By: Matt Ederer
NXT: Takeovers are the most consistently great show in the entire history of North American pro wrestling.
I mean like, the entire history of wrestling. In the 1800s, I don’t think they had 25 carnivals in a row that were this good. Memphis and Mid-south wrestling were before my time, but they did not have certain luxuries that NXT enjoys. Mainly the ability to run at little-to-no-profit while self-producing giant, culminating shows which are televised live to a worldwide audience on their own network. None of WWE, WCW or ECW ever hit 25 consecutive home runs on PPV. You’d probably have to go back to Fred Kohler Enterprises and the DuMont network in the 1940’s and 50’s to find anything remotely comparable and those shows do not exist on film, occurred before my father was born, are really in no way comparable to NXT, and are worth mentioning here only because I want to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
Professional wrestling is the rare medium/sport/entity where the “minor league” product (NXT), bereft of the constant interference and overproduction that plagues its parent company, is simply a better product than the top level (WWE Raw & Smackdown). WWE’s main roster is talented enough put on shows that are this good, but they don’t ever get that opportunity. In NXT, the individual wrestlers seem more motivated, the actual matches are better, stories progress more logically (almost as if they are written beforehand), and commentary is better (Mauro Renallo called the Mayweather vs MacGregor fight! Why is he calling the “minor league” wrestling show instead of the main card? How does that make any sense at all?).
More than anything else, NXT shows are paced in a way that a coherent adult can enjoy. The biggest reason for WWE’s slow drain into irrelevance seems to be Vince McMahon’s contractual obligation/pathological need to create as much content as possible. This NXT show, their 25th Takeover Special, was 2hr40m. That’s shorter than the weekly episode of Monday Night Raw, which somehow still clocks in at (a minimum of) 3hrs. Truly insane.
NXT is a beautiful oasis in the world of professional wrestling. Here’s to 25 more Takeover shows.
(If you would like a quick primer as to what the ratings at the end of these blurbs mean, feel free to check this out. Match times are according to Wiki)
Matt Riddle v Roderick Strong
Two guys who beat the piss out of guys, beating the piss out of each other. V good .
If you haven’t noticed, Matt Riddle is great at this professional wresting thing. He’s got charisma, great offense, he takes awesome bumps, and has now become incredible at selling for the camera. More than once in this match, the camera caught Riddle’s face after a huge move, and the ensuing picture was worth 1000 bros.
Though Roderick Strong is a good 6 inches shorter than Riddle (and not in any way a real fighter) Roddy still manages to look like a threat when he’s in there with bigger opponents. This is achieved by moving very quickly, and hitting very hard. (Velocity = Speed/Distance) + (Force = Mass x Acceleration) = Roderick Strong.
It needs to be said that the crowd really helps these matches. Matches that would maybe come across as lower in quality in another setting get elevated in this setting, through the total and absolute commitment of the NXT crowd. If you’re working hard and doing well, they are almost always fully invested.
Not that this match needed a boost. If you came in expecting these dudes to beat each other up, this did not disappoint. Fast-paced, hard-hitting opener. It maybe started a little slow, but really hit a high point by the finish.
RESULT: Matt Riddle over Roderick Strong via pinfall w/a cradle tombstone slam in 14:45.
NXT Tag Team Title Ladder Match
‘Holy Shit” Chants – 2
“Mama Mia” Chants – 1
Batshit Crazy Montez Ford Frog Splashes – 1
Batshit Crazy Montez Ford Tope Con Hilos (Front Flips out of the ring) – 1
The biggest match in the career of at least 6/8 of these wrestlers, and every single one of them delivered. A spectacular, brutal match, and a star making performance for Montez Ford, though Kyle O’Reilly took an hall-of-fame level ass-kicking as well.
The first televised WWE ladder match happened in 1994. Wrestling fans have seen a lot of ladder matches by now. They can still absolutely be an effective tool, but in order for them to really stand out in 2019 and beyond, I feel like ladder matches need three things:
- Actual stakes that the fans care about,
- Innovative and new spots,
- A good finish.
This match delivered on all three fronts. Thus, the crowd was with it the entire time, and a great wrestling match was born.
Really impressive feat by these guys. All eight wrestlers took this opportunity, and have raised their respective standings in the world of wrestling.
Watch this match.
RESULT: Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) over Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan, Forgotten Sons (Steve Cutler & Wesley Blake) & Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) in 21:30, win the NXT Tag Team Titles.
