Capitol Wrestling Center, February 2021

As the rest of the world celebrated a day of chocolates and flowers, all was not rosy in the garden of NXT. Vengeance — not Valentine’s — was on the menu in Orlando as some of the brand’s best and brightest put on a spectacular five match card that undisputedly marked the beginning of one era but the end of another. Rushonrock’s heartbreak kid, Andy Spoors, looks back on an eventful night for the black and gold…

It speaks volumes that the question surrounding Takeover events isn’t whether the PPV was any good. The real question is just how good was it? In the case of Vengeance Day, to borrow a word from AJ Styles, the answer is ‘phenomenal’.

One of the key strengths of NXT is its simplicity. No far farfetched storylines. Nothing too over the top in the way of gimmicks. Five match cards. It means everything is tight, focussed and doesn’t have the chance to become bloated and over exposed.

In our preview, we commended NXT on shining a spotlight on tag team and women’s wrestling. A combination of both kicked off the show with Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez facing off against Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart in the final of the women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Tournament.

All four women involved could easily throw their name into the hat for a shot at the NXT Women’s Championship and their keenness to showcase their individual talents shone through from the first bell. The opening match on Takeover cards is just as coveted as the main event and often sets the pace for the rest of the show.

Putting their bodies on the line by jumping from the ring to the outside on numerous occasions, the fluid combination of Kai’s brains and Gonzalez’s brawn gave them the edge over the makeshift pairing of Moon and Blackheart. This may have been a slight appeasement for Gonzalez, as she seems like the next and rightful contender to the Women’s Championship.

The highly anticipated match between North American Champion Johnny Gargano and Kushida ramped up the pace of the night. What many thought would be a battle of technicians, actually moved along at a brisk pace. Sure, there were plenty of submission attempts exchanged during the near 25-minute match but both men are just as capable in the air as on the mat too.

On another night, this match may have been the one fans were left talking about. That’s not to besmirch the efforts or application of either men: that particular mantle would be picked up later in the night.

The second Dusty Rhodes Classic Final pitted British tag team Grizzled Young Veterans against newcomers MSK. The latter were only introduced to the WWE Universe a few weeks ago but their high-flying and eye-catching move-sets, have certainly turned heads.

After missing out in the final last year, GYV went into the match as overwhelming favourites to go one step further. But it was to be the Takeover debutants MSK that would claim 2021’s title and skyrocket themselves into an NXT Tag Team Championship opportunity.

The standout move of the match saw Wes Lee dive over one of the corner posts of the ring to the outside, wiping out both Zack Gibson and James Drake in the process. The athleticism and devil may care attitude both Lee and his partner Nash Carter display, is reminiscent of The Hardy Boyz in their early days. That is as high a compliment as we can pay but time will tell if the dynamic duo can emulate even half the career Matt & Jeff have enjoyed.

Io Shirai put her NXT Women’s Championship on the line in a triple threat match against Toni Storm and Mercedes Martinez. With no disrespect to what was a pretty decent outing, the match suffered for its placement on a stacked card.

Hitting the ring immediately after a high-octane tag team match would be daunting enough. Sandwiched between that match and the highly anticipated main event between Balor and Dunne felt almost unfair.

After winning the championship at Takeover: In Your House last year, Io has dispatched all challengers. That Storm has emerged victorious in most of her previous showdowns with the Japanese Superstar added some doubt to proceedings. The aptly dubbed ‘Genius of the Sky’, Shirai, plunged from a lighting rig and on to both her opponents, to gain the upper hand, eventually emerging victorious in an entertaining bout.

Ever since his record-breaking NXT UK Championship reign, fans have wanted to see Pete Dunne face off against Finn Balor in a battle to determine the best to come out of Europe. They were certainly not disappointed.

In a very early contender for match of the year, both Superstars displayed their technical prowess by focussing in on particular limbs and joints to manipulate. Dunne’s obsession with twisting and cracking the champion’s fingers was, simply put, wince-inducing.

Near falls for both men left the WWE Universe on the edge of their seat and just as a new champ looked likely to be crowned, Balor pulled off the win with a quick-fire dropkick, Coup de Grace and 1916.

The Irishman was barely able to celebrate before being attacked from behind by Dunne’s stable mates Birch and Lorcan. As a beatdown ensued, Undisputed Era chased off the assailants in a supposed show of respect to Balor.

Adam Cole had other ideas, however, blasting Finn with a superkick before turning on long-time, team-mate and friend Kyle O’Reilly. Questions have been circulating for months on the future of Undisputed Era and a possible move to Raw or SmackDown.

With plenty of new questions and theories for fans to sink their teeth into, all eyes are now fixed on Cole and the future of one of the most dominant factions in NXT history…