Well, the road to TakeOver: New Orleans has certainly been an interesting one but it's finally here. With arguably the strongest match card in promotion history, expectations simply couldn't be higher as NXT looks to steal the WrestleMania weekend spotlight once again. The card has intrigue throughout but it's the Tommaso Ciampa – Johnny Gargano match that's truly captured people in a major way. Can they live up to the immense hype? Time will tell, but I wouldn't blame you for having faith in either man delivering big on this stage.
For me personally, I'm lucky enough to be sitting here live. This means that though this Report Card may lack some detail, I'll try to bring my in-person perspective throughout. With all that being said, let's get this show on the road.
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 North American Championship
EC3 vs. Adam Cole vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Killian Dain vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Ricochet
Look, it's pretty much impossible for me to recap all of the action in this match. It's likely the most outrageous multi-man ladder match I've ever seen and live, it was like an out of body experience. Just spectacular throughout.
I will go through each individual though and give some thoughts. Let's start with the winner: Adam Cole (bay bay). I wouldn't call myself a huge Cole fan but guys, I can't stress enough how over he is with this crowd. I know it translates anyway but the passion of which people root for him is quite incredible. That allowed him to project as a huge star here and his excellent performance only furthered that. Huge night for him and he was a deserved winner in the end.
EC3 entered as a favorite here and whilst he didn't seem as over in my part of the arena as I would've expected, his look alone makes him undeniably impressive. There's a real presence to him and his genuine charisma made him stand out huge here. Within the match, he took an outrageous amount of damage and I'm still not really sure if he's a good fit in NXT but either way, I thoroughly enjoyed what he brought to this match. He’s great.
Adam Cole may have been the most over guy in this match but The Velveteen Dream was right there with him. Everyone knows I love The Dream but he frightened me quite a bit here, seemingly meeting his demise on multiple occasions. He had some tremendous offense throughout though and shined like a star across the board. His future couldn't possibly be brighter, provided his body can continue to work of course.
Meanwhile, Ricochet also made his official NXT debut here and the crowd were into him immediately. He absolutely delivered on all the hype too, creating some awe-inspiring visuals with his famed athleticism. He bumped like an absolute mad man too and my main takeaway with him remains the same: he looks set to make some major money within the WWE system. He’s just can’t-miss.
NXT's resident big men also performed well, with both Killian Dain and especially Lars Sullivan performing strongly. Neither was particularly over but they played their part well nonetheless. Sullivan's look is awesome and more than that, his rawness adds a ton to his work as he looks legitimately out of control at times. He’s a natural fit in this role.
Overall, this match is unbeatable within its genre. It was incredible and simply must-watch from start to finish. Wild at times, astonishing at others and borderline irresponsible along the way, this match set a standard that looked untouchable in only the show's opener. Adam Cole is your first NXT North American Champion.
NXT Women's Championship
Ember Moon (C) vs. Shayna Baszler
Based on the response I've seen on social media and such, this match played out better on television than it did live. Even still, it was a very good match in person all the same. Baszler is interesting in that her best skills are somewhat lost live in an arena like this one. Her tremendous facials and such aren't as showy as an Alexa Bliss' for example, and nor should they be, but that means that her performance was somewhat limited from my personal perspective.
Her actual work was better than ever though and whilst Ember's offense wasn't exactly razor sharp, her performance in the babyface role was sublime. She brought tremendous emotion to this match and in the extraordinary finish, sold to a degree that had the crowd absolutely hooked. In the end, she was choked out as Shayna Baszler became the new NXT Women's Champion. In my section, Baszler was a red hot heel but I sense that may have been just 5 loud blokes surrounding me.
Side-note: it was at this point that two gentleman seated behind began to grate on me slightly. Here it was remarked that "Shayna is hard to watch but then again, so is the RAW Champ." Laughs followed and here I was, listening to what I assume was an Alexa Bliss burial live in person. Little did I know they'd greatly top this effort. Just wait.
NXT Tag Team Championship
The Authors of Pain vs. Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong vs. The Undisputed Era (C)
Poor Adam Cole had hardly sat down after his ladder match triumph yet here he was, in the thick of things again. Luckily, AOP quickly put him through an announce table, removing him from proceedings swiftly. Speaking of such, AOP are almost frightening live, they look completely out of control which for me as a fan, isn't a complaint whatsoever. Unfortunately, my interest in this match was hindered by my brother "losing his phone." In reality, it was simply trapped within his own chair but that didn't stop him from completely taking me out of this match. Intolerable and very disrespectful.
