NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day is finally here and what a perfect day for it. Five superb matches on paper unfolded in the ring, with three titles on the line as well as finals of both the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. There are some matches I’ve wanted to see for a long time now, and at last, Pete Dunne and Finn Balor meet in the ring. I’ve always been a massive fan of Dunne, but Balor is called The Prince for a reason. He’s dominated the men’s division for a while, but with such a big target on his back, can he keep up his winning streak? Io Shirai has also been an incredible champion, but with two worthy opponents in Mercedes Martinez and Toni Storm, can she hang on to her gold?

Johnny TakeOver faces Kushida, and after weeks of running and hiding from the Timesplitter, it seems as though Gargano is ready for war. I’m not sure if The Way are going to let this match be a clean fight, but stranger things have happened. Finally, four teams vie to become the winners in their respective matches tonight, as MSK battle Grizzled Young Veterans, and Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez go up against Shotzi Blackheart and Ember Moon to win the Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Before we get into what went down at the first TakeOver of 2021, there was a new addition to the NXT roster revealed during the pre-show, and what an addition it is.

During the pre-show, former IMPACT World and Tag Team Champion Eli Drake interrupted the hosts and cut one of the cutthroat promos he’s known for. Now appearing under the name of LA Knight, it looks as though we’re going to be seeing Drake head straight to the main NXT roster. Drake appeared briefly in NXT developmental back in 2013 as Slate Randall and has most recently been a part of the NWA Tag Team Champions alongside James Storm. The guy is a super talented performer, and I can’t wait to see how the 38-year old fits into the next crop of storylines. Along with Taya Valkyrie reportedly joining the next class of signings soon, 2021 is looking mightily bright for NXT.

Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals Match: Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez vs Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon

Gonzalez held her own against Blackheart and Moon, tossing them around like rag dolls in the early stages. She charged Blackheart into the turnbuckle, then tagged in Kai who tried to knock the wind out of her with a big kick but missed. Blackheart landed a cannonball into Kai who rested on the middle rope, followed by a slingshot splash by Moon. Shotzi held Kai in a single leg crab, then tagged in Moon, both hitting a spinning wrench on her legs which led to Moon locking in a leg lock. Kai couldn’t get the tag thanks to Moon controlling the action. Kai finally knocked Moon into the corner, allowing Gonzalez to come in and beat the hell out of Moon.

Gonzalez landed a couple of fallaway slams on Moon and gave one to Blackheart for good measure. Kai tagged in and connected with a flying clothesline on Moon as Gonzalez powerbombed Blackheart into the plexiglass at ringside. Moon was decimated with a dropkick by Kai as her body was held by Gonzalez. Gonzalez went for a clothesline on Moon, but hit Kai instead, which allowed Moon to drop Kai and deliver an Eclipse on Gonzalez but only managed a two-count. As Gonzalez went for her powerbomb chokeslam on Moon, Blackheart hit a missile dropkick. Shotzi then hit a bulldog on Kai, followed by a facebuster. Blackheart dived through the legs of Moon to hit Kai with a suicide dive. Back in the ring, Blackheart and Moon worked on Gonzalez but achieved nothing more than a failed pin attempt.

Moon and Shotzi hit a Doomsday Device crossbody outside the ring on Kai. Gonzalez and Moon fought inside the ring which led to a modified STF by Moon. Kai hit a scorpion kick and Kairopractor on Blackheart, followed by an assisted GTK. Moon was thrown over the top rope by Gonzalez. Blackheart fought back, but Gonzalez body pressed Kai on top of her. Gonzalez hit the powerbomb chokeslam and grabbed the victory as they both pinned Shotzi in the middle of the ring. A great start to the night, and a dominant performance from Gonzalez and Kai.

Winners: Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez Rating: 8/10

North American Championship Match: Kushida vs Johnny Gargano (C)

Before the match, The Way were shown huddling backstage. They headed to the ring, but Austin Theory was taken away by Dexter Lumis in silence. On the ramp, Gargano realised he was missing, so LeRae and Hartwell went looking for him. The match started, and Kushida went for the Hoverboard Lock straight away. Kushida and Gargano reversed submission moves on each other, with both showing some impressive transitions. After some back and forth, Gargano booted Kushida from the apron as he stood outside. Kushida then hit a Juji Gatame outside the ring, then returned to the squared circle to dominate by focusing on Gargano’s injured left arm.

Gargano hit a neckbreaker through the ropes as Kushida stood on the apron, managing to buy him some time and give his arm a few moments to recover. He slammed Kushida’s head into the apron and climbed back into the ring. Gargano face-planted Kushida, then booted him in the face. Kushida locked in an Octopus, as both men reversed various pinfall attempts which led to a double clothesline. They struggled to get to their feet, but it was Kushida who hit an atomic drop and a big punch, followed by various stomps to the back of Gargano’s neck. Kushida hit a German suplex and a boot to the back of Gargano’s head, but only managed a two-count.

