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Perhaps playing on the fact that NXT has the oldest average viewer of any WWE show, the latest edition of NXT TakeOvers was named after a series of PPV events that took place 25 years ago. Overall, the show was easy to watch and quick, never dragging and perhaps due to the colorful setting and different lighting, felt like the most lively WWE show since the company had to go to the empty-arena settings.
The show put the women in the main event, which ended up being the right call because the world title match felt underwhelming and going off the air with a new champion is a wiser move. The show was limited to only six matches, most of them pretty good, and in all honesty, the show could have handled another match or two. It was kind of interesting that the last two episodes of NXT have ended up putting over Timothy Thatcher and El Hijo Del Fantasma in pretty significant ways, and yet neither man was mentioned on this show at all.
Io Shirai vs Charlotte vs Rhea Ripley: ***1/4
They didn't go overboard and try to have an amazing, spectacle filled match like some of the previous TakeOver main events, and instead had a fun, well-paced triple threat match. There were a few sloppy spots, but they utilized the In Your House decorations in a fun way and the finish was fairly clever, with Shirai nailing (and I mean NAILING) Ripley with a moonsault while she was in the Figure 8 to win the title.
Charlotte came to NXT in hopes of making new stars, at least that has been what WWE has said publicly. She beat Ripley at WrestleMania for the title, and then lost the title without being pinned or submitted. The only way this can really end up working out is Ripley beating Charlotte in some sort of grudge match. Ripley was hot last fall, but her feud with Charlotte has not helped her become a star, and she needs a signature win over a star to get back on track. However, I could see Charlotte leaving NXT and going back to RAW or SmackDown, since both Asuka and Bayley could use a new challenger for their titles.
Adam Cole vs Velveteen Dream: **
The match looked different, like all the cinematic matches do, but this one didn't do it for me. I get they are trying to have a different kind of viewing experience, but there are elements that just don't work, particularly the obvious edits and constant camera cuts. Unlike The Boneyard Match or the Firefly Funhouse, this was more or less a typical wrestling match, just taking place outside. There isn't a need for a million camera cuts for when something that we typically see in a wrestling match, like when Dexter Lumis hits Roderick Strong with a chair. It takes me out of the action and makes the match look really fake.
I'm also just not a fan of matches where the stipulation sets it up like the heel can't squirm away like he has in the past, only for the finish to be a typical cheating heel win. This felt like a blowoff match, and Lumis had already chased Strong and Bobby Fish away, but Dream still loses because Cole gives him a low-blow and pins him. It feels like a cheap way to end a stipulation-heavy match like the backlot brawl.
Is this the end of Velveteen Dream in NXT? It would be strange if it was, since it feels like Dream has never had less momentum as a character and he is always going to be someone at high risk of Vince not understanding their character and therefore getting slaughtered on the main roster. The irony is that I think Cole really needs to get called up, he has been champion for too long and the Undisputed Era in NXT feels stale. If he went up to the main roster, either with the group or solo, it would be a fresh start and NXT could also move in a different direction.
Karrion Kross vs Tomasso Ciampa: ***
This was not the best match on the show from an action standpoint, but it was the most effective match on the show from a storytelling perspective. Kross is getting a monster push as a heel and WWE is not messing around with it, having him get a clear and dominate win over an established name. Ciampa can take the loss because he has already cooled off a bit since his return, and they can kickstart him again whenever they need to. Kross needs to be protected and presented like a monster and that is exactly what happened tonight. Honestly they should just go all the way with him and have him crush Cole for the title.
Finn Balor vs Damien Priest: ****
This was my personal favorite match of the show. It didn't have the storytelling of Kross vs Ciampa, but it was a hard-hitting, athletic, no-frills-attached competition with tons of action. Balor is easily the most complete performer in NXT, he can just do it all and has the charisma to make things work. He was the perfect opponent for Priest because he got the best performance possible out of a big guy with athleticism, but who still has some rough edges. Even though Priest lost, he looked awesome in this match and can be taken more seriously moving forward because Balor made him look so good.
Johnny Gargano vs Keith Lee: ***
I know I'm not alone in not liking the Gargano heel run; to me it feels like he has been in NXT for so long and they ran out of stuff for him as a babyface, so he turned heel to stay fresh, but he is such a natural babyface in NXT it doesn't really fit him. This match was also complicated by Lee just having such a massive size advantage, it creates a difficult dynamic for an undersized heel. They tried hard with the eye stuff and the joint manipulation, and the work wasn't bad, but this below most Gargano TakeOver matches due to the awkward babyface/heel dynamic.
Tegan Nox, Shotzi Blackheart and Mia Yim vs Candice LeRae, Raquel Gonzalez and Dakota Kai: **3/4
As a multi-man match, this match had a lot of energy and moved quickly. All the women got something to do and it was a fine opening match for the show. There were some elements that looked slow, particularly whenever Gonzalez was in and it was obvious she had the least amount of experience in the ring, but otherwise the match was easy to watch.