Well, the first TakeOver of the year is over and it is going to be fondly remembered for starting NXT’s PPV year off strong. The city of Phoenix was blessed with a stacked 5-match card that saw all titles defended and a finishing match to a grudge going on between the new blood and the Gate Keepers of NXT. It was an exciting show with some surprise results, let’s get into it.

War Raiders defeated Undisputed Era, via Viking Fallout, to become the new NXT Tag Team Champions

TakeOver started with an intro video package that featured enough snake shots to make Jake Roberts happy, followed by what could be one of the best PPV entrances for an NXT team. War Raiders came out with a full Viking army with the stage set up to look like a medieval castle. They were adorned in Viking garbs and full of confidence heading into the match. The Undisputed Era had no flashy entrance gimmick but had the same level of confidence (and more amazing O’Reilly air guitar.)

The match started fast with the Era going right after their stronger opponents and trying to get an early upper hand. They traded strikes but the Raiders overpower them. There was a spot where Hanson was body slammed onto the Era by Rowe from the apron and the Era was now suffering early on. However, a failed Tope from Hanson saw him painfully crash out and the Era took the upper hand by working over a solitary Rowe. He was subject to multiple double team moves and submission attempts as he had to wait for Hanson to recover and make a hot tag. The Era was aware of this and knocked Hanson down as he got on the apron. There was a creative spot where O’Reilly had a Sleeper Hold Piggyback on Rowe, and Strong used Rowe’s leg to drag him back to their corner.  These tactics worked for a little while but the eventual hot tag was made and Hanson demolished both members of the Era. He caused misdirection between members of the heel team, cartwheeled out of problems and hit a crushing sequence that ended with a Bronco Buster to the corner. The Era survived an Assisted Power slam and a Powerbomb/Top Rope Splash combo and the Raiders managed to survive the Over and Under.
They are the first team to kick out of that finisher, according to the commentary team, and the Raiders got the win by hitting Viking Fallout on a dead O’Reilly. We started the show with new Tag Team Champions and one hell of a match.

Matt Riddle defeated Kassius Ohno via Bro-mission + Grounded Elbow Strikes

The second match offered a much different experience to the first as this felt much more like a Japanese Strong Style match than a traditional wrestling match. It started off with Matt Riddle going straight after Ohno and dominating the early part of the match. He got bold and went for a Sunset Flip Bomb, but Ohno held on and used the ring apron to cover Riddle’s head and stomp him down. Ohno then took control, throwing Riddle into the ring post, the ring steps and punishing him with some exceptionally stiff strikes. Riddle tried to take control by going for a German Suplex, but Ohno stomped his foot and kept on the attack. Riddle suffered some more abuse but eventually hit a German and the momentum shifted again. Ohno got desperate and bit and attacked the toes of Riddle. This lead into the finish as Riddle got even angrier as Ohno was begging for mercy. He hit a devastating high angle Sleeper Suplex and won the match by pummelling Ohno with elbow strikes until he tapped out.
It was an unexpected and rare finish to an NXT match and definitely took the audience by surprise. This was easily the stiffest match on the card and offered a different flavour to this TakeOver. Riddle went over with a definitive 3-0 streak with Ohno. The action was brutal and deliberate and this set the match apart from everything else on the card. The sad thing is though this now means that Kassius Ohno is now 0-5 in TakeOver matches. This losing streak is certainly unfortunate as Ohno always puts on amazing matches but never seems to get the win. On the plus side, he’s not Curt Hawkins, so he can easily be brought back from this losing streak.

Ohno eats of knee strike from Riddle

Johnny Gargano defeats Ricochet, via Slingshot DDT, to become NXT North American Champion

We now come to the match of the night. Gargano and Ricochet put on a clinic that mixed high flying spots, daredevil stunts, submission and chain wrestling, and storytelling into one match. It started with a technical showcase as both men traded chain holds, with Gargano maintaining control and trapping Ricochet in pinfall attempts. They went for an extended reversal sequence that ended with Ricochet standing tall and trying to offer Gargano a hand up. He asked which Johnny he’ll get as Gargano took his hand and instantly tried to sucker punch Ricochet. This was obviously expected as Ricochet instantly knocked Gargano back down. Ricochet took control and eventually dropped Gargano with an Asai Moonsault whilst running off the turnbuckle. He rolled Johnny back in and attempted a Top Rope Hurricanrana, but ate a Face Plant into the turnbuckle when Gargano reversed. This lead to Gargano taking control and locking in more submissions. The fight continued with the two hitting more and more outlandish spots as Ricochet hit a running Swanton over the turnbuckle to the outside when Gargano tried to retreat. After all the punishment both men had taken and all the kick outs of moves, Gargano got fed up and finally started giving into his darker side.

Earlier in the match, he had pulled up the ringside mats to expose the concrete. He hit a Brain Buster onto this exposed concrete and threw Ricochet into the ring. He taunted his opponent with “I win” chants and put Ricochet away with a Slingshot DDT. Johnny Gargano is the new North American champion but he did it through nefarious means. This match was an exciting, impactful and a definite must-watch one, that also saw a tortured Gargano struggle with his dark side. He gave in when he realised that his opponent was too strong for his rule-following side. If you have to pick one match to watch from this TakeOver, watch this one, you will not be disappointed.

NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler defeated Bianca Belair, via Kirifuda Clutch

After the breakneck pace of the last match, there were some doubts that this match would fall flat. Luckily it still got the crowd pumped and put Belair over as a competitor, even though she lost. From the start, she was cocky and in Shayna’s face. She had the strength advantage but she was outclassed in experience. That didn’t stop her gaining the advantage over Baszler. It took an underhanded braid pull into the ring post to finally give Baszler full dominance of the match. The ring post shot left Belair with an injured shoulder that Shayna took great joy in targeting. She hit her Arm Breaking Stomp and lock on multiple holds to work over the shoulder of Belair. Belair slowly got back into the match, fighting through the shoulder pain to hit a series of Shoulder Tackles into the corner and a Spear to Baszler. Shayna kicked out and the match painfully continued for the challenger. The match looked to be won at one point as Belair used her hair as a weapon, making the champ bleed and was later able to hit the K.O.D on Baszler. Unfortunately, a referee bump saw the count not made and the other Horsewomen interfere. Their presence didn’t hinder Belair as she dispatched of them easily enough. The ref finally came back to life as Baszler locked in the Kirifuda Clutch for the first time. Belair powered through and was able to throw Baszler off her. Belair had the edge until a failed 450 Splash attempt saw her locked in the Clutch again. She once again stood up and tried to power through but ultimately fell, sinking to her knees and eventually passing out. She went out like a hero but was unable to wrestle the title out of the bullying champ.

This is a tough match to critique as it was basically buried from the outset. Sam Roberts buried Belair on the pre-show claiming she wasn’t TakeOver worthy and the match almost backed that up. It was a good enough match and certainly made Belair look like a powerhouse, but she got panicked part way through when the ref was out, and she was often completed outclassed by Baszler. On the other hand, it did make Belair way more endearing to audiences and definitely made her into a bigger deal even though she lost. There was just an odd air of “we know you’re going to lose” going into the match that was only backed up by comments made on the pre-show.

Bianca Belair is trapped in the Kirifuda Clutch

NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa defeated Aleister Black via Fairy Tale Ending

Lastly, we got to the main event. The grand finale of this TakeOver saw Black trying to reclaim his title from the clutches of wrestling’s greatest villain Tommaso Ciampa. He had cherished Goldie (his name for the title) since Gargano inadvertently helped Ciampa steal it from Black last year. This was going to get personal. The two started brawling instantly, locking up and dragging each other around. Black was dominating early on as he continuously struck Ciampa. The two traded mind games and blows with Black still mostly maintaining control. He tweaked his knee after a Tope but shook it off and kept fighting. Eventually, this weakness was targeted by Ciampa who rammed Black knee first into the steel steps and then continued to use the ring steps to assault the injured joint. After that, it was a long series of knee-focused attacks, as Ciampa ruthlessly and often illegally punished Black. This went on both inside and outside the ring until Ciampa got too cocky and tried to taunt Black with water only to eat a vicious kick that sent water everywhere. The match then became more even as Ciampa hit a Tower of London on the apron and Black kept striking. Eventually, Ciampa got annoyed as his finisher wasn’t putting Black away so he went outside and ripped up the same ring mat that Gargano used earlier. This came into effect when Black hit a desperation Double Knees onto Ciampa that impacted the exposed concrete. Black had further injured himself but struggled on. The last act of the match was a dizzying sequence of reversed finishers, a roll-up attempt into a Draping DDT/ Fairy Tale Ending combo. Black kicked out, ate another Fairy Tale Ending, reversed a fourth, hit a weak Black Mass and was unable to follow up with another, only to finally be put down by a final Fairy Tale Ending from Ciampa.

The Champ retained but it was not an easy fight. He staggered up the ramp and, as the copyright graphic appeared, Gargano came out holding his new title. The two had a tense staredown, then both raised their titles and celebrated together. It would appear that both former DIY members were on the same page again and shared a new dark alignment. The last match was the perfect throwback to classic heel vs face wrestling, with plenty of limb targeted attacks. It oozed intensity and, for the most part, was completely unpredictable. The fact that Ciampa won without interference solidified him as a force to be reckoned with once again. NXT Creatives could have easily had Gargano interfere on Ciampa’s behalf but chose not to, instead of saving their interactions for after the match. The last thing to note is that, throughout the whole match, the crowd was divided. Both Black and Ciampa received chants galore. Black may be a villain but the crowd certainly appreciated him.

So there you have it, the highs and minor lows of an exceptional TakeOver. 2019 has started strong for the black & yellow brand, with an enjoyable PPV with no dull matches, compact run-time and more enthusiastic commentary from the best team WWE has. The matches felt like epics, the results held some surprises and we have some new Champions to mix up the storylines. Whilst not perfect, it can definitely be held to a high standard and offers more of the same quality we’re used to seeing from NXT.

(All images courtesy of WWE.com)

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