Kushida caught Gargano who went for a slingshot spear, resulting in a picture-perfect Fisherman’s suplex. Gargano got knocked off his feet on the apron, then Kushida rammed his arm into the ring post. Gargano hit a twisting suplex off the turnbuckle, followed by a tornado DDT, but couldn’t get the win. Both men reversed moves on the mat, transitioning from one failed move to the next. They were giving it everything they could, but nobody could get that elusive victory. They traded blows on their knees, then rose to their feet and did the same. Gargano locked in the Gargano Escape after a failed handstand elbow. Kushida reversed into a kimura.

Gargano threw Kushida face-first into the second turnbuckle after both men tried to gain the upper hand. Kushida hit a chicken-wing suplex into the corner. Kushida landed a Spanish fly off the top rope and went into a Juji Gatame, almost making Gargano tap out. Gargano rolled out the ring. Kushida ran at Gargano and booted his injured arm. Back in the ring, Kushida locked in the Hoverboard, but Kushida escaped. He hit One Final Beat on the ramp, then rolled Kushida back in the ring. Gargano hit another One Final Beat and picked up the win. A masterclass in professional wrestling. Kushida was excellent, but Gargano was the deserved winner.

Winner: Johnny Gargano (Still North American Champion) Rating: 9/10

Men’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals Match: MSK (Nash Carter & Wes Lee) vs Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake)

Gibson and Carter started things off. Gibson controlled with some mat submissions and tagged in Drake who did the same. Carter hit a tornado crossbody off the second rope, then hit a bronco buster after Lee held Drake in place. Lee booted Drake, then hit a hurricanrana on Gibson. MSK followed it up with some quick teamwork. Lee then hit a spinning flip over the rope onto GYV, as Carter flew outside the ring off his partner’s back to hit Drake. Gibson then knocked Carter to the ground. Back in the ring, Gibson hit a neckbreaker on Carter. GYV continued to control Carter, with Drake keeping him on the mat.

GYV hit a double clothesline, but Gibson only managed a two-count. Drake hit a clothesline of his own, which knocked the wind out of Carter. Carter hit a suplex as Lee and Gibson fought outside. With Lee distracted, GYV almost got the win after hitting Carter with a move from their playbook. Lee finally tagged in and cleaned house. He clotheslined Drake outside and hit a basement dropkick onto the back of Gibson’s head. He then flew outside and hit GYV with a phenomenal Tope Con Hilo. Back in the ring, he hit a waterfall kick on Gibson as MSK gained momentum.

Carter went nuts and hit a cutter off the top rope on Gibson, almost getting the win. Lee went for the waterfall kick again, but Gibson booted him. He hit the helter-skelter on Lee as Drake flew through the air with a 450, but still only got a two-count. GYV went for a Doomsday Device but Lee rolled up Gibson, however, Drake broke up the pin. Carter saved Lee from a Ticket to Mayhem and sent Carter into Gibson with a Hot Fire Flame. Lee hit a Poisonrana on Drake. Carter landed a Swanton on Drake as Lee hit a corkscrew Swanton, but they couldn’t get the win. GYV took out Lee with a Doomsday Device/Tope Con hilo Hybrid as Drake dived through the middle rope with Lee on Gibson’s shoulders. GYV tried to take out Carter in the ring, but he somehow kicked out.

GYV went for Ticket to Mayhem, but Lee broke it up and they hit duel superkicks. MSK then hit their finisher to pick up the victory. Perhaps one of the greatest tag team matches I’ve seen in recent years. I’m so happy for MSK, but fair play to Grizzled Young Veterans who were excellent. We’ve still got the two big ones to come, and the show has already been an absolute joy to watch so far.

Winners: MSK Rating: 9.5/10

Women’s Championship Triple Threat Match: Mercedes Martinez vs Toni Storm vs Io Shirai (C)

Martinez attacked Shirai before the bell rang. Storm and Martinez went at it until Shirai came back and hit a Meteora on Martinez. Shirai was on fire, knocking Martinez out the ring and double-stomping on Storm. Martinez hit Storm with a neckbreaker outside the ring off the second rope. She then hit a double-armed chokeslam on her inside the ring. Martinez hit two German suplexes on Storm as Shirai connected with a missile dropkick on Martinez. The three women were fairly balanced, but Martinez’s spinebuster on Storm led to an impressive STF. Shirai broke it up and locked in a crossface on Storm. Martinez then locked in a dragon lock as all three were locked up.

Shirai hit another missile dropkick on Martinez. Storm ate a release German suplex off the top rope by Martinez, allowing Shirai to take advantage with a double stomp on Martinez who was trapped in the tree of woe. Martinez threw Shirai into the plexiglass as Storm hit Martinez with an ace crusher. Martinez reversed Storm Zero into a DDT outside the ring. Shirai climbed the scaffolding and hit a crossbody, with Storm taking the brunt of it. Martinez launched Shirai into the steel steps and drove Storm’s head into the apron. Back in the ring, Martinez held onto Storm’s arms as she kneed her in the face multiple times, following it up with a fisherman buster. Storm connected with Storm Zero, but only got a two-count.

