Look, it’s a TakeOver. What do you want me to tell you?
As tempting as it is to leave that as my review, slap a grade on it (hint: it starts with an ‘A’) and link you to Rev. Claire’s comprehesive play-by-play account and the relevant WWE Network page - let us do this thing...
Tommaso Ciampa def. Johnny Gargano in their Street Fight, via pinfall following a rope hung DDT to the exposed ring board
Was it kind of the same match as in New Orleans, but with weapons? Could it have been a little shorter? Did it make any sense the officials were keeping Johnny from ending a match which by rule had to end by pinfall or submission when he had Tommaso on the stretcher, but a referee suddenly appeared to count the pin on Gargano? Did I care about any of those things while I was watching it?
Pretty much. Sure, I guess. No. And.... NOPE.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this story arc - which is into its third year now - is that it’s not perfect. It’s been that at times, but it’s also been organic and grimey at other, filled with characters making questionable choices, and providing plenty of opportunities for the wrestling community to debate and discuss. It’s real life dialed up to 11, or more like 13 or 14. Which is exactly what art should be, and especially a form like pro wrestling which has always integrated over-the-top elements.
Too often, wrestling stories are cut and dry. In the 21st century, nuance often comes from worked shoot, ‘reality’ era angles like what we’ve been getting with Roman Reigns on the main roster lately. The gradual dissolution of #DIY doesn’t have anyone asking if Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa really hate each other. On the contrary, the very nature of the work they’re putting in confirms for a ‘smart’ audience like NXT’s that they’re constantly collaborating somewhere behind the scenes. The matches we’ve seen between them this year aren’t possible unless they trust each other completely.
None of that stops us from getting sucked into their every scene, ready to cheer Johnny Wrestling, or chant “F*** You, Ciampa” at The Blackheart.
Their latest showdown on June 16 in Allstate Arena was full of brutal spots which would make even the most seasoned and/or jaded wrestling watcher cringe. They implemented weapons early and often to ensure it at least looked different than their Unsanctioned encounter in April. It wasn’t XTREME for the sake of being extreme, however. The gradually escalating violence was there to give the impression the stakes had been raised, even if they were actually higher when Johnny’s job was on the line.
That brutality was there to prove Ciampa had won even before he connected with a DDT onto the wooden boards he’d early exposed. In a great callback to how Tommaso ended the night at TakeOver: Chicago a year ago, Johnny sat over his broken former tag partner after driving him through the tables which laid beneath his perch. But that wasn’t enough. Ciampa almost cost Gargano his marriage (Candice LeRae returned earlier in the night to give her hubby a crutch and tell him to “Go kick his ass” in a moment that begins to put her character back on the right path, even if the depiction of her remains my least favorite thing about the whole program). He then disrespected it by spitting on Johnny’s wedding ring. The once noble hero didn’t care if he had to beat up his bosses and some medics to do it, he was going to punish Tommaso.
And it cost him. He not only became the monster he sought to vanquish. He did so and the monster still won.
Where does the feud go from here? To at least a third match in Brooklyn, certainly. But more interesting is how Johnny Wrestling will respond to this loss. Does he realize his mistake and course correct back to win a rubber match “the right way”? Or slip further down the path to becoming just as much a psychopath as his Sicilian rival?
It’ll be messy. We won’t all agree with every storytelling choice they make. And I can’t wait.
Undisputed ERA (Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly) def. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch via pinfall to retain their NXT Tag Team Titles after a spinning heel kick/leg sweep combo on Lorcan
Boy, I loved this match.
This was my personal “match of the night”. I’m not a star rating guy myself, so I can’t give you a quantitative breakdown of how much more I liked it than the match which followed or the main event. Some of my enthusiasm might have been because it was the opener, and some of the built up excitement I had for the entire show went into my reaction as I watched it.
If there was a moment which summed up why I loved it, it came late in the 16ish minutes of fast-paced action that had the crowd eating up every second, whether it was fast-paced indie style action or mat-based grappling. It came after Lorcan won over a very pro-ERA crowd with his sprint-strong style lariats and sacrificed his body on not one but two of the more painful-looking back bumps in recent memory.
When they’d completed their comeback and it looked like the babyfaces might pull off the upset, Burch had O’Reilly in a crossface while Lorcan grabbed Roddy in an ankle lock. To break the hold, Kyle rolled over to kick Oney in the face to break the hold on Strong. That would have been cool enough on its own, but O’Reilly and Burch made sure Danny’s back was on Roddy’s other foot so his shoulders weren’t down. This bout was full of smart little touches like that, and without ever sacrificing excitement.
