Tonight was NXT TakeOver Philadelphia. I’ll preface this recap by saying two things. First, wow, I kinda nailed a ton of the “drinking game penalties” on this one – so sorry if you attempted to play along! Second, I realize it’s only January, but this show could end up being the best NXT TakeOver of 2018. WWE is going to have their work cut out ahead of them to top this, nearly, perfect show. But enough preamble, let’s get to the recap!
NXT TakeOver Philadelphia Recap – Kickoff Show
WWE. Then. Now. Forever.
We have a one-hour Kickoff Show due to the NXT Year End Awards being a thing. Even still, three awards ended up getting announced on WWE.com and didn’t make the show.
Your Kickoff Show panel includes Charly Caruso, Sam Roberts, and Samoa Joe. Samoa Joe surprisingly appeared as himself, like the dude and not the character, and contributed a ton to the Kickoff Show as a result. Sure, we got the expected spot (and drinking game rule) where Sam Roberts said something that annoyed him – but Joe was mostly even-keeled through the show. He’s definitely a good talker and seems like he could have a future on commentary if that’s something he’s even remotely interested in.
Otherwise, it’s NXT so the matches that would be on the Kickoff Show end up on next week’s show. Instead, we get Kayla Braxton out in the crowd, match preview videos, and cut aways to Renee Young and Corey Graves presenting the NXT Year End Awards.
The first NXT Award goes to Aleister Black vs. Velveteen Dream for “Rivalry of the Year”. Dream accepts and cuts a promo where he guarantees a “30 seconds or less” knockout of Kassius Ohno in tonight’s match. He also thanks God because Velveteen Dream is the closest thing to the light that NXT has. Patrick Clark is only 22 years old and he’s already this damn good.
The next NXT Awards go to Aleister Black for Male Superstar of the Year and also Breakout Star of the Year.
Asuka wins the next NXT Award for Female Superstar of the Year. Match of the Year goes to Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate. Tyler accepts and Pete Dunne joins the panel for a bit after the award is handed out. He calls out Brock Lesnar and says he will face all comers in 2018.
We get a few “earlier today” videos mixed in showing Undisputed Era and Almas & Vega showing up to the building.
After that we’re sent to Mauro and Percy Watson who tell us that Nigel is out sick. They run down tonight’s card and send us back to the panel.
The last bits show us Gargano getting ready in the locker room and Zelina Vega crashing the panel. Vega is great on the panel and gives Sam Roberts and even Samoa Joe a hard time while defending Almas and claiming he was screwed out of winning any NXT Year End Awards. Excellent stuff.
Maybe it was just the inclusion of Samoa Joe, but this was my favorite NXT Kickoff Show in recent memory.
NXT TakeOver Philadelphia Recap
WWE. Then. Now. Forever. We open with a Philadelphia themed video narrated by and featuring Paul Heyman.
We’re live from Philadelphia, Mauro welcomes us to the show, introduces Percy, and reminds us that Nigel is out sick tonight.
AoP’s music hits and they’re out first with Paul Ellering. Undisputed Era are out last.
Match #1: Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) (c) vs. Authors of Pain (w/ Paul Ellering) (NXT Tag Team Championship Match)
A solid start to the show. The story told here was O’Reilly and Fish ducking and dodging to avoid AoP until they could find a weakness. That weakness came in the form of Akam coming up with a tweaked knee. From there, Undisputed Era isolated him and worked the knee. Rezar eventually gets a hot tag and goes on an impressive run – including a spot where he gives O’Reilly a Fallaway Slam while he has Fish hanging off of his back. Rezar eventually tags Akam back in and that is the beginning of the end for AoP. They immediately go for the Last Chapter, but Fish is able to break it up. UE continue to work on Akam’s leg, but eventually Akam mounts a comeback by bucklebombing O’Reilly in the corner. Rezar is in to cut off Fish and the Authors set up for the Super Collider. However, the move staggers Akam and he falls back into the corner, allowing O’Reilly to escape, and sends Akam slamming into Rezar. O’Reilly rolls up Akam from behind to get the 3 count.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Keeping the titles on Undisputed Era was the right move and this was a clever way to do it. Undisputed look tough hanging with AoP and actually damaging them, but that gets evened out a bit with the fluke roll up win. Well done.
After a break, we see War Machine hanging out in the crowd.
Meanwhile, Almas and Vega are backstage talking strategy.
Next, we see Velveteen Dream’s promo on Kassius Ohno from the Kickoff Show. Dream is out next – and wow, they upped the game with him. He’s wearing airbrushed boxing trunks that have a caricature of that classic Muhammad Ali pose (but with Dream’s head – of course). He’s met at the end of the aisle by a woman and a shirtless man who is holding a boxing mouth piece on a pillow. The woman puts the mouth piece in Dream’s mouth and Dream heads to the ring.
Kassius Ohno is out next, and he’s wearing a boxing robe and gear that calls him the “Knockout Artist”.
This match didn’t exist three days ago and they still put this level of detail into the presentation. Wow.
Match #2: Velveteen Dream vs. Kassius Ohno
So, again, this match was only announced on Thursday. It managed to not only be the perfect vehicle to elevate Dream, but it had a solid B plot too. Was Dream able to knock Ohno out in 30 seconds or less? Er, not exactly. Dream did knock Ohno to the mat with a punch a few seconds shy of “30”, but nah, Ohno got back up and they had a great match instead. Each time I see him, Dream gets closer to becoming my favorite NXT wrestler. If Aleister Black wasn’t a thing there right now, it’d be Dream hands down. He doesn’t disappoint in this match either. Ohno gets in his usual stiff kicks and forearm strikes. However, Dream is able to answer this with not one, but two rolling Death Valley Drivers. The second one of those sets up the finish which was Dream hitting the Purple Rainmaker off of the ring post. 3 count.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Velveteen Dream continues to have great matches and now he’s on a winning streak. Ohno didn’t get the win, but he also wasn’t embarrassed by getting beat in 30 seconds or less. Two TakeOvers in a row, Ohno has been able to hang with younger guys and make them look like a million bucks in the process.
