clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NXT TakeOver: WarGames 2019 recap & reactions - War Identity

NXT held their annual WarGames TakeOver special last night (Nov. 23), emanating from the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois. You can find all the results in the live blog here.

Balancing Act

NXT had some work to do tonight to make sure the show wasn’t too muddled. That they didn’t overkill the WarGames gimmick or deliver a show that just felt like it dragged too long.

We talked about it a bit in our preview. They booked two WarGames matches, which in itself is a match that could be a hit, but could be a miss as it’s prone to drag or become just a spotfest. Running two of those matches is even riskier. One could overshadow the other. They could blend together. It could just be too much.

But NXT balanced it perfectly.

The women’s WarGames led things off. It eschewed the tradition a bit. They delivered us the big Dakota Kai heel turn during the beginning portion when people were still entering the match. We’ll discuss the heel turn more in a bit (it was fantastic), but using this time to run a huge angle set this apart from the men’s match.

Because it ended up being a 4-on-2 match, it was shorter and less crowded. That too set it apart from the other WarGames match. They made sure to use different weapons. The men had tables, the women had everything else. Both had a story hook. For the women it was Dakota’s turn. For the men it was Kevin Owens’ surprise appearance on Team Ciampa. Each match had its own identity that separated it from the other.

And both were really good! I’m not the biggest fan of these matches, but came out enjoying both a great deal. When that’s the name of the show, when that’s the big hook, it’s a success.

The other issue coming into the show was balancing the Survivor Series build with the build to TakeOver. Thankfully, tonight was all about the NXT-specific stories, with tomorrow’s PPV put in the corner. Outside some questions about Kevin Owens’ allegiances, this was a just an NXT show. Raw or SmackDown didn’t attack. If they did, it would have made sense, but it would have also started to worry folks that NXT isn’t going to be its own thing any more. And that’s a strength of NXT - its independence from main stage WWE.

TakeOver had its work cut out tonight, but NXT came through and delivered a very entertaining night. Now let’s take a look match by match.

Rhea Ripley & Candice LeRae def. Shayna Baszler, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair, & Kay Lee Ray in WarGames

This is a difficult match to book in general. And NXT did so brilliantly.

When Mia Yim was taken out of WarGames due to a mystery attacker, it was pretty obvious that Dakota Kai would take her place. It was also kind of obvious she was the one who did the attacking. But predictable isn’t bad if it’s a good story.

It has been a good story, one they’ve told throughout the build to tonight. And the eventual heel turn was spectacularly executed.

They didn’t wait for the big reveal. Dakota made her move when wrestlers were still slowly entering the structure. That was very smart. The entrance phase is often too long and very predictable with the heels getting the advantage. Instead of spending their time with all that, they allowed the women to do a little more with that opening time, and then they concluded with the fantastic heel turn.

Dakota was the third to enter the match for Team Ripley, when everyone in the ring was down after a tower of doom spot. But instead of walking down to the ring, she turned and kicked her best friend Tegan Nox to the face. And then to really lean into that heel turn, she ripped off the leg brace meant to protect the knee that cost Nox a year of her career and then slammed the cage door on that knee repeatedly.

When William Regal came to try to get control of the situation, Dakota hit him too! In between beating up Nox, she’d turn to the ring and shout at Rhea, who left her off the team. This was just a superb heel turn all around which sets up multiple possible feuds for a character who could use such a change.

This left the match as 4-on-2, which actually helped. Having less bodies in the ring led to a cleaner match. It made the major moments feel bigger.

One could probably argue how unrealistic it was for Rhea’s team to win a handicap match this lopsided, and it’s an argument I could concede, though it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the match at all. Ripley was the beast that she’s normally booked as and Candice was a survivor. And the winners were the ones who hit the biggest moves, who broke up the pins when necessary. (Io Shirai also probably hurt her team when she took out herself and Bianca Belair just to hit Candice with a top of the cage moonsault - which was bloody impressive.)

