Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE NXT: Johnny Gargano put his No. 1 Contendership on the line against Velveteen Dream to see who would face Andrade “Cien” Almas at TakeOver: Philadelphia. (SPOILER ALERT: Gargano won.)
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And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia. My mind is running outta gas, just relax and recap and relapse tonight.
Best: Phantom On The Horizon
Kicking off TakeOver: Philly were two-thirds of the mWo, complete with Kyle O’Reilly pulling his best Hollywood Hogan impression by playing air guitar on his tag team championship. (He also pulled his best Ric Flair impression a little bit later with a bizarre flop on the ring apron.) This match wasn’t a total barn-burner, but was a great way to open the show, and featured some picture-perfect examples of good tag team wrestling.
I absolutely loved how Authors Of Pain came right out and immediately went after these jokers before the bell even rang, and the first portion of the match, featuring a whole bunch of real-deal submissions, made the contest feel closer to MMA than WWE. AOP never officially had a face turn, but they knocked that role out of the park here, with Akam serving as the wounded hero fighting off the dastardly heels (I personally loved the schoolyard-bully spot where O’Reilly pushed Akam over Fish’s back). This was the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen these monsters, and Akam sold his knee like a champ. The flash roll-up was a good way to have AOP lose while still looking great (and hopefully sending them up to Raw or Smackdown immediately).
Worst: Nobody’s Perfect
Let’s just come right out and say it: Velveteen Dream/Kassius Ohno was not a very good match, and was certainly not up to TakeOver standards. I can’t even remember the last time a TakeOver match felt this disjointed and sloppy — probably something from the first handful of TakeOvers, when we were still getting Baron Corbin squashes and stuff like Bull Dempsey vs. Mojo Rawley. (Side note: It’s crazy to dig back through those early TakeOver cards. Like, did you remember that the Ascension defended the NXT tag titles against Too Cool at NXT Arrival? Too. F*cking. Cool.)
Here’s the thing: Very little of this is Dream’s fault, which makes it all even stranger — Kassius Ohno has been an expert pro wrestler for nearly two decades, and yet somehow, he looked like the rookie on Saturday night, collapsing when Dream tried to DDT him after a superkick and later completely ruining not one but two Death Valley Drivers. I don’t know if this was just a rare off-night for KO, or if this is an indication of his body finally starting to break down, but it was a bummer to see on a stage as big as this.
However, credit where credit is due: A huge Best goes out to all the character work Dream did, from having both male and female servants at his side delivering his mouthguard on a velvet pillow, to his dynamite airbrushed boxing gear (an homage to both Rocky and Rick Rude) to actually fulfilling his pre-match promise of knocking Ohno out within 30 seconds. (Kudos to the Philly crowd for remembering what he said and counting to 30 once the bell rang — very nice touch, y’all.)
Speaking of disjointed: This match is clearly going to split opinions. Personally? Not a fan. I was hoping Shayna Baszler would come right out of the box and wreck Ember Moon Brock Lesnar-style, and while she was certainly dominant for much of the contest, it was slow and methodical, and didn’t really have the crowd responding to much until the finishing sequence.
And oh boy, that finishing sequence: Ember Moon gets all the joints in her left arm heavily worked over the whole match. (Hence, “disjointed.” I’m a comedian!) She then bravely/stupidly goes for her finishing move, the Eclipse, which requires two good arms to pull off, and she miraculously hits it, injuring herself further in the process. Okay, babyfaces are frequently as stupid as they are courageous, I can accept this. She then gets caught by Baszler and thrown into repeated arm-bar attempts for — no joke — two-and-a-half minutes straight before Moon lays on top of her and gets a flash pin while still in the submission hold.
And yes, you can argue that Baszler never had the submission fully locked in because Moon continually was fighting, but this match was only 10 minutes long total, and you spent 25 percent of that time on your finish, which indicates that 1)Baszler, who was a professional MMA fighter, can’t even lock in an arm bar, and 2)Baszler, who is now a professional wrestler, isn’t aware when her shoulders are being pressed to the mat. What the f*ck, guys. Sure, Baszler choked her out after the match to get some heat back, but the damage has been done
Supplemental Worst for the commentary team not mentioning that Baszler was targeting the same arm Moon injured last year. That was the easiest connect-the-dots layup ever, and y’all missed it.
I was going to award a supplemental Best for Moon’s sell-job in the ring, as she really made me feel her pain for the entirety of that match, but then I saw this backstage video, and … well, see for yourself:
Best: You Got A Death Wish, Johnny Truant?
In lieu of writing some flowery prose for this Extreme Rules match, I want to show you my notes as I watched along:
ali black/adam cole
BAY BAY COUNT: 1
cole’s biggest singles match to date in NXT
cole gets chair within 30 seconds
ali pulls a hideo itami sitting on the chair
cole gets kendo stick, so does black, then he throws it away
BRUTAL shot to black’s stomach doing flippy shit
whoa where did that blood come from?
electric chair ONTO the ladder fuck me you guys!
cole hits van daminator on black who falls through the tables! creative spot
THAT CHAIR SPOT SUCKS, cole’s back must be KILLING him
black smashes chair into cole’s face, should’ve gotten three, TUE interferes, here comes sanity
fuck that was a good-ass spot, stomping cole through announce table
So, yeah. It was a total spotfest, but do you know how hard it is to be innovative with WWE-approved weaponry in 2018? How hard is it to do anything unique in a wrestling ring in 2018? Just when you think everything’s been done, you see stuff like Adam Cole having his spinal cord severed on two steel chairs placed back to back, and you remember that the guys who have made it to WWE are there for a reason, and it’s not just athleticism; it’s creativity.
