As WWE “takes over” Chicago (aka – The Windy Apple) for the next few days, things kicked off tonight with WWE NXT TakeOver Chicago. It was a TakeOver, so it was good, featured some surprises, and a strong “Match of the Year” contender. Let’s get straight to the recap, shall we?
WWE NXT TakeOver Chicago Recap
WWE. Then. Now. Forever. The Kickoff Show is the standard NXT Kickoff Show – a panel discussion, some video packages, some “earlier today” footage, and no matches. I finally realized they appear to pre-tape this show when doors open at the venue and then tape the following week’s NXT episode while the Kickoff Show airs on the Network. I don’t know why I thought they filmed the episode after the TakeOver card ended.
Nothing really of note on the Kickoff Show, beyond Ember Moon joining the panel and revealing she’ll be out for six months with her shoulder injury. She claims the injury “could have been fatal”, which seemed like an odd thing to say. Regardless, considering how the women’s match sussed out, I’m now wondering if Moon’s recovery time is being exaggerated (like they’re allegedly doing with Strowman), or if we’re (spoiler) going to have Asuka as champion all the way into 2018.
WWE. Then. Now. Forever. (again) and we open with a Chicago-themed NXT TakeOver video package. We’re live from Chicago and the announce team of Tom Phillips, Percy Watson, and Nigel McGuinness welcome us to the show.
SAnitY’s music hits first and Eric Young, flanked by Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe, heads to the ring. Roderick Strong’s music hits, but he enters through the crowd and sneak attacks – taking out both Dain and Wolfe before Young can even realize what is going on. Smart!
Match #1: Roderick Strong vs. Eric Young (w/ Killian Dain & Alexander Wolfe)
Another perfect usage of Eric Young in NXT. I love that he’s down there as a credible heel that doesn’t need to go over that often and purely exists to push NXT faces to that next level. He did an excellent job of that with Dillinger and now it has begun with Strong. I say credible because of Young’s past and the fact he’s capable of having great matches with the faces he’s positioned with. Case in point, tonight he and Strong have a barn burner to say the least. Strong manages to use finesse and timing to successfully neutralize the “numbers game” that plagues anyone facing SAnitY. A very smart move here to put Roddy over clean with the End of Heartache since the guy is on a roll ever since they aired the “Who is Roderick Strong?” vignettes.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – A strong opener and Young is excelling in his current utility player role at NXT.
Next, we get a brief glimpse at each of the women in tonight’s triple threat as they prepare for the match. Nikki Cross is shown sitting in the shadows, smiling at nothing – which is exactly how I’d imagine the Nikki Cross character would be prepping for a title match.
Meanwhile, Mike Rome is in the ring to introduce Jim “Good Ol’ JR” Ross who is out to do commentary for the UK Championship match. Man, just like at Mania, it was good to hear him calling a match again. Your commentary team for the UK match is Nigel McGuinness and J.R. – which I imagine may be the commentary team for the UK show they keep talking about?
Pete Dunne is out first. Tyler Bate is out to a song that sounds way, way less like a version of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer with one or two notes changed. Not sure if that was an artistic choice or a “hey, change the song or pay licensing fees” situation.
Match #2: Tyler Bate (c) vs. Pete Dunne (WWE UK Championship Match)
Match of the Night. Match of the Weekend. Match of the Month. Possibly Match of the Year. I’m admittedly a newbie when it comes the UK division as I’m woefully behind on anything that isn’t Raw / SDLive / NXT / 205 Live – but wow, I barely knew who these guys were going in and they had me on the edge of my seat. I can’t quite put my finger on any specific thing that made this match so great. I mean, I could single out the amazing chemistry between Bate and Dunne – who are the perfect respective hero and villain to feud with one another. I could single out the workmanship, which while still WWE style-ish, is unique enough to stand out against the standard Raw / SmackDown / NXT style we see each week. Maybe I could even single out the balance between a more “old school” pace and the more modern pace we’re grown accustomed to seeing the past couple of years? I don’t know. I just know I was “all in” on this match and having Dunne, after several near falls, pull out the victory with the Bitter End for the title win was the perfect ending to a great match. The fact that I’m only a few years younger than these two guys’ combined ages is awesome and means we’ve got a lot more to come from these two.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – One of those rare, “perfect” matches that doesn’t happen on WWE TV all that often. Also, having Ross on commentary raised the bar even higher.
Meanwhile, we see Itami in the back getting ready for the title match. Roode, meanwhile, is staring lovingly at the NXT Championship – which, seems like a plausible way for Bobby Roode to prep for a title defense.
Time for the women’s triple threat. Ruby is out first and Nikki follows. They have a brief face off until Asuka enters.
