There was a classic match that took place this past Sunday at NXT Takeover 36. Ilja Dragunov defeated WALTER to win the NXT UK Championship in a grueling battle that saw Dragunov leave the match with red marks all over his chest, but more importantly, he left with the NXT UK Championship. It’s a match that I rated five stars out of five, which doesn’t happen that often, but it shows how much I loved it.
Since I rated that match five stars, I figured it was a good time to post my countdown of the ten best NXT Takeover matches ever. What I’ll do is post my full play-by-play and analysis listing these matches in order from ten to one. There were so many to pick from especially as I tried to fill out the final few spots. If you think I missed something, that’s okay. There’s no way we’re all going to agree. It’s a personal choice and this is mine. If you disagree, that’s fine, but please don’t be harsh! It’s all personal opinon. I was going to add more comments to it, but it’s over 12,000 words without me doing that, so I think there are plenty of words in here. Let’s get to it.
UPDATE 10 PM: I wanted to make a quick note to say that I could have picked at least three more Johnny Gargano matches to put on here. Matches with Adam Cole, Tommaso Ciampa and Kushida really stand out to me. I just didn’t want to overload with Gargano matches, so I picked just one of his matches with Cole and one match with Ciampa. I got a few comments from people about it, so I felt like I should mention it. Yes, Johnny Gargano is the best NXT wrestler ever. He has the matches to prove it.
10. WarGames: Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe & Killian Dain vs. Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish vs. Roderick Strong, Akam & Rezar (w/Paul Ellering) @ NXT Takeover: WarGames (November 18, 2017)
It started with Strong and Young working together against Cole early on. With Strong and Young battling on the top rope, Cole knocked them down stomped away on them on the ground. Cole tossed Strong out of the far ring into the near ring. Cole hit the fireman’s carry into the neckbreaker on Young to keep him down. Cole went into the other ring to work over Strong. Cole hit a snap suplex on Strong followed by a neckbreaker and a neckbreaker on Young as well. Running clothesline by Strong took down Cole. More chops by Strong followed by running knee lifts on both guys. The 5:00 clock expired as The Undisputed Era duo of O’Reilly and Fish were next to enter.
O’Reilly and Fish ran down to the ring. They kicked Strong and Young to beat them down. All three Undisputed Era guys hit running elbows on Young that sent Young into the cage. There was a 3:00 clock that was counting down. Cole shoved Young’s face up against the cage. Fish hit a Wheelbarrow Suplex on Strong. O’Reilly slapped on a leg bar submission on Strong. The Undisputed Era guys worked over Strong in the far ring and stomped on Young in the near ring. The 3:00 clock expired with Akam and Rezar as the next men to enter the match.
When Akam and Rezar ran down to the ring, the Undisputed Era tried to keep them out, but that didn’t work. Cole was sent into the cage by one of the AOP. Young was launched into the cage. Rezar drove somebody into the cage. Akam threw Cole over the top rope in one ring and into the other ring. Back body drop by AOP sent Young into the other ring. AOP launched their partner Strong onto the four guys in the other ring. Akam and Rezar drove members of the Undisputed Era into other guys that were up against the turnbuckle. That was vicious. Rezar nailed Cole with a forearm to the back. The clock ran out leading to Wolfe and Dain running down to the ring.
The match officially began with everybody involved in the match. Wolfe had a nightstick in his hand and he destroyed everybody in the match. Dain brought some steel chairs, trash cans and a kendo stick. Young and Wolfe destroyed everybody with the weapons. Dain was about to enter the ring, but the crowd chanted “We Want Tables” and Dain brought out two tables. That drew a huge ovation. Dain took a while to get in the ring after he brought in all the weapons. Dain locked the door and swallowed the key or at least that’s what we are supposed to think.
All nine guys were in the two rings. Dain hit a running splash on the Authors of Pain in the corner. Running dropkick by Dain leading to a senton splash at the same time. Dain went to the top rope and hit a cross body block on nearly everybody in the match. Cool moment as the fans chanted “holy shit” for it. Fish saved Cole from an attack from Dain, but that didn’t work out as Dain hit a Michinoku Driver on Cole onto Fish, but O’Reilly was there to break up the pin. Dain sent O’Reilly into the cage. They did a spot where Dain and Rezar each did a fallaway slam/Samoan Drop combo in the separate rings although they only showed Dain’s part. Dain got into a slugfest with Rezar. They each nailed eachother with kicks and Dain hit a running body attack. Akam kicked Dain and hit a Powerslam for a two count as O’Reilly broke up the pin with a chain. O’Reilly hit a Tornado DDT. Cole with an enziguri kick on Young. Double superkick into a brainbuster by O’Reilly on Strong. Running clothesline by Dain on Cole. Double kick to the chest by O’Reilly and Fish on Dain. Wolfe took out Fish and O’Reilly knocked down Wolfe with a kick. O’Reilly had an armbar on Wolfe with the chain, but Young broke it up with an elbow drop. Fish hit a moonsault onto Young to break up that pin. All nine guys were down.
The Authors of Pain did the super collider double Powerbomb spot where they collided the guys with Dain and that got a two count with Young breaking up a pin attempt. Dain was bleeding from the nose it looked like. Young hit a Death Valley Driver on Akam on top of Rezar for a two count, but it was broken up by Strong and Cole. Strong launched Cole in the air into a backbreaker. Strong hit a backbreaker on Young and a backbreaker for Wolfe too. Running knee strike by Strong on Dain. Strong hit the Olympic Slam on Dain for a two count as Cole gave Strong a superkick. They set up a spot between the two rings where Adam Cole was standing between the two rings. Both Authors of Pain did three man slams in each ring, so it was like a double Tower of Doom spot. It looked a bit silly and contrived, but I thought it was cool. Authors of Pain crotched Cole on the top rope. Authors of Pain set up both tables side by side in the far ring. Wolfe attacked the Authors of Pain, which saved Cole. That led to Cole climbing to the top of the cage. Wolfe hit a German Suplex on one of the AOP guys that sent them through two tables. Young hit a leaping neckbreaker on one of the AOP guys off the top rope. Wolfe had a lot of blood on his head from the table spot. Cole was crawling across the top of the cage to try to avoid getting attacked. Dain went up top and hit a Coast to Coast dropkick into a garbage can that nailed O’Reilly in the face. The match is over 25 minutes by this point.
Adam Cole was on top of the cage. He stood on top of the corner of the cage. He said “Adam Cole Bay-Bay” and the crowd chanted it with him. Strong climbed the cage to go after Cole. Fans chanted “please don’t die” at them. Strong hit a superplex OFF THE TOP OF THE CAGE on Cole onto the other guys in the match because they were all standing there together to break their fall. That led to a nearfall and a kickout while the crowd chanted “this is awesome” for the effort. Damn right. Dain and Akam got into a slugfest as they battled on the metal partition between the ring and Rezar hit a clothesline on Dain. O’Reilly and Fish did the Total Elimination leg sweep/high kick double team move. Wolfe picked up O’Reilly leading to a neckbreaker from Young. Strong hit a suplex on Wolfe sending him stomach first. Strong whipped Cole into the cage and Young sent Strong into the cage. Cole nailed Young with a kendo stick to the head. Young held a chair up and Cole hit a running knee strike on the chair onto Young. Cole covered Young for the win after 37 minutes.
