TakeOver: New Orleans
April 7, 2018
Smoothie King Centre
New Orleans, Louisiana

Watch: WWE Network

This show opens with some awful band I’ve never heard of. Just once, I want the official song of NXT Takeover to be by Defiance, OH.

As always, I steadfastly refuse to use star ratings. I give a little sum up afterward that hopefully gives you more context and information than a few snowflakes would.

North American Championship Ladder Match
Adam Cole def. EC3, Killian Dain, Lars Sullivan, Ricochet & the Velveteen Dream

Just because you slightly change the Sanity theme doesn’t change my distaste for them. Lars Sullivan is my favorite now because his enters on top of the eye of Sauron. I have never been a huge fan of Ricochet, but he has an unbelievable star quality. He makes the early parts of this match and he provide a nice introduction for fans who may not be as familiar with his work. The early portions of this are laid out well, with the smaller guys clearing the ring for mini hoss fights, which create a dynamism which is necessary for matches like this. The camera work in this is terrible, but that seems to be par for the course with Takeovers. Everyone has been able to have small moments and sections to highlight themselves, which is a strength of the format, but some have obviously done more to run with the ball than others. The alliance and subsequent feud between Adam Cole and EC3 is probably the weakest portion, although it was probably an effective section for the crowd and helped build anticipation, so even that served a purpose. The shot of Mauro from behind, standing and jumping up and screaming when Sullivan killed EC3 and Dream was incredible. The finishing sequence here is very strong, as in some ways it mirrors and subverts the narrative of the rest of the match, as the big boys are again left standing and wage war on one another, but this time their efforts opened the door for the more opportunistic competitors. While I don’t think Cole’s performance was particularly memorable, I think this is a rare car wreck match that had actual layers and a distinct through line. The match was built around Cole’s “Edge-Lite” character, and was successful in establishing it, although certainly some of the other work in the match was stronger overall.

Rating: A rare ladder match that will reward multiple viewings. As good as the best MITB matches.

NXT Women’s Championship
Shayna Baszler def. Ember Moon

I wonder what Ember Moon would say if you asked her what her character was. I don’t think anyone has a clear idea, and it really hurts her compared to the other women that NXT has so successfully built. It’s odd, with the amount and style of offense that Baszler gets in the early parts of this match, it seems like they are trying to tell a story based around her offense potentially ending the match at any point, but Moon no sells a ton of it to get her own stuff in so a bunch of it feels hollow. The spots where they both stepped on each others fingers were ambitious, but it felt a little inside baseball; certainly without the announcers I would have had no memory of the spot, and judging from the crowd reaction I wasn’t alone. Same with the shoulder dislocation stuff, which got very little reaction. I guess, at the end of the day, I don’t understand why a simpler cat and mouse style story wasn’t used here. Was this supposed to be a double turn? If so it was a half measure. This fell really flat for me, although I readily admit that much of the recent NXT women’s stuff hasn’t been my cup of tea.

Rating: Unclear character work and an overly ambitious story made this worse than it could have been, although both participants tried to work to their strengths at points.

NXT Tag Team Championships & Dusty Classic
Undisputed ERA (Cole & O’Reilly) def. Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong + Authors of Pain

I see that “War is our Peace” is the new AoP slogan, so in my ongoing review gimmick that amuses only me, tonight the Authors are representing Vasily Grossman and Ivan Turgenev. It’s really smart as a narrative tool in this to eliminate Cole very early. It gives a very clear reason for KOR to wrestle at 100 miles per hour, which really helps to create a contrast to AoP, the other stars of this match. It’s crazy how fast they’ve grown. The work in this was fine, but at its heart, this match was just sort of an extended angle rather than a complete narrative.

Rating: I dunno, I’m sure there’s a bunch of people that will throw some stars at this, but I don’t even feel like this is complete enough to rate. It feels like rating half a match.

NXT Championship
Aleister Black def. Andrade Cien Almas

Almas is so great. I think one interesting difference between Almas and many of the other great performers in NXT is that coming from CMLL, he understands how to play to a crowd in a stadium of this size. He really distances himself from the field on these takeover shows. NXT has also done a great job of making Almas and Vega’s act seem different and special, and it really pays off here, as simple interference spots get true heel heat from a crowd  who are ostensibly used to fair matches. Black, for his part, is excellent from underneath here. He sells well while in holds and continues to sell damage to the arm throughout. Still, he finds ways to keep the crowd invested in his striking ability as a potential advantage throughout. This is a great example of how to work a match that shows two people as evenly matched despite having two different styles, and Almas and Vega use their interference spots well to try and break the stalemate, and eventually and ultimately to prevent a loss. Unfortunately, I don’t think Black has as effective a grasp on timing as Gargano, so much of this match feels worked at breakneck speed, where it might have been beneficial to let it breath, as for the sake of the narrative, Almas had to match Black step for step and keep up. As Almas goes through the things that won him the title and helped him retain it against Gargano, he does a great job of trying to escalate on the fly. The narrative closure of Vega’s interference finally being the thing that makes him lose is a wonderful touch, and feels not just like the finish of a match, but of his time in NXT.

Rating: Great work from one of the early wrestler of the year candidates, and a great way to transition to a new title reign.

Unsanctioned Match
Johnny Gargano def. Tommaso Ciampa

Ciampa coming out to no music is inspired. It really establishes a tone so simply and effectively.

So that was the only thing that I wrote on that match while it was going on. Once, when I was in college, I did a presentation and the professor said after that it wasn’t perfect or polished, but he was interested enough that he didn’t take any notes. I feel the same way here. While I’m sure I could find quibbles with the structure or pace or specific spots, this match as a whole had an energy that transcended those things. At the end of the day, that’s something amazing. I wrote on twitter at one point that this match is Sangre Chicana/MS-1 for the modern NXT crowd, and I stand by that. If Johnny Gargano had bled, a woman in the front row would have wiped his forehead with her kerchief. The crowd investment felt hugely organic, and the emotions that both men portrayed felt real in a way that wrestling as ambitious as this often doesn’t. Compare this, for example, the the Bucks/Golden Lovers match from only a few weeks ago. That match was universally praised, and had a similar amount of emotion, but even as people were praising it in the immediate aftermath, there were people saying that moments rang hollow. I can’t imagine people leveling that same criticism here. Well, I suppose I can, it’s wrestling, I’m sure someone somewhere hated it. But ignoring the inherent contrarian subsection, this match should be considered a watermark match for NXT in terms of storytelling and connection.

Rating: Watch it. If this isn’t for you, have a long hard think about whether you’re still a fan of the WWE’s concept of modern wrestling. It’s totally cool if you aren’t, but if this didn’t do anything for you, I’m not sure what else from them will.

My name is JR Goldberg and I write long articles about what wrestling fandom means to me, and sometimes lucha. For whatever reason, it seems I have also become the de facto TakeOver reviewer here at VoW. If you haven’t read anything by me before, feel free to peruse my archive here, or at Paste. You can also find my work in many zines, such as Atomic Elbow and most recently Pro Wrestling Feelings. You can follow me on twitter @wrestlingbubble.