NXT TakeOver: Chicago 2018 Review

... and a breathtaking dive onto his nemesis!
Here’s… is that too obvious? Credit: WWE

I love a TakeOver. They’re never bad and are usually a hell of a lot better than good. NXT excels at delivering snappy shows that fly along on the back of fantastic wrestling. I wasn’t going to be the one to bet against their latest visit to Chicago doing the same.

The Undisputed Era (Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly) defeated Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan to retain the NXT Tag Team Titles

A fired-up Lorcan refuses to break the submission hold.
He’s not someone I’d start a fight with. Credit: WWE

That’s how you kick off a fucking PPV. This was up there with some of The Young Bucks’ opening matches out in New Japan for fast-paced, balls to the wall and get the fans off their seat action.

I’ve seen some people complain about the teams not switching it up when they realised the crowd reaction was favouring The Undisputed Era. Strangely, I actually quite enjoyed the fact they continued on. It became a challenge (both in reality and kayfabe) for Lorcan and Burch to win them over. Something they achieved when Lorcan came flying in with his hard-hitting hot tag.

Because how brilliant is Oney Lorcan? Everything he does in the ring looks like it hurts and in there with elite workers like O’Reilly and Strong he’s able to bring his game to the next level. Everyone in this match was great, but he was a step above the rest. Burning with a fire that few wrestlers can compete with.

They told a compelling story too. While Burch and Lorcan were the better wrestlers, they lacked the natural teamwork that the Undisputed Era had. They beat the shit out of those two men and yet every time they were for a pin the other man (or Adam Cole) was there to break it up. Strong and O’Reilly proved to be the smarter duo, and that was the difference maker.

The only downside of this was that everyone else had to follow it.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

Ricochet defeated The Velveteen Dream

A staredown ensues after the two Superstars bust out some insanely athletic maneuvers.
Superhero landing. Credit: WWE

I feel like I’m alone in being very sceptical of The Velveteen Dream. Don’t get me wrong, he has charisma bursting out of every hole. The problem is that he’s yet to back that up in the ring. I thought the Aleister Black match which everyone points to as being his masterpiece was merely alright while anyone who doesn’t have an outstanding bout with Kassius Ohno is doing something wrong.

However, let’s give Dream some credit. He worked his ass off to keep up with Ricochet. There’s no denying that he dragged Rico down while Rico dragged him up, but we should expect that. The bloke is a rookie. What’s important is that he’s improving and while there was a couple of dodgy moments (whether he was going for a standard Death Valley Driver off the top rope or his cartwheel variation it was seriously ill-advised) and when Ricochet was in full flow he did struggle, but he gets the thumbs-up.

And where he truly excels is in the character stuff. From the Prince Puma tights to his desperation to prove he’s just as good as his ‘bingo-hall’ opponent. His attempts to take to the air and do everything Rico does would ultimately prove his downfall. It was a clever way of showing that Dream is not in Ricochet’s league while hinting that one day he might get there.

Throughout all this, I’ve barely mentioned the man himself, and it’s because I feel like I’ve run out of hyperbole for Ricochet. He hurts himself by making everything he does look effortless, and I can’t imagine how excited you’d be if this were your first taste of him in a big match. If you’re one of those people then, believe it or not, he only gets better.

Verdict: Four Stars

Shayna Baszler defeated Nikki Cross to retain the NXT Women’s Title

The Queen of Spades is still NXT Women's Champion.
Nap time. Credit: WWE

I think it’s time for a gimmick change. Nikki Cross is clearly putting everything she has into her character and, on the whole, I think she’s doing a decent job. The problem is that the character is horrible. She’s fighting an uphill battle before she gets started.

And what they were doing with this match could have worked. Baszler has beaten all the wrestlers, but now she’s in there with someone who will mess with her mind. Someone who doesn’t mind if she gets choked out. In fact, she’ll smile while it’s happening. If it ended there, it could be great. However, we also get Nikki clapping her hands and acting like an overexcited toddler. What is she? The masochist who feels no pain or your annoying five-year-old cousin?

It also puts Baszler in an awkward place. She’s been presented as a machine, and yet she’s meant to be disturbed by this overgrown child? Why isn’t she booting her in the face? I’m a fan of her being portrayed as a badass who doesn’t give a shit, and that character shouldn’t be giving this silliness the time of day.