Winners by pinfall: The Undisputed Era – Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish
Analysis: ****3/4 I thought it was a fantastic, memorable match that was a nice tribute to what WarGames used to be. It wasn’t the same as WarGames we grew up with, but I don’t mind the way they were able to do the match with more of a modern influence. Using the weapons in the ring was cool. No roof on the cage did look a bit weird, but they made up for it with the superplex spot. Great match featuring nine guys that busted their ass to put on a show while utilizing weapons in an intelligent way to help tell the story. Killian Dain was really impressive throughout the match with a lot of cool moments that allowed him to show off his athleticism as a big dude that can really go in the ring. Wolfe got his head busted open in the table spot and he still worked another ten minutes even though he was probably in a lot of pain. I figured the Undisputed Era would win since Cole is clearly going to be a featured singles star while Fish and O’Reilly are probably going to win the Tag Team Title soon as well. That trio are going to be major stars in NXT for a while, so putting them over in this match made a lot of sense. If I could change one thing about the match I would have had guys going for submission moves more or perhaps did it so you can only win by submission. That way it would really put over the physicality of the match and how hard it was to get the win.
9. North American Championship Ladder Match: EC3 vs. Adam Cole vs. Killian Dain vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet @ NXT Takeover New Orleans (April 7, 2018)
The crowd was chanting “this is awesome” before the match began. The guys left the ring quickly leading to Ricochet nailing a springboard Shooting Star Press onto Dain and Sullivan on the floor. That was an incredible move. Ricochet did some incredible moves to take out Velveteen Dream, but Dream managed to knock him out of the ring. Dream set up the ladder to climb, but Cole knocked him down. Cole with an enziguri kick that knocked Dain off the apron and sent him to the floor. Cole sent Dream out of the ring. EC3 back in with a neckbreaker on Cole, splash by EC3 on Cole and a flipping neck snap. Sullivan back in the ring with a splash on Cole followed by a powerslam. Sullivan with a powerslam on EC3. Dain sent Sullivan out of the ring and Dain hit a suicide dive to take out Sullivan on the floor. Cole kicked Dain to knock him down while he was holding Ricochet and Dream. Everybody was in the ring exchanging punches except Sullivan, who had a ladder in his hands and he threw the ladder at the five guys in the ring. That was a unique spot. Sullivan cleaned house with a ladder using it as a weapon to knock down all five guys. Sullivan whipped Dain into a ladder that was against the turnbuckle. Sullivan with a press slam on Dream onto a ladder that was in the ring. Sullivan did a slow climb, but Ricochet (easily the crowd favorite) stopped him. Ricochet was helped by EC3 and Dream to deliver a Powerbomb on Sullivan. Cole even assisted with punches. Dain pulled Cole off the ladder and hit him with a headbutt. Dain with a back body drop that sent Ricochet crashing into a ladder. EC3 with a bulldog on Dain off the ladder. Cole and EC3 teamed together to smash Sullivan with a ladder. EC3 and Cole set up a ladder bridge from the announce table to the ring and they whipped Dain into it. Cole and EC3 gave eachother high five with EC3 saying “EC3 baby” so Cole slammed him onto a ladder. Cole with superkicks for Dream, Dain, Sullivan, EC3 and Ricochet, who was jumping off the top rope. Cole did his “Adam Cole bay bay” taunt with the crowd chanting along. That was a great sequence. Cole tried to climb the ladder, but Sullivan shoved him off the ladder. Dream hit Sullivan with a ladder to knock him out of the ring.
Dream went to the top rope and hit an elbow drop on Dain. Dream up top again with an elbow drop on Cole. Dream with an elbow drop to the back of Ricochet. Dream used the ladder to knock down Sullivan. Dream set up a ladder against the turnbuckle and you could see the ref holding the bottom of it to help keep his balance. Dream went to the top of the ladder and hit an elbow drop on Sullivan. Wow! That was impressive. Dream tried to climb, but EC3 cut him off and hit a Powerbomb into a ladder that was up against the turnbuckle. EC3 climbed up the ladder slowly, but Cole stopped that and they battled on the ladder. EC3 hit a TKO off the ladder onto Cole. The fans chanted “this is awesome” for them and it was well deserved. Dain used his power to work over EC3 and Cole. Dain dropped a ladder on EC3 and hit a senton splash onto the ladder on EC3 as well. Dain went to the turnbuckle, but Cole went after him and Dain managed to hit a Vader Bomb on EC3 off the turnbuckle with Cole on his back. That was sweet. Another “this is awesome” chant from the crowd. Sullivan picked up Ricochet and launched him across the ring at the feet of Dain. Fans chanted “throw him back” so Dain tossed Ricochet across the ring with Ricochet bumping to the floor. Dain and Sullivan battled with Dain hitting a clothesline to take control. Sullivan caught Dain in his arms and hit a front slam. Sullivan climbed up, Ricochet chased after him and kicked him in the head. Sullivan was pushing the ladder over, so Ricochet hit a moonsault off the ladder onto Cole and Dain, who were on the floor. “Holy shit” chant from the crowd was deserved. That was so cool. Ricochet got back in the ring with a springboard dropkick to take out Sullivan. Ricochet kicked EC3 onto a ladder that was in the ring. Ricochet hit a Shooting Star Press onto EC3, who was laying across the ladder. This match is 20 minutes into it.
Ricochet climbed up the ladder again, Dream pulled him down and punched. Dream missed an attack with a ladder. Dream set up a ladder bridge from the turnbuckle onto a ladder in the middle of the ring. Dream put Ricochet on the ladder. Ricochet went to the top, but Dream kicked him down to crotch him. Dream gave Ricochet a rolling Death Valley Driver on the ladder! That was great and also painful. Ranallo: “Did that just happen?” It sure did. Sullivan got back into it and put Dream onto the ladder that was bridged from the announce table to the ring apron. Sullivan picked up EC3 and slammed him onto Dream, which broke the ladder in half! Fans chanted “holy shit” for that as well and “this is awesome” again. That was a brutal spot. There was another ladder bridged from the other announce table to the ring apron. Dain picked up Cole in his arms and jumped onto Ricochet on the ladder, which broke the ladder! Wow. Fans chanting “fight forever” for them.
Analysis: Those two spots were similar with the big men slamming a smaller guy through somebody that was on a ladder and both were insane with guys being put through steel ladders. Those hurt a lot more than the tables that WWE uses.
Sullivan and Dain got back into the ring to try to pull down the title. EC3 went back in there with a ladder in hand to try to knock them down. Cole made his way into the ring as well. Dream grabbed a third ladder and set it up beside the two ladders. Three ladders were set up with five of the six guys up there and Ricochet was the last man to join the chase. They were all throwing punches. Cole slammed EC3 off the ladder. Dream got his hands on the title, but he couldn’t reach it. Ricochet hit a neckbreaker on Dream off the top of a ladder. Another incredible spot in this match. Sullivan took down Dain with a uranage slam. Sullivan was alone in the ring. Ricochet got back into it by jumping onto Sullivan’s back, which led to the ladder collapsing under them. Ricochet climbed up the ladder, but Cole tipped it over and Ricochet went crashing to the floor. Cole climbed up the ladder and pulled the title down to become the first ever North American Champion. The crowd cheered. The match went 31 minutes.
Winner and New NXT North American Champion: Adam Cole
Cole celebrated with the title. Replays aired of the big spots in the match. There were so many of them that they couldn’t show them all.
