WrestleWatch: NXT TakeOver Toronto 2019
Back to the current day in this edition of WrestleWatch, and this time we venture to the third brand of WWE, NXT! I believe this is the first time I've written an elongated review on my blog for NXT, or at least, the first since I committed myself to more frequent writing this year. The NXT brand has consistently outshone the main roster of Raw and Smackdown every time they hold a TakeOver event. Did they manage it this time? Well, I'm currently writing this review about an hour after TakeOver concluded, and tomorrow, WWE presents Summerslam, so we'll have to check back in tomorrow night to see how they compare. But let's have a look at how the black and gold brand did it in Toronto anyway!
Full disclosure, I haven't watched NXT on a regular basis in a while. Just one of the accreditation casualties this year, as I had to put together a ton of documentation for work. I'll give a bare-bones rundown of how the NXT roster got to this event on Summerslam weekend:
-Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole have been feuding for months over the NXT Championship. At Takeover New York on Wrestlemania weekend, Gargano defeated Cole in a 2 Out Of 3 Falls match for the vacant NXT Championship (after Ciampa was forced to relinquish it due to injury). Adam Cole would even the score at TakeOver XXV, winning NXT's major championship for the first time. Since winning the title, Cole has gone on a Championship Celebration tour, gloating about his victory by going to Gargano's hometown, rubbing it in the face of his family and friends. This added another layer to this already heated rivalry, making things extra personal. So to definitively settle the score, NXT General Manager William Regal decided to book another 2/3 Falls match- but with a twist. Cole would choose the stipulation for the first fall, Gargano chooses the stipulation for the second fall, and Regal names the stipulation for the third fall- if necessary.
-Long-time reigning champ Shayna Baszler puts the belt up against top contender, Mia Yim. Yim defeated Bianca Belair to become the no. 1 contender, and Baszler has spent the build-up talking down to Yim, calling her a street rat. Baszler has also utilised her friends in the MMA Horsewomen, Jessymn Duke and Marina Shafir, to gain the physical advantage on NXT TV in recent weeks.
-The North American Championship is on the line in a triple threat. Roderick Strong targeted the champ, the Velveteen Dream, as his group The Undisputed Era look to claim all the gold in NXT by the end of 2019. A spanner was thrown in the works when former UK Champion, the Bruiserweight Pete Dunne made his return to NXT. Dunne defeated Strong to earn a spot in the TakeOver title match.
-A grudge match is going down in the NXT women's division, as Candice LeRae looks for justice against her former friend, Io Shirai. Shirai lost a steel cage match for the NXT Women's Championship to Shayna Baszler. LeRae tried to comfort her, and in her frustration Shirai turned on her friend and viciously beat her down. Rare that we get two women's matches on a TakeOver. Let's see if the ladies can make the most of this spotlight.
-Finally, the new NXT Tag Team Champions, the Street Profits, put the belts up against Undisputed Era's Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish. The Profits won the vacant belts at TakeOver XXV in a ladder match, and the Era look to show that that win was a fluke.
It is revealed on the TakeOver pre-show on the WWE Network that Regal's choice for the 3rd fall in the main event is a Barbed Wire Steel Cage match... with weapons attached to the cage! Regal might be retired, but with this decision we see that the sadistic villain still lurks deep within him. With Cole choosing a singles match for the first fall, and Gargano choosing a Street Fight for the second fall, this match is likely to escalate significantly in its level of violence as it progresses!
Match 1: NXT Tag Team Championship: The Street Profits (Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins) def. Undisputed Era (Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish) (at 16:55)
Thoughts: They bring the swag like nobody can, or so says their theme song, but the Street Profits brought that energetic party atmosphere, jumping into the crowd as they make their entrance, amidst a sea of red cups in the Scotiabank Arena. Dawkins looks on his game early, showing a great mix of speed and power. The Era use their veteran savvy to break down the big man, and then the hot tag to Montez. Goddamn, Montez Ford is a fireball of charisma and uncanny athleticism. He flies around the ring with THE GREATEST OF EASE, and then he threw in a little tribute to The Rock, as he attempted a People's Elbow and later landed with a Rock Bottom. A timely tribute with the release of Hobbs And Shaw at the movies this past week. The finish comes when Dawkins wipes both O'Reilly and Fish out with impactful Spears, and Ford hits a ridiculous Frog Splash that would make prime RVD blush- seriously, he nearly hit the damn rafters with the air he got! (***3/4)
Match 2: Io Shirai def. Candice LeRae (at 15:00)
Thoughts: This was aggression personified! This was my first proper look at Shirai as a heel, she's got a badass new entrance theme and look, and she started things in a violent manner with a devastating suplex on the announce table! The action and intensity never let up in this one, with both ladies busting out some innovative stuff that I'd never seen before. Given how long I've been watching wrestling, that's some feat. Shirai made some tweaks to her style as a heel, with more strikes and a mean streak attached, but I like that she still kept her aerial attacks as well. Someone called the "Genius Of The Skies" shouldn't abandon their best offence just because it might be crowd pleasing. Shirai did a good job being vicious to allow Candice to get sympathy, and the submission hold was another unique bit of offence that looked like a very credible way to finish a match. Outstanding work. (****)
Matt Riddle interrupts proceedings with a "Bro, bro, bro". He's not scheduled for a match, but he's looking for a fight. Sadly, not with Goldberg, who he's had issues with on Twitter, but rather with Killian Dain, who has had issues with him recently on NXT TV. The Beast From Belfast obliges, and it's on! Great brawling from the 300 pounder and the former UFC welterweight. Riddle lands a V-Trigger (with the gun taunt and everything. Also, I almost wrote "emote" instead of "taunt". Been playing too much Fortnite.) Security guards (aka indy wrestler extras) try to separate them, but Riddle takes them out too, no fucks given. One gets hit with a Ripcord Knee, another with a Go To Sleep. Killian charges at Riddle and a security guard, and all three of them go flying off the stage through a stack of tables! Absolute chaos, and awesomeness. Great way to get Matt Riddle on TakeOver without messing with NXT's traditional 5 match card layout.
