NXT Takeover: War Games Review – The Return of the Steen

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NXT Takeover: War Games took place Saturday night at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois on the eve of Survivor Series. This event holds the unique factoid of being the only one of the three War Games events put on by NXT to feature two War Games matches on the card. We witnessed the first-ever Women’s War Games matching featuring a showdown between a team captained by NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler and former NXT UK Women’s Rhea Ripley. We also witnessed the Undisputed Era step into the War Games cage for the third time in as many years to face-off against the team of Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic and a mystery partner.

Team Baszler (Shayna Baszler, Bianca Belair, Io Shirai and Kay Lee Ray) vs. Team Ripley (Rhea Ripley, Candice LeRae, Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai)

After her stand-out performance in a ladder match with Shirai two weeks ago on NXT, I was disappointed we weren’t able to see Mia Yim showcase her talents inside War Games. But, Kai’s inclusion makes storyline sense from Yim getting chosen over her for Team Ripley and Kai’s rivalry with Baszler going back to last year with the latter intimidating the former on NXT television. The match began with Shirai and LeRae, keeping their rivalry going since it’s high point during the summer. Belair was the first person out of the heel’s cage, followed by Ripley grabbing a number of garbage cans and lids to the roar of the Rosemont crowd. Kay Lee Ray followed Ripley in going after tables from under the ring before throwing them back under to a chorus of boos.

With the murky circumstances around Yim’s attacker aside (assuming it will turn out to be Kai), Kai’s heel turn here attacking her friend in Nox is nothing but a positive for both women, in my opinion. Kai has been regarded as the next (babyface) Bayley for quite some time, so this heel turn could be a great opportunity for her to show off her range of acting and emoting as a heel in an intimate blood feud with a former friend. On the flip side, we haven’t seen much of Nox because of her previous ACL injury during last year’s Mae Young Classic, so this will be a good opportunity for her to show off her in-ring prowess to the adulation of the NXT Universe and maybe develop a large following.

In response to the size of her opposition being cut in half, Baszler literally showboated her way to the ring, giving one of her best facial and gesticulating performances of her career. Io Shirai certified she has no fear after hitting a spot-on backflip off the top of the cage. Ripley using the handcuffs attached to her ring gear to trap Baszler and executing a Riptide onto steel chairs was a brilliant way to outsmart the usually cerebral NXT Women’s Champion. I think this was the right call giving the faces the win here because Baszler still keeps her championship and Ripley’s pin builds more fire for her eventual showdown for the Queen of Spades, more than likely at the next Takeover show. Excellent War Games match.

Winner: Team Ripley Time: 27:24     Rating: 4.5 Stars

Pete Dunne vs. Damian Priest vs. Killian Dain

What an interesting combination of styles and performers in this match. We have Pete Dunne, returning to Rosemont for the first time since his barnburner NXT UK Championship match with Tyler Bate in 2017 to a monster ovation, working a technician’s style going for sleeper hold’s and breaking his opponents’ fingers. We have Killian Dain wrestling like a brawler strongman, hitting Vader Bomb’s and throwing head-butts everywhere. On a related-side-note, I’m really glad that he’s getting a solo run here in NXT because he always struck me as the break-out male superstar from SAnitY a few short years ago. Given the right gimmick and push, I can totally see him being a top heel on NXT or even the main roster. And then you have the six-foot-seven, 249 pound Damian Priest, a man who can fly over the top-rope to the outside on Dain and nail deadly roundhouse kicks with his long legs. He’s also got some great strength to carry Dunne on his shoulders and deliver a running Razor’s Edge on top of the Spanish announcer’s table. On top of that, Priest hit a huge Razor’s Edge on the big man that looked like it took all of his strength to execute. I can see him having a monster 2020, ending with him wearing single’s gold in NXT. Although all three of these men could put on a good match with Cole, Dunne makes the most sense for creating a face-versus-heel scenario in the NXT Championship match. A very fun triple threat complete with triple-kick knockdowns and moonsaults.