Storm hit a flying headbutt on Martinez, but Shirai broke it up with a moonsault, then pinned Martinez. In all honesty, this wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped. I think because of the previous matches being so great, this one didn’t quite live up to the high bar already set. Still, I’m glad Shirai didn’t lose the belt here.

Winner: Io Shirai (Still Women’s Champion) Rating: 7.5/10

NXT Championship Match: Pete Dunne vs Finn Balor (C)

Balor and Dunne got off to an intense start, with each man reversing each other’s submissions. Dunne tried to monkey flip Balor off his arm, but the Prince wouldn’t let go. Balor wore Dunne down with a headlock but eventually broke free, applying a headlock with his legs to try and put the champion to sleep. They both got to their feet, then went back in to lock up with each other. Dunne bent Balor’s fingers back, then reversed into a modified triangle lock. Balor and Dunne continued to reverse each other’s submissions until Dunne almost ripped Balor’s right arm from its socket.

Dunne manipulated Balor’s fingers and continued to work on Balor’s body, stomping on his ribs. Balor stomped on Dunne’s foot, then took him down to the mat once again. Balor got to his feet and locked in a single crab, transitioning into a heel hook. Dunne reversed to a front face lock, then dropped the champion with an X-plex. They traded chops until Balor stomped Dunne’s knee as it was tied up in the ropes. Dunne almost got the pin. He hit an enzuigiri, but Balor hit a lariat and went for a pin. Balor smashed the back of Dunne’s head and locked in an STF until Dunne ripped apart his fingers. After more reversals, Dunne landed a sit-down powerbomb, but Balor kicked out.

Dunne stomped on Balor’s left shoulder, then snapped a German suplex, followed by a double stomp on Balor’s fingers. Balor got back into it with a boot to Dunne’s injured knee. He hit a backstabber and a shotgun dropkick. He went for the Coup de Grace, but Dunne reversed and almost choked him out. Dunne continued with the triangle lock, but Balor got a foot on the rope. Balor was almost unconscious. Dunne stomped on his head. He went for The Bitter End. Balor reversed into a DDT, but couldn’t execute it. Balor had his fingers ripped apart by Dunne. Dunne wouldn’t let go of Balor’s hand. He connected with The Bitter End, but Balor kicked out.

Dunne stomped on Balor’s fingers twice, but Dunne hit a DDT. Balor was enraged. He ripped out Dunne’s mouthguard and hit a basement dropkick into his face, followed by the Coup de Grace. He connected with the 1916 and got the victory. A well fought match by both guys, but Balor deserved the victory. A bona fide badass who doesn’t have many left in NXT who have the potential to end his reign. After the match, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch ran out and attacked Balor as he stood on the ramp. They threw him in the ring and beat the hell out of him. They hit the ref and continued to assault the champion, with Dunne joining in. Undisputed Era ran out to help Balor, but the cowards disappeared. Kyle O’Reilly offered his hand to Balor, and the champion accepted.

As all four stood in the ring, Adam Cole superkicked Balor. O’Reilly got up in Cole’s face, so he superkicked him too. Cole walked off, asking Strong to follow. The show went off air with Cole standing on the ramp, and Strong looking over the lifeless bodies of Balor and O’Reilly. Oh my God. No, no, no. I never thought we’d see this happen, and quite frankly I’m in shock. What the hell does this mean going into NXT on Wednesday?

Winner: Finn Balor (Still NXT Champion) Rating: 9/10

What Else Went Down

– Pete Dunne and Finn Balor were shown entering the arena earlier in the day.

– A video package aired showing the rivalry between Johnny Gargano and Kushida before their match.

– A video aired about the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic and showed the path to the men’s final.

– We got a brilliant video of Cameron Grimes showing off his newfound wealth. I love him so much.

– Before the women’s championship match, we saw a video package highlighting the feud so far.

– A video aired highlighting WrestleMania is only 55 days away.

– LA Knight AKA Eli Drake was shown signing an NXT contract with William Regal earlier in the day. We also got LA Knight cutting his promo from the pre-show.

-A video package hyping the main event aired right before it took place. No need, NXT, I’m already excited.

After The Bell

The matches tonight were excellent. Balor and Dunne had a war tonight, but the right man won. The events that followed the final bell were truly shocking. Undisputed Era has finally broken up, with Cole delivering a chilling superkick to O’Reilly. The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic finals were ace, both the men and women’s matches. I’m overjoyed for MSK and Kai and Gonzalez. Everyone I wanted to win won tonight.

Kushida and Gargano had an excellent battle, and although it would have been cool to see Kushida win, Gargano fought like his old self tonight, proving he’s as good as he’s always been. The women’s match was disappointing. These three women are superb athletes, but it seems as though the match was cut short. I’ve no doubt it could have continued to get better, however, it seemed as though NXT had other plans.

An overall fantastic night, and with the arrival of Eli Drake, sorry, LA Knight, we’re going to get some brilliant on the mic promos and superb in-ring action courtesy of the gifted star. Roll on Wednesday as I don’t want to have to wait to see what happens between the Undisputed Era any longer than I have to.

Stars of the Show: MSK Overall Rating: 9/10

All images and videos courtesy of WWE