Before we get to the big Sunday night TV event that didn’t try to force to you sympathize with Ke$ha (for Christ’s sake), here’s a few thoughts about Saturday night’s NXT Takeover, which we didn’t get a chance to fully review (blame DRAGON BALL FighterZ, masked butcher of all my productivity for the foreseeable future):
This was kind of a sleepy Takeover, given how mind blowing the War Games show was in November and now especially given the hindsight of how surprisingly, genuinely great the Rumble was. After a serviceable if unspectacular Tag Title Match (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly retaining against Authors of Pain) a weird botch fest where Velveteen Dream awkwardly defeated Kassius Ohno and the still very green Ember Moon’s surprise Women’s Title retention against even greener monster heel Shayna Baszler, the show then justified its existence with a simply stunning double main event.
Closing the show was the title match, a stone cold (pun intended) instant classic between Andrade “Cien” Almas, riding high from his War Games victory, and his indie darling challenger Johnny Gargano with all the harrowing drama of an iron man or 2 out of 3 falls match but none of the gimmickry, simply the psychology and storytelling in the ring carrying these performers into legend. Almas’ ability to hit a tornado DDT and / or hurricanrana seemingly out of anything is never not a joy to behold, but it was Gargano nipping his heels as the scrappy underdog that had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand. Zelina Vega’s frustrated interference (and Candace LaRae’s retaliation) notwithstanding, Gargano’s performance was more than befitting of a champion, even though he couldn’t technically best Almas in the end. And then, of course, Tomasso Ciampa had to return with another crutch shot to poor old Johnny Wrestling, adding insult to injury, their blood feud building up to be one of NXT’s hottest and most heartfelt ever.
Philadelphia’s hardcore heritage was played up not just in the show’s intro video (Paul Heyman at his most Paul Heyman-y) but in the match of the night, a no DQ encounter fought to a standstill by Adam Cole and Aleister Black. Trash cans, kendo sticks, ladders and chairs littered the ring, as you’d expect, as did 11th hour run ins from Cole’s Undisputed Era teammates and their rivals in the criminally underutilized SAnitY (Where is Nikki Cross!?). But it was a double knee strike to Cole’s chest and then through an announce table, seriously looking like something from Tekken or Dead or Alive, that turned the tide for the superhumanly agile Black and insured his eventual well deserved victory.
Onto the Rumble itself, and while the Rumble (Rumbles, in this case) is easily the most entertaining thing that WWE does all year (seriously, you can’t beat the format), as usual, the non-Rumble parts of the Rumble show are set dressing at best and excruciating at worst, especially at this ass destroying four hour length. AJ vs. Zayn and Owens? Okay. Brock vs. Braun vs. Kane? An enjoyable train wreck. Anything involving Jason Jordan or The Usos? Yeah, not so much. Go heat up some more Little Caesar’s, nothing to see here.
The big story was the first ever Women’s Rumble, a full on 30 participant over the top rope battle royal where the winner would choose which world champion they wanted to face at Wrestlemania, just as the Men did. The Women’s Rumble actually headlined the show, and with good reason, as big of a surprise as a returning Rey Mysterio was, he couldn’t top Ronda Rousey entering the WWE fray, for good apparently, though in true WWE fashion, the nature of her participation was a bit of a head scratcher, emerging after the match was over and stealing the thunder of well deserving winner Asuka, not even allowing her to choose which champion (Smackdown’s Charlotte Flair or Raw’s Alexa Bliss, barely set dressing here given how overstuffed the show was already) she would challenge before the telecast came to a close. Just weird.
Other such weirdness in the female fracas was the over reliance on ghosts from divas division’s past (Where is Nikki Cross!?). As an attitude era mark I’ll admit it was cool to see Lita, Trish Stratus and even Jacqueline back in a WWE ring, but as a fan who lost interest as ruthless aggression gave way to the early PG era I was scratching my head (again) at people like Kelly Kelly and Michelle McCool. But maybe this type of nostalgia baiting was what the somewhat staid Men’s Rumble could’ve used, with only the Hurricane filling such a slot and being summarily dismissed.
The Men’s Rumble was so by the Numbers compared to its female equivalent it really did feel like an afterthought, but hey, at least Reigns or Cena didn’t win, though after his time spent and the performance therein I’d have preferred Finn Balor over Shinsuke Nakamura. Similarly, I felt Sasha Banks more deserving than Asuka on the Women’s side, but at least it wasn’t one of the Bellas, or *shudder* Stephanie McMahon (hot garbage on commentary to a nigh distracting degree) entering the match herself. I’m not going to shit on Nakamura though, and seeing him and AJ Styles rekindle their NJPW rivalry at “The Showcase of the Immortals” definitely has me more interested in following WWE on “The Road to Wrestlemania” than I was before. Asuka too, deserves the push, I just wish the Rousey stuff was staged a little better. We here at Riot Nerd remain, as always, cautiously optimistic.