Analysis: ****3/4 I’m going just under five stars out of five. That was a special match where all six guys busted their asses, some of them got busted open and they went all out to make that North American Championship feel special from the first match where it was up for grabs. I like how all six guys really got a chance to shine. Ricochet stood out the most due to some of his aerial moves (that ladder match off the ladder was insane) and the crowd wanted him to win the most, but they liked Cole and some of others as well. There were plenty of power spots to make Sullivan and Dain look like beasts. It seemed like EC3 took the most punishment from the ladder. Dream stepped up huge again on a Takeover, which is something he continues to do to impress me. I’m cool with Adam Cole winning because he’s one of the best guys on the NXT brand. He’s a heel that people still cheer for.
8. NXT Women’s Title: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley @ NXT Takeover Brooklyn (August 22, 2015)
The crowd was doing dueling chants for the ladies: “Let’s Go Bayley/Let’s Go Sasha.” Bayley did this cool elbow drop spot with Banks against the ropes. Fans were chanting “Sasha’s ratchet/No she’s not” like we see at NXT shows. Bayley hit a dropkick by the apron. Banks stopped her and went for a double knee attack, but Bayley moved out of the way. With Bayley standing on the middle ropes, Banks kicked her in the knee to knock her down and Bayley bumped to the floor. Nice spot there. Banks does all the little things right such as doing a spin before hitting Bayley with a punch to the face. Banks grounded Bayley with her knee to the back submission. When Banks went for her double knee attack in the corner, Bayley caught her and Banks sent her into the turnbuckle again. Banks set up Bayley on the top rope, then Banks went up top and hit the double knee attack to the ribs, which drew a big reaction. That earned a two count. Bayley hit a boot to the face to start a comeback followed by a barrage of punches. Banks hit a great move as she draped Bayley’s arms against the middle ropes. Fans chanted “this is wrestling” as Banks took off the wrist brace that Bayley had on to protect her broken hand. Banks slammed Bayley’s injured right hand into the steel steps. Banks placed Bayley’s hand against the steps and the ring apron and then kicked the steps to cause a lot of pain. Bayley sold it big time while holding her right hand. The ref told Banks to stand back, but Banks did a somersault plancha over the top. That was incredible! Crowd chanting “this is awesome” for them. That got a two count.
There was a big spot where Banks took a bump off the apron and landed hard on her knees on the floor. Ref checked on Banks, who looks like she’s okay. Fans were chanting for Bayley. They exchanged punches in the ring with Bayley favoring her right hand, so she used her left. Running corner splash by Bayley. Great spot by Bayley as she did a suplex that sent Banks into the corner with her legs hitting the turnbuckle. Bayley went for her finishing suplex, but Banks rolled her up. They exchanged some holds in the middle of the ring. Banks brought her down by yanking on the right hand of Bayley. Banks applied the Banks Statement submission. When Bayley almost got to the ropes, Banks kicked Bayley’s hand to prevent her from getting the rope. Wow that’s great. Bayley ended up getting to the ropes and then applied a Crossface submission of her own. This is intense. The crowd was going wild for it! Banks grabbed the ropes to break free. After another brief exchange, there’s the Bayley to Belly Suplex by Bayley and the tight cover, but Banks kicked out. Wow! What an amazing nearfall right there. They went at it on the top rope, Banks shoved her off and Bayley took a hard bump on her head/neck area. That looked scary, but she’s okay. Banks hit a double knee attack for a two count. Another awesome nearfall in this match. They battled by the turnbuckle again. Bayley dominated her with elbows. Bayley hit a reverse hurricanrana that spiked Banks on her head for a big bump. She followed that up with the Bayley to Belly suplex for the pinfall and win after 18 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Bayley
Analysis: ****1/2 What an absolutely fantastic wrestling match that was. It’s not just great for a women’s match like some people might say, but they delivered a match that any wrestler man or woman would be proud of. The nearfalls were fantastic. I loved the submissions. I found myself saying “wow” so many times because they went all out to deliver a classic. Banks was tremendous on offense in her attack on Bayley’s hand. Then when Bayley came back, she sold the injury and her offense that followed was very believable. The babyface fire shown by Bayley was excellent as the crowd supported her every step of the way. I loved the finish by Bayley. She couldn’t just win with a simple B2B. It had to follow a big move, which it did when she did that huge reverse hurricanrana off the top rope. I was so impressed by both of them. It was a classic match and one of the best in WWE this year. It’s not at five stars for me although it was one of the best matches of the year so don’t take my rating to be a slight in any way. Maybe if I watch it again I’ll change my mind. Sometimes it’s tough to get a proper feel while writing a play by play.
Post match, there was a big celebration for Bayley. The crowd gave her a standing ovation. Charlotte and Becky Lynch went to the ring to celebrate with her. After the celebration, Banks hugged Bayley as well. All four women embraced in the ring with a big hug. Graves said women’s wrestling is back. What a cool moment. So happy for all of them.
Analysis: Those four women have been the foundation of the women’s wrestling revolution on NXT in the last couple of years. They have a tight bond and I’m glad that they had that big moment together.
7. WWE UK Championship: WALTER vs. Tyler Bate @ NXT Takeover Cardiff (August 31, 2019)
Walter was in control early after doing a test of strength, Walter took him down, Bate bridged back to his feet and Bate hit a forearm. They exchanged strikes until Walter slowed it down with a headlock. Walter with a shoulder tackle, Bate avoided a move, he rolled through and Bate connected with a body slam with the crowd cheering loudly for it. Bate knocked Walter out of the ring. Walter came back with Powerbomb on the edge of the ring apron. When Bate got to the apron, Walter kicked him down. Walter whipped Bate into the barricade followed by a boot to the face. Walter picked up Bate and gave him a Powerbomb into the ring post. That looked like a rough landing for Bate as the referee checked on him. The referee held up a fist in the air as a trainer (likely an indy wrestler) went over to Bate to check on him. The referee delayed the count to let Bate get checked out and Bate rolled back in the ring. The fans chanted things all night. This time, they were chanting for Bate. Walter kicked at Bate to keep him down. They spent a few minutes with Walter continuing to dominate with kicks. Walter with a sleeper hold, Bate got to the ropes to break free and punched him with the left hand. Bate tried to lift up Walter, so Walter fell on him and elbowed him in the head. Walter with a crossface attempt, Bate to the ropes and Walter worked him over with forearms to the chest. Walter pulled back on the arms of Bate and put his knee into the back. Walter with a running splash on Bate for a two count. Bate tried to come back with punches, but Walter slammed him against the turnbuckle. Walter put his boot to the throat of Bate. Walter wanted a Powerbomb on the apron, Bate held onto the ropes and Bate hit an Exploder Suplex off the apron with both guys crashing to the floor. That was a big move. Bate sent Walter into the side of the apron and into the barricade.
