(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Velveteen Dream – NXT TakeOver: WarGames II

tomasso ciampa velveteen dream wargames ii

This is yet another match that came highly recommended to me by one of the many readers here at TJRWrestling.

With NXT undergoing so many changes over the last two years (ever since the new ‘multicolor’ logo was introduced and the focus returned to ‘developing’ wrestlers), some fans have found solace in turning back time to a better era. To the peak years of NXT when Triple H’s yellow brand was considered a bastion of incredible wrestling that competed with – and in some cases, surpassed – the two main roster brands.

But were the matches from that era really so praise-worthy? Or did all of that praise come from people who were simply comparing NXT to the relatively-weak stuff around it and seeing greatness by comparison. Let’s find out as we revisit another highly-praised matches from that ‘peak era’ of NXT.

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.

The story

Ever since he won the NXT Championship, Tommaso Ciampa became greedy and didn’t want to share his spotlight with anyone else. There were hints of Hiromu Takahashi’s title obsession in Ciampa (he named his title belt “Goldy”) and of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. But then in walked a showman, Velveteen Dream, who thought he was good enough to take “Goldy” away from Ciampa. Ciampa was nonplussed at first, thinking that Velveteen was just another kid that would crack under the pressure of sharing the spotlight with the champion.

And therein lay the biggest drawing factor here: would Velveteen be able to not only meet high expectations but surpass them? and could he actually beat Ciampa when the champ was at his hungriest and most aggressive?

The match

This match originally took place on November 17, 2018. It was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.

tomasso ciampa velveteen dream wargames ii

This is for Ciampa’s NXT Championship. Velveteen gets a clean break and starts talking smack. A chain grappling sequence ends with Velveteen “riding” Ciampa with no hands or feet and then slaps the back of Ciampa’s head. Velveteen powers Ciampa into a corner and Ciampa gets frustrated and goes for Velveteen’s headband, which angers him so much he bitchslaps Ciampa. Ciampa escapes a fireman’s carry and goes for a finisher but Velveteen escapes, but he Ciampa gets ahold of Velveteen’s headband. In response, Velveteen grabs the title belt (“Goldy”) which distracts Ciampa long enough for Velveteen to regain control. Ciampa blocks a draping DDT, leading to a stalemate.

Velveteen hits some punches followed by a scoop slam and a dropkick, followed by a hotshot/diving ax handle combination which makes the crowd come up. Velveteen does a Hulk Hogan impression complete with big boot and leg drop tease but Ciampa escapes before Velveteen can drop the leg. Velveteen doesn’t let up and hits a diving ax handle to the floor. He goes for another top-rope move but Ciampa cuts him off and smashes him to the ring apron.

Ciampa hits a swinging neckbreaker at ringside and then hits a running kneelift in a corner. But instead of covering, Ciampa hits forearms and elbows, followed by a hangman’s neckbreaker across the top rope and a kneelift to Velveteen’s head as Velveteen hangs from the Spanish announce table. Baack in the ring, Ciampa locks in a rear chinlock or a sleeper hold and Velveteen looks like he’s losing control as a gob of spit dangles from his mouth. The crowd rallies behind Velveteen as he tries to fight out of Ciampa’s submission hold. Ciampa goes for another hangman’s neckbreaker but this time Velveteen counters with a backslide for a one-count. The two trade punches until Velveteen counters with another swinging neckbreaker. Both men go down.

After some recovery time Velveteen lands some strikes and then counters an Irish whip reversal with a Shawn Michaels flying forearm. He starts powering up but Ciampa counters a back body drop with a kick, but then Velveteen channels Hogan again. Ciampa blocks a twisting DDT. Velveteen blocks a roll-up and hits a big boot plus not one but three Hogan leg drops. He goes doe a Death Valley Driver but Ciampa escapes. Ciampa charges but runs into a spinebuster that gets a two-count. Velveteen knocks Ciampa to the floor and hits a pescado. He throws Ciampa back into the ring and goes for another top-rope dive but Ciampa’s out of range. Ciampa begs for mercy and then dumps Velveteen to the floor. He goes for a draping DDT but Velveteen counters by smashing Ciampa’s bad leg into the side of the ring. That’s followed by a Bret Hart-style ringpost Figure-4. The referee leaves the ring to get Velveteen to release the hold and doesn’t notice that Ciampa actually tapped out.

Velveteen tries to capitalize in the ring but Ciampa counters with a small package for a two-count. Ciampa hits an elbow and goes for a German suplex but Velveteen counters with a roll-up into a Figure-4. Ciampa tries reaching the ropes but Velveteen drags him back. Then Ciampa reverses the hold. Back-and-forth they go reversing until Velveteen kicks Ciampa’s face in but only gets a two-count.