The Brit-Am Brawlers had the belts won after a Doomsday Device-like tandem move on KOR, but Adam Cole made the save before getting thrown out. But even outside of that kayfabe cover, their performance here proved they were deserving of this spot. The ERA continued to be the straw that stirs the NXT drink. And as difficult as this is for someone who was never an O’Reilly fan in Ring of Honor and elsewhere, Kyle may be the most complete performer on this or any WWE brand right now.
Bring on that trios match from night one of The United Kingdom Championship Tournament.
Ricochet def. Velveteen Dream via pinfall following a 630 senton
Expectations were ridiculously high for this one. The card layout put them in a tough spot, following a red hot tag opener. And Ricochet and Dream absolutely delivered.
Sounded like it took a while for the crowd to get back into things after UE vs. Burch and Lorcan, which is kind of amazing considering Velveteen’s get up and they way they did a riff on Hogan/Rocky from WrestleMania X8 to start the match. Maybe it was just the acoustics. By the time Dream superplexed Ricochet to the floor (crazy back bumps like that were a recurring theme all night), there was no doubt everyone watching was fully invested. And it only got better from there. Velveteen was definitely out to prove that anything Ricochet could do, he could do better. And Ric caught that bug, too. The One And Only was eventually doing Dream’s Purple Rainmaker elbow drop, and I thought either man could be done in by their hubris.
In the end, it was the younger man who pushed too far when he went for a coast to coast elbow his opponent was able to dodge. But the 22 year old proved that while he’s only going to get better, he already belongs. And The King reminded us there’s not much he can’t do in the ring. As his promo skills catch up to his physical abilities and he learns how to channel his charisma through a microphone, the sky’s the limit.
Here’s hoping this was the one of the first of many, many Dream/Ricochet showdowns.
Shayna Baszler def. Nikki Cross to retain her NXT Women’s Championship
Aleister Black def. Lars Sullivan to retain his NXT Championship
Neither of the singles title matches on the card were bad. In fact, I enjoyed both. But they had to just hope to be able to keep up with the other three bouts, and while they each did in their own way, the lasting memories of TakeOver: Chicago 2 will come from those other three bouts.
Baszler/Cross was pretty much what I expected. Nikki’s energy got the crowd engaged early in a match which was wisely only set-up to go about ten minutes. The champ continues to improve with each outing, with her striking and MMA-based offense being more logically incorporated into WWE-style matches. As soon as she got the Kirifuda Clutch locked on in the center of the ring, I knew Cross would eventually, joyfully accept being put to sleep.The smile she put on her face before and after passing out gave the “babyface refuses to quit” finish a spin unique to her character.
You have to think it’s on to the main roster for the last SAnitY member left in NXT. She’s had numerous title shots now and while she definitely has her fans (such as yours truly), it doesn’t look like a Women’s Title run for her is in the plans at this level. The Queen of Spades has no shortage of potential challengers, and if she keeps progressing, should be joining Rowdy on the main roster by the end of this year.
Black/Sullivan actually exceeded my hopes. There wasn’t a whole lot to it. At less than 15 minutes, it was only a little longer than the Women’s Title match. There was some psychology involved, as Lars sought to take away the champ’s legs to limit his ability to land kicks like his Black Mass finisher, but it was mostly a showcase for the power of the monstrous #1 contender. It succeeded on that score in both ways that matter - the big man looked scary, and the Dutchman overcame to keep his belt despite taking a lot of punishment. They rebounded from the missed Black Mass, and got an ending that provided a better visual, as Black hit the move twice while Lars smiled through a mouth full of blood.
In terms of next steps for the participants, these wrestlers have more in common with the tag match than the Women’s Championship fight. Sullivan acquitted himself well enough in his first big spotlight moment, but should move a few rungs down the ladder before his next opportunity here or elsewhere. The Champ has all the tools to succeed right now, but still hasn’t landed in a hot feud or really compelling program to become as popular as he should be.
What happens next is in Triple H and company’s hands. Those are pretty good hands to be in.
Another great thing about this show was how obsession proved to the fatal flaw for so many of the defeated wrestlers. Lorcan and Burch laid it all on the line, but deciding to go blow-for-blow cost them at the end. Dream wanted to outdo Ricochet, and leapt right into a loss. Nikki’s love of violence left her unconcious, and Sullivan inflicted a ton of the damage he revels in but couldn’t finish the deal. Gargano was undone by his need for vengeance.
One thing we apparently don’t need to worry about is being too obsessed with NXT. Or even if we are, we can reasonably assume we’ll be rewarded for it. Because good TakeOver live specials will keep coming our way every few months - at least if the last four years are any indication.