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NXT TakeOver: Phoenix recap & reactions - Consistent Variation

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NXT TakeOver: Phoenix waltzed into our lives last night (Jan. 26) from the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. You can find a thorough run down of the results in the greatest live blog to ever live blog right here.

Overall thoughts:

Once again, TakeOver delivers. That’s not surprising, but it got me to thinking about why.

One of the strongest attributes to TakeOver shows is how they vary up every match. With only five matches on the card, they are able to present each as something different. We open with a wild tag team match. Then move onto an MMA style match focused on striking. That takes us to a more “indie workrate match.” Then onto a more raw match where submissions are the focus. And finally to a traditional main event working the body part for the biggest title.

With only five matches, they can make sure all these matches have a story behind them. Both men’s singles title matches are part of a very long story involving Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. The tag match felt like the plan since the War Raiders debuted last spring. And only having to fill an hour’s worth of TV a week, they can make sure that we don’t see these matches over and over again prior to the big stage.

The thing I love most about TakeOvers compared to the main roster is they often will tease the next direction of the promotion before the show is over. Tonight it was just Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano standing side by side holding up their titles, but it was something to whet the appetite for what’s next in NXT. That’s the story they’ve been telling so we could have guessed it’d head that way, but seeing the actual image of these two friends turned mortal enemies standing side by side is exciting. It gives us something to look forward to the next time NXT is on TV back in Full Sail.

Many of these things are because NXT doesn’t have to fill too much time like Raw and SmackDown weekly. They don’t have a huge roster that needs to find their way onto a long PPV card one way or another. It’s easier for NXT to put on this type of crisp product. But they take those advantages and continually run with them, completely entertaining us every few months.

Now onto the card.

Tommaso Ciampa def. Aleister Black to retain the NXT championship

They went more traditional with this match, with the champion working a body part. However, it fits who they are and what they were doing.

Ciampa is the least redeemable person there is. He’s not going to go in there and impress with flashy moves. He’s just going to try to win. If that’s by taking away one of his opponent’s greatest weapons, so be it. That may take the crowd out more compared to the high flying, fast paced North American title match. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

Aleister played his part by selling his left leg injury the entire time. Never did he forget about it. It was always in play with whatever he’d do. He could deliver a Black Mass or knee strike, but as soon as he did, he couldn’t capitalize. The leg injury affected everything he did, and likely cost him the match. In a match where working a body part is the focus, selling like this is so crucial.

I hear the complaints that working a body part as part of a half hour match is too much, but I was never bored during it. Credit both performers for keeping it interesting. Watching Black trying to figure out how to navigate a bad wheel was entertaining. Watching Tommaso just be the biggest bastard was as well.

Much like the champ’s last match, there was some finisher spamming. That’s something that in the back of my head I’ll question, but again, it did not affect my enjoyment of the match. The fact that the story was well built coming into this and that these men command their characters completely help cover for something like that. It’s something that could bother me more in a match that doesn’t have those things as part of the foundation.

I touched upon the closing angle, which was really just Tommaso and Johnny Gargano standing next to each other with the titles. But it bears repeating that presenting us with that visual tonight is important. It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for (and that Candice LeRae has been dreading). Now we’re left with a ton of questions about what that was. Are they a unit again? Is Johnny now messing with Tommaso’s head? Those looks are left open to interpretation, which gives us something to do for the next two weeks until this story picks up again.

If they had faded to black with just Ciampa holding the title, this still would have been a very good show. But closing with a moment like this raises it up.

Shayna Baszler def. Bianca Belair to retain the NXT Women’s title

This match probably held the most question coming into it. Every other match on the card was full of veteran talent. This had a still rookie Belair going against Shayna Baszler, who’s only had veteran dance partners to this date.

It was certainly a test. A test that was easily passed.

Like mentioned above, it wasn’t like all the other matches. That’s what made it work. They leaned into the fact that Belair was still a rookie, immediately having the more savvy Baszler use her own braid against her. It was a very creative spot that demonstrated that Belair was in there with someone who could use her experience & instinct to out play her.

Belair didn’t have the savvy, but she had the raw talent. The talent helped her overcome a bum shoulder. It helped her overcome both Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke. Her strength aided her in turning the Kirifuda Clutch into an impressive suplex.

But it also hindered her. She seemed to lose her cool when she didn’t get a win off her finish because the referee was down. She allowed herself to be distracted before hitting the 450 (though to be fair, it’s hard not to be distracted by the Horsewomen).

