The NXT TakeOver: Chicago II Report Card

Well it’s been just over two months since NOLA, but it’s finally time for NXT’s attempt at following up on one of the greatest rasslin shows of all time. That last TakeOver event was startling and whilst a glance at this Chicago card suggests that their unlikely to match that effort, NXT has a knack of over-delivering on this stage. For me personally, I’m most interested in the tag title match as well as Dream vs. Ricochet. I can’t lie, I’m cautious as far as the DIY sequel but if anyone can match that last classic, it’s these two.

In reality though, I’m mostly concerned with keeping my eyes opened. World Cup fever has me rocking and rolling which means that tonight, all lulls in action could result in my tragic demise. Fingers crossed friends.

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DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.

NXT Tag Team Titles

The Undisputed Era (Fish & Strong) vs. BBSS (Bald Bloke Strong Style)

Well we get things started just as I had expected: with the tag title affair that promises to be jam-packed with high octane action and intensity. Strong and Oney got us going here and as the babyfaces quickly took control, the contrast in crowd reaction was immediately obvious. The Undisputed Era were insanely over in Chicago, and that coupled with the BBSS’ lack of crowd connection meant for a hostile response to the quite traditional match layout seen early.

Either way, the champs eventually cut Burch off and got some heat on him. O’Reilly and Roddy did a nice job of using effective offense without ever overstepping their grounds, staying heel even if the crowd refused to boo them. Looking to maintain their grip on proceedings, O’Reilly took out Oney on the apron but now desperate, Burch scored a headbutt and brought in Lorcan for his famed hot tag anyway. After some vicious lariats and uppercuts, Lorcan hit an awesome tope and was now officially losing his mind.

A double blockbuster soon followed as well as their recent tag finish but Kyle broke the fall and then thwarted some kind of Doomsday Device, sending Lorcan violently crashing onto the apron. This left Burch isolated again and he was quickly caught in an O’Reilly armbar but in a tremendous babyface moment, Danny fought to the ropes. This audience still wasn't on the babyfaces’ side but they were audibly warming to them and rightly so, as they were rocking it thus far.

The heels briefly maintained control from there but the challengers rallied once more, with Lorcan hitting a brutal blockbuster off the apron. They then hit that aforementioned Doomsday Uppercut Device but Cole pulled O’Reilly to the floor, breaking up the pin. This left the referee with no choice and much to the crowd’s disgust, he sent Cole to the back. With momentum now on their side, the babyfaces looked to close the show after Lorcan suplexed out of an O’Reilly guillotine.

Double submissions came next but Kyle creatively kicked Roddy free to set up one final big brawl that the champs eventually got the best of, retaining their belts via high low. Wow, this was a simply tremendous tag match. I found the first couple of minutes to be a little shaky but as soon as things settled, this became great and eventually built to an immaculate final few minutes. It was nice to see the BBSS receive a post-match ovation as they both deserved this moment and made the absolute most of it too. Excellent match.

Grade: A

Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet

I’m not sure there’s a match all weekend that I’m more excited for than this one and as Dream makes his way out cosplaying as both Hulk Hogan and Prince Puma, I’m even more fired up than usual. Big match feel here and this crowd is already ALL IN as they do the feeling out process gimmick early. A showmanship stand-off quickly led to a slap war though and Dream got the better of things, going to work with ground and pound as well as some of his more signature offense.

In the hunt to one-up the other, they then traded dives to the floor with Ricochet making a somewhat subdued comeback until Dream hit his rolling DVD off the middle rope. He only got 2 for that but it didn't deter Dream who then suplexed Ricochet off the apron to the floor. That allowed for the dramatic 9.9 count-out spot before back in-ring, Dream hit another rolling DVD for another dramatic false finish. A big strike exchange followed, resulting in Dream’s northern lights suplex that this time, he couldn't follow up on.

He instead clutched his back as he looked for the dead-lift suplex and hit a desperate lariat instead. Dream quickly rebounded, hitting his always awesome DDT for another false finish. Dream was now frustrated and began to talk bingo halls whilst slapping Ricochet in the face. In response, Ricochet hit his own rolling DVD and a Purple Rainmaker of his own for 2.  Ricochet headed straight back up top, this time looking for a shooting star press but Dream rolled away a little, forcing some hesitation.

