The first TakeOver of the year is here! As Paul Heyman says in a powerful intro package, this is about creating the future, and the future is often brighter than the present (that last part was me, not Mr Heyman). Only five matches on the card but each has the potential to be great. In a short time, NXT has done a great job of adding heat to all the title matches as well as the Extreme Rules bout between Adam Cole and Aleister Black. Let’s see if they can deliver.
NXT Tag Team Championship: Undisputed Era (c) v. Authors of Pain
This hasn’t had a huge amount of build as O’Reilly and Fish have (wisely) stayed out of AoP’s way. They have to face them now though and suffer a beatdown before the bell even rings. When the match finally gets underway, Undisputed Era play the cowardly crafty heels, ducking out of the ring and making slow tags whenever possible, while AoP play the monster heels, overpowering their opponents at every opportunity.
The tide turns Undisputed Era’s way when Akam tweaks his knee after jumping from the corner. Fish and O’Reilly immediately zone in on the weak spot with kicks and rule/joint-bending use of the ropes. An unwise decision by Fish to try and knock Rezar off the apron gives Akam the opening for the hot tag. Rezar unloads on both opponents (even at the same time) and gets a near fall on O’Reilly.
A high kick from O’Reilly puts the champs back in control and an exploder suplex gets Fish a near fall. Akam tags back in but soon gets put in a kneebar by O’Reilly while Fish tries to hold Rezar back with a sleeper hold. He eventually gets dropped onto his partner to break the hold as the fans trade chants for both teams.
Akam eventually gets his second wind and unloads on both opponents. AoP go for the Super Collider but Akam’s knee buckles allowing O’Reilly to perform a head scissors which results in Akam knocking Rezar out of the ring. Ever the opportunist, O’Reilly gets the win with a roll up. Winners: Undisputed Era
A classic tale was told here of the dominant team getting hampered by injury and the devious heels taking advantage. The hurt knee angle meant this match was not the barnstormer it could have been as the pace slowed down. There is a better match for these two teams to have down the line. However, with War Machine being shown in the crowd post-match, could WWE be moving one powerhouse duo up to the main roster and bringing another one into NXT in their place?
Velveteen Dream v. Kassius Ohno
This match was set up via an online video segment after NXT went off the air last week. Despite the lack of build, it is clear the fans are hyped (for Dream in particular). Velveteen Dream gets a full entrance complete with an entourage delivering a designer mouthpiece – classic flamboyant heel!
The crowd count to 30 as the action begins with Dream having promised on the kick-off show to knock his opponent out in short order. As the fans near the end of the count, Dream lands a huge forearm smash but as he celebrates, Ohno gets up and blasts him out of the ring. The crowd are really behind Velveteen Dream, lapping up all his antics and even keeping the chants going during rest holds.
After wearing down Ohno with submission holds and kicks, Dream gets cocky and goes for a suplex. Ohno counters with a huge release suplex to gain the upper hand. A cyclone kick only nets him a two-count, however (definitely looked like Ohno released the cover more than Dream kicked out mind). A backpocket DDT and a Death Valley Driver get Dream a pair of near falls as the pace starts to pick up. A rolling forearm smash from Ohno gets him another near fall, but Dream counters the next power move into a rolling Death Valley Driver (he really struggled to get him up on his shoulders though). A purple Rainmaker elbow drop finally finishes Ohno off. Winner: Velveteen Dream
That was a fun match. Dream is an extravagant throwback to the mind games of early Goldust and the posturing vanity of Rick Rude, and it has him super-over. He is so over that the crowd didn’t care about a couple of minor botches on the route to victory. A win was the right call to get his momentum going again after losses to Aleister Black and Johnny Gargano. He has to move into the title picture soon.
NXT Women’s Championship: Ember Moon (c) v. Shayna Baszler
One of the toughest matches to call of the night – Moon is surely too early in her reign to lose the belt, but Baszler is too early in her run to pick up a defeat… In our preview, Nathan Bones predicted Baszler making Moon tap out but refusing to release the hold, thus drawing a DQ, which goes to show how close this is expected to be. Baszler gets a Goldberg style entrance from the back (minus security, though) and both competitors get a big reaction from the fans in attendance.
The story of this match is Baszler’s strikes and submission holds against Moon’s athleticism and agility. They trade the upper-hand until Baszler sadistically stamps on Ember Moon’s elbow and the works her arm and fingers in the manner of Pete Dunne. Ember Moon mounts a comeback, leaping off the ropes and landing kicks all while selling the arm. She climbs the corner and lands the eclipse but hurts her arm in the process and is unable to make the cover, much to the crowd’s disdain.
Baszler recovers while Moon is attended to by medics. She slaps on an armbar, but Moon makes it to the ropes. Her respite is brief though as Baszler drags her to the centre of the ring and applies the hold again. Moon, with the crowd egging her on, resists tapping out for an absolute age, until she is able to roll Baszler up and get the pinfall. After the match, Baszler snaps and slaps the Kirifuda Clutch on Ember Moon as she tries to make her way up the ramp. Winner: Ember Moon
Just as it seemed that they were losing the crowd with the injury spot, we had a dramatic finish. Moon showed incredible guts to fight through the pain (something she never seemed to be able to do against Asuka). Baszler rode a fine line of being a made a fool of by getting rolled into the pin but got her heat back with the post-match attack. The story now will be the extent of Moon’s injury and what that means for her title reign.