Winner: Pete Dunne   Time: 19:56     Rating: 3.5 Stars

Finn Bālor vs. Matt Riddle

The match began with Riddle trying to lock-up and take down Bālor before the former Universal Champion rolled out of the way of a lethal-looking knee from Riddle. Bālor then gained control of the match locking Riddle in a chinlock for well over a minute. One thing I took away from this match is that Bālor isn’t really acting like a usual “heel” in the sense that he wasn’t bending rules or going for cheap shots or anything like that. He just wrestles, poses for the people in-between movements and fights his way to victory in a less-flashy style than we’re used to him wrestling as a babyface where he would stomp, kick and Slingblade his opponent for 10 minutes before nailing a Coup De Grace for the win. This, if anything, reminded me of his work in New Japan shortly before he signed with WWE in 2014.

Between an ankle lock, spear, Jackhammer and GTS, Riddle knows exactly how to rile the crowd up with big moves from past stars. On top of that, the Original Bro’s continued use of Goldberg’s big signature moves have led to fans adopting a Goldberg-esque chant during Riddle’s time on TV. “Riii-ddle…Riii-ddle…Rii-ddle.”

The ending of the match came with Bālor getting his legs up on a Floating Bro, dropkicking Riddle into the corner, missing on a Coup De Grace, breaking out of a submission and luring Riddle into a 1916 underhook DDT for the win. It was great to see Bālor back in a NXT ring and picking up the win against Riddle. This may signal Bālor might be in the main event picture going forward as he waits for his eventual match with Johnny Gargano.

Winner: Finn Bãlor     Time: 14:21     Rating: 3 Stars

The Undisputed Era vs. Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic and Kevin Owens

On paper, the Undisputed Era are easy favorites in this match because of their experience in being involved in all previous men’s War Games matches. But, they haven’t gone against big men as flexible and agile as Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic. Lee is building a nice legion of fans after every cross-body, toe-touch jump and devastating shoulder block. If he isn’t holding a belt come next year, WWE is doing their fans a disservice. My one critique about this match is that I wish there were more weapons involved than just tables, as earlier matches have included a slew of weapons like chairs and kendo sticks. But, you have to differentiate from the women’s match which included many of those weapons and utilize your strength through the move-sets of your wrestlers as the foundation of the in-ring action.

My original thought for who the mystery man would be on team Ciampa was Velveteen Dream because of his storyline involvement with Roderick Strong and being the only other top babyface that would have made sense in that spot. But, me and all others in the Allstate Arena were pleasantly surprised by the return of Kevin Owens to NXT television. If you’re going to deliver a surprise like that, you damn well better make it a good one, and there’s no denying that Kevin Owens squaring off against the likes of Strong and Adam Cole is a great surprise. KO went full-on babyface destroyer dishing out “suck it’s” and stunners to all members of the Undisputed Era nearby. For as well as he could dish out punishment and rile up the crowd, KO was able to take punishment too, highlighted by a wicked-looking Panama Sunrise from Cole on the steel plating between the rings.

The match ended with a chokeslam to Strong, a Frog Splash to O’Reilly, a Spirit Bomb for Fish and an eyeball-opening Air Raid Crash on Cole from the top of the cage through two tables in one of the craziest moves I’ve seen in NXT. After his big fall off the cage through the tables with Gargano at Takeover: Toronto, I thought Cole was a certified madman for taking a bump like that. But after seeing this bump, it’s clear to me that he is beyond insane. He is as insane as he is brave, along with Ciampa. My hat is off to both of them for that spot, as well as to the other six men in this match for taking a hell of a beating for nearly 40 minutes.

Winner: Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic and Kevin Owens         Time: 38:26     Rating: 4 Stars

Overall Thoughts: While this show only had four matches, all of them were very good. My favorite was Women’s War Games match for its variety of characters, great drama and twists and just the sheer brutality of the match. NXT Women’s division is the strongest its ever been, and I include the Four Horsewomen era in that assessment. My least favorite match (in no way indicating it was bad) was Finn Bālor and Matt Riddle, mainly because I felt like there was more drama and story that neither man touched in this match, although the action was still solid. Hopefully all the men and women who still have to compete at Survivor Series are not feeling the effects from War Games and can put on a great showing for Sunday’s show.

Final War Games Rating: 4 Stars