NXT always starts out the weekend the right way for the ‘Big 4’ WWE pay-per-views. There hasn’t been a bad one yet, so NXT Takeover: Philadelphia had a huge task of living up to all the past Takeover events…and it exceeded expectations.
WWE keeps raiding NXT for talent and Triple H keeps finding great indie wrestling talent to mix with the young guys they have down there starting from scratch. Many thought the entire brand would go down a few pegs after wrestlers like Shunsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and Asuka were promoted the main roster, but this Takeover event was up there with the best all-around NXT shows of all-time.
The pre-show was just filled with match build-up videos, a panel featuring Samoa Joe and Sam Roberts and the NXT Year-End Awards. There’s not much to say other than Asuka and Aleister Black cleaned up.
The Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly) (c) versus The Authors of Pain for NXT Tag Team Championship
The Authors of Pain started off the match as Fish & O’Reilly were still posing. They wanted to get this over with early, but Fish & O’Reilly are arguably the best overall tag team the last decade. They start to work on big guys’ legs. They were actually pull off some big moves on the Authors of Pain.
There were a lot of close near-falls, but all the wear and tear on AOP’s legs were taking its toll. AOP was able to get the Undisputed Era up for a double-powerbomb, but Akam’s legs gave out after they ‘toasted’ them. Rezar was able to powerbomb, but Akam bounced back and Fish gave him a hurricanrana into his teammate. Fish was then able to school boy him for the pin.
I have a feeling the Authors of Pain will debut on RAW or Smackdown soon. They are ready for the main roster, but selfishly want them to face War Machine before a call-up. Oh yeah, I should probably mention a few debuts that were seen in the crowd: War Machine, Ricochet and EC 3.
Three awesome additions to NXT. I hope they don’t make a mistake and throw Ricochet onto ‘205 Live’ before he’s had a chance to face bigger guys.
Velveteen Dream versus Kassius Ohno
I love me some Velveteen Dream. His match against Aleister Black at NXT Takeover: War Games was freaking amazing. His wrestling needs some polish, but his character and all the stuff he does ‘in-between the notes’ during a match is great.
Before Takeover, Dream said he was going to knockout the knockout artist in less than 30 seconds. He came out in Rocky-inspired boxing trunks and had a mouthpiece on a pillow. I love his mannerisms.
This match was meant to get Dream over even more than he is right now. Ohno came out with some newer-looking gear that doesn’t make him look so much like a former basketball player-turned wrestler. It’s an improvement, but he has a weird body shape, so I’m not sure what would exactly be flattering. I don’t really care myself, but I know Vince McMahon is all about optics and if he gets called up soon and his gear looks like that, he will be in Curt Hawkins territory as a low-card jobber.
This match was a big sloppy, but it was mostly due to Dream trying to go too fast and Ohno being too heavy to do a few moves Dream attempted. This whirlybird suplex spot was pretty sweet.
The crowd were all for Velveteen Dream, even though he’s the ‘heel’ on paper. He’s just different and Black did such an awesome job getting him over. He can’t do much wrong right now, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to catch a flying Ohno and try to do a Death Valley Driver on him…it will also look bad.
Dream finally hit his DVD move and his his Purple Rainmaker off the corner ring post. He didn’t get as much height as if he went off the ropes (since they are springy), but it was an impressive leap. Dream got the win and I’m curious who he will be put against next.
Ember Moon (c) versus Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship
NXT television has really put Baszler over as a ‘submission magician’ bad ass. I loved the spot on the show where she goes into the Performance Center and tries to legit choke a girl out while acting like she was going to teach her a submission. A true asshole move and it was awesome.
Baszler worked over the elbow early and did the spot to Moon that she did on Dakota Kai to kayfabe break her arm/elbow. Moon sold her elbow the rest of the match. She even sold her arm after hitting her finisher.
