Previously on NXT TakeOver: We’ve finally made it to NXT TakeOver XXV, the 26th NXT live special, remembering that NXT Arrival never gets any love. If you’d like to go back and check out our favorite memories from each of the previous shows, click here.
If you missed this show, you can watch it here. If you’d like to read previous installments of the Best and Worst of NXT, click right here. Follow With Spandex on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter, where everything and everyone is terrible.
And now, the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: Connecticut, originally aired on June 1, 2019.
Best In Show, Holy Crap: Matt Riddle Vs. Roderick Strong
Going into the show, Matt Riddle vs. Roderick Strong was the match I was least excited about. I’ve never been much of a fan of Strong in singles matches unless he’s getting wristlocked into helplessness by Bryan Danielson for 58 minutes, and there wasn’t really anything on the line. Keep in mind that “the match I was least excited about” on TakeOver is still EXTREMELY EXCITING, but this is where I was at. As it stands, I think Riddle vs. Strong was my favorite match of the night.
It’s a simple review, honestly; it’s two extremely athletic guys beating the absolute ever-loving shit out of each other, and dropping these bonkers move chain combos that not only would’ve pinned me, but put me somewhere between critical condition and the grave. I can’t imagine looking at Matt Riddle in his current form, having these matches he’s having and connecting with people the way he is, and not having your eyeballs turn into big green cartoon dollar signs. It’s like they put Brock Lesnar and Kerry Von Erich into a cocoon and out stepped a shoeless Adam Warlock. And to throw some love at Strong, that guy has never looked or moved better.
One of the things that makes NXT so good is its adherence to internal logic. Since the feud between Strong and Riddle was based largely on Strong attacking Riddle and injuring his ribs, the ribs are the focal point of Strong’s attack. That makes sense because he’s the backbreakers guy. There are way too many matches where a guy who hurts your legs for a finisher spends the entire match working your arm. Based on this, Riddle not only sells the back on defense, but sells it on offense, and uses a surprise counter to the ribs as a big transition multiple times. It’s the core story of the match, pun intended. In the end, Riddle’s ribs are too weak to fully lock in the Bro-mission, and Strong’s going to break out. So Riddle switches it up, stuns him with elbows, and then transitions up into an inverted Gotch Neutralizer with a terrible, terrible name, and wins. He didn’t just mindlessly power through his injuries because “adrenaline,” he adapted and changed his plan of attack to something Strong wasn’t anticipating.
I was going to expound on where I think they’re going with this and why, but UPROXX reader Dean Ambrose Is My Eskimo Brother — congratulations — nailed it in a comment on our results post.
With the way Riddle was selling the back I thought that was going to be their out as to why Riddle, who they are clearly grooming to be the top guy (as they should), would lose to a lower-ranked UE member. You have Strong win, build up that UE is once again a massive threat to everyone, then you have Riddle beat Strong on weekly TV in a rematch and have him run through the rest of UE until he gets to Cole in Toronto (or if you want to stretch it out, War Games). But that’s just off the top of my head. And if my only “complaint” after a show is “maybe this guy should have won so they can continue the story in this way” then it was a pretty darn good show. NXT has earned all the faith that they will tell these stories correctly.
Top shelf, exciting stuff to open the show. Now I’ll only be mildly upset if Riddle’s promise to show up on Raw Monday night doesn’t happen and end with him as Universal Champion.
Best: Kyle O’Reilly’s Final Destination
After a teenager has a terrifying vision of him and his friends dying in a plane crash, he prevents the accident only to have Death hunt them down, one by one.
At TakeOver, Kyle O’Reilly had a terrifying vision of him and his friends dying in this NXT Tag Team Championship ladder match, and then we watched 22 minutes of Undisputed Era being hunted down by Death. My only operable theory is that O’Reilly watched Finn Bálor get beaten within an inch of his life at Money in the Bank and was like, “hold my beer.” Or “hold my Rainbow Unicorn Bang energy drink,” whatever Kyle O’Reilly drinks.
