We’re at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA for NXT TakeOver. The show begins with a shot of the crowd. A bunch of people have glowsticks for some reason. As has become the norm for TakeOvers we begin with a band (this times Cane Hill) playing live while a video hyping the show plays them. I think this is a pretty cool way to intro the show and is a better use of music than the random mid-show musical performance that will happen at Mania.
Our announce team for the evening consists of Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness, and Percy Watson. With the musical performance out of the way we go directly to the ring for the first match of the evening…the ladder match to determine the inaugural NXT North American Championship.
Match 1: EC3 vs. Adam Cole vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dain vs. Ricochet
This is apparently only the fourth ladder match in NXT history. I’m cool with them being used sparingly since it makes them feel like a bigger deal when they do happen. The newly created North American Championship is up for grabs here and goddamn is that a good looking belt. I love that Triple H seems to be like, “What if Jim Crockett Promotions survived into 2018?” in terms of his booking and now aesthetic in NXT.
All six dudes make their way to the ring, Dream has his opponents airbrushed on his tights Rick Rude style only they’re either wearing sunglasses or being depicted as black-eyed voodoo dolls like that one Korn album cover. Shrug.
Ricochet is the final man out and he gets an insane pop. You know a dude is over as fuck when an entire arena is chanting his name before he’s even had a match for the company in question.
The match begins with EC3 nonchalantly sliding out to the floor. Cole and Dream take this opportunity to jump Ricochet and dump him out to the floor. Cole and Dream get sent to the floor as well leaving Sullivan and Dain to have a big boy stare down.
EC3, being a man after my own heart, is amped as fuck that he’s about to see a colossal jostle gets up on the ring apron and implores Sullivan and Dain to hoss it up. This however does not have the desired effect and causes Dain and Sullivan to chase him out to the floor. They surround them outside and we get some brawling before Ricochet hits a goddamn springboard shooting star press that ruins everyone’s shit.
Ricochet gets himself a ladder and heads back into the ring but gets cut off by Dream. Ricochet overwhelms Dream and goes for another springboard, but Dream nails him and Ricochet crashes hard giving Dream a chance to go after the belt himself. He heads up but Cole’s back in to pull Dream off the ladder.
They trade shots and Cole puts the boots to Dream in the corner. Dain’s up on the apron but Cole’s got an enziguri for him. He then ruins Velveteen Dream’s shit with an over the knee neckbreaker before EC3 comes back and nails Cole with a jawbreaker.
Lars Sullivan is up on the apron but EC3 knocks him off and then hits Cole with a Stinger Splash and follows with a neck snap. Sullivan is back in to clothesline EC3 and then murder Cole with a pop-up powerslam. Sullivan bodyslams EC3 but Dain is back in and sends Sullivan out to the floor. BIG BOY TOPE SUICIDA FROM KILLIAN DAIN!
Back in the ring Dain runs wild. He gets Dream up on his shoulders and catches Ricochet when Ricochet leaps at him, but Cole connects with a bicycle kick to knock the big bruiser down. All four men start wailing on each other until Sullivan shows up and hurls a goddamn ladder at them.
Sullivan then proceeds to wreck everyone’s shit with the ladder. He rams it into Dain, Cole, and EC3 before putting the ladder on his shoulders for the Terry Funk ladder spot. Sullivan’s not finished yet though. He chucks Dain into a ladder that’s propped up in the corner and then hurks Dream up for a gorilla press slam into another ladder.
With the entire field of competition laid to waste, Lars begins to climb to a chorus of boos from the crowd. Ricochet meets Lars on the ladder and tries for a Sunset Flip Powerbomb off it, but Sullivan is too much of a hoss for a flippy fucker like Ricochet for powerbomb. EC3 and Dream join with Ricochet to try and powerbomb Sullivan but it’s still not enough so Cole climbs up and starts punching Sullivan so the other three can powerbomb him.
Cole suddenly realizes that he’s all alone on top of the ladder and everyone else is a corpse due to the Tower of Doom spot. Killian Dain shows up though and pulls him down before he can get the belt. Cole yells at Dain which pisses him off so Dain drops him. Ricochet then charges Dain but Dain backdrops him onto a ladder that’s set up in the corner. Dain starts up the ladder but EC3 bulldogs him off the ladder.
EC3 and Cole then form a brief alliance to beat down Sullivan. They head out to the floor and get a giant ladder from under the ring and bridge it between the ring apron and the announce table and then send Dain into it.
Back in the ring their alliance comes to and end when EC3 bellows, “EC3 BAYBAY!” with Adam Cole’s signature theatrics. This pisses off Cole who gives EC3 an ushigoroshi on the ladder before spamming superkicks on everyone else, including one that blasts Ricochet out of midair as he flies into the ring from off camera. Cole does an “ADAM COLE BAYBAY!” and then begins to scale the ladder, but Sullivan is back on his feet to shove the ladder down and prevent Cole from grabbing the title.
Velveteen Dream the proceeds to run wild. He nails Dain from across the ring with a huge Purple Rainmaker and then kills Cole with another. He nails Ricochet in the back of the neck with a third but is then cut off by Sullivan who bulldozes Dream into the corner with a ladder.
Sullivan charges in but Dream just chucks that ladder into Sullivan’s face. Dream then sets up a ladder and climbs up to the top. He then comes off the top of the ladder with a massive Purple Rainmaker that completely ruins Sullivan’s shit and gets a huge pop from the crowd. Dream gets back to this feet and starts up the ladder for the belt, but EC3 cuts him off and prevents him from winning by powerbombing him onto a goddamn ladder!
EC3 lays out Dain and Sullivan and heads up for the belt but Adam Cole isn’t about that and pulls him back down. They both head up and battle on on the ladder. EC3 with a TKO off the ladder. This match is goddamn insane.
EC3 tries to head back up but Killian Dain blasts him with a Bicycle Kick. Dain then hurls Cole into the corner and slams EC3. He places a ladder on top of EC3 and then nails him with the BIG BOY SENTON! Dain’s not done yet though and he heads up to the middle rope. IT’S TIME! IT’S TIME! IT’S VADER BOMB TIME! Cole cuts him off before he can hurl himself onto EC3’s corpse though and hangs onto his back. Dain’s gives zero fucks and Vader Bombs EC3 anyway.
We get another stare down between two big boys who love to roughhouse but it’s interrupted by Ricochet. Sullivan biels him across the ring at Killian Dain. Dain looks at the small flippy man at his feet. I know what’s about to happen. The crowd, who is now chanting, “Throw him back!” knows what’s about to happen, but goddamn did I not burst out laughing when Dain picked Ricochet up and hurled him back at Sullivan. Ricochet takes an out of control bump and falls out of the ring and it’s on! HOSSES HOSS THE FUCK OUT OF EACH OTHER!
Sullivan and Dain collide with Dain getting the early advantage but Dain tries for a high cross only to be caught Lars. Sullivan gives him a World’s Strongest Slam and then begins to climb. Ricochet is back though to yank Sullivan off the ladder and boot him in the head.
Ricochet climbs up the ladder but Sullivan is back up and he’s mad. He pushes the ladder over but Ricochet, being Ricochet does a fucking moonsault off the falling ladder onto the dudes who are brawling out on the floor taking them all out! Jesus Tittyfucking Christ do I love pro-wrestling!
Ricochet and EC3 go at it and EC3 gets laid out on a ladder. Ricochet then nails him with a shooting star press on the ladder. He then begins to climb for the gold but Velveteen Dream cuts him off. After some back and forth in the corner they end up bridging a ladder between the middle turnbuckle and one of the rungs on the ladder positioned in the center of the ring.
Dream drapes Ricochet on the bridge and starts to climb only to get hit by Ricochet as he gets to the top. Ricochet trips him onto the bridge but Dream kicks him in the gut and hoists him up onto his shoulders. The announcers are going apeshit over how dangerous this is. Dream then proceeds to hit a motherfucking Rolling Death Valley Driver on the bridged ladder. Both men die and roll out to the floor.
Outside Lars clotheslines Dream and then lays him out on the bridged ladder. EC3 attempts to hit Sullivan but Lars just pulls him up onto the apron and give a Freak Accident through Dream and the ladder.
Seeing this, fellow big boy who loves to roughhouse, Killian Dain thinks to himself, “That looked pretty cool. Maybe I should try that as well,” and pulls out a ladder that he bridges between the ring and the Spanish announce table. He places Ricochet on this and heads up to the apron where Cole foolishly tries to stop him from doing whatever he was going to do to Ricochet. This does not go well for Adam Cole who hurks him up for a goddamn Michinoku Driver through Ricochet and the ladder.
Everyone is down and both ladders are completely fucked. Sullivan is back to his feet first and heads back into the ring. He starts heading up a ladder to try and capture the belt but Dain is back and heads up with him. They clubber each other on the ladder as EC3 shows up and wails on both of them with a ladder of his own. EC3 then sets up his ladder and begins to climb but is met by Adam Cole.
