There is a massive difference between seeing a wrestling show on a screen and attending it live. The atmosphere at a live event is completely different from the edited and focused perspective of a camera. And that different atmosphere can have a huge impact on the matches that take place in front of you.
The last time I was at a live WWE event was for the RAW after SummerSlam 2019. It ended up being a disappointing show for a bunch of reasons, including the fact that the audio was deafening that I thought I was standing behind a Boeing 747 taking off.
But my biggest disappointment from that RAW show was because it was such a step down from the experience I had before that, which was at NXT TakeOver: Toronto in 2016. That show was awesome live, and I got the privilege of seeing one of the best tag team matches in WWE history in person and celebrating alongside thousands of fans as a great story came to a close.
Today we look back at the tag match between The Revival and #DIY from NXT TakeOver: Toronto.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Months earlier at TakeOver: Brooklyn II, The Revival used their bag of tricks to retain their titles against #DIY. Determined to get another chance, Gargano & Ciampa entered the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament. During that tournament, Dawson & Wilder interfered in one of #DIY’s matches and ultimately helped get them eliminated from the whole thing.
The Revival thought they’d get the last laugh, but they wouldn’t. Soon after the tournament, it was announced that they would face #DIY for the titles. For #DIY, it was do or die, their last chance at the titles they were so desperate to win. For The Revival, it was another chance to cement their legacy as quite possibly the best tag team in NXT history.
This match originally took place on November 19th, 2016 at NXT TakeOver: Toronto. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Newsletter. John Canton of TJRWrestling was at the show and rated this five stars out of five. I was there live and it was easily the best match of the show. Looking back now, let’s see how well it holds up.
This is a two-out-of-three falls match for the Revival’s NXT Tag Team titles. Dawson and Gargano start things off with a great technical exchange that ends in a two-count off a crucifix pin. That’s followed by some fast-paced dodges and reversals. Dawson doesn’t see Gargano tag Ciampa, so Gargano lands an atomic drop as Ciampa drops both Dawson and Wilder with punches. Double dropkicks by #DIY. Dawson kicks out of a pin. Ciampa starts working the arm but Dawson escapes by raking his eyes.
Wilder tags in and starts brawling back-and-forth with Ciampa. He counters an Irish whip with a kneelift and tags Dawson back in. Dawson slams Ciampa and tags Wilder, who lands an aided leg drop for two. Wilder goes for a running bulldog but Ciampa counters, causing Wilder to do the Bret Hart corner bump. Both men go down then crawl to their respective corners and tag their partners. Gargano dropkicks Dawson as he comes in and drops Wilder with an overhead Belly-to-belly. He lands a big chop to each of the Revival and then nails both of them with a simultaneous bulldog/clothesline combo. He lands a jumping neckbreaker but only gets two. Gargano charges until a corner but gets flipped onto the apron. Gargano doesn’t notice the tag to Wilder. He thinks Dawson is still legal and goes for his slingshot DDT. But the Revival counter it into the Shatter Machine. Awesome counter. The Revival gets the pinfall.
Winners of the first fall: The Revival
It takes a while for Gargano to get up, but he eventually makes it to his feet and the second fall begins. Wilder rushes him but Gargano counters into a schoolboy pin for two. Dawson tags in and starts clobbering Gargano against the ropes. The ref makes him back away as Wilder clotheslines Gargano from behind. A slingshot suplex by Dawson gets a two-count. Gargano tries to fight the Revival two-on-one but they overtake him easily and maul him in their corner. The Revival continues with quick in-and-out tags and land a drop toehold/elbow drop combo for another two-count. Dawson applies a bodyscissors and drives his forearm into Gargano’s face as the crowd remains behind Gargano. Undaunted, Dawson applies a Gory Special submission hold but Gargano escapes it with an arm drag. Dawson kicks Gargano hard after he attacks Wilder, but Gargano flips out of a corner charge. He crawls under Wilder’s legs, desperate to reach Ciampa. The Revival try to double-team him again. Gargano answers with a kick/standing tornado DDT combination. Great move.
