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NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day recap & reactions - On a High Note

NXT returned last night (Feb. 14) with their latest WWE Network special, TakeOver: Vengeance Day. You can find the results at our live blog here.

Finn Bálor def. Pete Dunne to retain the NXT championship

Finn Bálor doesn’t have matches any more. He has wars. This match with Pete Dunne was along the same lines as the ones he had with Kyle O’Reilly. Bouts that he has to survive. He walks out of the match with the hell beat from him, but the strap is still over his shoulder.

It’s the type of match we expected with Pete Dunne standing on the other side of the ring. That man is all about hurting his opponent - targeting limbs and fingers to inflict as much pain as possible. And we’ve learned Finn can dish it back out. He couldn’t move his fingers by the end of the match. His previously broken jaw was continuously targeted. He could barely move his arm. But he was able to dish it as well as Pete can and earned his championship retention.

This has almost become his style of match, but that has a lot to do with his opponent. He’s not going to have this type of match with Adam Cole or Johnny Gargano. But he can certainly excel in the role when he’s against someone like Kyle O’Reilly or Dunne.

Speaking of O’Reilly and Cole...

NXT closed with a big post main event angle. It’s something they haven’t done in awhile and I’ve missed it. They’re usually very good at teasing the next chapter to get us pumped for the next episode. But the last few shows didn’t have something big, which felt like a bit of a let down. At Vengeance Day, they returned to form.

After Bálor retained, Pete Dunne, alongside Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch, attacked the retaining champ. Undisputed ERA made the save and it looked like they were almost recruited him as an ally if not a member.

But then Adam Cole kicked Finn in the face.

This wasn’t a group plan. Kyle was floored by the action. His protesting earned him a kick in the face as well. Was that premeditated? Was Cole just unhappy with O’Reilly’s protest? We’ll have to tune in on Wednesday to possibly get an answer.

Either way, it looks like we’re finally getting that Cole vs. O’Reilly program. And I am ready for it.

Io Shirai def. Mercedes Martinez & Toni Storm to retain the Women’s championship

It is very rare to say an NXT women’s title match is the weakest on the card. But I believe that’s a fair claim for this show.

Now, let’s be clear. The other action on this card was superb. They had a lineup of some killer bouts. This match was definitely not bad. In general, it was pretty good. But it didn’t deliver like the rest of the card did.

Io Shirai retained, but in an opportunistic way. In fact, she spent the last portion of the match on the outside of the ring, recovering from a dive off the scaffolding and an attack from Martinez. This left Mercedes and Toni in the ring to really take the match home. And the babyface champ got damn lucky that both of those women kicked out of the others’ finisher. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be the champ.

After the two heels wore themselves down enough, Io Shirai climbed back in to deliver a moonsault and that was that. The babyface kind of stole one here. It’s a Triple Threat so there’s something to be said about surviving it, but it didn’t feel like an accomplishment for Shirai.

It was a good match, but also felt like a match used to buy time until the next real feud for Shirai, whether it be one of her competitors here or someone else entirely.

Johnny Gargano def. Kushida to retain the North American title

This was a real banger.

The idea behind this bout was how evenly matched these dudes were. There were no moments of prolonged offense from either man. Kushida would come up with something, Johnny would find a way to reverse it. Then Kushida would find a way to take the control back.

Honestly, this style isn’t always one I love. I usually enjoy the story of the babyface overcoming the heel’s villainous tactics to fire up at the end. But these guys are so good that this match hit for me. There were drama spots with submissions from both men that I bit on (especially when Kushida had the champ in an armbar that it looked like Gargano wouldn’t escape from).

The issue that I had, and it didn’t detract from how great the match was, was this didn’t fit the story they were telling in the build. Johnny was playing the true chickenshit heel, making up an injury to try to avoid having to fight Kushida. Johnny has his own faction that he uses to help win matches (he had like eight people in Scream masks to help defend his title one time). So walking out and having a clean match with no heel tactics and no outside interference was a disconnect. Austin Theory was kidnapped prior to kind of explain it, but he’s not the only member of The Way.

The ending was really puzzling. A Johnny Gargano retention was a perfectly reasonable option. He’s doing great work as a heel. But to win clean? That doesn’t make sense because they don’t have to do that. Gargano is a heel. He could have used an underhanded tactic to aid his victory. It’s an opportunity to protect Kushida a bit in the loss. Instead the Japanese star just lost to the coward who was ducking him for weeks.

The match itself was fantastic, but it feels like it didn’t fit in to the angle’s narrative prior.

Raquel González & Dakota Kai def. Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart to win the Women’s Dusty Classic

TakeOver opened with a wild tag match.

The women of this division don’t hold back. That’s nothing new, but it remains true. That almost seems especially the case when Shotzi Blackheart is involved because that woman always brings it. Not that the rest don’t, but Blackheart has a certain devil-may-care style.

While this match was wild, it never got to the point where they completely lost the thread. Action spilled outside the ring and there were plenty of times all the women were fighting inside it, but then they’d have a soft reset and re-establish some tags before it got nuts again. Tag bouts should normally maintain that structure to some degree or else it just becomes a free for all.

NXT continues to present Raquel González like a powerhouse, but have found the sweet spot where she’s not invincible. A tag match is a good place to display her as a threat while allowing her to sell offense from double teams or high impact moves. It’s quite amazing how well they’ve built her in just a year (she debuted at TakeOver: Portland in Feb. 17 last year).

At one point, Raquel & Dakota will get a shot at the Women’s tag titles, though it may be awhile. It feels like Lana & Naomi and Sasha Banks & Bianca Belair also may be in line. It’ll be good when it happens, no matter who it happens against.

MSK def. the Grizzled Young Veterans to win the Men’s Dusty Classic

Prior to this match, I was very excited about the mix of styles between these guys.

MSK wrestles a bit unorthodox as a tag team, such as when Wes Lee shoves Nash Carter mid-moonsault. It’s high risk. It’s a bit out of the box. It’s as if a wrestling style were an energy drink. Meanwhile, the Grizzled Young Vets are more of a grounded team that can certainly keep up with a high flying duo if it’s called for. But they’re purposely not flashy because they’re the bad guys.

I’m happy to report the styles mixed as hoped. That’s not always the case. There are plenty of cases where people are looking forward to a match and the chemistry just isn’t there. If that happened in the finals of the Dusty with a new tag team in MSK, it would have been disappointing. Lucky for us, the chemistry was very evident.

There was a spot in this match that I really appreciated where Nash Carter showed an angry side. Goofy characters who get pissed is a wrestling trope that I quite enjoy. And a team like MSK are extremely goofy so you almost need that other side to continue to take them seriously. I’m glad they planted that seed.

Either team could have won. There was no wrong outcome here. Choosing the newcomers to cap off their initial push is quite exciting. Their match against Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch should be stellar.

My feeling about this show prior to its air was that on paper, it was good. There were no angles that were popping but all the matches could deliver. And they pretty much did. The women’s title match was probably the weakest on the card, but that was still a fine match that certainly had its moments.

Then they closed the night on a high note, with an exciting new angle. They’re finally breaking up the Undisputed ERA, and this should lead to a feud between Kyle O’Reilly & Adam Cole that could be their next big thing.

Grade: A-

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