NXT takes over Philadelphia, as Johnny Gargano looks to take Andrade Cien Almas’ NXT Championship from him. Ember Moon puts her Women’s Championship on the line against Mae Young Classic finalist, and former MMA star, Shayna Baszler…
Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish (“The Undisputed Era”) (C)
Akam & Rezar (with Paul Ellering, “Authors of Pain”)
NXT Tag Team Championship
(Winners via pinfall: The Undisputed Era)
(Winner via pinfall: Velveteen Dream)
Ember Moon (C)
NXT Women’s Championship
(Winner via pinfall: Ember Moon)
Extreme Rules Match
(Winner via pinfall: Aleister Black)
Andrade Cien Almas (C) (with Zelina Vega)
(Winner via pinfall: Andrade Cien Almas)
After a 2017 that could confidently be described as the greatest year NXT has ever had, as far as match and TakeOver quality, there was a lot of attention on WWE‘s supposed “developmental brand” headed into its first live show of 2018.
The show opened with a typically well produced video package, narrated by Paul Heyman. His involvement was due to his history with Philadelphia (through ECW), and whilst I did initially wonder if the majority of the WWE fanbase in 2018 really knows much about that connection now, it was still fun to watch and listen to Heyman. His words carry a weight to them like no other, and they were classic NXT, referring to revolutions, and so on.
The opening match was for the NXT Tag Team Championship, and was worked at an incredibly quick pace considering it was largely dominated by big men Akam and Rezar. With both members of Authors of Pain presumably headed to WWE‘s main roster soon, it did seem likely that they wouldn’t win here, but then they’ve been expected to make the step up for many months now, so there was still a sense of uncertainty over the match outcome as it progressed. Not content with just being punchbags for the whole match, reigning champions Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly also had effective offence, but this match was certainly more a story about how they were trying to survive the Authors of Pain, rather than overpower them. Eventually, their quick smarts overcame Akam and Rezar’s superior strength.
One would assume that O’Reilly and Fish will now be headed into another programme with Sanity, given both teams clash later in the show. I’d be keen to see this, but I do hope the next TakeOver has title challengers who have not had the opportunity to challenge for the championship on a TakeOver special.
I found Kassius Ohno and Velveteen Dream a very physical match, and I am becoming more and more sold on Dream’s in-ring work every time I see him. I feel that, on the main roster, Dream wouldn’t be allowed to use his current gimmick and still wrestle such a strong and hard style, but NXT appear very happy for Dream to show all sides of his being, and its making for a very compelling watch, at this point. I fully expect Dream to main event an NXT TakeOver before the end of the year.
Unfortunately, I felt their match suffered at the end from some poor move execution. Dream appeared to have trouble lifting and holding Ohno up, and it led to some messy moments that the crowd rather brutally appeared to call out. At first, the sloppiness did impact my opinion of the match, but time allowed those wounds to heal, and I think the first 80% of the match was an interesting and physical battle battle between the two.
I had a great deal of interest in the NXT Women’s Championship match, which saw Ember Moon make her first TakeOver defence of her new championship. Baszler had a great run in the Mae Young Classic, and all signs suggest she is going to be given a monster push, but incredibly that didn’t begin here on this night.
Without question, the NXT Women’s Championship is the best booked championship in the company. As such, I was very interested in the match between Baszler and Moon, especially as I feel that Baszler’s in-ring style is very different to the rest of her division, and would see her involved in very different championship matches to what we’ve become accustomed to from NXT. That would quickly prove to be the case.
I’ll admit to feeling disappointed by the match both women put on. Whilst it had a decent length (although I’d have loved another 7 minutes, at least), it felt like we were in the final sequence for a very long time. Baszler working Moon’s arm was good, as was Moon’s exceptional selling of it by not using the arm for various moves she would do on her comebacks afterwards (a lost art), but I felt we got there too soon, and could’ve enjoyed a more varied style of wrestling for a bit longer.
The biggest shock though, was Ember Moon winning via pinfall. It may have been a rollup, but a win is a win, and Moon will now likely carry her prestigious championship into Wrestlemania weekend. I fully expect Baszler to take the title at some point in 2018, but I hope she’s able to step out from the title picture for six months so that she can develop at her own pace, then return even bigger and better. I did love her choking out Moon after the match had ended though, it must be said.
The Extreme Rules match was enormously entertaining, and Aleister Black put on another superb TakeOver match. Black’s double stop on Adam Cole, which saw the latter go through a table was a great moment, as was Cole being dropped onto the back of two upright chairs. They didn’t shy away with this one, and showed that Extreme Rules matches can be done effectively without any need for insane blood spots.
And finally, we arrived at the main event where 2017’s surprise final NXT Champion, Andrade Cien Almas, defended his championship against Johnny Gargano. The latter has become a massive babyface, and the similarity to Daniel Bryan’s story as to how the fans have taken to him as an underdog is there for all to see. In fact, the announcers even mentioned it on this show.
As to the match itself, I could write about it for days. It was exact kind of match you’d find main eventing a British indie scene how, and the exact kind of match you’d never expect to see in a WWE ring. They were allowed to go out and wrestle their own way, and the experience for the viewer was 10x better as a result. The false finishes worked perfectly, as did the countless spots where neither man could really dominate the other due to their familiarity with each other’s style following previous matches against each other.
Zelina Vega’s involvement throughout was incredibly plotted, and everything she did added heat to the match. When Candice LeRae (newest NXT signee and Gargano’s wife) had seen enough and jumped the barrier to tackle Vega before she could interfere further, I applauded out loud. Everyone in the arena, and everyone at home, was invested.
The moves each man hit didn’t exist just to impress, but were done with the clear goal of finishing off the opponent. Everything mattered, and they had a ridiculous amount of time given to them to tell their story, which all combined wonderfully to produce a match that I feel WWE will do well to beat for quality before 2018 is over. It was the greatest NXT Championship match of all time, and has no close rival.
The Tomasso Ciampa return and attack was the icing on the cake.
NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia may not have hit the heights of Chicago or Brooklyn III, but when it was good, it was very good. There was a lot to do here, particularly as the newest custodians of NXT looked to find their footing on live television, whilst launching numerous storyline angles at the same time. The brand feels fresh again, and in Gargano they have a man who I believe is the biggest babyface in the company, or certainly will be in the near future, whose storytelling is enthralling, and moveset is exciting.
Check out the whole show, if you haven’t already. Otherwise, just watch the main event, as I suspect fans will be talking about it all year. It was that good.
Match of the Night
Andrade Cien Almas vs. Johnny Gargano