Match of the year. It’s a topic that is always up for debate and something that no two people will agree on, which is fine because it’s all about personal taste. It’s also something that often times leads to the biggest debate among wrestling fans because there are so many matches to pick from. As much as we might complain about the current WWE product (and even though it is justified a lot of the time), the reality is that we are spoiled with so many great matches every year. That statement extends outside of WWE as well because there are so many great workers all over the world competing in outstanding matches.
This was one of those years where picking just one match as my favorite is so difficult. The different between #1 and the ones around it is so close. I changed my mind a few times, so if anybody is going to argue with any of the choices, I won’t put up much of a fight because I like so many of them.
You can check out the 2017 version of my top 10 WWE matches right here.
Here are my top ten WWE matches from 2016 as well.
It’s time to jump into this year’s list, which features six NXT Takeover matches and four main roster matches. I’m going to paste in my original review and then add in new comments in blue font including if I would change the star rating.
10. WWE Championship Six-Pack Challenge: AJ Styles vs. John Cena vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn @ Fastlane 03/11/18
First fall wins the match and the WWE Championship. No disqualifications or countouts in a multi-man match like this. It’s going to be tough to get all the action in this match, but as always I’ll do my best.
Cena hit Zayn, Owens, Corbin and Ziggler with the Attitude Adjustment all in a row. They all bumped to the floor. Styles didn’t charge at Cena, so they had a face off. Cena and Styles exchanged punches. Styles avoided the Attitude Adjustment, he kicked Cena in the legs and Cena put Styles on the apron. The five guys surrounded Cena, who was alone in the ring. All five guys stomped away on Cena in a 5 on 1 beatdown and they dumped Cena out of the ring. Owens and Styles brawled on the floor, so Corbin went over to beat both guys up. Corbin whipped Owens into the barricade. Back in the ring, Styles got a rollup on Corbin and sent Corbin out of the ring. Styles dumped Zayn out of the ring. Styles got a rollup on Owens for two followed by a pick up into a face first slam. Styles with a forearm on Corbin and a neckbreaker on Ziggler. Styles with a leap out of the corner followed by a reverse DDT on Zayn for a two count. Owens broke up the pin. Styles set up Owens on the top rope, but Owens fought back with a headbutt. Corbin tossed Styles out of the ring. Corbin boot on Zayn. Cena took out Corbin and Ziggler hit a DDT on Cena. Owens with a Frog Splash on Ziggler for two as Styles broke up the pin. Styles with a Pele Kick on Owens and Owens came back with a back body drop that sent Styles out of the ring. Corbin with a Chokeslam backbreaker on Owens. Ziggler with a Zig Zag on Corbin. Cena back in with shoulder tackles on Ziggler followed by the spinning slam. Cena with a spinning slam on Zayn. Cena with a Five Knuckle Shuffle on Ziggler and Zayn. Cena went for the AA on Ziggler, but Ziggler countered into a Fameasser for two. That was impressive. Cena avoided the superkick by Ziggler and slapped on the STF. Styles broke up the submission. Styles hit the Styles Clash on Cena for two as Zayn broke up the pin. Corbin with a knee to Zayn’s stomach and a punch that sent Zayn out of the ring. Corbin did his slide out of the ring and go back in clothesline on Owens. Corbin hit the Deep Six slam on Styles that looked great. Ziggler managed to send Corbin out of the ring, so Corbin tossed Ziggler over the barricade into the crowd. Corbin charged at Ziggler in the area in the crowd where the hockey boards were and Corbin drove Ziggler into the boards. That looked nasty.
Back at ringside, Owens cleared off two announce tables. Owens picked up Styles, but Styles came back with an enziguri kick. Styles with a clothesline on Zayn that sent both of them over the barricade. Cena took advantage of a staggered Owens going for the AA, but Owens fought out of it. Styles went after Cena and Cena hit an Attitude Adjustment on Styles that sent him through the English announce table. Back in the ring, Owens boot on Cena and Zayn clothesline on Cena. Zayn and Owens were the only two men left in the ring, so they had a big showdown. Zayn told Owens he said he was going to do it, so he’s going to do it. Zayn laid down in the ring. Owens slowly went to cover and he went to pick Zayn up, but Zayn got an inside cradle for two. Owens and Zayn got into a slugfest. They left the ring with Owens whipping Zayn into the barricade. They fought on the apron with Zayn hitting a back body drop on Owens on the side of the ring apron. Ouch. That looked nasty. Zayn yelled at Shane, so Shane stood up to stare at him. Owens went for a superkick on Zayn, but Zayn moved and Owens nailed Shane with a superkick. Zayn hit his incredible leaping DDT on the floor on Owens through the ropes. Fans chanted “this is awesome” for them and I agree. Owens with a superkick on Zayn. Ziggler went back in the ring and Owens hit a Popup Powerbomb on him. The ref counted two, so Shane pulled the ref out of the ring to break up the pin. Zayn with a Helluva Kick on Owens. The ref counted two, so Shane pulled Zayn out of the ring. Ziggler covered Owens for a two count as Zayn went into the ring to break up the pin. The match is around 20 minutes at this point.