Dream is back and after bashing the big lads with a third ladder he sets it up and starts to climb. Ricochet goes up with him. All six dudes are fighting up on the ladders. Dream comes close to getting the belt, but he gets cut off by Ricochet. Dream pounds on Ricochet who responds by giving him a neckbreaker off the ladder.
Sullivan and Dain are once again the only two men on the ladders. Lars nails Dain with the Freak Accident off the ladder and then starts to head back up the ladder. Ricochet springboards onto him from out of nowhere, wiping him and the ladder out.
Ricochet sets up the ladder and starts to climb but Adam Cole is back up. Cole knocks the ladder over sending Ricochet out to the floor. Cole then starts to climb. Everyone else is dead. He unhooks the North American Championship and the bell rings.
Winner: Adam Cole
This was legitimately one of the greatest ladder matches I’ve seen in a long, long, long time and was easily the best multi-man clusterfuck ladder match ever. Lots of insane spots but there was actually a decent story being told as well with guys trying early on to get the belt only to be cut off. I think the match did a solid job of giving everyone involved some shine and all six guys are going to come out of this elevated beyond where they were when they went into it. [*****]
Andrade “Cien” Almas is warming up while the NXT Championship belt chills out on a table.
Highlights for Children!
We get a video package highlighting the feud between Ember Moon and Shayna Baszler. That match is next!
Match 2: Ember Moon (c) vs. Shayna Baszler
The NXT Women’s Championship is on the line here. Moon comes out first I guess because she has a lady with an electric guitar playing for her during her entrance. Baszler comes out next all mean muggin’ while we get a shot of Ronda Rousey and Jessamyn Duke in the crowd.
Moon charges at the bell with a dropkick but Baszler sidesteps it and blasts Moon in the face with a punch that drops the champ like a sack of shit. The smirk Baszler gives after this punch is absolutely fantastic as Moon rolls out to the floor.
Moon pulls Baszler out to the floor and dropkicks her into the steps. The head back in where Moon hits a Codebreaker that’s good for two. She then goes for a Crossface, but Baszler gets to the ropes and then rolls out to the floor. Ember attempts to boot Baszler in the head, but Baszler sweeps her legs causing Ember Moon to faceplant on the ring apron.
Back in the ring Shayna goes after Ember’s arm, but Ember fights her off. Shayna hits a gutwrench suplex and connects with a kick for two but Ember fights out with a head scissors. We get a handspring forearm from Ember but Baszler comes back with a corner knee.
Ember manages to roll up Baszler for two but Baszler comes back with another knee for a near fall of her own. Moon kicks out but Baszler manages to turn it into a submission but Ember slams herself down to the mat to break the hold.
Moon then uses her speed to avoid Baszler while firing off knees and strikes. She connects with a dropkick and then follows with a modified suplex. A sliding facebuster ends up getting two for the champ.
Shayna steps on Ember’s hand and smirks. Ember manages to legsweep Baszler to prevent her arm from getting fucked over and manages to switch positions with her so that Moon is stepping on Baszler’s hand. Baszler looks panic and the ref tries to get Moon to get off Baszler’s hand but Moon, showing complete disdain for Baszler stomps on her arm.
Shayna’s left arm is totally fucked, but she’s a badass chick so she just goes to the corner and starts slamming her shoulder into the ringpost to pop her shoulder back into place. This gives Ember Moon a chance to recover. She knocks Baszler out to the floor and the comes off the top rope with the Eclipse out to the floor. Both women are down and the referee begins to administer the 10 count. They both slowly get to their feet and just barely manage to beat the count, rolling into the ring at nine.
Shayna gets Ember in the choke but Ember Moon beats on Baszler’s bad arm to get her to break the hold. Baszler does break the hold but quickly manages to apply a triangle choke. Ember fires up and hurks Baszler up for a powerbomb and then lays on top of her for a pin attempt that gets a two count before Baszler kicks out.
Ember Moon heads up to try for the Eclipse again but Baszler counters it mid-air into the choke! Moon tries to fight out of it by wailing on Baszler’s injured arm, so Shayna does it one armed by pulling on her own hair for leverage.
Moon fights and tries to get to the ropes to break the hold, but only manages to graze the bottom rope with her foot before Baszler rolls her back to the center of the ring. Moon is still fighting but fading fast. The ref calls for the bell. Moon passed out but never actually quit.
The ref gives Baszler the belt and she rolls out to celebrate with Rousey and Duke at ringside before heading up the ramp to the back.
