Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: The Dusty Classic had a Dusty finish, Vanessa Borne still lacked an identity, and Hossfest 2K18 almost happened.
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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. I don’t believe at all I’m the monster you make me.
Best: It Has To Start Somewhere
Starting off TakeOver: New Orleans with this absolutely bonkers six-man ladder match was both a blessing and a curse: These performers lit each other up to such an insane degree that it absolutely murdered the crowd for the following two matches. Let’s go over some quick observations I jotted down throughout the entirety of this 31-minute(!) match (which wasn’t even the longest contest on the card):
- Ricochet is over as hell already, with the crowd losing their minds just when he walked out. Luckily, he backed up the hype with a ton of memorable spots in the ladder match, and he also had no problem being used as a rag doll for Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain’s dual feats of strength.
- Speaking of Dain and Sullivan, holy sh*t was that suicide dive early in the match incredible. While we still didn’t get full-on Hossfest 2K18, there was enough carnage between the two (and doled out by the two to the other four men in the match) that I had zero complaints. Even though neither of them won (and neither of them should have won, either), both were booked practically bulletproof. (For example, it took the combined effort of four men to powerbomb Lars.)
- EC3 probably had the least impressive athletic feats but added a wonderfully unexpected dose of comedy to the proceedings (his “EC3, BAY BAY!” taunt was delightful).
- Velveteen by-god Dream once again stole the show with a series of elbow drops, each more ridiculous than the last. I’m already setting aside some money to pledge to his YouCaring fund in 20 years when he needs a hip replacement.
And then we have the winner of the match, Adam Cole. As I wrote in my TakeOver: New Orleans predictions:
That leaves us with EC3 and Adam Cole. EC3 was instantly over from the second he stepped inside Full Sail a few weeks ago, and while Cole has his catchphrase, he also has a pretty dire W-L record and hasn’t accomplished much of anything as the leader of his nWo-esque faction. Even though I’d rather see EC3 win, I think Cole needs it more, which is why I also predict Kyle O’Reilly and whoever his partner may be to retain the tag belts earlier in the night. Give their faction most of NXT’s gold and let them run wild for the rest of 2018 — or at least until Takeover: Brooklyn IV.
It’s almost like I get paid to write about wrestling, folks.
The only — only — thing I didn’t like in this match was when Dain went for a Vader Bomb, then Cole stopped him by climbing on his back, resulting in a Vader Bomb anyway and Cole having to sell being on someone’s back like instant death. Logistically, it made zero sense, and from a character standpoint, why would Cole care if Dain was about to squash one of his opponents on a ladder? Furthermore, it was on EC3, who had already backstabbed Cole earler in the match, so he should have zero loyalty to this new guy. So yeah, verrrrrrrry tiny Worst for that.
Best-ish: Hold Your Breath
The great thing about pretty much every match on this card is they have all been built pretty perfectly over the past few months. Even though the outcome to Ember/Shayna II probably seemed like the surest thing to pick on the card (if you have an insanely intimidating, dominant heel get caught by surprise in her previous title challenge, you damn well better put her over the next time, otherwise she loses any perceived threat) — and having Ronda Rousey in the front row kinda telegraphed Baszler’s win even more — it was still a solid, competitive match, and the story was effectively told.
For whatever reason, though, the whole thing felt a little off until about the halfway point, when Ember embraced the dark side and smashed Shayna’s elbow and shoulder the same way Shayna did hers in January. Maybe it’s because the crowd was burned out from the opener, or maybe it’s because they too expected the title change. I did like how Ember and Shayna got there, though; Baszler looked like a goddamn beast when she slammed her shoulder into place against the ringpost, and almost became the sympathetic face in the way she sold her injury.
As for the finish, I once again direct you to my TakeOver: New Orleans predictions:
I expect a match similar to Bayley/Asuka I, though the crowd won’t be as nearly behind Ember as they were Bayley, so when Shayna does make her pass out in a submission, the buzz in the audience won’t be nearly as troubling.
Hopefully y’all made a prop bet about the submission on Bovada or something.
