wrestling / TV Reports

St-Pierre’s NXT TakeOver: New York Review

April 5, 2019 | Posted by Jake St-Pierre
Velveteem Dream Matt Riddle NXT Takeover New York
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St-Pierre’s NXT TakeOver: New York Review  

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NXT Tag Titles: The War Raiders (c) vs. Ricochet & Aleister Black
I’m having some trouble coming up with something to say about this, but that’s not out of apathy or anything. This match just seems like one of those bouts that speaks for itself, and you can probably guess how it’s going to go by looking at the men involved. NXT’s use of Ricochet and Aleister Black as a duo here is a rare luxury the main roster afforded them, as it creates an organic way to both fill out the Dusty Rhodes Classic and say goodbye to the tandem as they trek through the main roster together. Add that with the fact that NXT didn’t give us The Forgotten Sons in this slot, I’m willing to just give this match a pass on general principle.

Luckily for pretty much everyone involved, this match didn’t need that pass, because it delivered beautifully. There wasn’t much to talk about in regards to psychology or narrative beyond your usual Power vs. Speed battle, but not everything needs years of build to make a statement. It was just one of those matches where everybody had a reason to be there, and their performances served both to advance their own plot in the match and the greater good of making it something memorable. I liked the early exchanges where Ricochet attempted to use his speed on Hanson, but couldn’t complete the moves his vaunted flips tried to set up. It didn’t carry through the entire match or anything, but those sorts of small story threads make the usual opening spot a little more memorable, and establishes both style and moveset without doing all that much, so when they kick it up a notch, you know what both men are capable of.

Subtle ideas like that permeated throughout this match and really brought the spot-heavy bout together into something cohesive, which I greatly appreciate. Hanson’s wacky feats of athleticism clashed with Ricochet’s speed, or Rowe and Aleister Black’s ongoing story of restraint turning into a fight. It’s not working a limb, but it’s a simple and exciting way to connect the dots for a match that already had so much going for it. All in all, this was a tremendous opener and a wonderful swan song for Ricochet and Aleister Black. ****

NXT North American Title: Velveteen Dream (c) vs. Matt Riddle
NXT fosters an environment so authentic that I can draw from these men’s personalities and feel like their actions and matches have meaning. This match has been built so simply and by-the-books, but that simple build is supplemented so well by the natural charisma these men are allowed to display that you don’t even think about said simplicity.

That quality seemed a little lost in the shuffle as this match got started, and it was a bit rough going for them because of it. It felt like one of those matches that had a lot of really good ideas, but didn’t flesh any of them out enough to truly get the most out of their ambition. Nothing was executed badly as such, but it felt a little disjointed at points and beyond what their chemistry allowed. In particular, it felt like Riddle was working a totally different match than Dream, stringing his usual offense together in a way that I don’t think Dream’s style meshes well with. In the bigger picture though, this became a nitpick because once these two got going, they really took things to a new level and worked that clunkiness into the match’s narrative.

Once this match became about Velveteen Dream’s fighting spirit and wherewithal in the face of Matt Riddle’s ridiculous onslaught, the switch flipped spectacularly. If there is one thing Velveteen Dream has in spades, it is a connection with an audience. His charisma is so out-there and interesting that even though his inexperience still peeks out at times, he has an innate ability to push through it and make the match something special. This was a perfect encapsulation of Velveteen Dream’s appeal in that respect, and I think he deserves tons of commendation for adjusting and using his natural talents to pick up the “slack” as it were.

Matt Riddle himself was a wonder here, though. His constant attack, his endless flurries of offense, and unrelenting motor gave us one of the most interesting heat segments you’re likely to see out of a WWE/NXT match. It was such a stark contrast from the schtick-heavy way Velveteen carries himself in the ring and while it didn’t always come together perfectly, it ended up being a delight once they put a bow on the story they were trying to tell. Both men brought what makes them special and implemented it fantastically, even through some slight growing pains, and we got quite the memorable title match because of it. ****

WWE UK Title: Pete Dunne (c) vs. WALTER
A lot of pro wrestling traditionalists get caught up on wrestling looking real. I understand and appreciate that desire because wrestling requires an obvious suspension of disbelief to be consumed to its utmost potential. But realism is largely unnecessary to create a successful match in the modern era. Joey Ryan makes a good living by turning that idea on its head and creating something almost completely foreign. But on occasion, wrestlers like WALTER come along and fill that realistic niche in such an interesting way that even the most open-minded of wrestling fans start to question what they want out of the medium. And the reason WALTER is that alluring as a worker is because of his predictability. He is as simple as it gets. You know exactly what he’s going to do every time he steps into a ring, and the appeal starts to evolve into what exactly his opponent can do to stop his attack. And against Pete Dunne, it was obvious; the champion was going to attack his hands to get away from those chops.

