Usually, around this time of year, we’d be expecting NXT TakeOver to be giving us WarGames. While these matches have always been of an incredibly high standard, it felt like NXT had been falling into the WWE’s habit of booking certain match types because of the calendar month, rather than booking stipulations only when the feud calls for it.

The presentation of this TakeOver had a grungey Underground feel, in the brand-new Capitol Wrestling Center. The perspex screens in front of the WWE Performance Center recruits was also layered with black cage fencing. But there were also the big screens, behind the recruits, which showed fans watching at home – just like we’ve come to expect in the ThunderDome. So it was a strange hybrid.

NXT North American Championship – Damien Priest (c) vs Johnny Gargano

Johnny tried to take every advantage he possibly could, in the early goings of this match, but Priest was smart and seemed to have everything well forecasted. Gargano took advantage when Priest walked on the ropes, causing him to lose balance. While Priest avoided taking a powerbomb on the apron, Gargano still took the bigger man to the arena floor, before sending crashing into the ringside caged fencing and steel steps.

Priest took some damage to his left knee and Gargano tried to target that limb as much as possible. Priest landed three flying elbows in the corner, followed by a Broken Arrow, but Gargano kicked out at two. Gargano escaped a Razor’s Edge, and rolled Priest up, but only got a two-count. The two men fought back to their feet and exchanged blows. Gargano ducked a Spinning Heel Kick and threw Priest out of the ring. Gargano dived outside but was caught.

Damien Priest delivered Razor’s Edge on the apron. Back in the ring, Priest made the cover but Gargano kicked out. Gargano targeted the left knee of Priest, taking him down with a chop block. But Priest was quick back to his feet and landed a clothesline. The two men reversed multiple attempts of each other moves. Gargano landed a Standing Sliced Bread, followed by a running elbow for a two-count. Gargano mocked Priest’s archer taunt and rolled up Priest, but only two again. Priest landed South of Heaven for another two-count. Damien climbed the ropes, but Johnny rolled out of the ring. Priest jumped out of the ring, but Gargano moved and pulled two security guards into harm’s way. With the referee distracted by the injured guards, Gargano blatantly kicked Priest in the crotch, but Priest kicked out of a Superkick. Johnny locked in the Gargano Escape, but Priest fought for a rope break.

With Priest standing on the apron, Gargano landed a series of punches. Gargano tried for One Final Beat but it was blocked. Priest landed the Reckoning for the victory.

Winner: Damien Priest retains the NXT North American Championship

What a way to start a show like this. The pace and energy were high throughout and there was plenty of drama. I think this matched suffered in the same way a lot of TakeOver matches suffer. Wrestlers seem to kick out of too many big moves, which makes them look superhuman, but only on weekends when that would usually end a match on NXT.

But poor Johnny Gargano. He and Candice LeRae promised they’d be the first husband-and-wife double champions in NXT and they’ve already stumbled at the first hurdle.

Velveteen Dream vs Kushida

Dream came out first, dressed like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, but Kushida jumped him during his entrance. This caught Dream off guard and annoyed him. Dream grabbed a steel chair from ringside, but the referee confiscated before it could be used, and ordered the match to start. In the early portion of the match, Kushida seemed to always be a step ahead of Velveteen, riding the wave of advantage that he obtained via the entrance run-in.

The tide began to turn in Dream’s favour as they brawled at ringside. Back in the ring, Dream landed a Bronco Buster to a chorus of boos. Kushida fought back with a series of forearms but was caught in a Sleeper Hold. Kushida managed to fight out of the hold and the two men exchanged punches. Kushida then landed a hip toss followed by a dropkick. Kushida stamped between Dream’s shoulder blades while stretching Velveteen’s arms, he then did the same to Dream’s chest – a little dirty Daniel Bryan style. Kushida repeatedly drove Dream’s shoulder into the ring post, he then kicked the ring steps while Velveteen’s hand was trapped.

Dream tried the Purple Rainmaker but was caught into an armbar. Dream fought out, using a thumb to the eye, that the referee didn’t see. Dream rolled up Kushida, but Kushida reversed to another armbar. Dream fought out again and landed the Dream Valley Driver. This time, Dream did hit the Purple Rainmaker, but it seemed to cause severe pain to his already injured arm. This cost Velveteen some time before he made the cover, and that allowed Kushida to kick out. Dream flattened Kushida with a thunderous clothesline and climbed the ropes a third time, but Kushida ran up to the top turnbuckle like Zola Budd, and brought Dream back into the mat and applied a Hoverboard Lock in the process. Dream tried to counter into another Dream Valley Driver, but Kushida maintained the Hoverboard Lock and the Dream tapped out.

Winner: Kushida

Kushida proceeded to beat down Dream following the match until a total of three referees restrained him.