Baron Corbin was back in the mix with the steel steps in his hands. Corbin hit Cena with the steps on the floor. Corbin brought the steps into the ring and he hit Zayn, Ziggler and Owens with them. Cena took the steel steps from Corbin and hit Corbin with them. Cena hit the AA on Corbin on the steel steps for a two count since Ziggler went into the ring to break up the pin. Cena went for a steel steps attack on Ziggler, but Ziggler moved and Ziggler hit a superkick on Cena. Cena came back with an AA on Ziggler. Cena went for another one, but Owens was back in and Owens hit a Popup Powerbomb on Cena. Styles got back into it with a Phenomenal Forearm on Owens. Styles covered Owens to win the match after 22 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: AJ Styles
Analysis: ****1/2 That was an outstanding main event match as I expected. Styles winning was also expected. The story of the match was about how Styles was taken out by being put through the table, a lot of other crazy stuff happened and Styles managed to come back with the Phenomenal Forearm for the victory. The other big happening was when Owens accidentally hit Shane McMahon with a superkick (Owens was aiming for Zayn), which set up Shane costing Owens the win and then he cost Zayn the win. That should lead to some sort of match at WrestleMania with Shane and Owens/Zayn. A tag match would make a lot of sense. Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler did well in terms of getting some offense in. John Cena hit the AA so many times that I lost count. He was on fire in there. I don’t think this Cena story is that great because it’s ridiculous to think Cena has “no path to WrestleMania,” but I like how intense Cena has been in the build up in this storyline. The match was a lot of fun. Great job by everybody involved.
(This match is probably forgotten by a lot of people, but I remember it well as the main event of Fastlane in March. What I liked about it is that they wrestled at such a fast pace and it did not slow down at all. The result was predictable with Styles winning, but that didn’t hurt the match. This was also the only PPV this year where the WWE Title was in the main event.)
9. NXT Tag Team Championships: Kyle O’Reilly/Roderick Strong vs. Tyler Bate/Trent Seven Seven @ NXT Takeover Brooklyn 08/18/18
It started as a slug fest with Bate and Seven hitting punches that knocked the champs out of the ring. Seven with a hard slap on O’Reilly. Bate tagged in with a senton off the middle ropes. The fans were chanting for both teams as Seven hit a back splash on Strong. Backbreaker from Strong on Seven. O’Reilly tagged in with knee strikes followed by a roundhouse kick, Strong tagged in with a stomp and O’Reilly back in with a knee drop on Seven. O’Reilly tried to go after Bate, so Seven took down O’Reilly with a DDT. Bate with a diving uppercut off the middle ropes. Strong tagged back in leading to Bate doing a swing on Strong while O’Reilly was on Bate’s shoulders. Bate managed to hit a German Suplex on Strong while falling back onto O’Reilly. Bate with running forearms, but Strong came out of nowhere with a running clothesline. O’Reilly worked over the left arm of Bate. Strong back in, he held Bate over his knee and O’Reilly jumped off the middle ropes with a knee drop for two. Strong back in with a Gory Stretch submission to the back of Bate. O’Reilly back in with a kick to the back of the left leg of Bate followed by a heel hook on the left leg of Bate. Strong jumped onto the left leg of Bate. There were quick tags by the champs, but Bate kicked Strong over the top to the floor. O’Reilly back in, so Bate tossed O’Reilly over the top to the floor. O’Reilly pulled Seven off the apron, but Seven knocked him down and Bate tagged in Seven. Seven was on fire with corner clotheslines, he avoided a kick by O’Reilly, a one armed Powerbomb, a Dragon Suplex and a spinning slam by Seven got a two count. That was a great sequence.
The champs were back in control with O’Reilly hitting a running knee followed by a brainbuster slam for a two count. Strong back in with a running knee followed by an Olympic Slam for a two count. All four guys were in there exchanging strikes and then Strong managed to trap Strong in the Strong Hold similar to a Boston Crab. O’Reilly with a triangle choke on Bate, but Bate powered out and slammed O’Reilly into strong. That was amazing and it led to a standing ovation from the crowd. Fans chanted “this is awesome” for them as Bate suplexed O’Reilly into Strong. Bate with a somersault dive on O’Reilly on the floor and he took out Strong with a bounce off the ropes into a clothesline. Back in the ring, Bate with a Tiger Driver 97 on Strong for one…two…no because Strong kicked out. After Bate knocked down Strong, the ref was looking at Strong and O’Reilly sent Bate left knee first into the ring post. Strong sent Bate’s leg into the turnbuckle. O’Reilly slapped on a leg lock on the left leg of Bate. Seven grabbed a towel from ringside, he teased throwing it in to give up for his team, but Seven threw it into the crowd. Strong ran at Seve and Seven gave Strong a back body drop out of the ring. Bate managed to crawl to his corner to tag in Seven. Huge clothesline by Seven on O’Reilly for a two count. Bate climbed up top favoring his leg, he punched Strong down and Bate hit a knee drop off the top while Seven delivered a Burning Hammer and Bate covered for one…two…no! O’Reilly kicked out. Wow. That was incredible. Fans chanted “NXT” for them. Fans chanted “fight forever” for them. I agree with that. Strong got back into it with a knee strike on Bate. O’Reilly and Strong hit a high/low kick combo on Seven and O’Reilly covered Seven for the pinfall win. It went 18:06.
