It wasn’t Dusty’s WarGames.
But if you could wrap your head around that - and WWE has been telling us for weeks that it wouldn’t be, so I’m not sure why some fans spent half the main event being surprised/upset by that fact - it was a hell of a good time.
The important thing is, this is still Dusty’s NXT.
TakeOver: WarGames delivered the strong two-and-a-half hours of wrestling storytelling we’ve come to expect from the brand’s live specials, and really showcased the kind of characters, angles and even action we don’t often get from the main roster shows. It made great use of both experienced independent/international workers we never would have imagined would be signed by WWE five years ago and fresh talent being brought along by Matt Bloom’s team at The Performance Center. It satisfied on its own and set-up interesting scenarios for the future. It even evoked some emotion.
The American Dream would be proud - of the main event, the show as a whole and how NXT has grown since his passing.
The Undisputed ERA defeated The Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong and SAnitY in WarGames after Adam Cole pinned Eric Young following a kendo stick shot and a running knee to the head (through a chair)
The big drawback to the main event wasn’t the format changes. As stated above, they told us this wasn’t the JCP/WCW version and while allowing pinfalls didn’t feel very “WarGames”, the escape = forfeit adaptation made up for that (and the lack of a roof) for this viewer. If the cage is supposed to settle some shit, let’s settle it.
No, the problem I had was with the camerawork and direction. Shots changing three times on one move, and whipping from an inside the fence view to an outside one and back again was nausea-inducing. It eventually either settled down or I just got caught up in the car crash mania happening on my screen and got over it. But I could have done without gagging until that happened. There would be plenty of time for that when Alexander Wolfe bled like a stuck pig after hitting his head suplexing Rezar off the ropes through a table.
Not even sure where to start with the spots. Probably best to just go back and watch it again. Everything after Killian Dain ate the key to the door (yep) was nuts. The main thing is that while Undisputed going over and Cole finally being presented as a capable and savvy main event caliber wrestler was absolutely the best outcome, everyone who participated is better positioned coming out of WarGames.
Now let’s just hope they’re all healthy.
In addition to Wolfe’s head wound, Roderick Strong superplexing Cole from the top was a heart-stopping moment. Probably because most of the guys who were supposed to catch them parted more than they stood their ground. The tandem four-man Tower of Doom spots were impressive, if a little redundant after the ladies had done one a little earlier, and we got lots of Akam and Rezar hossing around - plus Dain hossing AND FLYING around (a man that size shouldn’t be doing Van Terminators). They even made the pin work, since it involved lots of brutality before Drake Wuertz counted three.
Triple H said on his post-show interview that he believes the boys “relaunched a brand tonight” and that the WarGames concept will return to NXT when the story dictates it. I’m down with that, especially since most of these guys have done their time in one and should be elsewhere by the time Creative is ready to the use of two-rings-one-cage set-up again.
Aleister Black defeated Velveteen Dream via pinfall following Black Mass, but does say Dream’s name
This program was already a masterpiece before they ever had a match, and then this beautiful piece of business happened. It’s my feud of the year, and probably one of my favorites in NXT history. It was my match of the night on a great evening of wrestling, and will be something I think about when asked about a match of the year.
In large part, that’s due to what came before it. Consideration was given to how these two characters could give us a simple, elegant conflict we don’t usually get from wrestling in general and WWE in particular, and time was taken to establish that tension. The match was structured to reinforce everything we’d been presented up to this point, build to a breaking point for Dream and especially the stoic Black, then twist and turn to a finish which, again, left both men better than when they started.
And I haven’t even mentioned Velveteen’s tights!
Aleister is a pro with a bright future, and this confirmed that. But it was a bigger statement for the 22 year old Patrick Clark. Not only has he made a character that has no business working in 2017 or WWE must-watch, he’s rapidly put it all together in the ring to where he’s hanging with the 32 year old Dutch badass and making him look great! It’s a cliche (and an Enzo Amore line), but you can’t teach the basic gift for live performance Clark has.
Velveteen Dream won the crowd over to such an extent here that you have to wonder if he might not be a candidate for a turn. Despite the loss, the acknowledgement from his neutral opponent counts as victory for the vainglorious youngster. Especially given who our new champ is, Aleister should move up into another natural rivalry for the belt. But I’m really curious what’s next for the Dream.
This is going to be difficult for both men to top. But I can’t wait to see them try.
