PHOENIX — In life, three things are certain — death, taxes and NXT TakeOver stealing the show.
Things were no different Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena as NXT TakeOver: Phoenix set a high bar for the three WWE shows to follow in the city this weekend — with an early match of the year candidate between Ricochet and Johnny Gargano in the middle of the show.
As far as crowds go, this was up there. Whether or not this was a bigger travel crowd is unknown, but the crowd responded to almost everyone on the show — which says something since Phoenix is not known as a traditional wrestling hotbed.
It can be said that the opening match of an NXT TakeOver is the best spot on the card of any show in professional wrestling. This was no different as the War Raiders captured the NXT Tag Team Championship from Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong in a fantastic affair.
Keeping with their raider-inspired style, the War Raiders entered with medieval guards and the crowd chanting “War!”
As far as chemistry inside the ring goes, these two teams had more than most. Loud “War Raiders/Undisputed” chants echoed throughout the arena early on, and as the match progressed, those changed to “This is awesome!” and “Fight forever!”
The War Raiders caught many in the crowd by surprise with their athleticism as they largely kept up with the smaller champions.
When the Raiders hit Fallout on O’Reilly, the pro-Undisputed Era crowd celebrated the title change with the new champions.
After such a hot opening match, Matt Riddle and Kassius Ohno were put in a tough position as the second match. Coming off a contest with a lot of spectacular moves, the two had more of a mat-based affair. It wasn’t bad by any means, but the tag title match was certainly a tough act to follow.
But what came next was without doubt an all-time NXT classic as Gargano topped Ricochet to capture the NXT North American Championship.
This featured everything one could want out of a professional wrestling match — speed, athleticism, hard-hitting action, mat excellence, and most importantly, great storytelling.
Fans were immediately chanting for both wrestlers right from the start and were hesitant to jeer Gargano despite his recent leanings.
As the match wore on, those in the arena kept up at every turn — never tuning out as the near 25-minute match was all-action from bell-to-bell.
The crowd was very receptive when Gargano won the championship — as Gargano took a stride toward the dark side here.
If Riddle and Ohno were put in a tough spot earlier, then NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler and challenger Bianca Belair were put in an impossible spot having to follow that match.
With the least amount of professional wrestling experience between them of any match on the show and Baszler having more of a mat-based style, anyone who knows anything about this spot knew this was going to be tough. Much to their credit, Belair proved herself to a certain extent in this one, garnering the sympathy and belief of the crowd while locked in Baszler’s rear choke — a tough task when one’s entire gimmick is based on being the best and being undefeated.
Unfortunately for Belair, her undefeated streak was snapped when the hated Baszler choked her out, but not before the two managed the near-impossible of getting the crowd into their match after a classic.
In the main event, Tomasso Ciampa retained the NXT Championship against Aleister Black. Almost nobody tells a story in the ring better than Ciampa and tonight was no different. He worked Black’s leg over masterfully and played off his words from TV in the process.
The fans liked both competitors here, but were more pulling for Black.
Unfortunately, it was for naught.
As is custom, it’s never smart to leave a TakeOver until the lights go up — this was no different. After Ciampa retreated up the stage with his title after a physical battle, his former tag team partner Gargano came out to a big gasp as the two appeared to reunite, holding their championships in the air as the televised portion came to a close.
After the TV cameras went dark, however, chaos nearly broke out.
With Ciampa and Gargano reveling in their accomplishments, the music of the most popular man on the show hit — none other than Velveteen Dream, who wasn’t even booked for a match.
As Dream squared off with the two and got into Gargano’s face, Gargano shoved Dream. At this point, it was about to go down, so Dream took off his glasses to prepare for a fight only for Adam Cole to come to the stage as well. Words were exchanged and Dream shoved Cole.
As this was happening, Black hobbled his way up the ramp and got into the fray, and they were all then joined by Ricochet, who shoved Cole, which started shoving matches all around.
In the ruckus, Dream slapped Gargano, which brought out the usual assortment of referees, agents, hanger-ons, you name it. In all of this, Dream’s exquisite hat went flying as the the officials broke things up and got everyone to the back.
But just when you thought it was all over, a camera pops on behind the curtain and the chaos hasn’t quelled. In fact, Triple H even steps in and sent Ciampa, Gargano and Cole away as Dream, Black and Ricochet headed back to the ring, where they celebrated and posed for the crowd for a long time (going through all three of their theme songs, in fact).
Dream and Ricochet bailed out of the ring leaving Black momentarily behind. Black took a moment to send a salute to the crowd — perhaps his way of saying goodbye to NXT? Time will soon tell.
Prior to the WWE Network special going on the air, two tag team matches were taped for this week’s edition of NXT TV. In the first match, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir battled Io Shirai and Kairi Sane and in the second, the Forgotten Sons (Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler) squared off with the Street Profits.
The crowd was lively through both and got the crowd revved up for the great night to follow.
TakeOver was the first of four straight nights for WWE in Phoenix, as the Royal Rumble heads next door to Chase Field tomorrow followed by Raw and Smackdown back at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Monday and Tuesday.