Either way, Dunne was over to a scary degree and Strong is exceptional live, with everything he does connecting big. O'Reilly isn't far behind him and with all these elements, this match was unsurprisingly fun. The finish came when Strong turned on Dunne, hitting End of Heartache and dragging Kyle on top to allow The Undisputed Era to retain. As with all wrestling turns, this made no sense within the match but from a story perspective, was the brilliant payoff to a lengthy build. The turn garnered a great response live and The Undisputed Era just got a whole lot stronger (see what I did there?), good stuff.
Aleister Black vs. Andrade 'Cien' Almas (C)
Wow, that's all I really have to say. Aleister Black was hugely over here and performed excellently, playing his part in a simply tremendous world title match. However, my focus here was the same place it always is, on the great 'Cien.' Look, this is pro wrestling so I'll be as hyperbolic as I want: Andrade 'Cien' Almas is the greatest in-ring performer I've ever seen. Biased? Sure. Silly? Maybe but who cares, this is rasslin' pal.
Though AJ comes close in this sense, I've never seen a wrestler be so expert at such a range of wrestling styles. Almas can pull off the kind of acrobatics that would make the 205 lads blush and then in the click of a finger, he's smashing dudes with vicious strikes. He doesn't even get cheered all that much and he cheats too. Add the marvelous Zelina and he's simply heel perfection right now. This act is magic.
The aforementioned fellows behind agreed to an extent, but found themselves irritated by his novel idea to put on a hold after 5 minutes of striking chaos. One of them reassured the other though, reminding him that "if he's going up, he's gotta get used to rest holds." I love it maggle.
Regardless, the finish here was superb with a final interference attempt from Zelina costing Almas as he caught her and turned directly into Black Mass. The crowd popped huge on the finish and this match was brilliant for a range of reasons, none more so than the way it reinvested the crowd in such a huge way. Great job by both men.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano
I've been very fortunate in my life to have seen many big time prizefights live in person. This is the closest a pro wrestling match has ever come to capturing that suspense for me. That pre-fight video package was immaculate and only heightened the crowd's interest, as the atmosphere reached a level rarely seen in modern pro wrestling. Some of the Ciampa heat is slightly wink-wink but the Johnny love is very much genuine, people legitimately care about that dude and considering the landscape, what a compliment that is.
Now to the action and what more could you want? They thankfully avoided making this a stunt show and instead simply fought with nothing but vigor. This match came with intensity, passion and violence which considering the build-up, was exactly what the doctor ordered. Some of the stuff was almost hard to watch, especially the horrific action on the floor. This captured the story’s vibe beautifully and that isn’t easy to do whilst still entertaining people consistently.
That was evident too. The story wasn't easy to build and live, dipped a little early on but once they really got going, this became moving, genuinely moving and down the stretch, absolutely absorbing. Gripping even. Those geniuses behind me still weren't happy though, with one making it clear that he'd like to see Ciampa "pull off a suicide dive." His friend responded calmly, "I'm sure he could." Nonetheless, the drama of each kick-out in-ring and the passion of which Johnny was being cheered escalated this by the minute, just pro wrestling at its best.
The finish was no different, with Gargano fittingly showing mercy, and taking a seat next to Tommaso just as he had months prior. In a brilliant villainous touch, Ciampa then lashed out but Gargano ducked his knee brace attack and instead used it to force Ciampa into submission. The reaction to that finish will stay with me forever, it gives me goose bumps just considering it. Everyone was just so immersed in the story being told too, a truly amazing feeling.
You can overdo false finishes at times but the stakes here made that complaint worthless. This was the match for a ridiculous final stretch, in fact it had to have one in front of this crowd. To sum it up, his match was quite simply, a piece of art and I feel fortunate to have seen it at all, let alone live. Absolutely magnificent.
It's impossible for me not to be exaggerative here as I was there live but nonetheless, this has to be my favorite wrestling show of all time. I can't even split the top three matches personally and all of them were astonishing, each for different reasons. We are in the midst of a special time in pro wrestling and if this moved you like it did me, embrace that before it's too late. Every style is at our fingertips so let’s admire and adore while we can, we’ll regret it if we don’t.
Finally, this show will genuinely stick with me forever and I hope it will you too. If not, I hope you can find, or have found, the wrestling that moves you the way this did me as that feeling is unlike anything else imaginable. Hope you enjoyed this guys, sorry if it was a little different.