They went back into the ring with Bate hitting three leg drops. Bate was selling the back injury. Bate with a running elbow against the turnbuckle, but when Bate went for an attack off the middle ropes, Walter chopped him down. Walter slapped on the Boston Crab submission, which he turned into a Crossface. Walter pulled back on the neck of Bate with Bate getting to the bottom rope with his foot. Walter wanted a suplex, Bate blocked, Walter chopped him, Bate blocked with a knee and they battled over a suplex spot with Bate connecting with a basic suplex on the much bigger man. The fans popped big for it even though it was just a typical suplex. It drew a pop because of how they set it up. Bate worked over Walter with repeated forearms to the face, a clothesline, a clothesline to the back, another clothesline and Walter came back with a forearm. Bate with a rolling kick to the head and an Exploder Suplex across the ring. Bate with a running Shooting Star Press for a two count. The fans chanted “this is awesome” for them. Bate went for a backslide, Walter to his feet and a back body drop. Bate sold the back injury, Walter with a dropkick to the back into the ropes and Bate hit a Sunset Driver into a pinfall attempt for two. They went to the middle ropes, Bate teased a suplex to the floor, which was never going to happen and Walter hit a big chop to the chest to knock Bate down. Bate came back with a finger breaking spot to pay homage to his buddy Pete Dunne and Bate hit an Exploder Suplex off the top rope for a two count. Great nearfalls The fans chanted for Bate again. There were more chops exchanged with Bate going for punches, but every time he did, Walter came back with hard chops to knock him down. Bate finally got some momentum back with a lefty punch to the jaw and then Walter fell on the back of Bate. They were both down selling for about a minute. Bate with a kick to the knee. Bate off the ropes, Walter caught him and hit an overhead suplex. Bate picked up Walter, the fans stood up, he spun Walter around and Walter got to the ropes. Bate put Walter on his shoulders and gave him a Burning Hammer slam in the middle of the ring. Bat was selling the back injury, so he was slow to cover and Walter went to the apron as fans chanted “fight forever” for them. Bate kicked Walter to knock him down and Bate followed up with two dives onto Walter on the floor. The second dive looked better. Bate hit a delayed, bridging German Suplex for a two count. Walter blocked the Tiger Driver attempt at first, but then Bate hit the Tiger Driver ’97 for a two count with Walter getting his shoulder up. Bate up top again and he hit a corkscrew moonsault for a two count. Another “this is awesome” chant. Bate worked over Walter with punches, the referee made him go back, so Walter hit two chops and a kick to the head. Walter slapped on a sleeper hold. Bate put Walter on his back and dropped him back to the mat. Walter got back up quickly with another sleeper hold. Bate to the apron, Walter with two forearms to the chest and Walter hit a head/arm suplex onto Bate on the ring apron. Holy shit! That was brutal. Walter went up top and he jumped off with a splash. Walter covered, but Bate kicked out at two with the crowd giving him a huge ovation. Walter with another head/arm suplex for two. Walter with a Powerbomb, but Bate kicked out at one and the fans exploded again! Bate showed that babyface fighting spirit in getting back to his feet, but then Walter bounced off the ropes and hit a huge clothesline. Bate did a flip bump and Walter covered for the pinfall win. The match went 42 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: WALTER
Analysis: ****3/4 Wow! What a f’n great match! It was slow-paced for the first half of the match because that’s the style of a Walter match. It’s not for every kind of wrestling fan, but I like it because of how well they built up the final few minutes in the match. Bate took a beating for most of the match and he did an excellent job of showing babyface heart leading to the big comeback. Some of those Exploder Suplex spots they did were cool especially because the smaller Bate was throwing the big man Walter around like it was nothing. Bate hitting the Burning Hammer on Walter was also incredible. I continue to be amazed by Bate because of how great he is so early in his career. The last ten minutes were absolutely incredible. Bate’s comeback was exactly as it should have been. Walter was able to come back and continue his dominance as the champion. Whenever somebody is able to beat Walter it’s going to be a big deal and that’s the way you want to book your heel champion. This was one of the best matches of the year in WWE. I enjoyed it a lot. Since I know people will ask why it’s not five stars, my simple answer is that maybe it went a bit too long and the first half of the match wasn’t nearly as interesting as the second half. I still loved it.
6. NXT Championship: Andrade “Cien” Almas (w/Zelina Vega) vs. Johnny Gargano @ NXT TakeOver Philadelphia (January 27, 2018)
The fans were chanting “Johnny Wrestling” as the bell rang. There was some mat wrestling to start with neither guy getting the advantage. They showed Gargano’s wife Candice LeRae with Ranallo noting she was just signed and will be in the women’s division. They did some more grappling going for armbars with neither man able to slap on a hold. Gargano took control with an armbar. Almas avoided an attack off the ropes and nailed a hard chop to the chest. Gargano with a boot to the face, headscissors and a clothesline that sent Almas out of the ring. They battled outside the ring with Gargano nailing a kick to the face, but when Gargano went for a dive off the apron, Almas moved and Gargano went crashing to the floor with a flip bump right in front of his wife. Back in the ring, Almas got a two count. Gargano tried to fight back, but Almas nailed a kick to the back for a two count. Almas slapped on a headlock to wear down Gargano. Gargano got out of it and nailed a rolling kick to the face. Fans chanted “Let’s Go Johnny” as Almas blocked a kick and Almas missed a double stomp out of the corner. Gargano came back with an overhead suplex that sent Almas into the turnbuckle. Gargano worked over Almas with elbows, a clothesline and step up enziguri kick to the head. Forearm in the corner by Gargano followed by a flatliner like move off the ropes for a two count. Almas sent Gargano to the apron, but Gargano came back with a slingshot spear off the apron for a two count. That was a great nearfall. Gargano nailed another enziguri in the corner, but Almas caught him and slammed him face first.
Almas went up top for a moonsault, Gargano moved and Almas hit a standing moonsault onto him for a two count. That was a great spot. Almas got a two count after a knee and Gargano came back with a superkick for a two count. They exchanged clotheslines as well as a punch to the face at the same time leading to both guys crashing to the mat. Almas to the turnbuckle and he hit a knee to the face of Gargano. Almas went for a hammerlock DDT, but Gargano slipped out of it and nailed a superkick. Almas nailed a drive through knee. Almas missed a knee charge in the corner. Gargano went for a DDT off the apron, Almas caught him, forearm to the back sent Almas to the back and Almas hit a spinning reverse DDT. The crowd was going wild for these guys with “NXT” chants. That was an incredible sequence. They battled on the apron leading to Gargano jumping over the top and hitting a slingshot DDT on the ring apron. Gargano rolled Almas into the ring and got a two count. Almas with a jawbreaker, forearms by Gargano and a back elbow sent Gargano back first into the corner. Back to his feet, Gargano hit a clothesline followed by a lawn dart that sent Almas into the middle turnbuckle. Vega grabbed Gargano’s foot and Almas hit a dropkick that sent Gargano into the turnbuckle. Gargano with a small package for a two count. Gargano hit a superkick for a two count. Those two nearfalls for Gargano were very close and the crowd chanted “this is awesome” for them about 20 minutes into it.
Gargano tried to climb to the rope, but Almas tripped him up. Almas to the top and he hit a double stomp on Gargano onto the side of the ring apron. Nasty looking bump. Almas sent Gargano back first into the side of the ring. Gargano looked dazed. Back in the ring, the ref checked on Gargano and Almas hit a running double knee attack against the turnbuckle. Fans chanted “fight forever” for them. Almas slapped Gargano twice. Gargano came back with punches. Almas with a hard chop to the chest, Gargano with a superkick and Gargano nailed a reverse hurricanrana. Gargano slapped on the Gargano Escape submission hold. Almas was close to tapping, but Vega grabbed his hand. That broke the hold because the ref admonished her and Almas raked the eyes of Gargano with the ref not seeing it. Gargano with a back body drop that sent Almas out of the ring. Gargano with a suicide dive that sent Almas into the barricade. Vega nailed a hurricanrana that sent Gargano into the steel steps. Almas nailed a Hammerlock DDT for a two count as Gargano shot his right shoulder up. Fans were going wild and chanted “yes” for Gargano. Gargano went outside the ring, Vega went after him and LeRae jumped the barricade to attack her. The crowd loved that. LeRae sent Vega into the barricade. Vega went running the back with LeRae going after her. I figured that spot was coming. Fans chanted “Thank You Candice” for that. Gargano nailed a kick to the head again followed by a leaping DDT for a two count. Gargano slapped on the Gargano Escape submission again, but Almas got his foot on the bottom rope. The match is around 30 minutes at this point.