Winner: Shayna Baszler
This was an ugly match, but in a good way. Far too often (especially with the women) the matches feel overly choreographed. I don’t mind it since it’s kind of their housestyle and generally leads to matches have good ebbs and flows, but this felt like an actual fight. Stuff like Baszler’s sell of the shoulder injury and how she popped it back in and even the camerawork at the end where the camera zoomed in close on Ember Moon’s face as she tried to fight out of the choke gave the match a much grimier feel than other bouts we’v’e seen. I, for one, was all about it.
I’m okay with Baszler going over here since at this point NXT pretty much has an entire Women’s Division full of plucky babyfaces so having a monster heel champion going forward is probably a good thing. [***½]
Here’s Paige’s Giant Face…
Paige hypes some movie about her life or something and then shows a clip of said movie where an actress portraying Paige gets a promo cut on her by The Rock backstage at some wrestling show.
Meanwhile In The Trainer’s Room…
Adam Cole is getting check out by the trainer. He is in a bad way and is trying to figure out a way to get out of defending the Tag Team Titles with O’Reilly.
Aleister Black is warming up by doing shadow boxing backstage.
Highlights for Children!
We get highlights of the Dusty Classic and the run-in by Undisputed Era on last week’s episode of NXT.
Match 3: The Authors of Pain (w/ Paul Ellering) vs. Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong vs. Undisputed Era
Cole’s midsection is heavily bandaged as he and O’Reilly come out. O’Reilly’s wearing both Tag Team Titles around his waist while Cole has the North American Championship with him. Jeff Jarrett and Goldust are shown sitting together in the crowd. I wonder if they’re talking about WCW 2000 between matches.
The AoP attacks before the bell, waylaying the champs. A brawl quickly breaks out between all six men. O’Reilly eats a boot and Akam works over Cole. Dunne and Strong end up getting sent out as well leaving O’Reilly alone with the Authors who wreck his shit with their neckbreaker/powerbomb combo. They go for the pin, but Cole makes the save.
The Authors do not take kindly to this and toss Cole out to the floor and head out after him. They start prepping the Spanish announce table. Strong flies in and tries to cut them off but gets booted. The AoP then hurk Cole up for a double powerbomb. He tries to fight out of it, but in the end the Authors put him through the table.
O’Reilly comes flying in with a knee that takes out one Author and then drops the other Author with a kick. O’Reilly’s now alone with Dunne and Strong. Dunne gets him with a double wristlock but he counters and goes for a cross armbreaker. They do some mat wrestling for a bit and then take turns blasting each other before Strong comes in and wrecks his shit with a backbreaker.
The Authors of Pain come back in so Roddy spams backbreakers on them. O’Reilly helps Roddy take out Rezar so Strong pays him back with a half nelson backbreaker for two. O’Reilly gets Strong with a Guillotine and transitions into a triangle. Rezar shows up so O’Reilly grabs him in an ankle lock while he’s still got the triangle on Roddy. This grapple fuckery comes to an end when Akam hurks Pete Dunne up and just powerbombs him onto everyone. Fuck, I love pro-wrestling!
At this point the Authors of Pain are blown up or the ref final gets control of the three teams involved since they stop competing under lucha libre rules or Texas tornado tag rules or whatever the first chunk of this match was because from here on out we get tags and stuff. O’Reilly gets German suplexed on his dome, but immediately stands up to fire up and then promptly falls out of the ring in a nicely comedic spot among all the carnage.
The Authors then isolate Strong in their corner. They work him over and make a bunch of quick tags. Kyle O’Reilly comes back in and prevents the Authors from hitting the Last Chapter on Strong. Strong then hits a bunch of kicks on the Authors and then goes to tag Dunne in, but O’Reilly tries to pull Strong away from his partner. Strong blasts him with a kick and Dunne comes in off the HOT TAG!
The Bruiserweight runs wild lighting up Akam with strikes and a knee. O’Reilly nails Dunne with a knee. O’Reilly goes for a German but Dunne is one catlike fucker and lands on his feet and blasts O’Reilly in the neck. Dunne then nails Rezar with a Tornado DDT for two.
O’Reilly comes back and he and Dunne start trading strikes in the middle of the ring. They’re blasting each other with closed fists. THEY BE CLUBBERIN’!!! Both men nail each other with palm strikes and then get run over by Akam who takes their heads off with a lariat.