Velveteen Dream Tommaso Ciampa Watggames II

Velveteen tries another move by the apron but Ciampa somehow has enough leg strength to kick Velveteen into the barricade. Ciampa goes for a suplex but Velveteen channels Ric Flair and suplexes Ciampa to the floor. Ciampa undoes one of his boots as Velveteen tosses him back into the ring before the referee’s ring-out count. A spaghetti-arm strike exchange ensues. Ciampa teases another finisher but Velveteen blocks it. Velveteen goes for a superkick but misses Ciampa and almost hits the ref. Ciampa rolls Velveteen up but the ref stops his count when he sees Ciampa using the tights for leverage. Velveteen capitalizes with a superkick and a Rolling DVD for a two-count. Velveteen powers through and tries another DVD. Ciampa escapes and hits another elbow. Velveteen hits back and goes for a springboard crossbody but Ciampa counters with a kneelift. Powerbomb Lungblower. Ciampa kicks out again. Ciampa grabs the belt and gets into a tug-of-war with the referee. Velveteen gets a roll-up but only manages a two-count. Then Velveteen lands his twisting DDT onto the title belt by accident. The ref is stunned for a second but then counts anyway. One, two, Ciampa kicks out.

Velveteen goes for a dive, sees Ciampa getting his foot up, and lands on his feet for another Figure-4. Ciampa kicks him out of the ring and then hits a draping DDT as Velveteen re-enters. One, two, Velveteen kicks out. Ciampa rips off ringside mats and goes for another Draping DDT, this time to the exposed floor. Velveteen blocks and both men go over a commentary table. Ciampa gets up and hits commentator Mauro Ranallo for some reason. Velveteen uses that to hit another rolling DVD. Then he tosses Ciampa into the ring and hits a diving elbow drop. So first Hogan, then Michaels, then Flair, and now Savage. He covers. Ciampa kicks out and slinks between two ropes. Velveteen goes for another top-rope elbow drop. Ciampa dodges and Velveteen crashes to the floor. Ciampa pulls him between the two rings setup for WarGames and hits a draping DDT into exposed steel. One, two, and three! Ciampa retains!

Winner and STILL NXT Champion after 22:25: Tommaso Ciampa


This was another match that most people fawned over but I didn’t really get. It seemed like a good idea on paper and there was plenty of athleticism and risk in the match. And yet, there was something…empty…in this match. It didn’t come across as a competition or a fight, but as a performance. Very little felt genuine. The drama with the headband and the title felt stagey. Velveteen channeling various legends and Ciampa using heel tactics like hitting Mauro were two sides of the same coin, but that coin was a penny and not a more valuable one. If this is what Triple H was encouraging while he had free reign of NXT, I’m starting to be less surprised that so many ‘call-ups’ ended up floundering on the main roster.

For a match that took place on a brand that prided itself on highest-quality in-ring action, the action in this match was so-so. It had its moments, but there was no overarching story holding the entire match together. Velveteen just spammed random taunts and finishers of greater men for cheap pops yet none of them seemed to do any lasting damage. This was especially true when he locked two different Fiogure-4 leglocks at different points yet Ciampa not only recovered but hardly showed signs of vulnerability. He even landed a Powerbomb Lungblower and didn’t seem worse for wear. All of his showboating highlighted the difference between noise and heat. The crowd made noise but that didn’t mean they were reacting to the story itself but to small expressions of that story.

The match was filled with herky-jerky movements and inconsistent pacing that made the match slow down midway through. There were many times when it looked like both guys were wrestling underwater. There was no speed or sense of urgency except in tiny pockets. The match’s layout, especially following some bigger moves and kick-outs, led to dead air instead of a sense of rising tension. In other words, it was as if both wrestlers – particularly Velveteen – were trying to create multiple peaks/climaxes instead of building towards one big one at the end.

But even with a sense of evenness between both wrestlers that lasted until the very end, the match still had this unshakeable sense of phoniness and cooperation. I consider realism an important trait in wrestling and this match had very little of that. The way Ciampa hit his knees and slapped his thighs to make noise was so blatant and phony. Several of Velveteen’s moves, such as the Hogan leg drops, didn’t even connect with Ciampa’s body and this got caught on camera. And since Ciampa abandoned his leg selling after two different Figure-4s, there was no reason to believe anything towards the end. Both guys just hit moves on each other for semi-decent reactions but there was no emotion or believability behind any of them.

The closest point the match came to having any semblance of line-blurring realism was when Velveteen had saliva coming out of his mouth due to a chinlock/sleeper. But that was a completely forgettable resthold in a sea of empty high-spots that, when all was said and done, only got a series of mild pops and didn’t really build to the kind of cathartic crescendo this match needed.

Final Rating: ***1/4

This match was fine but nowhere near any kind of historic greatness that makes it worth re-watching. Matches like this were a dime a dozen in NXT. And even though Velveteen had something of a unique character, the way he wrestled was almost identical to everyone else’s. The only time either his or Ciampa’s personalities really came out were in a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments of storytelling.

That right there is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why the ‘golden era of NXT’ (circa 2015-2019) is, in my opinion, a tad overrated. The matches are athletic and dazzling but it seems like few of the wrestlers involved could actually do both wrestling and storytelling at the same time. It’s as if their in-ring style and their stories were siloed off or compartmentalized from one another and the only way to bring them together in one match was for there to be specifically-designated moments for one and the other, instead of having them woven together throughout the match.

Velveteen tried to imbue some story into this match, but at the end of the day the match just felt stale and by-the-numbers by NXT standards. I’m not saying it’s bad, just bland. When you eat nothing but sugar, eventually the sensation and excitement you get from it will start wearing off and it will take more to reach that same level of enjoyment.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.