With the constantly changing booking for Survivor Series, I hadn’t paid attention to NXT’s build for TakeOver: War Games. But once again, the NXT crew dropped the gauntlet for the main roster crew. Based on the quality of TakeOver: War Games, Survivor Series is going to have to be a pretty memorable show to top it.
Lars Sullivan vs Kassius Ohno
Ohno has largely been used as the stepping stone guy who presents an early tough challenger to an up and coming star. Basically, he’s filling the role of Tito Santana circa 1990. I haven’t seen a lot of Sullivan, but he’s a solid mauling powerhouse. I wasn’t a huge fan of the layout initially as it was playing out like a squash.
Eventually Ohno got some hard hitting forearm, elbow smashes and kicks to make things interesting. Sullivan got the hard fought win and continues his ascension up the ranks. This was a decent match and placed properly on the card as a showpiece for Sullivan.
The Velveteen Dream vs Aleister Black
Funny story. When I interviewed Kurt Angle a few years back at the Bowie Baysox, a couple of independent wrestlers from MCW came in for a moment to chat with him as well. Fast forward a few years and I realize those guys were Patrick Clark and Lio Rush. I’d heard about his transformation into The Velveteen Dream and was curious to finally see it. The NXT video crew always does a fantastic job encapsulating the feuds for folks who don’t watch the weekly shows.
I was impressed with Black’s strikes from his match against Hideo Itami, but wasn’t dying to see more of his work. The angle here seemed kind of weak with Dream wanting Black to say his name. Especially in the modern WWE too many guys look like create a wrestlers. They rock the same black tights, some facial hair and a generous amount of tattoos. When someone goes against that norm, they stand out. While I’m still trying to figure out the gimmick, Dream got my attention and the awesome hairstyle and Rick Rude inspired tights were a bonus.
The character clash here was excellent. Dream was all swivel hips and pomposity while Black was cool and methodical, but still willing to play some mind games. Dream did not wrestle like a guy who’s only done it for three years. He had a polish that some guys with three times as much experience lack. His selling was tremendous and just as importantly, his offense looked good too. That inverted implant DDT looked incredible. Against Dream, Black’s character seemed more fully formed and their dynamic was great. This was one of several matches on the show I felt either person should have won. Black winning makes more sense, but judging by the crowd reaction, Dream was the big winner of the night.
Dream gets the Bret Hart Summerslam 1992 or Austin at Wrestlemania 13 treatment. Winning almost wouldn’t have made him come off as much of a star as losing. If there’s a wider audience that just watches the specials, there’s no doubt Velveteen Dream came out of this match as a can’t miss superstar. I’m already worried about how badly he’ll be booked on the main roster. From this match alone, TakeOver: War Games was already shaping up to be an epic show.
Fatal Four Way for the NXT Women’s Championship: Ember Moon vs
Peyton Royce vs Nikki Cross vs Kairi Sane
Just like Velveteen Dream, I loved Sane’s Pirate Princess gimmick as it helps her stand out. I love Cross’ intensity, Royce’s swagger and Moon’s entire presentation. A lot of these Fatal Four Ways follow the strict pattern of two wrestlers always snoozing while the remaining two wrestle. This match was laid out much better with lots of three and four way interactions. It helped that all four seemed dialed in and had excellent timing in breaking up pinfalls and taking advantage of distracted opponents.
Maybe more than any other match on the show, the commentary did a great job of telling the story. Nigel McGuiness was on point as he explained strategy and why Sane didn’t get the pin after hitting her Insane Elbow. It’s those little details that make the presentation so much better. This was my first time seeing Sane and she looked good, though Royce really came off well even without Billie Kaye lending an assist.
But this was Moon’s night. I hoped her being the final entrant was a good sign she was getting the win. I loved her extra attention to detail in actually spreading her arms wide enough to hit her Total Eclipse on both Cross and Royce.
The best part of this match result? There’s two actually. Unlike WWE, which seems to have this weird fetish about people losing in their home town/state, Ember — a Garland, Texas native got the win in Texas. The home state crowd was pulling for her and erupted when she got the win. Even more importantly, this prevents Moon from getting the Lex Luger choker label. It took her three times, but she finally captured the championship.
Asuka excitedly coming in to the ring to present the title had me suspicious. It wasn’t like Asuka showed her a ton of respect during their feud. If this was the main roster, an ambush probably would have happened. But I liked the symbolic passing of the torch and it really gave Moon her moment. Another very strong match that more than kept the audience’s interest after that great Dream/Black match.
NXT Championship: Drew McIntyre vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas
Zelina Vega is the truth. Wow. This was the one match I wasn’t all that interested in. It seemed too early to switch the championship and this seemed like a potential major style clash. When he initially debuted, McIntyre was slender, which didn’t give him that imposing Sid/Diesel presence. Now that he’s bulked up and has that man’s man beard, he looks like a giant. It’s hard for a babyface to get sympathy against smaller opponents.
Continuing the theme of the night, the match was laid out in a way that Almas was in pesky HBK circa Wrestlemania 11 mode as he used his speed against McIntyre’s power. Vega did just enough interference to keep McIntyre’s attention. I loved the spot when she went for the hurricarana and he just put her back on the ring apron. There’s no way at that point in the match she should be twirling him anywhere.
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The style clash I feared ended up being the match’s biggest strength and by the home stretch, I started feeling like Almas deserved to win. But this was also McIntyre’s best NXT match yet and this was the kind of title defense that would build his title legacy in advance of his presumed program with Adam Cole. Almas winning was a shock and felt like the right call based on the match. He’s been on a roll and I’m interested in seeing how his title run plays out. This started out good and became great. That’s three strong NXT MOTY candidates in a row.
War Games: Sanity vs Rodrick Strong & Authors of Pain
vs The Undisputed Era
This played out much differently than a typical War Games match with the teams coming out from shark cages instead of each man at random intervals. Given the length of time the match had after War Games began, they could have just done the traditional method. The format change ultimately didn’t impact the overall quality of the match as it was amazingly chaotic. I didn’t mind the lack of a top of the cage since that allowed for more high risk moves like that crazy suplex Strong did on Cole.
The booking didn’t have a lot of holes either with each faction getting several chances to shine. Cole getting the win also made sense as he’s the next solo star in waiting for NXT. The layout of this match allowed for the fans to recover from the previous matches and get invested in this one. By the time the fans were engaged, the match was at a nice point making the final stretch really engaging.
Bottom Line: NXT did it again with another excellent show. The weakest match was Lars/Ohno, which was completely competent and all an opening match needed. From then on everything else over delivered providing for one of the best shows of 2017. Go out of your way to see this one.
Photo Credit: WWE.com