Monday, 22 May 2017

WWE NXT Takeover: Chicago Review


On the 20th May, NXT made it's windy city debut as it took over the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois. The evening's main event saw the team of Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa, better known as #DIY take on Akem & Rezar, the Authors of Pain in a Ladder Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship. In a card that mostly could have happened in ROH back in 2009, we also saw three other title matches as Hideo Itami took on Bobby Roode, Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross took on Asuka and Pete Dunne took on Tyler Bate. Eric Young and Roderick strong also happened. Anyway, this is a review, let's get to the bit where I say what was and wasn't good.

Strong def. Young



A far more entertaining encounter than I expected. Young entered first, flanked by his lackies Big Dain-O and the Wolfeman, as Strong's shitty Linkin Park backing track hits, he bursts out from the crowd, knocking Dain into the ring-post and hitting Wolfe with a backbreaker (what else?) before laying into Young. Young would cut him off with a belly-to-belly before applying a nerve, pinch, thing and using his size advantage to maintain dominance. Strong would fight back, going to the outside fighting off Young and Wolfe but is flattened by a running crossbody from Dain. From here on, we would see a few successive stories developing with Strong attempting to put away Young while fighting off the outside interference and Young constantly attempting Elbow Drops. This second story might work better with the ending where Strong would do a massive corner knee strike knocking Young onto his cronies on the outside before pulling him in to perform a suplex set-up backbreaker lumbar check for the win, a perfectly fine resolution to Young's multiple journeys up top if he hadn't already hit the elbow drop for a two count. Equally confusing considering he's yet to have won a match with an Elbow Drop and he only really attempts his Wheelbarrow Neckbreaker outside the ring when it's not Falls Count Anywhere. I'm not sure if this confusing logic is meant to play into the wacky insane shenanigans of SaNItY but whatever.

A very fun opener which manages to deftly make Strong look like a world-beater (and potential next challenger for Roode?) and prevents making the losing team look too silly in defeat.

Dunne def. Bate to win the WWE United Kingdom Championship



I will now attempt to explain this match without just endlessly screaming happy noises. Both men enter with updated theme music with Bate's coming even closer to that Peter Gabriel 'Sledgehammer' copyright lawsuit. The two midlands lads begin with some good ol' fashioned graps, Dunne catches Bate in a front facelock, transition by Bate to a wristlock, caught in a leg-headlock by Dunne, Bate attempted to do his showboating handstand escape but Dunne refuse to accept any shit and stops him, Bate escapes only to get caught in an armbar with a rested knee on his head, Bate flips about the place to escape and hit a dropkick much to the delight of the crowd taunting Dunne with a Moustache (Mountain) flick and by the crowd I mean me. Back on his feet and Dunne knocks Bate out of the ring with a rolling forearm by Dunne, another forearm outside the ring, Dunne wrenches the fingers and tries to stomp them on the steps, Bate retaliates with a flying uppercut across the apron, running elbow by Dunne and an X-Plex on the apron as Bate appears to die for the first of twelve times in the match. Dunne continues to murder the fingers of Bate, keeping wrist control he keeps stomps Bate's head Bate hulks up and hits an astonishing delayed exploder suplex sending Dunne to the corner two running European uppercuts later and reverses hitting a running enziguri, Dunne goes for the Bitter End, Bate escapes, Dunne is shocked as Bate hits a standing shooting star press and a deadlift stalling suplex for a two count. Bate goes for another press into a triangle choke, Bate attempts to shift leverage for a pinfall, Dunne retaliates with stiff face shots, Bate lifts up Dunne for a powerbomb then again for the airplane spin, forever, drop for a two count, Bate goes for the deadlift German suplex, Dunne flips it, goes for a clothesline, Bate runs to the corner, Dunne hits a mid-air forearm, X-Plex converted into a powerbomb (X-Bomb?) for a two count, the crowd are losing their collective shit and this time I don't just mean me. Both men trade strikes from sitting to standing, they bloody pummel each other, Bates hits BOP AND BANG, enziguri by Dunne to the shoulder, the two men are now literally head to head, more Boo-Yay sequence, Dunne sends Tyler to the ropes with a big right hand, Tyler responds with a rolling football kick, Dunne throws Bate back into the ropes who uses it to hit a springboard shoulder rebound uppercut, Bate picks up Dunne for the Tyler Driver '97, Dunne reverses, sets up The Bitter End, Bate reverses into a DDT, Dunne goes out of the ring, Bate hits a Triangle Moonsault, throws Dunne back into the ring, goes to the top rope, hits a bloody SPIRAL TAP for a  two count, Dunne rolls to the outside, Bate launches into a Swan Dive, NOPE, forearm by Dunne cuts him off, rolled back into the ring, Dunne hits the Bitter End for the Pin. 

