It’s TakeOver Saturday, which (thankfully) only comes a few times a year. Specifically, it’s NXT TakeOver Chicago 2018 – the second time the yellow brand has visited the “Windy Apple” to deliver an epic, live super show. I won’t bore you with a long preamble so let’s dig right into this show recap!
NXT TakeOver Chicago 2018 Recap – Pre-Show
WWE. Then. Now. Forever.
NXT TakeOver pre-shows never have matches, but do include the customary panel discussions and video packages. Our panel tonight is Charly Caruso, Sam Roberts, and Pat McAfee. You might remember McAfee from the TakeOver New Orleans Pre-Show where I mostly panned his addition to the panel. Well, tonight he was totally different. I mean, from the jump he shows us that he’s wearing a suit jacket… with jorts. Also, he seemed way too hyper and weird which actually helped the 30 minute pre-show just fly by. The only other things of note from the pre-show were EC3 joining the panel (and becoming fast friends with McAfee) and Adam Cole (who had an issue with McAfee at a NXT house show months ago) crashing the panel to mess with McAfee and say “nice jorts, dork”.
After the aforementioned video packages and “earlier today” footage of wrestlers showing up to work it’s time for the main show.
NXT TakeOver Chicago 2018 Recap
WWE. Then. Now. Forever. We get a dramatic video package focusing around the word “pain” and what it means for our TakeOver matches tonight. Now, “Video Game Nakamura doing a low blow” brings us NXT TakeOver Chicago! Nigel McGuinness is on “welcome” duty tonight as “Showtime” (wink, wink) Mauro Ranallo is “on assignment” for the “next couple of weeks”. Filling in for Mauro is the capable Vic Joseph (from 205 Live) and “Showtime” Percy Watson fills out the announce booth.
Adam Cole leaked that the tag title match was opening show while jawing with McAfee so it’s no “shock to the system” when the Undisputed Era’s music hits. No Bobby Fish, but O’Reilly plays the belt like a guitar so at least we get that. Champs enter first because… reasons. Also, they’re over like top babyfaces in the 1980s for some reason here in Chicago. Lorcan and Burch are out (and I never noticed their ‘logo’ on their entrance video is in the Waffle House font until tonight). Challengers get a muted reaction from the crowd.
Match #1: Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong (c) (w/ Adam Cole) vs. Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan (NXT Tag Team Championship Match)
Not bad. I had Undisputed Era retaining and I wasn’t wrong. Of course, the path getting to that outcome was fun. The Chicago crowd was steadfastly behind the Undisputed Era – including them actually booing when Adam Cole got ejected from ringside. I can’t recall an instance in the modern era where a ringside ejection was met with boos! Regardless, these guys were going on first so they attempted to steal the show – as you do at a TakeOver. Lorcan took a sick bump on the apron that I’m surprised didn’t seriously injure him. We get the “double submission” spot, but O’Reilly is able to kick up at Lorcan to break the half crab he had on Strong. Lots of double team moves were featured on both sides which made this a fast-paced match. After the double submission sequence, Strong and O’Reilly are able to isolate Lorcan with a series of strikes. The O’Reilly / Strong strike combo is enough to drop Lorcan for the three count.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – A solid show opener. Just the right amount of dirty tricks from the Era by way of Cole breaking up a sure-fire three count from the outside. However, the Era ended up winning the match fair and square and this continues to establish them as the top tag team on the show.
Post-match, the camera lingers on Lorcan and Burch who are getting a “these guys are getting called up” type of ovation. Strange – 205 Live or the UK show, maybe?
Meanwhile backstage, Lars Sullivan is warming up for this match.
Meanwhile in the crowd, Kairi Sane is here (w/ telescope).
Velveteen Dream’s music hits and he’s out. Dream is doing a Hulk Hogan cosplay, but when you look closer he’s flat-out wearing Prince Puma’s tights. Excellent. Ricochet is out next in a flowing jacket with angel wings that shows off his abs. This is real life, this match is happening.
Match #2: Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet
This played out exactly how I thought (and hoped) it would. Dream steals a ton of Ricochet’s moveset and each guy tries to answer the other’s offense. It’s the spot fest you’d imagine with insane move after insane move. I had hoped we’d see Velveteen bust out a 630 tonight, but it was not to be. Dream does absorb a “Purple Rainmaker” from Ricochet, however, and attempts to hit one of those of his own literally across the ring from the fallen Ricochet. Ricochet moves, but Dream would have actually connected with the elbow drop which is just insane. That missed elbow drop sets up the finish, the expected 630 from Ricochet – which Dream takes lying prone which is the opposite of how that move is usually taken. Wow.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Match of the night. Velveteen Dream is quickly becoming my favorite wrestler – full stop. Ricochet got the much needed win and Dream lost absolutely nothing by not getting his hand raised.
