Thursday, 1 February 2018

WWE NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia Review // 27th January 2018 // Andrade Almas vs. Johnny Gargano

On 27th January 2018, NXT took over Philadelphia and more specifically, the Wells Fargo Center (it still feels wrong to not type 'centre', darn Yanks). It was a packed show with all three NXT titles defended aswell as grudge matches between Kassius Ohno & Velveteen Dream and Adam Cole & Aleister Black. The evening itself began with some high-class pre-show action as former NXT champion Samoa Joe, former NXT Tag-Team Champion Corey Graves, along with Renee Young, Charly Caruso and Sam Roberts, really got into the meat of the issues. As Graves & Young presented the NXT 2017 awards, we also got some fun interview action as Velveteen Dream promised to knock out Ohno in less than thirty seconds and Pete Dunne called out Brock Lesnar, RIP Beast Incarnate. Anyway, onto the main show and as always, we ask, was it any good?

NXT Tag Team Championship // Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish (c) def. Rezar & Akam // Pinfall

This was a good, hot opening match as AoP, sadly not in their turtles gear, came straight in and cleaned house, it's odd seeing the men who were once not so much boo'ed but meh'ed out of the building be given the hero's welcome but I guess that's a lot down to Fish and O'Reilly having got their heel act to be so impressively irritating. The early sections of the match were interestingly thought out as the champs were consistently overpowered by the former champs and so kept bailing to the outside to recuperate. It was nice getting to see another side the Authors' arsenal as Akam & Rezar as with their amateur wrestling/MMA background, they were able to work in some almost shoot-style sequences with ease, combined with a sense of spectacle with moments like the Authors steamrolling the Era around the ring after they bailed from the ring one too many times.

Now if you hadn't seen in coming, this match was brought to you by the letter 'L' for 'Legwork' as after Akam and O'Reilly were brawling on the apron, Fish hit a sneak attack, kicking Akam's leg out of his leg before Fish would rush Rezar on the apron and tackle him out. From here on, the two worked a clinic in classic heel tag tactics as they cut off the ring and worked over Akam, keeping the focus on inflicting as much pain as possible on the leg, full props to the big man as well who gave his best individual performance, selling it superbly. Of course, this being a tag match, eventually, Rezar would get tagged in after Akam was powering closer to his corner, Fish would turn around to knock Rezar off the apron but forgot, the Authors are big lads and he shrugged it off before Akam backdropped him away to get the tag. 

Rezar worked your standard big lad hot tag throwing strikes, power moves and the fallaway slam-Samoan drop double on the champs, the last few minutes of the match were impressively content heavy with highlights including Fish hitting an assisted exploder suplex, the Authors escaping a kneebar/sleeper hold by dropping Fish onto O'Reilly and a hot finish as the Supercollider double bomb connects on Fish but O'Reilly manages to rana Akam into Rezar before rolling up the injured Akam for a pin. This was easily the best tag-team action on NXT since AoP fought DIY in Chicago and as much as it was another reminder of how far they've come since, this acted as a superb coronation of the Undisputed Era's tag division as we saw them get their victory without any involvement from Adam Cole which helped establish their own odd chemistry. I think if they could have thrown in a few more near falls, something to present a stronger sense of jeopardy for the champions, this could have gone truly into the stratosphere but as it was, a very enjoyable match and a great way to start.

War Machine (Hanson - the one with hair everywhere & Raymond Rowe - the one with hair just on his chin) are in the audience.

Zelina Vega and Andrade Almas discuss game plan backstage. My bet, it involves winning.

Velveteen Dream def. Kassius Ohno // Pinfall

This match is a, sigh, dream for fashion watch fans as Dream came out in Philidelphia, setting of Rocky, in boxing shorts, like Rocky and he's got an entourage, like Rocky except Rocky never hung out with anyone this cool. The frilled short don't make quite as much of an effect as the Black-Dream tights but they're still great. Ohno, no slouch in the outfit department has black and gold wizard's fight robes. After Dream declared he could knock out the Knockout Artist in thirty seconds, the crowd were very invested in chanting along to see if he could, playing the part of the boxer, Dream ducked and weaved hitting a strike at around 28 seconds seemingly having done it but Ohno was soon back up and elbowed the mouthguard straight out of Dream. From here, it became a neat, little encounter as the two worked back-and-forth neatly, keeping a classic youth vs experience dynamic. It never quite escaped the constraints of this but it made as much of it as it could with Ohno making Dream look even better than normal. The finish came as Ohno went for a rolling elbow but Dream caught him in a rolling death valley driver to set up for the Purple Rainmaker diving elbow drop for the pin. After consecutive losses to Black and Gargano, Dream needed a win here to legitimise himself where Ohno is clearly here to help raise the next generation of stars and frankly, having someone as good as him in the player-coach role is a great plan. This fell short of the Dream-Black match purely because there wasn't the same level of context for the encounter but certainly for what they were given, another superb notch on Dream's ringpost.