The crowd cheers wildly as Gargano crawls towards Ciampa. But before he can make the tag, Wilder crawls from under the ring. he tries to pull Ciampa off the apron but fails. Gargano tags Ciampa. But the referee never saw the tag. The Revival overpower Gargano again as Ciampa argues with the ref. Hart Attack by the Revival. Gargano barely kicks out. Wilder goes for an avalanche back suplex but Gargano counters into a crossbody pin in midair. One, two, Wilder kicks out. Both men crawl to their corners. Dawson tags in first and tries to keep Gargano in. but Gargano fights out and tags Ciampa for sure this time. Ciampa comes in like a freight train and drops Dawson with one strike after another. Jumping leg drop bulldog. Dawson kicks out. Wilder tries to distract Ciampa but gets a knee to the face for his efforts. Dawson tries to capitalize with a roll-up. Ciampa escapes and lands a trio of German suplexes. Running knee to the side of the head. Dawson barely kicks out.
Ciampa tries to get Gargano to come in but Dawson quickly knocks him down. The Revival go for a double-team move but Ciampa knocks Wilder off the top rope and drops Dawson with a flying crossbody for another close two-count. Superkick/running knee combo to Dawson’s head by #DIY. One, two, three! #DIY even the score.
Winners of the second fall: #DIY
After a short break, Ciampa and Wilder start the yay-boo strike exchange. Ciampa takes off his elbow pad and goes for a rolling elbow. Wilder dodges it and in comes Dawson, who goes for a DDT. Ciampa wrestles out and goes for an armbar but Wilder wrestles out of that. More chain grappling. Dawson rolls into a crucifix pin. Ciampa picks out at two. Gargano tags in as Ciampa lands a rope-assisted flatliner. Ciampa goes to dive onto Wilder but Wilder uppercuts him first. Wilder charges at Gargano but gets kicked for his efforts. Springboard DDT by Gargano. Dawson kicks out.
Gargano goes to suplex Dawson over the rope but Dawson lands behind him. Gargano counters and goes for a roll-up but Wilder holds Dawson in place to save his partner and then tags in. Gargano finds himself in a two-on-one position as he goes for the tornado DDT spot again. But this time, Wilder lands an uppercut and Dawson lands a German suplex. The Revival go for the pin. Ciampa makes the save. Dawson tosses Ciampa shoulder-first into the steel ringpost.
Dawson tags in and mocks Gargano, who continues to make defiant attempts at fighting both men off. Gargano gets his second wind and fires back with punches. Dawson counters into a backslide attempt. Gargano uses the ropes (and Wilder) for leverage and flips over and lands on his feet and into a cradle. One, two, Dawson escapes. Wilder grabs the title belt and enters the ring but gets clothesline back out by Ciampa. Gargano goes for a roll-up and a kick but Dawson swings the belt and hits Gargano’s knee with it. The referee never saw it. Dawson takes advantage with an inverted Figure-4 leglock. The crowd is booing him vociferously. Gargano struggles and struggles, but makes it to the ropes.
Wilder tags in and The Revival start gloating and tease using #DIY’s finisher. They charge, but Gargano ducks and Wilder kicks Dawson instead. Wilder turns around and eats a Shatter Machine from #DIY. One, two, Dawson makes the save.
Ciampa argues with the ref some more as Dawson takes Wilder’s place and pretends to be hurt. Gargano picks him up but he counters into a roll-up and uses the tights for leverage. The ref counts one, two, then stops when he sees Dawson cheating. Dawson tries to defend himself as Wilder knocks Ciampa off the apron and into the ringpost. In the ring, Gargano superkicks Dawson but Wilder clips his bad knee. Wilder is still the legal man. Wilder goes for his own leglock. Gargano counters into a cradle. Kickout by Wilder and he counters into a jackknife cover. Kickout by Gargano. Another pin attempt by Wilder. Gargano kicks out again. Gargano counters into a crucifix pin. Yet another kickout. Gargano floats over into a submission hold. Modified arm-trap crossface. Dawson comes in to save his partner. But Ciampa cuts him off and locks in his own submission hold. Grounded armbar by Ciampa. The arena is going absolutely nuts. Dawson and Wilder hold each other’s arm to stop each other from tapping. They can’t hold on. Both men tap out! We have new champions!
