SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Women’s War Games
Shotzi Blackheart, Rhea Ripley, Ember Moon & Io Shirai vs. Candace LaRae, Dakota Kai, Raquel Gonzales & Toni Storm
Kicking the night off with a bang, Women’s War Games! Shotzi upgraded her tank, complete with an air cannon which came into play right off the bat when she launched some projectile at Dakota Kai, standing in the cage. Kai and Ember Moon started for their respective teams with about 50/50 offense. Shotzi Blackheart entered next, as the face team won the advantage this past Wednesday. She brought a toolbox into the ring with her, but it didn’t become relevant until much later in the match. You knew that there was this box full of weapons sitting there, lurking, looming. Never knowing when the time would come for it to strike!
Gonzales followed by Ripley entered 4th and 5th. Ripley eventually opened the toolbox, revealing a very fake looking sledgehammer. She beat Kai senseless with it, and threw it on the ground in such a way that it bounced like a rubber ball. I’ve never been a fan of the sledge as a weapon for all of those very reasons. Storm entered 6th followed by Shirai 7th and LaRae brought up the rear as the last women in the match.
There was a tower of doom spot in the middle of the match that was so contrived that, after thinking on it, it was what tipped the scales to a miss. Not only did it take a long time to set up, you could audibly hear a countdown so they could pull the move off at the same time. In contrast, I really liked the fact that Storm barricaded the door so Shirai couldn’t enter. It allowed for the Hartwell run-in and evened out that initial advantage that Team Shotzi had. Raquel pinning the NXT Champion gives credibility to her, yet makes me think she’ll probably stay in that gatekeeper, giantess role and never touch the gold.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the match. But there were too many gimmicks, including Shirai diving off the cage onto all the women while wearing a garbage can. Too many contrived spots that looked fake or took too long to set up. Maybe my expectations were higher than they should have been? But, I didn’t nearly enjoy this as much as I had hoped to.
Verdict: I really wanted to like this match, but it’s getting a rare MISS from me.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Timothy Thatcher
April 21, 2016. The day that I saw my all time favorite in-person match at a live NXT event. No, not the main event where Samoa Joe beat Finn Balor for the NXT Championship (AT A HOUSE SHOW! I couldn’t believe it when I walked out of the building without them reversing that decision). Oney Lorcan vs. Tommaso Ciampa in one of the early undercard matches. I mention that match, because Thatcher and Lorcan are very similar in their grappling styles. Needless to say, I went into this match very excited, hoping to see something as energetic and brutal as Lorcan vs. Ciampa.
At first, I was disappointed. Lorcan vs. Ciampa back at that 2016 house show was a slugfest, a brutal brawl. This wasn’t nearly as much of a fight as I thought it might be. But halfway through the match it dawned on me, the story of the match isn’t a fist fight. It’s for bragging rights. Who is the best catch-as-catch-can grappler?
So I started the match over after a little while, and re-watched it through that lens. The brutality was certainly there, however it wasn’t energetic and explosive. It was a more old-school match where they slowed things way down and told a story. They worked body parts, stretched limbs and tried to turn the other into human pretzels. This may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but thoroughly enjoyed the back and forth offense and “never give up” attitude that both men conveyed. All while doing exactly the opposite of what you’d expect in NXT. Slowing the match down.
I can understand Ciampa getting the win and keeping your top star strong. But where does Thatcher go from here? He’s lost nearly every major feud, if not every major feud, that he’s been in.
Dexter Lumis vs. Cameron Grimes – Strap Match
The only thing that not only this match, but this feud, has going for it is the brilliance of Cameron Grimes. I haven’t been the biggest supporter of Lumis as of late, as I got into on PWT Talks NXT this past week. Long story short, these two were going to need to seriously deliver to draw me in and invest me in this match.
Right off the bat, they didn’t score any points with me. Why would the ref allow Grimes to use his own strap and not the one sanctioned by the company? Then, in the middle of a pandemic, Grimes tries jumping the protective barrier between the ring area and the live crowd. Deduct a few more points.
Admittedly, I found myself getting more invested than I originally expected. They were able to use the strap effectively where it made a difference in the match, but it wasn’t overused. With another Lumis win, I’m hoping that this is the end of the feud and Grimes can move on to bigger and better.
Leon Ruff vs. Damian Priest vs. Johnny Gargano – North American Championship
As “main roster” as this feud has felt, I’ve strangely enjoyed it. Leon Ruff has played the somewhat delusional underdog extremely well and both Priest and Gargano have done a fantastic job playing off of the “fluke champion”. Going into the match, I could make a case for any of the three men to win. Allow Ruff to retain, give him somewhat of a small run with the title, and allow Priest and Gargano to move into a singles feud. Allow Gargano to win his belt back and try to prove he can actually defend it. Or allow Priest to win and have a dominant run with the belt around his waist, as his first reign felt anything but dominant.
Ruff was taken out early in the match. Gargano and Priest went at it for so long, I actually forgot this was a triple threat until Vic Joseph reminded us of Ruff’s existence. Now, I’m not complaining. Gargano and Priest have great chemistry and work extremely well together. Ruff actually held his own once he re-entered the match too, getting offense in on both Priest and Gargano, including two near falls on the latter.
We thought there was only one more Ghostface. No. There was a “Retribution” amount of Ghostfaces. All masked, at least six or seven of them rushed the ring and were all taken out like fragile referees by Priest. There was one “Super Ghostface” who was physically larger than the rest and had a lead pipe, using it against Priest and allowing Gargano to pin Ruff to recapture the title.
I liked everything about this except the army of Ghostfaces. We’re supposed to believe that Gargano and LaRae have a cult of masked marauders? Oh and hey, it was Austin Theory all along! Predictable. As. Hell.
Verdict: HIT (Except the Ghostfaces)
Men’s War Games
Undisputed Era vs. Pat McAfee, Pete Dunne, Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch
Kyle O’Reilly and Pete Dunne started things off in what some might consider a dream match. They worked so well together in that five minutes, it was incredible. Excellent grappling, incredibly smooth and actually believable.
My man Oney Lorcan entered next, aiding his teammate Pete Dunne. KOR was decimated by the two for the next five minutes until Bobby Fish entered the ring. Fish came to his tag partner’s rescue and they were able to make a bit of a comeback until Danny Burch entered the match next with a cricket bat. Roderick Strong entered next, and the three members of Undisputed Era took the upper hand once again. McAfee entered last for his team, bringing tables in with him. All of the tables had the UE logo spray painted on them and the name of a UE member. Cole entered last with a fire extinguisher, of all things.
While there were still plenty of contrived spots and weapon usage in the 2nd wargames match of the night, the men were able to make it all look more believable. I needed less suspension of disbelief to believe the high spots in this match than the other.
The Undisputed Era win was also a feel-good win. 2020 has been a lousy year, to put it lightly. The last Takeover of the year should let us go home happy. Well. We are home. Because its 2020. You know what I mean.