NXT’s 25th TakeOver event took place Saturday night from the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was headlined by the second NXT Championship encounter between Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole, a match that will be written about for weeks to come. Elsewhere on the card, we had a wild and body-obliterating ladder match for the vacant NXT Tag Team Championships, the culmination of a months-long feud between Io Shirai and Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship and a really fun opening contest between Matt Riddle and Roderick Strong, a match I think will be looked at in the future as a NXT hidden gem.
Matt Riddle vs. Roderick Strong
To start this one off, I liked the subtle insult of Riddle flipping his flip flops at Strong before the opening bell. This match began with waist lock grapples by both men, but grew to be very brutal with multiple kicks to the chest and jaw. Although they battled all-around the ring, the story of this match was very straightforward in a test of endurance and strength to see which man could dish out the most punishment and knock down his opponent for the three-count.
This match reminded me that Roderick Strong may be one of the most underrated talents on the NXT roster. Even going back to his babyface days in 2017, Strong is in an elite category of talent who can wrestle you to the ground in any number of grapples, but then can execute a phone book page of stiff slams and strikes to beat you. I really hope that when the Undisputed Era is called up to the main roster (which you would figure would be any month now seeing how all four men have held gold in NXT at some point prior to Saturday night), he’ll have the opportunity to create some epic slobberknockers with the likes of Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe.
I don’t know any other way to say this: These guys beat the ever-loving hell out of each other. This was all of the craziness and pain of a ladder match with none of the ladders. If these guys are able to move tomorrow, they are supermen on Earth. An incredibly fun match and an unbelievable start to the 25th TakeOver.
Winner: Matt Riddle Time: 14:45 Rating: 4 Stars
Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch vs. Street Profits vs. Forgotten Sons vs. Undisputed Era
Everyone brought something unique to the overall carnage of this match. The Street Profits were the “high-flyers” of the four teams, Lorcan and Burch have zero regard for their own well-being and safety but have entertained me nearly every time they’ve been flying inside and outside the ring, all three Forgotten Sons brought sheer might and power in trying to squash their opponents and O’Reilly and Fish continued to prove why they’re one of the best tag teams in the world on-par with the likes of the Young Bucks, the Lucha Bros, the Briscoe’s and the Usos. They’re methodical, cunning, dastardly and (more often than not) victorious in these types of situations.
I can’t talk about every spot in this that knocked me off my feet, but I will offer an abridged summary here really quick: Wesley Blake has nerves of steel flying through the ropes for a head-first Tope Suicida into a ladder carried by O’Reilly and Fish. The dual-suplex from Lorcan and Burch on the Forgotten Sons almost made my eyes bug out of my head seeing the ladder nearly fly out of the ring. Shout-out to Mauro Ranallo for making me audibly laugh out loud for his “They killed Kyle!” line for the powerbomb spot into the ladder knocking off Bobby Fish. I really loved the team-team-up spot with the six non-Forgotten Sons beating down Jackson Ryker into oblivion for a brief moment of tag-team clarity. Montez Ford jumping over a ladder and flying over the top rope to knock down Ryker again was athleticism personified.
I’m sure somewhere, the Dudley Boyz, the Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian are smiling at the ultraviolence and stiff shots of this match. Actually, now that I think about that, maybe they’re wincing at the pure damage these eight men put their bodies through. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Regardless, this was incredibly fun ladder match that can only be summed up by one word: war. Party on, Montez. Party on, Angelo.
Winner: Street Profits Time: 21:30 Rating: 4 Stars
Velveteen Dream (C) vs. Tyler Breeze
I absolutely love the fact that this match was booked and actually happened. What better way to honor the history of NXT’s last five plus-years than to have one of NXT’s most underrated talents of face-off against one of the top stars of today. This billboard pairing reminded me a lot of Breeze’s match with Jushin Thunder Liger at the first TakeOver show outside of Florida back in 2015. There doesn’t need to be a lot of “blood feud build-up” (although this benefitted from an in-ring verbal smackdown as well as a great video promo the following week from the Dream), but this might have been the most anticipated bout going into the night.
The match started out with some trademark Dream taunting at Breeze by throwing the former’s white gloves at the latter. From there, we were off to the races with an expertly-paced match. I really liked the story they tried to tell here with Breeze playing the part of the grizzled (scratch that — gorgeous) veteran trying to prove to the hot young upstart in Velveteen that the former has still got “it.” Going off of that, I absolutely loved the selfie taunt that Velveteen brought the North American Championship out for, solidifying his position as the trash-talk king of NXT. And to add insult to injury, Dream tried to end the match with an Un-Prettier on Breeze’s face and head. Add in an emotional ending with Breeze falling just fingertips away from victory before a double-knockout combo between a Dream Valley Driver and a Purple Rainmaker Elbow Drop ending the match and you have a (no pun intended) Dream match that lived up to its hype.
