NXT Takeover New York Review

I’m not Elby Hunktears, which sucks honestly because Elby rules. I’m John, your friend at Fanbyte dot com. I’m covering NXT Takeover New York because Elby is covering the 472,192 wrestling events happening in New York City this weekend for the incredible Wrestlesplania podcast.

Undisputed Era’s dipshit energy could power New York

Highlights of a panel-heavy preshow were few and far between, but I wanted to make sure everyone knows that Undisputed Era is still incredible. More specifically, Kyle O’Reilly is such a magical dumbass. A backstage interview with everyone but Adam Cole featured a bunch of tremendous Kyle faces, Roderick Strong looking like the head of a rival ski school in Better Off Dead, and Roderick and Kyle finishing each other’s sentences which leads to this:

These fuckin idiots. I love them.

WWE 2K19 Million Dollar Chal-oh my god who approved this segment?

The conclusion of the WWE 2K19 Million Dollar Challenge was held on stage during the final 15-ish minutes of the preshow. I’m not sure who was in charge of this segment, but maybe they ought to, oh I don’t know, consult resident games expert Xavier Woods on how to set things up. Although Xavier was on hand to emcee the festivities, it’s clear he had little to do with production, figuring out (and verbalizing) all the little things wrong.

This segment featured:

  • Corey Graves completely phoning it in
  • Xavier Wood’s outfit which can only be described as a Pancake War Crime
  • The Golden Voice (the person up for the $1mm prize) acting like a Gamer the entire time
  • AJ Styles throwing the match and/or have no idea how to do anything
  • A fresh out of the box PlayStation 4 and copy of the game that had all the tutorial pop-ups enabled, meaning the game had never been played before

The commentators directly alluded to the fact that if AJ had won, the million dollars would just disappear into a void. So the crowd, who actively hated this, was being asked to root for a Gamer decked out in gold to win one million dollars or for millionaire middle school baseball coach AJ Styles to make that million dollars go back into the company.

I can’t overstate how much more entertaining it would’ve been to see the WWE accounting team to come out on stage and look at Profit/Loss sheets for each of WWE’s verticals to see how to reallocate the million dollars.

Hey WWE marketing team, maybe just decide that you’re going to part with a million dollars and find an obnoxious gamer (congrats, you found one) and a cool gamer (maybe SonicFox can get into WWE 2K) and have them duke it out for the prize. I think the crowd might be 3% more invested.

War Raiders vs. Black & Ricochet

The actual event began with NXT Tag Team Champions War Raiders taking on the kind-of-odd-but-growing-on-me-a-lot pairing of Aleister Black and Ricochet.

The entrances again reminded me that Aleister Black’s so-bad-yet-so-infectious theme is one of the best in the biz, with the crowd catching on more and more each week. It’s dumb, really, but it’s wonderful. Also the War Raiders drummers were wearing lowkey street clothes, which made their entrance less God of War and more Mossimo Clothing Skyrim mod.

The entire crowd knew this was the latter’s swan song in NXT, which definitely heightened the emotions of an otherwise paint-by-numbers big stage tag title match. Not that it was a bad match at all! It ruled! It just followed very closely in a tradition of WrestleMania weekend NXT openers with a hot tag match where not much actually happened but everything was very good. I especially liked the opening sequence with Black and Rowe exchanging some very good chain wrestling and getting into a few “I could kill you right now and you know it, I know it, but I didn’t and you’re welcome slash you should be scared.”

A lot of attention for War Raiders is on Hansen, who in many ways fits more into a mold that WWE likes. Oh, a big dude who can move? Rad. And it is! However, the high point is the crowd realizing in the early going that Ray Rowe is a really good professional wrestler. This isn’t a secret for folks who knew him on the independent scene, but I’d love to see Black and Rowe mix it up for a singles title at some point down the line.

When Hansen and Ricochet tag in, the crowd realizes just as Mauro Ranallo mentions it that they are both team’s high flyers, which is a fun juxtaposition to see in the ring at the same time.

There were a lot of fun sequences in the match, but none that made me go “ooh hoo hooooooo” out loud like when the Raiders hit that great-looking springboard clothesline move and Black broke up the pin with an out-of-nowhere double stomp from the top.

