We are only days removed from the first ever NXT Report Card and the whirlwind reaction has made things hectic. Honestly, after the colossal response to the inaugural edition, I wasn't sure I could go forward with this series. After fighting off the paparazzi and their multiple attempts to question me on my Sonya Deville critique though, I’ve decided to courageously continue this journey. I simply asked myself, “What would ‘Cien’ Almas do?” The answer of course: fight! (It would actually more likely be "go out for some drinks with wildly attractive women" but you catch my drift). Anyway the focus today, of course, is TakeOver: Chicago.
A quick note before we begin, I won’t be grading individual performances here but instead just the matches overall. Most television matches are about getting over a character but when it comes to TakeOver, I feel it would be wrong to split the grades for twenty-minute matches as I’m simply unqualified to do so. With that being said, let’s head to the Allstate Arena and take our front row seat next to Pat Patterson and Sami Zayn.
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.
Eric Young vs. Roderick Strong
Considering the amount of TV time invested, is it just me or are Sanity not nearly as over as you would expect? On the other hand, it was uplifting to hear Strong get such a positive response. It’s almost like showing your babyfaces as likable and relatable actually works huh? Who’d have thunk it? Also, Strong laying out Dain and Wolfe before the first bell was a nice touch and immediately showed him as actually intelligent. My issue with this match is that I just really struggle to connect with this Sanity act. I see them the same way many used to see The Wyatt Family, they are attacking people and that’s cool and all but I really have no idea as to what or who they actually are.
Regardless of reaction and gimmick though, Young is a damn good pro wrestler and it showed here as from my vantage point, he put in a very solid performance without taking the shine off of his babyface counterpart. Roderick Strong is simply excellent and that was definitely seen in flashes here. ‘The Messiah of the Backbreaker’ (objectively the greatest nickname in wrestling history) can do it all from bell to bell but I have to be honest, I’m still not convinced that his in-ring work completely translates to the bigger arenas. Perhaps it’s due to him working babyface as opposed to his historically stronger heel characterization but though he’s still very good, there still seems to be a slight disconnect. Strong winning was absolutely the right move though and there are some very positive signs moving forward for the former ‘Mr. ROH’.
WWE United Kingdom Championship
Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne
This match is a great example of why I suck. Going in I had very little interest as while I knew it would be an excellent match, I somewhat forgot how good these two men are at the subtleties of storytelling, especially for their age. Pete Dunne is a really horrible man and for someone like me, that’s a beautiful thing. From his entrance to the finish, Dunne’s facial expressions were simply sublime. In fact, I’d say that this is a good time to debut a new scale to record these things. It’s for that reason that I’m delighted to announce that Dunne scored a staggering 9.7 on the William Regal/Alexa Bliss facial expression scale. Congrats go out to Pete!
I don’t know why but Bate’s entrance mannerisms as a character are really grating to me. The way he acts from bell to bell is babyface perfection though and he’s ridiculously good for a 20-year-old man. Dunne’s work on the arm was beautiful as always, even if the crowd didn’t react as I’d have hoped. That’s enough nit-picking and covering of minor details though as this match was simply a masterpiece and one of the best you’ll see all year. I’m terrible with move names so I’m not going to even try to recall all of the spots here but basically, it was amazingly exciting. Speaking of such, the moves isn’t what makes these guys great at all, it’s actually everything in-between. The understanding both have of their characters is commendable considering their youth.
Props to Bate for taking us back to the Saitama Super Arena with that ‘Rampage’ Jackson Powerbomb escape from the Dunne triangle choke attempt too. I loved that beyond all of the athletic madness, the story was simple and well told with Bate’s eagerness to impress costing him as he took one risk too many. This was a rare case of guys almost needing to do too much here also as this match had to be excessively insane simply because the new UK brand needed the momentum. My only complaint really is that I want both guys, especially Dunne to be in a deeper talent pool but regardless, this will definitely do for now. Superb work from both men as Dunne eventually took the title and as the final bell sounded I proudly rose to my feet, singing ‘God Save The Queen’ as tears streamed down my face.
Quick side note: guys, let’s try not to use this match as a knock on other main roster matches. I saw a lot of comparisons afterward but as has been proven multiple times, performing in front of those main roster crowds is a very difficult and different thing to do. Give most of the 205 Live roster 15 minutes on a Chicago TakeOver and they’ll rock it so if anything, this is more indicative of how contrasting the crowds are in their interest and investment. It’s just a very different audience, maybe not in personnel but definitely in attitude.
NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka vs. Ruby Riot vs. Nikki Cross
These women were in a bad spot here so it’s hard to be overly critical as they worked hard and put on a pretty good match. However, there were some issues. Firstly, much of it felt rather clunky and disjointed and though many online seem excited by the inevitable Riot and Cross singles match, the crowd seemed to lack genuine investment when Asuka wasn't involved. I didn't think Asuka shined here as she usually does and while that was likely by design, it hurt the match for me. Riot had some good moments and a couple bad ones too but I do like what she brings nonetheless.
As far as the actual physicality goes, Cross was clearly the star here in my view. Everything she did looked great and she brought an intensity that really carried this for me. However, I’ve got another confession to make (shout out to Dave Grohl), I’m nowhere near as big on Cross’ character work as most. I admire her commitment but I just find it over the top to an almost comical degree unfortunately. What’s that you ask? If I don’t like over-the-top character work why did I name a scale after William Regal and Alexa Bliss? Simple, I’m a huge hypocrite with tremendous biases. Deal with it. Either way, Asuka won again here with a finish that seemingly was a little off and came across rather flat.
