Hi, and welcome to NXT TakeOver: Portland. With four of NXT’s five titles on the line (since being branded the NXT Cruiserweight Championship, it has yet to make an appearance at a TakeOver) plus two major grudge matches, it was set to be a big card. Both in the sense of the importance of it and that it went for THREE HOURS! My god, it’s like we’re actually dealing with standard roster here, except for the matches are given enough (and frequently, too much) time. Anyway, let’s get into it:

Nobody Watches the Pre-Show

Charly Caruso was joined by Herb Kazzaz cosplay Sam Roberts and WWE’s favourite Saudi Arabian, bar the entire Saudi Royal family, Mansoor. They stood on the ramp and discussed all the action coming up. We didn’t get any new information or interviews but the crowd was already hot and we did get another episode of An Transatlantic Tale: Broserweights Go West. We even got backstage footage of Poppy coming to the ring. Thank you to Poppy for the theme tune by the way. A nice touch is that the NXT Pre-show now features the entrances of the commentators.

From here, it was just a typically high-quality opening video package complete with an anonymous reading of President Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Citizenship in a Republic speech’ and a musical performance by Poppy, thank you to Poppy for the theme tune, and we were underway with our opening match which was…

NXT North American Championship: Dominik Dijakovic vs Keith Lee (c)

… Just pure Beef of absolutely the finest cut. This was Dijakovic and Lee’s 21st singles match and Lee was going into it with a significant lead, having won some 15 of their encounters as well as one being a draw following a double count-out. However, this history lent every move they do a certain sense memory, especially early on when neither man was really able to get a hit on the other as both seemed to know exactly what their opponent was about to do and how to counter it. Lee, entering in a Maberry Strong T-Shirt was matched hold-for-hold, strike-for-strike, even dive-for-dive by Dijakovic, wearing a sleeveless hoodie with likenesses of Kobe and Gianna Bryant upon it.

Going into this match, I think very few people genuinely thought Dijakovic was winning here with the feeling that Lee is the star and this is his first defence. But the story here was more about these two gettings to show what they could do on a TakeOver stage, and show it they did, even eliciting a genuine “Holy Sh*t” from this writer as Dijakovic hit a springboard Swanton to Lee who was in a chair on the outside.

This was just 20 minutes of pure, joyful destruction. There were perhaps a few occasions where it could have used a greater sense of desire to win and not just to do more cool stuff but when the stuff is this cool, it’s a minor complaint. Props to referee Darryl Sharma for even counting the pin attempt as Lee lifted up Dijakovic for a Spirit Bomb, it’s the little things. Ultimately, Dijakovic’s back gave out as he tried to hit the Feast Your Eyes Argentine rack GTS giving Lee the opportunity to hit the Big Bang Catastrophe fireman’s carry powerslam for the pin. Watch this!

Winner: Keith Lee

Street Fight: Tegan Nox vs Dakota Kai

If you were to leave your recording after this match, you’d have a perfect episode of classic NXT, two great matches, some payoff to a great rivalry and a surprise development in another. Sadly for us, there were another two hours after this that couldn’t match up, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we have a street fight to discuss. Now, I only have one particular downside of this match and that’s that Tegan was in Kenny Omega-Esque black trousers, not street fight jeans. At least Dakota was in grey cutoffs, but trousers are not street fight jeans and I won’t hear otherwise.

Beyond that frankly horrendous oversight, this was a great match, full of creative and painful-looking spots and a genuine sense of hatred behind everything performed. Whenever it’s a match like this you always hear the commentary saying “this isn’t going to be a mat classic, it’s going to be a fight” and a fight it was involving chairs, chains, tape, tables and a lot of kicks. Beyond this, it all tied together feeling like a match and not just a collection of violent moments. The ending will be contentious, as Nox had Kai beat, she dragged her onto a table, put a chair around her neck and climbed the turnbuckle only for Raquel née Reina Gonzalez to instead choke bomb Nox through the table giving Kai the win.

The table didn’t break but if anything, it made the bump look much nastier and many will ask “Who is she?” Well, quite frankly it’s nice to see someone who isn’t an indie darling getting a TakeOver spotlight. My one question here would be why Mia Yim and Candice LeRae got involved when Nox faced Kai the first time, but this time round were they nowhere to be seen? But beyond that, this was a fantastic piece of work that didn’t overstay its welcome and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Winner: Dakota Kai

Johnny Gargano vs Finn Bálor

As I refuse to make the same mistakes as this match, I’m going to keep this one brief. I’m sure that moment to moment, this was a fine match, that somewhere in here, there may have even been a show-stealer. But it was not that as at 27 minutes, it lost any strength the match may have had in padding and somewhat unmotivated brawling which considering the palpable anger of their promos, should have been more compelling. Think of the great mid-card singles matches: Io vs Candice, Aleister vs Velveteen, Johnny vs Andrade, they all knew to make this a sprint, not a slog. After a long match, Bálor hit the 1916 lifting inverted DDT for the pin. If you liked this, fair enough, but it wasn’t for me.

