NXT TAKEOVER: WARGAMES 2019
NOVEMBER 23, 2019
ALLSTATE ARENA
ROSEMONT, ILLINOIS

Watch: WWE Network

MEET OUR REVIEWERS 

Sean Sedor: Now that the NASCAR season is officially over, Sean’s Saturdays and Sundays are much more open. So, he decided to sign up for BOTH of the big WWE shows this weekend. Is he crazy? Maybe. Will WWE break him by the end of the weekend? Possibly. Regardless of what happens, you can follow him on Twitter @SASedor2994, and you can check out his Extreme Warfare: Revenge diary (where he takes over WCW in 1998) on the Voices Of Wrestling Forums at this link.

Steve Case: Finally off the road and able to contribute again! Steve knows you’ve missed him. At least Kevin has. Follow him @coachcase44. Or not, he’s just a dude.

Kevin Wilson: Since Steve returned, Kevin decided he needed to come back also to take part in reviewing the biggest WarGames event in wrestling history. Although his main interest is watching Io Shirai, gotta stay on brand. Follow him on Twitter @JoshiPuro for various Joshi-related tweets plus an occasional picture of his neighbor’s pet llama.

ANGEL GARZA DEF. ISIAH “SWERVE” SCOTT

Sean: I was going to say that this was your Lucha Underground offer match of the evening, but apparently Garza only worked the rare Lucha Underground house shows from Texas, so I guess that statement wouldn’t be true (since he never actually worked the TV show). We get weird Mauro quotes right away, as he said that Garza is someone who thinks he’s cooler than a polar bear’s toenails (Ok then). Anyway, this was a really good kickoff match. Both guys got to show off their unique offense (some of the moves I had never seen before), and there was never a dull moment. Garza getting the win wasn’t much of a shock, since he seems to be in the middle of a push right now. I presume he gets another shot at the Cruiserweight Title after the way his first match with Lio Rush ended. This was an enjoyable match to watch while I was scarfing down the chicken and fried race that I ordered from my local Thai restaurant. Rating: ***1/2 

Steve: Props to McAfee trying to fist bump Swerve on his way out, get denied, and fist bump himself. This man is a national treasure. 

These two are both very talented and seemed like a good pairing in this kind of match, but the chemistry was not really there. The early portions were especially sloppy with an off looking Rana and a clunky roll through gut wrench german from Garza into the corner. It picked up from there and they worked into a match that was aggressively fine. Garza got the win with his clipped wings finisher. My guess is if they run this back on TV they’d have a much better showing. Rating: ***

Kevin: For a dark match I just found out was happening two hours ago, this was pretty solid as they were certainly going all-out. I am a big fan of Swerve from his Lucha Underground days, and Garza was impressive. It felt more like a move trading contest with little substance but it almost fit their characters with the one-upmanship to do bigger and better moves to show off. Aside from Swerve’s early ‘outside the ring’ move their interactions were pretty smooth, and they kept the action fast paced which I think is ideal for these pre-show matches as the crowd is still milling around anyway. Second half was better than the first, but overall an entertaining match and a good way to kick off the show.  Rating: ***1/4

WAR GAMES: TEAM RIPLEY (RHEA RIPLEY, CANDICE LARAE, TEGAN NOX, AND DAKOTA KAI) DEF. TEAM BASZLER (SHAYNA BASZLER, IO SHIRAI, BIANCA BELAIR, AND KAY LEE RAY)

Sean: So Mia Yim got “taken out” backstage during the pre-show, and Team Captain Rhea Ripley picked Dakota Kai (who she had kicked off the team weeks ago) to be the late replacement. Io Shirai and Candice LeRae started this one off, which was the right call, since they’re (arguably) the best workers in this match. Everything was going as one would’ve expected, but then (much like Bryan Danielson in the ROH vs. CZW Cage Of Death from 2006) Dakota Kai turned heel just as she was about to enter the match. We all had a feeling it was coming at some point, given the teases on NXT TV, but I have to give them a ton of credit. The turn came off very well, as Dakota viciously attacked the knees of former best friend Tegan Nox (who had yet to enter the match at this point). This gave the heel side a 4-on-2 edge for several minutes, and despite having the odds stacked against them, the babyface side managed to pull off the win. The finish was actually very cool, as Rhea countered the Kirifuda Clutch by handcuffing herself to Shayna, and then gave her the Rip Tide through some chairs for the pin.

