The Royal Rumble weekend begins with NXT Takeover: Philadelphia. The main event will see Johnny Gargano challenge Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT Championship. This show will also have NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon attempting to stand up to Shayna Baszler, and Aleister Black going for revenge against Adam Cole in an Extreme Rules match.

NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia
January 27, 2018
Wells Fargo Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Watch: WWE Network

Meet Our Reviewers:

Robin Reid mostly runs the European side of the site but occasionally gets roped into these group reviews when he feels like having a stable sleep pattern is overrated. He invariably enjoys TakeOvers but simultaneously almost always finds himself the low man on the ratings. Follow him on Twitter at @TheRDouble

Suit Williams did the preview, so he may as well jump in on the review. He does various reviews here on VOW, but does enjoy himself some NXT on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter at @SuitWilliams

NXT Tag Team Championships
Undisputed Era (O’Reilly & Fish) def. Authors of Pain

Suit Williams: Nigel McGuinness is out sick, meaning that our announce team is Mauro Ranallo and Percy Watson. Oh dear. That aside, this match was very good. To my surprise, O’Reilly and Fish got a good amount of offense in on AOP. They worked over Akam’s knee early, and it would continue on through the match. Despite the AOP’s inexperience in being faces in peril, they played the role very well. The comeback was hot as well, with an initially cold crowd getting into both teams. AOP hit the Super Collider, but O’Reilly rolled through, knocked Rezar out of the ring, and got the win with a rollup. ***1/2

Robin Reid: I was surprised to see this open up the show; I had thought Dream-Ohno was destined for that spot. I was even more surprised then when this match was worked with a traditional tag structure as opposed to the sprint you usually get to open a show. This still delivered big time though. O’Reilly and Fish did a tremendous job in putting on convincing and compelling heat segments while still making the Authors look strong, which is no easy task when they were outsized so much. The Authors brought the fire with their comeback. They always do such a great job at varying their creative power offense to the point you never know what is coming next; you really believe they can do anything to their opponents from any position. This was a very good match, and strong performances from both teams. ***3/4

Velveteen Dream def. Kassius Ohno

Suit Williams: On the pre-show, Dream promised to knock Ohno out within 30 seconds. He came out in fantastic boxing trunks, and Blaster McMassive gave him a $2,000 custom mouthguard. I made none of that up. The knockout tease was only to give this match a little juice, as the build was only a 30 second backstage segment after Wednesday’s NXT. The match was a bit sloppy, like the two were a half-second off on a few key spots, and that hurt the match. But this NXT crowd loves them some Velveteen Dream, and so they weren’t too hard on them for it. Dream got the win with a cartwheel DVD and a Purple Rainmaker off of the ringpost. ***

Robin Reid: Big pop for Blaster McMassive (previously of DevCorp fame) during the Dream’s entrance. This started real strong but got lost midway through and became real sloppy. This felt like a match built around the first thirty seconds and after that they tried to just wing it and somewhat failed. ***

NXT Women’s Championship
Ember Moon (c) def. Shayna Baszler

Robin Reid: Lovely touch to give Baszler the MMA walkout for her entrance. They’ve done a great job of making Shayna feel special and dangerous; I’ve really enjoyed the build to this title match. Watching this match, I couldn’t help but think that the match would have been so much better had Ember been more over in the sympathetic face role, as I thought Baszler did a good job of putting a beating on Moon but the crowd just did not care. I thought the extended armbar spot went on a little too long, but the visuals of Moon clawing at her to try to escape were awesome. Finish was fine, and they did a good job setting up the rematch in the post match, but I’m not sure a second match will have the crowd anymore into it. For the story told here they really needed crowd investment, and they didn’t have it. ***

Suit Williams: I said in the preview that while the build was awesome, Baszler left me wanting more in the ring. Unfortunately, that was still the case here, as most of the match was them rolling for position in an armbar. Baszler stomped Moon’s arm out like she did to Dakota Kai in the build, but Moon was able to continue. Moon hit the Eclipse but she wasn’t able to cover due to jamming her arm on the mat. Doctors came out, and the Philly crowd knew that bullshit was abound. It never came though. After they spent hours rolling for position on this armbar, Ember rolled her up for the clean win. The crowd eventually got into it, but that did not live up to the build. Shayna choked Ember out on the ramp afterwards, which signals a rematch that I can definitely live without. **3/4

Extreme Rules
Aleister Black def. Adam Cole

Robin Reid: People seemed to like this a lot, but it did very little for me aside from a couple of cool big bumps. The match just had no flow. Every time things would pick up for the first two thirds the match would grind to a halt again as one of the two would go for a rummage under the ring. To give them their due, by the end of the match when everything was set up and they could just roll through their big spots with added Sanity and Undisputed Era players thrown in I was into it. Cole especially worked hard, and took some horrible bumps in particular the DVD on the chairs. I’m never a huge plunder guy, but I appreciated the effort. ***1/2

Suit Williams: The crowd was hot for this one, chanting ‘This Is Awesome’ before they started fighting. This match started off as a garden variety hardcore match. Chairs, tables, sticks, nothing particularly exciting. O’Reilly and Fish got involved on Cole’s behalf, but sAnITYYYY got involved and took them out. The match picked up after that, with Cole taking an insane DVD on two chairs. Cole had one last superkick, but Black laid him out with a Fade to Black for the win. This picked up toward the end, but like most Cole matches, it topped out at good. ***1/4

NXT Championship
Andrade Cien Almas (c) def. Johnny Gargano

Robin Reid: I had extremely high expectations going into this one. It delivered. It delivered all the bloody way and then some. The sequences were magical. The structure sublime. The interference was perfectly timed. Candice evening the odds couldn’t have been done better. Everything was so creative, with little things like Gargano hitting a suicide dive to the back of Almas just elevating things that much more, and it all flowed together seamlessly. Gargano is one of the best sellers in the world and is the best white meat babyface going. To steal a take I read on twitter: he sells like a person and not a performer. That’s what makes him so rootable for, and the reactions in this match paid credence to that; the crowd were 100% bought in on this guy who had worked himself up from nothing in NXT. Some will say the wrong man won, but I’m fine with the result. Sometimes the good guy just isn’t good enough, and the post match Ciampa angle means he has immediate direction anyway. Plus Almas has been doing an amazing job as champion; while Johnny was the clear star of this match Almas put in an incredible performance too which I hope doesn’t get lost. Oh and did I mention the finish rocked too? Because it did. The best NXT title match ever, and a top three NXT match full stop (Cesaro-Zayn and DIY-Revival being the other two on the pantheon). This was just tremendous pro wrestling. ****3/4

Suit Williams: On an unrelated note, I want Zelina Vega to win the Rumble. Both of them. This was a stellar pro wrestling match. The drama was turned up to ten, because despite this only being his first chance at the NXT Title, Johnny Gargano made this match feel do-or-die. Much like a Sami Zayn or even a Hiroshi Tanahashi, Johnny Gargano elicits an incredible emotional response from his fans. And much like those two men, Johnny Gargano has the capabilities to be one of the best wrestlers in the world. He and Almas had a great pair of matches over the summer, and this one not only topped those two, they had a match worthy of being called one of the best in this promotion’s history. Zelina Vega played her role perfectly as usual, and Candice LeRae making her debut was perfect as well. And I may be in the minority here, but I LOVED the finish. Almas has been on fire as well since the Gargano series in the summer. After being absent in the build to this match, his performance and his victory legitimized him as a champion and a top-level wrestler on this roster. Many people, myself included, thought Gargano would get the job done tonight. But he has unfinished business with Tommaso Ciampa, who laid Gargano out with a crutch after the match. Stellar pro wrestling, two star-making performances, a WrestleMania weekend match almost certainly set up, and an early MOTYC. ****3/4