They were on the apron with Almas shoving Gargano back first into the ring post with the back of Gargano’s head hitting the post. Brutal! Almas nailed a running double knee attack that sent Gargano into the post again. The ref checked on Gargano again as Gargano looked dazed. Back in the ring, Almas did a draping Hammerlock DDT off the top rope and covered for the pinfall win after 31 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Andrade “Cien” Almas
The crowd was upset with that finish because they really wanted Gargano to win. Vega went into the ring and raised Almas’ hand as the winner of the match.
Analysis: ***** It’s five stars out of five. It’s as high as my rating scale goes. That’s not something I do that often, but this was a fantastic wrestling match with everything looking flawless the entire time. The pacing was just right. I liked how it was more of a back and forth match rather than something where one guy controlled too much of the action. The story was about Gargano taking an ass kicking and finding a way to keep coming back for more. When you saw Gargano’s face with him looking concussed you felt bad for the guy, yet he kept going and nearly won multiple times. I urge you to watch the match if you missed it because they told an incredible story. Every time Almas looked like he was going to put him away, Gargano kept coming for more. There were multiple times where I thought Gargano was going to win while using his submission move towards the end, but they planned those spots so well with Almas close to the ropes the one time where Vega helped him and then the other time with Almas getting his foot on the rope. The spot with Candice attacking Zelina made sense too because Zelina interfered a few times, so having Candice there to neutralize her was the right call. Going into the match, I had read about how these guys have wrestled dozens of times at live events, so I figured they would get a lot of time. I didn’t expect 31 minutes and then not only that, but the quality of the match was so good. This match was special. I highly recommend checking it out if you missed it.
5. NXT Championship: Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole @ NXT Takeover XXV June 1, 2019
There was some mat wrestling early along with counters and then Cole bailed to the floor for some stalling. When they went back in the ring, Cole worked over Gargano with a forearm. Gargano with a running hurricanrana takedown, they each went for moves on the floor and Gargano hit a running dive onto Cole. Gargano kicking the arm of Cole followed by a double stomp off the apron onto the left arm of Cole. Gargano with a legdrop on the left arm of Cole. They battled by the turnbuckle with Cole avoiding an attack followed by a kick to the back of the leg of Gargano. Cole with a dropkick to the right knee of Gargano. Cole worked over the right knee of Gargano. Normally wrestlers work on the left side of body parts, but Cole is going for the right knee here. Cole went to the turnbuckle and hit a dropkick to the right knee of Gargano. Cole with a dragon screw leg whip on Gargano’s knee. Cole went for an attack off the middle ropes, but Gargano dropped him with a Powerbomb. Gargano with a forearm followed by a belly to belly suplex, rolling kick and a step up enziguri. Gargano off the middle turnbuckle with a tornado flatliner for the two count. Gargano with a kick to the head followed by a Spear off the apron for a two count. Gargano was selling the right knee injury.
Gargano set up Cole on the top rope. Cole tried the sunset flip, but it didn’t work, Gargano jumped off with a back elbow drop attempt and he went right into a Backstabber double knees by Cole to the back of Gargano. When Gargano tried a move, he favored his right knee and Cole hit an enziguri kick followed by a burning hammer into a knee in the face for a two count. Cole went to the middle ropes, Gargano avoided an attack, each guy got a superkick, Cole got another superkick and Cole jumped off the turnbuckle right into a superkick by Gargano. The fans chanted “NXT” as both guys rolled to the floor. They did a double superkick spot on the floor where they each landed on the floor. The referee took his time to start the ten count. When they got back in the ring, Gargano hit a slingshot DDT for a two count. Cole tried a chop block, but Gargano avoided it and hit a dropkick to the back of the head. Cole bailed to the floor again. Gargano to the apron and Cole kicked him in the right leg. Cole with the Ushigoroshi (suplex into the knee) on the floor. Back in the ring, Cole with another Ushigoroshi for a two count. Cole with an elbow to the right leg. Gargano pulled down Cole off the top rope by the left arm. Gargano slapped on the Gargano Escape submission on the left arm. Cole got out of it by grabbing the right leg of Gargano and slapping on the Figure Four Leglock submission. Gargano wrenched on the left arm of Cole to turn the Figure Four Leglock and Cole grabbed the bottom rope to break it. It’s about 20 minutes into this match.
Cole continued the offense by driving the right knee of Gargano into the mat. Cole stomped on the right leg of Gargano. Gargano kicked Cole out of the ring, Cole to the apron and Gargano with a DDT. Gargano went for a suicide dive, but Cole moved and hit him with a superkick to the face! Gargano went crashing to the mat. That was a great spot that also looked brutal. Cole jumped off the apron with the Panama Sunrise sunset flip into a piledriver on the floor. Cole sent Gargano back in the ring for a two count. Best nearfall of the night with Ranallo being shocked that Gargano kicked out. The fans chanted “Mama Mia” quoting Mauro’s famous phrase. Cole went for the Last Shot knee, but Gargano moved and Gargano wanted the Gargano Escape. Cole slapped on the Gargano Escape submission, the crowd was going wild and Gargano got back up leading to a Last Shot knee of his own for a two count. Great nearfall there too leading to “NXT” chants. They got “fight forever” chants. Cole came back with three kicks to the face, but Gargano bounced off the ropes with a clothesline. Cole with a superkick, Gargano with a superkick and a Reverse Rana by Gargano. Cole hit the Last Shot knee to the back of the head for one…two…and no! Cole was frustrated that he couldn’t put Gargano away, so he grabbed a chair from under the ring. The referee left the ring and told Cole he can’t bring the chair into the ring. Gargano went for a suicide dive, Cole moved and Gargano took down the referee Drake Weurtz, who is a former wrestler. Gargano avoided a chair shot and superkicked the chair into Cole’s face. Gargano sent Cole in the ring, he did a cover, but there was no referee to count. Gargano sent the referee back in the ring. Cole signaled for the Undisputed Era guys to come out, but there was nobody. Cole hit a move where he drove Gargano’s head into the mat that was almost like a piledriver and that was good for two as the referee tried to get back up. That meant that Cole faked calling out his buddies in order to hit a move. Smart heel! The crowd chanted “This is Awesome” for them. Damn right. Cole tried the Last Shot knee again, but Gargano collapsed to the mat before Cole could hit the move. Gargano was playing possum because he slapped on the Gargano Escape submission. Cole elbowed Gargano in the right knee to get away. Cole with two kicks to the right knee. Cole went for the Panama Sunrise, Gargano escaped and Gargano was hurting due to the knee, so Cole went for it again. Cole hit the Panama Sunrise followed by the Last Shot knee to the back for the pinfall win. New NXT Champion is Adam Cole! It went 31:54.
Winner by pinfall and New NXT Champion: Adam Cole
Analysis: ***** It’s another five star out of five performance from Johnny Five Stars (I think he’s earned that name after having so many five star matches at NXT Takeover shows) and Cole delivered again too. My scale stops at five stars. I don’t go above that. It’s tough to go over every amazing spot in the match because there were so many. Gargano sold the right knee injury so well the entire time, which is something they kept going back to during the entire match. The ref bump didn’t hurt the match at all because it told the story that Gargano could have won if the referee was there to count the pin, but the referee was down due in part to the heel Cole trying to cheat to win. The entire match was great although when I think back to the last 10 minutes or so, they really went to that next level where it made you feel like this was a special match because that’s what it was. I liked the finish with Gargano collapsing, then he was playing possum and Cole managed to come back to hit his two signature spots to win. Is this match better than the NXT Takeover New York match? It might be. It’s hard to compare, but I think I like this one more. I’m sure it’ll be a tough decision in the year-end WWE Johnny Awards in just under seven months from now.
