Monday, 20 November 2017

NXT TakeOver: WarGames Review // SaNItY vs. The Undisputed Era vs. Roderick Strong & The Authors of Pain

On 19th November, WWE aired NXT TakeOver: WarGames, live from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. The evening's main event was a writer who does play-by-play's worst nightmare, a War Games match between current NXT Tag Team Champions SaNItY, current upstarts The Undisputed Era and the intriguing team of Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong. In a card also featuring Drew McIntyre defending his NXT championship against Andrade Almas, singles encounters from Lars Sullivan & Kassius Ohno and Aleister Black & Velveteen Dream and a Women's Title Fatal-Four Way. Even without the promised Ab-Off between Johnny Gargano & Shawn Michaels, this is still one of the strongest cards on paper that NXT has produced but, as always, was it any good?

We open on a video package, cutting between clips of the competitors, War Games matches of old and also footage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt declaring war on the axis after Pearl Harbour. I bet FDR would love to know that his words upon the death of thousands are effectively being equated with a few lads being paid to throw each other at metal.

Lars Sullivan def. Kassius Ohno via pinfall // 5:45

What better opening than a couple of big lads hitting each other? This match takes place in the left ring, immediately, they run at each other with Sullivan powering Ohno to the corner, Ohno hits an elbow and a boot and another elbow, out in the ring and they run the ropes with Ohno going for a shoulder tackle but Sullivan shakes it off before hitting a tackle of his own, on the ground, he hits knees to the back, knocking Ohno out of the ring, Sullivan follows hitting a diving shoulder tackle off the apron and dropping Ohno back onto it with a Gorilla Press, back in the ring and Sullivan hits an Irish whip but Ohno retorts with a boot and an enziguri, he kips up into a clothesline from Sullivan, whipped to the ropes, Ohno flips over, hits a boot, runs back in straight into a pop-up powerslam from Sullivan for a 2, Sullivan goes up top for a diving headbutt but Ohno dodges, Ohno lays into Sullivan with boots and elbow including two rolling elbows to the back of the neck and a cyclone kick for a 2, on the floor, Ohno hits somps and boots before a standing senton but Sullivan is up at 1, on their feet and the two lads trade elbows with Ohno getting the better and hitting a Death by Elbow, he goes for a second but Sullivan catches him with a Freak Accident for the pin. This was exactly what it needed to be, it was a short sprint with two big lads doing big lad things to each other. Ohno made Sullivan look like the monster they want him to be but managed to push Sullivan further than anyone else so far which kept him looking resilient. No one expected in his first TakeOver match for Sullivan to deliver a mat classic but what we got was a fun, energetic opener. More of this, please.

Some of our beloved UK Lads, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Mark Andrews & Wolfgang are front row. But where's Peter, James, Joseph, Jordan & Tucker? Did they not get an invite?

The Undisputed Era are backstage discussing plans when William Regal comes up to them, apparently to tell them the rules of a War Games match. Did no one think to brief them more than an hour ahead of time?

