wrestling / TV Reports

St-Pierre’s NXT Takeover: Portland Review

February 17, 2020 | Posted by Jake St-Pierre
Adam Cole NXT Takeover: Portland
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St-Pierre’s NXT Takeover: Portland Review  

I don’t do a lot of reviews anymore, so if you can tolerate me, my Twitter handle is @JakeStPierre411 if you could be so kind to follow me. Mike Kanellis blocked me during a vanity search once, if that helps.

We are LIVE from the Moda Center in Portland, OR.

Your hosts are Mauro Ranallo,, Nigel McGuinness, and Beth Phoenix.

We open with a performance of Fill The Crown and Anything Like Me by Poppy. NXT continues to knock it out of the park with their music choice. Poppy’s completely changed her look for this too which kind of throws you off if you’ve followed her career much. Either way, she’s awesome – I Disagree is one of my favorite albums of 2020 so far – and someone should ape her gimmick in pro wrestling immediately.

NXT North American Title: Keith Lee (c) vs. Dominik Dijakovic
Anyone with a surface-level sense of context could have seen a match of this quality coming. After all, for many, the crown jewel of either man’s career may be their five-star effort in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s 2017 edition of BOLA. That’s an opinion I share. And while I can’t say this Takeover bout eclipsed that spectacular showing, it took advantage of the larger stage and did a few new things that made a fresh impression while mixing in the predictably enormous high spots.

One thing I think both men better than their famous PWG encounter was build. While I’m not going to pretend I don’t love mindless spotfests, there’s something more gratifying about a well-paced journey. It’s not as if they took each other to the mat and worked an arm, but that’s not where their strengths lie anyway. Instead, they just fought. They did the best they could to wear down the other man to set up those aforementioned high spots. It gave those spots a reason to exist, and more importantly, a bigger foothold on the audience once the pace quickened. That’s when pro wrestling can drag you in emotionally. And while this match was far from a sob story, it’s hard to say I wasn’t reacting to its best moments nevertheless.

They weaved in and out of different segments with ease. Even when the pace slowed down, there was always a sense of impending doom. There are few pro wrestlers more explosive than Keith Lee, and Dijakovic’s lanky frame flying through the air is never out of the question. Perhaps the most surprising – and exciting, to be honest – moment of all was Dijakovic’s borderline suicidal springboard plancha onto a sitting Keith Lee. It was clear the match was kicking up a notch and when it comes to symbolizing that change, you’re not going to find a more emphatic transition than a move of that stature. Dijakovic and Lee’s knack for forward thinking and structure gave this match a foundation, while the finishing stretch and maneuvers like that plancha gave it an identity.

Given it’s still February, this may not mean much, but it’s hard not to slate this as an early, high-end Match of the Year contender for the North American continent. When it comes to delivering on expectations, both men passed a test with such flying colors that they should be rewarded on that alone, without even diving into the details of what made this match so palpable. But luckily, they got everything right and performed to the best of their gargantuan abilities. ****1/2

Street Fight: Tegan Nox vs. Dakota Kai
WWE and its satellite products are rarely competent at “hardcore” wrestling. It’s not always due to their PG alignments, but moreso their insistence that all of their wrestlers work the exact same way, thus homogenizing their content even more than they already do. So when it comes to matches that logically should be heated battles, they often fall short because of a fundamental flaw in WWE’s aesthetic. However, there are going to be exceptions to that rule. And while this is far from the most violent match you’ll witness, Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai crafted something genuinely meaningful, and that’s what puts this match over the top.

The easy way to describe this match is that it felt like a fight, so I’m going to echo it. These women didn’t go out there and work a stipulation match; they worked a fight that happened to have stipulations around it. The weapons were not the center of this bout’s universe, nor were the highspots. Nox and Kai’s rivalry was, and they used whatever plunder and creativity to blend that hatred into the excitement that one would expect out of a no holds barred match. It’s why matches like Ric Flair and Terry Funk’s I Quit match hold up so well. The circumstances and stips make it unique, but they stayed true to themselves and the feud by brutalizing one another in an organic way. While I’m hardly saying Flair and Funk were eclipsed by Kai and Nox here, they share a loose similarity in how they worked and that’s something worth applauding. This was a great match because of that basic psychology, something a lot of wrestling companies and their wrestlers have trouble exhibiting.