4. NXT UK Championship: WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov @ NXT Takeover 36 (August 22, 2021)
I usually write Walter in a regular way instead of WALTER during the match. Don’t chop me, Walter. They had Smackdown referee Jessika Carr as the referee of this match.
Walter with a hiptoss, then some chops and Walter was frustrated by how quick Dragunov was. Walter with two knees to the ribs along with a forearm to the face. Dragunov with a takedown by the arm/leg, Walter fought back and Dragunov caught a charging Walter and slammed him down. Dragunov took his bandage off and took down Walter with a tight headlock. Walter tried a suplex out of it, but Dragunov held onto it. Walter with forearms, Dragunov with forearms of his own, Walter with a chop, Dragunov caught the arm and got a takedown on the right arm. Walter powered it by setting up Dragunov on the top rope and Walter hit a huge chop that knocked Dragunov off the top to the floor. Ouch! That was so loud. Walter with a Powerbomb on the apron. Back in the ring, Walter went for a chinlock, Dragunov to the ropes and Walter hit a German Suplex. Walter applied a Boston Crab submission that he sat down on. Walter slapped on a tight headlock on his own leading to a snapmare and a kick to the back. They exchanged forearms and chops with Walter rocking Dragunov, who was trapped in a sleeper. Walter wanted a Powerbomb, but Dragunov turned it into a back body drop. Dragunov with a jumping kick to the jaw, then two clotheslines and Walter hooked the head/arm into an overhead suplex for a two count. Walter rocked Dragunov with a hard chop into the ropes. So loud! Walter with a huge kick to the head to stagger Dragunov again. They got into an exchange of open hand palm strikes, Walter hit a forearm and then Dragunov countered charging Walter into an armbar. Dragunov with multiple back firsts to the head, Walter with a slap, Dragunov with a slap and Dragunov with elbows. Dragunov pulled Walter’s arm and hit a knee to the face.
Dragunov went for a running attack, but Walter stopped him with a clothesline. Walter with another running clothesline with a huge bump for Dragunov that got a two count. Walter with a hard chop to Dragunov’s back while he was against the ropes. Dragunov fired up, he hit a clothesline and connected with his own chop to the back. Dragunov with a German Suplex. Walter with another chop, Dragunov with a kick, a running knee and Dragunov hit a lifting slam for two. Dragunov went up top with a dropkick, Dragunov went up top again and hit a senton splash. Dragunov went for the running attack, but Walter caught him with a sleeper and hit an overhead suplex! Dragunov came back with the Torpedo Moscow forearm. The fans were chanting “holy shit” for them. Dragunov hit the running Torpedo Moscow forearm for one…two…and Walter got his right shoulder up. Loud “NXT” chants from the crowd. Walter and Dragunov exchanged strikes again with Walter hitting a hard chop right into a two count. Walter went up top, Dragunov met him there and hit a superplex off the middle rope. Dragunov went up top with a missile dropkick. Both guys were down. Dragunov charged, Walter with a boot and Walter with a Powerbomb into a pin for two. Walter with more slaps to the face, a knee to the gut followed by another Powerbomb. Walter went up top and hit the Superfly Splash off the top for one…two…and no! Dragunov kicked out. Walter has won many matches with that move. Walter with forearms, then he wanted a sleeper, Dragunov fought back and jumped off the middle rope with a forearm to knock Walter down. Dragunov worked over Walter with repeated elbows to the head followed by a sleeper hold. Walter back up, he walked up the ropes with Dragunov on his back and jumped off the ropes to knock them both down. Dragunov with elbows to the head. Dragunov with another sleeper, Walter dropped back onto his back and Dragunov continued to hold on. Dragunov with a chop to the back, then a forearm to the back, then a sleeper and Walter tapped out to the sleeper! Dragunov wins the NXT UK Title! It went 22:06.
Winner by submission AND NEW NXT UK Champion: Ilja Dragunov
Analysis: ***** Amazing match. I loved this! It’s the kind of pro wrestling that I’ll enjoy forever. Yeah, that’s five stars. It’s the WWE Match of the Year right now. These guys did it again. Walter was a dominant champion that beat the shit out of Dragunov with chops, punches and slaps that left visible wounds on Dragunov’s body throughout the match. What I loved about the match more than anything is the heart shown by Dragunov with the relentless nature of the attacks with the forearms, the dropkicks and everything else that he did. Most fans watching this may not know about Dragunov, but the way he takes a beating and keeps coming back is an example of how exceptional of a talent he is. It was really smart to have Walter tap out to not just put over Dragunov in a big way, but in a decisive way that we have never seen before because Walter doesn’t lose. He just did, though, and by making him tap out, that makes Dragunov look like a huge badass that just gained a lot of credibility. The timing of the match was just right. I thought their match last year might have been a bit long since it was around 40 minutes whereas this one felt just right. I absolutely loved it. I can’t wait to watch it again. Please watch this match if you haven’t done so. It’s so much fun to watch. You can tell these guys put their bodies on the line to entertain us and they delivered a classic match once again.
3. NXT Tag Team Championships 2/3 Falls: The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) vs. #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) @ NXT Takeover Toronto (November 19, 2016)
Gargano started with Dawson. Ciampa tagged in and they hit a double dropkick on the heels for a two count. The heels worked on Ciampa a bit with Dawson slamming Wilder onto Ciampa by having Wilder hit a legdrop on Ciampa. Ciampa sent Wilder sternum first into the turnbuckle. Gargano tagged in with an overhead belly to belly to wilder and a bulldog/clothesline spot on both heels. Gargano neckbreaker on Dawson gets two. Gargano was in the heel corner. He tried to hit Dawson with a slingshot spear, but it was blocked and the champs hit Shatter Machine (double team Codebreaker) with Wilder pinning Gargano for the first fall.
Winners of first fall: The Revival 1-0
Analysis: Great move by Dawson to counter Gargano’s move into the finisher. It’s also smart for the heels to get the first fall to build up to the faces trying to come back.
The heels beat on Gargano on their side of the ring. Wilder hit a headbutt on Gargano and noted they were two time champs. Dawson applied the Gory Special submission. Gargano broke free and hit a kick on Dawson while he nailed a DDT on Wilder. Dawson went under the ring to pull Ciampa off the apron, but Ciampa fought it off. The referee didn’t see the hot tag leading to the Revival hitting the Hart Attack double team clothesline for a two count. Wilder with a back body drop on Gargano off the top, but Gargano turned it into a cross body black. Ciampa hot tag against Dawson with a missile dropkick, running knee in the corner, back elbows, boot to the face and a leg lariat to the back of the head for a two count. Ciampa with three German suplexes in a row to Dawson followed by a running knee strike for a two count. Fans were chanting “this is awesome” for them. The heels went for a double team move, but Ciampa came back with a cross body block off the top for two. The ref told Wilder to get out of the ring, so Ciampa and Gargano did a double team move with Ciampa hitting a running knee while Gargano hit a superkick to the head of Dawson at the same time.
Winners of second fall: #DIY 1-1
Analysis: That looked nasty. Great spot to give #DIY a fall to even up the match.