Post-match, Dream is Dream and walks over Ohno’s body to go pose in the corner.
Meanwhile, Maria Menounos is hanging out in the crowd.
We head backstage to see Johnny Gargano getting ready in the locker room with his family. It’s here we get our first glimpse of Candice LaRae on NXT TV.
Okay, it’s time for the Women’s Championship match. Shayna Baszler is out first and gets the “Goldberg entrance” where they show her walking backstage all the way to the ring. Ember Moon is out next with her standard entrance.
Match #3: Ember Moon (c) vs. Shayna Baszler (NXT Women’s Championship Match)
Well, I guess we can scratch Ember Moon from a surprise appearance in the Rumble tomorrow! Ember retains but almost loses her arm in the process. After a brief opening sequence, Baszler does her stomp on the arm thing that took out Dakota Kai a few weeks back. Shayna proceeds to work the arm most of the match, wearing Ember down. Moon gets a comeback with a spring-board crossbody and goes up for the Eclipse. She hits it, but injures her arm in the process and can’t cover Baszler. Shayna sells the Eclipse for quite a while and the ref has the trainers come out to check on Ember’s arm. The match continues, but essentially becomes a war of attrition on Ember’s arm as Baszler slaps on an armbar and continues to torque away at it. Just when it seems like Ember will be forced to tap, she’s able to counter the hold into a roll up and get the 3 count.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Not knowing how the Women’s Rumble will suss out and what NXT has planned heading into the New Orleans TakeOver I’m good with this. I half-expected Baszler to win the title in her first shot, but I’m also sort of glad she didn’t since the loss will just make her character even more scary, savage, and sadistic.
True to my expectations, as the trainers are helping Ember to the back, she’s jumped by Baszler. Shayna slaps on a rear naked choke and won’t break it. Refs flood the aisle, she breaks it – but then slaps it on again. Finally, Shayna breaks the hold and poses on the stage. Ember sells like a champ as we head to break.
Back from break, we see Trevor “Richochet” Mann in the crowd.
It’s time for some Extreme Rules! Aleister Black enters first with his full production entrance. It’s been a minute since we’ve seen that since they don’t appear to have room to have him “elevate from the coffin” at Center Stage. Adam Cole is out last.
Match #4: Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole (Extreme Rules Match)
Well, I enjoyed this than any of the “Extreme Rules” matches I remember seeing on the main roster the past few years. This had just about everything you expected and could want – except Nikki Cross. Major missed opportunity there. But, of course, you get kendo sticks, tables, chairs, ladders, insane bumps, announce tables getting exploded, and run ins by SAnitY and Fish & O’Reilly. Strikes and sick bumps, like the disgusting one Cole took on the tops of some chairs, were the meat and potatoes of this match. There was even some blood as Cole cut his hand early on and it bled to the point the trainers had to intervene for a minute. After all of the run-ins, Black is able to double knee Cole through the announce table. Cole is able to recover in the ring and nail Black with a superkick, but Black is back up and hits the Black Mass to get the win.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Really good for a WWE “Extreme” match. Enough mind-blowing spots to keep you interested and some great story-telling by both guys. It’ll be interesting to see if this feud continues or if Black’s attention shifts elsewhere.
Next, we see EC 3 in the crowd. I’m happy they’re not making him be Derrick Bateman again!
Almas’ music hits and a mariachi band wearing lucha masks is out playing his theme. Vega is out next and Almas (w/ La Sombra mask) is finally out. He removes the mask and heads to the ring. Gargano is out next, alone.
Match #5: Andrade Cien Almas (w/ Zelina Vega) (c) vs. Johnny Gargano (NXT Championship Match)
With all of the ways this could go, the finish wasn’t exactly what I expected. Almas pinning Gargano clean with a draping Hammerlock DDT after one Hell of a match. Okay, I expected the “Hell of a Match” part, but I anticipated the inevitable Ciampa intervention to come earlier than it did. But seriously, watch this match – NXT TakeOver doesn’t get any better than this. Almas has come into his own as champ and Gargano is a white meat babyface the likes of which we haven’t seen since Daniel Bryan. Zelina Vega gets involved and Johnny’s wife, new NXT signee Candice LaRae, jumps the barricade and chases Vega to the back. It’s there, where it was finally Gargano vs. Almas one on one, that I figured Ciampa would pop up to be the spoiler. But no, Almas shows how much he’s grown as a character and takes out Gargano with a double knee on the apron that rocks Gargano’s head into the ring post. From there, the finish spot I’ve already discussed goes down. Almas retains and one has to imagine that Aleister Black could be next in line for a title shot.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – The most I’ve been invested in a NXT TakeOver match since Sasha / Bayley 1 at TakeOver Brooklyn. Great stuff all the way around.
Post-match, Zelina is back out and leaves with Almas. Candice hits the ring and she and Gargano slowly head to the back as the crowd cheers for him.
Gargano turns to face the ring and gets taken out from behind by Ciampa’s crutch. Ciampa is back, but is visibly still in a knee brace and eventually limps off. But, the takeaway here was the cold stare he gives to the fallen Gargano. Once he’s 100%, the resulting feud is going to be fire. I can’t wait.