Johnny Gargano’s goofy heel character has been a highlight of NXT for months now. But for his North American title defense against Kushida at TakeOver: Vengeance Day on Feb. 14, Gargano was all business. This was Johnny TakeOver.
It had to be, because his protégé Austin Theory was kidnapped by Dexter Lumis on their way to the ring.
WHAT DID WE JUST WITNESS?!— WWE (@WWE) February 15, 2021
Thanks to @DexterLumis lurking around, things aren't going #TheWay @JohnnyGargano had hoped before his match against @KUSHIDA_0904 for the #WWENXT North American Title at #NXTTakeOver: Vengeance Day! pic.twitter.com/gz99zE0xlM
Kushida, looking to win his first title in WWE since leaving New Japan in 2019 and moving his family to the States, was more than ready for all Gargano had to throw at him. It looked like Theory wouldn’t have made a difference even if he’d been there.
️KU-SHI-DA! KU-SHI-DA! KU-SHI-DA! #NXTTakeOver @KUSHIDA_0904 @JohnnyGargano pic.twitter.com/RSSy4EEVIt— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) February 15, 2021
This was as thrilling a match as we expected. Gargano seemed poised to retain when he countered a Hoverboard Lock attempt on the turnbuckles into a twisting suplex off the second rope.
THIS is why he's #JohnnyTakeOver! Beautiful counter by @JohnnyGargano! #NXTTakeOver @KUSHIDA_0904 pic.twitter.com/S1HCblfqtY— WWE (@WWE) February 15, 2021
A DDT followed, but Kushida kicked out of the subsequent pin. From there, each man focused on locking in their respective submission finisher. It was the Japanese Superstar who seemed to be in the most jeopardy, first from a Garga-No Escape, then by being lawn darted into the turnbuckle. He recovered to send Johnny into the corner with a chickenwing suplex, then grabbing the Hoverboard Lock from the top...
The Armbar is locked in! Are we getting a new champ tonight?!!?! #NXTTakeOver @JohnnyGargano @KUSHIDA_0904 pic.twitter.com/IsjFNS4VNu— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) February 15, 2021
...but Gargano scrambled to get a leg on the ropes before he was forced to tap.
They brawled on the outside, and additional damage to Johnny’s arm seemed to foretell his demise.
If @JohnnyGargano's arm wasn't injured before...#NXTTakeOver @KUSHIDA_0904 pic.twitter.com/BNB0nMhigf— WWE (@WWE) February 15, 2021
But the champ rallied and hit his One Final Beat slingshoot DDT twice - once on the ramp and once in the ring. With that, he retained... even without The Way.
Curious decision to beat a hot act like Kushida clean. But it was a hell of a match.
For a complete rundown of everything that happened during TakeOver: Vengeance Day on Valentine’s Day, head to our live blog here.