Maria Menounos is in the audience. This means nothing to me, maybe it will to you.

Johnny Gargano is backstage with his entire family, including Candice LeRae, hmmm.

NXT Women's Championship // Ember Moon (c) def. Shayna Baszler // Pinfall

Baszler gets the walk from the locker room treatment, somehow since debutting, she's already been made to feel like Goldberg. Much like her MYC matches, Baszler played the bullying heel, targetting a weakness in Moon, in this case, her arm, and exploiting it. Moon, managed to work well from underneath coming back with some beautiful strikes with an early highlight being a triple dropkick sending Baszler out of the ring before following her out with a suicide dive. The match suffered down its home stretch when Moon managed to hit the Eclipse twisting top-rope stunner but off her bad arm. Unable to cover, the medical team checked on her to a chorus of 'boo's and 'bullshit's as Baszler says 'fuck off' to the medical team, applying and re-applying an armbar further into the centre of the ring until Moon, unable to escape, instead manages to force herself on top and leverage a pinfall to retain her title. This was a different approach to the traditional David vs. Goliath approach and one that has its faults as somehow, it felt too slight and too underplayed to be where the title changed hands. Somehow despite Baszler working almost entirely on top and being treated as a threat, it never felt like Moon wasn't going to be able to come back from this. While the finish did a lot to protect both women, I'd expect down the line we'll be seeing another title shot for Baszler, possibly one with some kind of submissions-based stipulation but for now, this was still rather good.

Moon is helped to the back but Baszler decides to go and fuck her up some more, locking in the Kirufuda Clutch (sorry for misspelling it repeatedly, Shayna) on the ramp, she breaks it but then decides to lock it in again because lol.

Trevor "Ricochet" Mann is in the crowd. Expect flips, probably.

Extreme Rules Match // Aleister Black def. Adam Cole // Pinfall

First off, it has to be said that bear in mind when you disagree with me in a second, such is the nature of reviews that I never pretend that this is anything more than my opinion and such is the nature of wrestling in its many styles, that there will always be some that don't appeal to everyone. Where I can appreciate the work that has gone into this match, I. as an individual, am just not that keen on Extreme Rules-type encounters. That said, for one such encounter, there was a lot to enjoy here. It started off strong as Cole tried to resort to weaponising the items under the ring but Black kept it comfortably in his wheelhouse, throwing kicks and strikes of the kind Wikipedia would probably describe as multiple variations. Cole got some impressive variation out of a kendo stick as he first hits Black out of the air mid-lionsault before applying a crossface with the kendo stick in the mouth and then when that didn't work, turning it into a backstabber. The weaker section of the match came when the crowd began chanting 'we want tables', so get tables he does because that's what the heel does. 

Once they get through the standard middle section of back-and-forth with tables being set-up, ladders, chairs, bins and more coming into play (including a painful looking death valley driver by Black onto the backrest of two chairs), it really managed to come down into its home stretch as before Black can get a cover, the O'Reilly and Fish arrive and pull him out of the ring before hitting the high-and-low Total Elimination, clearing the announce table, they set up Black for a suplex through it but in come SaNitY to even the score as Young and Wolfe wrangle away Fish and O'Reilly before Dain, who was keeping an eye on Cole in the ring, hit a big boy suicide dive onto the four of them. Black, rolling back in, does so straight into a superkick but, in an echo of the finish to WarGames, Cole goes for a chair, giving Black the opening to hit Black Mass for the pin. I did like the story of Black being out of his element with the stipulation so continuing to use his most lethal weapon, his kicks where Cole really does throw himself head, back and neck first into some incredible bumps but as much as I can recognise the effect of the stipulation, it didn't add that much to the encounter that a straightforward singles encounter might. Still, you have to give it to Black and Cole for giving this one their all. Having won this one decisively, I'm still thinking Black is on his way to an NXT Championship match come New Orleans.

EC3 is in the crowd, Derrick Bateman returns to NXT!

