WrestleWatch: NXT Takeover Portland
Here we go with WWE's third- and best- brand, NXT. Gone are the days where it's strictly "developmental", and nothing shows that more than today's Takeover event. For the first time ever, NXT are holding a Takeover event independently, without being attached to the weekend of a major WWE PPV, like Survivor Series or Wrestlemania. NXT had to stand on their own, and stand on their own they did.
The game stepped up here, with a Takeover card getting boosted to six matches for the first time rather than the standard 5. We have two big time women's matches- the championship battle between the powerful Aussie champ, Rhea Ripley, and the cocky challenger, the EST of NXT, Bianca Belair topping the bill. The other bout was a grudge match between former best friends- Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai. Given the magnitude and aggression of that feud, it couldn't be just a normal match... we're getting a Street Fight!
Closing out the show, the NXT Championship match. The long-reigning champion, the leader of the Undisputed Era... Adam Cole (bay bay) facing the man who never lost the NXT Championship in the ring. The Psycho Killer. The Blackheart. Tommaso Ciampa.
Tag Team Championships are on the line, as the only 3 time champs in NXT history, the Undisputed Era's Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly, are defending against the 2020 winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, the odd couple pairing of Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne, known as the Broserweights. The unique dynamic of laid back stoner Riddle and the deadpan Dunne have led to some of the most hilarious segments in recent memory.
Two powerhouses round out the card, as NXT North American Champion, the Limitless Keith Lee, puts his belt on the line against fellow big man, long time rival and also occasionally tag team partner, Dominik Dijakovic. Lee and Dijakovic have been a true highlight of NXT since they moved to two hours on the USA Network, they can always be relied on for matches that blow the audience's mind.
Let's Do This!
We open the show with a musical performance by Poppy. I know her best as a Youtuber who makes weird videos in a robotic voice, but she seems to have transitioned to a legitimate music career, using a soft, almost hypnotic tone against some pretty heavy rock music. I likey.
Match 1: NXT North American Championship- Keith Lee def. Dominik Dijakovic (at 20:20)
Thoughts: This was an excellent choice to start the show. Absolutely flew by, and despite having had a lot of matches together, managed to bust out some new moves and spots, with a particularly impressive one being Dijak busting out a Fosbury Flop and Lee catching him in a powerbomb. Down the stretch, they start kind of no-selling things, but in a way that looks like they're working through pain for the glory of the title, which I appreciated. Good finish where Dijak's body finally gives out on a Feast Your Eyes attempt, allowing Lee to hit the Big Bang Catastrophe for the win. Awesome outing! (****1/4)
Match 2: Street Fight- Dakota Kai def. Tegan Nox (at 13:24)
Thoughts: This was a nice change of pace after the opener, just an aggressive hardcore style match after the high spots and workrate of Lee/Dijakovic. It starts hot with Dakota attacking Tegan during her entrance, then they use the barricade, trash cans, steel chairs... Nox shows a ton of heart and pays tribute to a couple of her influences in wrestling, hitting a Kane chokeslam and Molly Holly's Molly Go Round, but unable to finish with them. Nox uses her braced knees to her advantage to hit the Shiniest Wizard. Unsatisfied, Nox sets Kai up on a table and goes to put her through it with a top rope move, but Reina Gonzalez gets involved and shoves Tegan off the top rope into the table (which doesn't break). Interesting ending and it seems that this feud will continue with a Kai/Gonzalez alliance. (***1/2)
They hype the next NXT UK Takeover. It's in Dublin, happening on April 26. Weird to be looking at an event after Wrestlemania at this time.
Match 3: Finn Balor def. Johnny Gargano (at 27:22)
Thoughts: As a sign in the crowd said (in the style of Rick and Morty), Balor and Gargano had plenty of time to "show us what they've got", and they went all out. Balor was able to enhance his new heel character with little things like doing push-ups while he had Gargano in a head-scissors. Gargano looked to get revenge for an attack a few months ago by dropkicking Finn into the barricade, but the Prince countered with a Slingblade. Balor effectively slows Johnny down a bit by working on the knee, but he battles back and gets some momentum back after a massive Spear on the apron! Slingshot DDT shortly after scores a nearfall for Johnny Wrestling. Later, Finn misses with the Coup de Grace and Johnny locks in the Gargano Escape. Finn makes the ropes. Both men fight on the outside, while Balor gets the better off with a big shotgun dropkick. Back in the ring, Coup de Grace hits, followed by the 1916. Damn, I love that move. The Prince prevails. Really high quality work, a notch below the recent NJPW stuff but it came close! (****1/4)
We're getting Velveteen Dream vs. Roderick Strong on NXT this week. I highly doubt we get a clean finish to that one, it feels like a Takeover match in its own right.