But it didn’t work. Pete Dunne was at a loss for almost this entire match, and that story was as engrossing as any I’ve seen told all year. In no way could this be construed as a 50/50 match between two equal competitors. WALTER’s size and brutality put Pete Dunne’s to shame. This wasn’t a match where Pete Dunne outgrappled and outclassed his opponent with limbwork and pace. He was systematically beaten down by the better man, and even when Dunne tried resort to using his speed and cunning, he ran into the biggest of brick walls. But that doesn’t mean it was easy for WALTER.

The big Austrian had to do everything he possibly could to put Pete Dunne away. He used every signature move he had. He chopped Dunne to mush. He gave him a lariat that Stan Hansen would shed a tear over. He powerbombed him. He stomped his face ad nauseum. And not only did Dunne stay alive, but he continued fighting back. He was in the face of the most turbulent blitz in the world and it was only a top rope Powerbomb and a diving splash that could keep him down. So not only did WALTER look like a murderer and a champion of champions; Pete Dunne looked like the gutsiest, toughest, and most tenacious man on the entire planet.

You don’t need 50/50 booking to make two men look like worldbeaters. You don’t need distraction pins to protect the loser. That’s the way out built by a creative force that doesn’t trust its talent enough. Because if those wrestlers can create this sort of magic, you can use their platform to tell whatevery story you want. And while WALTER came out of this match with the belt, and clearly the better man, you don’t come out of it thinking Pete Dunne isn’t a damn great competitor. You want to see them both again, because you respect them for having one of the best matches of the year. And simple psychology in that vein can elevate a good match to a great one… and when you consider how incredible this match already is, that says more than any sentence I could put together. ****3/4

NXT Women’s Title: Shayna Baszler (c) vs. Bianca Belair vs. Kairi Sane vs. Io Shirai
In a lot of ways, this match makes complete sense based on the last several months of the Women’s Division, but it gives me slightly troubling flashbacks to when the booking of the division was about as dire as an NXT program can get. Various multi-woman matches and a lack of focus permeated through pretty much every woman on the roster, making the back half of Asuka’s long run with the title seem a little vanilla. Here, it makes sense due to the amount of singles matches on the card tonight, but I hope this doesn’t become a trend once more as I’ve quite enjoyed the singles-oriented nature of Shayna Baszler’s run atop the division.

This match will probably not be seen as a highlight of the card, but for its spot, I am having trouble finding anything outwardly wrong with it. The pace, execution, and overarching story threads made for a damn-near perfect midcard title match and dug them out of the impossible hole of following WALTER vs. Pete Dunne. All four women did a fabulous job playing their roles, elevating the match to more than just a time-killing spotfest. Shayna Baszler was the opportunist buzzkill who, while not outwardly cheating, let her opponents do the work while she used her cunning and intelligence to time her attacks perfectly. Io Shiari and Kairi Sane stole the show athletically, starting with wonderful double teams before the individuality of the match got in the way of their tandem. Bianca Belair’s double Psycho Driver was one of the best spots of the night, and she continues to improve at a wonderful rate with her timing and athleticism being the primary benefactors. While I personally would love a big-time, long singles match for this title soon, it’s hard to complain about a match with this sort of airtight cohesion and urgency. Good stuff. ***1/2

Two Out of Three Falls for NXT Title: Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole
I’ve typed the first sentence to describe what I think of this match at least ten times, and I’m having trouble giving my thoughts in any sort of organized manner. I wanted to talk about how much I hated Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa teaming up on the main roster, but that seems sort of useless now. I wanted to compare it to Jim Cornette’s booking of Doug Basham and The Damaja in OVW, and how beautifully that story ended in the odds of incompetent corporate meddling, with WWE putting them as a team despite their growing hatred in Louisville. How the Damaja and Doug Basham were at each other’s throats, but ended up friends in the end when the dust settled. But like I said, that doesn’t really seem useful anymore.