Aleister Black def. Velveteen Dream via pinfall // 14:45

Can we all just take a moment to live in Black and Dream's Dirty Dancing tribute? Now we've done that, let's get into the match as it's a corker. Black makes his entrance through a series of candle-lit alters in what now seems to be the pyro budget, Dream makes his dressed as seven people, each of them from a cooler version of the future, his special tights with his and Black's face on are the greatest thing, this match takes place in the right hand ring, Dream taunts Black telling him to say his name as the crowd chant it, lock-up to begin with as Black controls the action, he goes for a strike but Dream dodges directly into a wristlock, Dream tries to power into a headlock but Black gets in a hammerlock into a grounded rear armlock, attempts for a rear chinlock but settles into a front face lock, Dream powers to his feet and whips Black away only to end up back in an octopus stretch, Black transitions to a pin for a 2 before going straight to a standing armbar, on their feet and the two men trade strikes with Dream using his power advantage to get the better of the encounter, with Black on the ropes, Dream goes for a clothesline but Black uses the ropes to throw Dream out, Black runs to the ropes and does his fake-out moonsault full-lotus but Dream is immediately back in the ring and Swayze crawling towards Black, in an attempt to mess with Black, Dream goes into a full lotus but Black knows what's up and starts Swayze crawling at Dream, seriously, if this isn't resolving with a Live Sex Celebration on NXT, there is no justice in the world, I can't say enough, how much I want these two just to fuck and make up, Dream goes for an Oklahoma roll but Black gets a massive arm drag with Dream back up with a short-arm lariat, he keeps Black down with ground and corner strikes, he knocks Black out of the ring and hits his own fake-out tope, rolling backwards through the ropes which is brilliant, Black stuns Dream off the ropes, slides in, Dream sets him up for a Death Valley Driver but Black elbows out into a SUPERKICK for a 2, grounnd and pound keeps Black down, Dream picks up Black into a neckbreaker for a 2, transitioning into a camel clutch chinlock, Dream picks up Black into a Cross Rhodes set-up but Black once again elbows out, Dream manages to tie Black up in the ropes and asks him again, what's his name, Black responds with a kick to the face so Dream full palm slaps him, Black hits a lariat, some swift kicks, sweeps the leg, knee strikes, throwing in a corner forearm and a springboard moonsault for a 2, Black picks up Dream by his chin with his foot but Dream grabs the leg, powering him to the corner but Black powers out with a big double foot stomp, immediately back up and Dream tries again for a Death Valley Driver but Black again escapes lighting him up with kicks, running for him, Dream grabs Black and hits the Deagth Valley Driver for a close 2, Dream picks up Black, setting up for a Super Death Valley Driver, Black flips out of it, going for a powerbomb but settling for just kicking his leg out of his leg, hitting a knee strike for another good 2 but Dream is back up, back in the Cross Rhodes set up, Dream hits a twisting reverse DDT for a 2.9, Dream goes to hit a Purple Rainmaker but Black gets a foot up, knocking Dream back into the ropes, caught up, Black takes advantage hitting a knee strike, Dream responds with a SUPERKICK, Black decides enough is enough and gets one last knee strike and a Black Mass for the pin. Well, I really don't know what to say here beyond throwing unanimous praise at this. Yes, the spot with Dream falling into the ropes out of a reversed Purple Rainmaker was contrived but I really can't find anything else to criticise. What's great is that they didn't try to make this over-complicated. The build-up to this match has been perfectly paced, showing the contrasts between the two men and the match itself was a minimalist delight. There was no over-booking here, just two men out to prove who is better and in the end, Black still had to acknowledge Dream like he wanted because when he needed to, Dream stepped up. If you'd told me a year ago that the guy who didn't win his series of Tough Enough doing a Prince gimmick would have my favourite non-title singles match of the year, I would probably call you insane but here we are. Don't expect this to be the last time we see these two compete because there's magic here*.

