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NXT TakeOver Phoenix Recap - Tommaso Ciampa
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NXT TakeOver Phoenix Recap

The tag team championship and North American championship matches were both instant classics.

The first NXT TakeOver of 2019, NXT TakeOver Phoenix, has come and gone. Did it live up the high bar set by previous NXT TakeOver events? Mostly, it did. Let’s dig deeper into last night’s marquee event for the yellow brand.

NXT TakeOver Phoenix Recap – Pre Show

The NXT TakeOver Phoenix Pre Show clocks in at an hour, largely because the 2018 NXT Year End Awards suck up more time than usually required for a NXT TakeOver Pre Show. The awards announced on the pre show included Breakout Star (Ricochet), Match of the Year (Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Don’t Call Him ‘Cien Almas'” – which was co-accepted by Zelina Vega who showed up to cut a promo burying Gargano’s lack of wins on NXT lately), Male Competitor of the Year (Tommaso Ciampa), Female Competitor of the Year (Kairi Sane), and Overall Competitor of the Year (also Kairi Sane – surprising since Ciampa seriously had a brand defining year in 2018… but… okay).

Of course, the moment everyone is going to be talking about for a while is Sam Roberts randomly dropping a minute long rant about the Women’s Championship Match – going hard at Bianca Belair not being worthy and the match literally being called a “waste of time”. Pat McAfee and Charly Caruso did a good job of selling this like a shoot – but a video has surfaced on WWE’s YouTube of Belair cutting a promo back at Roberts so… yeah. Not sure what they expect to gain from this. Why have an up and coming star like Belair feud with a pre show panel guest we only see a few times a year? I know that they did something similar with McAfee and Adam Cole last year, but McAfee didn’t declare Cole’s matches on the show a “waste of time”. This whole thing feels very “main roster WWE” and is one of the main reasons I no longer follow the main roster product offered from WWE in 2019.

Sorry for the rant, but it’s rare anything happens on a Pre Show that warrants any type of commentary. The rest of the Pre Show is the typical video packages and “Hey, look who showed up to the building earlier today” vignettes.

You can watch the whole Pre Show via WWE’s YouTube channel.

NXT TakeOver Phoenix Recap

Then. Now. WWE Forever. We have a “desert” themed opening video package and we’re live from Phoenix, Arizona. Mauro welcomes us to the show and we see the Spanish announce table. We’re then interrupted by darkness, strange music, and a team of vikings assembling at the entrance.

Eventually, amidst some smoke, the War Raiders emerge and head to the ring. Definitely one of the better NXT TakeOver entrances we’ve seen and something that could be even more epic if done with a main roster production budget. Undisputed Era are out next (w/ Bobby Fish). No sign of Adam Cole. At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if someone slipped him a Monster energy drink at the hotel. At least Kyle is here to play the belt like a guitar to the ring.

Match #1: Undisputed Era (c) vs. War Raiders (NXT Tag Team Championship Match)

It’s like someone saw how great NXT UK TakeOver did starting off with an off the charts tag match and decided to try to top that here. I figured this match would be good, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it turned out. We haven’t had much of a chance to see War Raiders go all out yet at NXT. Well, they got that opportunity in this match and definitely made the most of it. Hanson went on a run at one point that showed off just how agile of a big man he is. Rowe got to show off his strength. Kyle and Roderick bumped like madmen for them. Hell, the Raiders even survived a High / Low from Undisputed Era which typically means the end for the challengers. I did not expect the title change here, so I was shocked when War Raiders hit Fallout on O’Reilly and took home the tag team straps.

Verdict: Thumbs Up – The bar for NXT TakeOver tag team matches remains high after this one. Though, major “thumbs down” for O’Reilly no longer having a title belt and thus us being denied him “playing the belt like a guitar” for at least the near future.

Back from break? Pete Dunne and Toni Storm are in the crowd. Dunne looks as unimpressed as always.

Meanwhile, Ricochet is backstage getting ready for his match with Gargano.

Riddle’s music hits and he’s out next. Ohno is out last.

Match #2: Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

These guys deliver a stiff slug fest that did a great job cementing Riddle as one to watch at NXT. Despite the fact this match resulted in Riddle getting a bloody lip (by way of a brutal kick from Ohno) and Ohno putting Riddle’s bare toes into his mouth (!), this one came off feeling a little lackluster. Riddle and Ohno were faced with the unfortunate reality of following a chaotic and action-packed tag match with a title change. A deliberate, old school strike and submission hold war wasn’t going to wow a crowd that just saw the first great NXT tag match of the year. Not even Riddle making Ohno tap out to a relentless series of strikes could get the crowd into the match which was a shame. I saw several people saying that this one felt like a “TV match” and I could see that criticism. But, if it was a “TV match” it would have definitely been a solid main event for a Wednesday night.

