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The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: NXT TakeOver: Chicago II


"T@^&*%A NITONG FEUD NA 'TO," were the exact words on my notes as I watched Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa II on a lazy Monday afternoon. I mean, can we sue Triple H, his off-screen daughters, Ciampa, and Gargano for the emotional distress that this feud has caused a lot of us?

All the exaggeration aside, Gargano vs. Ciampa II was somehow much more brutal and emotional than the first one (and that already made me ugly-cry in a wrestling match for the first time!). Sure, some things did not make sense mid-match—like when authorities were keeping Gargano from finishing a match that should end in a pinfall or submission, but then a referee suddenly appeared when Tommaso was pinning Johnny—but do we really need to have logic in a brawl like theirs?

That minor detail didn't matter. Everyone was so drawn to the brutality and drama that this fight brought to the table. Everyone was so drawn to the descent into madness by our beloved underdog in Johnny Gargano, and it was all the Psycho Killer had wanted, after all.

As Gargano strayed further from the light, Ciampa sped it up in the most disrespectful way: by taking his wedding ring and spitting on it (he is irreplaceable, after all). After he took him down with an air raid crash on the table, Johnny slowly realized that he wasn't wearing his wedding ring, and ran amok on his former #DIY partner—referees, medics, and authorities be damned—as he was wheeled out on a stretcher. Gargano handcuffed him and let out a slew of offense a la The Rock and Mankind, except with Superkicks.

Our unicorn of a pure babyface just turned into a monster right in front of our eyes and it eventually became his downfall. Gargano wanted to bring the hurt further on his former friend, and it made him open to a second rope DDT on an exposed ring by Ciampa for a pinfall victory, evening the field between the two.

Beyond the pinfall victory, Ciampa didn't only win the match, he is winning the war. Gargano's now as broken as him. We now know the lengths these two will go to destroy each other, but when is enough enough?

Borrowing the words from the Psycho Killer mid-match: "It's not enough! You don't know, they don't know. I know. It's not enough!"

Holy shit.



*****

Rest of the show

  • The Undisputed ERA (Kyle O'Reilly and Roderick Strong with Adam Cole) def. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch to retain the NXT Tag Team Championship: A very good opener that set the tone for the entire show. While the Undisputed ERA are the arrogant, little shits that we absolutely love hate seeing on our screens, let's never forget that they are also excellent with the wrestling, and they know it. They just freaking know it, which was immensely annoying and made me root for the BritAm Brawlers even more (even though I wasn't expecting them to win). The largely pro-ERA crowd realized this mid-match and their boos for the (supposed) babyfaces turned into standing ovations because this was a well-deserved coming-out party for the underrated duo.

    With four of the most hard-hitting, technically-sound people on the roster all sharing the same ring, we got a ton of kicks, forearms, limb-breaking, reversals, and pinfall kick-outs to submission moves ad infinitum which made it the most compelling match on the card, sans the drama and flash that the other matches offered. The drama and thrill came naturally: one spot saw O'Reilly trying to apply the armbar on Burch, but Burch had the monkey grip on. The camera closed up on Burch's hands until only one finger was holding his hands together and it slowly lost grip (man, whatever happened to camera angles adding drama to matches?).

    Both teams played their roles excellently. The Brawlers aren't ready for a tag team title run (yet), but they sure made a lot of waves for their TakeOver debuts. As for the ERA, outside the kayfabe of Adam Cole's involvement, they showed that they are deserving to be on the top of NXT food chain.
  • Ricochet def. Velveteen Dream: Boy, I have never been so wrong in thinking that a loss by the Velveteen Dream in this match will be a setback. NXT, after all, is a developmental territory, where they make stars (and are pretty good at it). Sure, Dream was already a star after his feud with Aleister Black last year, but this angle and match with Ricochet further proved that his years in the business are merely numbers.

    Not sure if it was just me or it really was the pacing of the match following a red-hot tag team title opener, but they started off pretty slowly with headlocks and chain wrestling. The crowd was definitely hot from the get-go, especially after Dream went all-out in his gear, hitting two birds in paying homage to Ricochet's Prince Puma character on Lucha Underground and the animosity surrounding Hulk Hogan. They even did their own version of The Rock and Hogan's face-off at WrestleMania X8 where they also played on the crowds reactions!

    The overarching story in this match was Dream outdoing Ricochet and vice versa. The Dream, after all, did claim that whatever Ricochet does, he could do better. It was 20-plus minutes of both competitors just stealing moves from one another, and it was fun. In contrast to Dream's feud with Aleister Black, which was filled with mind games, he needed mind games and athleticism in order to defeat the relatively experienced Ricochet.

    In a way, Dream cost himself the victory though, as he lost himself, little by little as the match went on. He eventually became more focused on being Ricochet, instead of beating him at his game and more. The finish saw Dream attempting to do a coast-to-coast Purple Rainmaker on Ricochet, and failing miserably, making him open to the patented 630 senton.

    Really good stuff from both guys. Storytelling in matches, wow, what a concept.
  • Shayna Baszler def. Nikki Cross to retain the NXT Women's Championship: This match focused on the pace and character development of both women instead of trying to be at par with the fast-paced, action-packed matches it preceded. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I loved it, actually. The story was something that they had built on: Nikki being unfazed at Shayna's bullying; and Shayna being in an unfamiliar territory because she hasn't faced someone like Nikki. Both women have a very good grasp of their characters, and it showed.

    The finish saw Shayna reversing a second pinfall attempt by Nikki after a top rope neckbreaker to a Kirifuda Clutch. Nikki tried her best in escaping and reaching to the ropes, but she eventually gave in and seemingly enjoyed the pain instead, as she faded to sleep. I might be biased, but I don't care. This is one of my most favorite wrestling finishes ever.

    With SAnitY's Twisted Sister failing to take the crown from Shayna, the question now is who would dare step up against the Queen of Spades?

    Now, please excuse me as I come to terms with Nikki Cross never becoming the NXT Women's Champion.
  • Aleister Black def. Lars Sullivan to retain the NXT Championship: I am so glad that this match exceeded my expectations. There wasn't a lot to it: Lars was the monster he was built to become, dominating and outpowering the champion whenever there was an opening. He tried to bring the champ down by targeting Black's leg so he wouldn't be able to hit the Black Mass. Aleister was resilient in chopping down the tree, eventually hitting two Black Masses for the win.

    Frankly speaking, this wasn't at par with the NXT title matches that we know, but good enough to keep us at the edge of our seats (the only downside was the missed Black Mass at the latter part of the match which Lars bumped for anyway, making it look weird). Lars worked his butt off in his first big spotlight moment and ultimately came out a made man after this. Black wasn't a slouch either, as expected; he definitely was partly responsible in making Sullivan look good.
*****
It's a TakeOver. It's supposed to be good. Now if you still haven't seen this after three days, what is wrong with you? Another A show from the black-and-yellow brand.

Photos from @totaldivaseps and WWE.com


*****

Ardelle Costuna works for a news organization somewhere along Timog Avenue whenever she's not watching wrestling. A renewed fan, she only knew of Shawn Michaels' (her wrestling first love) retirement just two years ago. She's currently drowning in a lot of shows she missed, but she's loving every minute of it. You can catch her crying over some damn good wrestling and swooning over Kenny Omega at @ardellelledra.

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