Sadly, it led to a match that should have been kept on TV. They didn’t go long and ultimately not much happened before Baszler got the win. Nikki is once again left spinning her wheels, and you can’t help feeling that if she’s ever going to get to the next level, we’re going to have to see a different side to her.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

Aleister Black defeated Lars Sullivan to retain the NXT World Title

WWE Photo
V-Trig- wait, no. Not that one. Credit: WWE

I’ve seen a million big man vs little man matches where I’m told the little man is using his speed to gain an advantage. Yet, very rarely does it feel like that’s happening. Usually, it involves them running around a bit before doing a dive and being caught out of the air. Later on, they might try a roll-up or two.

There was none of that from Aleister Black. He darted around Lars Sullivan sending out a steady stream of lighting fasts kicks and strikes. Every time he was given even a sniff of an opening he’d leap. Flying across the ring with a huge knee or swinging for the fences with that Black Mass. It was a masterclass in playing the little guy from a man who is not that small.

Sullivan, meanwhile, did exactly what he needed to do. He’s still a limited wrestler, and while he shows a bit of potential, he’s never going to be a workhorse. However, he’s got a move-set that looks sore, and the addition of moves like the Stretch Muffler will do him a world of good. He doesn’t have to be fancy as long as what he does looks good.

All of which made it such a bummer when the Black Mass towards the end went flying past Sullivan’s face. It was one of those moments where no amount of quick commentator thinking or camera trickery could hide it. Everyone was ripped out of the action and the finish they’d been building to throughout.

A simple mistake that could happen to anyone shouldn’t ruin a match. Sadly, on this occasion, it did. It was still enjoyable. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how I would have felt had it connected.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Tomasso Ciampa defeated Johnny Gargano

... then wraps Johnny's neck in a chair and hurls him into the steel steps!
Yea, that’s going to hurt. Credit: WWE

In case you didn’t know, I fucking loved the WrestleMania Weekend match between these two. If you can’t be arsed reading the review, I went the full five stars and thought it was a masterclass in weaving a story through a wrestling match. So, to say I was coming into this with high expectations would be putting it lightly. I wanted perfection.

All of which sounds like the build-up to a big but. However, it’s not. It is instead the build-up to me saying that this match is divided into two halves for me. That’s basically a but, isn’t it? Yea, okay.

The first half was a fantastic plunder match. Gargano and Ciampa went out there and delivered an intense as hell brawl that was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it was let down by the fact that it was ultimately two guys hitting each other with stuff. There was some inventive hitting, but (there it is) it was still just hitting. I struggle with that kind of wrestling particularly in the PG landscape of WWE. In a world where I can watch someone jump off a scaffold through light tubes onto a barbed wire trampoline, a stop sign doesn’t seem like the most thrilling weapon.

Thankfully, as I was starting to worry, the second-half came along and gave me exactly what I wanted. Ciampa and Gargano were still smacking each other with things, they just began to weave their magic through it as they unveiled the latest chapter in their story.

Here, we saw Johnny Gargano driven to becoming Tomasso Ciampa. In a throwback to their break-up, Ciampa dragged Gargano up to the stage and stood on some crates overlooking a table. Before driving him off it, he stopped to pull off Gargano’s wedding ring, spit it on and toss it across the arena. That was a mistake.

For at that moment, the red mist came down on Gargano and suddenly it was Ciampa being driven towards the ground. Then, while he was being wheeled out of the arena, Gargano decided it wasn’t enough. He threw the orderlies aside and pulled Ciampa back the ring, determined to put an end to his old friend once and for all.

It was the hatred that would lead to Gargano’s defeat. He was so intent on killing Ciampa that he gave him his opening. One DDT onto a section of the ring where the padding had been ripped up, and Tomasso had his win. The demon that haunted Johnny Gargano wasn’t only still alive; it was sitting on his shoulder and gloating.

I believe this feud should have ended after the previous fight. It seemed like the perfect ending, and I’m a bit fed up with what they’ve been doing on NXT TV. I can’t deny it, though, when these two get in the ring together, magic happens. While this wasn’t on the level of their first, it was still better than most.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

Overall Show

TakeOvers are never bad. That’s a fact of life. Even on a show where the two big title showdowns were letdowns they still delivered a fun old ride with two excellent matches. As usual, you can guarantee that this is a much better use of your time than anything the main roster is doing.

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