By John Moore, Prowrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
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NXT Takeover: New Orleans Hits
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa: This match went nearly 40 minutes and utitlized that time very well while also being as safe a hardcore match as possible. The atmosphere was key here and there was a benefit to not having this match at Full Sail University. The Full Sail crowd tends to try to get themselves over while also cheering heels at times. Ciampa got real heat. There was the type of heat that reminded me of ECW with the crowd chanting “asshole”, “you suck”, and “f— you, Ciampa”. I mentioned already, Ciampa only really cut one promo and that was the promo around a year ago where he talked about being the baddest son of a bitch in NXT when he gets back. The heat was a byproduct of Ciampa’s promo and a year of hard work by Gargano being the best babyface in the world during that time frame. The match delivered as a good payoff with many set pieces throughout which the fans enhanced with their cheers for Gargano and jeers for Ciampa. The ending is interesting too because we really don’t know what’s in store for Ciampa after this loss? It’s also shocking that Gargano’s sticking around for a while. This was a strong match. Will we get another one at Barclays Center?
Andrade Almas vs. Aleister Black for the NXT Championship: Variety is the spice of life and NXT Takeovers continue to deliver in terms of variety. Each match stands out as a standalone main event while also not overshadowing the other matches. This was your traditional PPV main event. Almas is a star and amazing pro wrestling. The only he was missing after all this time was main event charisma and Zelina Vega gave him that gift. He was almost the babyface here. I’ve used the video game boss character to describe Lars Sullivan before but you could say the same thing for Aleister Black as the indomitable monster, so it would have been quite the quest for Almas to overcome this challenge. I would have liked to see them elevate Almas over the top by having him be the man who defeated the impossible. I looked this up recently, but it would have been a good story to tell for Almas’s turnaround since it was at last year’s WrestleMania weekend show where “enhancement wrestler” Almas had to job to the debuting Black. That said, whoever beats Black one-on-one would be huge. Will that be Patrick “Velveteen Dream” Clark given their feud of the year history?
Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship: I don’t know, the main event was really good and told full-on story, but this may be my favorite match due to efficiency. Ultimately I’m going with the main event being overall better due to everything that match contained but this one was close. Ember Moon is hit or miss on the weekly NXT show, but she never fails to impress during the Takeover shows. I explained earlier this week that I’m a sucker for strong heels, and Baszler wasn’t only strong but badass in her strength. Back to Moon, she’s come off as very weak during the feud, but in this match she came off as a resourceful champion. The story was told well of Moon turning the tables on the bully and becoming the dominating bully herself. The best moment from Moon was Moon using Baszler’s elbow break spot against her. That spot was enhanced due to Baszler’s amazing facial expressions. Another good aspect of the injured elbow was how it became the focal point of the match from that point forward which allowed both women to tell a great story of Baszler trying to overcome the injury while Moon was trying to exploit it. Baszler had to sell the shoulder injury and she did a great job. My favorite part of her performance was how she shoulder tackled the ring post to heal herself. That was bad ass. The ending sequence of the match was powerful too as the story being told could have gone both ways with a nice reversal of the Eclipse leading to a nice duel on the ground of Baszler trying to choke the life out of Moon while Moon was trying to find her life by reaching out for the injured arm of Baszler which she struggled to keep away.
North American Championship Ladder Match: Where do I begin? So much happened in this ladder match and I want to give each wrestler involved a hit, but I’ll try to keep my summary contained in this one paragraph. The hype was off the chart given some of the debuts and athleticism involved. Not only did this match deliver on the hype but it exceeded due to everyone standing out in a positive way, which is hard to do when so many people are involved. Matches with this many people have the potential to be a cluster mess but this didn’t fall into that folly. The unsung hero of this match was Lars Sullivan, who is a pure WWE developmental guy, and it usually takes longer for those guys to become standouts. In comparison to all of the guys in the ring who have a ton of experience, Sullivan stood out over them with his cardio and impact. Velveteen Dream was exactly what I mentioned in my confidence pick article when I wrote that he’s “the people’s champion”. Dream has grown so much from the bad Prince character to one of the most well developed characters in all of WWE, and his career has only just begun. They even gave him the “Jeff Hardy spot” in diving off a high ladder. Killian Dain utilizes his tools as good as anyone in the industry. He flies around like most of the guys on 205 Live and because he’s a meaty dude, he can carry three people at once while flying in the air. I’ll get to Adam Cole in a bit. The funny thing about this match is that if anyone “faded in the background”, it was the two debuts in Ricochet and EC3, and even they had good performances. EC3 was like a buff Miz where he provided the personality, confidence, and “traditional” pro wrestling. Ricochet did what Ricochet does best, which is being innovative and selling well. Did I cover everyone? I did say I’ll get to Cole in a bit. As for the match, a perfect opening, a crowd starter, and more than just a homogeneous spot fest.
