By John Moore, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
NXT Takeover: WarGames II Hits
War Games Match: Crazy pro wrestling spot fest stuff in its finest form. This was a fun match to watch live. Even though there was a lot of stuff happening at the same time, if you decided to focus on one section of action you were treated to something fun. Some fun spots included War Raiders throwing each other around at people, Roderick Strong’s backbreaker rally, the creative false finishes, and damn near anything that involved Ricochet in the air. When Ricochet went to the top of the cage, I said to myself that I’ve seen everything this guy could do so it’s probably going to be some crazy moonsault, Red Arrow, 630, or any other cool high flying move. I’ve seen this guy tons of times live so I thought I saw everything he can do. Then he pulls out some sort of imploding 630 stuff. Damn. Pete Dunne was entertaining in his limited time due to getting shoved around by Hanson and Ray Rowe while also getting locked in the cage by Bobby Fish. Since this was an ode to WCW of old, I wanted Robocop to walk out and save Dunne, but no luck. This match had throwbacks to last year too, with Kyle O’Reilly calling back to that odd spot where he hit himself in the head with a steel chair. I can say more, but this match went over 40 minutes of madness. One thing I would have minimized a bit was the use of weapons. I only say this because it made it feel a bit more like TNA’s Lethal Lockdown as opposed to WarGames.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Velveteen Dream for the NXT Championship: It’s fun to finally separate Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano from Takeover matches because now their greatness could be spread out. Dream’s not as much a lock for a “great” match as Ciampa and Gargano, but the guy has been able to hang and rise to the occasion when put in spotlight situations. I’m still waiting for Dream to get back to the level he was in the Aleister Black feud because there he showed nuance and innovation in his promos, ring work, and body language. Drawbacks aside, Dream rose to the occasion again. This match was fun. This match was great. Isn’t that the norm for Takeover matches? This match had fun spots. Ciampa is a great heel that does a great job sneaking in jabs at the fans while working for heat against his opponent. Dream was in a new role here, the plucky babyface, and he played that well. I still wish he retained some of that mean streak that he had when he was a heel, but hopefully we see that in future matches from him. Babyfaces can have mean streaks too. See Roderick Strong’s babyface work. Staples Center went unglued when Dream hit the Purple Rainmaker and it looked like Dream was about to have his People’s Champ moment. I personally like the heel kicking out clean and winning clean. Heels don’t always have to cheat and you can be evil by just being mean.
Aleister Black vs. Johnny Gargano: Any match Black wrestles has the potential to stand out in greatness due to his unique kickboxing style. As a martial arts practitioner myself, I tend to gravitate towards liking brutal and violent striking. Therefore, this was my favorite match of the night. Ciampa and Dream started slow and built up to fun set pieces. This match was off to the races from the get go. Gargano losing makes a lot of sense because Black tends to be protected, so there was no need to break his protection now, plus Gargano losing only builds his character in a dark direction. One random spot I liked was Gargano not freezing in his boots when Black did his meditation pose. Nice touch.
Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno: I’ll give WWE credit here. For months on television, NXT’s TV shows have been straight out telling the viewer that Kassius is not only going to lose to Matt Riddle in the near future, but also Keith Lee once he’s done with Riddle. It’s so meta and odd for them to have Ohno go out there and even list out that he loses to people like Bobby Roode, EC3, Aleister Black, and every other indie darling that sets foot in NXT. They had to do something different, right? Ohno still lost, but like that the quick loss was something different. I’m not sold that this was the plan 100% because it looked like they did have to move around things to get the right time on their show. Either way, this was a good choice for them to make because it sets up for another more competitive match down the road. Riddle would probably win there too, but at least they found a way to make an Ohno feud last more than one match.
Overall Show: This was my first time attending an NXT Takeover show and it was one of the better pro wrestling live experiences I’ve had. WrestleMania at Levi Stadium, the many SummerSlams I’ve attended, and Ricochet’s Lucha Underground farewell taping are some experiences I call my top ones and this Takeover is up there. I also get an added pop with it being in the home of the Lakers. Laker bias aside, it was really cool seeing NXT in an arena setting selling better than any WWE pay-per-view I’ve been to in the past few years. The crowd was about 90% full on the low end through my eye estimation. This show made me happy inside. It also made me addicted to Takeover events. I wasn’t planning on going to Phoenix for the Rumble and Takeover. After this, I’m seriously conflicted.
NXT Takeover: WarGames II Misses
Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane: I did like how this match reinstiled the fear I have going into every Takeover viewing that Takeover might end up not as great as it usually is. This match was okay during the actual wrestling parts. The problem was there was not much wrestling or time for storytelling to go around because they also wanted to try to shoehorn Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke into the picture. I can clearly see that they are trying to accelerate the in-ring growth of Duke and Shafir so that they can call the trio of MMA fighters up to join Ronda on the main roster. NXT is even going as far as to bill them as the “Four Horsewomen” despite there being only three women at the moment (we have seen Ronda at past Takeovers supporting Baszler). Jason Powell and I previewed Takeover this past week and I talked about having a bad taste in my mouth from the Rey Fenix vs. Rey Horus (Dragon Azteca) match from Lucha Underground last week where there was no need to have the three fall stipulation if all they were going to do is rush through things. It also hurts Sane’s credibility a bit because for some reason she kept hyping that Duke and Shafir won’t be around for this match for some reason.
Tommaso Ciampa’s Entrance Theme: Don’t get me wrong. His entrance theme is actually pretty good all things considered. It has a cool faux Marilyn Manson feel to it. I hate the fact that he has entrance music to begin with because it has killed off that “mega heat” reaction that he was getting when he feuded with Gargano. For one, they play the theme loud enough to drown out some of the boos. And just in general, when he had no music the crowd was naturally compelled to provide him with the music known as epically loud boos and curse words. I just really wanted to be in the middle of a Ciampa boo storm and I felt like him having entrance music, and cool entrance music at that, took that away from me at both NXT shows I attended over the weekend.
Usage of the dual rings: This was probably only a problem for people who were sitting at the lower levels and the ground seats, but it was an annoying problem nonetheless. WWE had some matches happen in the ring closest to the ramp and some in the ring closest to the announce table. Thankfully, two of the TV taping matches were squashes and the big three matches all utilized the easy to see ring, so this isn’t as big a problem as it could have been. But it was tough to see through several layers of rope.
Light-up wristbands: A minor Miss since it added little to the experience. WWE wanted to try something out so they handed every single person in the crowd wristbands so they can do various light effects throughout the show. The way the wristbands worked was you would put them on and someone somewhere in a booth was able to control the colors and flickering of the bands individually so they would be able to do stuff like have half the wristbands flash red and the other half flash yellow. The best one I think was during Velveteen Dream where they tried to make the bands flash like camera lights (but they could have also got the same effect by having people do the same thing they do for Bray Wyatt’s firefly entrance). Ultimately this didn’t work as great as they hoped and maybe they should have had people handing them out to fans instead of at the door because they would have been able to make cool effects if they knew which wristbands were where. I joked that it felt like WWE was giving us bomb collars and these are set to explode if we don’t like the WWE product, as I’ve seen this movie plot before. A person next to me joked that it was his mood ring.
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Very jealous that you were at this event, and agree with almost everything you wrote. The only thing I would disagree with is the part about Velveteen Dream and a ‘mean streak’ – I am not sure what else he was supposed to do, he went all out for the win. The only thing I would have changed about his performance was the silly Hollywood Hogan stuff – the outfit sure, but the moves were too much like an ‘exhibition match’ instead of what is supposed to be the biggest match of his life. The homages he does are fine in moderation, but we don’t need another Eugene.