The sequence before the finish was incredible, too, ending in Hansen’s top rope rolling senton to the outside which followed what I put in my notes as “RICOCHET’S CORKSCREW SPACE MOUNTAIN HORSE SHIT.” Still can’t believe my eyes sometimes with the stuff he can do.

War Raiders retained with Fallout on Ricochet after a smart series of moves by Hansen, who always seemed like the freshest man in the match. It’s nice when things work out like that. After the match, War Raiders paid their protracted respects to Black and Ricochet, who seemed to be caught off guard by the send-off. Ricochet’s raw emotion was really nice here, realizing perhaps he may not get this kind of response from any other WWE audience going forward, which is always bittersweet to see.

In a brand where tenures are short, we’ve seen a lot of these moments, but it’s not hyperbolic to say that Black and Ricochet are two of the best to come through NXT. They still have a big career (and weekend) ahead of them!

Notes that don’t belong anywhere else:

  • I saw Mario and Cappy in the crowd
  • The crowd got super distracted by something early in the match, which threw everyone off for about half a minute
  • Piper Niven sighting at ringside!

Velveteen Dream vs. Matt Riddle

The match with the most difficult outcome to predict was next, with North American champion Velveteen Dream facing Original Bro Matt Riddle. It felt too soon for Dream to lose the title, but I’d argue he doesn’t need a title right now. On the other hand, Riddle had been so dominant the past few months it was hard to seem him losing.

We got to see a few really special things in this match. We were treated to another wonderful performance start to finish from Velveteen Dream. This dude has taken the best from some pioneers and molded them into its own thing, which is breathtaking. He’ll keep doing overt demonstrations of Hulk’s greatest hits, be carried to the ring a la Macho King Randy Savage (complete with Dream versions of the gear from that era), and do Eddie Guerrero-like sleights of hand in the ring, yet make it all feel like his.

Even the Hulk-up sequence late in the match was subverted. For every thing that was straight out of the Hogan textbook, he’d follow it with something all his own. Here’s the other wild thing about Dream. He checks as many WWE prototype boxes as he does boxes for folks like me, who almost always root against the type. He is by every measure an early 90s WWE heavyweight professional wrestling champion except that he’s black and he’s flipping the script on a ton of things sacrosanct to the company.

Velveteen Dream is a total unicorn and WWE will manage to fuck it up completely, I’m sure.

Anyway! The other really special thing we got to see was Matt Riddle in a competitive match. The conclusion was not foregone like in all of his previous NXT matches, so it was cool to see his style in a match like this. He’s a ridiculous athlete, of course, but he’s also obsessed with submission at every stage of the match. When Riddle locks in an armbar early it doesn’t feel wrong that there’d be a tap-out. He’s just a great in-ring storyteller in that regard.

One of the things that’s fun about Riddle is his transformation from extremely laid-back dude two seconds before the match starts into a snarling, sunken-eyed monster whose skull is pulsating out of its skin. I love it. Look at this dude, he’s like Narcis Prince from Super Punch-Out.

After Riddle dominated most of the match, Dream reversed a very snug Bromission into a roll-up and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. This finish was excellent. It was even believable that Riddle would roll back to try to get the higher ground again, just to be grabbed by Dream into the pinning combination. Dream even reciprocated the respect Riddle threw at him in the form of a fist-bump, which played a little against type for my tastes, but maybe Dream is evolving as a character!

Another excellent match on an evening full of them!

Notes that don’t belong anywhere else:

  • Dream’s Statue of Liberty was cool
  • KUSHIDA sighting!!! He even pointed at his watch as if to say, “I will be Back to the Futuring on your WWE television soon.”

Pete Dunne vs. WALTER

Ever since WALTER debuted at Takeover Blackpool, folks have been waiting for this match. Even the matchup screen before the entrances got a huge pop in the crowd. Deservedly so! Pete Dunne’s historic reign as UK Champ was on the line against by far the most legitimate contender not named Adam Cole or Tyler Bate he has defended against.

The hype for WALTER can’t be overstated, either. “Developmental” rosters for WWE have been traditionally smaller than the main roster, but WALTER is a capital H Heavyweight that immediately forces Dunne to wrestle against a type he had been used to. They played up a size difference between Joe Coffey and Dunne at Blackpool, but this was totally different.