She was unable to go for the cover and the doctors came over like they were going to stop the match. She was able to compose herself, but Baszler was getting her wits back. She instantly got Moon into an armbar submission and they fought in it and even got out of it a few times, but Baszler finally got her in the middle of the ring. Moon was able to flip her over and get the pin. Of course in true heel fashion, Baszler choked her out after she lost. This feud appears to be far from finished.
Aleister Black versus Adam Cole (Extreme Rules match)
This match was fantastic. The Extreme Rules stipulation was a bit worrisome since we knew that Fish & O’Reilly was going to appear at some point. This almost deserved a cage match stipulation, but I loved all the hardcore spot in this match. I could have done without the Death Valley Driver on the back of two chairs. Ugh.
Two other spots that really stood out in this match were when Cole hit Black when he was doing a flip off the ropes. It was such perfect timing and it could have gone crazy wrong if it the swing was a few inches off.
There was another hardcore spot that was right on the money. Cole was on Black’s shoulder and he was flung into a leaning ladder. Cole’s selling afterwards was masterful.
As I said earlier, we all knew Fish & O’Reilly was going to interfere at some point. They pulled Black off Cole and was demolished and nearly knocked out. They were setting up the announcer’s table when SAnitY stopped them. It looks like they will get the next shot at the tag titles. They fight to the back after Killian Dain did a suicide dive.
The ending came out of nowhere. They are really trying to put over the ‘Black Mass’ kick as an ‘out of nowhere’ move that could instantly end the match. Black was able to nail Cole with the kick for the win. I assume he will be getting the winner of Gargano/Almas match.
Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) versus Johnny Gargano for NXT Championship
These guys were the opening match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III and had a decent opener. Oh, how they have both improved. Gargano was just getting his footing as a singles guy in NXT after Tommaso Ciampa suffered a knee injury. Almas was also learning WWE-style and was just starting to find his character. The dude was talented as hell as La Sombra in New Japan and CMLL. His entrance gear was pretty sweet.
The crowd was all on Johnny Wrestling’s side. The chants were huge and he’s possibly the best babyface WWE has in the entire company. I really, really hope they don’t screw this up. The crowd wants him to win and there’s no irony in their passion. The crowd audibly gasped when he took this nasty miss onto the floor, which happened right in front of the area where his family was sitting.
This match was so freaking awesome. I could fill this post up with a dozen gifs to show all the awesome spots in this match. They all made sense and the emotion ran thick in the air. It wasn’t a spot-fest, it was a well though-out match from A to Z. I’ll give you one more gif from this match…an awesome diving spear.
The crowd was breaking out in ‘This Is Awesome’ chants so many times that they started to chant ‘Fight Forever’ and other things to show how much they were into this contest.
Zelina Vega, who came out with Almas, was starting to interfere in this match and she happened to venture out to the other side of the ring. Gargano’s wife, newly-signed NXT women’s wrestler Candice LeRae, and the rest of his family was on that side. LeRae saw Vega coming and she tackled her. She ran her to the back. It appeared as if everything was lining up for Gargano to win the title. He was caught one too many times with the double knees and the hammerlock DDT. It was too much and Almas got the pin.
Almas and Vega went to the back with the belt as their music played. LeRae was back in the ring with Gargano to check on him. The music stopped and the crowd gave him an standing ovation. His wife was helping him up the ramp and Gargano turned around to salute the crowd when Tommaso Ciampa comes out and his Gargano in the back with a crutch.
This match was a near-perfect example of how a babyface should be portrayed in today’s pro wrestling. Not every babyface could pull this off, but Gargano could be a superstar if he keeps this up. Also, Almas is much better than people realize. He’s finally comfortable in his skin down in NXT. I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy ends up being WWE’s next Mexican superstar.
NXT Takeover: Philadelphia was a home run. Nothing the WWE can do at the Rumble could top Gargano/Almas or even Cole/Black. There will be surprises as the 2018 Royal Rumble, but good luck following this awesome Takeover.
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.