You know a match is good when you get excited writing about watching and want to just go back and watch it again. This is not just a Match of the Night or a Match of the Year contender, this is an important match in terms of confirming that the UK Championship is a legitimate title where given that technically this strand of the story only began in a special on the Network the night before, that the two men were able to deliver a tale with such stakes and such history behind every movement while also making every movement BLOODY BRILLIANT is nothing short of incredible. There may be some who think that perhaps it could have done with more time at just over 15 minutes but it's the sheer lack of flesh on this match that is its advantage. In fact, the only real issue I could find is a feeling of 'Follow That' on match 2 of 5. I apologise that after a while this review just turned into me excitedly calling spots but if there were a match in recent memory, especially in the WWE, as deserving of criticism-free hyperbolic pure excitement, it's this one. If you're reading this and you haven't seen it, first off, spoilers, secondly go and watch it. Now.

Asuka def. Cross and Riot to retain NXT Women's Championship




I really enjoyed this match but honestly, it was, much like the last women's multi-person title match, a triumph of charm and energy over specificity. Where the supreme joy of Peter vs Tyler was the lack of wasted movement, the complete, comfortable chemistry of the performers this is a far sloppier piece with a lot of oddly off timing but it was saved by a commitment to the action. 

Nikki Cross would attack RIot straight off the bell, which turned out to not work out too well as it left her alone with Asuka who had a hip attack for her and another for Riot as she tried to get back in the ring, Asuka sends Cross to the floor and we get a staredown between Asuka and Riot as they do the 'test of strength, no selling shoulder tackle' thing. Perhaps the major issue of the match became clear here which is for all the wild energy, it was still very statically sticking to the standard structure of a WWE Triple Threat, namely it was mostly interractions between combinations of two people as one or another get sent to the floor. Everyone gets a chance to do the 'play the hits' style of performance: Asuka hits power moves all over the shot including a lovely sequence where she attempted to get Cross into a German Suplex, Nikki Cross gets in some mental and pretty painful strikes and Riot manages to balance out the Heel-Tweener-Face dynamic by being all spirited and gutsy. The finishing sequence was quite cleverly done with both Cross and Riot having teamed up to take out Asuka, Cross would attempt to hit her Fisherman's Neckbreakers only  only for Riot to reverse into the Ripcord Up-Kick. While in the pin, Riot seconds before it hits would a sliding headkick from Asuka for the double pin. 

It is the moment where she notices the kick is coming but is unable to avoid it adds an extra dimension to the ending as it plays up the reckless quality of the performers,  Riot and Cross get so lost in trying to take the other out that they almost lose sight of Asuka, that momentary loss of focus on the title costs them. As much as the match felt like an attempt to do a much better match than this, it was still a very enjoyable encounter and made me think that a proper 1v1 match-up between any mix of these three could be a very lovely thing indeed.

  • The Velveteen Dream.

Roode def. Itami to retain NXT Championship



I know, you're all thinking about how accurately I called the structural devices this match would employ in my preview of this match. 

It was less than a minute after the bell before the first attempt at a GTS but Roode wriggled out to the floor like the damn snake in the proverbial grass he is. From there on the first section of the match saw some lovely back and forth including a beautiful moment where Itami mocked Roode's glorious shtick only for Roode to angrily rush him and get a knee to the gut as punishment for intellectual proerty theft. From here on, we would see the major issue of going straight from Nakamura, a Japanese strong style performer who focusses on kicks to Itami, a Japanese strong style performer as Roode works very much the same form of match as he did in his previous two Takeover matches but with shoulder taking the place of knee in terms of targetting. Granted, Roode's chemistry is stronger with Itami than it ever was with Nakamura but it still feels like Roode has a formula for 'big matches' that he likes to work, it has shades of the same match worked with Kassius Ohno, you could even see the beginnings of it in earlier encounters with Tye Dillinger. But it works, Roode has an old school heel persona that he has managed to mine well, it's possible that even my complaints about formula are all part of some grand plan to annoy us and generate more heat. The potentially clever bastard, That said, the match is a tribute to the abilities of Hideo Itami. Coming into NXT before Kevin Owens, before Roderick Strong, before most of the good parts of TNA, thanks to bad luck the man had to sit back and watch as an entire class of NXT performers came and went around him. What few, if any have managed to do as well as Itami is make everything look real. It might be enhanced by his two real injuries but from his stiff strikes through to even moves like the blockbuster or the falcon arrow having extra impact and somehow looking like if this were a real fight, he could make them work. I completely bought that when Itami hit the GTS, we could be seeing a new champion and when Roode fell out of the ring, my heart sank. What was clever was that Roode sold it not like he rolled out of the ring but more the force was such that the ring couldn't contain the GTS, it's the small details like this that improved the match. The last run of the match where Itami is struggling to hit the GTS again (despite forgetting, he also has the Running Knee), only to finally get it, but for Roode to reverse it into TWO Glorious DDTs. 