Winners and NEW NXT Tag Team Champions after 22:15: #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa)
I remember the reaction in the building when #DIY won. What was caught on camera in the above video doesn’t tell the full story. There were people jumping out of their seats and screaming in joy all over the place. I nearly spilled my drink as I joined the many people around me to cheer and applaud #DIY’s victory. It was a great experience. And I completely agree with that one random fan that hugged both Gargano and Ciampa and said, loudly enough that it got caught on camera, “you guys f***king deserve it.”
It was a definite styles clash that pitted the flashier ‘modern’ style of #DIY against the rougher classic tag style of The Revival. And that contrast in styles worked perfectly. The Revival dismantled Gargano throughout the first half of match and used every trick in the book to keep him from gaining any momentum. But he soldiered on and kept coming up with clever counters and reversals until he could tag in Ciampa. And once Ciampa came in, he and Gargano evened the score, which led to a tense and wild third fall.
It was anyone’s game from there and both sides came very close to winning with some absolutely crazy near-falls. Dawson and Wilder thought they had the match won with their clever double-teaming shtick, but they went to the well one time too many. Once The Revival’s attempt at stealing #DIY’s finisher failed, it was all #DIY. Gargano had an answer for everything Dawson and Wilder threw at him and eventually brought me and everyone else in the building that night to our feet with his Garga-No Escape submission hold. And in a classic finish, Dawson and Wilder tried to stop each other from tapping out but soon both of them succumbed to the pain, leading to new champions being crowned.
I know there are a lot of people out there that would call this a perfect match. And yet, I’m not one of them. Despite the terrific action, crazy atmosphere and raw, nail-biting tension, something just didn’t click with me here. Once the euphoria of celebrating #DIY’s win passed over, it dawned on me that the Revival outdid #DIY in basically every respect. Dawson and Wilder worked better together, told a better story, had a more cohesive strategy from which they never faltered, and did more to give the match its significance during the first two falls.
I also think that #DIY, to an extent, embodies a lot of the negatives about so-called ‘modern’ wrestling. As I mentioned earlier, the Revival are like a classic tag team that wrestles like teams used to, only with smaller bodies. Whereas #DIY were more like acrobats that practiced martial arts. I know that a lot of people like that style of wrestling these days because of the speed, athleticism and unpredictability. Don’t get me wrong; I like that stuff as much as the next guy. But going all ham with that sort of style comes at the expense of believability. Gargano in particular was guilty of this as he flew and spun around at the same speed throughout the match. He took an absolute shit-kicking and barely slowed down, if at all. He got his knee smashed and nearly torn to bits yet was running around minutes later. Everything in the match was all ‘fast, fast, fast’ without there being any time devoted to selling or realism.
I think the match could’ve benefitted from going five minutes longer so that all the wrestlers could take more time to actually sell for each other and do so consistently. It’s hard to take a match seriously when one wrestler devotes a long time to working over a body part or weakening a limb, only for the recipient of that damage to show little sign of wear-and-tear or ignore it completely.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Even with some notable flaws, I think this match was better than what it was originally rated, though not a perfect 5-star match. I think it comes pretty close to that level but just comes up short. It’s vastly inferior to some of the better tag matches from years and decades past, which I think is delightfully ironic considering one of the teams involved defines themselves as being a throwback to the tag team glory days of yesteryear.
Ultimately, I think this match was definitely one of the best tag matches in WWE history, but didn’t and still doesn’t rank among the best in wrestling history. With some minor tweaks, it could’ve been better but alas it just doesn’t compare to what had taken place before it.
Though, if your understanding of wrestling is composed of purely North American wrestling and nothing else, you’ll probably see this match and think it’s some kind of holy manuscript on tag team wrestling. To which I say, you’re missing out on a ton of tremendous wrestling that more than gives this match a run for its money.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.