Ciampa had a slug fest with Wilder that he won. Dawson tagged in, countered an arm bar into a pinfall attempt and nailed a boot to the face. Gargano tagged in as Ciampa dropped Dawson face first into the mat. Gargano jumped over the top rope and hit a DDT on Dawson for a two count. Wilder tagged in and the heels did a great double team uppercut into a German Suplex spot for a two count as Ciampa made the save. By this point in the math the crowd was so into it they were standing up for a lot of it and chanting “this is awesome” regularly. Dawson sent Ciampa into the ring post. The heels worked on Gargano in their half of the ring until Gargano got an inside cradle for a two count that everybody thought was the end of the match. Wilder brought one of the tag team titles into the ring. Ciampa took out Wilder with a clothesline that sent them out of the ring. Gargano kicked Dawson, who had the title in his hands, so Gargano’s leg was hurt as he kicked the title. Such a cool spot. Inverted figure four by Dawson, which was a move that Dawson used to beat Gargano in their last title match. Gargano nearly tapped, but he was able to crawl to the ropes to huge cheers from the crowd. Dawson had a bit of blood, but it wasn’t that bad. The Revival teased a double team move, but Wilder actually kicked Dawson instead. Gargano and Ciampa hit the Shatter Machine finisher that Revival uses to a huge ovation for the one…two…no. Wow what a nearfall that was! Most of us thought that was it. Dawson came back with a rollup using the tights, but the ref saw it, so he stopped the count. Wilder sent Ciampa into the ring post outside the ring. Gargano kicked Dawson out of the ring, which led to Wilder clipped the back of the left leg of Gargano, so both legs of Gargano were hurting. Gargano and Wilder exchanged pinfall sequences. Gargano did a Crossface like move. Ciampa locked Dawson in an armbar. In a great visual, Dawson & Wilder were holding eachother’s hand to prevent the tap as the crowd was rabid! We were going wild! The image of the people in the background told the story. The heels tried to fight out of it and then both guys tapped out! New champs! The legal finish was Gargano forcing Wilder to submit. Gargano & Ciampa got the win at the 22:15 mark. Wow! What a match!
Winners and New NXT Tag Team Champions: #DIY (Gargano & Ciampa)
Post match, Gargano & Ciampa held the titles in their arms as the fans showered them in “you deserve it” chants. Replays aired of all the great spots in the match. Following the replays, Gargano & Ciampa soaked in the cheers while The Revival were on the stage looking sad about the loss.
Analysis: ***** That’s five stars out of five. It’s rare, but that’s what that this match was. One of the best matches of the year and maybe the winner. One of the best tag team matches I have ever seen. I had high expectations going into the match after their Brooklyn match, but they managed to top themselves with this performance. There were so many things to like about the match as they did some spots similar to their last match, they built on those things and they teased the finish several times in the last five minutes. There’s really nothing to pick apart as far as complaints go. The pacing was great, the match time was the right amount and the work was exceptional. I think making it a 2/3 falls match was a way to differentiate it from their previous match. The chemistry between the teams is amazing. Gargano & Ciampa wrestle more of the fast paced, current era style of wrestling with a lot of kicks and high impact offense. The Revival are old school tag team wrestlers who don’t look physically imposing, but they are so well schooled when it comes to technical tag team wrestling. From a storyline standpoint, it was exactly what it needed to be with the faces overcoming the heels for the biggest victory of their careers. Five stars, gentlemen. What a f’n great match this was that I enjoyed so much live when I saw it at the arena and I liked it even more watching it on the broadcast today. All four of these guys are ready for the main roster obviously, but if they want to do this match at every Takeover for the next year I’m perfectly fine with that too. If The Revival were on the main roster, Vince McMahon would be too consumed with trying to give them a stupid gimmick (see Breezango as the “fashion police”) and I doubt they’d get to have meaningful matches as often.
Analysis x2: I have more praise for this match. To put it in perspective in terms of WWE history, I think it’s one of the best tag matches ever. My three favorite traditional tag team matches in WWE history (not counting TLC matches, which is why I say traditional) are Angle/Benoit vs. Edge/Mysterio at No Mercy 2002, Benoit/Jericho vs. Austin/HHH on Raw in May 2001 and this match.
2. Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa @ NXT Takeover New Orleans (April 7, 2018)
(If Gargano wins he gets his NXT job back, but if Gargano loses he is gone from NXT forever.)
They started out with punches as they should in a match that’s built around a personal rivalry. Slingshot Spear by Gargano followed by more punches and kicks. Gargano with a clothesline that sent Ciampa out of the ring. Gargano with a suicide dive for a two count. There’s Shane McMahon in the front row along with his three sons. The Rock’s mom and oldest daughter are also there. I can spot Bayley and Sasha Banks as well. They brawled outside the ring with Gargano hitting a dive over the barricade and he took down Ciampa while they were in the crowd. Ciampa came back with a suplex that sent Gargano’s ribs into the barricade. Ciampa hit Gargano with forearms to the back. Ciampa with a backbreaker as they battled outside the ring. Ciampa pulled off the mat outside the ring in front of Shane McMahon, who wasn’t acknowledged by the announcers. Ciampa teased a suplex on the floor, but Gargano fought out of it and hit him with a kick. Gargano whipped Ciampa over the announce table and Ciampa went crashing onto the announcers. Fans chanted “Mamma Mia” for Ranallo as he got out of the way. That’s funny. Gargano teased a move on the announce table, but Ciampa hit him with a monitor to the ribs. Ciampa suplexed Gargano off the announce table onto the floor. Ciampa suplexed Gargano onto the top of the announce table. Fans chanted “Fuck You Ciampa” as Gargano struggled to get back to his feet. Back in the ring, Ciampa with a hard whip into the corner. When Gargano got back to his feet, Ciampa took him down with a belly to back suplex. Ciampa slapped on a Cloverleaf submission. When Gargano got to the rope, the ref told him there’s no rope break. Ciampa stomped on the back of Gargano’s head and then sarcastically clapped at the fans. Ciampa with a running knee lift. There was a fan that was clearly planted there with crutches and Ciampa grabbed the crutches. Security walked the guy to the back. That was obviously a plant since there wasn’t even a seat there.
They went back into the ring with Ciampa bringing the crutches in the ring. Gargano avoided two crutch attacks, punched him and Ciampa kicked him. Gargano nailed a rolling kick that knocked Ciampa to the apron. Ciampa was on the apron and he tripped up Gargano to take him down. They were by the part of the apron where the floor was exposed. Gargano with a kick to the head. Gargano jumped over the top teasing a slingshot DDT. Ciampa fought out of it and Gargano hit a Powerbomb onto the exposed concrete. Ouch. They showed former NFLer DeAngelo Williams in the crowd. Fans chanted “you deserve” it for that. They went back into the ring fighting over the crutch that was in there. Gargano hit Ciampa in the gut, crutch to the back and a crutch to the knee for Gargano. Ciampa came back with a back body drop that sent Gargano over the top to the floor. Gargano came back with a crutch to the back of the head. Gargano jumped over the top and hit a DDT for a two count. Gargano exposed a middle turnbuckle. Ciampa avoided being sent into it and hit a back elbow to the jaw of Gargano. When Gargano tried to jump back into the ring, Ciampa hit a knee to the face. Ciampa hit a spinning sitout Powerbomb for a two count. Ciampa hit a running knee to the back of the head for two. Gargano broke free, hit him with three clotheslines, five slaps and Ciampa came back with a stiff clothesline. Gargano hit a reverse rana that snapped Ciampa’s head back. Gargano slapped on the Gargano Escape submission hold. Ciampa tried to fight it and he managed to crawl to the ropes. Gargano kicked his hand off the ropes and spun back to the middle of the ring. Ciampa gouged Gargano in the eyes to break free. Ranallo called Ciampa a “sadistic son of a bitch” for that.
