This past Saturday, at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, the black & yellow brand once again proved that, when it comes to putting on a spectacular pay-per-view/live event, they can do it better than the two main rosters in the WWE. The young stars and indie veterans that make up the NXT roster again put on clinic on what it means to put on a great wrestling show. And being that this event took place in Philadelphia – the birthplace of extreme; the hometown of the once great ECW promotion – it needed to put on the best show possible. And boy, did it deliver.
Right from the opening match that pitted the tag teams of The Undisputed Era (represented by Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) and The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar, with manager Paul Ellering), the crowd was treated to a knock-down, drag-out contest as they battled for the NXT Tag Team Championship. After some great ring work, explosive physicality, and some awesome in-ring psychology that worked the crowd in attendance into a frenzy, The Undisputed Era pulled off the win to retain their championship belts.
Next up, the young up-and-comer, The Velveteen Dream, faced off against the well-traveled indie veteran, Kassius Ohno in a near 11-minute match that saw both men deliver some stiff looking and hard placed shots to each other in order to score the pinfall. I gotta admit, the beginning of the match had me laughing as Dream thought he was fighting a boxing match, thinking that the referee needed to score a ten-count only for Ohno to pop up and elbow him in the mouth, but it was all business after that and The Velveteen Dream scored the pinfall for the win.
Ember Moon then settled in to face the next challenger for her NXT Women’s Championship, the former MMA bantamweight champion, Shayna Baszler. This was easily the weakest match of the night, but by no means was it anything worse than what RAW put on for its fans during its 25 Anniversary show. No, Ember Moon put on a great match with a still very green Shayna Baszler, retaining her championship – but completely selling the beatdown and injuries that Baszler put on her. She even put Baszler over after the match as she sold the post-match beatdown on the ramp to keep Shayna Baszler looking strong.
This next match definitely my favorite match of the event as The Undisputed Era’s Adam Cole faced off against my favorite wrestler on the NXT roster, Aleister Black, in an extreme rules match. This match certainly had the Philadelphia crowd pumped up for all the action as Cole and Black went after each other with full-force. The action in the ring and the energy that the crowd was radiating gave this match that old-school ECW feel, and I absolutely loved it. Chairs, tables, ladders, and kendo sticks all came into play and it just added to the story being told in the ring. (By the way, can someone explain to me how Adam Cole doesn’t have a broken back after that spot onto the two chairs? Holy crap, that had to hurt.) And as Adam Cole’s Undisputed Era companions Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly came out to interfere in the match, they were stopped by three members of SAnitY – Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, and Killian Dain – with Dain delivering this wickedly amazing dive from the ring to the outside, taking out everyone not involved in the match. As it settled back into a one-on-one match between Cole and Black, they both gave it one last push towards the end before Aleister Black was finally able to put away Adam Cole with a pinfall win.
Finally, we have a match for the NXT Championship that can already be considered an early Match of the Year contender, as Andrade “Cien” Almas (with Zelina Vega) took on Johnny Gargano in a grueling 30-plus minute match that had the audience in attendance eating out of their hands. The emotion, the intensity, the in-ring psychology that both competitors put forth was something that I was not expecting when I learned that this was the main event taking place at TakeOver. I love Johnny Gargano and I think that Andrade “Cien” Almas is a capable NXT wrestler, but I never figured that both of them would deliver a match of this caliber for this event. I mean, if only because Aleister Black in my favorite NXT wrestler at the moment, I would actually consider this match my favorite match of the night. Either way, this was as beautiful a match as I have ever seen on any NXT TakeOver over the years. And with Zelina Vega interjecting herself often throughout the match, it was a huge plus to see Johnny Gargano’s real-life wife, and recent NXT signee, Candice LeRae jumped the guardrail and attacked Vega to one of the biggest pops of the night. After a long back and forth and wondering how long Johnny Gargano could withstand the onslaught to his body, Andrade “Cien” Almas finally pinned Gargano to retain his NXT Championship. But the night wasn’t over for Johnny Gargano because as he was being helped to the back up the ramp by Candice LeRae, out came his former #DIY tag team partner, Tommaso Ciampa, who proceeded to attack Gargano with a crutch, ending the event.
Although the event only featured five matches, NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia was a solid show that continues to exemplify why the NXT brand is the most consistent WWE brand when it comes to putting on pay-per-view/live events. Even the weakest match on the card, the NXT Women’s Championship match of Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler, was a solid and more enjoyable match than more than three-quarters of the matches that either the RAW or SmackDown rosters can put on during their pay-per-view/live events. Hell, even the reveals of the newest NXT signees was a more entertaining feature than other segments we see at other WWE events. Which, by the way, it was awesome seeing War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe), Trevor “Ricochet” Mann, the aforementioned Candice LeRae, and EC3 – especially because that last one caught me completely by surprise. But that’s what I mean – the fact that this announcement surprised me so completely is part of what makes these NXT TakeOver events so amazing. The surprises, the wrestling, the all-out performances that the NXT roster keeps putting on when compared to the other WWE rosters hands-down makes them the better of the three brands.
And that has me a bit conflicted in one regards: you see, I would love to see NXT put on more than four TakeOver events a year. But I fear that if they do put on more TakeOver events over the year it may diminish the quality of each event. Yes, we would see more NXT matches held on a bigger stage, but would it dilute what the competitors of the NXT roster put on event after event? As much as I would like to see more NXT TakeOver events over the year as long as they keep delivering the high-quality performances they do four times a year, I’ll take quality over quantity. But man, when you see events like we just saw at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, it makes it hard not to want to see more and more from the men and women of the NXT roster.