Winner: Finn Bálor

In between matches, we got a promo by Roderick Strong declaring that, on Wednesday, Velveteen Dream is a dead man. Then talking about how his teammates were going to all win tonight. About that Roddy…

NXT North American Championship: Bianca Belair vs Rhea Ripley (c)

Getting things back on track, this was the best singles effort I’ve seen Ripley put in since she put on a mini-banger with Dakota Kai in the first Mae Young Classic. After the crowd were a little exhausted from Gargano vs Bálor, they had a slightly more subdued response but they got the crowd behind them in the best way: slapping each other silly. Bianca Belair entering in her ‘Black History in the Making’ sloganned outfit, was clearly trying to silence the doubters who seemed to assume that Ripley challenging Charlotte for ‘Mania suggested the winner was a foregone conclusion. Ripley, for her part, not always a great big match performer, managed to raise her game here to match the ‘EST of NXT’ with both going hard with strikes, power moves and of course kicking each other in the face. Belair even brought out the hair whip during a chop exchange which always makes me happy.

While the action was strong here, the feeling of competition here was almost too sporting where, especially after two grudge matches, it lacked some intensity at times. But you do wonder if this is just the act one of a bigger story. With Charlotte’s post-match attack, accepting Ripley’s challenge and beating down both women, you do wonder if Belair is going to stay in this picture. As much as I would like that, even if she doesn’t, after this match I’m fully convinced that Ripley is ready to stand on that grandest of stages. Ripley got the pin off a Riptide pump-handle slam.

Winner: Rhea Ripley

NXT North American Championship: Broserweights (Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne) vs Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish) (c)

Would you believe it, selling, actual selling, in a Broserweights match! I never thought I’d see the day. Bar a very fun TimeSplitters vs GYV match, this year’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic has had very little, well, classic tag team wrestling but here, for the titles, everyone put their best feet forward. Entering on their golf buggy as Matt Riddle led the crowd in a rousing chorus of ‘How Much Fish (Could Bobby Fish Fry)?’, complete with on-screen singalong lyrics graphic, the match began in media res with both teams fighting to the ring. From there, it took a while to really get going as it seemed like this was going to be another spotfest but then, the champions did what they do best and cut the ring in half.

The smartest part of the match was the attempts by the Era to sow discontent in their opponents, knowing that Riddle personality-wise is an acquired taste, they kept throwing Riddle into Dunne in the hope that he might turn upon his Broness. It turns out Broship is harder to break than we thought as the teams stayed together till the end. Beyond this, the action was good, we saw some new spots such as an assisted lungblower/DDT/bridging German by the Era boys, and it all came at a strong pace, never letting the slower moments lag or the fast moments overwhelming. Maybe there were a few too many big move kick-outs but this was a blast of pure fun. The Broserweights got the pin off an assisted Bro-to-Sleep-Bitter End-Double kick combo. The biggest takeaway from this match is that my God, Bobby Fish looks good with the salt n’ pepper beard. Like really good, like Angel Garza good. It really works for him.

Winner: Broserweights NEW CHAMPION!

NXT Championship: Tommaso Ciampa vs Adam Cole (c)

Before we get into this match, read this interview with Adam Cole. It’s very good.

This was exactly the kind of NXT main event that lives or dies on how invested you are in the feud. If you aren’t into it, this might be the most interminable, overbooked 45 minutes of your life. If you are, then finally, what we have here is an example of how to use the extended time to ratchet up the tension, making every near fall matter all the more as you don’t know when it’s going to end or even if. The ending as the entire Undisputed Era mobbed the referee and Ciampa trying to use every underhanded trick in the book to put him away, including multiple finisher kick-outs by both men, until Gargano would turn up and deck Ciampa with the title to give Cole the pin was mad and a little messy but it seemed to generate enough emotion to keep the crowd hanging on every moment which is impressive as we were deep into our third straight hour. But really, this is one of those matches where my opinion doesn’t really matter because it’s going to be quite so divisive. Surprisingly, I thought it was pretty good.

Winner: Adam Cole

The most famous passage in the speech quoted in the opening package goes “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” While this critic may not count like the performers we saw tonight, I must say, I enjoyed most of what I saw. And I look forward to seeing where any of this goes. That is until I discover that it’s just leading to all The Undisputed Era getting title matches/rematches at Tampa Bay. I’m less excited about that prospect.

All images and videos courtesy of WWE.com

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