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WWE NXT TakeOver: Chicago results, recap, reactions (May 20, 2017): A real live wire

Not to be all “blogging is hard” on you when you just want a review of a wrestling show, but I had a hard time figuring out how to structure my reactions to Saturday, May 20’s NXT TakeOver: Chicago live special.

Normally, I’d separate out the two or three key bouts or moments and opine about those in depth before lumping everything else together with some shorter thoughts. The sections would also be laid out in order, from the clear cut match or biggest story beat of the night to the lesser ones.

This is actually pertinent to my overall review of the show, because pretty much all of it was VERY GOOD. Furthering TakeOver: Chicago’s challenge to my standard recap structure - and NXT’s usual card layout - was that the standout match didn’t technically involve NXT wrestlers.

It’s a nice problem to have, but I don’t envy Triple H and team for having to figure out how to present the drama they had planned. If you watched their United Kingdom Championship Tournament final in January, you knew Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne were likely to steal the show. But while they’ve been featured on Wednesday nights, they’re not a regular presence on NXT... and WWE Network is hoping to spin them off into a different show they’ll hopefully headline as soon as possible.

Then you have a tag title match full of LITERALLY INSANE spots planned, and a post-match angle which should drive the biggest feud not involving a championship belt in brand history.

Plus two other title matches, one of which involves a performer you’ve built as one of the most dominant in recent wrestling history, and a showcase for the guy who’s hopefully on track to becoming a big babyface against a stable you’ve already spent months establishing.

At least that last one had opener written all over it.

Screw it. The good thing about just being a person who blogs about wrestling is I can just dive in.

Authors of Pain defeated #DIY in a ladder match to retain their NXT Tag Team titles, leading to Tommaso Ciampa turning on Johnny Gargano

Let’s start with the match itself. Actually, no, let’s back up... I’m putting my vote in that Ciampa’s ankle injury was a work all along. As soon as the NXT title match was revealed to not be going on last, most of us smelled a break-up. A TakeOver hasn’t ended with heartbreak since R Evolution, after all. It was time. Creative and production went out of their way to convince us it might not be happening in Chicago - right down to putting up the trademarks before Tommaso went psycho. I definitely think creating an internet injury scare is something they’d do, if just to avoid revealing the ladder match as the main event in advance.

Dang it, I said I was going to start with the match. It was nuts. I had a blast watching it, even as I felt a little bit of guilt knowing how much risk the performers were taking for my enjoyment. #DIY BASICALLY DOVE HEAD FIRST TO THE FLOOR FROM ATOP A LADDER AT ONE POINT. Not like splashing onto Akam & Rezar as they were draped across other ladders would have been much better, but, you know - NOT HEAD FIRST. Which is to say nothing of Ciampa German Suplex-ing Rezar off a ladder through another one WHICH SHATTERED ON IMPACT. Why am I yelling? IF YOU WATCHED THE MATCH, YOU KNOW.

Now, ladder matches always require a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. Guys climb slowly, they stall to let competitors catch up to them... it’s just slightly better than a cage match. This one got down right silly at times, though. Akam getting his head “stuck” between the steps of the ladder before #DIY hit Meeting In The Middle immediately comes to mind, but it was certainly not the only time psychology was sacrificed for a spot in this one.

Let it go, though. It made for, if not a great match, very much a thrilling spectacle which worked as the last match of the show. And it served one of the two stories stemming from it.

That story is not the tag titles. In AoP, NXT now has another unstoppable champion. If you’re more excited about Heavy Machinery than I am, that may not be a problem for you. A ladder match created an opportunity to give Paul Ellering’s charges a meaningful loss without making them look any less superhuman, and you could have done the Ciampa turn when #DIY lost the belts again in Brooklyn.

All involved clearly thought now was the time to start the #DIY-No-More program, though, and I can’t say they’re wrong. And that came off exceedingly well, with Gargano taking the ladder to the head for his partner during the match as a nice way to make Tommaso look like an even more heartless bastard later (even if he could have pretty clearly saved his friend and got out of the way himself - it was that kind of match).

Johnny Wrestling does shocked betrayal as well as anybody, and this could launch his WWE career as the next Daniel Bryan many of us hoped Sami Zayn might be. The Psycho Killer’s long range prospects are less clear - does WWE need a mid-sized sadist when they have monstrous ones? - but he did himself proud with his performance in Chicago. This program should be something special.

Extra credit to both (former) #DIY-ers for doing the table spot to close the show AFTER the beating they took in the title bout. And kudos to Ellering for taking a Superkick he probably shouldn’t be taking at this point in his life, and selling it until his boys came and revived him after the match. That’s a Hall of Famer.

Pete Dunne defeated Tyler Bate via pinfall following Bitter End to become United Kingdom champion

This match right here. Damn. Go watch it. Read Rev’s play-by-play. Then watch it again.

Better wrestling minds than mine can break it down move-by-move, but I’ll judge it by how it took me and the audience I was virtually watching along with in Allstate Arena on a journey. As I said in the open, their encounter in Blackpool earlier this year was already something special. Here, they emphasized what worked, paced themselves a little better and as a result, had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand.