Post-match, Black sits next to Dream. On the mic, Black tells him 'Enjoy your infamy, Velveteen Dream' before dropping the mic. He said his name, HE SAID HIS NAME!

SaNItY are backstage and Regal gives them the War Games rules talk as well. This really feels like something they should have sorted earlier.

Asuka, Funaki & Finn Balor are front-row for this match. Wonder how they got such good seats...

NXT Women's Championship // Ember Moon def. Kairi Sane and Nikki Cross and Peyton Royce via pinfall // 9:59

Kairi Sane enters to new music that is even more piratey, if this doesn't result in Paul Burchill becoming her manager then what the fuck are we doing here? Peyton enters with Billie who tells her on the ramp she has to do this alone, Peyton looks piss scared without Billie, she's a damn angel, we're back in the left ring for this one, Percy has a mild meltdown trying to remember which TakeOvers Moon lost at and which she just couldn't compete at because of injury, he needs a lie down the poor lad, so the match starts as everyone begins hitting everyone else, Royce seems to be in control early, Moon tries to fight back hitting a single-leg dropkick but she can't fend off all three, the actions spills out onto the floor, everyone is flying around with Sane hitting a big flying forearm, Moon levelling Sane and Royce with a tope suicido and powerbombing Cross on the floor, Sane and Moon are back in the ring, Moon goes for a low thrust kick but Sane catches the leg and hits a double hand baseball swing, chopping Moon to the corner, she hits a corner spear but Royce grabs her into a reverse tarantula before she can pin, Moon hits a superkick to the back of Royce, Royce rolls out of the ring as Sane rolls up Moon for a 2, Royce is back in and Moon leapfrogs Sane as she spears Royce, Sane hits a spinning backfist, heads up top, Moon tussles with her on the top rope, going for a superplex but Royce hits Moon with a German making this a Tower of Doom, Royce covers Moon for a 2, she then covers Sane for a 2, they all brawl in the centre as Cross returns to the fray and hits a Nikki Crossbody on all three, she then positions Sane in the tree of woe and throws Royce out, beating down Moon, she goes for the Swinging Neckbreaker on Sane but Moon breaks up a pinfall attempt, Moon goes up top but Cross takes her out and hits a draping neckbreaker sending Moon out of the ring, Royce back in and she hits a Ooouuuoohhh Fisherman's Suplex on Cross but Sane breaks it up and hits an Insane Elbow on both of them but Moon throws her out, in the centre of the ring, Cross and Royce brawl as Moon climbs to the top and hits a double Eclipse, Royce rolls out as Moon covers Cross for the pinfall. NEW CHAMPION! I predicted this match would either be great or a fucking mess, it basically ended up being a bit of both. Structurally speaking, this was standard multi-person fare with a combination of one-on-one encounters and various linking together of each person's best moves but the major problem was that they got just shy of 10 minutes in which to do it all, lending proceedings a very rushed feeling. Yet everything that everyone got in was good with Sane working hard to make an impression and show she belongs there to an audience who you can't guarantee are familiar with her, even if when she was required to break up a pin, she was a little late on trying to break up a pin at one point but everyone seemed to be ready to cover for each other. This was good, it wasn't great and really, it had the potential to be great but it needed more time. But clearly there wasn't any, it's not like we have a 36 minute main event coming up...

