NXT Takeover: Phoenix took place Saturday night at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. In NXT’s first Takeover trek to the “Grand Canyon State,” we saw the rematch between NXT Champion Tomaso Ciampa and number-one contender Aleister Black.
On the women’s front, we had Shayna Baszler put her NXT Women’s Championship on the line against the undefeated Bianca Belair. And elsewhere, we had an absolute barnburner of a North American Championship match between champion Ricochet and Johnny Gargano.
Undisputed Era (C) vs. War Raiders
I was a big fan of War Raiders medieval Viking entrance complete with shield-bearing extras and a siren of impending doom. Undisputed Era is still massively over and as long as they remain in NXT, the hardcore wrestling faithful will cherish them like kings of old. Undisputed Era jumped right out of the gate at the opening bell to knock the big men off their feet and sent the larger Hanson outside the ring. This is the proverbial “size vs. speed” match-up of wrestling lore, even though Hanson and Rowe move quite nimbly for guys their size. (Hanson cartwheeling around the ring will never cease to amaze me). Undisputed Era did a thought-out job of cutting the ring in half and trying to double-team the legal member of War Raiders in order to wear each of them down at several points during the match. Even though Hanson and Rowe looked like they squashed O’Reilly and Strong several times, the champions always seemed to find a way to stave off defeat and avoid the three-count. Shout-out to Roderick Strong for having the strength to lift up Hanson and Rowe multiple times during the match for big suplex spots, as well. The match ended with an impressive powerslam-powerbomb combo from Rowe before the final squash from Hanson to crown War Raiders the new NXT Tag Team Champions. A fantastic match to start off the show.
Winner: War Raiders Time: 16:57 Rating: 4 Stars
Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno
If there’s one guy on the NXT roster who you can almost guarantee will be the superstar of 2019, it’s got to be Matt Riddle. He has the wrestling ability, the UFC credibility, the charisma, the fan support and the gimmick necessary to get the gas put behind him in WWE. I’ll never understand why Kassius Ohno never received a better run in WWE, considering many of his independent wrestling compatriots in Samoa Joe and CM Punk at least enjoyed some form of recognition on the main card. That being said, I think the “grizzled veteran” gimmick he has now beating sense into new kids on the block really fits him well, especially up against someone as naturally likable as Riddle. I thought this match was a better showcase of each man’s skills than their previous two encounters, and it was highlighted by high-impact strikes from each man’s arsenal; mainly, lots of stomps and lots of slams. Ohno making the most of Riddle’s exposed foot (whether grinding his boot into Riddle’s foot or straight-out biting his big toe) was as brilliant as it was painful looking. I was a big fan of the finish of Riddle outright losing his cool and beating Ohno into total and unconditional submission. We now can see that when push comes to shove, Riddle can drop the happy-go-lucky, fun-loving personality he has and pick up the relentlessness of a possessed demon.
Winner: Matt Riddle Time: 9:17 Rating: 3 Stars
Ricochet (C) vs. Johnny Gargano
Even though he joined the NXT roster after the days of Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn, Johnny Gargano is an easy #1 candidate for “Mr. Takeover.” At this moment, he is about as close as we have to a “Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania” competitor who takes their matches to a whole other level on the big stage. Take it all in, everyone. Add in an irresistible force and a human Energizer Bunny in Ricochet flying all around the ring, and you have all the makings for another notch in Gargano’s show-stealing belt. But don’t let that sound like Ricochet didn’t have a breakout 2018 on his way to reigning five months strong as North American Champion.
This match had flips, submissions, strikes, slams, everything. Gargano tried to make sure the match stayed on the mat as much as he could, but Ricochet was able to take-off and fly at several exciting points. The amount of core control that man has to fly around the ring is nothing short of incredible to watch, even this far into his career. The crowd at the Talking Stick can tell you the whole story. These two gave everything in their spirit in this match. I thought long and hard mulling over whether to give this match five stars up until the end. But Gargano weighing his options over whether to go all the way with driving the champion onto the exposed concrete cinched it for me. This match was jaw-dropping, eye-opening and sets up some great character development in 2019 with Gargano channeling a bit of his former brother in arms in Tomaso Ciampa. Gargano and Ricochet couldn’t have knocked this one out of the park better if they were fighting inside Chase Field during a Diamondbacks game. If you can find a flaw with this match, I’d love to hear it.
Winner: Johnny Gargano Time: 23:34 Rating: 5 Stars
Shayna Baszler (C) vs. Bianca Belair
Despite a record of 3-2 on Takeovers in 2018, Baszler etched her face in the dictionary next to “domination” during her reign of terror of the NXT women’s division last year. If not for the drama between Ciampa and Gargano, she would have been the only logical choice for wrestler of the year in 2018 in my book. Then again, during that same timeframe, Belair built a strong reputation as someone for fans to keep their eyes on in 2019. Baszler grabbed ahold of Belair’s braid early in the match and pulled her at full force into the ring post. From there, the champion stuck to her tried and true formula of mayhem in targeting Belair’s left arm and shoulder by stomping and contorting the injured appendages. Even though Baszler dominated for a good portion of the middle of this match, Belair was able to catch a quick burst of offense in order to hair-whip and “K. O. D.” the NXT Women’s Champion for a near three-count if not for a knocked out referee. While the crowd was a tad tired in the first half of this match, they awoke after the near fall and grew firmly behind Belair till the end when Baszler handed her challenger her first loss in NXT.
Winner: Shayna Baszler Time: 16:25 Rating: 3 Stars
Tomaso Ciampa (C) vs. Aleister Black
These two went right after each other at the opening bell in a lock-up and wouldn’t let go of each other like two pit bulls. But from there, things settled down and both men went straight to grapples in order to wear each other down and build to the finish of the match slowly. On a leap over the top rope to the outside, it “appeared” that Black tweaked his left knee on the landing. Naturally, being the opportunist that he is, Ciampa took the opportunity to exacerbate said injury and cut the Dutch Destroyer in half and take away any possibility for a “Black Mass” kick. Throwing him into the ring steps and the announcer’s table, twisting it up in the ropes and stomping at the joint in the effort to handicap the number-one contender. Considering Ciampa wears the large, golden brace on his surgically-repaired right knee, it was an interesting match story to have two men with knees not fully at 100 percent. Both men exchanged blows and momentum throughout the rest of the match with no real advantage gained for either man. Ciampa took things to the next level by ripping up the outside mat padding (much like how Gargano did in the same spot roughly an hour and a half earlier) to no doubt foreshadow a storytelling element of great minds thinking alike. These two men matched each other blow-for-blow throughout this 20+ minute contest and slowly built to a rolling boil by the time the final bell rang. I enjoyed the story told here where Black’s knee gave out at the very end when he had the perfect opportunity to become only the third two-time NXT Champion in history. Alas, Ciampa’s “Fairytale Ending” would not grant that wish to Black. A solid match and a solid ending to the night.
Winner: Tomaso Ciampa Time: 26:31 Rating: 4 Stars
Overall Thoughts: The show fading to black with the former members of DIY raising each of their single’s championships above their heads was a moment I’m sure warmed the hearts of fans of the former tag team. Whether WWE decides to pair-up the former friends in a sort of neo-Two-Man Power Trip in 2019 or have Gargano finally pin his former friend and rival in an effort to finally become NXT Champion, NXT has plenty of exciting storyline paths between here and Brooklyn in two months. Match of the night honors unequivocally go to the show-stealing duo of new North American Champion Johnny Gargano and former champion Ricochet. Overall, another successful show for the NXT brand.
Final Takeover: Phoenix Rating: 4 Stars