The Authors drop O’Reilly with the Last Chapter and go for the pin but Strong’s in to save the match but he gets dispatched by the Authors. Dunne, however, manages to get Rezar’s hand and snap his fingers because Pete Dunne hates fingers.
Strong comes back with a knee and then drops Rezar with an Olympic Slam for two as Mauro out Mauro’s himself by declaring, “I almost said, ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a UMBC in NXT.'” That’s right kids, he didn’t get to make a specific reference he wanted to make to he told us what he would have said had the opportunity arisen. I’m shaking my head.
Strong then gives O’Reilly a backbreaker on the hardest part of the ring (the ring apron) because he can. Dunne follows this up with a double stomp because he’s fucking Pete Dunne and wrecking dude’s shit for no goddamn reason is what he does.
Dunne and Strong blast Rezar with knees and hit the double Bitter End. They cover but Akam comes back and makes the save. Strong sends Akam out to the floor with a low bridge and tries for a dropkick but misses so he sends Akam into the steps.
Back in the ring we get some back and forth between Dunne and O’Reilly. Dunne hits the Bitter End and covers. ONE! TWO! Strong is back in the ring and boots Dunne in the head to break up the pin. He the pulls Dunne up to his feet and nails him with the End of Heartache. Strong rolls O’Reilly onto Dunne and the ref counts the pinfall.
Cole and O’Reilly come to and seem perplexed as to what happened. Strong takes off Cole’s armband and puts it on and the Undisputed Era boys are excited. Strong helps them up and hands them the titles and then raises their arms in victory.
They make their way up to the stage where they are joined by Bobby Fish on crutches and they do the Undisputed Era pose in front of the Dusty Tag Team Classic trophy.
Winners: Undisputed Era
This was a solid match but not the greatest. I honestly think it was hurt a bit by the opening bout being as strong as it was since the first half of this was also more a less a multi-man clusterfuck with bodies just flying all over the place and guys going through things.
I kind of thought that Strong was going to join Undisputed Era at some point so I wasn’t all the shocked to see him turn here. To be honest I was more shocked when he didn’t join them at WarGames than I was to see him turn heel here. This turn kind of puts Pete Dunne in a weird situation since I’ve continuously thought that he’s the sort of guy who, like Rick Rude, just looks like a heel to the point that they’re going to be hard to buy into as a a babyface. I guess we’ll see where they go from here. [****]
Meanwhile in the Audience…
Nita Strauss is in attendance. She apparently plays guitar for Alice Cooper or something. I have never heard of her before but she’s one of the best lady guitarists in the world according to the commentary team.
Highlights for Children!
We are shown the same hype package for the NXT Championship match that they showed on the last episode of NXT TV. Nude Satanic kickboxer all up in this!
Match 4: Aleister Black vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) (w/ Zelina Vega)
Almas comes out wearing a lucha mask but takes it off and chucks it before he heads down the ramp.
Black comes out swinging, nailing Almas with kicks and chops that send Almas scurrying out to the floor to regroup. Black does his quebrada thing and nearly eats shit. Black then hits Almas out on the floor with a Golden Triangle Moonsault. All of this happened within the opening minute of the match.
Back in the ring Black struggles to apply a modified octopus hold and when he finally locks it on he turns it into a pin for an early two count. Almas heads out to the floor again to regroup and Black goes out after him. Vega the dives off the ring apron with a rana that sends Black into the steps.
Almas sends Black back in and covers for two. Almas takes control, methodically working over Black in the ring. Almas nails a reverse DDT and continues to wear Black down. Black fights back to his feet and they trade kicks. Almas tries for the revese DDT but Black manages to fight it off so Almas settles for a draping armbar.
Almas tries for a double axehandle but Black knees him out of the air and starts gaining momentum. They trade shots in the ring and Black gets the better of it, blasting Almas with a driving knee and then hitting a beautiful quebrada for a near fall.
Black heads up top but is cut off by Almas. Black manages to block a sunset bomb and avoid the double knees, but Almas catches him with a snap German suplex. Almas then hits the double moonsault for two.
Almas throws ‘bows and dodges Black’s kicks before laying out the challenger with a vicious back elbow. Black kicks out at one and blasts Almas with a knee for two. We then get stereo kicks that send both men to the mat.
Both men are back to their feet. Almas uses Black’s momentum to send him into the corner. He goes for the double knees, but Black catches him and attempts the quebrada again. This time, however, Almas has it scouted and dumps him out to the floor and nails him with a springboard corkscrew plancha. He sends Black in and covers but only gets a two count before Black somehow manages to kick out.