Extreme Rules Match: Aleister Black v. Adam Cole
One TakeOver match always seems to get a ‘This is Awesome!’ chant before even beginning and tonight it is this one. Black soon sends Cole packing. He grabs a chair, which gets shouts of ‘ECW!’ from the crowd. Black sits calmly in the centre of the ring, and ducks Matrix-style as Cole takes a swing. He then sits on the chair as Cole looks on in frustration from the outside.
The weapons soon come out as both men bring kendo sticks into play. A theme is developing, however, of Black not needing any weapons as he tosses the stick aside and invites Cole to take his best shot. Unfortunately for the Dutch Destroyer, Cole does just that, striking Black across the abdomen as he leaps off the ropes. Cole wastes time with trash talk and answering the crowds call for tables, allowing Black to recover and toss him from the top rope onto a trash can.
Both guys tease ladder spots and it is eventually Cole who takes the bump getting tossed from Black’s shoulders onto the ladder he earlier jammed into the corner. Black climbs the ropes but ends up taking a fall through a pair of tables at ringside after a chair shot from Cole. The chair, of course, is the reason why this was made into an extreme rules match and becomes the focal point as Adam Cole sets up two of them back-to-back. He takes too long though and Black is able to hit a sick-looking back breaker onto the top of both chairs.
He goes for the pin, but Fish and O’Reilly make the save. They hit Black with Total Elimination on the outside, but they soon get jumped by Sanity. Killian Dain wipes out everyone at ringside, including his own stablemates with a huge dive. Cole tries to take advantage of the chaos but ends up getting driven through the announce table by Black instead. He recovers in the time it takes to get back in the ring though and goes for one final chair shot. Black, however, strikes with Black Mass and we all know there is no coming back from that. Winner: Aleister Black
Wow! That match delivered, even with the slightly over-booked spate of run-ins near the end. These guys literally hit each other with everything – kendo sticks, ladders, tables, and trash cans, all under-pinned by the chair that started it all. And in the end, Black proved he is the extreme weapon as Black Mass finished it all off. Adam Cole will need a maintained push now, however, to avoid completely losing the momentum earned at War Games.
NXT Championship: Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) v. Johnny Gargano
Almas gets quite the entrance with a mariachi band, a Mexican themed outfit, and a luchador mask. He soon discards all that to get down to the serious business of defending his title. Gargano is looking to complete his comeback story after a losing streak in the latter half of 2017 (interesting how both guys in the match have had comeback stories, one as a face and one as a heel).
After a slow start, the pace starts to pick up when Gargano misses a dive off the apron and lands flat on the floor right in front of his wife, Candice La Rae. Back in the ring, both guys trade blows and big moves. A belly-to-belly suplex into the corner swings the advantage to Gargano, who then nets near falls off a tornado DDT and a slingshot spear. A quick series of moves and reversals in the corner get the crowd on their feet as both guys throw everything at each other, and the crowd are firmly behind Johnny Wrestling with every false finish.
Zelina Vega inevitably gets involved to distract Gargano as he is setting up for a superkick. Almas tries to take advantage with a Hammerlock DDT but gets countered into a roll-up. Johnny Wrestling goes back to his DIY days with a superkick from the corner for another near fall. A big stomp from the top rope to the outside and double knees in the corner get Almas a near fall with the crowd as hot as this as they have been all night.
Vega makes her presence felt once again, pulling Almas to the ropes to break the Gargano Escape and hitting the challenger with a hurricanrana from the apron. Almas finally lands the Hammerlock DDT but much to the amazement of the crowd, Johnny Wrestling kicks out. Zelina Vega approaches Gargano again but gets chased off by Candice La Rae, whose involvement gets a huge pop.
More false finishes follow as Almas kicks out of another slingshot DDT and uses the ropes to break the Gargano Escape. It finally ends when Almas hits a draping hammerlock DDT from the top rope for the pinfall victory. A few minutes later, as Gargano takes in the adulation of the crowd on the stage, he gets hit from behind by former partner Tomasso Ciampa – just a single strike with a crutch but enough to remind us that the former DIY members have unfinished business. Winner: Andrade “Cien” Almas
Double wow! These guys had a hard act to follow but it was soon a case of ‘Adam and Aleister who?’ as they tore the house down. Purists may not like the number of finishers that were kicked out of and the quick recovery times, but a great story was told here. Both guys pulled all the stops out, a new rivalry for the women’s division was set up without distracting from the action, and Almas got to cement his credibility by ultimately securing the win without Vega on hand for the finish. The return of Ciampa (called it in my NXT review last week, even if he wasn’t actually involved in the finish) sets up Gargano’s next chapter as well.
It has become the norm for TakeOver to outshine the main roster PPV and it would take one of the best Royal Rumbles in years for that not to happen this time. I worked on this review trying to keep the summaries of the action short but for the final two matches, that was impossible. They were both action-packed and fast-paced without ever feeling rushed. The only criticisms of the show come from the injury angle being repeated in the tag title and women’s bouts and a few sloppy moments in the Dream-Ohno match. All that aside, each match told a well-crafted story and that will ensure NXT remains the most must see of WWE’s brands moving forward.