Winners by pinfall: Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong
Analysis: ****1/2 Holy shit, what an amazing opening match! Wow. That was special just like their other two matches. I expected it to be at that level because of how special their other matches were. This one told a bit of a different story than those matches with the Undisputed Era picking apart body parts and ultimately their teamwork got them the win. Bate continues to impress me so much. I hate to keep saying he’s good for his age, but he’s really on another level compared to others that are just 21 years old. I liked everything about the match from the psychology to the sequences after the hot tags and the finish was set up really well. It could have gone either way and it would have been believable. It’s up there with the best tag team matches I’ve ever seen including The Revival vs. Gargano/Ciampa at NXT Takeover Toronto in November 2016, which I saw in person. The three matches from these teams at the UK special to NXT a few weeks ago and now this match are a great example of tag team wrestling at its best.
(I originally gave this five stars and I’ll leave it with that rating in my review, but I have since lowered it. When I watched it again, I thought I overrated it a bit, so I’d probably put it at ****1/2 if I had to do it again. It’s still an outstanding match and one of the best pure tag team matches this year.)
8. Smackdown Women’s Championship TLC Match: Asuka vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair Flair – 12/16/18
The match began with Lynch shoving Flair, Asuka hit a dropkick on Lynch, Asuka worked over both women with kicks and punches. Asuka with running hip attacks on both women against the turnbuckle. Lynch with knees to the back of Asuka and she sent her to the mat. Lynch with a Bexploder suplex across the ring. Lynch worked over Flair with forearms, but Flair came back with an overhead suplex that sent Lynch out of the ring. Flair brought a ladder into the ring, Lynch brought a table and Flair set up the table against the turnbuckle. Flair kicked the ladder into Lynch’s face. Flair went for a charge at Asuka, who met Flair with a Codebreaker double knees to the face. Lynch and Asuka battled by the ropes. Asuka slammed Lynch off the ropes and sent her hard onto the ladder that was in the ring. Asuka set up a big ladder under the title, she took way too long, Flair showed up, knocked Asuka off and Flair sent Asuka to the apron. Flair tried to climb up, Asuka grabbed her and sent Flair into the table that was against the turnbuckle. That was a rough landing for Flair with the back of her head hitting the table hard. Most of the bump was on the head/neck instead of the lower body where it would be safer. Lynch got back into it with a missile dropkick that knocked Asuka off the ladder. The fans chanted “Becky” for Lynch. When Lynch tried a climb, Asuka pulled her off and Asuka hit a hip attack to knock Asuka out of the ring to the floor. Flair with a chair to the back of Asuka. Flair up top and she hit a moonsault onto both women with Flair’s arms connecting on the move rather than her body. Flair set up a table on the floor. Lynch got back into it with chair shots to the back of both women. Flair kicked the chair out of Lynch’s hand and sent Lynch into the barricade. Flair cleared off the German announce table. Lynch got back into it with a chair to the ribs of Flair and a chair to the back as well. Lynch set up a huge ladder by the announce table. Lynch put both women on the announce table. Lynch climbed up the huge ladder and jumped off with a leg drop onto the announce table. Asuka rolled out of the way while Flair took the brunt of the move. Something was muted, so I think Flair said a swear word that was edited out. Flair was rolling around in pain selling her ribs as the fans chanted “this is awesome” for them.
Asuka went back into the ring for a climb on the big ladder that was set up in the ring. Lynch got back in the ring to stop Asuka. As they battled on the ladder, Flair entered the ring with a kendo stick as she attacked Lynch and Asuka with the kendo stick. When Asuka was moving on the apron, Flair hit her in the back two times with a kendo stick. Lynch got back into it with a Bexploder against a table that was beside the barricade. Asuka took control when she got the kendo stick and destroyed Lynch with it. When Asuka posed by the barricade, Flair charged in and hit a Spear into the barricade, but the barricade didn’t break. That drew a huge reaction from the crowd and another “this is awesome” chant. Lynch went for a climb again, but Flair managed to stop her just in time. Flair and Lynch battled with each woman connecting with strikes. Lynch sent Flair face first into the ladder followed by a Thesz Press leading to punches. They left the ring again with Flair taking over with chops to Lynch. Flair put Lynch on a table at ringside. Flair climbed to the top rope and hit a Swanton Bomb off the top through Lynch and the table. That was impressive. Wow.
