NXT TakeOver: War Games 2018 Review

Ricochet hits a double rotation moonsault from the top of the cage!
Here comes Rico! Credit: WWE

I’m a bit behind on the old reviews (I was on holiday, thanks for asking) and before I dive into World Tag League, it’s time to catch up with the only WWE worth watching. It doesn’t matter what’s on the card, NXT has yet to deliver an awful TakeOver, and it’s unlikely this will be the show to dampen that momentum.

Matt Riddle defeated Kassius Ohno

WWE Photo
Words not needed. Credit: WWE

Matt Riddle vs Kassius Ohno could have been spectacular. There’s a reason that Ohno is NXT’s gatekeeper and it’s because he’s one of the best. Put him in there with someone with the talent of Matt Riddle? Well, you’re asking for some magic to be brewed.

And yet, I have no issue with Matt Riddle knocking him out in seconds. Riddle is a special talent and the way he wrestles suits flash knockouts (there’s a reason PROGRESS did this exact same spot with him against Trent Seven). Ohno is good enough that he doesn’t lose anything here while beating someone of that talent level instantly slots Riddle in as someone to watch.

I wouldn’t want NXT to do this every week, but this time, it worked.

Verdict: NA

Shayna Baszler defeated Kairi Sane in a Two out of Three Falls Match to retain the NXT Women’s Title

WWE Photo
Not at all terrifying. Credit: WWE

Two out of Three Falls is a hard stipulation to get right. Everyone knows it’s going to the final fall, so getting the crowd invested in the early going is hard work. Instead of getting them to care about who is getting pins, you need to draw them into the story. That’s no easy task

Unless you’re Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler that is, for they built this as a three-act play. The opening saw Sane explode into the ring, catching Shayna cold and looking to blast through her. At least that was the plan right up until Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir got involved and gave Baszler an easy submission win.

It was a quick fall, but it was executed brilliantly as it flipped the momentum for round two. Sane’s fire had been extinguished, so Baszler went to work ripping the Pirate Princess apart. Perhaps I’m getting carried away, but there’s a lot of Minoru Suzuki in the way she works those control sections. You believe that she delights in causing pain and she’s terrifying enough that you wouldn’t cross her for a million pounds.

Once again, though, the fall would turn thanks to action outside of the ring. Sane managed to connect with a DDT on the apron, forcing the champion to the floor. Fortunately for her, the back-up was there to help out, a situation Sane was not a fan of. She flew from the top rope with an InSane Elbow onto all three women before throwing Baszler back in the ring and following up with another for the three. The challenger’s fire had been rekindled.

That led to a final fall where chaos reigned supreme. As Kari and Shayna battled it out, Duke and Shafir once again got involved. Thankfully, this time, someone decided they’d had enough. First Dakota Kai charged the ring, a wrestler who knows a thing or two about Baszler’s bullying tactics. When she was overwhelmed, Sane’s old Stardom pal Io Shirai decided to join the action, hitting a beautiful Moonsault to the floor and wiping out the Horsewomen in the process.

And we all know how this story should end, right? Backed up by her friends, Sane leaps into the air and comes crashing down with that indescribable elbow drop to reclaim her title. It’s the classic happy ending. Except, we don’t always get happy endings. Sane did connect with an elbow, but Shayna Baszler was not as out of it as we were led to believe. One final effort of will saw her flip Sane over onto her shoulders and sneak out with the win. What is it they say about nice people and finishing last?

If you want to know why Shayna Baszler should be the future of this company look at the way she pins Kairi Sane to win the match. She doesn’t weakly roll her up, she grabs her around the throat and forces her into the mat. Those are the touches that make a difference, and it’s things like that which have made this feud as good as it is. Both women were outstanding here as they elevated a difficult stipulation through extraordinary wrestling.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

Aleister Black defeated Johnny Gargano

WWE Photo
Poor Johnny. Credit: WWE

This feud and the Johnny Gargano story has not so much derailed itself as barrelled off the tracks cackling madly. We’ve gone from a simple tale of two best friends to whodunnits and tweeners. It’s all too much.

Except, the second the bell rang, that all became irrelevant. It didn’t matter how we’d gotten there, these two were in a grudge match, and damn did they sell it. This was the kind of strike fest that we don’t tend to see in WWE.

And how fantastic was Johnny Gargano? He managed to take elements of WWE’s chicken shit heel gimmick and weave it into his babyface persona. Rather than fleeing from Black, he was ducking and diving. Dodging out-of-the-way of strikes to try to open up something for himself. The heart that used to beat so loudly on his sleeve is now hidden away as Johnny Wrestling has learnt to wrestle with his head.