NXT Championship // Andrade Almas (c) def. Johnny Gargano // Pinfall

There is so much to cover here and all of it's incredible. Instead of trying to tell you about the in-ring action, let's all just take a moment to consider how important it is that these two have been given this kind of opportunity. While both Almas, back in his La Sombra days that he paid tribute to by pulling out the mask once again for a mariachi-ed entrance that felt straight out of Guacamelee, and Gargano, of course, had strong reputations on the indies, they didn't exactly come in with the same fanfare as a Shinsuke Nakamura or Finn Balor and for the longest time, it seemed like midcard was going to be the peak for the two of them, even when Almas had his title shot, one that no-one really saw him winning, he worked second-fiddle to the War Games match. In fact, for a while there, it probably seemed like Almas was one loss away from taking his toys and going home to CMLL. Then they paired him with Zelina Vega, then they gave him motivation, then he came out and became the second-most consistent performer in NXT, possibly in WWE, behind the other man in this match the man who's so good at professional wrestling, they made it his nicksurname, Johnny 'Wrestling' Gargano. Two people who for the longest time were given a ceiling, had that ceiling taken away, they were given the best part of the last hour just for build-up, entrances, their match and the aftermath and well, quite simply, they delivered big time.

One interesting early touch here was that after the initial grappling phase, Gargano maintained his upperhand against Almas using a sequence of lucha-inspired offense with ranas, arm-drags and just a hint of flips. Like any good third chapter in a trilogy, it worked some of its strongest moments when playing off earlier encounters with moments like Johnny going to the corner to leapfrog backwards over Almas but Almas instead not following him and chopping him square in the back. The match in fact, actually kept its storytelling quite simple and focussed for such a long encounter with the two men trying to throw whatever they could at the other man in order to put them away but such is the history between them that neither man was willing to give the other even an inch yet even with this, they made every near fall count, playing off the build-up with Gargano having taken out Almas with a slingshot DDT on the previous Wednesday so when he hit one roughly halfway through, you could believe it was the finish. Yet there was so much more to go. Johnny went for an apron cannonball but missed and landed like there was no water in the pool, Almas going for a moonsault, Johnny dodging so Almas turning it into a standing moonsault, Drake Wuertz responding to this by doing his best Red Shoes impression and leaping both into shot and into the count, hitting signature offense on the hardest part of the ringmat like Johnny's slingshot DDT to the apron and  am unashamed to admit that my heart skipped a beat when Johnnny got a near fall off a SUPERKICK with the theatrics before of the Meet In The Middle finish that DIY use to do. It seems like I've been prioritising Johnny in the highlights section but in terms of apron offense, did I remind you about the bit where Almas mashes Johnny's head into the LED boar or where he hit a corner knees off the apron and it sounded like something cracked, or just the sheer heft that man throws behind a strike, there are not many people in wrestling who actually make a punch work, Almas is one of them.

Of course with Zelina Vega, in an Essa Rios- Era Lita-inspired red outfit, in his corner,  Almas was never going to do this one without any shenanigans and what glorious shenanigans they were with Johnny having locked in the GargaNo Escape but with his feet facing the ropes, Vega placed Almas' foot on the ropes but Gargano powers Almas outside and follows with a beaut of a suicide dive but a referee distraction would lead to Vega throwing Gargano rana-first into the steps with echoes of the finish to McIntyre vs. Almas and a Hammerlock DDT for the closest possible near-fall you might see. But Johnny had some in his corners too as Candice LeRae leapt the barricade and battered Vega all the way to the back. It's gratifying that even though Johnny didn't win that the Vega-LeRae interference didn't actually play directly into the finish as there was still another GargaNo Escape attempt but Almas actually got the win off ramming Gargano into a previously exposed ringpost before hitting one last Hammerlock DDT. It shows so much character progression that even now we has Vega, Almas doesn't rest on his laurels, he still cheats to win but it's his cheating and as much as the layout is perfectly developed such that you want Gargano to win, you can't help but argue that Almas earnt it. I've said enough about this match but really, this is as close to perfect as you're going to see, I could continue to talk about it or you could just go and watch it. Even if you've seen it already, it's not a bad plan.

Post-Match LeRae checks on Gargano as Almas leaves, LeRae helps Gargano up the ramp but look who's here like a dark cloud on an already dark day, Tomasso Ciampa, strikes down his former tag partner with a crutch. 


On a pure, in-ring basis, this is as good as Chicago, my favourite TakeOver so far with probably the best NXT Championship match, not since, just the best. It obviously invites comparisons to Neville vs. Zayn and where this didn't have the feelgood ending of the match, the layout was so well told and thought out, you could almost believe that McIntyre's injury was planned to lead into this. As for the rest of the show, it wasn't perfect but nothing was less than very good. As strong a start to the year as you could hope for. Everything else, follow that.

Article By Jozef Raczka (@NotJoeRaczka)

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