On Friday April 5th, WWE kicked off its WrestleMania Weekend celebrations with NXT TakeOver: New York, emanating from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Five championship matches were contested on the card, featuring wrestlers from the NXT and NXT UK brands. Tag Team Champions War Raiders faced the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic winners Ricochet and Aleister Black. North American Champion Velveteen Dream squared off with Matt Riddle. WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne wrestled WALTER. Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler defended in a Fatal Four Way match against Bianca Belair, Kairi Sane and Io Shirai. And finally the vacant NXT Championship was contested in a Two Out Of Three Falls match between Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole.
NXT Tag Team Championship Match
War Raiders (C) vs. Ricochet and Aleister Black
The story going into this match can be summed up as the champions facing the #1 contendership tournament winners. As Ricochet and Aleister Black had only won said tournament, the fourth annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, two episodes prior, there was little animosity between the two teams heading into the match, with their only head-to-head confrontation coming in the form of a staredown amidst Ricochet and Black’s victory confetti. The Dusty Cup winners were not to be so lucky here, as despite a game effort they fell to a Fallout from the War Raiders. The match itself was unsurprisingly outstanding though, with the closing sequences especially deserving credit. Black nailed a Black Mass on Ray Rowe but instead of going for the pinfall himself, he tagged in Ricochet who nailed a brutal-looking Shooting Star Press from the top rope. Black tried to stand guard and prevent Hanson from breaking up the cover, but the bigger man was too strong and simply bulldozed Black into Ricochet and Rowe. Ricochet tried a 630 senton, but ate nothing but canvas and War Raiders soon capitalised to hit the Fallout and successfully defend their titles. Ricochet and Black, meanwhile, move on to WrestleMania on Sunday where they will challenge the Usos for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships along with the Bar, and Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura. Ricochet in particular was tearful after the match, as he and Black now say farewell to NXT, and they got a major ovation from the Barclays Center crowd, as well as a show of respect from the War Raiders.
NXT North American Championship Match
Velveteen Dream (C) vs. Matt Riddle
This bout featured the most elaborate entrance of the night, as Velveteen Dream entered the arena on a makeshift throne surrounded by cushions and sat on a platform, and was carried by four men in Dream merchandise. Dream himself was wearing a Statue of Liberty head-dress and was carrying her torch! The match was all business once it got going though, with Riddle in particular displaying a viciousness that has rarely been seen so far in his NXT career, and Dream selling like crazy for him. The finish came when Riddle countered a Purple Rainmaker attempt into the Bromission and started hammering away on Dream’s chest, but that gave Dream room to roll through and catch the Original Bro by surprise with a schoolboy pinfall! I loved the story of Riddle’s overzealousness costing him here, and having displayed a new aggressive streak (at one point in the match Riddle was yelling in Dream’s face that he was the Bro), it seemed like we would get a post-match beatdown and villainous turn. The two combatants instead shared a fist-bump though, leaving that story to perhaps be told on a future episode of NXT. One last word on this contest – Riddle’s Floating Bro corkscrew moonsault is a thing of beauty.
WWE United Kingdom Championship Match
Pete Dunne (C) vs. WALTER
This match represented the NXT UK brand, as Pete Dunne brought his United Kingdom Championship, a title he has held for 685 days, to the Barclays Center to defend against Der Ring General, WALTER. In January, WALTER debuted in NXT UK at TakeOver: Blackpool after Dunne’s successful title defense against Joe Coffey, coming out for a staredown with Dunne and establishing himself as the next challenger. The Austrian has to be seen to be believed. He has a ring presence the likes of which has rarely been seen, and his strikes are some of the most ferocious in all of wrestling. This match was a brutal battle which saw these two gladiators slug it out for 25 minutes, before WALTER threw Dunne from the top rope with a huge powerbomb, and then scaled the ropes once again to nail an equally massive splash across the Bruiserweight’s chest. WALTER would then cover Dunne and end the longest title reign in WWE in the modern era.
I think it is appropriate here to include a note of appreciation for the reign of Pete Dunne. He won the United Kingdom title from Tyler Bate at TakeOver: Chicago in May 2017, in what some say is the greatest match between two British competitors. For a long time though, he had no regular brand to defend on, just occasionally showing up in NXT, and it was only with the establishment of NXT UK in October 2018 that the UK Championship was made into the top title on a WWE brand. In order to keep the belt relevant during this time, Dunne would regularly defend it on the British independent scene, and this brought a lot of eyes to our promotions and our wrestlers. So, I just want to say thank you to Pete Dunne, for everything he has done for British wrestling, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the Bruiserweight.