Meanwhile backstage, Ciampa is hanging out ahead of his street fight.
Next, Nikki Cross’ music hits and she’s out. Shayna Baszler enters next.
Match #3: Shayna Baszler vs. Nikki Cross (NXT Women’s Championship Match)
I saw this said on my Twitter feed a lot tonight and I agree – Nikki Cross is as committed to this character as Velveteen Dream is to his. I’m sure that’s why I love both so much. Nikki plays up the “crazy” role by laughing at Shayna’s strikes and acting generally weird. Shayna keeps trying to put Nikki away with a Kirafuda, but Nikki keeps using the ropes and turnbuckle pads to counter it. Cross never comes close to actually winning the match – but that’s not really what she was meant to do here. Nikki did great here, smiling to the bitter end when she passed out in Shayna’s Kirafuda Clutch. I don’t think anyone expected the title to change hands here, but Nikki Cross made this match a spectacle for all of the right reasons.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Both women played their roles to perfection and this match accomplished exactly what it set out to do.
Meanwhile in the crowd? It’s EC3!
Also, meanwhile in the crowd? Oh hi there, Keith Lee!
Lars Sullivan’s music hits and he’s out for the NXT Championship match. Black’s music hits next and gets his typical TakeOver entrance with the candles.
Match #4: Aleister Black (c) vs. Lars Sullivan (NXT Championship Match)
I’m not going to lie, this was the match I was least looking forward to on this card. I love Aleister Black, but his run with the belt has been overshadowed by the Gargano / Ciampa feud on the top. Not to mention, this feud with Sullivan has no real meat to it at all. What we get is an average match – which is saying something considering TakeOvers are usually superb from top to bottom. I mean, Black even whiffs on a Black Mass towards the end of the match and Lars sells it. Just not very pretty and easily one of Black’s worst matches since signing with WWE / NXT. I don’t have much that’s good to say so I’ll just note that it took two Black Masses (after the missed one earlier) to put Lars down. I imagine that was their attempt to have Lars lose clean and still retain some of the “monster” status he has at NXT. Probably the one relevant thing to come out of this is that Black was selling a knee injury after the match.
Verdict: Thumbs Down – This did absolutely nothing for me. I hope Black’s reign picks up with either a challenge from EC3 or Velveteen Dream in Brooklyn!
Next, we see Gargano backstage and he’s… walking. Candice LeRae comes running up, hands Johnny a crutch, and says “Kick his ass!” So… a complete character 180 from her again. Gargano enters by himself. Ciampa is out next carrying a camouflage crutch of his own.
Match #5: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa (Chicago Street Fight)
I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to – as I’m not usually a fan of “street fights”. It’s your typical hardcore match with chairs, trash cans, trash can lids, belts, and even the “use this sign” (with a metal STOP sign hidden in it) coming into play here. After beating on each other for a while, Ciampa gets some hedge trimmers and starts cutting apart the mat in one of the corners. This exposes the wood boards that make up the mat. Gargano attempts a Sunset Flip Powerbomb in that area, but Ciampa is able to avoid it. However, at this point that area of the ring is totally Chekhov’s gun. Gargano endures his own finisher and Ciampa eventually walks him down the aisle and repeats the “slam Johnny into the LED board” spot from last year’s TakeOver Chicago. Ciampa moves over to a “technical area” where some tables are set up for a spot off of some boxes. Ciampa removes Gargano’s wedding ring, spits on it, and tosses it away. Gargano comes to and puts Ciampa through the tables. We do the full EMT / stretcher job for Ciampa while Garango sits on top of the boxes – eerily similar to how Ciampa has done in the past as Johnny was stretchered out. As they wheel Ciampa away, Gargano attacks and rolls Ciampa back to the ring. Gargano handcuffs Ciampa, kicks him a bunch, and then slaps the Gargano Escape on. Ciampa taps. But is the match even still going on? There’s no ref. Guys in suits are trying to break things up. Chaos ensues. Gargano gets away from the suits and tries to hit a slingshot spear on Ciampa – which Ciampa counters into a DDT onto the exposed wood area of the mat. A ref appears and counts three. We’re getting a rubber match in Brooklyn. Oh man.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Just when I thought they’d pulled me out of caring about this program – I’m pulled right back in. I can only wonder what the stipulation is going to be in Brooklyn. Either Last Man Standing or the first NXT Hell In A Cell seem appropriate.
We go off the air on a still handcuffed Ciampa waving “bye” to Gargano.