The action throughout the match was very good, and all the women involved had moments to shine throughout. Rhea and Bianca got moments to show off their power, while Candice, Io, and Kay Lee Ray pulled/took some really crazy bumps (particular highlights saw Candice do a poison rana off the top rope and Io doing a moonsault off the top of the cage). I was expecting Rhea’s team to get the win, as that would set up Rhea as the next challenger for Shayna’s title, but the way they got their was questionable at best. The heel team had a four-on-two advantage for several minutes, yet they still lost?? I was fully expecting one or two more people to come out to help Rhea’s team (ala Homicide from the aforementioned 2006 Cage Of Death), but that never happened. There was a ton of really good stuff in this match, and the Dakota Kai heel turned was superbly executed, but the way things played out in the end didn’t make anyone on the heel side look very good at all. Rating: ***3/4 

Steve: Yim getting taken out prior to set up Kai being brought into Rhea’s team was kind of WWE hokey, but boy did it pay off later. Candice and Io were the perfect two to start this and they worked hard for the first five minutes. Bianca then came in and had some awesome power spots with Candice playing the never say die babyface in peril. 

There was solid action through Rhea’s and Kay Lee’s entrances to the match, but things REALLY picked up with Dakota Kai SNAPPING. She went absolutely nuts on Tegan and it was glorious. She even tore off Tegan’s knee brace and threw it at Regal. The heel turn was predictable, but when it’s done THAT WELL, it’s perfect. 

I was bummed about the 4 on 2 match beyond at first, but boy did these ladies actually pull it off and make it believable. Rhea looked like a world beater here, which was the point. Io was outstanding as always, even hitting a moonsault off the top of the cage. Kay Lee Ray took some insane bumps and got a couple real good shots in as well. You can say what you want about Rhea and Candice winning burying the heel team, and you’d probably be right. That finishing sequence using the cuffs and Rhea finishing Shayna through the chairs was pretty great. Rhea is a star. Rating: ****

Kevin: This match was pretty fantastic. I loved that they started with Io and another wrestler she was really familiar with, as it allowed them to do some cool spots before the ring filled up and kept the crowd engaged. The 2 vs. 1 segment went as expected, but Rhea upped the excitement again with the weapons which helped pass the time quickly. Even though traditional WarGames matches didn’t have so much plunder I think in 2019 its not a bad idea, especially since they can’t use blood for drama. KLR messing with the crowd was quality and the big spots in the first half were all hit really well. 

I’m normally not a huge fan of mid-match heel turns but Dakota Kai’s decimation of Nox was so well done I can’t get mad about it, it was very convincing. Obviously that changed the flow of the match as now it was 4 vs. 2, with Dakota leaving (which makes no kayfabe sense) and Nox out of it. Rhea looked impressive cleaning house so the 4 vs. 2 didn’t feel stale and predictable, and they handled the lopsided advantage better than most matches. The avalanche poisonrana was awe-inspiring and perfectly done, although it didn’t help the camera missed it, and of course Io went full Io with her moonsault. 