Ciampa took his black wrist tape off to try to choke Gargano, but Gargano fought him off. They exchanged punches for about one minute with Gargano getting the control with several lefty punches. Ciampa stopped that with a kick to the gut. Ciampa with a crutch to the back. Ciampa picked up Gargano and hit the double knees to the back for a two count. Great nearfall there. They slowly got back to their feet with Ciampa saying it was his moment. Gargano came back with a superkick, clothesline and he sent Ciampa like a lawn dart into the exposed middle turnbuckle. Gargano with another superkick. Gargano with another superkick for just two as Ciampa got his right shoulder up to kick out. The crowd thought that was it and I thought so too. They went over to the turnbuckle and battled on the top rope. Ciampa set up Gargano, but Gargano elbowed out of it. Ciampa hit a Powerbomb off the top onto the double knees for a two count as Gargano got his left shoulder up. That was an excellent nearfall. Ciampa took off the knee brace. Ciampa charged in and Gargano hit Ciampa in the right knee with the brace. Gargano broke apart the crutch and he was going to hit Ciampa with it, but then he stopped. Gargano threw down the crutch. They had a long pause where Gargano just stared at him. Dramatic moment here. Gargano had a swollen eye or something wrong with his eye. Ciampa tried to hit him with the knee brace, so Gargano slapped on the Gargano escape. Gargano slapped on the STF like submission and pulled back with the crutch on Ciampa’s neck. Ciampa tapped out to lose the match. It went 37 minutes.
Winner by submission: Johnny Gargano
Analysis: ***** What an epic match this match was. Amazing. Five stars out of five again for Johnny Gargano in back to back Takeover shows. That’s incredible. This felt like the kind of fight it needed to be with two former best friends trying to hurt eachother, yet still executing everything perfectly as the great professional wrestlers they are. You could feel the emotion in the arena from the moment Ciampa got out there, the crowd was against him and they hated him the whole match. The fact that Ciampa got booed the way he did made this match feel special. We all knew Gargano was going to win, but it was a question of how. What I loved so much about the match were the incredible nearfalls for both guys that made it look like it could end at any time. It was also violent with some hard bumps on the floor like that Powerbomb on the cement. That sounded brutal. No rest holds either. Their endurance was impressive because it didn’t look like either guy got tired the entire time. The ending was perfect with Gargano getting a hold of the knee brace and pulling back on Ciampa’s neck for the win. It was a brutal way to end a very physical match. What an awesome performance from Ciampa. The guy missed nearly one year of action, he comes back and has to have a nearly 40 minute main event match where he got booed massively. He was so great. I know Gargano was too, but Ciampa was right there the whole way. I loved it. (I know others like Dave Meltzer, who I respect a lot, go over five stars for matches sometimes, but to me that’s where the scale stops and I don’t go over that.)
1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn @ NXT Takeover Dallas (April 1, 2016)
The crowd was going wild for this with “yes” chants as well as chants for both men. They’re both faces. Nakamura ducked a lockup and followed it up with a strut. Zayn showed his quicks as he avoided some kicks from Nakamura. When Zayn took down Nakamura with an armdrag, he signaled him to bring it just like Nakamura did a couple of minutes earlier. Knee drop by Nakamura gets two. Nakamura hit an enziguri kick that rocked Zayn back into the corner, Zayn blocked a kick and Nakamura hit a spin kick using the front foot instead of the back foot like most people would use. Zayn with a suplex. Zayn with a leaping heel kick to the face for two. Forearm shot by Nakamura rocked Zayn, but then when he went to the top, Zayn nailed a forearm smash to send Nakamura to the floor. While on the apron, Nakamura nailed a leaping kick to the face and then two knee drops. Those knee strikes look nasty. The fans were doing a dueling “Nakamura/Sami Zayn” chant. Nakamura missed a corner charge, but then he came back with a running knee lift to the ribs for two. Zayn was able to use Nakamura’s momentum to send him to the floor. Zayn capitalized on that with a somersault dive over the top rope to take down Nakamura on the floor. Back in the ring, cross body block by Zayn gets two. Fans chanted “this is awesome” for them.
Nakamura came back with some knee strikes on Zayn on the mat. Zayn with a Michinoku Driver. Both guys were out as the crowd clapped to get them going again. They had this really cool sequence where they exchanged forearm shots to the face as the crowd chanted “yay” for every shot as well as “yes” chants. Nakamura had a busted nose due to all the forearm shots he took. Both guys were selling exhaustion although they were probably so tired from that exchange that it was legit too. Nakamura won the forearm battle as he battered Zayn to the point that he was knocked out against the ropes. Another kick to the face by Nakamura. The ref cleaned up the blood on Nakamura’s nose. Nakamura ran the ropes and Zayn crushed him with a huge clothesline that Nakamura sold with a flip bump. Great spot. Another clothesline by Zayn. Knee by Nakamura followed by a flipping armbar in the middle of the ring. Zayn fought it off with some kicks. Zayn kicked away at Nakamura repeatedly in the head just like Nakamura had done to him. Zayn with a Koji Klutch submission on the upper body of Nakamura. The crowd chanted “please don’t tap” as Nakamura countered into a pin attempt for two. Nakamura came back with a step up enziguri that connected really well. Both guys were down in the ring as the fans chanted “fight forever” at them. Nakamura came back with a one legged dropkick to the face. Zayn went for the Helluva Kick, but Nakamura countered with an inverted Exploder Suplex. What a move! Zayn came back with a Blue Thunder Bomb for two. What a nearfall that was! Damn! The crowd bought it! Standing ovation from the crowd for that exchange. Wow that’s an amazing sight. Loud “NXT” chants for them. Zayn went for his leaping DDT outside the ring, but Nakamura nailed a hard kick to the face to counter it. They battled in the ring with Nakamura hitting elbow strikes to counter a suplex attempt. Nakamura went to the middle rope and hit a knee strike to the back. That was sweet. Nakamura hit the Kinshasa running knee strike for the pinfall win at the 20:07 mark.
Winner by pinfall: Shinsuke Nakamura
Analysis: ***** Wow! What an incredible match! That’s a five-star match and that’s as high as this scale goes. It was wrestling perfection, my friends. There was so much hype going into this match and they lived up to the hype. They got the perfect guy to face Nakamura because Zayn was willing to go toe to toe with him and they were able to tell an incredible story while also having a very physical match. The match came off like a mix of technical wrestling as well as a brutal fight. It’s not like they are the biggest guys out there, but they treated it like a real battle. The best matches are the ones that feel the most real. Sounds simple, right? It sounds that way, but it’s not always easy to execute. When you watch some main roster WWE guys they just can’t pull off a match like this. All of the knee strikes by Nakamura tell the story of this physical match. It wore down Zayn to the point that Naka was able to hit that final strike to get the win. I liked that it wasn’t a match with guys kicking out of finishing moves. It ended when Nakamura hit his finish. It felt like a fight more than a wrestling match and I absolutely loved it. Nakamura getting the win made sense in terms of the booking because it puts him over huge right away. Zayn’s on the main roster, so no problem with him losing in what is likely his NXT farewell match. If you’re wondering, I believe my last five-star match was The Undertaker vs. Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania 28 four years ago. It’s been a while. This match deserves that rating. I’m not sure when they’ll have another match, but I’m already looking forward to it.
That’s all for my ranking of the top ten matches in NXT Takeover history. Let me know your thoughts. My contact info is below.
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