I found it difficult to get into that match as both guys were very heelish. There was nobody to cheer and that seemed very jarring, considering what we’ve come to expect from professional wrestling. There’s no doubt both these individuals are incredibly talented, I’m just not sure this was the best use for either of them.

It was announced that the October 28th episode of NXT will be a special Halloween Havoc edition, one of WCW’s flagship events, hosted by Shotzi Blackheart. Fans have been calling out for the return or Halloween Havoc for some time, so this is a nice touch.

NXT Cruiserweight Championship – Santos Escobar (C) vs Isaiah “Swerve” Scott

Vic Joseph claimed that this was the first time the Cruiserweight Championship has been defended on a TakeOver, which seems surprising. The two men locked up, exchanging traditional chain wrestling and Lucha Libre holds. The way these two worked together was smooth like butter. The two men fought to the outside, where Swerve found an advantage, landing two corkscrew moonsaults outside the ring. Scott then proceeded to target the left elbow of Escobar by trying to bend it backwards around the ring post.

Back in the ring, Isaiah continued to target the left arm, trying for an armbar, but Santos escaped. The tide of matched changed into Escobar’s favour. He landed a Frankensteiner followed by an elbow drop, but only scored a two-count.

Scott landed a second rope European Uppercut. Escobar left the ring. Scott brought him back in and landed a Rolling Thunder Flatliner for another two-count. Swerve landed a big DDT, but again only got a two-count and began to look very frustrated. Joaquin Wilde and Raul Mendoza, Escobar’s cronies, then ran down to ringside to distract Scott. Escobar landed a shoulder breaker, but only got two. Swerve and Escobar fought to the apron, where Swerve took Escobar down with a hurricanrana, but the Champ was caught by his backup and saved from harm. Ashante Adonis then came out, to even up the odds and fought El Legado Del Fantasma back to to the backstage area.

Escobar landed a Phantom Driver to a distracted Scott, but Scott became the first person to kick out of that move. This astounded Santos, who followed up with Three Amigos and climbed the ropes. Isaiah swerved a Frog Splash, then he landed a House Call and 450, but somehow Escobar kicked out! The two men tumbled out to the apron, Scott fell backwards and hit his head on the ring post. Santos tugged Isaiah back into the middle of the ring and landed a Double Underhook Facebuster for the victory.

Winner: Santos Escobar

A big back-and-forth match. Again there were a number of near-falls that almost stretch the drama a little too much. Isaiah came believably and frustratingly close to the victory and a big title win. Escobar is the textbook heel, with backup to do his bidding. This match served a good purpose of building his heat so it should mean a lot when he is finally beaten.

NXT Women’s Championship – Io Shirai (C) vs Candice LeRae

This match kicked off with some back and forth chain wrestling. Candice retreated to the outside anytime that Io began to find an advantage. Shirai followed an landed a moonsault onto Candice on the outside. Back in the ring, Shirai landed double knees in the corner for a two-count. LeRae fought back with a backstabber for a two-count. A lariat only got Candice two again. LeRae proceeded to try and break down the Champion, taking her time and trying not to exert herself too much. But the hardy Shirai kicked out of every move and continued to frustrate the Poison Pixie.

Shirai managed to turn the match around when she avoided a Senton and followed up with a double dropkick to LeRae. Shirai hit a 619 followed by a Springboard Missile Dropkick for a close fall. Shirai transitioned a double underhook into a backbreaker. Candice fought back with a powerbomb, but Shirai fought back with double knees in the corner.

LeRae regained momentum and landed a Lionsault for a close two-count. Shirai applied a crossface, but LeRae transitioned into a Gargano Escape (shades of her husband), but Shirai got a rope break. Candice refused to break the hold and accidentally hit the referee. Shirai also unintentionally hit the referee and he toppled out of the ring, Candice hit the Wicked Stepsister but there was nobody to count the pin. Johnny Gargano came out wearing a referee shirt, but Shirai kicked out at two. Johnny grabbed the Women’s Championship and brought it into the ring. At this point the referee came back into the ring, Gargano had him distracted, so LeRae hit Shirai in the face with the Championship. But Shirai kicked out. She followed up with a Spanish Fly and an Over the Moonsault for the victory.

Winner: Io Shirai retains the NXT Women’s Championship

I don’t think anybody should be kicked out of a Championship belt to the face. That stretches things into the realm of disbelievability too far in my opinion. That being said, a strong match. Candice and Johnny continue to be very entertaining when onscreen together. Fans who watch all of WWE’s programming might yawn at the spot with Gargano wearing a referee’s shirt, as it was very similar to a Bayley and Sasha Banks moment recently, but I really enjoyed it. Johnny and Candice will be disappointed that they both failed in their quest for gold tonight, so where do they go from here?

Following the match, Toni Storm appeared on the big screen. She congratulated Io but warned her that it will soon be Toni Time, as she is coming back to NXT.