It gave us a fight that was built around flurry after flurry of outstanding sequences as Gargano and Black produced a G1 calibre bout in a WWE ring. It was worked as an extended finishing sequence, never once slowing down to sit in a chin lock and even keeping the girning at the crowd to a minimum. It was sublime, and I can’t imagine not enjoying it as Black and Gargano went out there with the intention of knocking each other the fuck out. In the end, it was a task Black would prove equal too.

Verdict: Four And A Half Stars

Tomasso Ciampa defeated The Velveteen Dream to retain the NXT World Title

WWE Photo
Not so glamorous now. Credit: WWE

Velveteen Dreama channelling the racist is either brilliant or horrible, I can’t tell which. It comes down to whether he’s coming up with this stuff or WWE is. Let’s hope it’s the former.

We shouldn’t focus on the old gammon, though. For this was Dream’s most complete performance yet. It was far from a perfect match, the girning that was kept to a minimum in Gargano vs Black was ramped up to the max here, but when they moved away from that it was an outstanding showing. The Dream is putting together his athleticism and his charisma to create a fun in-ring style. This is the first time I’ve felt like he was as influential in the direction of a match as his opponent.

Tomasso Ciampa deserves a lot of credit too of course. The story of the arrogant champion being caught off-guard by the hungry challenger is hardly a new one, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be delivered with aplomb. While I’m not a huge fan of his current character, it was built for matches like this. The longer this went, the more desperate he got, especially as Dream went to work on his previously injured knee. This cocky upstart scared him, so he was forced to pull out all sorts of tricks to make sure he took Goldie home with him.

Ultimately, though, you could argue that Ciampa had nothing to do with his victory. For all of a few seconds, the NXT crowd exploded as Velveteen Dream connected with The Purple Rainmaker only for Ciampa to kick out at the last second. With the champ leaning half in and half out the ring Dream dreamed big and tried to hit a second on the apron. Ciampa wasn’t there, though. Dream hit the ground instead. A Hangman DDT onto the metal connecting the two War Games rings was enough to send the Dream to bed. Ciampa had survived due to Dream’s over-exuberance rather than his skill.

This was very well done. To be honest, I didn’t love the match. Both men are too fond of playing to the stalls for my liking which hurt it. However, the story they told was executed perfectly. Velveteen Dream may have come up short, but this was his best performance yet, and he scared Tomasso Ciampa. It’s only a matter of time before he does more than that.

Verdict: Four Stars

War Raiders (Hanson and Raymond Rowe), Pete Dunne and Ricochet defeated The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong) in War Games

WWE Photo
Not a bad team. Credit: WWE

Did you know that War Games doesn’t officially start until all the competitors are in the ring? I don’t think anyone mentioned it…

There was a lot to love about this. The period before everyone got into the ring was punctuated by a series of wonderful ‘hot tags’, with the best of those being Raymond Rowe and Roddy Strong who both came in and cleared house. You had a hell of a lot of talent in that cage, so it was no surprise to see it come together nicely even as they kept Pete Dunne out of the action for an extended period thanks to Bobby Fish chaining shut his cage.

Dunne’s eventual release was the set-up for part two, the wild brawl. Unfortunately, while this section had its moments, it was the part that saw me lose interest. The introduction of a shitload of furniture turned this into moving day as thing were being unpacked and set up all over the place. The action lost its momentum and, quite frankly, it was hard to keep up with exactly what was going on. There were eight men in that ring, so the camera work suffered. There were times where you’d only be alerted to something happening by the oohs of the crowd.

Of course, the advantage of all that was that it worked as the set-up for a hell of a lot of fun. The likes of Adam Cole and The War Raiders excel in this environment. They have no qualms about throwing themselves into the action, and there were some throwaway bumps here which must have hurt like hell nevermind Ricochet hitting Double Moonsaults off the top of the cage. You’re working a long ass match, by the thirty-minute mark I imagine everything is in agony.

Which leads to my final problem. Why was this as long as it was? This was main roster levels of over-indulgence. No plunder match needs to go over the forty minute mark. It’s not necessary. By the end, it wasn’t only the people in the ring who were exhausted. Maybe some of you are better people than me, but I can’t stay invested in that level of chaos for that long.

So yea, this was great, but also only okay. It’s a hard match to review. Taken in chunks, it could blow your mind. Yet, when watched in one sitting you become desensitised to it. Shrugging as bodies are broken on the floor. I can’t imagine watching it and not enjoying it. Loving it would be a much bigger challenge, though.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Overall Show

This was a show of the year contender with only the main event (and an unreviewable seven-second opener) falling below four stars. Baszler vs Sane to Dream vs Ciampa could be the top three matches in any country in the world while I am sure that some people will get more from War Games than I. Yet again, NXT delivered. Is anyone still surprised?

Watch NXT TakeOver: http://network.wwe.com/

If you enjoyed this review, please consider contributing to my Ko-fi, even the smallest amount is appreciated.

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