It’s all great, but from Bate’s airplane spin on, it’s really amazing. The sequence where they trade strikes before Dunne hits the enziguri and Tyler answers back with his crazy rebound lariat (which should cause Dean Ambrose to want to retire his version) was as electric as anything I can remember watching in a while.

Some of the credit for that goes to a hot crowd, and some of it goes to the announce team of Jim Ross & Nigel McGuinness. I didn’t love their commentary on the UK Championship Special which WWE Network released on Friday, May 19, but either because they had some familiarity with one another or because it’s always better when action is called live, they helped this one along when it needed them and got the hell out of the way when it didn’t. And while he’s not what he once was, hearing JR now conveys an importance a match wouldn’t otherwise have.

I’m extremely bullish on Bate - how can you not be excited about both men when they’re both so early in their careers (the former champ is 20 and the new one 23) - but Dunne is the right man to push Triple H’s British graps brand forward right now. The problem is, when and where will it be pushed? It’s been great having the title as a guest on NXT, but the roster is too stacked in 2017 for these guys to get a spotlight while potential big money acts like Drew McIntyre, Aleister Black & Andrade Almas sit on the sidelines.

Problems for another day. Go watch this match.

Bobby Roode defeated Hideo Itami to retain the NXT championship

A match that I enjoyed a great deal... liked it better than either of Roode’s encounters with Shinsuke Nakamura, one of Itami’s best WWE performances... but still not enough to break the NXT title bout curse.

See, I’m not sure we’ve had a great NXT championship match on a TakeOver since Neville still went by Adrian. And I’ve no idea when that might change.

Probably not while The Glorious One is holding the belt. I’m a Roode fan and I’ll forever defend the value of his character-driven performances in the ring and on the microphone, but we’re definitely clear on what kind of largely methodical, limb-work based matches we’re going to get from him at this point.

The idea that Itami was too focused on winning with the Go To Sleep made for a compelling throughline for this one, and protects Hideo somewhat (even as I’ve no idea what’s next for him... actually, I do, and I think it’s 205 Live). That it didn’t have to go on last and be “epic” like the Nakamura matches served it well, and made the finish more impactful - literally, on the second Glorious DDT that finally put the former KENTA away.

So, yeah... enjoyable stuff. But even when there was a clearly external reason it didn’t go on last, that it became only the first NXT singles title match to not close a live special kind of feels like a statement on both men’s futures with WWE.

Asuka defeated Nikki Cross & Ruby Riot via pinfall following a sliding knee to retain her NXT Women’s championship

Here we have a case of unreachable expectations. As an occupational hazard (for new readers, I’m the guy chronicling Asuka’s every win) and because I really dig her act, I’ve bought into the hype about the Empress of Tomorrow. Ruby Riot’s been a wrestler I really enjoy watching for a long time, and Nikki Cross has been nothing short of revelatory since debuting her SAnitY character. I was HYPED for this one.

And, like Itami/Roode... I enjoyed it a great deal. But in 150 minutes of wrestling where two other matches left me either slack jawed, covering my eyes or both, “enjoyed a great deal” is slightly faint praise.

The issue here was similar to the problem I had with the tag title match. The stipulation and match structure it requires asks us to suspend our disbelief when it comes to things like “why is one person always on the outside?” or “gee, they’re taking a long time going for this cover... I wonder, will that person on the the outside rush in to break it up?” For whatever reason, the transitions on those spots weren’t as smooth as they could have been. And unlike #DIY/AoP, the payoffs weren’t as spectacular.

Still, a good showing I’m looking forward to checking out again - maybe on its own without the burden of following the excellent UK title bout. And the next steps for all involved are clear. Riot/Cross can continue, and the woman with the blue sling and red eyes who watched this one from a luxury box will hopefully be back to challenge the champ in Brooklyn.

Roderick Strong defeated Eric Young via pinfall following End of Heartache

A perfectly fine opener which proved just how successful the “Who is Roderick Strong?” vignettes were in helping Roddy get over with the WWE fanbase (not that many of the Second City natives in attendance didn’t know him from Ring of Honor, PWG and elsewhere, but the sustained cheers and chants are new for his NXT run - regardless of the venue).

Clearly, however, it was the weakest match on the card despite a smart start and finish which really emphasized the “Roddy vs. The World” theme as he out-thought and worked all three members of SAnitY to get the win. And that’s largely because, unlike the 20 something Brits or the 30ish year olds in the main event we’ll be buzzing about for the next few days, Strong and Young’s best days are behind them (author’s note: having watched Roddy since the early Aughts, I honestly thought he was older than his 33 years. I stand by the contrast to the Brits & #DIY, but would have worded this differently had I done my research. This one’s on me). They’ve got a role to play on WWE’s third brand, but it probably shouldn’t be as headliners.

The Messiah of the Backbreaker might have one big push in him, though. And that’s good, because the result, and the reaction he received from Chicagoland for it, makes it seem like he’s about to get it. Which is deserved, and should be fun... but is probably just a transition to one of those guys who got left off this TakeOver.

Wrestling is awesome. NXT is great again. TakeOvers never disappoint.

Grade: A

I just wrote 2000+ words in a couple of hours and I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of stuff I wanted to say about this show. Help me out, Cagesiders.

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