NXT North American Title: Tyler Breeze v Velveteen Dream
Where the opening match was a hard-hitting RASSLIN BATTLE, this was more of a character-driven match, typical of the WWE style. That’s not to say they were mailing it in out there, though.
It’s probably unfair to look at it in these terms, but Dream was in there with a character-based wrestler known for his charisma, and Dream outshined him every single second they were out there. I don’t think we should look at that like a failure for Tyler Breeze as much as proof of just how special Velveteen Dream really is. Velveteen Dream’s potential is absolutely through the ceiling. This was an excellent showcase of that.
RESULT: Velveteen Dream over Tyler Breeze via pinfall w/the Purple Rainmaker (Top Rope Elbow Drop) in 16:50, retains the NXT North American Title.
NXT Women’s Title: Io Shirai v Shayna Bazler
It felt like this match was just getting going, and then it ended. Both their characters and wrestling styles compliment each other really well, and these two may have a classic match in them down the road. Shayna is the best bully heel in wrestling (non-Samoa Joe category), and Io is a classic babyface who can realistically take it to the bully, and give her a taste of her own medicine.
We didn’t get a classic here, but we still got a good title match and a necessary piece in this puzzle. The finish was strange: Shayna got the submission with her chokehold as Io was allllmost about to make it to the ropes. It was a great finish in the larger context of Shayna’s dominance, but it was somewhat flat in practice, only because we see wrestlers break out of submission holds all the time. The crowd was not expecting the finish there, and they didn’t know how to react.
Minor complaint, because it’s a good call in the long-run, and will only help future matches between the two of them. In fact, the more I write about it, the more I think it was an awesome finish. Personally would have loved to see the title change hands tonight, but if Shayna is (inexplicably, but thankfully) staying down in NXT, you may as well keep the belt on her.
Also really enjoyed the beat down after the match, where Io finally let her frustrations get the best of her. The NXT crowd can get a little cute (two “Mama Mia” chants tonight probably being an example of that), but top marks to their “You Deserve It!” chant to the bully Shayna getting her comeuppance.
RESULT: Shayna Bazler over Io Shirai via submission w/the Kirifuda Clutch (rear naked choke) in 12:15, retains the NXT Women’s Title.
NXT Title: Adam Cole v Johnny Gargano
Cole and Gargano are in Omega/Okada, Okada/Tanahashi territory with this one.
Every move was so crisp; both guys bumped and sold their asses off for each other from bell to bell. Loved the layering of counters on display, such as Adam Cole’s fake-superkick to the knee spot, a beautiful onion of counters on counters on counters based on previous matches’ counter-counters. A ref bump (the classic wrestling trope of the referee getting knocked out for a period of time) can be a fine storytelling tool, and the ref bump in this match made perfect sense for the story they’re telling, with Johnny getting the “first fall” tonight (the visual pinfall) much like Cole did in their 2/3 falls match.
The crowd was electric, the commentary was great, the in-ring action was state-of-the-art while also fitting into the greater narrative, and future main event matches have been set up through this one match (Cole/Gargano III and Cole/Riddle spring to mind immediately, Cole/Roddy down the road). Not sure what more you could possibly get out of pro wrestling.
I felt this match to be a safe distance ahead of their first match. I could see thinking the first match was too much, with the interference and 900,000 Gargano kick-outs. This match also had its fair share of crazy near-falls, but nothing felt out of place in the context of the story they’re telling us. They’ve taken and dished out their best shots 100 times over. These matches have become wars of attrition.
If you wanted to nitpick this match, I think you would look to the selling (and lack thereof) of some of the fukn bombs that were dished out. You wouldn’t be wrong to do so, but for me, it worked on this night.
One last thing that only I care about, probably: the ladder match had two “holy shit” chants and a “mama mia” chant, by our count here at Sporstfap (all numbers unofficial, pending Elias Sports Bureau review). The main event also had two “holy shit” chants and a “mama mia” chant. Not sure what that means, but I do think that it’s worth noting that the match with 8 guys and a bunch of ladders got the same amount of cooky crowd chants as the 1v1 singles main event.
Gargano / Cole II is on the short list of best wrestling matches I have ever seen, and is nothing short of a match of the decade contender.
Watch this match.
RESULT: Adam Cole over Johnny Gargano via pinfall w/the Last Shot (Running knee to back of head) in 32:00, wins the NXT Championship.
NXT Takeovers are a gift. 25 consecutive wins.