NXTmania week starts now!
A two-night NXT Takeover? Leading in to a two-night WrestleMania? I guess I’m just not going to expect anything for Christmas this year because this must be it.
NXT has really been killing it with angles lately, though, so it definitely needed two nights for this Takeover. There’s just a lot going on, and the typical five match Takeover recipe just wasn’t going to get it done.
Let’s get right into it!
MATCH 1: KUSHIDA vs Pete Dunne
It’s an NXT Takeover, so ho-hum, let’s just start off with two of the most talented professional wrestlers on the planet going at it in a good old “ACTUALLY, I am better than you” angle match.
I love arm work! I don’t really know why, but I always love when people work over the arm. I think it’s because I have a natural affinity for hammerlocks dating back to my childhood when I found out how devastating they are. And this match had so much arm work! Both guys just going to town on their opponents’ upper limbs, man. That irrationally makes me happy. I can only watch guys limp for so long. Go for the arms!
I also always like seeing the aggression from KUSHIDA, especially against a guy like Dunne who just invites his opponents to bring out their more fierce side. KUSHIDA went hard and fast here, and he was particularly brutal on rope breaks. It really sold the story of two guys who not just wanted to prove each was the best, but were pissed off the opponent even dared to think he was.
All that said, this was a shorter match than I would have expected, but given the rest of the show, I can see why. Imagine having SUCH A GOOD CARD, that you look at Dunne/KUSHIDA and think “Well, we can keep this to a spirited sprint”.
MATCH 2: Gauntlet Eliminator
Wait wait wait. Have I imagined the build to a Dexter Lumis vs Johnny Gargano feud over the last many weeks? With Austin Theory having been abducted? And Indi Hartwell developing a crush on Lumis? All of that conflict as Lumis connives his way to the belt?
Because we had the perfectly obvious vehicle here to get Johnny vs Dexter on night two of Stand & Deliver, and NXT went with… Bronson Reed instead? What a weird choice. I mean… he’s fine, I guess. But Reed vs Johnny? I have no mustard for that.
For as surprised as I was that Dexter Lumis was eliminated by LA Knight, I was equally depressed that Cameron Grimes lost. Grimes has been solid gold for months now, and I was hoping that if we weren’t getting Lumis, we could at least have some Cameron Grimes / The Way hi-jinx. I would do just about anything for those two to cross paths.
All told, this was honestly the weakest match of the night despite its array of talent. There was nothing wrong with it or anything, but it was just kind of “there”. Matches to determine what happens in other, more important, matches do inherently feel weak at times.
MATCH 3: Tommaso Ciampa vs WALTER
SHAVED HEAD CIAMPA IS BACK! Just like that, he looks like he lost ten years off of his age.
Not going to lie: this was the high point of the evening right here. These two went to god damn war with each other and put on a hard-hitting, drama-filled match.
Remember last year when NXT had Ciampa pull a Brooklyn Brawler against Karrion Kross? Man, what were they thinking? This guy can still go and is still one of the most talented in the world, and he deserved so much better than an extended squash there.
Ciampa wrestles with so much malice and so much intensity. He just goes goes goes at top gear and tries to drive his opponents through the center of the Earth.
WALTER meanwhile, wrestles like a gorilla, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. He looks like he barely thinks about what he wants to do and only has a slight idea of how he is supposed to do it. Whatever the opposite of fluid is in a wrestling ring, that’s WALTER. He’s downright clunky. But in that odd GOOD way because he comes across as a monster who knows he CAN and WILL maul you, and he’ll figure out the technicalities as he does it. WALTER is to wrestling what a Kodiak Bear is to taking out garbage. There’s a prettier way to do it, but it friggin’ works.
I almost want to take issue with the ending here because, for as much as WALTER’s chops are a “thing”, for Ciampa to lose to chop after all that he went through felt very “… oh” to me. But it worked within the context of the match’s story, so I guess I’ll allow it.
MATCH 4: Tag Title Match
Who were the champs? This was the question that bounced around in my brain for a few minutes as the match got underway. The titles are vacant, so why are they vacant? Who had them?
Oh right! Burch and Lorcan. That’s a shame. Both of those guys are good and have made a great team, but their reign was so entirely forgettable. They are henchman to a guy who isn’t even around anymore, and they have kind of fallen into just beating up Pete Dunne’s rivals and being fodder.
All the credit in the universe to NXT and AEW. AEW’s women’s division isn’t a speck compared to NXT’s, but man… they have really worked on making it stand out. Conversely, NXT’s tag scene is well below AEW’s, but they are also doing the best with what they can. This match was a BLAST. Fast-paced and dynamic, with all three teams getting the chance to shine (especially Legado Del Fantasma, who always impress when allowed to showcase their talents).
MSK won, as they should have since they are the Dusty Cup winners. Having them not win the belts here would have been an odd choice. But this was all about the journey, and this match was dynamite from the word go.
MATCH 5: Io Shirai vs Raquel Gonzalez
A few months ago, Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens had a Last Man Standing match.
During that match, a botch involving a pair of handcuffs basically caused the referee to have to fudge everything and pretend not to notice that, you know, the match ended.
Ultimately I loved the match and that weird “Pay no attention to the man handcuffed on the ground” moment meant little to me, but I did see fans online saying the moment ruined the contest for them.
After watching this match, I get it.
Raquel Gonzalez flat out pinned Io Shirai, like, 5 minutes into the match, causing the referee to have to attempt a four count so Io could “kick out”. It’s not that big of a deal. It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
But it took me entirely out of the match as I sat and wondered if I had imagined it. I tried rewinding, but I guess Peacock doesn’t have that feature. Then I hopped on Twitter to see what others were saying. I basically blinked out of the show for a few minutes while I tried to confirm I wasn’t going crazy.
And then I started paying attention to the match again, and they had a little bit more of a wrestle, and then Raquel won.
Is it just me or has Io not had a great title defense in a while? Her battle with Rhea Ripley on NXT TV was my #3 match for all of 2020, but since then, it’s been a series of bland efforts. I’m not blaming Io, who is one of the very best, but… something has been off in these women’s title matches. I can’t quite figure it out. They have felt unremarkable and rushed recently.
I might have enjoyed this match more if I just ignored the mid-match mistake and kept going with it. So maybe this one is on me. I’ll own that.
Overall, a decent enough start to Stand & Deliver. Three rock solid affairs I’d easily put over the 4 star threshold, accompanied by an acceptable Gauntlet match and a women’s match that I allowed myself to be distracted during. Not nearly the best Takeover effort, but a solid first half to a two-parter, as it were.
I’m excited to see how night two shapes up!