Flair went back into the ring and set up the ladder under the title. When Flair got near the top of the ladder, Asuka stopped Flair. That led to punches from Flair and Asuka. Lynch set up a second ladder and made a climb of her own as Flair knocked Asuka off the ladder. As Flair and Lynch were battling on top of the ladder, Ronda Rousey showed up and Rousey shoved the ladder over. The fans booed Rousey as she got her payback on both women and Rousey left up the ramp. Flair and Lynch were both down out of the ring. Asuka climbed the ladder in the middle of the ring, she reached up and Asuka grabbed the Smackdown Women’s Championship to win the match at 21:45.
Winner and New Smackdown Women’s Champion: Asuka
Analysis: ****1/2 That was an incredible match. They busted their asses to come up with some creative spots, all three women took some huge bumps and if I had to pick one of them that “stole the show” I’d go with Charlotte because she was all over the place putting over the others while still looking strong herself. There were a few moments in there where I thought Charlotte was doing a bit too much to the point where she might get hurt, but it looks like they all got through it unscathed. Rousey getting involved isn’t that surprising and it also gives Becky an out for losing since she can say she only lost because of Ronda. This also sets up the Royal Rumble match well because Becky and Charlotte can compete in that match while setting up a big spot with Nia Jax, so that should be interesting. I think I gave the same rating to Becky/Charlotte at Evolution and if I had to rank the two matches, I’d put that one slightly ahead of this match.
(I wouldn’t change a thing about what I rated it a few weeks ago. Awesome match for the first ever women’s TLC match in WWE history. I’m glad they got to be in the main event of the PPV as well.)
7. Raw Tag Team Championships: Drew McIntyre/Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins/Dean Ambrose @ Hell in a Cell 09/16/18
Ziggler started with Rollins. When Ambrose tagged in, his wife Renee said that he is better than ever. Rollins tagged back in, he wanted The Stomp on Ziggler, but Ziggler left the ring to avoid it. McIntyre tagged in for the first time with a shoulder tackle that knocked down Rollins, so McIntyre wanted Ambrose. McIntyre shoved Ambrose in the face, so Ambrose came back with a dropkick to the knee and a magistral cradle for two. Ambrose worked over McIntyre with forearms to the face, Ziggler distracted and McIntyre hit a clothesline to the back of Ambrose to take control. Ziggler back in with a punch to the kidneys and he sent Ambrose’s eyes into the top rope. Ambrose got back into it by sending Ziggler throat first into the top rope. Rollins with two forearms, a Slingblade, kick to the face and jumping kick to the head by Rollins sent Ziggler out of the ring. McIntyre grabbed Rollins’ foot, so Ziggler came back in with a jumping DDT for two. That allowed the heels to take control with Ziggler and McIntyre doing some quick tags as they worked over Rollins. McIntyre took a jawbreaker from Rollins, but McIntyre took him down and brought Ziggler back in with an elbow drop. Ziggler trash talked Rollins a lot, so Rollins punched him and Ziggler slapped on a sleeper. Rollins countered that with a belly to back suplex. When Rollins tried to tag out, McIntyre pulled Ambrose off the apron. McIntyre with a reverse Alabama Slam where he sent Rollins onto his stomach instead of on his back. Rollins fought out of the corner, Ziggler distracted the referee and Ambrose tagged, but the ref didn’t see it. Classic tag team heel wrestling spot. Rollins and Ziggler battled on the top rope, Rollins shoved him off, McIntyre tagged in, Rollins hit a blockbuster and Ambrose finally got the hot tag.
Ambrose unloaded on McIntyre with punches and kicks for him followed by a running clothesline. Ambrose got a jackknife pin for two followed by a neckbreaker-like move for a two count. Ambrose wanted to go up top, Ziggler distracted and McIntyre punched Ambrose off the apron to the floor. Ambrose whipped McIntyre into the ring post and sent Ziggler into the barricade. Back in the ring, Ambrose went for an attack off the top, but McIntyre caught him and sent Ambrose into the turnbuckle. Ziggler was the legal man for his team. Rollins tagged in, he hit a suicide dive onto McIntyre and Ziggler, but they caught him, so Ambrose hit a suicide dive to knock all three guys down. Back in the ring, Rollins hit a Falcon Arrow slam on Ziggler for two, which drew a good reaction even though Rollins never wins with that. Rollins stomped leading to the “burn it down” chants, Ziggler avoided The Stomp and Rollins sent Ziggler into the turnbuckle with a Buckle Bomb for two as McIntyre made the save. It was chaotic with Rollins sending McIntyre out of the ring. Rollins with a rollup on Ziggler and Ziggler came back with a Zig Zag for two. Wow, that was amazing. Cole was yelling “what a sequence” and he was right because that was great. McIntyre was the legal man, Ambrose pulled Ziggler out of the ring, Rollins with a superkick and Rollins went up top with a Frog Splash to Drew’s back for two. That’s another move that Rollins doesn’t win with, but the crowd thought that was it. Ambrose was back in the ring with McIntyre, Ziggler avoided a dive by Rollins on the floor and McIntyre sent Ambrose off the top followed by a clothesline off the top. McIntyre kipped up back to his feet. McIntyre put Ambrose on his shoulders, Ambrose punched Ziggler down, Rollins tagged back in and Ambrose took McIntyre out of the ring. Rollins hit a superplex on Ziggler and he wanted the Falcon Arrow, but McIntyre hit the Claymore Kick on Rollins to put him down. McIntyre covered Ziggler with one arm on top of Rollins for the pinfall win at 22:50.
