The Best And Worst Of NXT TakeOver: Chicago

Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Sean Maluta was given the world’s worst Titantron graphic, NXT’s video editing department forgot that Hideo Itami had been injured for two years, and Kassius Ohno wore vertical stripes and it was very unflattering.

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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Chicago.

Best: Man, It’s A Hot One

This was the perfect opening match for NXT TakeOver: Chicago. It started off hot with Roddy running in from the crowd to take out the extra members of SAnitY (finally, a babyface with brains!), it had enough high spots to get the crowd boiling over, and it was, at the end of the day, completely forgettable and did nothing to potentially overshadow any of the matches on the card yet to come. It also featured plenty of examples of SAnitY murdering Roddy (I was particularly fond of Killian Dain’s flying crossbody outside the ring).

This match was also one of the very rare examples of when an official is more bronzed than both of the competitors he is refereeing. (I see you, Drake Younger, and I am sincerely concerned about the amount of time you spend in a tanning bed.)
Roddy wins, which was a little surprising, since he was only a bit player in the Tye Dillinger/SAnitY story but was now able to slay the beast on his first try, whereas it took Dillinger months to climb that mountain. Between this win and the “Who is Roddy Strong?” vignettes, it sure seems like the dude is being elevated to main-event status pretty soon, though in reality, this is where NXT would benefit from having a mid-card singles title.

Bestest Best: Well Dunne

The first time I had seen either Tyler Bate or Pete Dunne compete was during WWE’s U.K. Championship tournament back in January. The two told a great story over that two-day competition, and I fell in love with Dunne’s Bruiserweight character right then and there, as did a lot of other folks. But it’s still safe to say that the bulk of WWE’s audience has absolutely no idea who Dunne or Bate are, despite a handful of appearances on NXT TV. This was undoubtedly both men’s biggest exposure to date, and holy hell did they take advantage of it.

Bate and Dunne very likely knew going in that most people who would be watching this would have no idea who either of them were, so these two guys who barely even have WWE contracts decided to put on WWE’s best singles match of 2016 to date to make sure we’d all remember their names afterward — and boy, did it work.

It goes to show you that for all the emphasis on long, fleshed-out angles with dozens of plot points, all wrestling fans really need to become fully engaged in a match is good wrestling. We all know the results are pre-determined, and most of us can pick the correct winner before the bell rings. But in between those ropes, we just want to be entertained. Sports entertained.

It’s fitting that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens were in the crowd tonight, because this match felt like it could have been one of theirs: Without even knowing the history of Bate/Dunne in the U.K., it was clear to anyone watching that these two have as deep a connection as Sami and KO, and they pulled out all the stops and beat the tar out of each other, with Jim Ross’ commentary and a “FIGHT FOREVER!” chant as their soundtrack. I could break the match down move by move, but you’re not here to read about that (however, I have never seen a faster airplane spin in my life, so extra kudos for that). Dunne wins, as he should have, and I desperately cannot wait for these two to tangle again.

Best: Life’s A Riot With Asuka Vs. Cross

This is the second TakeOver in a row where Asuka got stuck in the cooldown slot (at TakeOver: Orlando, she and Ember Moon wrestled following the incredible tag team triple threat elimination match), but this match had a lot more going for it, in part due to a Chicago crowd that would not cool down. It was your standard WWE triple threat (read: one competitor gets knocked out of the ring and stays down for minutes at a time while the other two beat each other up), and didn’t include any sort of blatantly anti-Asuka teamwork between Ruby Riot and Nikki Cross that a lot of people expected, but the nice thing is all three women work extremely well together one-on-one, so nothing ever felt too convoluted.

Nikki Cross was the real MVP of this match, if you ask me: Every one of her attacks looks painful as all hell, from slamming into Riot at full force to clubbing Asuka across the back with forearms. And the sequence where she outsmarts Asuka, catches her in the ring apron and pounds the sh*t out of her, before delivering a solo Magic Killer (with the assist of the top rope)? Into it. It was at this point that I have officially hopped off the Asuka train and onto the Cross Express. (Sorry, Ember.)