Despite that, she almost used her desire & strength again to escape another Kirifuda Clutch but just didn’t have enough to avoid from passing it.

This was all designed to build up Bianca. The announce team talked up how she was the inexperienced rookie. The match showed her overcoming a bunch odds but not navigating the obstacles to where it earned her a win. Hell, even Sam Roberts on the pre-show, railing on Belair for not being ready was likely part of this. Remember that pre-show isn’t live. It’s not slightly delayed. It’s an hour delayed. If they hated what he said, they could edit it out and replay a hype vid or something (I also doubt he’d be stupid enough to suddenly go off script on a wrestler after doing this for as long as he has).

This match was probably the most “raw” of the night, but it fit exactly what they were aiming for. It was meant to present this all as a learning experience for the young Belair and when her next opportunity arises, we’ll see how much she actually learned.

Johnny Gargano def. Ricochet to win the North American championship

When people looked at the card for this show, they probably pointed to this match and said “That’s going to be fantastic.” And surprise! It was.

Ricochet continued to shine during his NXT run. Much of this match was designed to show off how special he is. The man did consecutive handstand flips in response to Garagno hurricanrana attempts. He landed on his feet from a top rope Frankensteiner as the crowd went utterly nuts.

Seriously, the man just landed on his feet with a sly look in his eye and the crowd went wild. That’s a star right there.

The story they were telling with Gargano was “Which Gargano would show up?” And while Ricochet asked the question in the early goings of the fight, it didn’t really play out until the very end.

While I would have liked it seen this story more evident throughout the match itself, it certainly had its impact at the end. We saw it first when Johnny Gargano ripped up the mat on the floor, exposing the concrete. But in that moment, the better Johnny prevailed and he opted not to DDT the champ on the exposed floor.

It was a move he almost paid for; however, as Ricochet took advantage as soon as they were back in the ring.

Because of that, the next time Johnny had a chance to drop Ric on the concrete, he didn’t hesitate. He dropped the champ with a suplex and then a DDT in the ring for the win.

The fact he had to channel his arch foe (and soon to be friend again?), Tommaso Ciampa, to win was the movement in that story. Hell, he even said “I win” before doing so, something we’ve seen the NXT champ say plenty prior. No matter how much Candice LeRae wants to stop it, Johnny is slowly becoming that what he hates and he’s being rewarded for it.

This match advanced that story, which led into the closing moment of the show, while making sure we remember that Ricochet is a G-D stud.

The War Raiders def. the Undisputed ERA to win the tag team championships

The formula of the tag division opening the show and then trying to steal it continued in Phoenix.

The War Raiders brought in size coupled with amazing athleticism that the ERA hasn’t faced during their tenure as champions. And it felt that both teams felt they could have a lot of fun putting on a match with that dynamic.

The Raiders creatively tossed around Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong while the ERA did all they could to isolate and attack Raymond Rowe when Hanson took himself out on a misfired suicide dive.

O’Reilly and Strong were believable in keeping a big man down, partially because they proved it over the last year. They are so damn good at isolating an opponent. They’re a flashier, cockier version of the Revival.

Eventually, Hanson had a hot tag (an extended one) and that’s when the match hit the fever pitch where you just know you’re watching a wild match. In the end, it came back to that strength that allowed the Raiders to win the titles. This time around, the ERA was just unable to outwit their opponents.

NXT continues to deliver the goods in the tag team division. Now let’s hope the ERA doesn’t end up on Raw one day.

Matt Riddle def. Kassius Ohno via submission

The outcome of this match was never in question but they still made this match worth watching.

The story here was the different side of Riddle. This was to display the fact that Matt Riddle can get angry and that makes him dangerous. It’s a great compliment to his laid back stoner attitude we normally see and it’s easier to take him seriously when we see both. “Sure, this guy would smoke a spliff on my coach. But he could also kill me.”

Matt Riddle’s MMA/pro-wrestling style is also unique. Sure there are more and more MMA fighters entering the ring, but it’s still not many. Plus, the Bro makes it look good. When he enters the ring, you feel like you’re going to see something you don’t often get to.

The finish was an Ohno tap out as Riddle unleashed incessant elbows to the head. It’s a unique finish, which nowadays is special, which highlighted the fact this man could be ruthless.

For the least anticipated match on the card given predictability and the only one with no title implications, it still delivered.

Good TakeOvers are the norm at this point and this was no exception.

Grade: A-

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