Verdict: Thumbs Up – I hear the criticism, but this one was destined to fail when it came to the live crowd due to the placement. But, honestly, the only match it could have flipped with was the Gargano / Ricochet match and that would not have worked. I enjoyed it for what it was.

Back from break, Ciampa is backstage getting ready.

Meanwhile, a limo pulls up backstage and Velveteen Dream (w/ an entourage) gets out. This is the perfect time for commentary to hype up the Worlds Collide tournament.

Back in the arena, Gargano’s music hits and he’s out. Ricochet is out next.

Match #3: Ricochet (c) vs. Johnny Gargano (NXT North American Championship Match)

It’s only January and we already have a “Match of the Year” candidate from NXT. Going in I suspected two things: that Gargano would leave this match the champion and that this one would steal the show. I nailed the first thing and feel confident in my opinion of this one being match of the night. Ricochet got to do his “Ricochet stuff” that made him feel like the living video game character he is. Seriously, if you told me he was CGI I’d almost believe you. We also got more excellent character work from Gargano who went to the dark place (pulling up the ringside padding in an attempt to end Ricochet) in order to “win” and bring home his first singles title at NXT. By the time Gargano actually suplexes Ricochet onto the exposed concrete and sets up for his DDT finisher  – you already knew Johnny was giving in to Ciampa’s “dark side”. Gargano seals the deal by saying “I win” before hitting the finisher.

Verdict: Thumbs Up – Excellent stuff. Gargano continues to excel at his character work and Ricochet can now move his way up the card.

Up next, Bianca Belair is out for the match Sam Roberts doesn’t think we should even have on the show. Shayna Baszler is out next.

Match #4: Shayna Baszler (c) vs. Bianca Belair (NXT Women’s Championship)

Well, this went just about how I suspected it would. Shayna retains (no real surprise there) but Belair manages to last a long time in the Kirafuda Clutch. Seriously, she powers out of it once and manages to almost power out of it two more times. The Kirafuda is usually “instant death” to the point that Nikki Cross famously just smiled and accepted her fate when Shayna locker her in it. Streaks aside, the booking of Baszler (for the most part) reminds of the booking of Asuka at NXT. She’s this unstoppable monster where you’re lucky if you just have a competitive match with her – beating her is nearly out of the question. That said, we got some subtle work here that shows that Belair managed to hang in for a long time and not be completely embarrassed. Also, her hair whip sliced Shayna’s skin – making it possibly the first time someone’s hair has busted their opponent open during a match. Belair’s presentation in this match leads me to believe that we’ll see a rematch of some sort at TakeOver New York. I mean, there really isn’t anyone else from domestic NXT I could see getting elevated to that status in time considering they’re running with Shirai and Sane as a tag team right now.

Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – This match didn’t need to be “Thumbs Up” since it feels like it is really only the beginning of the feud.

Back from break, we see Velveteen Dream in the crowd.

Aleister Black is out first for the main event and he gets his usual entrance with the candles. Ciampa enters last.

Match #5: Tommaso Ciampa (c) vs. Aleister Black (NXT Championship Match)

Another match that went roughly how I expected it would. Ciampa retains, but has to work to do so. Ciampa has a great strategy of attacking Black’s plant leg to make it impossible to do his Black Mass finisher. Black manages to connect with a sharp Black Mass towards the end of the match, but the wear down from Ciampa gives the champ enough time to roll over to prevent the pin. The match was far from perfect (including a spot where Black nearly falls after slipping on some water near the announce table) and the finish felt a little clunky, with Ciampa hitting his finisher over and over after some random counter spots from Black (who should have been nearly spent at that point). However, it accomplished what needed to be done. Ciampa retains and Black feels like a call up to the main roster post-WrestleMania at the latest as he really has nothing left to do at NXT.

Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – Don’t get me wrong, this was better than Black vs. Lars Sullivan, but this match was far from Ciampa or Black’s best TakeOver match.

Post-match, Ciampa celebrates in the ring and heads towards the back. The copyright logo appears when Ciampa reaches the stage. Gargano emerges and they both pose with their respective titles as the picture fades to black (no pun intended).

After the show went off the air, this happened.

Some are already speculating that we’re going to have the first NXT Elimination Chamber match in New York. It also could just be to set up a six man main event for the next batch of tapings at Full Sail.

I’m leaning towards the first option as it seems like a lot of work just to set up a six-man tag for the next set of TV tapings. We shall see.

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