After the match, Regal comes to the ring to hand the title to the new champion but before he can, Asuka hits the ring. She insists on being the one to award the title to Moon. This isn't how Asuka was meant to hand her title over to someone but if she had to do it this way, this was how it should be done.

Giving Regal enough time to run backstage, Mauro Ranallo tries to sell us on the WWE Mattel Shark Cage playset that we all want for Christmas.

Having been bought some time by Ranallo, Regal makes it backstage to explain the rules to the Authors of Pain, Paul Ellering & Roderick Strong. Can you imagine if he hadn't done so to Paul Ellering? Entrant in the first War Games match Paul Ellering.

Kevin Owens is front row, repping some Undisputed Era swag, Samoa Joe is also front row in a different area just looking generally swag.

NXT Championship // Andrade 'Cien' Almasdef. Drew McIntyre (C) // 14:56

Let's give it up for the costume team tonight, first, we had Ohno wearing another delightful variation on the Orlando magic gear, then Dream's tights, now in this match alone we have a great white and navy motif with co-ordinated short gii-style robe for Almas and McIntyre with a tearaway black kilt like the emo kid who's joined The Bar. There was also a match they competed in. Almas slapped Drew before the bell because he ain't shit, off the bell they lock-up but Drew immediately powers Almas to the corner, clean break and Drew does it again, Almas slaps him because once again, he ain't shit, this angers Drew but Almas slides between the ropes to stop him, he hits a clubbing overarm to get Drew low enough to headlock, Drew lifts up Almas trying to throw him off but Almas just flips out and locks back in, running the ropes, Drew takes down Almas with a well-timed shoulder, thrown to the ropes, Almas goes tranquilo but Drew doesn't care for this tranquilo nonsense so kicks him out of the ring, Drew lays into Almas before throwing him into the ring, Almas distracts the referee as Vega goes to hit a hurricanrana into the steps but Drew catches her and puts her on the apron, Almas goes for a distraction tope but Drew catches him with a forearm, back in the ring and they trade strikes and standing switches, Drew goes for a tackle but Almas dodges and Drew posts himself as Almas hits a GTR for a 1, he immediately goes into a rope hung armbar holding it for 4, back in and he covers for a 2, back on the arm with a fujiwara bar, pushing Drew to the corner, the big man escapes with a suplex throw, a short-arm lariat and a belly-to-belly, Drew goes up top hitting a diving axe handle and goes for a kip-up, Almas back up goes for a rana but Drew catches him into a Celtic Cross, Almas hits a dropkick to the corner, goes for double knees but Drew blocks but not enough to stop a spinning reverse DDT that would make Naito proud for a 2, Almas picks up Drew for an El Idolo hammerlock but Drew isn't having that, he picks up Almas, Almas goes for a reverse rana but Drew hits back with an Alabama Slam for a 2 but Almas is back in with a springboard dropkick sending Drew out of the ring, Drew catches Almas in a powerbomb predicament but Almas manages to hit a rana with the injured shoulder into the ring-post before heading back up top and hitting a godly moonsault to the outside, rolled in and the champ is pinned for a 2, Almas heads back up and Drew follows but gets crotched, falling into the tree of woe, Almas hits a double stomp and another double knees for a 2, going for El Idolo again, Drew turns into a sit-out powerbomb for another good 2, a slap by Almas, headbutt by Drew, a sunser flip earns Almas another 2 but Drew picks him up for a Futureshock DDT for a 2.9, carried up top for a super Celtic Cross, Almas worms out, dropping Drew to the corner, hitting yet more double knees to the back of the head for another very good 2, some brutal grounded strikes as Almas rolls out and poses with the title allowing Vega to roll in and hit a spiked low rana on Drew, Almas hits the El Idolo for a 2.9, Almas is shocked that wasn't enough and Drew manages to hit a Claymore but Vega gets Almas' foot on the ropes,Drew goes for another Claymore but misses and Almas crotches him on the ropes, hitting a Tower of London set up El Idolo, he bloody crucifies Drew for the pinfall. NEW CHAMPION! Well, I haven't been so pleased to say 'I was wrong'. It seems possible considering the selling of the arm injury that this was a last-minute decision to write off Drew for a while to let his arm heal up but either way, it's nice to have a truly surprising result. A lot of people, myself included, assumed this was just a filler match till Drew could face Adam Cole and that even though it was the right time to capitalise on Almas having stolen the show every time since last Dusty Classic, I never thought they would. It's also worth noting, this was not just the right decision but also the best NXT Title match since Joe and Balor stepped into a Steel Cage at TakeOver: The End. The ending was peculiar as the near fall off Vega's spike rana was perhaps stronger but in terms of saving face, giving Drew a kick out there maintains his momentum for when he returns. I've been waiting for the Drew McIntyre we all loved from the indies to come to NXT and with this match, he announced he's here. Almas and Vega as a unit have some of the best chemistry of a manager and client in recent years and their in-ring acumen is just as good. On top of that, at just shy of fifteen minutes, it felt right. Not everything has to be an epic and this used its limited time far better than any of the twenty minute plus title matches the past year has seen. More of this as well please.