The finish came out of the blue, with Asuka capitalizing on both women being tangled on the mat, connecting with a flying knee to Riot and covering both for the ultimate statement, though one that is a bit on the hollow side: She stole another victory, and revealed a few more chinks in her armor. I really hope we get Asuka/Nikki or Asuka/Ruby before we get Asuka/Ember II.

Best: Live By The GTS, Die By The GTS

First things first: The opening video package summing up Hideo Itami’s struggles was everything I have been yelling into the void for since they started building to this match weeks ago. It sucks that it took until the night of to fully re-establish Itami’s character, but better late than never.

I enjoyed this match significantly more than either of Bobby Roode’s championship matches with Shinsuke Nakamura, mainly because it wasn’t fixated on pageantry or flair. Each man’s introduction alone told the story: Itami comes out in all black, calmly walking to the ring. He doesn’t stop to soak in any adoration from the crowd; he doesn’t deliver any sort of signature pose. He enters the ring and waits for his championship opportunity — his first, and possibly his last — to begin. Roode, on the other hand, doesn’t even take Itami seriously as a competitor, phoning in his TakeOver entrance with a cheap Guitar Hero version of his TakeOver: Orlando entrance, with no live musicians. In his mind, Itami isn’t even worth the day rate for a pianist. Unlike his matches with Nak, Roode knows he’s got this: He’s got the better physique, a significant height and weight advantage, and the crowd firmly in his corner.

Then, he goes for a taunt early, and Itami catches him and puts him up for the GTS, causing Roode to flee down the entranceway and realize, oh sh*t, this is going to be a lot harder than he thinks. From that point forward, I felt like I was watching one of the many times Chris Benoit wrestled Triple H, where you have one charisma-deficient performer who is clearly the better wrestler and one performer who has spent more time on building his show muscles than developing a unique offense. Itami simply was not f*cking around in this match, and Roode was game for all of it, taking some seriously intense strikes and kicks, and doing his best to give as much as he got.

In the end, it’s Itami’s insistence on trying to use the GTS that brings about his downfall. He injures his knee on the steel steps midway through the match, but is still hellbent on finishing Roode with the GTS. After multiple failed attempts, he finally manages to connect (resulting in “CM PUNK!” chants that are quickly drowned out by boos, presumably directed at fans, not Itami), knocking Roode out of the ring. He rolls him back in, slaps the hell out of Roode’s face and goes for it again, but Roode reverses it into a rolling Glorious DDT, resulting in a successfully retained championship.

This is without a doubt Roode’s best match since joining NXT, and given how I can barely remember any of Itami’s matches in his original run, I’ll go ahead and say it’s his best work too.

Where do we go from here with with both characters? If WWE’s YouTube channel is to be believed, it looks like Roode is going to be off TV for a little bit while Itami feuds with Kassius Ohno. I’m okay with both of these things.

Best/Worst/Best Again: The Main Event

First off, a massive congratulations are in order for Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, who can now not only say they main evented a WWE pay-per-view, but they did it in one of the most rabid pro wrestling cities there is, and in one of the most iconic buildings in pro wrestling history.

The Allstate Arena has hosted three WrestleManias, more than any other building in existence. And now a scrawny kid from Cleveland and his bearded buddy from Milwaukee just made 14,000 or so people eat out of the palm of their hands in the main goddamn event. After the series of show-stealing bouts they’ve had for the past year, this spot was more than earned, and I doubt it will be the last time they’ll be there.

Here’s the problem, though: This match was kind of a mess. This was Authors Of Pain’s first ladder match, and as best as I can tell, it was Gargano and Ciampa’s first individual ladder matches, as well (or if they’ve participated in one before, it ain’t on YouTube). As such, there was a lot of dead space in this match as ladders were set up and traffic was directed, which made for a stunted response from the crowd and a very choppy flow in-ring.