I’ll just start with saying that this will likely end up being my Match of the Year barring one of the best matches of all time, and even then, I’m not sure my sentimentality will allow this to come in any place but first. Simply put, this match is everything I love about pro wrestling wrapped in a 38 minute bow. I tend to say that a lot about Johnny Gargano when watching his Takeover output, but this is something completely different.

I loved every minute of this match, sometimes for completely different reasons. From the slow technical start with neither man making any sudden mistakes turning into the burst of energy in speed that ended in Adam Cole’s more explosive finisher winning out in the end… it was worked so intelligently. Neither man wanted to win that first fall by expending themselves and going too hard, so they tried to catch quick cradles or pinfalls to draw first blood. It wasn’t particularly heated or intense; they knew this was a marathon, and not a race. That was also evidenced by Adam Cole’s immediate tap to lose the second fall. There was no reason for either man to blow themselves out when they still had such a mountain to climb. That psychology did a wonderful job carrying the match forward in its slower moments, and they should be commended for that cerebral approach, because they could have sat around until the third fall simply coasting on their reputation. Little things like that make a world of difference.

That all built to the third fall, one of the most engrossing and captivating segments of wrestling I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. While it absolutely disappoints me that Tommaso Ciampa wasn’t in the ring, these two men did a fabulous job of still calling back to Johnny Gargano’s journey with him while still creating a new identity for Cole’s role in the proceedings. The Fairy Tale Ending on the announce table is one of my favorite spots in ages, because it served so many different purposes. It was a gargantuan dick move from an increasingly desperate Adam Cole, going low to try and play head games with the vulnerable Johnny Gargano. It reminds me of Zelina Vega throwing in a #DIY shirt to help Andrade Almas beat him in the same building almost 2 years ago. But by simply surviving the move and getting back into the ring, it symbolizes Johnny Gargano shaking the weight of Tommaso Ciampa from his shoulders and doing what he hasn’t been able to do since the turn happened; overcome.

Of course, Gargano had a lot of Adam Cole-related baggage to deal with too. The Undisputed Era interference only added to the rollercoaster this match became, only added to by how well it was built. Adam Cole had several opportunities to put the match away on his own. He busted out the Florida Key suplex. He busted out the Panama Sunrise. He did everything in his power to win the match for himself and only had to resort to his cronies when it was clear Johnny was not going to lose like that. It puts over the desperation of Adam Cole, but also his tenacity as a competitor that he even had to go as far as he did before his friends came out.

But Johnny Gargano did not die. He had been through everything. His best friend turned on him out of greed and a thirst for power. He was no longer apart of the most beloved tag team in NXT history. His career was marred by loss after loss, and even the victories he’d attained became tainted by the same mindset Tommaso Ciampa had when he turned. Johnny had been beaten, humiliated, and had alienated everyone close to him in the name of revenge. Just like Tommaso Ciampa. But Johnny Gargano was stronger than that. And despite everything, he became what Tommaso Ciampa tried to be; a true champion. And even if Johnny couldn’t beat the man himself, he proved that he was the better man. That’s what being a hero is about.

And just like Doug Basham and Damaja in OVW 16 years ago, the two bitter friends found solace in each other again. It took hatred and violence to see through it, but just like Basham who was forced to leave OVW by his former partner’s hand, the broken Tommaso Ciampa couldn’t keep up the facade anymore. In wrestling, we’re rarely afforded the opportunity to bask in a happy ending. Creative forces get in the way. Injuries get in the way. But even with those forces in play, Johnny Gargano’s coronation as NXT’s champion is about the happiest ending I’ve ever seen in this stupid wrestling thing I like, and it was an incredible match to boot. *****

The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
It's getting to the point where I don't know which Takeover event stands out the most, but I'll be damned if New York didn't throw its hat in the ring with authority. The main event speaks for itself, but its supporting cast was magnificent, buoyed by the incredible Pete Dunne vs. WALTER war that lived up to the laughably high expectations set for it. The faster paced Tag and Women's Title matches scratch that itch as well, so you're probably not liable to find a more consistent, compact, and diverse wrestling card all year. It earns the recommendation on the strength of the unbelievable Gargano vs. Cole match, but stay for the rest, because you won't be disappointed. It's truly one of the great wrestling shows of all time.