Undisputed Era vs. The Authors of Pain vs. Dunne and Strong for the NXT Tag Titles: I’ve mentioned in my review that this was the “come down” match after two main event worthy matches. That’s shocking given how this was a great match with a main-event-type closing angle in the Roderick Strong heel turn. The heel turn was done really well and I thought it was a good surprise given how they planted the seeds for it to happen predating War Games. Strong’s promo in the pre show, with him even saying “tonight we are going to get things Dunne”, may have come off as extra cheesy, but it totally plays into the condescending nature of the Undisputed Era. I feel safe to say that the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic was a dud this year. I attended the semifinals of the last Tag Team Classic in San Jose so even being two years ago I have a good memory of it and can tell you that the 2016 Tag Team Classic was much better overall. This was a decent way to make the best out of a bad situation. Two bad situations, with Bobby Fish also being put out of action. Yes, I made no sense that the Undisputed Era won a trophy in a tournament that they didn’t compete in, but they are the best tag team in NXT in the end (even with Strong subbing in for Fish) so giving them a trophy only gives them more gold to brag about. The fact that it makes no sense also adds to heel heat. The Authors of Pain lose nothing because they dominated and were kept well away from the finish. Kyle O’Reilly had a standout performance. He’s really doing great mannerisms as a heel starting with him going for his belt air guitar only to get a pouty face when he figured out that he would probably have to handle a bulk of the work due to Cole being hurt. O’Reilly delivered in the ring as a one man wrestling machine.
Adam Cole: Cole has really taken himself from zero to heel hero in the past few months to today. Starting with his performance in the ladder match, he was stellar. He didn’t do all of the flips, but he did do plenty of superkicks. Got a few suplexes and a Last Shot in there as well. Where he didn’t contribute in bulk of moves, he delivered in terms of personality as his personality really shined through the entire ladder match. Every interaction he had in the match was a story all to its own. He may be a smaller guy, but he compensates for his size with having his confidence resonate and radiate. He’s always standing up to monsters and getting swatted down. He’s always willing to say “Adam Cole Bay Bay” no matter what the situation. I’ve already given him enough credit for being a worm, that’s a given, but he’s also an opportunistic worm whose face is always showing that he is trying to win as soon and as easy as possible. Not to mention the dude had to work two matches. They found a smart way to have him work two matches by having him essentially spend the entire tag team match asleep while Kyle O’Reilly was a one man show. They even kept cutting the camera to the knocked out Cole to show you that he’s just sleeping due to the powerbomb through the Spanish announce table. That only enhanced the end where he wakes up and his expression sells “hey, we won, guys!” after just waking up. In dedicating a lot of TV/PPV time to build up Cole while also attaching him to Roderick Strong, they escalated Undisputed Era to being one of the top factions in all of WWE.
Pete Dunne: This is from the pre-show segment, which also included a nice cheesy Roderick Strong promo. Dunne got to talk and talk in the mean way that only Dunne can talk. The best part of Dunne is as excited and cheesy as Strong was, Dunne was stone faced the entire time. Dunne is the master of the male eternal RBF (resting bitch face). Does he have another facial expression? It’s great!
NXT Takeover: New Orleans Misses
None: Thank God that the NXT television show exists. That’s where I can actually write down misses. Every match on this show delivered at a main event level and no match overshadowed the other. I told you my favorite two in the Gargano vs. Ciampa and Baszler vs. Moon, but I can see someone else loving Almas vs. Black and the Tag Team Triple Threat all the same. People are going to say this is a better show than Mania. Mania should be good. It’s not a guarantee because it’s on the main roster. Takeovers are just extremely reliable and there hasn’t been a bad one yet in, has it been three or four years? Where you can make the argument in this being better than Mania is in it’s time and efficiency. This was three hours and only five matches. They take more time to build to these, have strong characters, great stories, better women’s wrestling, all the star power in the world, badass rock music, and more. What more can you ask for? Ronda who? NXT has the UFC pioneer of women’s MMA. Daniel Who? (I’m kidding on this one, but Gargano’s great, right?). You got Ciampa out there getting real heat. I’ll stop right now or else this will become NXT Hits & Hits. What are misses when it comes to Takeovers?