Vega grabs the NXT Championship from the time keeper and hands it to Almas. The ref is all like, “Almas, you can’t use a belt in this match!” and takes the belt from him which distracts him long enough to allow Vega a chance to nail Black with a spiked hurricanrana. Almas then covers, but again Black kicks out at two.
Almas goes for the Hammerlock DDT, but Black is able to block it and pin Almas for another two count. As Almas gets back to his feet Black nails him with Black Mass. Almas is too close to the ropes though and Vega puts his foot on the bottom rope to break up the pin attempt.
Black goes after Almas, but Vega gets involved again, grabbing his leg. Black kicks in her general direction to get her to back off but it’s enough of a distraction that Almas is able to crotch him and hang him up on the ropes. Almas then heads up top and nails Black with a double stomp that sends him crashing onto the apron.
Back in the ring Almas connects with the double knees and covers but again Black kicks out at two. Almas goes for the Hammerlock DDT but Black avoids it and goes for the Black Mass only to take a brutal dropkick from Almas to the back of his head.
They fight out on the apron and Black gets dropped. He’s slumped up against the ringpost and gets nailed in the face with the double knees. Almas goes for the draping Hammerlock DDT but Black manages to counter out of it and send Almas out to the floor. A massive TOPE CON HILO from Black follows.
Black sends Almas back into the ring and goes in after him but walks right into the Hammerlock DDT. Almas covers. ONE! TWO! BLACK KICKS OUT! Both men are back to their feet. Vega comes off the top with a crossbody but Black ducks it. Almas catches her and Black drops him with the Black Mass.
Black covers. ONE! TWO! THREE! We got a new champion! Black looks downright jolly when he is handed the NXT Championship belt. It’s kind of weird to see him smile, but it’s kind of understandable.
Winner: Aleister Black
I thought this was a really good bit of storytelling. Whether intentional or by happenstance having Black win the title exactly one year after his NXT debut by beating the same opponent he faced in his debut match was a great little detail.
The actual match was pretty much what I expected from this two. Really solid back and forth between the two with a bunch of near falls. Both dudes worked hard and put on a good match but for my money the MVP of the match was Zelina Vega. She has really proven what a valuable commodity managers/valets can be in wrestling. She might not have taken as many bumps as either Almas or Black, but she had a couple really big spots and really helped with the flow of the match. I hope that when Almas gets called up they keep him paired with Vega because she really makes him a much more interesting wrestler. [****]
Highlights for Children!
DIY EXPLODES! Thumbs down Grandma! Zelina Vega with the DIY t-shirt! Gargano and Ciampa want blood! This was the same video package they showed earlier this week on NXT TV, but it still rules.
Triple H had Gargano sign papers saying WWE would not be held responsible for anything that happened to him during the match…because he’s not a WWE employee anymore. Wow, some realism in a storyline!
Match 5: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano
Ciampa’s jacket game is strong as he comes out to a chorus of boos and people chanting “Fuck you Ciampa!” He has no entrance music. Holy fuck the heat he has is unreal! This is the kind of heat Jim Cornette always talks about. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the crowd took a swing at him.
In a great bit of showing rather than telling, Referee Drake Younger is decked out all in black with heavy boots and rubber gloves already on so you know shit is about to get real. It’s amazing how such a minor detail as this adds so much.
Gargano comes out to a massive pop and is staring daggers at Ciampa as he gets in the ring. I know it’s a cliche but you could cut the tension with a knife. The match begins with both men trading blows. Gargano with a Thesz Press. He’s a house on fire until he gets sent out to the apron by Ciampa. SLINGSHOT SPEAR HITS!
Gargano wails on Ciampa some more. Ciampa comes back with some offense of his own to a chorus of boos. Gargano gets fired up and sends Ciampa into the corner where he proceeds to stomp a mudhole in Ciampa’s head and walk it dry. Dude boots Ciampa in the head like 20 times or something and Drake Younger just shrugs in the background. Ciampa gets clotheslined over the top out to the floor and Gargano goes out after him with a tope suicida.
Out on the floor Ciampa gets thrown into the guardrail and out into the crowd. Gargano leaps over the guardrail with a crossbody but Ciampa turns things around with a backbreaker. They head back to the ringside area and Ciampa pulls up the mat to expose the concrete floor.
Ciampa goes to suplex Gargano onto the concrete but Gargano fights free and nails Ciampa with a kick from the apron. He then hurls Ciampa over the announce table into the laps of Mauro & Co. with reckless abandon. We lose commentary for a bit so the fans do Mauro’s job for him and chant, “MAMA MIA!”
