There are three constants in life. Death. Taxes. And NXT TakeOver blowing your mind.
Those were the words of Johnny Gargano, just as the watermark appeared at the end of this show and he clutched a broken crutch and the remains of Tommaso Ciampa’s knee brace.
Before we get into this - I don’t want to ever hear the “smarks chant for heels to be contrary” complaint again, okay? THIS is what happens when a wrestling promotion puts the work in to tell a phenomenal story. Two men or women can transcend. They can transform. They can create something untouchable.
And transcend these two did.
Everything about this was vicious and vile, matching the nastiness of Ciampa and Gargano’s broken friendship. Ciampa entered the arena with no music and the crowd was only too happy to fill in with a chorus of boos and expletive-filled insults.
As for the match itself, I find myself at a loss of what to say. I sat with a hand covering my mouth for the majority of it, watching as the two men planted seeds for destruction. First, the concrete floor was uncovered. Ciampa was eventually powerbombed onto the concrete and the crowd lustily chanted, “You deserve it!”
His back was discolored for the rest of the match.
Next was the exposed ring post. Ciampa would take that blow as well. But there was so much more! The table, the crutches – stolen from a hobbled Gargano fan ringside, by the way – the knee brace…
The best moment of this match was perhaps the final moment. In a callback to the Cruiserweight Classic, Ciampa removed his knee pad in an attempt to deliver a strike to the back of Gargano’s head. Gargano avoided the strike by striking Ciampa in the knee with his own brace.
And then Gargano’s morals were tested. He snapped a crutch in half and had the chance to strike Ciampa down for good…
Ciampa sat there looking up at his old friend. His eye was nearly swollen shut. Gargano quietly asked, “Why?”
Instead of an answer, Ciampa snatched his brace and tried to hit Gargano. I had Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville flashbacks.
Gargano dodged and used the brace to lock in a submission for the victory.
I really cannot say enough nice things about this match. And I imagine you cannot as well, Cagesiders.
Zelina Vega has been a blessing for Andrade “Cien” Almas. She revitalized El Idolo’s career and set him on the path to stardom.
And because of that, it’s awfully ironic that her interference cost Almas the match.
Aleister Black started this match fast and frantic. He knew the threat that Vega posed to his chances and did everything he could to keep her at bay.
And even with one eye on her, she was able to hit a hurricanrana on the outside to give Almas an early edge. That was the name of the game in this match; any time Black rallied at all, Vega was there with a timely interference to keep things tilted in their favor.
And it was needed. Black is a force that no one in NXT has been able to stop. And with that small bit of an edge, Almas was able to settle in with Black and deliver an incredible match.
The striking combinations from these two were fantastic. Almas’ corkscrew plancha to the outside was ridiculous. There were counters upon counters and even more cheating from Vega.
I popped out of my seat entirely when Almas countered a Black Mass attempt with a dropkick to the back of Black’s head.
In the end, Vega stepped in one too many times. Almas caught her after Black sidestepped her dive, but it left him unable to defend himself for a final Black Mass.
Vega doesn’t have egg on her face very often. It will be interesting to see where they go with this – if they go anywhere at all. Who knows? We might be seeing Almas on the main roster in short order.
Messy, Nasty, Brilliant
NXT is so smart with its symbolism. Tell me if you haven’t heard this before: a plucky female champion fought with everything they had against a dangerous opponent but was ultimately put to sleep in a chokehold.
They want you to compare Shayna Baszler to Askua in your mind. Only she’s meaner. Nastier. Out for blood.
As a quick aside, I need – I need – more women in WWE who hit powerbombs and Codebreakers from the top rope like Ember Moon. I thought she was spectacular in this match; they both were, to be honest.
There were two stories going on in this one. First, Baszler is the scariest badass of all time. After Moon dislocated her shoulder, Baszler used the steel ring post to pop it back into place. And by “used,” I mean SHE RAMMED HER BODY RELENTLESSLY INTO THE DAMN THING.
Second, Moon let her emotions get to her a bit. For a champion who was talking about representing the women’s division in the right way, she certainly blurred the lines by stomping on Baszler’s arm
Moon hit her Eclipse to the outside, but was countered on a second attempt in the ring that led to the ultimate pin fall. I’ve been a bit concerned about Moon’s character in NXT and I think this loss can help her a lot. I’m excited to see where this goes and doubly excited to see what Baszler can do with gold around her waist.
The Best Ladder Match Ever
When I do reviews, I tend to write notes as I go to help me organize my thoughts for later. The notes will generally be something like “oh wow, this counter was nuts” or “I really liked this facial expression.” You know, something to remind me to talk about certain points.
Here’s the problem – what the hell am I to do with two pages of notes?! From this ladder match alone!
The opening match of TakeOver: New Orleans lacked the loathing of a Gargano vs. Ciampa, so they more than made up with it with sheer insanity. Ricochet did ALL the flips. Velveteen Dream hit the sickest elbow drop of all time. Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain played catch with one of their opponents. EC3 tried to steal Adam Cole’s catchphrase and Cole superkicked everyone in response.
Everyone impressed me. Everyone got a shining moment. This match was nuts in a way that no other match on the card could dare to compete with and it’s just your latest reminder that the talent in WWE right now is insane.
Ladders were crushed. Dream hit a Death Valley Driver on a ladder. Ricochet did a damn backflip off one when Sullivan tried to topple him off it. Dain hit a Vader Bomb with Cole on his back.
I CAN GO ON.
Watch this match. It didn’t have the story of the other matches on the show, but the sheer entertainment of this one will probably go uncontested all weekend. All six men deserve an inordinate amount of credit for this one. In the end, Cole was able to knock Ricochet out of the ring and grab the North American Championship.
But that was just the start of Cole’s night.
I’m usually pretty good at catching heel turns beforehand – they need to plant the seeds, after all.
I did not see this one coming.
The Undisputed Era was at a disadvantage with a taped-up Cole and no Bobby Fish. Their odds were worsened when the Authors of Pain put Cole through a table.
And then my god, Roderick Strong…
I’ve never had any sort of attachment to Strong in NXT. He’s been the lost man for a while now – a journeyman like Kassius Ohno who fills in wherever NXT needs him.
And then this happens?! He betrays Pete Dunne on a pin attempt and hands the victory to the Undisputed Era?!
I love NXT. They could have given up on Strong; now, he’s extremely interesting.
And I cannot be the only one looking ahead, right? Dunne has a few friends from the past who might help him stand up to the Undisputed Era. Moustache Mountain in NXT? Sign. Me. Up.
As for the Authors of Pain, I look forward to finally seeing you on the main roster, fellas.
NXT TakeOvers might as well be holidays at this point. NXT has always had an amazing attention to detail and this one was no exception. Every match was different, every match was brilliant, and I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of Gargano vs. Ciampa again.
I got everything I wanted. How about you, Cagesiders?
Good luck, WrestleMania.