Match 4: NXT Women's Championship- Rhea Ripley def. Bianca Belair (at 13:30)
Thoughts: This one fell a little short for me. I guess I didn't really buy into Belair's nearfalls, given that they've already started heavily building Charlotte vs. Rhea at Wrestlemania. To Bianca's credit, she wakes everyone up with her trademark hair whip and a big time miltary press slam. The commentators note that both women are power wrestlers, which I noted the other day- I can't really recall another instance of two power wrestlers in the women's division clashing- in past generations, power wrestlers like Chyna and Beth Phoenix were the only powerhouses of their generation, as best as I can remember. Good finish where Rhea hits Riptide out of the corner for the win. Good match, but felt a bit like a placeholder. (***1/4)
Post-match. Charlotte Flair attacks Ripley and accepts the Wrestlemania challenge. Yep. No matter what kind of match Rhea and Bianca had, this was always going to be the main talking point. Charlotte takes a shot at Bianca on the way out too, so you never know- possible triple threat? Or maybe planting the seeds for something post-Mania.
Match 5: NXT Tag Team Championship- The Broserweights (Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne) def. Undisputed Era (Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish) (at 16:58)
Thoughts: The first thing I noticed is that Bobby Fish seems a LOT grayer in his beard. When did that happen? He looks old AF. Riddle and Dunne bring high energy, while the UE try and work body parts to slow down the onslaught. They hit some double team offence of their own, followed by dual submissions. Riddle breaks it up with a big knee strike while he's getting choked, followed by a backpack drop. Bit of miscommunication between the Bros and Riddle accidentally Spears Dunne. Chasing The Dragon by the UE gets a great near fall. They attempt the old high/low but Riddle fights out. Double team throw/enziguri by the Broserweights, and just like that we have new champs. This was non-stop action, totally. Bro. (****1/4)
Match 6: NXT Championship- Adam Cole def. Tommaso Ciampa (at 33:23)
Thoughts: Ooh. This veered towards that self-indulgent "let's get all our shit in and fuck logic" mindset that plagued the Cole/Gargano matches- and why I'm not a big Adam Cole fan in general. I never feel like Cole's in a fight, just seems like he goes from spot to spot to pop the crowd and get those "this is awesome" chants. It did have a bit more grounding to it thanks to Ciampa's selling of his neck after taking a wheelbarrow suplex into the announce table- which was a really creative spot. Ciampa was pretty consistent in displaying his pain and trying to fight through it, because he wanted the championship so badly. Nice callback to War Games as Ciampa hits Air Raid Crash on the apron. Undisputed Era gets involved, because if you're Cole, why would you lead a faction unless you can use their fuckery to win matches and keep your title? Ciampa hits out of the UE's high/low in a great near fall. Down the strech, Johnny Gargano comes out to even the odds for his DIY teammate... but he stops Tommaso from using the title belt! He cracks Ciampa in the head with it! What a turn! And with that, Adam Cole is "still"... (****)
I like Johnny turning on Ciampa, but it's going to be a hard sell, with Gargano as the heel and Ciampa as the face. The Psycho Killer is such a natural heel, even going into this title match... he's stil a prick, but he's fighting a bigger prick, so we back him by default. But he was such a horrible bastard, making life hell for Johnny and Candice, injuring him, getting him fired from NXT, manipulating him into "joining the dark side" and doing his bidding for a while... the Gargano/Ciampa feud was so great, but they definitely muddied it up with Johnny briefly going heel, losing some of that babyface equity... then Ciampa doing that "I'm a good guy now because I got injured" babyface turn... at least the matches will be fire, but the story is definitely a bit shaky right now.
Cathy Kelly called it "perhaps the best Takeover of all time" on the post-show. It was very good, but not in best ever territory. That honour still goes to Takeover NOLA- one of the greatest wrestling shows ever. But Takeover Portland this past weekend was consistently great. With the kind of talent NXT have, a bad show is virtually impossible. The roster is too good. They've struck gold with the Broserweights, I'm interested to see where the Undisputed Era go now that they no longer have all the gold, and where does everybody go as far as Mania weekend is concerned? Top recommendations go to Lee vs. Dijakovic and Broserweights vs. Undisputed Era, but it's all good shit, pal.
Overall Score: 8/10
Until next time, take care,