Review: NXT Takeover: War Games

“Swing of the axe!”

When a wrestling show opens with verbose master linguist Mauro Ranallo’s call for us to “Marvel” at fantastic old school monster heel and “Jack Kirby illustration come to life” Lars Sullivan, you know you’re not in basic bitch main roster WWE Kansas anymore. That’s always been NXT’s forte though, it’s small scale bouts between indie darlings and performance center graduates calling to mind the oddball pro graps soup of the old Saturday morning WWF Superstars shows or the dearly beloved WCW Saturday Night. No wonder then that NXT mastermind Triple H (Paul to those of us in his inner circle) decided to bring one of WCW’s most mind blowingly gonzo old ideas of of moth balls, War Games, where a handful of hard hitters do battle in two rings surrounded by a double sized steel cage. Is it dumb? Of course. Is it awesome? Well, let’s find out.

Speaking of Sullivan, his opening encounter with Kassius Ohno brilliantly continued to build his monstrous legend, like an NXT version of Braun Strowman’s early Raw run with the benefit of Lars not looking like Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds. Sullivan took down the former Chris Hero (looking the best he has since returning to NXT) after a missed discus elbow followed by his “freak accident” finisher.

Similarly, Aleister Black (the Baron Corbin that it’s okay to like, and I like Baron Corbin, so shut up) faced off against Velveteen Dream (Patrick from Tough Enough’s surprisingly over Prince/Hendrix gimmick) which was also a great showing for both the newcomer and ICW’s former Tommy End. Dream hit the ring with a gravity defying hairstyle resembling Egon from the old Real Ghostbusters cartoon, and both he and Black airbrushed on his tights, shades of Ravishing Rick Rude, to a huge pop to the crowd, but after a fast paced whirlwind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it false finishes, Dream fell to Black Mass and Aleister got to keep his win streak. “Enjoy infamy, Velveteen Dream”.

Starting the night’s duo of title matches, Peyton Royce, Nikki Cross, Kairi Sane and Ember Moon met in a fatal four way for Asuka’s vacated NXT Women’s’ title in what may have been the segment of the night, a relatively short match that was a near constant spot fest where everyone was made to look super strong and capable. “Pirate Princess” Sane’s One Piece/May from Guilty Gear gimmick is just the best, and her elbow drop is literally the best in the business. Cross took a power bomb on the outside mat from Royce that actually shook my living room. But it was the much improved and very much due Ember Moon that took home the prize in the end, her devastating “eclipse” top rope stunner delivered doubly to Cross and Royce to secure the W, Asuka entering the ring to put a satisfying cap on her and Moon’s rivalry to graciously award Ember the title.

Speaking of improved, Andrade “Cien” Almas’ resurgence and the hands of highly entertaining and badass manager/valet/bodyguard Zelina Vega (TNA’s Rosita) was rewarded with his first NXT title win over impressive big man Drew McIntyre. Most likely due to McIntyre’s burgeoning injuries, this may have been the weakest bout on the card, though the worst match on an NXT Takeover show is usually still pretty good, and this definitely was, with false finishes aplenty and a ton of dastardly and devastating heel interference from rising star Vega. Congrats, Cien, and get well soon, Drew.

Just like Code Orange at the last Takeover, fellow Riot Nerd faves Power Trip assumed “theme song” duties for last night’s show. I don’t know who’s making these musical choices for the yellow brand, but we metal nerds salute you.
Onto the titular War Games match itself and holy shit what a fucking beautiful mess. The Authors of Pain + Roderick Strong, Sanity (Eric Young, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe) and Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole (Bay Bay!)’s new Undisputed Era faction did brutal battle in a caged double ring, with weapons, blood and the most hardcore spots this side of an ECW PPV from 1997. As the various competitors entered the fray from shark cages at the top of the ramp, it was the final group to enter, Wolfe and Dain, that elevated the proceedings from entertaining to total classic, unveiling nightsticks, tables, trash cans and chairs, Dain locking the cage closed himself and swallowing the key. Fucking legend. But for all the brutality on display from super heavyweights like the AOP and Dain (the enormous Irishman going coast to coast was a particular highlight) it was former Bullet Clubber Cole with a chair assisted knee strike to Young that secured the W for the UE.

It might not be a popular opinion, but War Games may have been the best Takeover ever, and definitely the most entertaining wrestling show I’ve seen in a long time, even better than recent efforts from the mighty NJPW and ROH (its no wonder given that at least half of Ring of Honor’s main event scene from 6 months ago were in the War Games match). NXT is usually a tough act to follow but after the pure excellence of the resurrected War Games tonight’s WWE Survivor Series has even bigger boots to fill than usual. Game on.

Kevin Hawkey is the co-founder, head writer and editor of Riot-Nerd. He enjoys Fighting Games, Metal, Marvel, Horror and all the weird shit in between. A lifelong Philadelphian just as comfortable in a circle pit at Underground Arts as he is drooling over the new Hot Toys figures at Brave New Worlds, Kevin’s idiosyncratic sensibility gives this site it’s unique dichotomy between “riot” and “nerd”.

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