Winners by pinfall: Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler
Analysis: ****1/2 That was an outstanding tag team match. It was also one of the best WWE main roster matches of the year. I thought it would be one of the better tag team matches on the main roster this year and that’s what it was. It was close to the same level as some of the best NXT tag team matches, but perhaps a notch below. The crowd bought all the nearfalls even though Seth and Dean didn’t connect with their finishing moves at all. I think the finish was done very well with a bit of confusion thrown in because a lot of viewers likely thought that McIntyre was the legal man, but it was really Ziggler and that meant that Rollins was vulnerable to McIntyre hitting his finishing Claymore Kick. These guys are all veterans that know what they are doing in a classic tag team match like that, so I’m not surprised the match was as excellent as it was.
(I think this might be a forgotten great match since these teams wrestled a bunch of times in the summer. I can’t think of many main roster tag team matches that got nearly 25 minutes this year. They made the most of their time with an exciting matchup that was a lot of fun to watch. Rollins and Ambrose won the titles a few weeks later, which led to Ambrose turning on Rollins later that same night.)
6. Aleister Black vs. Johnny Gargano @ NXT Takeover WarGames – 11/17/18
They stood across the ring from eachother after the bell rang. It was noted by Ranallo that Gargano is in his record 11th Takeover match. Gargano’s got “Johnny Takeover” on his tights. Gargano slapped Black in the face, so Black kicked him in the face and it went to the floor with Black kicking Gargano in the face. Back in the ring, Gargano with a rolling kick to the face. Black came back with a knee to the face, an elbow and a kick to the head. Black did a moonsault off the ropes into a seated position in the ring, so Gargano hit a running kick to the head. Gargano grounded Black in a submission move in the ring where he pulled back on Black’s arms. Gargano back up with an elbow to the chest leading to a two count. Black broke free with a running knee to the gut leading to Gargano rolling to the apron, Black kicked him to the floor and Black hit a somersault dive over the top to take out Gargano outside the ring. Back in the ring, Black worked over Gargano with more strikes including a running kick and a quebrada moonsault off the ropes onto a standing Gargano for a two count. Black kicked Gargano down, which led to a jumping kick from Gargano. Black with a standing side kick to send Gargano outside the ring. Black went for a moonsault on the floor, Gargano moved and Gargano hit a dive out of the ring into a DDT on the floor. Back in the ring, Gargano hit another DDT for a two count. That was incredible by Gargano. These guys are so quick with perfect timing for every move they do. Gargano talked trash saying Black couldn’t get the job done, then they got into an exchange of strikes with kicks from each guy and Gargano hit a reverse spiked hurricanrana. Black recovered with a jumping knee to the face. Holy shit, that was amazing! The fans stood up and chanted “NXT” for them.
Gargano went to the side of the apron in between the two rings. Black with a kick against the ropes, Black with two more kicks to the head and a German Suplex into a bridge for two. Fans chanted “this is awesome” for them. Gargano with a lefty clothesline that decked Black and put him on his back. Gargano with a flying headscissors into a submission on the arm, but Black fought out of it. Gargano with another kick followed by a head first launch that sent Black face first into the turnbuckle. Gargano set up for a kick, Black told him to stop and sat with his legs folded in the ring. Black wanted his best shot, Gargano didn’t connect with the knee, but he hit a kick to the head and then Gargano with a running knee for a two count. Gargano trash talked Black followed by hard forearms to the face. Black got back into it with several strikes to the head and a knee to the face. Gargano shoved Black to the floor, Gargano went for a suicide dive and Black hit a knee lift to the face. Holy shit! That was brutal. That looked nasty because it connected right on the face of Gargano. It’s incredible how they can do those moves with such perfect placement and timing. Back in the ring, Gargano begged for mercy. Gargano said sorry and even kissed his right foot or something like that. Gargano wanted Black to put him out of his misery. Black went for the Black Mass kick, Gargano avoided it leading to a rollup and Gargano slapped on the Gargano Escape submission on the left arm of Black. Black countered it into a two count of his own. Black came back with a running knee to the face. Black with a knee to the jaw followed by the Black Mass spin kick to the face. The fans chanted “one more time” as Black talked trash and hit Gargano with another Black Mass for the pinfall win at 18:10.
Winner by pinfall: Aleister Black
Analysis: ****3/4 That was an outstanding match as expected. I said “wow” a few times while I watched it. I liked the pacing of it with each guy unloading on the other with strikes early on because this was a personal rivalry and they shouldn’t be out there doing rest holds. If you tried to count how many kicks and knee strikes that these guys did in this match you would have lost count because there were so many. That’s not a complaint at all. I’m just saying it to put over the physicality of the match. The finish was exactly what it needed to be with Black hitting his finishing Black Mass kick two times in a row. I thought Gargano would win to put over his heel character more, but I’m not surprised that it was a Black win because he got revenge for Gargano attacking him a few months ago. A notch below five stars because of so many kicks, guys bouncing back from moves so quickly and a bit more psychology would have helped.
