NXT Takeover: Portland took place Sunday night at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon, the first time NXT has held a Takeover event in the Pacific Northwest. In the main event, we had the long-awaited collision of Tommaso Ciampa and Adam Cole fighting for the NXT Championship. Elsewhere, we saw Rhea Ripley defend her NXT Women’s Championship against Bianca Belair, and the Undisputed Era sergeants of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly took on the newest and most popular odd couple tag team in NXT in Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne, the BroserWeights.
Keith Lee (C) vs. Dominik Dijakovic
I gotta say Keith Lee posing with the North American Championship looked natural. He should be holding gold for the rest of his WWE career purely because of that pose. Not having gold in his hands would be weird. Anyway, shortly after the initial lock-up, Lee nailed a standing hurricanrana to a huge pop from the crowd. The two proceeded to forearm and punch each other in the face and chest before a big Cyclone Kick big boot knocked down the champion. Dijakovic nailed a Corkscrew Moonsault for a two-count in what might have been the move of the night. Seeing a guy Dijakovic’s size doing a move that you would usually see done by John Morrison was mind-boggling to me. A top-rope Avalanche Feast Your Eyes resulted in a two-count, but kept the match’s fire burning with the crowd eating out of the palm of both men’s hands. The action progressed to the announce table area where Lee delivered two sets of open-hand bear paw chops to the chest that made me wince from over 1,000 miles away. Dijakovic would quickly regain the upper-hand and nail a springboard front-flip to the outside of the ring in one of the match’s highlights. I’ve never seen anything like that from a man his size! While I enjoyed all of these shenanigans, I did have a complaint in that the referee obviously and noticeably held up his count while Lee and Dijakovic got their moves in. I’ve never been a fan of that and would much rather have the referee get “knocked out” for a few minutes so there’s no worry about a potential count-out. Anyway, the final moments of this match featured a Spirit Bomb that caused Dijakovic to land on his feet (albeit groggy) and attempt a roll-up which turned into another Spirit Bomb, ending in a two-count. Add in a top-rope Spanish Fly by Dijakovic that resulted in a two-count, immediately followed up by a Big Bang Catastrophe by Lee for the win and you have one of the best openers to a NXT Takeover show I’ve ever seen. I know “Fight Forever” has become a stale, over-used chant nowadays, but seriously, I would not mind these two literally fighting forever. Absolutely incredible match.
Winner: Keith Lee Time: 20:20 Rating: 4.5 Stars
Tegan Nox vs. Dakota Kai
Kai ambushed Nox during the latter’s entrance, which took the brawl into the crowd before being brought back to ringside via Nox spearing Kai through the crowd barricade. After getting back on her feet and delivering a quick DDT on the outside, Kai rolled her opponent back into the ring for a quick two-count right after the bell rang and the match officially began. Kai moved back to the outside as she scoured underneath the ring for trash can lids and other weapons. She then pulled out a cricket bat and nearly decapitated Nox with a stiff shot that hit the ringpost and sent shockwaves throughout the Kiwi’s body. (I’m sure anyone who’s played cricket or even baseball can attest that that is not a fun feeling). Nox was able to take advantage of her stunned opponent and enclose her head and torso within a trashcan to hit a standing inverted senton on the perplexed Kai. Between the cricket bat and the trash can lid to the head by Kai, this was a surprisingly violent street fight that we’re not used to seeing in a TV-PG environment. Even all the punishment Nox was trying to deal out in revenge, such as a German suplex onto a trash can as well as a Molly-Go-Round from the top rope, only amounted to two two-counts. Shout-out to Dakota for breaking out a big boot Van Damninator that nearly blinded Tegan. From here, we went into overdrive with punishment as we saw Kai bind Nox to the ringpost with duct tape, Nox attack Kai’s kneecap with a laptop, a chain and the former’s own fists before ultimately setting up Dakota on a table with a chair wrapped around the heel’s head as the Lady Kane climbed to the top rope. As the Girl with the Shiniest Wizard was about to put an end to her former friend, Raquel González emerged from the backstage area and threw Nox off the top rope onto the set-up table. (Read: “on-to,” not “through,” as the table didn’t break under Nox’s fall and just absorbed all the impact and simply fell over. Very painful looking). Kai picked the scraps of her former friend and picked up the win with González holding up the former’s arm in victory. I’m interested to see where this feud goes from here. My guess is this will end up in a pre-show match at Takeover: Tampa with Kai and González taking on Nox and Candace LeRae, who has assisted Nox in recent weeks on NXT TV.
Winner: Dakota Kai Time: 13:24 Rating: 4 Stars
Finn Bālor vs. Johnny Gargano
On paper, this is a literal NXT all-star dream match brought to life. I’m really liking this new lease on life Bālor has as a heel between slapping Gargano’s face after wrestling him to the mat and doing push-ups during a constricting submission. Gargano would then gain some momentum back by targeting Bālor’s arm in multiple submission holds. The Portland crowd was pretty evenly split between the former NXT Champions with multiple dueling chants. I have to admit the first half of this match wasn’t really living up to the hype of the marquee I thought these two would bring. It wasn’t until Bālor tried to decapitate Gargano with a Coup De Grace, missed, and Gargano launched a Slingshot DDT that this match started to turn up the heat. Both men looked exhausted by the end, but were still delivering massive dropkicks outside the ring to the barricades. Bālor specifically hit a dropkick from a running position on top of the announce tables. Fast-forward to a Coup de Grace followed by a 1916 brain-buster and Bālor adds another win to his belt since his return to the black and yellow brand. Slow beginning, but definitely picked up by the end. In the battle of past versus present, this time, past still stands tall.