The ending legitimately shocked me as I was expecting Nox to limp down and take the loss, or anything else but Rhea breaking out of the choke like it was nothing and destroying Shayna’s body and soul. This ended up being more of a ‘story’ match as multiple storylines were established, but every match segment was well done. Io and Candice started the match hot, the weapons section had a lot of big spots, Dakota’s attack on Nox was aces, and the 4 vs. 2 portion was surprisingly entertaining. Aside from some minor complaints (Dakota not joining the match and the general in-ring slowdown as the heel turn occured), this was a memorable match and definitely worth tracking down. Rating: ****1/4

PETE DUNNE DEF. KILLIAN DAIN AND DAMIAN PRIEST

Sean: The winner of this one gets to challenge Adam Cole for the NXT Title at Survivor Series. It didn’t seem like the crowd in Chicago was that into this bout during the first few minutes (which wasn’t much of a shock, as they were following the first of two WarGames matches on this card). However, these three absolutely worked their asses off, and they eventually got the crowd into it. Priest giving Dunne a Razor’s Edge on the Spanish Announcer Table, followed by Priest himself getting taken out by a Killian Dain dive, seemed to be the turning point where the fans started to get more invested. From there, this resembled the kinds of triple threat matches that I would play on the WWE video games with my friends when I was growing up. It was a battle of trying to get the pin as soon as you could before the third guy broke up the pin or submission. We got a lot of finishers and big moves exchanged throughout the second half of the bout, and while that was a lot of fun to watch, it did reach a point where it went a little longer than it needed to. I get that this is a four-match card, but that doesn’t mean that every match needs to go long just to fill the time. You can have shorter matches, and shorter shows. There’s no rule that you need to go over two-and-a-half hours, and there’s no rule that late additions to a card like this need to go long (even if they did a decent job with the build). Anyway, Pete Dunne eventually got the win in a very anticlimactic manner. I don’t have any complaints about the result of this triple threat, and hopefully Dunne will have a great match with Adam Cole at Survivor Series. Rating: ***3/4 

Steve: I appreciate that there were several parts of this match where all three men were directly involved in the action, as opposed to the typical 2 on 2 with a third guy taking turns. The problem with this is that it followed the women’s war games match and it went too long. Dunne is great and everything he was leading was great and the crowd loved. Priest and Dain had some strong moments as well, but they aren’t as engaging and charismatic in their work as Dunne. The finish was very abrupt and seemed silly after all the bombs that were thrown. Ultimately, Dunne/Cole for the title should be tremendous. If they were to make the surprise switch (they won’t), Dunne is at least a believable guy for that. Rating: ***1/4

Kevin: I’ll be honest, I had trouble at first getting into this match after the WarGames we just witnessed, they definitely got the “cool down” spot on the card. Big men hitting each other hard never gets old in wrestling, but the dynamic just felt off. Triple Threat matches are a hard sell to me in the best of situations, but with it obviously being a story based around Dunne’s destiny to win it seemed almost unnecessary for the match to even exist in this form. 

But when they stuck to hard slams and big man dives, I enjoyed the match even with the structure working against it, and the effort from all three was there. It just felt disjointed at times when they were all in the ring together, as some of the ‘all three wrestlers participate’ spots looked a bit awkward. By the end it just felt like overkill, as they were doing their finishers and big spots with reckless abandonment in an attempt to make the match an epic, and while it made it more “memorable” they may have gone too far for a midcard match. Sometimes, less is more, which is a lesson NXT struggles with. There was more good than bad as the action was entertaining when they kept it simple, but this will likely end up being the worst match of the card. Rating: **3/4

FINN BALOR DEF. MATT RIDDLE

Sean: The one great thing about Finn Balor coming back to NXT is that he has a ton of fresh opponents that he’s never faced before. Case in point, this match against Matt Riddle! These two had a very strong match and, unlike the triple threat that came before it, they didn’t go overly long (see, it wasn’t that hard!). Early on, Balor showed off the tendencies of a typical WWE heel by attempting to slow the pace down. Fortunately, that didn’t last very long, as Riddle fought back pretty quickly, and we got some exciting back and forth in the second half (this included Riddle’s tribute to Goldberg with a spear and jackhammer combo). Riddle came close to putting away Balor a few times, but in the end, Balor emerged victorious (as many predicted that he would) after hitting the 1916 Brainbuster. Maybe I’m on an island with my thoughts on this match (I’m certainly on an island in this review), but I really enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t excessively long! Rating: ***3/4 