Gargano gives Ciampa a massive wedgie as he looks for a powerbomb on the table but Tommaso fights out of it and nails Gargano with a monitor. He then suplexes Johnny Wrestling off the table onto the floor. Ciampa’s leans the cover of the announce table up against the table and then suplexes Gargano into it because he can and delivers a kick to the back for good measure.
Ciampa then drives Gargano’s face into the apron and sends him back into the ring. Gargano gets sent into the corner and takes a flip bump. Gargano starts to make a comeback, trading shots with Ciampa, but Ciampa comes back with a back suplex and goes for the pin, but Gargano kicks out at one.
Ciampa slaps on the Texas Cloverleaf and Gargano crawls to the ropes but Referee Drake Younger tells him that there’s no ropebreak in this match. Johnny continues to crawl out of the ring so Ciampa breaks the hold and then proceeds to stomp on Gargano’s head as he hangs off the apron. Ciampa basks in the jeers from the crowd before heading out to the floor.
He looks for something under the ring and accuses the ref of moving whatever it is he’s looking for but Drake Younger’s like, “I’m just the ref I didn’t touch anything.” Ciampa then goes over to the guardrail and steals a set of crutches from a “fan,” at ringside. He waves goodbye to Johnny and gets back into the ring with the crutches.
He uses one crutch to lift Johnny’s head up off the mat and then goes to strike him with it but Gargano ducks. Ciampa swings again, this time at Gargano’s back but again Johnny Wrestling ducks it. Gargano fights back but gets cut off by Ciampa with a kick. Ciampa tries again with the crutch but Gargano avoids it and nails Ciampa with the rolling kick.
They fight out onto the apron. Gargano goes for the slingshot DDT but Ciampa blocks it. Ciampa gets Gargano up for the Air Raid Crash onto the exposed concrete but Gargano manages to escape. SUNSET POWERBOMB ONTO THE CEMENT FROM GARGANO! “You deserve it!” chants from the crowd.
Both men head back in and we have reached a stalemate with Gargano and Ciampa sitting across the ring from each other. The crutch is in the middle of the ring. Both men crawl for it and we’ve got ourselves a tug of war! Gargano ends up winning and Ciampa gets a great look that says, “Yup I know what’s up,” on his face before Johnny nails him in the ribs and back with the crutch. Gargano then blasts Ciampa’s injured knee with the crutch. Gargano charges Ciampa but gets back dropped with the crutch out to the floor. Ciampa reaches for Gargano to pull him back into the ring but gets blasted in the dome with the crutch.
Back in the ring the Slingshot DDT gets Johnny a two count. Gargano goes to the corner and removes the middle turnbuckle cover. He goes for the lawn dart into the exposed turnbuckle but Ciampa escapes and sends him into the corner and then dumps him out onto the apron. Ciampa connects with a big back elbow that Nigel claims caused one of Gargano’s teeth to get knocked out.
Ciampa stays on him, hitting a spinning power bomb for two. Ciampa mocks Gargano with the DIY hand motions before blasting Gargano in the back of the head with a knee. He covers but Gargno kicks out again at two.
Ciampa adjusts his knee brace and goes for another power bomb but Gargano blocks it so Ciampa just wails on him a bunch. Gargano escapes and nails a series of lariats before screaming, “THIS IS MY MOMENT!”
Gargano grabs Ciampa by the beard and unloads on him with chops and slaps but ends up running into a big lariat from Ciampa. Ciampa goes for another powerbomb but Gargano busts his dome with a reverse rana. Gargano slaps on the Gargano Escape in the middle of the ring.
Ciampa is fading fast but fights to the ropes. Tough luck for Ciampa though because there are no rope breaks! Gargano either forgets this or just wants to beat Ciampa center ring because he stomps on Ciampa’s hand and rolls him back into the center of the ring. HOLY FUCK! Ciampa gouges Gargano’s eyeball to break free!
Ciampa bites the tape on his wrist and unravels it to choke Gargano with but Gargano fights free and we get an impromptu Yapapi Strap Match as Gargano and Ciampa each hold onto one end of the tape and proceed to trade punches with each other. We get some “YES!” chants as Gargano fires up and unloads on Ciampa.
A kick to the dick by Ciampa turns the tide however. Ciampa gets the other crutch and waffles Gargano in the back with it. Project Ciampa connects, but Gargano somehow manages to kick out at two. Ciampa cannot believe this shit and sits down on the mat.