Ricochet opted to fly anyway, but ate knees for his trouble as Dream got one final 2 count. Too desperate to one-up his foe, Dream went for the obscene Xavier Woods elbow but Ricochet moved, headed up top and hit the 630 for the win. Hmmm, I must say that as much as I wanted to love this match, it underwhelmed me a little. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good, especially the final few minutes but before that, I found much of it meandering.

Dream’s character work is immaculate but his actual control segment was rather lacking I thought and didn't combine well at all with Ricochet’s selling. I think it’s totally unfair to dismiss Ricochet as some kind of spot monkey at this point but I don’t think the better elements of his selling are well-suited to Dream’s offense. He’s very good at bumping for explosive stuff but making the most out of punches in the corner and holds…not so much right now.

I’m not sure, I just found the first 60% of this to be lacking in purpose and that saddens me as I genuinely love both guys. Once they picked up the pace and really focused in on the story they wanted to tell though, this become tremendous and overall, was legitimately very good. However, I’d be lying if I said it loved it because unfortunately, I just didn't.

Grade: B+

NXT Women’s Title

Nikki Cross vs. Shayna Baszler (C)

Women’s title time now, and I’m legitimately fascinated to see how this match is laid out as I think a formulaic approach would be tough for this particular style matchup. Speaking of such, Nikki befuddled Baszler early, daring her to hit her and just generally being very scary. She even jumped on Shayna’s back, forcing the champ to powder. Cross continued the chase regardless, trapping Baszler in the apron like a young, or old, Fit Finlay. Nikki jumped back on Shayna’s back from there, but Baszler countered, slamming herself free on the ramp.

Shayna was in control now and unleashed some kicks before grounding the action. Whilst on that topic, Baszler’s striking has improved quite a bit, in fact her whole game has gotten better in my view. Cross continued to ask for more though and eventually fired up, making a big comeback and even hitting an APRON SLOP DROP. The champ fired back though, cutting Nikki off with a knee strike and grabbing the choke. Cross countered though, hitting a draping neckbreaker for 2 but Baszler soon regained control and with it, the choke.

Though a smile was etched on her face, Cross passed out as Shayna retained her title. I feared for this match but generally enjoyed the character stuff a lot even if it was pretty predictable. I feel like people passing out in Shayna’s choke isn’t anything knew which perhaps lessened the finish’s impact on me but regardless, it was the correct way to go. Baszler impressed me here and Cross’ character work always rules. That being said, Nikki is so much more character than wrestler that I don’t find her work in regular matches to be particularly engaging.

Overall, this wasn't an easy character/style contrast and I thought that these women worked very hard to make it work. Fine match.

Grade: B-

NXT Title

Lars Sullivan vs. Aleister Black (C)

The build-up for this match has been pretty forgettable but I’m intrigued as to how Lars will perform on this stage and moreover, how Black will fare when leading him. After a big stare-down, Black unloaded some strikes but Sullivan caught Black Mass. After being frozen briefly, Black landed some other offense as the fight headed to the outside. Lars caught the champ’s moonsault though and went to work on the floor. Back inside the ring now and Sullivan was finally in control, immediately grounding Black.

Lars’ work in control here ranged from awesomely explosive to at other times, somewhat dull. That’s to be expected, though I’d personally prefer a better balance if he’s going to continue to have heat segments like this one. Either way, in the end Lars’ insanity cost him as his diving headbutt attempt was blocked by a tremendous Black knee. A strike exchange followed and Black unsurprisingly got the better of it, next landing a big moonsault press for 2.

Sullivan once again countered Black Mass though, chop blocking the leg and grabbing a stretch muffler my god. Black escaped after a struggle and continued to fire back, even countering Freak Accident with a DDT. Lars scurried to the apron in response and soon turned things around, landing a big powerslam on the apron and hitting the aforementioned diving headbutt for 2. Black quickly came back, countered Lars and hit a double stomp before missing Black Mass when he was supposed to land it.

Confused by this, Lars simply fell over. Nigel tried his best to protect this misstep but it hurt things dramatically for the live crowd until Sullivan made everyone forget it with a massive lariat. For that 10 seconds though, man was Chicago angry. Either way, Black soon landed Black Mass for real and after Lars asked for more, landed another one to retain his title. This was good and frankly, I’m not surprised by that, Lars is impressive in my opinion and not nearly the albatross that some pretend.