The final segment was between the captains, when Rhea Ripley powered out of Shayna Baszler’s Kirifuda Clutch. Then she handcuffed herself to Baszler, using handcuffs the champ herself placed on one of Ripley’s wrists earlier in the match. That’s when Rhea delivered the Riptide to the champ through chairs set up earlier in the bout.

It looks like Ripley is destined to dethrone Shayna. Plus we’ve got some Dakota Kai feuds coming our way. This was a great match (probably my favorite NXT WarGames match) which will have some great fallout.

Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic, & Kevin Owens def. the Undisputed ERA in WarGames

If the women’s WarGames eschewed some of the tradition of the NXT WarGames, the men’s one followed the pattern more.

They had the extended entrance period, where the heels continued to press their man advantage. But it worked with Undisputed. We know for a fact the ERA are a well-oiled machine. This was a place to show that off. It really set the stage that it is tough to beat these four.

Also, during their “hot tag” entrances, Dominik Dijakovic and especially Keith Lee looked like studs. (Keith Lee has looked like a big star since NXT moved to the 2-hour format weekly.)

And of course, there was the Kevin Owens reveal, which was fantastic. The crowd went wild and Adam Cole’s shocked face was priceless. NXT continues to use main roster talent with NXT ties so it still feels like NXT. And KO played a supporting role in the match. Even though he’s a big star returning to the brand (maybe for one night only, maybe for longer), this was still Ciampa’s show. Kevin had some big moments, but he didn’t suddenly become the focus.

When the match “officially” started, it was certainly longer than the women’s match. But it didn’t feel too long, which is the goal. There were some great spots, such as Kevin Owens’ taking a Panama Sunrise on the grates connecting the rings. (We didn’t see KO for a long time after that move because double ouch on that one.)

Adam Cole introduced a bunch of tables prior to the match officially starting and in a poetic justice, the Undisputed ERA went through all of them. In the big finish, Tommaso Ciampa delivered an Air Raid to Adam Cole FROM THE TOP OF THE G-D CAGE. I think the majority of people clenched in fear watching that one. Because that is a spot that could go wrong in many ways. But Tommaso delivered it perfectly.

I enjoyed the Women’s match better, but this was also a very good WarGames match.

Pete Dunne def. Damian Priest & Killian Dain to become #1 contender

This match followed the ladies’ WarGames match, and while it was a solid enough match with plenty of fun spots, I had trouble fully getting into it.

Part of it was because it was coming off a great opener and folks needed to come down from that. Another reason may be the fact it was a very back and forth match, one that never seemed to move past trading big moves with a third man breaking up a pin. It felt like a bunch of spots.

It certainly wasn’t a bad match. It had its moments (such as Priest delivering a friggin’ Razor’s Edge to Dain). And the finish was clever enough. It’s just a match I’m probably going to forget about in the near future.

Finn Bálor def. Matt Riddle

This was the second of the two matches in the WarGames sandwich. And it definitely delivered more than the triple threat.

This was our first look at heel Finn in a WWE match. And despite him using similar moves, he seemed very different than the Finn we remember. He was methodical. His facial expressions conveyed disgust. Bálor has done a fantastic job morphing himself from the big smiling Finn to this dark man we see now.

On the other side, Matt Riddle is such a unique wrestler. His style isn’t like others. Watching him reverse a move and lock on a submission is always fun. Because his style is different, I always take mind to pay attention to his stuff more because I’m not going to see this style everywhere.

This wasn’t more than Bálor picking up a crucial first win in his return to NXT. And it didn’t need to be more. This show was about the WarGames matches.

This TakeOver felt like it went by quickly, which is surprising when they had two different WarGames matches. TakeOvers have felt like they’ve been getting longer and it’s funny that this of all of them felt like there was no wasted time to bloat the show.

Both WarGames delivered. The matches between them were fine. The triple threat didn’t fully click, but the Riddle/Bálor match was a good time.

They gave us plenty of questions to hook us for next week (and for tomorrow in regards to Kevin Owens).

Good stuff all around.

Grade: A-

Sound off below.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats