NXT TakeOver: Chicago
May 20, 2017
Allstate Arena
Rosemont, Illinois

Watch: WWE Network

Meet our reviewers:

JR Goldberg: is a writer for Voices of Wrestling and Paste. He mostly focuses on lucha and old ROH, but he keeps getting roped into these Takeover reviews. Follow him on twitter @wrestlingbubble

Kevin Hare: is part of the Burning Spirits podcast, but is taking a minute to stop watching Brahman matches to watch NXT. Follow @burningspirits and @stan__hansen.

Roderick Strong def. Erik Young

JR: The crowd pops pretty big for Sanity, so they either thought the women’s match was first or they have terrible taste. I actually don’t mind the idea of this match, I like Strong coming out and attacking Sanity to show how powerful the numbers game is, and I like Erik Young’s control segment. It even plays to what made Roddy such a strong tag worker, with his high impact offense that really travels. That being said, Strong has a lot of trouble generating the sympathy that is necessary to make a match like this really click. Likewise, Young is seemingly incapable of changing pace to show when moments are important or when he is losing control. I wish I had seen this match structure with a more capable heel. Match Rating: Don’t watch this match.

Kevin: Roderick Strong’s trajectory in NXT has taken a very upwards turn over the past few weeks, as a point has been made to make him more relatable as a human being than he has ever been before. The focus on his family and his newborn son has really worked for me. After watching the showcase video packages, I’m convinced that he will go for the NXT Championship in Brooklyn. Sanity enters first, then Strong’s music hits. He blindsides Sanity from behind, presumably from the crowd, but the cameras missed it. Roddy is on fire for the opening seconds, but eventually Eric Young slows the pace, then completely takes over after a devastating crossbody from Killian Dane on the outside. I think it is impossible for any crowd to really care at all about Sanity or Eric Young right now. Since their debut, they’ve come across like a forced, unnatural faction in a promotion that makes its bread and butter on personal, easily relatable stories. Young controls for a few minutes in a fairly uneventful way until Strong counters a top rope move with a dropkick. Roddy hits a backdrop, then another big slam, but Young escapes the ring. Young hits a wheelbarrow neckbreaker on the outside to tease a countout. The crowd is into the big moments here, but I think that the slower portion after a somewhat hot start killed momentum. After they return to the ring, Young hits a big elbow drop for another 2-count. Strong fends off Sanity after they try to interfere, and lifts Young up, but it ends when Young rakes the eyes. This looked awkward for a minute, as Strong just dropped for a second and everyone looked at each other. Strong gets the win with a combination of his knees and the End of Heartache backbreaker. Strong gets a big win on a Takeover to hopefully finalize his feud with Sanity and move him on to his next step. This match was fine, but Strong is at his best when he can turn his matches into sprints or fight from underneath with an engaging heel, and Young is incapable of either of those things. ***

WWE United Kingdom Championship
Pete Dunne def. Tyler Bate ©

JR: Pete Dunne is so unafraid of being an absolute fucking prick, which is a shockingly rare trait in modern wrestling. It’s very interesting to see how these two have adjusted the “British Style” to larger arenas, by slowing down the mat work to make it easier to follow but staying physically interesting enough to keep the work compelling. I sort of love how Dunne is such a prick that Bate doesn’t take it personally because he knows he would be an equal prick no matter the situation and opponent. Dunne does so much well; when he sells he uses self doubt as much as physical pain, and he always takes opportunity to punch and stomp and add those extra little things. He makes a style that can look theatrical and turns it uncooperative. Bate, for his part, is a modern Steve Grey, using superior concentration and athleticism to make the determination of competition narratively compelling. When cracks of emotion do come through, they are intensely meaningful. These two dudes are absolutely killing each other for my pleasure. The finish here is insane, and Dunne crying during the cover is a perfect moment, showing why he is who he is. Match Rating: Extremely Punk (and also a probably MOTY contender)

Kevin: The British Title needs a big match here to further establish and define what it is supposed to be. Bate was the right guy to win the UK tournament and did it in a brilliant match with Dunne, but since has had good matches but hasn’t done much else to really solidify his place in WWE. His character doesn’t do much but wave on his way to the ring. Dunne has the star presence here and the crowd knows it, showering him with “Bruserweight” chants. They start with some traditional British-style lockups and matwork when Dunne finally settles into working the arm and wrist. The World of Sport influenced style here is a nice change of pace to traditional NXT matches. Dunne’s nasty control sequences really stand out after Eric Young’s uninteresting ones in the match before. Bate reverses momentum and hits a very cool sequence, flipping out of a suplex, hitting a standing shooting star press and hitting a back drop driver for a nearfall. They do a great job of building cool sequences and counters that build on other parts of the match. Both guys are doing a good job of displaying the intensity and importance of this one. While it doesn’t have the epic feel of their first WWE match, it is different, more compact and just as intense. They get a standing ovation after Bate kicks out of a GIGANTIC suplex powerbomb by Dunne. Strike sequences can sometimes come off as forced, but both men engage in one of the hardest hitting, engaging and intense ones you will ever see, never once coming off as the “your turn my turn” trope that bogs down many, before Bate hits a huge clothesline. Dunne counters the Tyler Driver and attempts the Bitter end, but Bate counters with an insane DDT. Dunne exits but Tyler hits a moonsaut to the outside, then returns into the ring and murders Dunne with a corkscrew moonsault. Finally, Bate missed a big crossbody, rolls Bate back into the ring and hits the Bitter End for the win. This was a show stealing, star making performance for both guys and was the perfect way to establish the belt and both guys, made even better by the way both were able to bring a unique style unlike anything else on the card that still fit within the larger NXT style. Dunne is the right winner, as he has the star presence to take it to the next level, but Bate came off just as well. WWE picked the right two guys to be the face of this division, presumably for years to come. ****3/4

NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka © Def. Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot

JR: I feel like if you’re doing an anarchist punk gimmick and you’re from Indiana, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not coming out to a WWE version of “Free Pizza for Life”. That is my one joke only for me this review. Cross is the absolute star of this match in the early parts, always working in a dynamic way that shows her character wonderfully. This match is an interesting companion to some of the other multiwoman Asuka matches, which were worked like Asuka was a tiny Brock Lesnar. Cross and Riot are more confident in their abilities to win on their own merit, and subsequently it is worked in a more standard and even way. Asuka showing emotion when she retained was a nice touch that her dominance comes at a physical and emotional price. It reminded me of that moment when Morishima collapsed backstage after a title defense midway through his ROH title run. Match Rating: The best Asuka title defense thus far.

Kevin: Asuka is a bit of an anomaly to me. She has great presence and a very unique charisma that is different than any other person in NXT, but her matches never completely reach the next gear. Right away, it is apparent that these women know they have a large mountain to climb following the previous match, so they start sprinting right away. Unfortunately, it settles into the traditional WWE triple threat match, with two women in the wring while the other lies around somewhere. At one point, the camera focuses on Ember Moon watching from a skybox. While I understand the point, it does make it feel very obvious that Asuka is winning. Both Riot and Cross feel like they are ways away from being on her level. Cross hit a huge, brutal cross body off the top while Asuka had Riot in the Asuka Lock, causing Percy Watson to say “Cross just saved this match,” which is a pretty true statement. Cross does have a unique charisma to her, but unfortunately she does not fit into Sanity very well, her mannerisms feel forced, and she hasn’t had a big singles match to really showcase herself yet. Considering how heated the Riot/Storm feud has been on tv, their interactions are fairly run of the mill. Finally, Asuka hits a sick running kick on Riot while Riot was pinning Cross and pins both. A solid performance for Asuka here, but a disjointed match that never completely came together. The crowd never thought Asuka had a chance of losing and the match never did anything to change their minds. **¾

NXT Championship
Bobby Roode (c) def Hideo Itami

JR: Bobby Roode, a sentient entrance theme that happens to also be NXT champion, is determined to continue his quest to defeat all of the Japanese wrestlers. It’s funny, I think Nigel did a great job on commentary talking about all of the things that could make this match interesting: is Itami back to 100%? Will Roode’s history of injuring his opponents play in? That being said, none of that really came into play within the match, which left much of the work in the early portions feeling hollow. Itami’s kicks are still great, really adding a focus to his offense when they clearly hit Roode’s shoulder instead of the chest. In fact, there are a lot of individual components that work in this match. Both sell well. The strikes are good, the GTS teases are great. That being said, nothing about this match amounted to anything. It was all just sort of there. Match Rating: Most of the internet will give this three stars, which secretly means “no one will ever think about this match again after tonight”.

Kevin: Itami’s NXT run has, unfortunately been frustratingly lackluster. He took a very long time to get adjusted and finally, when it was starting to click, he got hurt. This is very much the make-or-break match of his WWE career. Unfortunately, he has to wrestle on of the most boring wrestlers in all of wrestling. Itami just casually walks to the ring for his entrance, a gigantic contrast to Roode’s entrance that does Itami no favors. Itami teases a GTS right away, which, admittedly, did make my heart stop for a second. Itami attempted his casual “jump over a guy on the ground, then casually kick him in the face” move (from the mat, not the springboard version) but kind of missed and got a smattering of boos. After some boring Roode sequences, Itami hit a big slap on Roode that sounded great. Itami is hitting some of his signature spots, but it comes off as a player past his prime who doesn’t have the same spark that made him great. The combination of a lackluster champion and a challenger who doesn’t really deserve to be there is not working for this crowd, as it seems to be waiting for something to spark it’s interest in the match. Itami teases a GTS but can’t hit it because of an injured leg before Roode hits the Glorious DDT that Itami kicks out of. Itami then picks up Roode and finally hits a GTS, which gets a smattering of cheers, CM Punk chants and boos shouting down the Punk chants. Roode rolls out of the ring, forcing Itami to get him back into the ring and get only a two-count. Itami’s strikes still look great, and Roode is game for taking some great ones to the chin. Itami goes for one more GTS before Roode counters two Glorious DDTs, including a final one that hat Itami hanging in the air for about 10 seconds. The last few minutes of this picked up after a lackluster first half. It was worked fine enough, but was missing a spark to make it feel like a worthy title match. Itami did try hard, but it is very apparent that he’s hit his ceiling in WWE. This came across as a last ditch effort to make something of his NXT run, but I don’t think he really gained anything here. I’m don’t think he will be a part of the roster for much longer. Roode was game to try to work with him and showcase Itami’s big moves and put together a solid effort here. This was probably better overall than his matches with Nakamura. ***1/4

NXT Tag Team Championships
Authors of Pain © def. DIY

JR: This week, the Authors of Pain are Albert Goldbarth and Marilyn Hacker. It’s pretty unreal to see how much AOP has improved in each match. It actually makes Paul Ellering look really good, because you can convince yourself that his tutelage is the reason for their rapid learning curve. Am I insane, or are the titles hanging really low compared to the average ladder match? It is refreshing that AoP are working this match in a way that makes them seem equally creative to DIY, both in terms of the speed and style of recovery and in terms of ladder usage. One of the fun things about ladder matches is that they sort of play with the idea that everything eventually backfires completely, and both Gargano and Ciampa (and increasingly the AoP) have good enough timing to know how to effectively subvert expectation and get the most out of set pieces and moments. I like the Ellering interference, and I think it nicely informs why AoP doesn’t just go for the win, because Ellering’s instructions are now based upon personal retribution and not what is best for the team. It almost costs them dearly, but the AoP’s natural talent is enough to overcome. Match Rating: I dunno. Fun? It was really good.

The post match is totally awesome, and one of those angles that will be talked about for years. It is a great example of a few things, like how anticipation can create a more significant emotional response than shock, and how small production touches, like the bumper going up early, can help really set something apart.

Kevin: Over the past year and half, the tag titles have become the flagship matches of NXT. Each major match has built off of the last and have solidly been the best match on each show. It is fitting that the first tag team ladder match in NXT history is the first tag match that headlines an Takeover. DIY has surprisingly turned into the anchor of NXT, showing what can happen when you bring in indie wrestlers and don’t shove them down throats as big stars, but instead by building them up naturally. Ciampa is coming into this match with an ankle he injured at a house show a few days before the event. DIY comes out second, which makes me wonder if this is a bit of a swan song for them. Gargano hits a huge dive off of the apron in the early moments that looked great. Every time I watch him, I think that he could really be the next face of NXT. If he never wins the title, it will be a great disappointment. The Authors tease climbing the ladder, but are noticeably out of their element climbing upwards, which is an interesting wrinkle in the match that is very obvious but that I never thought about before. AOP take control, but the crowd seems to just want to wait for the big spots the know coming, which happens soon enough when both members of DIY scale a huge ladder set up outside the ring and splash both members of AOP, who were lying on separate adjacent ladders. Both landings looked brutal, but Gargano particularly looked like he flipped over the ladder and landed right on his head. Finally, the action comes back into the ring and the crowd explodes when it looks like Gargano is going to grab the belts before he is interrupted by Paul Ellering. Unfortunately, the ladder stipulation has thwarted the formula that really works for DIY: Gargano peril spots, Ciampa making the saves, and escalating action that gets more and more frantic as it goes on. However, it really picks up when Gargano saves Ciampa by pushing Ciampa out of the way of an incoming ladder spot and takes it himself, allowing Ciampa to scale the ladder behind one of the Authors and german suplex him off of the ladder through another ladder hanging off of the turnbuckle. A very brutal looking spot. DIY grab the ring the titles are hanging from to unhook them right as the Authors push the ladder out from under them, then grabbing DIY right into the Super Collider power bomb combo. My expectations for this match were very high. I don’t think it quite met them (the crowd may have had something to do with this), but it was still a very good ladder match with some very devastating looking spots. After the match, DIY get a standing ovation and massive “DIY” chants before leaving the ring, which again makes it feel like this may be the end for them in NXT. This also felt like a swansong for the tag division, much like the Sasha vs. Bayley Ironman match signaled the end of the “classic” NXT women’s division. And, just like that, Ciampa rams Gargano into the entranceway, finally delivering what many people have been expecting since they became a team. It culminates with a HUGE Ciampa air raid crash off of the stage that looked incredible. This was done very well and instantly becomes the most exciting thing of NXT. This could be the next version of Owens vs. Zayn, but the advantage it has here is that the entire story was told in NXT. Ciampa instantly becomes the most hated man in NXT. Very well done. ***¾ for the match, a billion for the post-match