NXT Takeover XXV – Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, Connecticut

NXT celebrated their 25th Takeover event with a breathtaking reminder of the talent possessed by the yellow and black brand and a stark contrast to the current plight the main roster finds itself mired in. Our King of the Ring, Andy Spoors, witnessed it all:

With WWE taking heavy fire from critics, rival promotions and ex-employees alike, the company can’t seem to catch a break from negative headlines. However, NXT’s Superstars arrived determined to blow away the competition and place their name in the hat for brand supremacy.

Whereas new competition has arrived in the form of AEW (All Elite Wrestling), it is arguably one of his own brands that poses the most questions to owner Vince McMahon. With Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque at the creative and production helm, NXT has developed a cult following and gained critical acclaim for its in-ring performances. Sure, the brand was bankrolled and boosted by its parent company, but since laying its roots in Orlando’s Full Sail University, NXT has not only stood on its own two feet but established itself amongst the cream of the professional wrestling/sports entertainment industry.

Here in the 25th iteration of its signature Takeover event, Triple H and Co deserve to be lavished with praise. Away from the restrictions and pressures of external partners and TV execs, a five-match card could shine a light on pure athleticism.

A slow burning rivalry between Matt Riddle and Roderick Strong exploded into a fierce and hard-hitting affair on the night’s first match. Matt Riddle may not have been in NXT long, but the back catalogue of stellar matches he has amassed in his fledgling career is nothing short of impressive. The in-ring chemistry found here with Strong, allowed the two to trade blow after blow in a near perfect opener. The crowd showed they were ready for a special night as Riddle emerged victorious, dealing the first loss to an Undisputed Era rep in what was shaping up to be a long night for the faction.

As Viking Raiders (aka Viking Experience or War Raiders) vacated their NXT Tag Championships due to moving to the main roster full-time, a four-way ladder match was put together to help decide who should earn that honour moving forward. Street Profits, Forgotten Sons, Birch & Lorcan and Undisputed Era’s Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly laid on a modern classic that undoubtedly left all concerned waking up the next morning in considerable pain. The wince-inducing disregard the eight men showed for their bodies was bordering on harrowing.

O’Reilly, in particular, took some excruciating bumps to his back, the welts instantly forming as ladders toppled in and out of the ring. As we have mentioned previously, gimmick matches like these, constantly need to hit the refresh button in an attempt to give fans something they’ve never seen before. The sheer amount of punishment dished out here will certainly live long in the memory. A final display of agility by Street Profits member Montez Ford, to leap from the top rope to a ladder in the centre of the ring in one movement was an incredible way to capture the titles and bag a match of the year contender.

Much has been made of Velveteen Dream’s ascent to NXT stardom. At just 23, the charismatic North American champ seems to just understand what the WWE Universe are looking for. An over the top persona, strong on the mic, a penchant for paying homage to Superstars of old and when the bell rings you know you’ll see something special. His match at Takeover 25 saw a showdown with a returning favourite looking to reignite some momentum of his own.

In the early days of NXT, Tyler Breeze was the charismatic and fashion obsessed Superstar that had the fans purring over his performances. Fast forward a few years and the similarities between Breeze and Dream are startling. The match itself was scrappy but the character development throughout made the bout highly entertaining. From Dream having to adopt a scrappier fighting style to Breeze’s determination to show what the world has been missing, the match-up zipped along to its conclusion of Dream retaining his championship. Both men posing for a selfie post-match felt like an apt passing of the torch.

Io Shirai looked to exact some revenge and dethrone NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Bayzler, following weeks of sneak attacks. She may not have captured the title this time, but the post-match beat down she inflicted on Bayzler was well received by the vociferous audience in Bridgeport. Like her or loathe her Bayzler has been amassing big wind over all challengers in her time on NXT. Whoever dethrones the Queen of Spades will be an instant star, so it’s no wonder that the honour is keenly contested for.

On to the main event of the night and a rematch for the NXT Championship. The challenger Adam Cole was looking to not only win the belt from rival Johnny Gargano but pick up a much needed victory for his group, Undisputed Era. The pair’s match in Brooklyn on Wrestlemania weekend nearly stole the entire weekend. Here there was no doubt the night belonged to Cole and Gargano. Near falls aplenty, lesser spotted moves sets and a sense of uncertainty combined to create another classic.

With Undisputed Era the last true stable in WWE programming in addition to his indie wrestling roots, it’s easy to see why Adam Cole is a WWE Universe darling. There was shock that he wasn’t victorious back in April when the two originally squared up. Multiple Panama Sunrise finishers, as well as the brutal Last Shot (a running flying knee to the back of the head) was enough this time around. The chemistry between champ and challenger made this match what it was – a red hot contest between two Superstars destined for great things.

If this is the level of event NXT are producing 25 Takeovers in, we can’t wait to see what happens in 25 more….

Main image courtesy of WWE