By John Moore, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
NXT Takeover: Philadelphia Hits
Andrade Almas vs. Johnny Gargano for the NXT Championship: A stellar encounter that told the great story of the underdog challenger trying his hardest to overcome the onslaught of two ruthless forces in Almas and the pesty Zelina Vega. A lot of main events on Takeover shows get put in precarious situations due to the high workrate combined with strong builds toward matchups evenly and this match had to follow Adam Cole vs. Aleister Black without a buffer. This show proves you don’t need a buffer when the match is that damn good. This was not a spotfest at all. Almas was great on offense and Gargano was great in selling. I’m surprised Gargano went that far in selling a possible concussion every time he ate a meteora to the turnbuckle. Almas and the commentators also did a good job establishing his hammerlock DDT as a devastating finisher. Down the stretch was great as well with strong nearfalls on both men. Johnny Gargano (along with the Revival) is the king of the nearfall, which helped that ending out. NXT’s booking makes their heels look strong in winning and there are other ways you can hate them other than being chicken heels.
Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole in an Extreme Rules match: One thing NXT does well is not overshadowing other matches with “different” matches on the card. This match qualified as the match that satiated the hardcore match fan appetite without going overboard. Another match with a “great story” just like the main event, but the great story was different enough. Cole’s only flaw right now is that he is very weak as a pure wrestler but he does have a unique confidence to him without looking naive, though he is dangerously close to looking naive. Both men could have gone over here but it’s not a bad decision to set up Black as an indomitable pillar for both faces and heels to attempt to topple. Gargano picked up the pinfall victory over Black and it was framed as huge, but Mauro Ranallo really tried to drive home that Black has not lost in a singles match and there’s some cache in trying to set that as the next goal. It also gives Black something to defend that’s not a title.
Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship: I sound like a broken record, but this was another great story. It was the most efficient usage of time in all of the matches and it did a great job building up both women in their respective moral affiliations. Shayna has been framed as the “bully” on NXT and established that day one in WWE. She’s badass yet she destroys the heroes without remorse to avoid coming off as too cool. Moon picked up where Dakota Kai left off in letting Shayna use her body as a hard pretzel. In selling the agony of broken/twisted joints, Moon comes off more as a sympathetic figure. Even though a lot of people didn’t watch due to it being a recap episode, I’d definitely direct you to hour two of the “Best of…” episode where they gave Ember Moon a 15 or so minute documentary similar to what they did with Roderick Strong and Finn Balor. It was effective in introducing the viewers at to “who is Ember Moon” to use their wording.
Velveteen Dream vs. Kassius Ohno: I was teetering over giving this a miss, but right now Dream can do no wrong in his development and Ohno doesn’t have bad matches. The flaw with this match was the build, but it looked like that was a consequence of WWE not having enough time to build up all the matches they wanted to. They wanted to build up to this match because they had Dream drop the line about how Kassius Ohno “doesn’t look like a star” in his mini-program with Johnny Gargano. Sadly, it seemed like they just ran out of time and this match was announced days before the show during the Triple H conference call with the pro wrestling media. Dream and Ohno did scramble to put on as good a story as they can with Dream proclaiming that he would beat Ohno in 30 seconds, yet taking over 10 minutes. Ohno is doing a great job as the “Gatekeeper” of NXT, which Mauro Ranallo straight up labeled him during the match.
Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly vs. The Authors of Pain for the NXT Tag Titles: Good tag team action with the heel team going over strong without hurting the legend of the strength of the Authors. Ranallo talked about how O’Reilly and Fish matched up well with their opponents in terms of their martial arts backgrounds. He also clarified that the Undisputed Era made up the strength disparity with their intelligence. The Authors were put in a position we never see them in as sympathetic babyfaces. Akam (or I at least hope it’s Akam because it’s easy to confuse the Authors) did a stellar job in selling the leg injury, and Fish and O’Reilly deserve props for continuing to make the injured leg the focal point of the match.
Samoa Joe: A Hit from the pre-show, but one that deserves it. Joe did a great job as the soft-spoken panelist and made the pre-show worth watching for those who haven’t been watching the television show on a weekly basis. My only disappointment is that we didn’t get Joe on the main show to replace Nigel McGuinness (and hell, why not replace Percy Watson?), who was out ill. Joe showed great familiarity with the talent given his ROH and TNA background and he is surprisingly a great talker when he’s not yelling.
NXT Takeover: Philadelphia Misses
Theme Music: I’m fishing for misses and even this one is a minor one. This is more of a comparative miss compared to the last few Takeovers. Triple H mentioned on a conference call that they search for music based on enhancing the story and feeling of the show. The songs on this show were good, but not as good as the past few Takeovers. I think a part of this issue was using only one band in Asking Alexandria. I thought their “When the Lights Come On” was a great choice for the show, but I can’t for the life of me tell you the second theme. It would have been great if they picked a different band from a different genre with relation to the show. That’s just nitpicking and more of personal subjectivity so this is not even a strong miss.
Percy Watson: To Watson’s credit, he’s not a bad commentator. Alex Riley and Booker T can be annoying and Percy is not that cringeworthy. He’s just forgettable and you don’t really hear much from him. He states the obvious and agrees with Mauro Ranallo. I would like to see Watson show a bit more character as I was a huge proponent of his “Showtime” character and he should exhibit a bit more of that flamboyance on commentary rather than nod and agree as he’s doing now.
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