Steve: Going in, I thought this might be match of the night. A motivated Finn and a stallion like Riddle going 100 mph for 15ish minutes could be outstanding. Then Finn, graduate of the Orton School of Heels, has Riddle in a headlock for the first 3 minutes. Then does some more boring offense. Then Riddle takes control and injects some energy, until Finn slooooows it back down again. Until the last 3ish minutes, which saved this match into something watchable, this was wildly disappointing to me. If this is what heel Finn is going to be, go back to Raw and job for the guy in the mask. Rating: **1/2

Kevin: Matt Riddle… is an interesting wrestler. He is really dependent on match structure, sometimes his matches are fantastic but other times something just doesn’t click. This was more the latter and I don’t know who to primarily blame. The first five minutes were, to be perfectly honest, boring as hell. It was like Finn asked Randy Orton for advice on being a heel, as it was just meaningless rest holds and plodding offense. They finally got over that, but then we had other issues as Riddle’s offense didn’t look as crisp as usual. I don’t know if he was wrestling soft because he was against a main roster wrestler or because they don’t have a lot of in-ring time together, but he wasn’t his usual snug self. Finally, in the last few minutes everything synced up. Riddle’s offense started landing, Finn was selling his ass off and it had the pace I’d have preferred from the start. I don’t know if the last 20% of a match can save the match as a whole, but at least it did have the hot final stretch to end things on a high note. It was still disappointing as I was expecting more, but not a total waste.  Rating: **3/4

WAR GAMES: TEAM CIAMPA (TOMMASO CIAMPA, KEITH LEE, DOMINIK DIJAKOVIC, AND KEVIN OWENS) DEF. THE UNDISPUTED ERA (ADAM COLE, BOBBY FISH, KYLE O’REILLY, AND RODERICK STRONG)

Sean: It’s crazy to think that seven of the eight guys in this match are former ROH talents. Just goes to show how much talent ROH has lost/squandered over the last few years. Tommaso Ciampa started things off with Roderick Strong, and at this point, we still didn’t know who the fourth member of Ciampa’s team was. The order of entry in this one was O’Reilly, Dijakovic, Fish, Lee, Adam Cole, and….Kevin Owens!! That makes this a full-on ROH alumni match. My two guesses as the mystery man were John Morrison (who hasn’t appeared since his signing was announced months ago) and Kevin Owens. The latter would’ve made sense after what happened on RAW, when the Undisputed Era attacked Owens while Triple H was trying to get him to jump to NXT, and with the benefit of hindsight, that’s exactly what that segment was building to.

The first portion played out very much like your typical WarGames Match. The Undisputed Era gained the edge when they had the numbers advantage, while Team Ciampa evened things out when one of their guys entered. Unlike the women’s WarGames, we didn’t get any weapons introduced at this stage. Then the match seemed to grind to a halt when Adam Cole tossed what felt like a thousand tables in the ring. He was putting tables through the cage door for what felt like two or three minutes. This included a spot where Cole set up a table against the guardrail, got put through said table by Ciampa, and then Ciampa got out of the ring to get Cole! Isn’t it a DQ if you leave the cage? I thought those were the rules? Anyway, I guess that rule was conveniently ignored so they can do that spot, which was totally unnecessary. 