Everyone in the match delivers, but poor, poor Kyle. Here he is getting pushed off a ladder and you think he’s gonna do the “fall onto the top rope armpit-first” sell, but nope, he lands spine first on the ladder.
Then almost immediately afterward, the Forgotten Sons get double German suplexed with a ladder on their heads and nobody checked to see if, you know, Kyle O’Reilly was crawling around in the ring behind them. Watch closely as the ladder almost javelins itself into his ribs.
And then not too long after that, while Mauro is screaming at the top of his lungs about how Kyle O’Reilly has taken more punishment than the human body should realistically allow, brother gets powerbombed into the ladder and has his tag team partner fall directly on top of him, knees-first to the gut. O’Reilly eats so much Fish here I’m surprised he didn’t die of mercury poisoning.
If O’Reilly had just calmly rolled out of the ring, walked up the aisle, grabbed his stuff out of the locker room, and left the arena without saying a word to anyone, I would’ve understood. Incredibly, it’s Bobby Fish who ends the night in a sling for unclear reasons. The next time UE has a match like this, I hope Mel Gibson directs it and the commentary team calls it in Aramaic.
Best: Championship Swag
While O’Reilly was the match’s Most Violent Player, I think the real athletic star was Montez Ford. Because of course it was Montez Ford. Can you believe that the Street Profits never made it onto a TakeOver card until now? It feels like I’ve been typing “Montez Ford is secretly the best dude on this show” forever.
He gets two especially notable moments here:
- a “long jump” dive onto the outside where he … well, where he jumps over a ladder, over the top rope, and like the entire length between the ring and the aisle on a dive. He doesn’t hit it as clean as he probably wanted, but if you go back and watch, he’s practically jumping to the floor from the middle of the ring. There’s not a lot of space between a ladder moving toward his legs and dead-center. Insane.
- a springboard from somewhere off-screen onto the ladder for the finish, where he scares Wesley Blake so much it only takes one punch to send him falling off with his arms flailing. It’s awesome. The wide shot replay showing the bounce was great, but for once that “zoom in as tight as possible” WWE production note created an actual surprise. There was like a 15% chance Randy Orton was gonna show up and RKO Blake off the ladder there.
So yeah, the Street Profits are finally Tag Team Champions, and although they really should’ve beaten the War Raiders on their way out, all is right with the world. Enjoy the first championship of many, Tez. God is good. And congratulations to Angelo Dawkins for being undefeated at Takeover!
Worst: This Guy Again
The only “Worst” of the entire show is the appearance of our old friend Jaxson Ryker. If you want to know how much of a wet fart this guy is, he interfered in the middle of a balls-out ladder match with insane momentum and grinded the entire thing to a screeching halt. The crowd “ooohs” his first couple of things, because they’re into it, but when he just kinda tips over the ladder with Dawkins on the second rung and then stands around doing … nothing, for what feels like forever, the momentum is dead. The teams involved are good enough to pick it back up, but holy shit, enough with the Jaxson Ryker. Gunner is a non-starter, guys.
While he’s finally getting dispatched, we get this shot:
KYLE, BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR SPINE.
As I made pretty clear in the Best and Worst of NXT from a couple of weeks ago, Velveteen Dream vs. Tyler Breeze was very important to me as a lover of the absurd who has been watching NXT on a weekly basis since its inception. I’m surprised I could get into it at all after listening to Sam Roberts bury the shit out of Tyler Breeze on the pre-show. Hey, you know what’s a good idea? Hyping a big event by talking at length about how terrible a wrestler is and how embarrassing the product’s been. Can we put the pre-show panel into whatever crate we’re shipping Phil Shatter away in and replace them with Queen Cathy, Shawn Michaels, and maybe a third person who might try to be good at this?
Anyway, Dream vs. Breeze was more subdued than the other matches on the card — pretty standard for Dream’s big matches, as we’ve pointed out he’s very much a classic “pro wrestler” and gets over by working the opposite style of the majority of the performers on the show — but a great return to form for Breeze. Breeze was always the “good hand,” even in NXT, and him winning big matches was never a thing. If anything, bringing Breeze back and giving him some emotional weight to his story could make him an even bigger fish in this smaller but expanding pond, and transform him from what amounts to a Magical Girl character into a three-dimensional persona with an edge. Dream’s already very good at this, because they learned from their mistakes with Breeze and applied it to a new character from the word go. He can make shit turn purple when he raises his arms, but he can also get serious and drop elbows on you until you’re dust.