Comparisons to Japanese legend Kenta Kobashi are lofty but apt. Both represent savvy heavyweight wrestling with some striking, power, and agility thrown into a food processor. All were on display against Dunne.

A quick shout-out to Nigel McGuinness who at least has made an attempt to incorporate German language and pronunciation into the WALTER proceedings. Schließlich, ist WALTER der Ring General. Nice “meine Güte,” Nigel.

I liked this match a lot. It wasn’t as exciting as all four other matches, which felt right. Dunne wrestled a smart match until he felt like he couldn’t be conservative anymore, which felt right. WALTER never acted like he was scared of Dunne but respected him, which felt right. The match was so logical it might read as boring, but I adored the time we had.

Taking the title off Dunne felt obvious, but right. WALTER is the real deal. That top-rope powerbomb followed by the splash should end anyone, even Johnny Gargano (more on that later). I’m looking forward to seeing if WALTER and Dunne are going to get into a long-term rivalry or if WALTER might find some more interesting company in NXT UK soon.

Let’s take a second to pour one out for Pete Dunne. Aside from having an all-time bad mustache and leather-chomping oral fixation, Pete Dunne is one of the best wrestlers on an increasingly-crowded roster. A thing I wonder about a lot is what is Pete Dunne without the UK Title? Is he a mid-carder on Smackdown? Is he a 205 Live contender? Does he wait around for other transcendent talent to arrive in NXT UK so he and WALTER don’t have to wrestle each other every quarter?

The dude is obviously good enough to be a top title holder in WWE but I don’t see it, unfortunately. At least there’s excitement in finding out if I’m wrong.

Notes that don’t belong anywhere else:

  • WALTER is a chopping genius
  • Big Zack Sabre Jr shit (more than usual) with Dunne’s submissions
  • WALTER’s selling of Dunne’s finger work is better than just about anyone else

Shayna Baszler vs. Io Shirai vs. Bianca Belair vs. Kairi Sane

The fatal-four-way for the NXT Women’s Championship started with a good video package explaining the scene in NXT at the moment. The idea is that Shayna Baszler is so good they need to start putting her in disadvantageous matches to make things interesting. This is a great narrative for Shayna to attach herself to, in a way, because it’s kind of true! She is really good at wrestling and dominates in most one-on-one matches. On the other hand there’s grumpy wrestling fan John who wrote “typical chaos match” within two minutes of the start.

I’m not sure if they have different bookers for different title tracks in NXT, but the booking isn’t matching the talent here. Maybe there’s a board in the back for every Takeover with a big photo of Vince staring at you asking, “Do you have a clusterfuck on your card yet?” I say this so firmly because I’d love to see Shayna go one-on-one with any of the three challengers even if we’ve seen Kairi and Belair before.

For my money, have Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection defend against Kairi and Io (that’s the point of the traveling titles, isn’t it?) and have Shayna face Belair.

Enough griping! Even for a “typical chaos match” there was some great fun here. Of course, Kairi and Io playing baseball with Belair’s blown kiss was amazing. Belair’s continued progression as a wrestler was on display, as well, doing impressive things outside of being incredibly strong and whipping people with her hair (never gets old, tbh). Even though I said I’d rather see Io and Kairi get a WWE Women’s Tag Title shot, I enjoyed the glimpse into what it’ll be like when these two really go at it down the line (and they will).

Shayna, though. Shayna. Shayna is so good at everything you do in professional wrestling I can’t wait till she drops the title and becomes the best version of Ronda Rousey on the main roster. She’s a better Ronda Rousey in every conceivable way except previous box office success and I don’t think she gets the respect she deserves.

Shayna retained by submission over Belair and had a wonderful stumble-and-celebrate into the back with her Horsewomen pals.

Belair will get her day, but I think more attention needs to be thrown at how commentators discuss Belair both during matches and in preshow panels. If Jim Ross thinks there’s no room for stories about race in wrestling, that’s fine. He’s wrong and daft, but that’s fine. What I’d say to people like him is maybe there wouldn’t be so much opportunity for more progressive race-based wrestling narratives if WWE didn’t dogwhistle every fifteen seconds when there’s a black wrestler on the screen. Especially a black woman.