Match #3: Asuka (c) vs. Ruby Riot vs. Nikki Cross (Triple Threat Match for the NXT Women’s Championship)
So, this is the one match that caused me to miss a perfect prediction score for this event as I changed my Asuka prediction to Ruby Riot after hearing Moon’s “I’m out for six months” comment on the Kickoff Show. I fear I may have been worked. That said, I’m a fan of all three woman, so any outcome here was going to be good. Of course, Asuka retaining was the least interesting prospect – and that is precisely what happened. Getting there was tons of fun though. This match was arguably the most we’ve gotten to see from Ruby Riot in a NXT ring (at least as far as a conventional match goes). Add into that the standard Nikki Cross insanity – she traps Asuka in the apron skirt at one point and starts pummeling her. And, of course, Asuka is great as always. Not terribly a huge fan of Asuka pinning both women after such a closely fought match – but, clearly WWE wants to continue the “no one can stop Asuka” program so that’s what we got. True to form, moments after this match ended, a new Asuka shirt debuted on WWE Shop playing up her undefeated streak. That, coupled with the Asuka “interview” on last week’s NXT episode makes me eagerly await further “aloof, indifferent Asuka” happenings.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – A well executed triple threat even if they went with the least exciting outcome.
Hey, Velveteen Dream is a thing and he’s debuting on this week’s show.
Next, we learn that in “Bobby Roode’s NXT”, the NXT Tag Team Championship match headlines the show.
Itami is out first. Roode is preceded by an intro to his theme being played on a piano roll graphic on the stage. Standard “glorious” entrance for Roode after that.
Match #4: Bobby Roode (c) vs. Hideo Itami (NXT Championship Match)
This one got savaged on my Twitter timeline but I thought it was okay. Sure, on a show with the Bate / Dunne match, most things would pale in comparison, but this one felt adequate. Roode hasn’t really set the universe on fire with his “cocky heel 101” title reign, so I wasn’t expecting a ton coming into this match. Both guys delivered a bit more than I expected so I left happy enough. I knew going in that the odds of Itami winning were slim and none (and slim just left town), but was still able to enjoy the ride. The big question going in was if Itami would hit the GTS in Chicago. Sure enough, Itami hits the GTS on Roode, but Roode is able to roll out of the ring to avoid taking the pin. Both guys sold the “wear down injuries” they sustained well – preventing either from easily pulling off their finishers. And, I liked that Roode was forced to work through the pain to hit the Glorious DDT, twice, to put Itami away. The second DDT was quite impressive looking since Itami actually got some decent air during the spot. Anyway, Roode retaining seemed like a given and with the Ohnos, Blacks, and McIntyres all waiting in the wings, I don’t really know where they go with Itami from here.
Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – Nothing spectacular, but an okay watch overall. Easily the least invested I was in a match all night long.
Next, we see crowd shots of Kevin Owens & Eric Thames (Milwaukee Brewers) and Sami Zayn, Pat Patterson, & Kassius Ohno watching the show. At this point everyone hoping to see Adam Cole collectively wept.
Time now for the main event ladder match for the tag titles. Champs enter first, DIY enter last. Ciampa, injured on Thursday night at a house show, seems to be sure-footed enough during the entrance.
Match #5: Authors of Pain (c) (w/ Paul Ellering) vs. DIY (Ladder Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship)
It’s a ladder match, so it’s a total spot fest. It’s also a ton of fun to watch. It’s insane to learn after the fact that Ciampa is “significantly injured” (Triple H’s words, not mine) and pulled off the spots he did in this match. DIY are great, as expected, and this is the first time the Authors of Pain looked convincing to me. Perhaps it’s because they weren’t third wheel in a match with DIY and Revival – which is scarcely fair to AoP. We get a number of “almost got the belts” spots, including one towards the end when Ellering interferes with Gargano and eats a superkick and actually bumps to the outside. We get a great spot towards the end where AoP are setting up to brutalize Ciampa with a ladder and Gargano jumps in and takes the bullet for him. Great story-telling there that has even more impact when we get to the post-match segment. Just when it looks like DIY are going to pull out the upset, AoP get a second wind, pull both Gargano and Ciampa off the ladder, Super Collider powerbomb them, and grab the belts to a ton of heel heat.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Perhaps the best the Authors of Pain have looked so far in NXT. If Ciampa is shoot injured, he should be commended for working this match on a bad leg.
Post-match, DIY linger in the ring and get a chant from the crowd. After the replay, they’re heading up to the stage and Ciampa turns heel on Gargano and tosses him into the LED board. A beat down ensues that ends with Ciampa fireman’s carry slamming Gargano off the announce table into a tech area.
We go off the air looking at a total “Psycho Killer” Ciampa sitting there watching EMTs tend to Gargano. Wow, okay, after the bland (for NXT) NXT Championship match, I can see why this match headlined. Wow. Ciampa’s turn was one of the more brutal heel turns we’ve seen in WWE for some time and was definitely on the level of the “Festival of Friendship” turn from Kevin Owens. Powerful stuff.