WWE rolls into New Orleans for WrestleMania so we get NXT TakeOver New Orleans. It’s a TakeOver and it seems like I always finish a TakeOver saying, “Wow, that was the best TakeOver ever” – so TL;DR, I loved this show.
Let’s get to the recap – since if you’re watching Mania tomorrow, time is of the essence.
NXT TakeOver New Orleans Recap – Preshow
WWE. Then. Now. Forever. Charly Caruso welcomes us and right off the bat, this is called the “preshow” and not the “kickoff show”. I wonder if that’s a thing going forward for NXT or if it was just a random creative choice. Charly is joined by preshow regular Sam Roberts and newcomer Pat McAfee. Judging from my Twitter feed, it was like 40% in favor of Pat McAfee and 60% who wanted to see Pat McAfee cast into Mt. Doom. I’m of the latter persuasion. McAfee was the most interesting thing about the preshow due to the fact that he added a bizarre aspect to the usual “hype videos we’ve already seen” fest that is the typical TakeOver preshow. My biggest takeaway from Mr. McAfee was him picking Ember Moon to retain the NXT Women’s Championship because “she’s a nice lady”.
But, enough about the panel. The preshow had the requisite video packages hyping up each match. We also learned that William Regal was “under the weather”, so we saw Triple H having Gargano sign a “hold harmless agreement” for the unsanctioned match.
In addition, we learned that Adam Cole decided to work both the North American Championship ladder match and team with O’Reilly in the tag team championship match. He and McAfee have it out a bit and McAfee breaks the news that the ladder match is going on first.
Speaking of the tag match, we see “pumped up” Pete Dunne (who is stone-faced) and Roderick Strong backstage for a brief interview with Cathy Kelley.
Shifting gears to the Ciampa / Gargano grudge match, Candice joins the panel and we hear from Drake Wuertz, who is going to be the ref in the match. That segment ends with an awkward, lingering shot on Candice before it just sort of fades into a shot of the crowd.
Next, Mauro and company run down the entire card we’re about to see.
Finally, the panel discusses the NXT Championship match. Drew McIntyre, dressed in SmackDown blue, joins the panel for a bit.
If any of that sounds interesting you can watch the whole thing on YouTube below.
NXT TakeOver New Orleans Recap
WWE. Then. Now. Forever. Cold open on the dark crowd. For a while. Like a pregnant pause “a while”. Eventually, the band Cane Hill performs the song “It Follows” (aka – one of the TakeOver themes) intercut with footage of NXT action.
Mauro welcomes us to the show and we’re live from New Orleans.
As we learned on the preshow, the North American Championship ladder match is up first. EC3 leads off the entrances. Killian Dain is out next, alone. Adam Cole is out third, also alone. Velveteen Dream is out fourth, Lars Sullivan is fifth, and Ricochet is out sixth (and gets a nice pop).
Match #1: EC3 vs. Killian Dain vs. Adam Cole vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Ricochet (Ladder Match for the NXT North American Championship)
One of those “try to follow this” matches. On a show that didn’t really have a “dud” match (I mean it is a TakeOver after all) this match still stood out to me as about as epic as NXT can get. This one clocks in around thirty minutes, so everyone gets ample time to get themselves over. EC3 became the guy who absorbed a ridiculous amount of “guy trapped between the mat and a ladder” spots – including taking a Vader Bomb from Killian Dain, who happened to have Adam Cole on his back at the time. Lars Sullivan came off looking like an absolute monster in this match and it seemed in several instances that he might be the one to pull down the new strap. Ricochet also looked as awesome as expected as he was able to effectively showcase his dynamic offense in a match of this style. Velveteen Dream was arguably the MVP of the match and hit some jaw dropping spots like a Death Valley Driver to Ricochet on a ladder and hitting the Purple Rainmaker off the top of the ladder on Sullivan. Adam Cole, the eventual winner, also looked solid in this match. The finish came when it looked like Ricochet, who literally flies into the corner of your screen from nowhere, blocks Lars from ascending the later. Cole, also appearing out of nowhere, dumps Ricochet and manages to pull down the North American title.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – A complete spot fest, like you’d expect. Also, an extremely fun watch. I’m fine with Cole winning. This match was one of those where any of the six men could have won and it would have been something NXT could build from as it was a talented field of worthy competitors.
Back from break, we see Almas backstage with Zelina Vega.
Moon’s music hits, only it’s being performed live. Ember’s out first, but I’ll allow “champ enters first” because she’s getting played to the ring. “Horse sounds through digital effects” hits and Baszler is out. Ronda Rousey and Jessamyn Duke are shown in the crowd.
Match #2: Ember Moon (c) vs. Shayna Baszler (NXT Women’s Championship Match)
So, this one suffered a little from being in the spot directly following a hot as Hell ladder match. But, there really isn’t anywhere else on the card it could have gone. Due to story reasons, the tag match couldn’t come directly after the ladder match. And, well, honestly Moon vs. Baszler wasn’t built up enough to justify match four or five on a card this strong. While the crowd reaction was subdued, this was still a very good match. The story Moon and Baszler told reminded me a bit at times of Bayley vs. Asuka from the pre-Mania TakeOver a few years back. Moon tries to flip the script on Baszler’s “bust someone’s arm” tactic and manages to kick Baszler’s arm in the same fashion. From there, we get the insane visual of Shayna ramming her shoulder into the ring post in an attempt to knock the shoulder back in place. Shayna attempts to lock on the Kirafuda Clutch, but can’t because of the arm. Moon manages to rally back and hits an Eclipse to the outside (!) on Shayna but is unable to put her away. Moon attempts a second Eclipse in ring, but Shayna is able to counter it into the Kirafuda clutch. We get an extended sequence of Baszler working the hold as best she could with one arm. Moon fights it valiantly, but much like Bayley two years ago versus Asuka, is knocked out by the hold and we have a new champion.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Baszler is on fire and is already everything the WWE is hoping Rousey can be. The title switch makes sense here, and I won’t be super surprised if it swaps again before Mania weekend next year. After Asuka’s record-setting reign, it seems logical that the next few champions wouldn’t get “year plus” title reigns. Again, the match placement could have been better in a vacuum, but on this card there was nowhere else it could have realistically gone.