Time for another unpopular opinion, my interest in the division only continues to diminish with Asuka’s continued dominance. It was great with the Horsewomen parity and I loved Bayley fending off the new crop of contenders as champion but everything since has failed to capture me. Asuka is a tremendous performer but I hope whoever takes this belt from her turns out to be worthwhile as otherwise, who has this reign actually helped? There have been a lot of women that needed an NXT title run much more than Asuka yet here we still are, over a year since she won it. Hopefully, the upcoming women’s tournament can somewhat reinvigorate my interest.
Bobby Roode vs. Hideo Itami
I understand that Roode’s style isn’t for everyone but it’s pretty tailor made for my taste. I love that everything he does is so precise and considered, it’s a nice contrast to the rest of the NXT roster. The issue with the early portion of this match though was that any attempt to get heat on Itami didn't work as people just don’t seem to be all that invested in him. His new toy shine is well gone and more importantly, few seemed to buy him as a potential champion. Itami did show flashes of his former brilliance here but the injuries have definitely hindered him physically. Fortunately, his experience covered those issues as his storytelling and selling carried him nonetheless.
Speaking of selling, even the biggest Roode detractors would have to concede that his selling here, especially down the stretch was masterful. I loved the story they told and the way the actual physicality so perfectly captured it. Itami’s desperation beautifully came through with every strike he threw and that made Roode’s emphatic finish all the more effective. This match would’ve played much better in front of a crowd that simply wanted to cheer the babyface and boo the heel as unfortunately, the mixed response didn't really correlate with the story they were telling. I really don’t have much to say other than this was an excellent match from two very smart pro wrestlers and helped both guys, which is ideal for a Heavyweight title tilt.
NXT Tag Team Championship
Authors of Pain vs. DIY
In hindsight, the decision to put this on last made perfect sense but early on I think the lack of real heat going in hurt this slightly. Every NXT crowd loves DIY but they didn't seem to be all that invested for the first portion of the match, even if simply due to some tiredness. That’s not an excuse though Chicago, I was watching this thing at 3 am and still had the courage to be making notes. Step your game up. In all seriousness, once the insanity began, this got really good. It does somewhat sadden me that crowds seem to only be waiting for wild spots from ladder matches nowadays but that’s another discussion for another day.
DIY is--or I guess now was--one of the best babyface teams I’ve seen in recent memory. The fire and energy they bring makes them immediately likable and that really worked in a match type that forced them to get crazy. Let’s not underplay how great The Authors of Pain are though, at 22 and 24 respectively, these two already look like they belong. As a fan of personalities, I’m really impressed by how they carry themselves too. Though what they’re doing is simple, the absolute confidence they walk with solidifies them as fearsome destroyers and that is something often under appreciated. When you’re playing the monster, coming across as dangerous is really 90% of the act. Take that you Performance Center haters, I told you all that Matt Bloom was the man.
I loved that as the match got increasingly more insane, the chances of a DIY win seemed to raise in the fans minds. The ladder match represented the chance to beat AOP without pinning them and that was an intriguing layer to add some doubt. Considering what came after, Gargano taking the bullet (or ladder) for Ciampa was a beautiful moment of storytelling that encapsulated the dynamic that made DIY so special, all just moments before the team’s demise. That spot also captured AOP’s insane passion for violence and brutality too so really, it worked for everyone. In the end, Ciampa spent too much time trying to help Gargano to the top of the ladder and that cost DIY as AOP murdered them with powerbombs before successfully retrieving their belts.
Post-match, we all sat a little further forward with nervous anxiety. Was this simply DIY’s NXT send-off or time for a heel turn? Well just as it seemed clear that we were safe from a turn, it happened, as Ciampa dramatically destroyed Gargano and left him laying much to the crowd’s dismay. This turn helps NXT tremendously as far as having an engrossing story and will likely elevate both talents in their stint on this brand. However, I do believe that in regards to a potential main roster run, DIY was much stronger as a unit. Also, I’m just not sure that my heart can cope with the idea that we will never see these two men team again.
Another factor is that this now adds two more major singles players to the NXT roster and frankly, they feel almost overloaded right now. That’s obviously great for me, man that nonsensically committed himself to covering the show every week but still, it’s going to be hard to regularly secure TakeOver spots with this amount of talent. I feel bad for guys like Oney Lorcan and Buddy Murphy, men with clear talent that seem to be forever waiting for an opportunity that just isn’t coming.
This was an excellent show with one standout match that will likely be spoken about for quite some time. I really have no complaints other than the women’s title match being slightly underwhelming in my mind. More than any of that though, the show left me in tears. Over the heart-wrenching heel turn, you ask? No. I was weeping over the tragic absence of my hero: ‘El Idolo’ Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas. That aside though, this was a tremendous show and as with most TakeOvers, an absolute breeze to watch. Now my focus shifts to this week’s TV and one of the biggest matches in the history of our great sport.
After a prolonged spell of agonizing absence, Wesley Blake aka ‘Beautiful’ Blake aka the best part of the greatest team in NXT history (Alexa who?) aka the best wrestler ever finally returns. I absolutely can’t wait to write 5000 words celebrating Blake’s inevitable upset win over that overblown and over hyped spot monkey Drew McIntrye. After that we build to Roode vs. Blake and then next year, we finally get the Blake and Murphy blow-off match. It literally writes itself, god NXT is great.