(I lost count of how many strikes there were in the match. They exchanged a lot of forearms, kicks and knees, which makes it look like more of a fight.)
5. Chicago Street Fight: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano @ NXT Takeover Chicago 06/16/18
Gargano took the fight to Ciampa right away. They went out of the ring with Gargano hitting a dive to take down Ciampa. Gargano threw Ciampa over the announce table to take out the announcers. They went brawling into the crowd with Ciampa taking a Gargano sign from a planted fan, then Gargano got it and hit Ciampa in the back with a stop sign. Gargano jumped off a staging area with a cross body block, so it was like a cross body block off the top rope, but it looks cooler when it’s done outside the ring. They went back into the ring with Gargano bringing in weapons like a trash can and steel chair. Ciampa avoided a trash can lid shot and hit a German Suplex to take control. The crowd was chanting for both guys. Ciampa with three bridging German Suplexes. Gargano slipped out and hit a German Suplex that sent Ciampa out of the ring. Gargano hit a suicide dive. Gargano whipped Ciampa back first into the steel steps. Gargano looked under the ring and Ciampa capitalized with a knee to the face. Ciampa whipped Gargano into the barricade. Ciampa moved the steel steps so they were against the side of the ring. Ciampa grabbed a chair as well as a trash can. Ciampa with a chair shot to the ribs of Gargano, Ciampa put the chair around Gargano’s neck and he sent Gargano neck/chair first into the steel steps at ringside. The visual looked painful and Gargano was selling it well. Ciampa with a trash can to the back of Gargano. Ciampa threw the trash can to the back of the head of Gargano. Ciampa choked Gargano with his shirt.
Ciampa stomped away on Gargano against the turnbuckle followed by a catapult that sent Gargano into the bottom turnbuckle. Ciampa found handcuffs from under the ring and brought them into the ring. Gargano fought off the attempted use of handcuffs and Gargano hit a Spear off the apron. Gargano took off his belt and whipped Ciampa in the back with it. That always sounds great. Fans chanted “you deserve it” at Ciampa. Well done by them. Gargano put the trash can on Ciampa and hit a superkick into the trash can. Ciampa with an eye gouge, Ciampa with a Powerbomb into a double knee backbreaker. Ciampa with a running knee with the trash can for two. Ciampa with a knee to the face using the trash can again. They battled on the apron with Ciampa hitting a side slam onto the top of the steel steps. That got a two count. Killer move and a great nearfall. Ciampa got bolt cutters from under the ring. Ciampa cut some of the under parts of the ropes. Ciampa pulled up part of the mat to take the padding off and expose the wood. Ciampa with a steel chair to the back. Ciampa exposed about one quarter of the ring with the wood showing. Ciampa set up Gargano on the top rope, but Gargano fought out of it going for a sunset flip. Ciampa held on, so Gargano hit a superkick to the head. They exchanged strikes while on their knees. Gargano with an enziguri kick, Ciampa with a knee, Ciampa with a crutch to the face, Gargano with a trash can at the same time and Gargano covered for a two count. Great nearfall.
Ciampa went to the floor and you could see the scars on his back. Gargano jumped off the top only to be met with a trash can lid to the head by Ciampa. Running knee by Ciampa, Gargano moved and Ciampa hit the steel steps. Gargano back in the ring with punches to the knee. It’s the same right knee that Ciampa hurt last year and had a brace on it. Gargano hit Ciampa in the right knee with a steel chair. Ciampa kicked Gargano into a well placed trash can that was against the turnbuckle. Ciampa slapped on the Gargano Escape submission hold. Ciampa worked over Gargano with forearms to the back. Running knee attack by Ciampa. Ciampa used the crutch and hit Gargano in the back of the neck with it for a two count. The fans chanted “we want tables” as Ciampa stared at Gargano as they were on the floor near the ramp. Ciampa told Gargano that they were best friends, they were family and Gargano did this to himself. Gargano told him to say bye to Chicago, to Candice and to his dog. Ciampa threw Gargano into the stage. Ciampa with a running knee. Ciampa yelled at the ref that it was not enough. They made their way over to the staging area with two tables that were underneath some containers. Ciampa took off Gargano’s wedding ring, he spit on it and threw it into the crowd. Gargano recovered, he picked up Ciampa and drove him through the two tables below them. It was like a Celtic Cross or White Noise move that Sheamus does where you put the guy on your back and jump forward. Fans chanted “holy shit” for them. That was crazy. The referee called for a doctor for Ciampa. There were doctors checking on Ciampa. They put a neckbrace on Ciampa’s neck. Gargano sat on top of the containers while Ciampa was being put on a stretcher. The bell never rang to end the match. Ciampa was screaming while on the stretcher.
