Every NXT TakeOver seems, somehow, to be better than the one before.
That happened again here.
I’ll first say what a pleasure it was to not have to deal with Mauro’s hyper-dramatic yelling for once. Vic Joseph replaced him this evening and he was great. Nigel and he work really well together and they embellished the stories without losing their ever-loving minds. I would be thrilled if Vic just took over for Mauro. He had to be impressive to all the right people tonight and good for him. The only real letdown was Percy. He simply didn’t get involved enough. Not sure why but he didn’t.
Time to bask in the Afterglow of the matches themselves, shall we? As a sidebar, I avoid grading on these because grades don’t matter here. No match will be good. Everything is either excellent or phenomenal. As such, I simply can’t grade.
The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong) vs. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch
As I testified in “Court”, I couldn’t care less about Lorcan & Burch as characters because neither one has been fully formed in the least bit. Roderick Strong should be very thankful that he’s been inserted into the Undisputed Era. He was completely boring on his own so this helps him greatly. As for this match, it had zero apologies to make. If it’s possible to open a PPV with too strong a match, this might have done it. Had this opened a main roster PPV, the audience would have hated everything else as a result of how good this was. Lorcan’s Blockbuster (double neck-breaker) was beautifully done. Kyle decided he was done with poor Oney and he did the most uncomfortable swan dive to the floor. It looked absolutely sickening. I even enjoyed Adam Cole (Bay Bay)’s interference. Of course, there was no way the UE was going to lose and WWE had to know we knew that but they made this incredibly compelling. The audience gave Lorcan and Burch much love after the match. They absolutely deserved it. Fantastic way to open a PPV!
Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream
The story being told here is one of the indie guy verses the home-grown WWE talent. It’s not a factual story in the least (Ricochet is definitely the indie guy but Velveteen Dream is very much that guy too). Velveteen Dream has charisma for days and, better still, he can work his face off. Few are better in there (really, only Cedric Alexander is, IMHO) and the guy is only 22 years-old. Ricochet is just freakishly athletic. He’s hardly charisma-free himself too so this is a match that, as I testified in “Court”, I was beyond excited to see.
This match did not let me down in any way. They’re both. so good that they even make head scissors look interesting. As is the case with all Velveteen Dream matches, this was amazing. That amazing duplex from the apron onto the floor is only something I’ve previously seen threatened; I’ve never actually seen someone go through with it. There’s no way that didn’t hurt both of them. The outcome makes no difference to me, honestly. Neither of them would have been damaged in the least bit by a loss. They gave it everything they had and I enjoyed this match every bit as much as I knew I would.
Shayna Baszler vs. Nikki Cross
This feud has been amazing. Let’s break this one down, shall we? Shayna is the intimidating force who does what she wants when she wants. Nikki Cross is the sole individual who couldn’t care less about Shayna’s intimidation. In fact, she thrives on it and uses it as fuel. As a result, Shayna is powerless over her. That’s given us a feud built in shorthand but it works perfectly. Shayna is truly incredible. She’s already really good in the ring and absolutely platinum on the mic. Nikki Cross is unhinged brilliance in both respects and their styles completely clash. Because they’re both so good, they make it work brilliantly.
Okay, the match. It was great. The conflict played it out beautifully here with Shayna not totally knowing what to do with Nikki at first but doing her level-best to intimidate her. Baszler came for Nikki and she just stood there. I loved the back and forth between both of them. It’s the most competitive match Shayna has been in so far. The end of this match was amazing. Cross was trapped in Baszler’s Kirifuda Clutch and she smiled as she sank into unconsciousness. She never tapped to Shayna. Perfectly-executed ending to an excellent match.
Aleister Black vs. Lars Sullivan
It really does get old. People see a really big guy and, without ever giving him a chance, decided that he can’t work and he must be getting this shot because of his size. The fact is that Lars is in the position he’s in because he’s just that good. Yes, he’s a big, scary guy. He’s also really good in the ring and really good on the mic too. Of course, we already know how good Aleister Black is. He’s amazing in there and what he says is good. The only thing I don’t like is his voice. It’s too high-pitched to sound the least bit threatening or foreboding. He’s clearly going for that but it’s unconvincing. The less he says, the better.
The match was great. Anyone that sees the match and then still says that Lars can’t work simply isn’t paying attention. He did everything he needed to do in there tonight. He moves with good speed and he sold extremely well – a somewhat lost art. He can also do the “big guy brawling” thing you’d expect. Aleister is, of course, phenomenal. Fun fact: Nigel McGuinness was one of his trainers.
Sadly, there were a couple of botches in this match and both of them were caused by Aleister. He did two Black Mass kicks. The first one he botched when Lars was selling damage from the stomp to his back. He missed by a nautical mile but made the sound so it looked awful. The second one came shortly after that rather than kicking Lars head, he clearly kicked his left wrist. The kick to the jaw just before this clearly made more contact than it should have as it drew blood from Lars. That was a very bad sequence of events in an otherwise excellent match. I’m not sure that Aleister didn’t break Lars’ jaw but I certainly hope he didn’t.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano
As I testified in “Court”, I knew Tommaso and Johnny would do what was necessary to make this match more compelling than the last and they did. This has been the best feud I’ve seen in years – maybe ever. Both of them are just extraordinarily gifted. The story told here was just the best I’ve ever seen. They started on “10” and slowed down and picked up as needed. They even got “ECW” chants and this was less than 2 minutes in. There’s no way this match didn’t shorten the careers of both men. They even got Nigel in on it at the beginning as he ate it when Ciampa was thrown into the table. They played off of Gargano’s damaged neck, went to Ciampa’s knee, and concluded with Ciampa taking Gargano’s wedding ring off, spitting on it, and launching it into the crowd. Ciampa even removed the canvas and foam from part of the ring – a maneuver that would pay off at the end. The ending was just epic as Gargano’s thirst for revenge ultimately cost him the match. Given that Gargano won the last one, it was time for Ciampa to take one. Just a beautifully-told story from start to finish. They can feud forever as far as I’m concerned.
Yet again, the main roster has its work cut out for it tomorrow night. Yet again, I don’t think they’ll pull it off either. It makes sense why they wouldn’t. The two products are different and go for different audiences. Tonight was for us…and I absolutely loved it. See you all tomorrow night for “Money in the Bank”!