NXT TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Undisputed Era (Roderick Strong & Kyle O'Reilly)(c) vs. War Raiders - 8/10
War Raiders got a fancy entrance. Their special Viking armor for tonight looked a lot less cool than they look in their facepaint. This was your standard, action-filled tag team match. There was something resembling a double-heat and a bit of a story about the size difference between the two teams, but really, it was mostly people running crazy, doing cool tag team things with some awesome nearfalls.
There were lots of cool spots in this match, but the one thing I will always remember occurred when the crowd started that stupid chant I despise more than any other: "FIGHT FOREVER!" Immediately after this chant began, Nigel McGuinness told us that this was "the NXT Universe asking Hanson to fight forever!" G-d bless you, Nigel McGuinness!
MATT RIDDLE vs. KASSIUS OHNO - 7/10
The announcers kept referring to Riddle as "the original bro," which is an utterly terrible nickname. This match, however, was not terrible. It was great! Ohno tried every way he could think off to knock Riddle out but Riddle preserved and eventually got the win via referee stoppage (which, I can' help but notice, allows for Ohno to claim that he wasn't really out, thus setting them up to blow this feud off in a Last Man Standing Match.
THE VELVETEEN DREAM ARRIVES IN HIS STRETCH HUMMER - Someone showing up in the middle of the show in a limo? What is this? Nitro?
NXT NORTH AMERICAN TITLE MATCH:
Ricochet(c) vs. Johnny Gargano - a PERFECT 10/10!
Can we officially call Gargano "Mr. TakeOver" now? This match was full of INSANELY athletic spots that were used to tell several different stories all at the same time. First there was the story of two guys who know each other so well that they needed to start relying on curveballs because they had counters for all of each other's usual moves. Then there was the obvious story of guys with a "never say die" attitude who absolutely REFUSED to stay down so long as they had an ounce of fight left in them. Then there was the story of the lurking shadow of the Gargano/Ciampa feud (which I'll go into detail on in a moment). And throughout all of it, Gargano was working over Ricochet's head and neck.
The Gargano/Ciampa feud influence on this match began when Gargano got frustrated and pulled up the ringside mats to reveal the concrete below. He then went for Ciampa's draping DDT off the apron onto the concrete, but then decided not to do it (because he doesn't want to be like Ciampa). He then rolled Ricochet back into the ring... and immediately got rolled up for an excellent dales finish. From this point on, every time Gargano did a thing that had any sort of Ciampa hallmark on it, it went well for him- first a big superkick to a kneeling Ricochet (like one half of DIY's finish... and remember that for the past few weeks on TV, the idea of a DIY reunion has been a clearly heel thing), and then finally hitting the draping DDT onto the concrete to set up the finish. Fate's lesson for Johnny Gargano coming out of this match seems to be that acting like Tommaso Ciampa will result in winning titles like Ciampa.
NXT WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Shayna Baszler(c) vs. Bianca Belair - 8/10
AWESOME! This match did a wonderful job of showing us what makes each of these who they are as fighters. They made excellent and relatively creative use of Bianca's hair, and built their story around Baszler trying to win with either chokes or armlocks while Bianca relied on her strength, agility, and perseverance to escape the predicaments Shayna attempted (and sometimes succeeded) putting her in. Bianca in particular really shined here (by the way, she BROKE SHAYNA'S SKIN WITH THE HAIR WHIP!), feeling like she had a real chance to beat Shayna, and she definitely feels like a bigger star after this match, even though she suffered her first defeat. Over the past few months she has won our respect with her skills and charisma, though it is of course, a grudging respect because she has been a heel. In this match, with the truly heroic effort she put in, she has now won our respect with her heart, and feels like a fully-fledged babyface.
There was, however, one thing that I did not like about this match, and that was the overbooking. Maybe the ref bump and visual pinfall would have been fine on their own (though I'd rather Bianca have lost cleanly, taken the defeat like a babyface and then been rebuilt via winning matches rather than trying to keep her in the title picture right away via visual pinfall), but the Horsewomen interference really felt like a step backwards. That story feels like it should be over by now. Weren't Kairi and Io going to stand against this sort of thing? So where were they during this match? "Shayna's challenger must deal with the Horsewomen on the outside" was the story of the previous title challenge. It doesn't feel like things are moving along in the division when this keeps happening, and Regal's failure to address it has again led to interference in a title match.
NXT TITLE MATCH:
Tommaso Ciampa(c) vs. Aleister Black - 8.75/10
This had all of the big moves and false finishes and stuff that you'd expect and certainly had that epic feel to it, but I think they went long enough that that became a bit of a detriment. The major story here was Ciampa working over Black's knee so he couldn't hit the Black Mass. As great as Black's selling was for most of the match, he definitely hit a point where started to forget to sell more times than not. I also didn't like the way they did the "he couldn't hit Black Mass because his knee gave out when he tried to" spot because we'd already seen Black hit it several times before with no problem, and he'd been doing more stressful stuff than that not long before that big spot. I think cutting about five minutes out of this match (and definitely one kick-out of Ciampa's finisher with it) probably would have resulted in the match being better.
CLOSING SEGMENT - As Ciampa posed with his belt on the ramp, Johnny Gargano came up behind him, holding his newly-won belt aloft as well. Ciampa as questioning for a moment, then smirked at the situation and joined in Gargano's posing. Gargano started to smile, then looked at this belt and seemed to stop smiling... and just as I was certain Gargano was going to clobber Ciampa with his belt, the show went off the air.
This was the usual AWESOME TakeOver show... and that's WITHOUT several of their big guns (Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, Kairi Sane, Pete Dunne) wrestling. Maybe a chunk of top stars not wrestling happens every TakeOver and I don't even notice and the only reason I noticed this time was the whole big deal they made about The Velveteen Dream showing up at the arena, only to do nothing with him other than sit him in the crowd. Either way, it's astonishing how consistently top-notch these shows are, and this one was no exception. I know it's only January, but I doubt anything is going to beat Gargano vs. Ricochet for Match of the Year. GO WATCH THIS SHOW NOW!