The Wrestlemania weekend of 2019 has officially been kicked off with a bang, the brand that’s known to be a bit more “punk rock” when compared to the mainstream of WWE programming has once again set the bar extraordinary high with an event that’s left me speechless, drained, exhausted and elated. Every single title was on the line and every match had my heart racing and blood pumping. I wouldn’t expect anything else from NXT Takeover.
It’s become somewhat of a given that NXT Takeover shows will give the performers on the main roster a lot to think about with their own event that typically follows the next night (on this occasion, Wrestlemania falls on the Sunday with Takeover happening on Friday) and this is no different. The pressure on Wrestlemania to deliver and live up to the dizzying heights of what just transpired is enormous and in all honesty, unlikely to match what has just been shown. That’s how good this show was. That’s how good NXT is. That’s how much everyone gave on this special occasion.
Tag Team Titles – Match 1.
We begin with an explosive start to the evening with the tag team titles on the line, with current champions War Raiders defending against the recently formed and brand-hopping mega stars, Ricochet and Aleister Black. The War Raiders came out to a Viking inspired entrance that immediately had the audience bellowing out the war chant dictated by the duo, getting everyone firmly into the spirit of what was about to transpire. Of course, despite their popularity, there’s few superstars in the world that can outshine the sheer presence and gravitas that Ricochet brings when his music hits and he enters the ring. However, one of those few could be his tag partner, Aleister Black. Arriving last and to a roaring welcome, the teams were now set to do battle. And what a fight it was. Two superstars who are World champions in their own right were being pushed to their absolute limit by the powerful Viking warriors, the action was brisk, hard hitting and most importantly, unique. Special moves that are seldom shown were brought out for this match, Ricochet in particular had moments of inspiration that only served to persuade me further that he’s a real life superhero, his incredible athleticism leaving me with my jaw firmly on the floor, multiple times. The teams kept going back and forth and as the match continued, the competitors drew from deeper reserves in their arsenal to try and get the upper hand. However in the end, through grit and sheer force of will, the brothers in arms triumphed and the War Raiders retained. A classy moment that will long go down in NXT history concluded the match, both teams hugging in the ring, with Black and Ricochet soaking in the adulation from the noisy Brooklyn crowd. It’s likely their last appearance with NXT and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them win the Smackdown tag team title belts on Sunday.
Kenny Corner Rating: 5/5
North American Title – Match 2
Heading into the event, the bout for the North American title had the potential to be a real sleeper hit. Two competitors who have rather unorthodox styles and very clearly defined characters meant that the meeting between the pair could be an interesting proposition, with the challenge lying in who would be the victor. There’s not a wrestler on the planet who’s more charismatic than Velveteen Dream, he simply oozes style and drips gold. He’s a massive star in the making who will hopefully go on to do amazing things with the WWE. By contrast, you have his opponent, Matt Riddle, a unique figure with a legitimate mixed martial arts background, the fun loving “King of Bros” has quietly gone on an undefeated hot streak in singles action. The stage was set then, two up and coming players tugging over the title befitting their status, a solid match on paper. But in reality, this far exceeded expectations. The psychology during the fight was crisply executed, the typically calm but brutal Riddle was forced to tap into an as yet unseen darkness within to try and overcome Dream, much to the derision of the audience who jeered his bullying antics. Indeed it was pointed out to me after a particularly furious flurry of moves that we still haven’t seen all of what Riddle has to offer, which is scary and wonderful at the same time. However Dream, ever the showman, would resist and find a way to overcome his more powerful opponent with a surprising roll up victory that left both competitors leaving the ring looking all the more stronger. Excellent story telling and potentially the sleeper hit for the wrestling weekend.
Kenny Corner Rating: 5/5
United Kingdom Championship – Match 3
Pete Dunne has carried the UK branch of NXT on his back for a staggering 685 days. His title reign is legendary and has included numerous world class defences that have solidified his status as one of the best workers in the industry and at such a young age still, the sky is the limit for the Brit. Enter Walter. The larger than life ring general brings a presence that’s hard to compare, his size and ability mark him out as a very special and different character, that has a real aura of menace. Walter was positioned to be Dunne’s biggest challenge to date and for good reason, the behemoth has been running rough house on the UK division since his arrival. Coming after two explosive and fast paced matches, this title fight took things down a few gears and instead took a direction of brutality and we entered into a war of attrition. Both men got tonnes of offence in on each other, with resources of will being depleted with every chop, finger snap and power bomb. During the match, Walter kept attempting to climb the ropes without success, which puzzled me as I couldn’t imagine what he would do from there. I am admittedly unfamiliar with his moveset, so was truly astonished when he would eventually win the match with a splash off the top, flattening Dunne and ending the long held reign of the king. Here’s hoping Pete gets a call up to the main roster and the UK show can continue to develop with a new man to overcome at the pinnacle.
Kenny Corner Rating : 4/5
NXT Women’s Championship – Match 4
Up next; the fatal four way match for the women’s championship. Involving four terrific competitors, including the effervescent duo of Kairi Sane and Io Shirai. The two best friends have been working in tandem over the last few weeks to great effect, but the story going into this match revolved around the potential for a combustion when the two would inevitably lock horns over the golden carrot dangling in their face. Or as champion Shayna Basler put it, the raw meat for the pack of animals to fight over. And that is exactly what happened during the course of match; Shayna allowed the three competitors (the aforementioned duo were joined by the boisterous Bianca Belair) to rip each other apart, while the champion simply sat back and waited for her moment. A word on Bianca, who had a dominating performance, being afforded the time to showcase her formidable strength to great effect. She was the highlight of the match for me, but that’s not a knock on the other women. The action was fast, the storytelling developed characters and moved things along nicely. In the end, Shayna retained much to the disdain of the crowd (I personally loved it as she’s playing her role to perfection and when she does lose, it will be a massive moment) and the match dovetailed nicely into the upcoming main event.
Kenny Corner Rating: 3.75/5
NXT Championship Match – Main Event
The energy throughout the night was frenetic and enjoyable, but when the main event arrived, it was all ramped up a notch. Real life tragedy has unfortunately meant that our beloved champion, Tomasso Ciampa, has been forced to relinquish his title (goldie) so he can undergo neck surgery. This means the title is vacant and would involve his former best friend, turned enemy and now sort of ally again, Johnny Gargano facing off against the wily leader of the Undisputed Era, Adam Cole. The stipulation for the match was to be a 2 out of 3 falls slug to the finish. These matches always offer drama in the latter stages of the bout, with one fall already awarded to a competitor. In this case, Adam Cole scored a relatively early victory in the match and that set us up for the comeback King to work his magic. Johnny Gargano wrestled his heart out, giving us pure adrenalin fuelled action, moments of disbelief and absolute jubilation. Of course, Adam Cole had his cronies arrive to try and clinch the victory but even that wasn’t enough to put down Johnny Takeover for the count. Scratching and clawing and never giving up, the match was a microcosm for Gargano’s journey to the title. Suffering set backs, defeat, hardship but never giving in, Johnny Gargano finally stands tall with the most coveted prize around his waist. Long may he reign and give us more instant classics. This match really had it all. Amazing moves from both competitors, a narrative that was clearly explained and a finale that took my breath away. It’s with no exaggeration that I proclaim this to be the best match I’ve ever seen.