that’s just me. The work prior to that was absolutely excellent of course. I just didn’t feel that build-up.
But the story of that third fall. Goodness gracious. You talk about storytelling, character work, kickouts and the works. This was freaking incredible, and that adjective doesn’t do it justice. I thought the near falls when Johnny Gargano stole Tommaso Ciampa’s DDT and Adam Cole did his piledriver had me going. But that paled in comparison to what Johnny kicked out of towards the end there.
We knew eventually The Undisputed Era was gonna come out. There’s no way Adam Cole was going to fight a fair fight to the end. But what I loved is that The Undisputed Era as a faction represented everything that Gargano has had to fight against.
All the obstacles. All the losses at Takeovers in the past couple of years. All the times he was told he was too small. Being rejected from WWE. All that came in the form of the Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish looking to steal the NXT Title away from him. Yet Johnny kept fighting.
Some may think the kickouts at the end were overkill, but Johnny wasn’t kicking out for the sake of kicking out like John Cena used to do back in the day. He was kicking out out of desperation. He had no choice but to fight, and his fight came in handy. Adam Cole was the perfect foil here.
Everything from his trash talk to looking for underhanded methods to win the title is the exact opposite of what Johnny was, and those clash of styles blended perfectly.
Understand that Johnny Gargano is probably what Daniel Bryan was in 2014. Everything feels the same. Tommaso Ciampa coming out to make amends and hug him, the man he shared many battles with, was the icing on the cake.
Needless to say, this was a flawless main event well worth the price of admission. Everything about this match hit me, and I was borderline emotional towards the end. If a fake wrestling match can do that to me, that’s all you need to know. Another perfect main event for Johnny Gargano, and a huge showing from Adam Cole. Bravo to all those involved in this effort. I’ll admit some of the kickouts might have been overkill, but I didn’t mind. ****3/4
NXT gets it. Five matches, about three hours. Give each match time to tell a story and make people care, and you have yourself a great show.
Takeover: New York was some of the best bit of professional wrestling I’ve ever seen, and I can’t recommend it enough. You won’t fins something you can’t get entertained with.
WrestleMania’s card is triple the length and will be more than double the runtime. And I don’t think it has a prayer of topping this. But hey, miracles happen, right?