Best-ish: Wake Me
The Assassination Of The Smoothie King Center Crowd By The Coward Ladder Match continued pretty deep into the tag titles/Dusty Classic triple threat mashup. There was a point where I honestly felt bad for the performers, who had obviously put together this great, multi-minute opening sequence that was meant to feel like legitimate chaos (the spot where Kyle O’Reilly was trying to get one Author Of Pain to submit and then the other Author powerbombs Pete Dunne onto him was fantastic), but they were just getting nothing from the crowd. Maybe they were saving up all their energy for Gargano/Ciampa.
It took a sudden, completely left-field heel turn from Roderick Strong to wake the crowd up from their slumber — the response to Strong betraying Pete Dunne was electric, and further proves that a well-timed heel turn is all it takes to make a character relevant again. However, the last person I would ever want to piss off is Pete Dunne, so you and your sh*tty little boots better buckle up, Roddy.
The funny thing about this, though, is it was completely done independent of the Undisputed Era. Strong seemingly decided mid-match that the easiest way to attain gold was to join up with the team that already had it (and is already Freebird-ruling it). Adam Cole’s look of shock and surprise when the heel turn happened kinda neutralizes his leadership, because he didn’t have a plan to get out of this match with the tag straps, but his team lucked into a win anyway.
I could see this lead to a power struggle in the faction way down the line, Farooq/Rock-style, but for now, the Undisputed Era is the largest faction in NXT, holds the majority of the gold, and won the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic without having ever been a part of the tournament. Now that’s some creative booking, to say the least.
Best: Erase Me
Not going on last sure speaks volumes of Andrade “Cien” Almas’ reign as NXT Champion, no? Yes, Gargano/Ciampa was a hot match, fully deserving of closing TakeOver: New Orleans out, but if the champ was truly a draw, there would be no argument as to who would main event NXT’s version of WrestleMania. As it stands, Almas’ run as NXT champion gave us one five-star match, and a whole lot of Zelina Vega.
But if Almas does get called up to the main roster next week (and he might as well at this point, Smackdown could use him and Vega), he went out with a bang, putting together another beauty of a match with Aleister Black that contained some serious heat, and featured Almas revisiting a ton of his best-looking spots from his TakeOver: Philadelphia main event with Johnny Gargano (the double knees to Black on the apron and the double stomp from the top of the ringpost to the outside are the first two that immediately come to mind, but there were many more littered throughout).
Black looked like a million bucks with his strikes and dodges, and sold Vega’s cheating perfectly — plus, he learned from it throughout the match, eventually using her nefarious ways against her client by ducking her last-gasp interference attempt, letting Almas catch her, then Black Massing him right to the skull. The only thing that could’ve made that better was if Black used Vega as a steel chair, Van Daminator-style, but that probably wouldn’t have gotten approved by the producers.
Now, we have a new champ, and he’s the first truly badass babyface to hold the title since Finn Bálor back in 2015. Hopefully, he can hold onto the belt for a while, because I think his character is just getting started.
Best: I Gave Up
But srsly, folks, I loved that F*ckface Ciampa has no entrance music. F*ck that f*cker. He deserves to only hear boos every time he walks the aisle for the rest of his career.
This “unsanctioned match” started off way too cold for my liking: Gargano has waited nearly a year to finally get his hands on Ciampa in the middle of a ring, and instead of jumping him like Austin does to the Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven, we get a minute of the two of them sizing each other up (perhaps admiring all of the new abs between them). That got my goat a little — where was the pure hatred?
Stupid me. Little did I know these guys still had 36 more minutes of wrestling left to give, making this not only the longest match in TakeOver history but the longest one-fall match in the history of NXT. (The only match longer is Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn, 2-out-of-3 falls.) I loved that the first pinfall attempt didn’t come until about a third of the way through the match, after we had already had a long brawl into the crowd and an absolutely sickening suplex spot off the announce table to the ground — and that the first pinfall attempt, on Gargano, only resulted in a one count. A one count. F*ck you, Ciampa.