Tyler Breeze will always be my jam, and I’m really happy for him. Also, have you ever seen someone set up or sell an Unprettier better than this?
So bad-ass. Now be friends! Or better yet, bring season 4 winner Johnny Curtis back to NXT and have Dream and Dirty Curty battle for Breeze’s affections.
Best: Io No She Didn’t
The biggest shocker of the night for me was Shayna Baszler choking out Io Shirai and making her tap. As much as I love Baszler, which I’d wager is more than anyone reading this who isn’t related to her, the constant “are they gonna call her up and turn her into Better Ronda Rousey?” stuff and the general fabulousness of Io Shirai made it seem like a sure thing. Shayna’s reign has been going on for a long time now, with only that little Kairi Sane vacation somewhere in the middle, and we’re all kinda sorta waiting for the next women’s division “transitional” phase. You know, like when 3 of the 4 Horsewomen of NXT got called up, or when Asuka got left with not much more than Liv Morgan, or when Shayna and Kairi had to step in from the Mae Young Classic and take over the division.
Regardless, one of my very favorite things about NXT is how they can do the exact opposite of what you were expecting as a fan, but you barely care because it was so entertaining. Internally consistent, constructive, whatever positively connotative word you want to use there. They’re always DOING something, even if it’s not what you expect or want them to do.
The best part of the match is that it finally triggers the rise of Actual Io Shirai. If you only know her from NXT, you might think she’s another nice but tough Japanese lady. In reality, she’s … kind of a megalomaniacal monster who will kill you the fuck to death if you inconvenience or wrong her in any way. For example, this is what she does if you try to take liberties with her in the ring:
And this is what she does if she loses.
The announce team’s nervous calls about her being a poor sport and going too far in the loss, especially since Candice LeRae had shown up to cut off the interference from the other Horsewomen and more or less made it as fair of a match as it was going to be, were great. The audience was still chanting “you deserve it” to Shayna after the beatdown because yeah, she probably does, but that’s just going to make her madder.
Request: Give us an “unsanctioned” or “extreme rules” Shayna Baszler vs. Io Shirai NXT Women’s Championship rematch and let it main-event the next TakeOver. Let them go 35 minutes and set a new standard in North American women’s wrestling brutality. Let them try to top Io Shirai vs. Pentagon from Lucha Underground. Just give her something to jump off of.
Best: Always Be My Bay Bay
Finally we have the rematch between Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano, with Gargano fulfilling his destiny as the most Sami Zayn NXT Champion since … [checks notes] Sami Zayn.
I really adore how they put this match together. It might not be “as good” as the New York match (what is?), but it’s neck-and-neck with it in my eyes for taking the story they started telling in Brooklyn and moving it into its next chapter. If the 2-out-of-3 falls match happened as a last minute audible without any story behind it, XXV shows us that there’s still a story being told, and that the brilliant Gargano/Ciampa storytelling wasn’t an anomaly. It’s the standard now.
In New York, Adam Cole wrestled a perfect first fall on his own merits and beat Gargano fair and square. In the second and third falls he had trouble putting Gargano away and panicked, deciding to abandon his skill and talent in favor of taking shortcuts and bringing in outside interference. That ended up costing him, and Gargano took two straight falls to become the champion. You can read the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver New York for a more detailed breakdown of this. The story on the weekly shows became that Cole thinks he should be champion because he won the first fall — not how 2-out-of-3 falls matches work — and Gargano pointing out that Cole can’t seem to accomplish anything without his boys.
It’s a consistent story beat for Cole. He didn’t need the Undisputed Era to win the North American Championship at TakeOver New Orleans; he fought by himself, survived an absolute war zone, and ended up topping five top competitors. He just has an undercurrent of second-guessing himself, which is pretty common among narcissists. He KNOWS he’s the best, and will do anything, including cheat his ass off, to “prove it,” even though cheating works counterproductive to disprove it.