Winner: Finn Bālor Time: 27:22 Rating: 4 Stars
Rhea Ripley (C) vs. Bianca Belair
You might as well rename this match “Battle of the Most Popular Women of the Winter” between Ripley’s huge NXT Women’s Championship win over Shayna Baszler and Belair’s stellar performance in the Royal Rumble match. While both of these women have proven themselves as two cornerstones of the NXT women’s division, I wasn’t enjoying the beginning of this match. There was no “story” being told in the ring (on top of really no story being developed since Belair’s battle royal victory to earn this opportunity). Throughout the match, I was waiting for a potential interference from Charlotte Flair, which finally came after the bell. I was happy to see Belair break out a “hair whip” she’s used less and less as her in-ring repertoire has gotten more and more confident. Bianca delivered a back-body drop to Rhea that I almost thought broke Rhea’s ankles, but luckily, they remained intact. The EST of NXT followed up that move with a big flip over the ropes and down onto her opponent below. The match ended with both women being caught up in the northeast turnbuckle for a potential super-plex before Ripley would squirm out and constrict Belair into a pump-handle formation and deliver a devastating Riptide to retain her championship. I cannot wait to see what Rhea and Charlotte can put together at WrestleMania.
Winner: Rhea Ripley Time: 13:30 Rating: 3 Stars
Undisputed Era (C) vs. The Bro-serweights
They’re really trying to get the “Bobby Fish Fry” chant over (even though it wasn’t really working). Undisputed Era grew aggravated by the repeated insults and ran over to the challengers to take the fight to the entrance way. Appropriately, Fish and Riddle were the ones to start when the bell rang. Dunne was back to his usual joint-manipulating ways in this match, but a Dragonscrew leg whip debilitated the Bruiserweight to mark the start of an extensive amount of offense from the NXT Tag Team Champions. Riddle would then get the hot tag and go on a crazy video game combo of offense, predominantly with his legs and feet. This combo was highlighted by two big Bro-tons as well as a GTS and German suplex to both Undisputed Era members. Shout-out to Dunne and Kyle O’Reilly for putting on some great chain wrestling here nearing the match’s climax. I really enjoyed the accidental spear by Riddle onto Dunne, giving the illusion that UE would retain and the BroserWeights might be breaking up as fast as they came together. Luckily, Dunne kicked out to the explosive ovation of the Portland crowd. The former ReDRagon would lose their belts following dual knee strikes. A very fun tag match.
Winner: The BroserWeights Time: 16:58 Rating: 4 Stars
Adam Cole (C) vs. Tommaso Ciampa
Once again, Portland was pretty evenly split in their favoring between the leader of the Undisputed Era and the Psycho Killer. Both men added fuel to the crowd’s fire by stealing each other’s signature taunt in the beginning minutes of the match. Ciampa held control in the beginning of the match, but would momentarily lose control everytime Cole would duck out of the ring to avoid any more attacks. After a huge running knee to Cole on the outside, Cole scored a game-changing attack by hitting a wheelbarrow suplex on Ciampa’s neck on the edge of the announcer’s table. Ciampa must be feeling great as of late because that looked really dangerous and really painful. From this moment on, Cole would focus a majority of his offense on Ciampa’s neck and spine, specifically through Backstabbers, Last Shot’s and Ushigoroshi’s. From out of nowhere, Ciampa was able to stop the onslaught with an on-the-money dropkick. Ciampa would deliver two powerbombs on top of the Spanish announcer’s table, the second of which would cause the table to break. From here, we entered “Two-Count City” with nearly every minute delivering a close two-count from both men. Lung Blower by Ciampa? Two-count. Fairy Tale Ending? Two-count. Panama Sunrise on the outside? Two-count. With each near-fall, the drama of this match got greater and greater and greater. Ciampa looked like he was about to cry tears of joy before one of his last pin attempts after hitting Project Ciampa. After both men attempted a crossface on the other, the other members of the Undisputed Era arrived to try and distract the referee in their leader’s favor. While Ciampa seemed to handle the four-on-one advantage well, he didn’t expect a referee bump would be the thing that separated him from a dead-to-rights, clean as a sheet victory after another Fairy Tale Ending.
I had a suspicious inkling that Bālor might have made a surprise appearance during the main event to cost Ciampa his reunion with “Goldie.” But instead, I was dealt a surprise by Ciampa’s former best friend in Gargano turning heel by knocking “Goldie” into Ciampa’s head, instead. I can understand some fan’s argument that another Gargano-Ciampa match is a little too soon from the last time these two got together in the ring, but as for me, these two fall in the “Fight Forever” category I mentioned earlier with Lee and Dijakovic. And now with Gargano as the heel and Ciampa as the savagely angry face? Sign me up for some Tampa Bay fireworks. An exceptional main event.
Winner: Adam Cole Time: 33:23 Rating: 4.5 Stars
Overall Thoughts: This was an incredibly strong six-match show. I know that sounds like par for the course for NXT, but this Takeover was all muscle and no fat. Just a solid three hours of action. Match of the night honors for me go to Lee and Dijakovic, just barely edging out the main event of Cole-Ciampa. My least favorite match (but by no means a bad match in of itself) was Ripley-Belair because it just didn’t come together into a cohesive and compelling story.
Final Takeover: Portland Rating: 4 Stars