Andrade “Cien” Almas defeated Drew McIntyre via pinfall following a rope-assisted DDT to become the NEW NXT champion
The buzz is around the shocking title change and the speculation about what role McIntyre’s injury played into the finish and/or decision to do the switch. That’s a shame, not only because Drew’s a great wrestler and exactly the kind of basic (in a good way), compelling character with whom it’s easy to tell wrestling stories. But also because the rise of Almas since the arrival of Zelina Vega is an amazing tale in its own right - and because this was the best NXT championship match we’ve had on a TakeOver since Sami Zayn left the brand.
To the first point, remember, the Cien character was basically dead circa May’s Chicago show. He’d bombed as a técnico, and though NXT’d found some use for him as a bad guy, he was essentially a mid-card gatekeeper for a couple live specials before being left off the card at Allstate Arena all together.
Unlike a certain surprise WWE champ, however, he wasn’t just hotshotted back into contention. Before we even knew her name, Zelina appeared as a mysterious figure with a connection to Almas. As he started to listen to her, we learned more about their background (a little, anyway - NXT knows mystery keeps things intriguing) and he started winning.
They even took their time building to his championship opportunity, giving first Vega and then the pair plenty of chances to play off McIntyre’s honorable warrior. I had a few issues with how it was scripted at times, but Drew’s knock on them all along was basic hero/villain stuff as he accused Almas of not being bold enough to meet him face-to-face. And it worked great, and fed perfectly into how this match was laid out.
Though his associate (and maybe McIntyre’s bicep) definitely played a role in the start of his surprising title reign, this was also a showcase for one of the best wrestlers in the world. For whatever reason, that was also something that didn’t really come across until Zelina arrived, but thank goodness it finally did. Almas is a luchador by trade, and capable of the kind of moves we expect from Mexican superstars - BAI GAWD THAT MOONSAULT - but he can also lay it in with the best of them.
Whether it was planned or not, El Ídolo’s run at the top should provide an excellent stage not only for the former La Sombra, but also a variety of opponents. The thought of feuds with Black and Johnny Gargano, for starters, seems too good be to true. And with Vega cutting sassy promos and delivering the occassional spike-rana during his matches, they could be the most interesting titleholders since Kevin Owens.
Ember Moon defeated Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross and Peyton Royce via pinfall (on Cross after an Eclipse to both her and Royce) to claim the vacant Women’s title
Of everything on this show, the women’s contest is the thing about which I have the most reservations. None of those pertain to the match itself. These four had the unenviable task of following an instant classic in Black/Dream and absolutely proved up to the task with ten minutes of pretty much non-stop action. They mixed in big spots with exciting nearfalls and managed to deliver a clean, crisp thriller (although I maintain that Sane was late breaking up the pin after Peyton bridged out of the fisherman’s suplex on Cross - but it’s also possible the hearts that replace my eyes when Royce is on screen affected my perception).
No, my concerns remain that the two pure babyfaces in this one - both of whom will certainly remain fixtures of the scene - don’t really have characters. At least Kairi is presented as a pure, undersized, fighting spirit heroine, even if other than that she’s “girl who likes pirates”. The new champ is “girl who likes manga about wolves”... I think? Worse than that, the way NXT consistently reminds us she’s not Asuka, couldn’t beat Asuka, and now loves and admires the Empress even though she totally tried to end her career on at least one occassion, makes Ember look like a chump.
There’s little concern about more good-to-great matches coming in the Moon era. But if we’re going to get the kind of compelling angles we’re getting from the men’s side these days, the champ will need a more understandable character that’s easier to get behind.
Lars Sullivan defeated Kassius Ohno via pinfall following Freak Accident
The opening slobberknocker would get more ink on any other card, but it got lost in the shuffle a bit on a night which ranged from brilliant to OH MY to Holy $#!+
It never really set out to be anything more than a vehicle for Sullivan as NXT’s new monster, which is a bummer for Chris Hero fans, but otherwise did exactly what it was supposed to. That being to be a slightly longer match than we’ve seen from Lars in the past, for a win against a bigger name on the biggest stage the brand offers. He got to sell a little more than usual after missing a diving headbutt, while still impressing with moves like his finisher and the pop-up powerslam.
“Who can stop Lars Sullivan?” becomes an interesting, and possibly problematic, question. It’ll be fun to watch him develop while Triple H and team figure that out.
Pretty much exactly what I wanted this show to be. They’ve got a quick turn to Philadelphia, so buckle up. If the last few months are any indication, it should be a wild ride.