PRE-SHOW - They gave out awards. I only caught the last few minutes of this, but what I caught was about seven straight minutes of Zelina Vega being the best heel manager you've ever seen. She buried the fans, buried the panelists, assured us that her client would retain the title tonight, and complained incessantly that it was a huge miscarriage of justice that he did not win any of tonight's awards. It was awesome.
NXT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Undisputed Era (Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish)(c) vs. The Authors of Pain (w/Paul Ellering) - 8/10
The Authors jumped the bell on Bobby & Kyle, but basically allowed them to get to the outside and regroup afterwards. It really felt like, as Mauro said, they were "sending a message" to Fish and O'Reilly and trying to get into their heads rather than the usual where an announcer will say this and I'll groan at the stupid, overused cliché.
There was lots of great action here and I loved the story they told and the work on the AOP member's leg. AOP actually looked human, but in a good way. Not like guys who are supposed to be monsters but now look weak; they looked like effective babyfaces.
I thought the finish was quite great as well. It basically managed to protect AOP as much as possible while still having them do the clean job... which I know sounds silly to say because if you're having someone do a clean job the idea is that you're not trying to protect them, and especially when this might well be their last match in the territory, but because of the awkward interchange between NXT and WWE (if you think about it, a lot more of the call-ups should be like Asuka's where she has established herself at this tippy-top level and then vacates the belt and goes up to the main roster) such things are sometimes necessary, and with big scary monsters like AOP, it seems like the right thing to do.
KASSIUS OHNO vs. THE VELVETEEN DREAM - 7.25/10
Before this match we got a clip of the Velveteen Dream guaranteeing that he would knock out the Knockout Artist Kassius Ohno in under thirty seconds. When he came out to ringside, he had two members of his entourage (which he apparently has) standing by with a fancy mouth-guard for him. I had been suspicious that something was coming when he first cut the promo, and seeing this thing set the alarm bells off in my head. After all, why would they be focusing so much a stupid mouthguard? Both with this whole presentation and with TVD constantly emphasizing it to the camera in every close-up shot he got during his entrance?
It was so brilliant! The referee would never even think to check that a mouthpiece would be loaded, and it could so easily be slipped out of TVD's mouth to be used as a weapon.
So the match started and the fans were actually counting to thirty and TVD came out swinging and got some good shots in on Ohno and had him backed up in the corner and the referee went to separate them and I was getting all excited because here comes the awesome weapon-shot... and it didn't happen. I still contend that my angle would have been awesome, but these guy did a fine job without it, as this match became quite the slugfest. They did some other stuff, too, of course, such as Ohno's usual elbows, plus some Death Valley Driver attempts by TVD (lots of stuff that targets the head, which makes you wonder why the guy's finisher is a diving elbow drop), but the majority of this match felt like a big slugfest, with their strikes and boxing-style movements and Mauro's commentary all playing into this. The match was pretty great, with TVD going over with the aforementioned elbow drop, but so much of the credit is due to whoever came up with the idea to have TVD claim he would knock Ohno out in thirty seconds because it gave this match something to be about.
NXT WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Ember Moon(c) vs. Shayna Baszler - 7.75/10
They're giving Baszler the Goldberg entrance. Ember got some good, scrappy, fearless offense in the beginning but Baszler took over and just bend and wrenched and tore the sh*t out of her arm. Ember managed to hit the Eclipse but it exacerbated the injury and she couldn't follow up. Baszler then locked in the armbar for a false finish that had me biting even though Ember was right near the rope. Baszler locked the hold right back in and that was the beginning of a truly EPIC struggle over this hold that ended when Ember managed to fight through the seemingly-debilitating pain to fold Baszler over and hold her down for the three-count. This was one hell of a babyface performance from Ember.
As for Baszler's loss... I don't like it. Yes, it's less predictable and yes Baszler losing allows her to look less like a new version of Asuka, but it just kind of feels like Baszler had to win tonight. They did do it in a way that allows her to keep her "legit" reputation intact so it doesn't feel at all like Cena beating Brock in Brocks first match back, and this does allow you to delay putting the belt on her for a bit (or really more like not taking the belt off of Ember so quickly as to make Ember look bad after her many failures before finally winning the title), and the post-match attack allows them to further the angle of Regal being angry with her, but I'm not really sure what else they can do with that at this point. Winning the belt was supposed to be Baszler's point of leverage over Regal. Now how can she get another title shot?
Unless she wins the Ruble tomorrow...
EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole - 9.25/10
This was one hell of a fun, crazy, sick weapons match. Both guys taking a lot of punishment but they did a wonderful job of making it all count. I'm sure I've written those two sentences many other times, but Adam and Aleister actually did a great job of making this feel different from the myriad of other matches we've seen with similar stipulations. They accomplished this not just by coming up with some innovative spots, but also by building the match to play to the strengths of Cole's facial expressions and Black's... general badass-ishness. Even in the middle of this big weapons match these guys made an effort to make him come off as someone who didn't need to use the weapons to be extremely dangerous. Fish & O'Reilly predictably got involved, but they were slightly less predictably taken out by SAnitY, so I'd imagine we're getting some sort of big six-man between those two units over WrestleMania weekend.
NXT TITLE MATCH:
Andrade "Cien" Almas(c) (w/Zelina Vega) vs. Johnny Gargano - a PERFECT 10/10!
You're going to hear this match talked up a lot, and even if you are someone whose initial instinct is to ignore the hype, DON'T. This match was AMAZING!
After the tumultuous year that Johnny Gargano had in 2017- from losing the tag titles 364 days ago to the Authors of Pain to failing to get them back and then having his partner turn on him and then getting injured and then his spiraling loss of confidence, Johnny Gargano was about to finally put all of that behind him and start 2018 off by becoming the NXT Champion. Andrade Almas worked over his head and neck all match but no matter what happened Johnny. Gargano. Would. Not. Die.
His family was in the front row- all aside from his father, who was recovering from heart surgery- and with their support and the support of the NXT fans, he was not going to lose, no matter what. Almas hit him with everything in his arsenal but Johnny would not stay down. Almas tried all manner of dirty tricks like raking his eyes or having Zelina Vega interfere but he still kicked out. Vega's interference got so bad that Johnny's wife Candice LeRae could take no more and she hopped the guardrail and she chased Zelina Vega right out of the building. The match continued, with every single nearfall from both men seeming like a completely believable finish. And then Almas managed to hit one big running double knee that smashed Johnny's head into the ringpost and seemed to knock Johnny out and you just knew that this would be it, and it was.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Johnny had to lay there and process his failure, but he had his wife by his side and he got his big moment as he got a rousing ovation from the crowd for his efforts as they made their way to the back, and Johnny took one last moment to turn and acknowledge the fans... and that's when that f*cking Tommaso Ciampa showed up and nailed Johnny in the back with a crutch, ruining what was left of Johnny's moment.
Another EXCELLENT Takeover show from NXT. That these shows manage to never miss while most WWE PPVs feel like they are three quarters of dreck makes me anxious for the day that Vince runs off to run the XFL and lets Hunter take full control over the main roster.