Anyway, all four of these women completely rule and I hope we get bigger one-on-one spotlight matches on future Takeovers.

Notes that don’t belong anywhere else:

  • Bianca Belair bedazzled her hair!!!!
  • That double KOD from Belair to Io/Kairi was phenomenal

Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole

The final match of the evening was the two out of three falls match for the vacant NXT Championship. This, of course, was supposed to be the conclusion (yeah right) to the Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa feud, but a neck injury has put Ciampa on the shelf for another year. This is a bummer, in a way, but if I’m honest (and you’re honest with yourself), I’d say the Gargano/Ciampa feud lost the thread on a “logical conclusion” almost a year ago.

I’m in the minority (I think) of people who were psyched to see a fresh matchup with little buildup other than “these two dudes are great at wrestling and now one of them will be the best at wrestling.”

Adam Cole is the truth, first of all. For a dude who entered a company heralding him as an uncrowned successor to Shawn Michaels, he’s had very few top of the card opportunities. He really made the most of it at Takeover New York.

The first fall was Cole’s, in more ways than one. He won the fall, reversing a sunset flip into a Last Shot, which is now just a back of the head thing instead of any old Shining Wizard. He also won the crowd, which was heavily, heavily in favor of Cole until about five minutes before the match ended. Momentum shifted expectedly in the second fall, with Gargano forcing Cole to tap very quickly to the GargaNo Escape.

The last fall was the moneymaker, of course. By then the crowd had shifted more 50/50 and Gargano had been cut over the right eyebrow. The third fall had everything:

  • A hockey fight
  • Highly coordinated interference from Undisputed Era
  • Gargano kicking out of Fish/O’Reilly’s finisher
  • Tons of moves from the historical movesets of both men
  • A Fairytale By God Ending from Cole to Gargano on the announce table

I want to focus on the last two for a second. Mauro Ranallo deserves some love for his best calls of the night, including letting the audience know when Gargano and Cole both used moves they seldom/never use in NXT but used to do on the indie circuit. I especially enjoyed the straightjacket suplex from Cole and the crowd really enjoyed Cole’s second rope Canadian Destroyer. Mauro was instrumental in making these moves feel like they were digging really deep.

Even though Ciampa couldn’t participate in the match itself, his spirit was felt at multiple points in the match. Allusions to DIY came from both Cole and Gargano, but Cole’s Fairytale Ending (Ciampa’s more recent heel finisher) on Gargano on the announce table was brutal and poetic.

After 12-15 incredibly close near falls (I lost count), Gargano was able to finally put an increasingly incredulous Cole away with his submission again. It almost felt like Cole could’ve won the match on his own terms, but once he decided to go full Ciampa and then get his buddies involved, it was too late. No one can Ciampa Gargano expect Ciampa. Gargano’s seen that movie a bunch and Cole produced a shitty remake.

The result was unexpected to me but I respect it. Gargano’s too good to go to 205 Live (sorry 205 Heads). If anything, Undisputed Era could make post-WrestleMania Raw feel fresh and give us immediate chances to see Cole against Balor, Rollins, etc. Cole’s an all-time great WWE heel waiting to happen and it can’t happen when he’s shuffled around on the card at every Takeover.

For Gargano, he has a number of future defenses ahead of him that excite me. Riddle, Dream, Keith Lee, Dijak, maybe even Pete Dunne if he defects–all loom as pieces of the puzzle while Ciampa convalesces.

Ciampa joining Gargano and LeRae on stage after the match was sweet, but A Choice. I’m of course happy for the real people up there, happy for each other’s success and love. You can see it! It’s really beautiful! But if WWE wants to put each moment of the Gargano/Ciampa saga on tapestries to hang in Castle NXT one day, this moment doesn’t punctuate the story in a way that makes sense. Ciampa was there enough in the quiet, empty spaces and loud homages that his actual appearance (though I’m glad to see him and glad his surgery went well) didn’t work that well for me. Maybe the writing staff agrees with me that they lost the thread a while ago and it doesn’t really matter how it “ends” right now. Maybe the point is that one day it will continue, and isn’t that professional wrestling in a nutshell?