The comedy in this match was unintentional but still great — Ciampa chucking Gargano at Percy Watson, for example, could easily be F*ckface’s face turn, and his stealing of a audience plant’s crutches was hilarious in how completely random it was — but it was these little moments of levity that kept the match moving through spot after painful spot. Even the crowd got in on the action, chanting “You deserve it!” after Gargano powerbombed Ciampa onto cement, which had to suck.
In fact, Ciampa took such a brutal beating in this match that I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up back on the injured reserve for a little while. He clearly had a swollen face and a black eye toward the end of the match, and while I’m sure he was selling his knee damage, there’s no way that surgically-repaired body part feels perfect after that contest.
The ending was probably the best ending NXT has constructed since Sami Zayn won the NXT Championship off Neville, or at least since Bayley/Sasha I at TakeOver: Brooklyn. Leading up to it, each man revisited their half of #DIY’s joint finisher, neither could score a three count, proving they need (or at least used to need) each other more than either currently want to admit. Ciampa connects with his second Project Ciampa (aka that absolutely insane powerbomb into a lung blower), this time from off the second rope, but Gargano, who at this point is running purely on instinct, manages to kick out in a way that feels purely from muscle memory. It certainly isn’t for self-preservation.
At this point, Gargano is fighting for his livelihood, and he retrieves a crutch, ostensibly to beat Ciampa so badly he will give up on his own accord. The two have already slapped each other silly, reminiscent of the final exchange of their 2016 meeting in the Cruiserweight Classic, but as Gargano winds up to destroy his nemesis, he realizes Ciampa is defenseless, and he stops. He remembers when Ciampa was about to knock his head off with a running knee back in the CWC, but took sympathy on him as Gargano was the one unable to defend himself back then. Then, it happens: Johnny Gargano offers mercy to the person in the world he hates the most. Not just a person who has wronged him or disrespected him; a person who destroyed Gargano’s career and passion twice over, and was looking for a hat trick. This is the person Johnny Gargano decides to pardon.
And then, like Scar fighting Simba, Ciampa seemingly accepts his fate as Gargano’s lesser, only to take one last swipe at his enemy, borne out of a dark heart that’s too far gone to be redeemed. But unlike Simba, Gargano immediately sees it coming and is able to reverse it into an STF with Ciampa’s own knee brace pulled tightly across the face of the F*ckface, resulting in a near-instant submission.
Holy sh*t. Pro wrestling is awesome, you guys.
So that’s that: Johnny Gargano is officially back in NXT, at least until this feud with Tommaso Ciampa comes to an end. I don’t see that happening for a while, though: I fully expect gimmick matches in the pair’s future, whether it’s a steel cage or last man standing or something new entirely. It seems foolish to keep Gargano in NXT forever, and I hope he gets called up before the year is out, even if that means he never gets a run with the NXT Championship. But he doesn’t need a title to be the true champion of NXT — he just needs integrity.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of NXT TakeOver: New Orleans
Late match added to the Takeover card: Pat McAfee vs. Scott Norton, winner gets to install their software on your computer
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
So, you throw Ricochet at stuff and he just bounces back? How is that…oh, right.
Shayna Blazer didn’t actually win, she faked the Moon landing.
I can’t wait for Vega vs. Bliss on 2 Foot 5 Live
Zelina doesn’t like what she’s Cien. I mean, Andrade was Almas done right there.
Baron Von Raschke
Why did they give Ciampa Roman’s music?
Son Of Tony Zane
I was saying “Boomaso Ciampa.”
:Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are watching Gargano vs. Ciampa:
Kevin Owens: What kind of a person does this to his best friend?
:Sami just stares as Owens:
Kevin Owens: What?
Two people in need and only one crutch available…is this NXT or a VA Hospital?
HHH: Good luck following THAT, Wrestlemania!
Steph: Uh, you know we’re on the card too, right?
Next Week: We get the NXT TakeOver: New Orleans pre-show, including Lacey Evans vs. Nikki Cross and a debut of a brand new tag team! See you then.
Have you checked out our WrestleMania podcast?
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