Considering this isn’t Black’s ideal style of match though, their effort here was impressive. I personally wanted it to be more violent in rapid fashion but by showcasing both men’s offensive strengths, it got there in the end and was a quite bruising affair. The missed Black Mass was a shame but these things happen and they quickly recovered which allowed the finish to still get a strong reaction. Good match that’ll improve both men dramatically in my opinion.

Grade: B

Chicago Street Fight

Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa

Main event time folks but before he can make his entrance, we see Johnny handed a crutch by Mrs Rasslin…she tells him to kick Ciampa’s ass. Tremendous. To the fight now and after their initial crutch duel was a stalemate, Gargano took control and hunted Ciampa down with an apron cannonball. He then launched him over the announce table and into poor Nigel McGuiness before hunting him into the crowd. He stayed in control even amongst the fans, using a stop sign as well as a big cross-body from up above.

As the action headed back in-ring though, Ciampa cut him off before the rivals traded German suplexes. A suicide dive came next from Johnny as they continued to go back and forth on the floor. Ciampa soon took over though, battering Gargano with a chair and slamming him into the steps with it wrapped around his throat. He continued his violent assault too, still focusing on the neck with some trashcan shots for good measure. Continuing his thus far brilliant heel showing, Ciampa then began to strangle Gargano with his own shirt.

Handcuffs were his next plan but Johnny fired back, whipping Ciampa with his belt and hitting a trashcan-assisted superkick. The momentum continued to swing regardless with Tommaso soon scoring a violent air raid crash onto the steps for 2. He then pulled back to the canvas’ padding and exposed the mat. THIS IS PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING PAL. He couldn't murder Gargano just yet though as they continued to trade offence. Johnny’s 2nd dive would cost him either way, as Ciampa cut him off with a brutal trashcan lid.

He then looked for his big knee but Johnny moved, sending Ciampa into the steps hard. Gargano quickly seized, assaulting Tommaso’s leg with vicious chair shots. Ciampa desperately created some space though, rudely locking on the Gargano Escape at his first opportunity. In a familiar sight, Gargano grabbed the crutch in hope for an escape but Ciampa cut him off, battering the back of Johnny’s head and neck in frightening fashion. Tommaso had the crutch now and he unleashed for another false finish.

Unsure of what it’ll take to win, Ciampa dragged Gargano up the ramp whilst talking trash. This was a flashback of the original heel turn. Just like last year, Ciampa threw his old friend into the stage and hit a knee strike once again. It’s déjà vu pal. The next step was inevitable, an air raid crash from up above through a table. Before that though, Tommaso took off Johnny’s wedding ring, spat on it and threw it away. This only allowed Johnny to fire up though as he turned the tables and hit a horrific air raid of his own.

The medics quickly came to Ciampa’s aid as he was put on a stretcher. Just like Tommaso had one year prior, Gargano simply sat over his body watching…almost frozen by his own actions. As Ciampa was dragged off though, Johnny chased after him and dragged him back to the ring whilst tossing everyone aside. He immediately applied Gargano Escape and Ciampa tapped but there was no referee as the agents looked to pull Johnny away. Enraged, Johnny dropped each and every agent and handcuffed Ciampa.

A flurry of superkicks followed and the Gargano Escape one more time but as Johnny was pulled away, his anger got the best of him as he wildly ran directly into a Ciampa DDT onto the exposed wood. To the shock and horror of this Chicago crowd, that was rightly the finish. Okay, so whilst I understand the visual tap-out element, it felt a little odd with so many agents watching as he tapped. That said, this is the only tiny issue I could possibly have as this was a simple astonishing main event.

They somehow matched their NOLA effort in a match that’ll stick with people for quite some time, a match rich with storytelling and violence both. I genuinely fear for the health of these two men but I’m thankful for their risks as it’s created a rivalry worth remembering. Beautiful match that was gripping throughout, Gargano is having an obscene 2018.

Grade: A*

Final Thoughts

This was a show book-ended by two truly brilliant encounters and also one without anything bad. It wasn't as good as TakeOver: New Orleans in my mind but that’s not much of a critique at all. The two singles title matches were good not great and I didn't love Ricochet/Dream but we can’t be unrealistic here, a 5 match show with two bangers is still an amazing show…just one slightly less incredible than NOLA. No matter how you spin it, this was another great TakeOver event.

Grade: A

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