Gargano fired up, looked at where his wedding ring was, he jumped off the crate and went after Ciampa on the stretcher. Gargano shoved down the doctors as well as the referees. Gargano slapped on the Gargano Escape submission and Ciampa tapped out. Two dudes in suits told Gargano to back up, but Gargano knocked them down. Gargano put the handcuffs on Ciampa. Gargano nailed Ciampa with multiple superkicks. Gargano put the Gargano Escape submission on Ciampa again. There were other guys in suits, including Steve Corino, that went into the ring to break them up. Gargano went into the ring by the exposed wood, Ciampa was able to cradle his head and hit a DDT on the exposed wood! Ciampa covered, the ref showed up and Ciampa pinned Gargano for the one…two…three after 36 minutes. Wow. What a match.
Winner by pinfall: Tommaso Ciampa
Analysis: ***** That was incredible. I’m going five stars again for these guys after their last match was also five stars. It’s the third five-star match for Gargano at the third straight Takeover. What a fight that was. They just kept going at this ridiculous pace with a lot of weapons being used to help tell the story. The ending was clever. They made it seem like Ciampa was done, the match was over and he was being carted away, but the bell never rang to end it. I knew that it was going to continue because of the wood exposure in the ring. That had to come into play as the finish of the match because there’s no way they were going to set it up and not use it. They fought all over the arena, there were stiff shots the entire match, the crowd was engaged for nearly 40 minutes and when it was over, they were pissed off because the bad guy won. I thought it was a brilliant finish. I’m also glad that Ciampa won because I picked him to get the win since Gargano won the last match. Hopefully, this means round three at the next Takeover in August during SummerSlam weekend. That will be special. These guys are amazing. Pro wrestling at its best.
(When I watched it again, I felt like I was a bit too generous with the five stars just because of the stretcher spot where the action stopped for a few minutes. I think it’s hard to say it’s a “perfect” match when that happens, but it’s still one of the most intense matches I’ve ever seen. I’d change it to ****3/4 after rewatching it.)
4. North American Championship Ladder Match: Adam Cole vs. EC3 vs. Killian Dain vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet – NXT Takeover New Orleans 04/07/18
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 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 the 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.
(This was so great. One of the best multi-man ladder matches I’ve ever seen and I think it’s better than any main roster Money in the Bank match too.)
3. Smackdown Women’s Championship Last Woman Standing: Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair @ Evolution 10/28/18
The fans chanted “let’s go Becky” as the match began. The referee is Mike Chioda, who is the most experienced referee in WWE. Lynch said it was her time, Flair shoved her down and Lynch came back with a clothesline. Lynch with a running forearm, a leg drop, Lynch mocked the Flair straight and hit another running leg drop. Flair with a shoulder block to the ribs, Lynch followed Flair to the top rope and hit a slam off the top. Lynch hit a Bexploder Suplex leading to the ref counting. I’m not going to mention every ref count because there are a lot in a match like this. Flair avoided an attack, Lynch hit the mat hard and Flair hit a running boot to the face. Lynch sent Flair face first into the turnbuckle. Lynch dumped Flair out of the ring. Lynch followed Flair out of the ring and Lynch hit Flair with a kendo stick five times in the back. Flair was writhing in pain from it, but Flair blocked it and Lynch kicked Flair in the ribs. The fans chanted “we want tables” so Lynch grabbed a chair from under the ring. Flair tossed a chair into the ring. Each woman tossed about six chairs each into the ring, so there was a pile of chairs in the ring. Flair grabbed a table from under the ring, which led to a Lynch forearm off the steps. Flair came back with an overhead belly to belly suplex on Lynch on the floor. Lynch grabbed a chair and hit Flair in the back with it. Lynch jabbed Flair in the ribs with the chair followed by a chair shot to the back of Flair. Back in the ring, Lynch tossed Flair back first onto the chairs. Lynch put some chairs in a pile, Flair countered Lynch and hit a belly to back suplex that sent Lynch onto the chairs. The ref counted Lynch down for about an eight count. Flair pulled out a table from under the ring. Flair on the apron and Lynch hit a jumping kick that knocked Flair down. Flair got back up while Lynch sent up a table in the ring. Lynch picked up Flair and slammed her back first onto the chairs. Flair was back at eight with Lynch hitting her a forearm. Lynch set up Flair on the table by the turnbuckle. Lynch went up top, Flair got back up and tripped up Lynch leading to boos from the crowd. Flair worked over Lynch with forearms to the chest. Flair went up top and jumped off with a moonsault onto Lynch on the table, but the table did not break. I assume it was supposed to break, but it didn’t break. Flair set up the table again. Flair put Lynch on the table. Flair went to the apron to climb the ropes regular style and Flair hit a Swanton Bomb onto Lynch through the table. That was an impressive move by Flair. Lynch was down for about a nine count.