Post-match, Shayna celebrates with Rousey and Duke at ring side.
Meanwhile, Adam Cole is backstage getting checked out by a trainer. Kyle O’Reilly looks really worried.
Elsewhere backstage, Aleister Black is prepping for his title match by shadow boxing.
Authors of Pain’s music hits and they’re out (w/ Ellering) and not in their TMNT gear. Dunne’s music hits next and he’s out (w/ the UK Championship). Strong’s music hits after that and he’s out. Undisputed Era’s music hits and O’Reilly is out first wearing both tag belts. Cole wanders out behind him with the North American belt. We see Dustin Rhodes and Jeff Jarrett in the crowd as this is the Dusty Classic Finals – technically… whatever.
Match #3: Undisputed Era (c) vs. Authors of Pain (w/ Paul Ellering) vs. Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong (NXT Championship Match / Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)
Ugh, don’t even get me started on this year’s Dusty Classic. Sure enough, the team not even in the tournament takes the cup in 2018. However, how we get to that result was intriguing enough that I went from not really caring about this match – to being on board. The match itself is about as chaotic as a triple threat tag match could get. The entire first segment of the match featured no tags and all six men just brawling with whomever. Eventually, it turns into a more “standard” triple threat tag. Cole gets factored out of the match early on – so he could rest and sell the ladder match. The finish comes after Dunne hits O’Reilly with the Bitter End and covers him. Roderick Strong turns on Dunne and breaks up the pin. He proceeds to hit Dunne with End of Heartache and pulls O’Reilly over for the pin.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – A Roderick Strong turn was the one ingredient I didn’t think of to at least make this one interesting. Having him join Undisputed Era and fill in for Bobby Fish was a good move. I’m not too keen on the way the Dusty Classic was just glossed over, but it honestly seems like Fish’s injury really screwed things up.
Post-match, Strong officially joins Undisputed Era by putting on their arm band. Bobby Fish is out on crutches and the whole faction poses in front of the Dusty Cup on the stage.
Meanwhile, Nina Strauss is shown in the crowd.
Up next? Title match. Which means Gargano vs. Ciampa goes on last as God intended.
Aleister Black’s music hits and he’s out to his “candles” TakeOver entrance. Champ is out last (w/ Zelina Vega) and he’s wearing the La Sombra mask for his entrance again.
Match #4: Andrade Cien Almas (c) (w/ Zelina Vega) vs. Aleister Black (NXT Championship Match)
So, Andrade Cien Almas is really good. If you were somehow doubting this after his matches with Gargano, you’re reminded again here. Zelina Vega, arguably the co-NXT Champion up to this point, factors into the match a ton. She hits Black with not one, but two, hurricanranas, moves Andrade’s foot onto the ropes to avoid a pin, and goes for another move off the ropes that leads to Almas’ downfall. It was poetic justice that Zelina having to act on Almas’ behalf is what finally allows Black to take the match. After said dive off the ropes, Black dodges and Almas catches Vega. Black connects with a Black Mass in the resulting confusion and finally gets the pinfall on Almas.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – I expected this title change and was glad to see how it all played out. Almas seems destined for the main roster ASAP so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him on Raw or SmackDown before Mania Week ends.
Post-match, Black actually smiles while holding up the NXT Championship (!).
“Earlier today”, we see Triple H having Gargano sign the “hold harmless” agreement.
Ciampa is out to no music; instead he’s serenaded with boos and chants from the crowd. It’s the perfect entrance for him and he soaks in the hate from the crowd.
Gargano’s music hits to a massive pop and he’s out alone.
Match #5: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa (If Gargano wins, he gets his job back. If Ciampa wins, Gargano is banished from NXT forever)
There are no words I can type here than can do this match justice. This story, approaching a year in the making – partially due to Ciampa’s injury – is one of the best stories in wrestling the past few years. Full stop. This match had it all. Table spots. Crutch shots. Knee braces coming off. Ciampa’s back slamming into the concrete floor. This wasn’t a match as much as it was a fight. In the scripted world of pro wrestling it’s not often you get a match that feels like a fight. This felt like a fight. The finish sequence is some of the best storytelling we’ve ever seen in a NXT ring. Gargano has Ciampa down and could go wild on him with the broken crutch. He pauses and gives a long look at his former best friend, who is now cowering on the mat with an eye that is rapidly swelling shut. Gargano, true babyface, can’t end it this way. He drops the crutch and sits down next to Ciampa. Tommaso, ultimate heel, reaches for his discarded knee brace and swings it at Johnny. Gargano dodges, slaps on the Gargano Escape, but has to adjust and uses the brace to apply an STF to Ciampa. Tommaso taps. The crowd goes wild. Fin.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – A beautiful culmination to the hottest thing to come out of NXT – possibly ever. Perfectly executed.
Post-match, Candice runs down to the ring and she and Johnny celebrate together.
The copyright credits appear and we go off the air with no further incidents. Gargano has vanquished his greatest enemy – the end of the show.