Anyway, once Owens got in, things really picked up, and we got some cool spots from all eight guys until we got to all of the table spots at the end of the match. One by one, every member of the Undisputed Era got put through a table, and the bout finally ended when Ciampa hit Cole with a freaking Air Raid Crash off the top of the cage through two tables for the win. That was an absolutely insane bump, and it’s crazy that Cole is going to be working a match on Survivor Series tomorrow (the fact that he’s even wrestling at all tomorrow does diminish the severity of this spot, but I digress). Much the finish of the women’s WarGames, the deciding fall sets up a future title match, which could be the main event of the TakeOver in Portland, Oregon this February. As far as this WarGames match goes, there were definitely some noticeable lulls (Cole getting all of those tables, the bit in the final section that was after Owens running roughshod, but before all of the table bumps), but for the most part, this was a really good main event. I guess the big question after this is whether or not Kevin Owens is truly back in NXT, or if this was just a one off for the former NXT Champion. Given that NXT TV needs all the help it can get with the ratings in its war with AEW, I would think there’s a strong chance, but we’ll see. Rating: ***3/4 

Steve: I was really enjoying the first part of this match. It was a traditionally structured war games. The face dominated to start, the heels got the numbers and took advantage to build the heat. Then each new face entrant got a good pop and ran wild until the heel numbers overcame. And everyone did a real good job in their spots. 

Then Cole started throwing in tables, and setting up a table to the outside, because that makes sense. Then he gets thrown through it by Ciampa, who then LEAVES THE CAGE. Which you might think, “well what’s the big deal? Well, in the first match, Mauro reminded everyone if you leave the cage, your team forfeits. I just…..ugh. 

We then got the big reveal that Kevin Owens has come home to NXT to a monster pop. If he stays NXT full time, that would be a great pickup for them. The rest of this match was a series of bumps and broken tables. Some awful (Lee and Dijakovich throwing Roddy into the ropes and the UE having to sell it) and some absolutely insane (that air raid crash from the top of the cage). This must be Cole’s week to show them he can be the next top guy. Or he’s just an insane person. It was well done, sloppy, comedic, and insane. It was WWE. Hope this all helps their ratings on Wednesdays. And I hope Cole survives the weekend. Rating: ***1/2

Kevin: One of the downsides of WarGames matches is you know they can’t end in the first 20ish minutes but they still have to entertain us during that time anyway. In this match, they compounded that with a ‘surprise wrestler’ that was heavily hyped so now it really doesn’t feel like the match matters until we find out who it is. Not the end of the world, just isn’t ideal. The first half was solid but not spectacular, and business didn’t really pick up until Dominik popped in. In a way this followed more the “traditional” WarGames format – heels dominate when they have advantage, faces even the odds and have a hot comeback, repeat. Which isn’t bad but it isn’t fresh or overly interesting either, even if the wrestlers in the ring are all really damn good. 

Let’s skip past the formulaic part and discuss Cole and his table obsession. Why in the hell would Cole set up a table outside the ring? It would serve literally no purpose. Course he then went through it but just because a spot can happen doesn’t mean it should. Then, Ciampa LEAVES THE CAGE to get Cole, which in theory should immediately eliminate him and his team. Great. Unless its ok because the match couldn’t end yet, who knows. The three-ish minutes of Cole getting tables and the illogical table spot just killed whatever momentum they had, it was poorly thought out.

Kevin Owens was a nice surprise but not totally out of the blue, so it didn’t feel forced yet probably wasn’t most people’s first guess. Owens immediately gave the match life and just started tossing around everyone, love the guy. So now the match has officially started and we get a bunch of fun spots, like Strong getting poorly tossed and Lee diving down on people. The moonsaults just to break up pins/submissions made me laugh, and generally the last five minutes kept me entertained as they killed themselves for me. 

I loved the end stretch, a little contrived but I’ll let that slide for big table spots as that is what we came for after all. The final spot was very satisfying and felt very “well that’s that” which is what you need in a crazy match like this one. The match had its issues, as it started too formulaic and the Cole introduction was actively stupid, but I’ll give them all the credit in the world for the risks they took and how smooth most of those risks came off. Certainly not the best modern WarGames match but still enjoyable, if you can get past some of the problems that plagued it early on there is a lot here to enjoy.  Rating: ***1/2