Flair brought a ladder into the ring, which seems like a weird weapon to use in this match, but Lynch found a way to use it with a body slam onto the ladder that was folded in the ring. Flair came back with a chop block to the back of the leg of Lynch. Flair picked up the ladder sideways, put Lynch’s feet against the ladder and stomped on the right knee. Flair wrapped up the legs of Lynch around the ladder and Flair slapped on a Figure Four variation that she turned into the Figure Eight submission. That’s a very creative spot. I guess that’s why they wanted to bring the ladder into it. Lynch was tapping out, but that can’t end this match. Lynch grabbed a steel chair (the ref gently kicked it closer to her) and hit Charlotte’s legs with it to break the hold. Lynch landed on her feet on the floor to break the count at seven. Lynch drove Flair back first into the steel steps. Lynch was favoring her right leg as she whipped Flair face first into the steel ring post. Lynch grabbed her Smackdown Women’s Title and tried to limp her way out of the building. Flair chased after Lynch in the crowd. Flair hit Lynch with about a dozen chops to the chest and they made their way back to the ringside area. Beth Phoenix claimed that Becky bailed on Charlotte when Charlotte’s dad was sick and she needed him most. Actually, Ric Flair was sick in the summer of 2017 not this year, so I’m not sure what Beth was going for there. The match was around 20 minutes at this point.
The women made their way back to the announcers’ area with Flair clearing off the German announce table at ringside Flair brought a ladder out from under a ring and set it up beside the announce table. Lynch got back into it with the title to the head. Lynch sent Flair face first into the announce table. Lynch put Flair on the announce table. Lynch climbed the ladder, you could see referee Chioda holding the ladder to steady it for her and Lynch hit a leg drop off the ladder through Charlotte, which broke the announce table. That was impressive. The referee counted them both down as fans chanted “this is awesome” at them. Flair was back to her knees around eight, so Lynch charged at Flair with a kick. Lynch dumped three leather chairs from ringside onto Flair. Lynch put half of a broken table on Flair. The referee countered Flair down under the chairs. Flair was back up around nine although it was very close. Lynch freaked out as Flair unloaded on Lynch with six kendo six shots to the back. Flair hit a Spear on Lynch on the floor. Flair went over to the table that was set up on the floor. Flair placed Lynch onto the table, Flair tried to climb to the top, but Lynch hit a Powerbomb off the middle ropes that sent Charlotte through the table to the floor. Ouch. That was a rough landing. Flair got back to her knees, but she couldn’t stand up and Flair collapsed at the nine count to give Lynch the win at 28:40.
Winner: Becky Lynch
Analysis: ****1/2 That was an outstanding wrestling match that was a fitting end to this rivalry if it is actually the end. It felt like a fight rather than a wrestling match, which helped the atmosphere surrounding the match. Lynch was put over huge by finding a way to get a win by countering the tease of a moonsault through a table by Flair. It was a clever finish. I loved the way that they utilized the weapons throughout the match with all the table spots that took place including the final blow that got the win for Lynch. They busted out some cool spots with the ladder with Charlotte slapping on the Figure Eight submission on the ladder, then Lynch with that amazing leg drop through the table. Both women played their roles perfectly. I thought Flair took a beating in the match to put over her best friend Lynch, which shows that when people are really good friends in real life they are going to go out of their way to put over their friend as best they can. This was one of the best women’s wrestling matches in WWE history and one of the best main roster matches this year. This should have been the main event based on the story of the match and the match quality, but I understand why WWE goes with Ronda in the main event.
(I liked it even more the second time I watched it and I would boost it to a ****3/4 rating. This was the best match on the main roster this year and probably the best women’s match in WWE history. The only other one I can think of is Bayley vs. Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover Brooklyn in 2015, which was a special match that was just a regular match with no stipulation. This one lived up to the immense hype and showed why these two women are among the best in WWE today.)
2. NXT Championship: Andrade Almas vs. Johnny Gargano @ NXT Takeover Philadelphia 01/27/18
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.
(I stand by that five-star rating. It was an amazing match. I remember going into the match with high expectations because I had read a few house show results going into this Takeover and people were talking about how amazing the Almas/Gargano matches were. It turns out that they were right.)
1. Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa @ NXT Takeover New Orleans 04/07/18
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.)
(That is my match of the year and I think it’s probably the best match in NXT history as well.)
That’s the list. There are a couple of NXT TV matches that I considered, but I didn’t write reviews of them. I don’t expect anybody out there to agree exactly with my list and that’s okay.
Here’s the WWE.com list of top 25 matches. I strongly disagree with a few choices and find it puzzling that they only have one Ciampa match and two Gargano matches, but that’s their choice. It’s just weird that my number one match didn’t even make WWE’s top 25 matches of the year. That’s crazy to me. At least they managed to suck up to Stephanie McMahon by getting her lone match in there. It was good, though.
Overall, I think it was a great year for WWE matches at least at the top level. That doesn’t mean it was a great year overall. I’m just saying the best matches usually delivered the goods. Some years there are no five-star matches. This year there were several and I think with the quality of today’s WWE roster, there will be even more next year too. Thanks for reading.