Unfortunately, the finish spoils things a bit. I understand the idea. Debut a new heater for Dakota Kai and prolong the feud with Nox since it clearly has legs. Those legs have lots of torn ACLs, but they’re there. That in itself isn’t a bad idea at all. The execution, however, turned a feasible idea into a damp squib. AEW’s introductions of The Butcher and The Blade or Dr. Luther were guilty of this also. The announcers screaming at us that the person (Raquel Gonzales in this case) is supposed to mean something when the majority of its very in-tune audience hasn’t a clue who it is. That’s just bad booking when you get down to it and it pretty much unraveled the end of a fantastic war that truly deserved a fitting climax. ***3/4

Johnny Gargano vs. Finn Balor
Finn Balor has never really done much for me. It’s not something I hide when reacting to his matches. He often wrestles in such a predictable and clinical manner that he’s never able to conjure up the drama expected of a legitimate main event wrestler. But to give credit where it’s due, Finn Balor performed at the highest level I’ve ever seen from him in the ring.

Johnny Gargano though, as ever, is able to create an incredible sense of gravity around his performances. You know what you’re going to get with him, but you’re never quite sure how it’s going to manifest itself. He’s so talented at putting compelling twists in his matches that no one bout is ever truly the same. It’s the mark of a true ring general, and Johnny Gargano is that and then some. The way he was able to feed off of Finn Balor’s fabulously smug performance evolved into one of the more satisfying pure Good vs. Bad encounters this side of Cody vs. MJF.

The story down the stretch here was one a little too familiar to Johnny Gargano. His thirst for vengeance ended up biting him, as instead of capitalizing after his big Shotgun Dropkick on the outside, he got too greedy and tried to one-up Balor by using the same maneuver that put him out for three months; the 1916. On the surface it’s a fine idea, but taking so long and changing your course does not work against the precise and tactical Finn Balor. This was not Finn Balor cheating to win. He acts like he owns the world, and that’s because he’s portrayed as a legitimately elite competitor. Sometimes, the heel is better. This was one of those moments.

I especially liked the finishing stretch for its simplicity. Often Johnny Gargano matches are criticized for relying on false finishes and nearfalls, and while that’s rarely a criticism I agree with, I can see its validity. And instead of using that tried and true formula for the closing moments of this match, they had something of a battle of wits. There were counters on top of counters. Bombs were dodged and attempted at a torrid pace, with neither man being able to shoot the final shot. They both got incredibly close, but the other man would out-quick the other at the last second and continue battling. It made for a tremendously athletic match-up that stands on its own from many other Balor or Gargano matches. It may have not provided the heartstopping dramatic flair of Johnny’s best Takeover fare, but it was still an incredibly interesting story to watch unfold. It was ultimately something different from what I expect these two men to do, and it paid off very well. ****

NXT Women’s Title: Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Bianca Belair
While this wasn’t anything you probably couldn’t see on an NXT TV main event, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a delight in its own right. It was given a perfect time allotment, and even though it was a bit difficult to surmise who the face and heel were, both women used that to their advantage to craft a spirited babyface match that told a very good Power vs. Athletics story. It’s the best Bianca Belair has ever looked for my money, and the rate at which Rhea Ripley improves is scary. This was a success all around. ***1/2

Charlotte Flair ambushes Ripley after the match to continue the build to their Wrestlemania match, which I think is a really cool piece of booking to give Charlotte a fresh look after her seemingly status-quo Royal Rumble win.

NXT Tag Titles: The Undisputed Era (c) vs. The Broserweights
In a lot of ways, this is business as usual from Fish and O’Reilly. You put them in there with two opponents as outrageously talented as Pete Dunne and Matt Riddle, it doesn’t take rocket appliances to predict quality. They’ve been doing this since their first match as a team in 2012. What separates this from a good amount of UE classics though, was the specific brand of furious pace we were treated to and just how much of every man’s trademarks they stuffed into a sub-20 minute sprint.

They gave us just about everything. It wasn’t particularly intense or gritty, but that’s not really the brand of wrestling I would expect here. They weaved in and out of their flawless technical sequences like it was nothing, and the unique spins on that style were displayed by all four wrestlers. Kyle O’Reilly’s fluid transitions, Bobby Fish’s striking, Matt Riddle’s mile-a-minute suplexes, and Pete Dunne’s wacky limbwork. It was all portrayed significantly, and all men got to shine in their own ways and carve out an identity beyond your generic NXT tag team match.