That said, the high spots were expectedly fantastic (Gargano diving through the giant ladder was great, and his and Ciampa’s splashes from the top of said giant ladder onto each member of AOP were ridiculously awesome), and the ending justified just why the damn tag belts were hanging so low the entire match: #DIY had to hang from them low enough so AOP could grab them for the finish. (It still drove me nuts that the belts were suspended so close to the ring, though — watching guys as gigantic as Akam and Rezar pretend to slowly stumble up a ladder was agonizing.)

But the sheer brutality of the finish made up for it, with a double powerbomb into the Super Collider (which includes another double powerbomb). It should have kept #DIY down, and it did. No matter how many double teams #DIY tried to execute, and no matter how brave the act of heroism was when Gargano shoved Ciampa out of the way to take a ladder to the face (seriously, ouch), this team should not and did not beat the Authors Of Pain.

Best: I’m Becoming Judas In My Mind

Finally, the fireworks factory! Last night, Brandon Stroud and I chatted about the post-match turn of Ciampa on Gargano, and he thought it was brilliant that not only was the theme song for TakeOver: Chicago called “Judas,” but that former best friends Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were in the building. (“Ciampa saw them and realized friendship is bullshit,” Brandon surmised.)

I’m not entirely willing to give WWE creative that much credit for foreshadowing, but still, this was an excellent dismantling of #DIY, with Ciampa embracing his old Psycho Killer nickname on the indies and Gargano officially becoming anointed as the new underdog of NXT. It was the first time since TakeOver: R-Evolution way back in 2014 (when Owens debuted earlier in the night, then turned on Zayn as the show went off the air) where the event closed with an act so heinous, there was no way it could go on the show anything but last. Gargano’s facial expressions during the betrayal were incredible, and Ciampa’s steely-eyed gaze in response was perfect.

And thus concludes the first chapter of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa’s NXT run. The undersized pair were thrown together as a tag team for the first Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in September 2015, without being under WWE contract or even really knowing each other. Fast forward to now, and the two have earned full-time contracts, traveled the world together, won NXT tag gold, created a meme and moved in together — hell, Ciampa even stood up in Gargano’s wedding.

This is a rare instance of wrestling creating a partnership before a real-life friendship existed, then using the real-life friendship to tear apart the partnership, which will only fuel the impending singles feud. There’s a legitimate chance that Gargano/Ciampa could main event TakeOver: Brooklyn III, and I can’t think of two guys in NXT who would deserve that opportunity more.

Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night

Mr. Bliss

I have no idea who Roderick Strong is but he looks like the guy that’ll spend all night hitting on your girlfriend right in front and when you finally stop being polite and call him out, he says you’re being paranoid and calls over his two bigger friends to make sure nothing actually happens. I’m rooting for Eric Young now,


You know, when you really think about it “Fight Forever” is a rather cruel thing to wish on someone.

Harry Longabaugh

Riot’s offense is so wonderfully convoluted. It’s a Ruby Goldberg machine.


Nikki Cross is the wrestling equivalent of the cartoon Big Ball of Violence / Fight Cloud.

Shemale Fiesta

Since he dove under the ladder, does that mean bad luck for Randy Orton?

Too Old For This Sheet

AoP climb ladders like they’re in an infomercial for something way better than ladders.


“Wow, that crowd is really unhappy! They’re booing so loudly! I guess the babyfaces must have won.” – Roman Reigns


Kevin Owens is in the crowd slowly clapping.


Ciampa just remembered what happened to American Alpha on the main roster and is making a last desperate bid for another program on NXT

And finally…


*Googles Takeover Brooklyn III tickets*

Thanks for reading, everybody. I’ll see you back here on Thursday for a recap of the NXT TakeOver: Chicago pre-show.