With barely a second to breathe, we then got a shot outside the Performance Center, like it was through night-vision goggles, just like the green vignettes that have been airing lately. A mysterious figure got off a motorcycle and went inside. The person appeared at the top of the ramp. They took off their motorcycle helmet and revealed themselves to be Ember Moon. She had a bit of a new look that appeared to be in a Mad-Max style. Competition is quickly hotting up in the NXT Women’s division.

NXT Championship – Finn Balor (C) vs Kyle O’Reilly

The two appeared to size each other up before embarking on a chain wrestling journey together. Balor applied a headlock and managed to keep a hold of it despite a belly-to-back suplex from O’Reilly. When Kyle finally fought out, the chain wrestling continued in the form of arm locks. O’Reilly continued to grind down Balor with a series of elbows and knees to the back. Balor eventually escaped the wrath of O’Reilly and was then favouring his left arm.

The Prince of NXT then decided to target the left arm of O’Reilly. Balor applied a Hammerlock and proceeded to punish his challenger. Balor lit up Kyle’s chest with a series of chops. But O’Reilly fought his way back into the match and landed two underhook suplexes followed by a DDT. KOR continued with a flurry of striking attacks. Balor retaliated with a kick to the stomach which seemed to wind O’Reilly.

Kyle O’Reilly was moving a lot slower at this point, and this allowed Balor to take his time and methodically beat down the Undisputed Era member. Balor applied an abdominal stretch, but O’Reilly quickly reversed with a hip toss. O’Reilly then landed a Regal Plex for a two-count. Finn responded with an elbow to the midsection for a two-count. Balor followed up with a sling blade, but O’Reilly instinctively hit a dropkick. Balor went back to the abdominal stretch, but O’Reilly fought out with elbows to the face. O’Reilly tried for a submission, but Balor reversed into a Sharpshooter. O’Reilly stretched for a rope break and appeared to be exhausted. Balor tauntingly stomped his opponent, until his foot was caught and Kyle floored Finn with a lariat.

Both men were down and slow to get up again. O’Reilly was the first back to his feet and applied a guillotine, but appeared to be out of breath and released the hold. O’Reilly quickly hit a brainbuster, but only got a two-count, so he tried to transition into an armbar. Balor fought out of the hold, stamping on Kyle’s jaw in the process. Balor targeted O’Reilly’s back and then hit 1916 for another two-count. Balor climbed the turnbuckle but he was too slow. O’Reilly met him there and landed a Dragonscrew with Balor still crotched on the top rope. O’Reilly applied a Heel Hook. Finn tried to kick his way out of it, but O’Reilly hooked both of Finn’s feet. Balor eventually got to the bottom rope to break the hold.

O’Reilly was the first back to his feet. Balor played possum with his left leg, catching Kyle off guard and landing a double stomp to the stomach. Balor was slow climbing the ropes but he still hit a Coup de Grace for the victory.

Winner: Finn Balor retains the NXT Championship

That was a high, very high-quality match. There was so much to enjoy here. Both men were so equally matched and there were times where it really could have been anybody’s match. It’s great to finally see what Kyle O’Reilly can do as a singles wrestler. Plus, he’s so likeable as a babyface that it’s difficult to imagine how the Undisputed Era can continue or work as a face faction.

Following the match, Finn helped Kyle to his feet. O’Reilly raised the Champion’s arm, but then Ridge Holland appeared at ringside with an incapacitated Adam Cole on his shoulder. He dumped the UE leader on the floor and left. Roderick Strong and Bobby Fish then ran down to ringside. They seemed fine and claimed to have little knowledge of how Cole was attacked as the show went off-air.

Overall: This was a strong and enjoyable show from start to finish. Since their inception, NXT TakeOver shows have always set a really high bar and they’ve done it so often that it’s impossible to maintain such a standard. As a result, this show did feel a little below the standard we’ve come to expect from NXT. With no title changes, there’s really not that many headlines that can come from this show.

The biggest talking point may well be the return of Ember Moon to the Black-and-Gold brand. Following her great initial run in NXT, Moon never really got the chance to show the extent of her ability on the main roster. Finn Balor’s return to NXT may have paved the way for other former names to return, after being squandered on the main roster. If that’s the case, I’ve no doubt that Ember Moon can even brighter this time around.

In a way, this show may well be seen as a stopgap to further certain stories. With the announcement of Halloween Havoc, plus the future of the Undisputed Era now being in question, there could be a lot happening in the coming weeks. Plus, who knows if NXT will have a role in the forthcoming Draft, but nothing mentioned on the show suggests they will be.

All pics and videos courtesy of WWE

By Danny Cause

Wrestling fan and nerd of almost twenty years. Outside of wrestling, Danny enjoys writing and reading, to excess, TV shows, movies as well Manchester United and the Minnesota Vikings (for his sins).

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