I’m stoked Black won (and even more that my pre-TakeOver prediction was 100 percent correct, because my back hadn’t been patted in a while), and I’m happy that Cole finally has a singles match worth writing home about in NXT.
Where does the Undisputed Era go next? It looks like into a trios situation against SAnitY, which will presumably peak at TakeOver: New Orleans — the same place where, if NXT creative is smart, Aleister Black will win his first NXT Championship.
Best: I Just Got This Symphony Goin’
And speaking of the NXT Championship:
At 32 minutes and 22 seconds, Andrade “Cien” Almas and Johnny Gargano was the longest singles match in TakeOver history, and the second-longest match overall (WarGames was 36:37, in case you were wondering). And the brilliant thing about Almas/Gargano was it never felt bloated, or purposely slowed down, or like the two competitors were stalling for time (looking at you, Bobby Roode’s TakeOver main events).
I’m honestly not sure how to even write about this match. As a proud Clevelander, I’m totally a Gargano homer, and I’ve been plenty critical of Almas in this run as someone who hasn’t inspired a crowd at all and can’t cut a promo, but both of these men were completely on fire — and it’s a testament to both of them that they carried this match for as long as they did with a crowd that had already been through a roller coaster for the past two-plus hours. Highlights:
- Almas’ entrance looked awesome: Backed by a mariachi band, he steps out in the colors of Mexico wearing his La Sombra mask, and it made me finally take him seriously.
- Go back and rewatch this thing, if you haven’t yet: The first handful of minutes is pretty much nothing but lucha libre tumbling, with minimal serious contact. It gave Almas a chance to find his rhythm early, which let both performers settle into their styles nicely.
- I loved the bit where Almas – who supposedly has outgrown being a showboat thanks to Zelina Vega — still hits tranquilo into the ropes, allowing Gargano to slide under him, trying to outsmart Almas, only to get briefly caught by Cien — who then gets immediately outsmarted by Gargano as he hits a devastating slingshot spear. The pacing of this spot was bonkers, and speaks volumes as to how well these two work together.
- Another example of that perfect chemistry is when Almas went for his hammerlock DDT on the apron, which Gargano blocks and turns into a slingshot DDT over the top rope onto the apron. This match was seriously like watching Picasso paint.
- Shoutout to Almas hitting the Tree of Woe on Gargano on the outside of the ring. That looked 10,000 times better (and more painful) than any time Alberto Del Rio ever did it.
At some point, right around when Candice LeRae jumped the barricade to fight off Zelina Vega, I stopped actively taking notes and just sat back and appreciated the masterpiece that was being created right in front of me. Almas and Gargano did such a good job with this contest — easily one of the best matches in NXT history, and certainly a star-making and champion-validating performance for Almas — that I almost, almost thought Tommaso Ciampa wasn’t going to show up to cost Gargano the title. Then we got a clean finish (well deserved, by the way), followed by yet another end-title ruse a la the end of TakeOver: Chicago, and then we got the attack of the killer Tommaso (all credit to With Spandex commenter Ryse).
Ciampa didn’t need to beat Gargano down; the man had already lost. All he had to do was make his presence known, and more importantly, make his presence felt. (Supplemental Best for Ciampa swinging that crutch at maximum velocity, and leaving a full imprint on Gargano’s back.)
Gargano’s entire singles feud with Almas has been based around the idea that maybe he couldn’t hang as a singles competitor, with the ghost of #DIY hanging above him. Even though he lost his big championship opportunity, he knew he brought the house down and proved to the world he could hang in the main event, finally shedding the #DIY albatross. But as Ciampa said way back in his heel-turn promo last May: “Newsflash: I am not a damn afterthought.”
This feud is going to be so awesome, y’all.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia
Well, if Akam’s Rezar has taught us anything it’s that the simplest gimmick is usually the correct one.
The Real Birdman
Akam? Damn near killed him
Baron Von Raschke
AOP has turned into something more than monsters
Patrick Clark has turned from a sentient American flag into Prince w/ “Say. My. Name.” as an over catchphrase.
RAW is on year three of trying to get Roman over.
Orlando Jordan is watching Velveteen Dream and a single tear rolls down his cheek.
The Real Birdman
Baroness Corbin about to choke a bitch.
Roman Reigns: “Why is Ember still selling the arm?”
John Cena: “You’ve got me. The match is over. Is she really hurt?”
:Daniel Bryan just stares at them in horrified disbelief:
Adam Cole & Aliester Black: “We just had the match of the night”
“Hold our beers” -Gargano & Almas
Attack of the Killer Tommaso
Next Week: We get the NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia pre-show! See you then.