In Connecticut, Cole calls Gargano’s bluff.
The match is a stellar recontextualizing of the first fall from Brooklyn, with Cole trying to wrestle the perfect match against Gargano. He works Johnny’s knee, which is a great use of Internet rumors that popped up before the show saying Johnny was dealing with a knee injury. Worked or not, it’s now part of the story. That’s SO GOOD. Johnny does what Johnny does, which is fight until his heart gives out and take a ridiculous amount of damage. Usually he’s able to persevere, because it frustrates his opponents and gets them off their game.
Instead of getting off his game, Cole comes into the match prepared to deal with it. He even uses a fake-out “call the Undisputed Era down to interfere” bit to play with Johnny’s emotions and turn the game on HIM, because if Johnny has any weakness as a character, it’s that he’s very easy to emotionally manipulate. Dream did it in their TV match, Ciampa made a sport of it, and now Cole’s figuring out that if he wants to win the match, he just has to strategize differently. Throughout the entire thing Cole keeps coming back to the knee, and that’s ultimately what does Johnny in; he’s able to withstand a Panama Sunrise, but he can’t get up to his feet quickly enough to avoid a second and final attack.
So that means the story of the match includes:
- pre-match foreshadowing in the hype video, which showed Johnny touring Cleveland and doing fun promotional stuff while Cole trained his ass off, suggesting that Cole would be the one with a plan for the match
- introducing Johnny’s knee injury as either a work or a shoot to add drama to the match
- having Cole smartly focus on the injured body part the entire time, and had the limb work actually affect the action in the match, both on offense and defense
- having the limb work affect the FINISH of the match, which is a period at the end of a sentence a lot of even brilliant in-ring workers forget to include
- pays off the plot point that Cole could win big matches against anyone if he just stopped being a petulant asshole and wrestled to the best of his ability
- recontextualizes Johnny as someone who made it to the top but couldn’t stay there, which is similar to his North American Championship run (because a hot-hearted babyface is always better chasing a title than being the champion)
- suggests that if Cole doesn’t need Undisputed Era to win his matches, and if Cole has been dealing with the group threatening to split up for the past couple of months, they could be headed into some major changes in the near future
- gives Matt Riddle an end goal in his quest to take out the Undisputed Era
Amazing work, and that’s 26 straight “pay-per-views” without crying “it’s hard to write good shows” and disappointing us. Learn from your own example, WWE.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
AEW: Hold our beer
NXT: Gladly, hold both of ours.
Vince: HAHA, WHAT IF THE BEER WAS PEE?
-Never catch a chair if RVD throws it at you
-Never try to powerbomb Billy Kidman
-Never bridge back against Shayna Baszler
The Real Birdman
I will never understand how Riddle can do this barefoot. I would break all ten toes in my first jump.
These guys are fighting like they have been told the losers have to go to Raw to play corn hole or something.
Jushin Thunder Bieber
*air guitars along to a requiem for Kyle O’Reilly’s spine*
Not A Crook
if they have a third match the finish is going to be a stabbing
When did Lio Rush get glasses?
Cole: where the hell were you guys!?
Fish: At Kyle’s funeral Adam, where were you!?
Me every time they try and convince me SuperShow Down is going to be better than, or exceed Wrestlemania.
That’s it for TakeOver, featuring AEW’s own Britt Baker! We better see Adam Cole in the front row at an AEW show wearing a Britt Baker t-shirt one of these days. Possibly with the NXT Championship on his shoulder.
As for fans, this should be another in five years of illustrations for how wrestling shows can and should look in modern WWE. If you’re unhappy, demand satisfaction.
Yes, exactly like that.
Drop a comment down below to let us know what you thought of the show, give us a share on social media so we can try to get like 1/3 the people who read about Raw to read about WWE’s actual good branch of programming, and be here on Wednesday for the 1-hour pre-show extravaganza. Thanks for reading.