As much as Itami could have been, and probably eventually will be, a great champion, what Roode needed was a higher class performance after a pair of underwhelming Nakamura matches and that's what we got. As many problems as this match had, it did so much to buuild-up whatever comes next.

  • Kevin Owens, a hockey player, Sami Zayn, a Pat Patterson and Kassius Ohno are watching. Owens and Zayn in the building together, sure hope no friendships are going to die.

Authors of Pain def. #DIY in a Ladder Match to retain NXT Tag Team Championship




First off, I'm glad that NXT is a land where any of the titles could now be considered the Main Event, sure in Asuka's tenure, she's yet to have the Takeover main event but I could believe should anyone ever beat her, that would be given top spot. 

Still, to the match: Ciampa still has his sweet Bandana, bro. The two teams brawl from the off with DIY getting the better of the big lads. Immediately DIY start pulling out ladders but AoP don't like that because who wants ladders involved in a ladder match? Not Paul Ellering. Further back-and-forth as DIY once again get the upper hand and go for a much larger ladder on the entrance ramp, as they attempt to push it into the ring, Ciampa, who is on the floor is attacked by the Authors but Gargano hits a beautiful tope suicido through the ladder. There is a succession of attempts to climb the ladder with the other team preventing it until the Authors realise that it'll be easier to climb a ladder if we just destroy the other team first, sending Gargano out of the ring and taking advantage of Ciampa's selling of the knee to hit him in the gut with ladders, this leads onto quite the most uncomfortable looking ladder dive I've seen in a while as Gargano superkicks the Authors onto ladders balanced on the outside while DIY climb and jump off the massive ladders looking like everyone will be regretting to agreeing to that spot the morning after. Much smoother is the next big spot as Ciamps and Akem would fight on a ladder under the titles, Gargs would set up another nearby and fight Rezar upon it, As Ciampa is knocked off with Akem, Rezar would climb off and push back the ladder, Gargano would do a ladder-to-ladder jump that Parkour Prince Johnny Mundo would be proud of. As Gargano is the last man left in the ring, Ellering would remember that there aren't DQs in a Ladder match and try to push over Gargano's ladder and for his service, he is gifted a superkick which it must be said he sells well considering he's in his 60s. Akem and Rezar back in the ring, take out Gargano and begin to deconstruct Ciampa again, banging him into a ladder in the corner. They grab another ladder and set him up to take a double teamed ladder to the face but Gargano pushes him aside, taking the ladder like Joey Mercury but planned. THIS IS WHAT FRIENDSHIP LOOKS LIKE. The Authors try to use the distraction of pure, unadulterated friendship to climb the ladder but Ciampa catches them and German suplexes Rezar through a ladder! In what could quite easily in any other match be the most painful looking spot of the match, DIY would then his their Meet in the Middle finisher while Akem had a ladder around his neck. The two then climb and are seconds from victory when the Authors pull the ladder out from underneath, grabbing DIY hitting the Supercollider for the finish. 

This was a match less burdened by storytelling than previous DIY efforts but what it may have lacked in pure psychology, it more than made up for it by delivering a riotous spotfest that continually outdid itself, even recovering nicely after perhaps an all-too ambitious double ladder dive spot. Of course as good as the match itself was, it was made all the better by...

  • After the match, DIY would sit in the ring cradling each other in a pose echoing their post-match embrace in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic. They would head up the ramp and as they hit the top and the NXT ending gtaphic tag appeared, Ciampa would shock those not watching on replay who could see there were ten minutes to go by turning heel in a nasty beatdown on his 'best' friend, throwing him into the titantron, hitting an exposed knee strike and an Air Riad Crash off the announce table through two tables of stuff before watching calmly as Gargano is carted away for medical attention. And after Gargano took a LADDER TO THE FACE FROM TWO MEN for you Ciampa! Even Bruno Mars wouldn't do that. What made this more effective was coming off wins by Roode and Dunne, I expected maybe DIY were going on last to send the crowd home with a big surprise face win. Boy was I wrong. If their CWC match is anything to go by, these could are going to have some fun over the next few months.


Finally...


It might be hyperbolic to say best Takeover ever, it probably might not be accurate either but as a beginning to end product, I don't think I've seen such superb consistency of excellence in a long time with the weaker matches on the show still being very good and at least one MOTY contender in Bate v Dunne. I like the approach of Takeovers sticking to 5 or 6 matches as the focus on not exceeding his reach and relegating some stories to NXT TV exclusive has managed to keep a sense of freshness and energy to Takeovers that the twice a month main roster specials. If you really are lacking for time, maybe skip the first match and the women's title match but I can not recommend more trying to find the 2 hours and 25 minutes and just enjoying an utterly superb front-to-back reminder of why wrestling is bloody great.



ATPW Scale Rating: 8.25/10

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