Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
In our preview of Takeover, Rushonrock made the bold statement that the event had ‘the potential to be one of the best in the brand’s steeped history’.” So, did NXT’s Superstars deliver on such a challenging task? Our King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors, returns to break down a night filled with exhilarating action and one or two surprises…
When a bar by which quality is judged is set high in your field of work, it can be daunting to live up to the weight of expectations. Some thrive off the opportunity. Some crumble. When that same bar was set by yourself that pressure multiplies ten-fold. Fleetwood Mac following Rumours, Usain Bolt racing his own world record or even this intrepid reporter trying to improve on his last report.
NXT has made a name for themselves on the back of constantly one upping their previous shows. Faster, fitter, more hard hitting. Louder, stronger, more shocking. Takeover: Portland, arguably, was all of those things.
Kicking the night off with a clash of the titans style showdown would, with any other two men, be an eyebrow raising decision. PPVs or big feel events notoriously kick off with fast paced matches filled with high octane action and this was no different. That action is rarely supplied by two Superstars well over 250 pounds though. The moves both Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic were able to pull off, not only defied gravity but logic as well: an avalanche Spanish fly, standing hurricanrana, a corkscrew moonsault and an astonishing dive from the tope rope to the announcer’s table outside the ring.
It wasn’t all high-flying manoeuvres – these behemoths can do some serious damage to each other the old fashioned way. Some of the most brutal open palmed chops, reverberated from Dijakovic’s chest and around Moda Center. It’s a shame either man had to lose the match but the momentum of Lee seems undeniable right now. With the higher ups in WWE reportedly hot on his future prospects, 2020 is shaping up to be a limitless year for this rising star.
War Games might have ignited a hatred between former best friends Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox, but the momentum has somewhat fizzled out in recent weeks. A horrifically brutal Street Fight match between the pair was, at times, difficult to watch. Clunky and awkward are rarely synonyms you want associated with a wrestling match. The vicious nature and methodical pacing converted those negatives into assets. In a blow off match for an intense rivalry, fans should want to witness realism and the eagerness to rip each other apart would not be slick and choreographed. Cricket bats, steel chains and a horrid looking head bump on a table, just some of the weapons used throughout. The intriguing inclusion of Raquel Gonzalez to hand an L to Nox, breathes new life and a different dimension into the feud at a time it needed it the most.
Finn Balor vs Johnny Gargano delivered an instant classic – as anticipated. Despite Balor’s best efforts the Portland audience seemed intent on rooting for the Irishman, with a lukewarm reception for Johnny Wrestling. Balor is still the longest reigning NXT Champion the brand has ever seen and no one has had more Takeover matches than Gargano. Both unashamedly NXT through and through, there was a lot of pride at stake, even if there was no silverware.
Beautifully paced, with amazing technical ability on display from start to finish, the match somehow lived up to the demands of the WWE Universe. Balor’s darker side has added a new layer to his persona and a meaner streak sets up some mouthwatering match ups with other NXT Superstars. The mojo is well and truly back and seeing the fluidity and skill combined with an obvious reignited passion for his craft, means NXT currently hosts one of the best in the world. His victory over Gargano only solidifies that fact.
Pete Dunne and Matt Riddle may have been thrown together to form the Broserweights, but winning the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament gave them a shot at Undisputed Era and their NXT Tag Team Championships. After putting on stellar match after stellar match, Undisputed Era are amongst the very best when it comes to tag team wrestling. Throw in two hugely talented Superstars like Riddle and Dunne and you are bound to get a match of the year contender. The final five minutes of the match showed just how in sync both teams are, the Broserweights deserve all the credit in the world for gelling so quickly, never having to change their individual styles that have made them both firm fan favourites. With Tampa around the corner, the Bros march on with the tag belts around their waists.
Rhea Ripley’s ascent to the top of the NXT women’s division has been rapid, but her opponent in Portland has been keeping up every step of the way. A huge match against Charlotte Flair hung in the balance for the winner of the match and perhaps more importantly a Wrestlemania appearance. With Belair only 30 and Ripley the tender age of 23, the pressure of delivering a title match up barely seems to register a single nerve. Both women look comfortable in their respective characters as well as accomplished between the ring.
Ripley has come a long way since her first Mae Young Classic appearance: a strikingly tall and muscular body shape dovetailing perfectly into her full metalhead persona. She looks every bit as dangerous as she is in the ring. Her match with the aforementioned Flair was confirmed when the Raw Superstar interrupted Ripley’s celebrations with a blindsided attack. The level of attention Ripley is about to receive will surely help each and every one of the NXT women’s division, as new fans are bound to flock to the brand out of curiosity.
The main event of the night saw Ciampa attempting to reclaim the NXT Championship (“Goldie”) he never lost in the ring. As had been a theme throughout the night, the brutality on display was at times difficult to watch. Blood doesn’t need to be spilt to signify a war has taken place. Ciampa’s journey back from injury has been well documented, which is why every shot to his surgically repaired neck is wince inducing.
One particular blow came from a release German suplex to the edge of an announcer’s table, that brought very real gasps of anguish from the commentary team. Yes, results are predetermined, but the risks displayed here are just plain difficult to watch. Accidents happen and as skilled as both athletes are, the compelling story of heartbreak to redemption is addictive when anything can happen.
We watch from behind our fingers with every neck bump Ciampa takes, every flying headbutt Daniel Bryan makes or chair shot Edge takes. The symmetry between this match and the Championship match between Cole and Gargano in New York was palpable. Storytelling at its finest. So just as Ciampa looked set to overcome the odds, as his long-time friend/foe had at the Barclays Center, the cruel twist of a scorned Gargano screwing him out of victory was the cruellest blow.
It can be hard to match up to a standard you set yourself. Not only did NXT deliver, the prospect of one final grudge match between Ciampa and Gargano brings us full circle. In just a few weeks’ time, the black and gold brand will go to war in Tampa. Not for the first time, it will seemingly be with their toughest opponent to date. Themselves.