NXT Women’s Championship Fatal Four Way Match
Shayna Baszler (C) vs. Bianca Belair vs. Kairi Sane vs. Io Shirai
This match was the most personal of the night, with Shayna Baszler having engaged in rivalries with her three challengers dating all the way back to September 2017, where Kairi Sane defeated her in the final of the inaugural Mae Young Classic tournament. Their paths would not cross again though until TakeOver: Brooklyn IV in August 2018, where Sane would defeat Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship. Baszler regained the title at the historic first all-women’s pay-per-view Evolution, and retained over Sane at the second TakeOver: WarGames event. The unbeaten Bianca Belair would challenge Baszler next, at TakeOver: Phoenix, where she would pass out to the Kirifuda Clutch, but retain her “Undefeated” mindset. Not long after that, in a six-woman tag team match on NXT TV pitting Sane, Belair and Sane’s Sky Pirates partner Io Shirai against Baszler and her buddies Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke, Shirai would steal a pinfall victory over Baszler from Belair, creating animosity between Belair and the Pirates. Baszler would soon return to wreaking havoc over the entire women’s division, interfering in matches for the sake of making herself look good. She would even do so in a match between Belair and Shirai for the #1 contendership to the title, and when Sane tried to make the save, she also got taken out. This led to the booking of this four way here, and all four combustible elements were set to explode.
The match was a great frenetic brawl, with the Sky Pirates even coming to blows at one point such was both’s desire to be champion, but the finish was a definite lowlight of this excellent show. Belair showed great strength in picking both Pirates up and nailing a KOD, but Baszler would appear from out of nowhere and lock in the Kirifuda Clutch on Belair. Stunningly, WWE booked Belair to tap out here, totally ruining her “Undefeated” attitude going forward. I liked the finish to the Baszler vs Belair bout at TakeOver: Phoenix, because Belair was locked in the Clutch for a very long time and still refused to submit, only losing because she passed out. She was protected in that finish, and her mindset still held creedence. Here, with the opportunity to have one of two other wrestlers take the fall, Belair’s character is bafflingly made to actually submit. Hopefully, this will lead to a redemption arc of some sort in which she ends up winning the title, but in a vacuum I thought this was a terrible booking decision. Meanwhile, Shayna Baszler’s title reign shows no signs of letting up.
NXT Championship Two Out Of Three Falls Match
Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole
In the main event, Johnny Gargano faced Adam Cole, two out of three falls, for the vacant NXT Championship. This title match was, of course, supposed to be the culmination of a years-long rivalry between Tommaso Ciampa and Gargano, but the former NXT Champion had suffered a neck injury weeks earlier and was forced to relinquish his title in preparation for major surgery. Gargano was allowed to retain his spot in this match, but his opponent was decided in a Fatal Five Way match on NXT TV on March 20th. Cole beat Velveteen Dream, Matt Riddle, Ricochet and Aleister Black in that match to earn his spot here, and the only heat that had been built between the two competitors was in a non-physical promo war on March 27th.
Nonetheless, the viewer would have thought these two had been feuding for years such was the pace and intensity of this contest. Cole earned the first fall with a Last Shot running knee strike, and suddenly the odds were stacked further against the ever-underdog babyface Gargano. He now had to win two straight falls to become champion. As his been the case throughout his career, he kept fighting, kept scratching and kept clawing. Interestingly, he actually used his nemesis, Tommaso Ciampa’s move, the Air Raid Crash, on at least one occasion in this match. This was perhaps done to portray the idea that he respects the epic rivalry, Ciampa’s legitimate injury and now the two major surgeries that Ciampa has had in his NXT career, which both called a halt to the Ciampa/Gargano program. Cole would also use a move of Ciampa’s, the Fairytale Ending, to perhaps mock Gargano and the rivalry that has defined this era of NXT. Anyhow, Gargano would soon lock Cole in the Gargano Escape and pick up the second fall. We were into sudden death.
It was here that the action really ramped up, and the odds were stacked even higher against Gargano. Cole’s Undisputed Era cronies, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, reared their ugly heads. After Strong jumped up on the apron to distract the referee, O’Reilly raked the eyes of Gargano. The ref then took a bump and O’Reilly and Fish hit the double-team move High And Low. This wasn’t enough to put away Gargano, however, and he would soon dispatch of Cole’s buddies, before kicking out of several more big moves by Cole. Adam Cole is really the complete package in my view, but his selling of Gargano’s toughness in repeatedly kicking out was out of the top drawer. This match, of course, was only going to end one way, and Johnny soon locked in the Gargano Escape to win the third fall and finally become NXT Champion.
An incredible moment for Johnny Gargano, and in winning the NXT Championship he has become the first NXT Triple Crown winner, the only man so far to hold all three of NXT’s championships. Gargano’s wife, Candice LeRae, would soon come out to join in with the celebrations, and Tommaso Ciampa would even join them on the stage for an embrace, which partly broke kayfabe, and partly put over the greatness of the Ciampa/Gargano program, as Johnny using Ciampa’s moves in the match had also done. It was a shame that the payoff to the rivalry couldn’t have happened in the right way, with Gargano beating Ciampa for the title, but the match with Cole was truly outstanding.
Overall, this was an amazing night of wrestling, as NXT TakeOver events always are. Great stories were told, great matches were fought, and storylines were paid off. The next chapter in NXT has a lot to live up to.