Winner: Velveteen Dream Time: 16:50 Rating: 3.5 Stars
Shayna Baszler (C) vs. Io Shirai
With the unfortunate injury to Tommaso Ciampa earlier this year, Shayna Baszler is the undisputed dream destroyer and fairy tale monster of NXT. After breaking the likes of Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, Bianca Belair and Kairi Sane, it appeared going into this match that Io was the only hope to take down the NXT Women’s Champion.
I really liked the fury and motivation Io brought to this match by sprinting right at Shayna and openly smacking the Queen of Spades in the mouth. And in the perfect foil to the genuine hero in Io, you have the sadistic and cerebral demon in Shayna targeting Io’s arms and back with debilitating stomps. I absolutely loved the story told in this match with what felt like a Greek hero tale like Perseus fighting Medusa or Heracles fighting the multi-headed Hydra. Even in the closing seconds of the match, Io received a loud backing chant from the Bridgeport crowd before she tapped out to the Kirifuda clutch. I loved the introduction of Duke and Shafir as well as the babyface save by Candace LeRae to give the crowd an extra boost of energy. I was surprised that Shayna picked up the win because it seems the main roster could use a certified ass-kicker like her in the absence of Ronda Rousey. But I will admit that the post-match antics of Shirai losing her cool and beating down Baszler like no one has beat her down before was an interesting twist for their characters. It appears that we may be looking at a rematch in Toronto between these two with a potential no holds barred stipulation. I for one, cannot wait for this rematch with even more vitriol behind it.
Winner: Shayna Baszler Time: 12:15 Rating: 4 Stars
Johnny Gargano (C) vs. Adam Cole
Out of the dozens of former and current WWE superstars who have made their way through the NXT roster, from Finn Bālor to Charlotte Flair to Bobby Roode, Johnny Gargano to me is the “face” of NXT when taking all 25 TakeOver specials into consideration. Through Tag Team Championship, NXT Championship and North American Championship matches, Gargano has produced more show-stealing moments and matches than any other NXT superstar since the brand’s Network-era inception. In addition, he is an in-ring iron man and consistent presence at these shows, with Saturday night counting as his 14th TakeOver experience, according to Ranallo on commentary.
This match started out like their New York match two months ago with both men feeling each other out for weaknesses and points to attack. It’s like two knights smashing and thrashing each other’s armor until they get a chance to strike at flesh. Gargano focused more on Cole’s arms and back while the leader of the Undisputed Era went after the champion’s knees. These two have some fantastic in-ring chemistry with one another. I don’t want to compare it with some of their other opponents (Gargano-Ciampa or Cole-Ricochet), but these two are experts at the trade with everything from which moves to put into a spot-sequence to the lulls and rising tension points needed to make a good match great. Not only do they wrestle sensationally, but know how to sell their opponent’s offense like death exceptionally well, too.
After having their own personal super kick party (which may have earned this match a five-star rating on its own merit), we saw the introduction of a steel chair, an “absent ref” three-count for Gargano and the fake-out by Cole signaling for the rest of the Undisputed Era. In the match’s final minutes, we had two men fight until they both nearly ran out of gas. The final sequence between the Gargano-Escapes, Panama Sunrises and Last Shots had me on the edge of my seat wondering who would exhaust the other first. My pick going in to this match was Gargano to retain, but it had become pick ‘em near the end with Cole scoring the pin in one last tired gasp. Congratulations to Adam Cole on becoming the 16th man to hold the NXT Championship in history and congratulations to both men on one of the best matches I’ve seen wrestled in 2019. I don’t like to give out five-star matches all willy-nilly, but this match fully and absolutely earned that honor tonight. One of the best NXT Championship matches of all-time.
Winner: Adam Cole Time: 32:00 Rating: 5 Stars
Overall Thoughts: One non-match note I want to point out before going into my overall thoughts: Shout-out to all three members of the commentary team for a stellar two-and-a-half hours of work. Beth Phoenix held her own in her first TakeOver special and added a great deal of “wrestler’s experience” to her mid-match observations. I can say the same for Nigel McGuiness, who to my knowledge has never had an “off” night while on the booth. And of course, the ringmaster himself, Mauro Ranallo broke out several immediately quotable lines of the night. For me, there’s no better announcer in wrestling today.
Anyway, when your worst match of the night is 3-and-a-half stars, you’ve put on a spectacular show. Add in one of the few matches I’ve given a five-star rating to while reviewing pay-per views on this site and you have in my opinion, one of the greatest TakeOvers of all-time. The Tag Team Championship ladder match was a beautiful, chaotic mess. Strong-Riddle was as violent and heavy-hitting as I hoped it would be. Dream-Breeze was a show-boating extravaganza. Shirai-Baszler was a fun battle that ended by teasing an even more intense skirmish in the near future. And then you have the unquestioned match of the night in Gargano-Cole. Bravo to everyone involved with this excellent, fantastic, marvelous, (insert twenty-two other positive adjectives here) show.
Final TakeOver XXV Rating: 4 Stars