The spin on The Broserweights’ unlikely teaming was a nice story thread too. Anyone who was unfortunate enough to sit through 2006-2011 TNA or basically any WWE tag team story since 2004 or so, knows that the Odd Couple pairing goes one way and one way only without any real sense of subtlety. Everyone hates each other which makes them teaming a useless storyline since they rarely ever find each other tolerable in the end. And while Dunne and Riddle’s personalities are a little opposed, the common ground they find is refreshing and watching a goofy team like that actually come together and find their rhythm as a unit is delightful. It takes the right performers to make it work, and I’d say Dunne and Riddle could make anything work if the main roster of WWE didn’t exist. In essence, this was everything you could want out of this match and the somewhat surprising finish gives it something more memorable to hang its hat on. ****

NXT Title: Adam Cole (c) vs. Tommaso Ciampa
I am what you could call a Tommaso Ciampa fanboy. I think – ever since he arrived in NXT, quite frankly – he has been one of the brightest lights in any place he’s gone. He was the best heel in wrestling during his big Gargano feud and ensuing title run, and I was gutted when we didn’t get that last match with Gargano. His work in that feud was nothing short of incredible and while the happy payoff after Gargano’s title win was satisfying, there’s always been that what-if.

And since we never got that last hurrah, we got to witness a fantastic babyface performance from Tommaso Ciampa instead. A borderline antihero, fighting his hardest to win back the title that he treasured, the title that he never lost. It’s a story as old as time. Think Dominick Cruz in the UFC, who had similarly bad timing (and luck) with injuries at his peak but came back and had one of the best UFC title fights of all time to reclaim his throne. Ciampa didn’t change much either. He had tunnel vision on that title since he returned, and this was his big opportunity.

And as you’d think, he wrestled a suitably epic match against main event stalwart Adam Cole. He had the odds to beat, the injuries to exploit, and one of the longest reigning NXT champions ahead of him. And even though I can’t say it was perfect, it had the atmosphere of something significant. The crowd has rallied around him after an otherwise tumultuous singles career full of being called a bald bastard and cheating. And that sort of attitude never really left if you look deep enough here. He even fought back against Cole’s low blow with one of his own down the stretch. He didn’t lose all of his antagonistic qualities, but karma caught up with him in a big way right when everything looked perfect.

The match itself was your archetypal NXT Takeover main event. Slow feeling out, a gradual build, and tons of drama down the stretch. And given these were two of the most over main event acts on the roster, it worked wonders. The false finishes were impeccably timed, because they were built. Cole’s Panama Sunrise was one of those false finishes, as he had attempted to hit it several times through the match and once he hit it, it was on the floor in a huge spot. And then when he tried it again, it would have led to his demise had Johnny Gargano not arrived. It was a great yin and yang of what can happen when you rely too much on a specific move, and while there may not have been a huge overarching story, they told one with what they did in several small threads, which is its own sort of great psychology.

I’ll admit that I am a little confused that NXT would book two interference finishes in one show given they are usually airtight with that sort of thing, but I thought this one turned out really well. I adored the Gargano vs. Ciampa feud for everything it did, and to see it turned on its head in such a drastic way is something I can’t wait to watch unfold. They can tell an entirely new story, but this time wrap it up the way they intended and show the fans something new from both men. It has to be a credit to NXT that they’re willing to stray from the Johnny Takeover formula so emphatically, setting up an entirely new landscape for the top of the card in the meantime. When it comes to long-term booking, wrestling quality, and overall entertainment, it’s hard to ask for a better main event than this, even if it doesn’t reach the same peaks as Takeovers past. ****1/4

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The surest thing to bet on in wrestling is a great Takeover event. NXT's direct competitor may be giving it a hard time in the ratings (and quality) department, but there's not a wrestling product on Earth that can match their big shows for atmosphere, consistency, or match quality. Every character has its footing. Every match has a purpose. There's no downtime, and while this is one of the longest Takeovers in history, it justifies its runtime gorgeously. There's something for everyone, from the ridiculous Hoss Fights (my favorite) to energetic women's wrestling to epic storyline developments. You get so much bang for your buck out of a Takeover, and their trek to Portland was no different. Seek this out immediately.

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