WarGames Match // Undisputed Era def. SaNItY (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe & Killian Dain) and Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong via pinfall // 36:37

Ladies and Gentlemen, I sacrifice my saNItY for you as I attempt to provide play-by-play on this, so after Kurt Angle became Roman Reigns, I'm glad to see that Roderick Strong has become an Author of Pain, tactical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle outfit and all, it will be Roddy, Young and Cole to begin, Cole tries to avoid violence early on but Young and Strong rush at him before fighting each other to get a shot at him, Strong hits a backbreaker on Young as Cole tries to hide atop the cage, Strong and Young follow him up and they team up to try and take him out, Cole drops down and crotches the two of them on the ropes, he sends Strong to the other ring and hits Last Shot on Young, Cole keeps his attention divided between the two men, Cole maintains control hitting a suplex and a neckbreaker on Strong, Strong fires back with slaps and a clothesline before Young comes back into further slaps and knees from Strong, as Strong is in control, in come the first team and it's the ReDragon lads, straight in and straight on top of Strong and Young, the Era easily beat down the two faces, further strikes and submissions follow till the second team come in, there's a bit of a problem where the lighting team can't decide if the Authors of Pain or SaNItY are in, turns out they meant AoP and the two head in with their faces like murder babies to rescue Strong from an O'Reilly knee bar, they then begin attacking the other three men, throwing the entire era into the other ring and then Young into the era before Strong joins in, hitting an assisted swanton onto the other four, O'Reilly and Young are positioned in the corners before AoP pick up Fish and Cole and hit corner valley drivers onto all of them, after the lighting snafu, now SaNItY are actually into the match with Wolfe rushing to the ring with a retractable truncheon as Dain pulls out all sorts of weaponry that happens to be under the ring, as the match is officially underway at this point, we also get two referees, there are two rings so it makes sense, Wolfe throws Germans on everyone and drops Fish into a bin, Dain spends forever making sure the door is locked, couldn't just get someone on the outside to do it? He swallows the key because he's hardcore like that, Dain goes after both Authors hitting a front dropkick senton combo followed by a top rope crossbody, Cole grabs a Kendo stick and goes for the big fuzzy one but Dain isn't fucking about and tosses it away, Fish tries to help but Dain just knocks him down and hits a Michinoku driver on Cole onto Fish for a 2, Dain throws O'Reilly at the walls before hitting the fallaway slam/Samoan drop combo on Cole and Strong, Dain and Rezar do big lad things in between the ropes, Dain hits a running crossbody but Rezar gets him in a powerslam for a 2, if you'd been wondering 'when is everything going to go to shit', now, everyone seems to punch everyone, ReDragon hit Chasing the Dragon on Strong, they go after Dain, Wolfe comes into even it out but is taken out with a chain-assisted armbar from O'Reilly, Young saves his German friend with a top rope elbow drop to break up the pin, AoP hit a Super Collider, catching Dain in the middle, Young unleahes punches on everything he can and hits a big death valley driver on Rezar onto Akem but Strong and ReDragon break the pin, Strong goes backbreaker crazy with Lumbar Checks, knees strikes and every possible form on a backbreaker before an olympic slam on Dain, he goes for the pin but a superkick from Cole breaks that up, Cole heads to the middle of the two rings, Strong and Young follow him and duel over who gets to hurt Cole again, a double tower of doom spot follows as Cole sits above the wreckage, till both AoP members go for him, they pull him down to one corner as they set up two tables, for some reason Wolfe stops them from going for Cole allowing him to escape up top but Wolfe avalanche Germans Rezar, I think, through the tables, at this point I think all of SaNItY are bleeding, even Sawyer Fulton (Goodbye Sawyer), Young gets a top rope neckbreaker on Akem, Cole does his best impression of Mario in Water World along the top of the cage, Dain hits a clothesline on O'Reilly before positioning him a few feet in front of the corner with a bin, he just about hits the coast to coast but O'Reilly quite uncomfortably well sells going limp, Cole seeing a pile of people below goes to do something but takes too long posing and Strong is up top to hit a superplex off him onto everyone, Strong covers Cole for a 2.9, Dain and Akem brawl, AoP hit the Last Chapter on Dain, O'Reilly and Fish wear down the AoP with strikes and sleepers before hitting Total Elimination on Rezar, Wolfe takes down O'Reilly before they hit the elevated neckbreaker on Fish, Cole takes out Wolfe and it comes back down to the three men that started it, Cole and Strong trade Strikes, Strong is thrown into the cage wall by Young as Cole goes for Young with the kendo stick, Young holds up a steel chair but Cole hits a Shining Wizard, sending the chair into Young's head for the pin. This was a lot better than I expected with everyone delivering strong performances. War Games is such a crazy match that no one goes into it expecting a story, just a large amount of sweaty men trying to twat each other in the heads and that's what we got here. It started quite slowly with it lacking much in the way of excitement until the Authors came in but we knew it couldn't go from 0-60mph immediately. More urgently, the action got so big and so impressive that Cole hitting a Shining Wizard onto a chair for the pin felt like a bit of an anti-climactic ending. But it gave us a lot, even if at 36 minutes, it was perhaps a tad self-indulgent, it delivered strong action with Strong (appropriately) and Wolfe coming off as the real stars of the show. While Young and Dain seem to be often the focus of the men's side of SaNItY, Wolfe has really been the breakout star for me. One other thing to highlight, it was really nice to have a match with a cage where there were no random run-ins, swerves or betrayals. Some times, the simplest booking method is the best.

On The YouTubes

Lars Sullivan talks about how tonight was only the beginning and how he dominated unequivocally, emphatically and categorically. Big words from a big lad.

Velveteen Dream is happy that Black said his name.

Ember Moon considers her win to be a dream come true and the reward for all her hard work, she also gaurantees now she has the title, it'll be hard to get it off her. Let's see who steps up...

Zelina Vega and Andrade Almas did not hate to say I told you so when it comes to him winning the title. Now, to celebrate.

In some less cheery news, Drew McIntyre appears to have injured his arm during the match. He vows to come back for  his title once he's healed.

SaNItY help each other to the back and appear to have been hit so hard that their reality is now monochrome.

According to Adam Cole, he told everyone this is their era and now, they runs this place.


And to end this bumper edition of On the YouTubes, here's an interview with Triple H. Listen out for around 8:03 for HHH calling Drew McIntyre - Drew Galloway, ha, hilarious, BotchaMania am I right, Lads?

TakeOver specials rarely, if ever these days, don't deliver and this one on many fronts almost overachieved. With one near-classic, two superb matches and two good-to-very good ones, it was a top-to-bottom card of sheer entertainment and at only five matches, it didn't outstay its welcome. It's a cliché by now to look at whatever bloated cross-promotional card the main roster is putting on the day after a TakeOver but in this instance, I really wouldn't want to be forced to follow this. If you are lacking for time, skip the bits between matches but don't miss this, it's good. 

Article by Jozef Raczka (@NotJozefRaczka)

*If you thought I was kidding, I'm not. I am genuinely invested in Black and Dream.

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