EVOLVE Champion Austin Theory is shown on camera watching from the crowd, with a graphic and everything. That means he's WWE bound shortly. He was recently featured on the WWE Network in the EVOLVE 10th Anniversary special (as WWE counter-programmed AEW's Fight For The Fallen). I'm not familiar with EVOLVE and haven't watched that show, now I'm going to have to so I can see what this Austin Theory fella is all about. I'll be shocked if he keeps his name, though.
Match 3: NXT North American Championship- Velveteen Dream def. Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne in a Triple Threat match (at 17:24)
Thoughts: Excellent action from these three, as you would expect. They got pretty ambitious with certain things, like attempts at a double Stronghold from Roddy and a double Dream Driver from the champ. Velveteen also gave some fan service to Toronto by jacking Bret Hart's moveset. The match type allowed for continuous action with basically no lulls, and a nice finishing sequence- although the camera missed Dream's Purple Rainmaker elbow drop live, so it looked like Dream just got the win by breaking up a pin attempt. They found another camera angle which JUST captured the champ's top rope dive. Illustrates the importance of production in wrestling, and how we take for granted how WWE always get it right... it took away from the impact of the finish for me. That's not the wrestlers' fault though, they went all out. With Dream and Pete Dunne only in their early/mid 20s, the future is in good hands (****1/4)
Mia Yim made her entrance for the NXT Women's Championship match, bumping fists with a bunch of people wearing street clothes and bandanas over their face like her. She calls herself the HBIC- the Head Baddie In Charge. Used to be "Bitch", but NXT, despite its more mature presentation, is still technically PG, I believe.
Match 4: NXT Women's Championship- Shayna Baszler def. Mia Yim (at 14:35)
Thoughts: This was a more ground based, gritty match than the flashiness of the earlier matches on the card. Yim was trying to prove she could beat Shayna at her own game, working on the arm for submission opportunities. She also wasn't afraid to get a bit dirty in her tactics, fish hooking, headbutting... whatever it took to get the job done. Even though she has crowd support, she's not a white meat babyface by any means. A big near fall towards the end with a "Code Blue"- Code Red off the ropes with a hammerlock incorporated. Yim tries to work for an armbar but Baszler is able to transition into a modified triangle for the submission win. Nice, intriguing battle with Yim trying to fight fire with fire, and coming damn close, but the Queen of Shades proving herself to be a credible champ in this one. (***1/2)
Johnny Gargano makes his entrance for the main event. As is customary for Johnny Wrestling on TakeOvers, his wrestling gear is inspired by a Marvel character- this time it's Wolverine. Niiiiiiiiice.
Match 5: NXT Championship- Adam Cole def. Johnny Gargano (at 46:41)
Thoughts: They did something really refreshing here. First things first, WWE have had way too many 2/3 Falls matches lately, especially on TV with the stupid Vince edict that matches can't occur during commercial breaks. They've had falls end unrealistically quickly in order to get to commercial breaks, like Elias losing to Miz in one minute. But ad break issue aside, WWE have a tendency to have falls occur far too quickly- same with Ironman or Survivor Series elimination matches. In the case of Gargano and Cole, they had a full length standard wrestling match before the first fall ended. They didn't have someone get pinned in 5 minutes just because of the multiple fall stipulation. I really appreciated that touch.
And, as the stipulations mandated, the match got more and more violent over time, with Johnny giving up the first fall by using a steel chair- but giving himself the major advantage to win the second fall... then the third fall with the cage full of weapons was red-hot start to finish, and at the extreme end of what WWE will do in terms of violence in PG 2019. The finish was great symbolism, with both men willing to destroy each other completely to win the NXT Championship, hurtling off the top of the cage through the table. Brilliant! (****3/4)
Although one of the major storylines in NXT at the moment is Undisputed Era holding all the gold, only Adam Cole has a championship currently. The next TakeOver is War Games, so I wonder if we might get a Gargano/Dream/Street Profits vs. Undisputed Era War Games match? That could be a lot of fun.
NXT do it again. They've set an extremely high bar for the Raw and Smackdown rosters to try and clear tomorrow at Summerslam. The Street Profits might have had their best match to date against Undisputed Era, Candice LeRae and Io Shirai put every female Superstar employed by WWE on notice, and Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole absolutely destroyed themselves for our entertainment. Clocking in right on the 3 hour mark, it might have been the longest TakeOver to date, but it's worth every minute.