By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
NXT Takeover Portland Hits
Adam Cole vs. Tommaso Ciampa for the NXT Championship: With Roderick Strong recently losing the NXT North American Championship and then Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly dropping the NXT Tag Titles in the semi main event, the question became whether Undisputed Era would end the night without any gold. The story told in the ring turned out to be how much punishment Ciampa could take despite his surgically repaired neck while in pursuit of his beloved Goldie. The wheelbarrow suplex into the broadcast table looked amazing live. Heck, it looked really good on replay too, but one of the angles showed that Ciampa book the table bump on his shoulders rather than on his neck. I do a lot of grumbling about WWE replaying big moves from angles that make them look less impressive. And while the replay certainly took away from the impact of the move, it also caused a sigh of relief moment. Ultimately, Cole looked like he would stop at nothing to keep his title, while Ciampa showed incredible heart in fighting regain the title. They kept me guessing right up to the moment when Johnny Gargano appeared at ringside. This was a tremendous match and the finish with Gargano taking out Ciampa was well done.
Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly vs. Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne for the NXT Tag Titles: I liked the gag the first time around. I even liked the t-shirt. But I didn’t like the Bobby Fish song and poorly received singalong attempt the second time around. With that negative out of the way, the match lived up to high expectations. Fish and O’Reilly continue to be among the absolute best teams in the world, and the Riddle and Dunne odd couple pairing has been a big hit thus far. I really enjoyed the teases of dissension when Riddle and Dunne accidentally hit one another, and the totally believable near fall after Fish and O’Reilly hit Chasing the Dragon. Riddle and Dunne going over was a fun finish that keeps their momentum as a team going and presumably sets the table for a rematch during WrestleMania weekend.
Finn Balor vs. Johnny Gargano: No titles needed. This was a battle for pride involving two men who were the fans of the brand at different times. The match was extremely well worked and I love the way it just got better the deeper they went and built to a strong climax. The split reaction from the hot live crowd made for a fun atmosphere. Does Balor’s win put him in the top spot for the NXT Title match during WrestleMania weekend? More on that later.
Rhea Ripley vs. Bianca Belair for the NXT Women’s Championship: They had the unenviable task of following the Balor vs. Gargano match, but this not a buffer match by any means. The Ripley vs. Toni Storm match was in a similar spot on the recent NXT UK Takeover card and ended up feeling underwhelming. This match received similar time, but Ripley and Belair made the most out of it. The post match attack by Charlotte Flair on both women was well done and drew a lot of heat. The Natural Selection on a kneeling Ripley was so much better than the version Flair performs on opponents who are in a seated position. This version drove Ripley’s head into the mat, whereas the other simply puts her opponents in the equivalent of a basic yoga stretch. I assume that Flair attacking Belair probably means we’ll be seeing them meet on NXT television. Belair is also Raw ready and with her husband already on the brand, I certainly would not object to seeing this feud continue on Monday nights.
Keith Lee vs. Dominik Dijakovic for the NXT North American Championship: The monster battle opened the show and delivered. I disagree with John Moore’s live review take that this was a spot-fest, as we discussed in last night’s Dot Net Members’ exclusive audio review of this event. The wrestlers got a lot out of punches, forearms, chops, and clotheslines with the live crowd reacting to everything they did. They definitely performed some big spots too, but they did a nice job of limiting them to key moments and the late match flurry. Lee and Dijakovic are capable of performing every spot in the book, but the match was laid out in a way that worked for them as big men and didn’t leave me feeling like I’d seen ever big spot there was to see in the opening match.
Tegan Nox vs. Dakota Kai in a Street Fight: Another hard hitting and fast paced brawl that matched the tone of this heated feud. The street fight was violent and featured a variety of weapons, and it was also completely unique compared to everything else on the card. The interference by Raquel Gonzalez seemed to create a bit of a “who is that?” moment for the live crowd, but I really liked it because it gave Kai the win to keep the feud going while enhancing her act with a Diesel-like sidekick.
NXT Takeover Portland Misses
None: This section continues to be a barren wasteland for NXT Takeover events. This was an outstanding show and ranks high on the all-time list of great Takeover events, which is really saying something. But rather than wrap on that all too familiar note, let’s look ahead to the NXT Championship possibilities for NXT Takeover: Tampa the night before WrestleMania 36. Finn Balor challenging Adam Cole in a singles match is a possibility and perhaps the favorite. It also seems to be a battle of two heels. Balor remains extremely popular and they could simply play into those cheers, but I’d really like to see him put up more of a fight by heeling on the fans if he wants to remain heel. If not, then perhaps his attack on Gargano can be explained away by Balor saying he saw through Johnny Wrestling, who then proved him right when he stopped Ciampa from winning the NXT Championship in the main event. Another scenario involves a four-way with Cole vs. Balor vs. Gargano vs. Ciampa. While the match is lopsided with three heels, it’s been well established that these four men dislike one another, so it’s not like Ciampa is walking into an ambush. I will also throw in Velveteen Dream or someone from Raw or Smackdown in a Charlotte Flair-like situation as long shot possibilities.