A beaten Gargano crawls towards him as the crowd falls silent. Ciampa has Gargano look in his eyes and tells him “This is MY moment!” but Gargano slaps him in the face. Ciampa fires back with brutal looking slaps of his own and goes for the spinning forearm but gets blasted in the face by Gargano with a Superkick!
Gargano follows with a clothesline and then picks Ciampa up and Lawn Darts him into the exposed turnbuckle from earlier.
Gargano then blasts Ciampa with another superkick but instead of going for the pin pulls Ciampa up and has him look in his eyes. SUPERKICK! Gargano covers. ONE! TWO! THR…NO! Ciampa somehow kicks out.
Gargano heads up top but Ciampa comes up after him and gets Gargano on his shoulders for a fireman’s carry. Ciampa’s eye is legit all kinds of fucked up. Ciampa has him set for the Air Raid Crash but Gargano fights out of it with elbows. He stands up on the top rope and unloads with punches. CIAMPA WITH THE SUPER PROJECT CIAMPA! He covers! ONE! TWO! Somehow Gargano kicks out!
Ciampa takes off his knee brace and rolls down his knee pad so his knee is bare. Gargano pulls himself up onto his knees as Ciampa comes charging in for the kill. Gargano grabs the knee brace and blasts Ciampa’s injured knee with it. Ciampa goes down.
Gargano gets the crutch and leans it up in the corner and proceeds to stomp on it. He breaks it in half and picks up on of the jagged metal pieces he charges at Ciampa. HOLY FUCK HE’S GOING TO STAB HIM! Ciampa is cowering in fear.
In a nice little callback to their Cruiserweight Classic match Gargano stops before he commits homicide in the Smoothie King Center and sits down besides Ciampa. Ciampa, however, is still a scumfuck and grabs the knee brace and swings it at Gargano’s head. Gargano, though, now knows that Ciampa is a scumfuck and expects the attack and is able to Matrix dodge under it as Ciampa swings and lock on the Gargano Escape. He then transitions into an STF using the knee brace on Ciampa’s face for added leverage. CIAMPA TAPS!
Johnny Wrestling has vanquished his foe and the ring announcer declares that he has been reinstated as an NXT wrestler. Johnny’s wife, Candice LaRae comes out to celebrate with him because love conquers all or something to end the show.
Winner: Johnny Gargano
Jesus Christ what a match! I have two super minor grips to get out of the way before I heap praise on it though. First I didn’t like that they wrestled in wrestling attire. It used to be when dudes fought in an unsanctioned match or bunkhouse brawl or whatever they’d come out in jeans and cowboy boots because it was supposed to be a fight. They got it right with the ref who was decked out like an early aughts deathmatch wrestling referee from the get go, but having Ciampa and Gargano in regular ring gear was kind of a missed opportunity.
The second thing is the fact that there was no juice. I know WWE doesn’t do that anymore and the match was fine without it, but if there was ever a match where a little juice would have added to the overall presentation this was it. Like I said, I don’t need or want blood in every match, but in a blood feud a little blood is probably okay.
As I said though, these are minor, mostly aesthetic complaints on my part, because like Triple H and whoever else is responsible for booking this stuff I watched Jim Crockett Promotions and World Class Championship Wrestling and know what they’re pulling from with this feud.
As for the match itself, it was tremendous from start to finish. The callbacks Gargano and Ciampa’s history with each other told an outstanding story and both men played their parts perfectly. As I said above I have not, since the early 80s, seen a heel as reviled as Tommaso Ciampa is. The audience hated him and he, in turn, hated them right back. He did not try to be cool or do anything flash that would get him over due to the sheer athleticism of it. He was just an asshole and people wanted to see him writhing in pain.
Gargano on the other hand was the most whitemeat babyface of all time. He had been fucked over countless times by Ciampa and had nothing left to lose going into this match and thus fought like a man with nothing left to lose would fight. This was his last chance and the fans got behind him because of it. There’s probably a lesson the people booking the main event scene on the main roster could probably learn from the way this feud was booked but I don’t want to speculate as to what that could be.
This match is destined to go down in history as one of the all time greats, so if you haven’t already go watch this. [*****]
I watched a metric shit tonne of wrestling over the past few days, most of which was very good, but from top to bottom this show was absolutely fantastic. There was nothing overly flashy or convoluted storylines to follow, it was just damn good wrestling.
This was the sort of show that reminded me why I still watch wrestling. TakeOver: New Orleans was easily one of the best shows of the year and it worth watching if you haven’t already.