NXT: Takeover Chicago II Review

NXT’s pay-per-views are expected to be incredible and Takeover Chicago II did not disappoint. The card didn’t have a bad match and it’s actually incredible that WWE runs these shows a day before their PPVs typically crash and burn. Here’s an in-depth recap of everything that happened at NXT: Takeover Chicago II and my Star of David ratings for each match.

NXT Tag Team Championship: Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong (C) vs. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch

Following introductions, Takeover Chicago II starts off hot with some great back and forth mat wrestling. Lorcan and Burch are not nearly as well known as the Undisputed Era, but their technical skill is undeniable. They are almost reminiscent of the Revival during their time in NXT.

I often say that the opening match is the best match to work because you’re almost guaranteed a hot crowd. When it comes to NXT audiences that’s an understatement. Many wrestling fans scoff at those who go to NXT shows because the fans are usually more about getting themselves over than the matches. If you use the terms ‘mark’ and ‘smark’, these are the smarkiest of fans. However obnoxious that may be to watch, you can rest assured that they’ll cheer loudly for good wrestling.

Early on O’Reilly uses his MMA background to work his opponent at a frantic pace. Burch responds by working just as quickly and taking out both men with a diving front flip. O’Reilly makes the save after Lorcan and Burch hit their tag finisher, and then take out Lorcan by shoving him off the turnbuckle onto the apron. Then, Lorcan took a nasty bump that looked like he landed with his neck slamming against the apron. A dangerous move, but it prompted “This is Awesome” chants, deservedly.

Adam Cole gets ejected from ringside after he saves O’Reilly from taking the pin that would lose them the belts. With Cole gone, Undisputed Era gives up all momentum and gets caught in a double submission grip that takes every bit of their will to escape. A brawl ensues that earns an eruption of cheers as it moves towards a two on one situation. Strong and O’Reilly successfully defend their titles, but they had to give way more of their body than they planned to.

Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong def. Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch via pinfall (4.25 Stars of David)

Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream

A quick lesson on what it means to be a “good wrestler.” Wrestling is complex in that it requires a blend of expertise in technical skill, working the crowd, facial expressions, acting, storytelling, etc. The Miz is one of the best at delivering his lines on the mic and it makes him a great wrestler. AJ Styles is also a great wrestler, but he does it by showing off in the ring and making his opponents look good. Ricochet is a great wrestler in that he has historic athleticism and ring awareness, while Dream largely capitalizes on his ability to act and perform. As a wrestling fan it’s important to note these differences and understand that great superstars need to be good in all those areas, but elite in their own way in one area. Now let’s move on to the match.

Dream’s plan was to one-up Ricochet early and often so he can gain the mental advantage on him. Dream is athletic too, but Ricochet has the stamina to make every spot look effortless. If it weren’t for Ricochet’s ability to sell phenomenally this match may not have had the strong impact that it did. Ricochet hits a suicide dive, tope, and a standing moonsault all in a matter of seconds to show off in front of the NXT crowd. Dream follows that with a delayed suplex off the apron onto the ringside floor. The NXT fans counted loud enough to get Ricochet back in the ring before the ref could reach ten and end the match.

At this point in the match, Ricochet is selling as if he can’t go on. He wills himself to his feet and goes back and forth with Dream until they are holding each other up. Ricochet hits the northern lights suplex but can’t land the second one after he rolls through because of the back injury he sustained after taking the suplex off the apron.

The two spend some time on the floor, but Dream’s hubris leads to a Death Valley driver from Ricochet followed by an elbow drop from the top rope. After kicking out, Dream is still on the ground, so Ricochet goes for a Shooting Star Press. Dream gets his knees up and then goes for an elbow drop all the way across the ring. Ricochet moves out of the way and hurries to hit the 630 off the turnbuckle. He gets the pin and looks main roster ready after his first singles match in NXT.

Ricochet def. Velveteen Dream via pinfall (4 Stars of David)

 NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler (C) vs. Nikki Cross

When Sanity got called up to the main roster and Nikki Cross didn’t fans were angry, to say the least. Fast-forward from WrestleMania to Money in the Bank and Sanity has yet to debut while Cross is on a massive push for the title. It just goes to show that things don’t have to go the way the fans want to get over. Baszler is a great opponent for Cross because she’s built herself as a tough, fearless woman. Cross does an incredible job of selling her character’s erratic behavior and it’s believable that she would be the one to get the mental edge on Baszler.

The match starts with Cross absorbing a big hit and laughing on the ground with pleasure. As great as Cross is, it’s important to note that Baszler has taken quickly to the acting portion of wrestling. Without her selling her subtle fear of Cross’ behavior in this rivalry, the in-ring action would not nearly be as effective as it is.

The bulk of the match is back and forth mind games between the champion and her challenger until Baszler locks in her Kirifuda Clutch on a mat reversal. Cross isn’t one to give her opponent the satisfaction of a tap-out, so she embraces the submission, smiles for a moment, and passes out to lose the match. A disappointing outcome for many, but a brilliant psychological match after everything is said and done.

Cross could come up to the main roster as early as this week, but she could easily stay in NXT to continue this feud. A solo run for Cross on the main roster makes sense, as does appearing after Sanity is well established on SmackDown. Regardless of what happens, it’s clear that Cross and Baszler are two more talented women that are destined to join the WWE main roster.

Shayna Baszler def. Nikki Cross via submission to retain the NXT Women’s Championship (3.5 Stars of David)

NXT Championship: Aleister Black (C) vs. Lars Sullivan

The Black Mass is one of those finishers that’s so brutal you really don’t think anyone can survive it. Then comes a behemoth like Lars Sullivan and all of a sudden you can’t imagine a kick being enough to stop him. Rarely do champions come in as underdogs in their title defenses, especially in NXT, but that’s exactly the story going into Takeover Chicago.

Sullivan catches the Black Mass in the first minute of the match to let Black know this will be no walk in the park. Black, an excellent worker, responds with a backflip off the top of the turnbuckle onto Sullivan ringside. Sullivan catches him and sends him into the barricade shifting the momentum of the match. Thanks to the crowd Black rallies and goes to roll-up his opponent, but Sullivan’s size is too much to overcome.

One would think that with as large as Sullivan is he wouldn’t dare climb the ropes, but rules are made to broken and that’s exactly what the giant decides to do. Black takes advantage of this by getting his knee up to stun Sullivan, but that much weight with gravity on its side does as much damage to Black as he did to Sullivan. Black is no slouch though and takes Lars’ recovery time as an opportunity to fire up as only he can. The way he moves in the ring is reminiscent of AJ Styles hitting a combo of moves flawlessly. Sullivan goes for the Freak Accident, but Black counters mid-air into a DDT.

That’s not enough to keep the challenger down as he hoists up Black and powerslams him onto the apron before he successfully hits the dive off the top rope on his second attempt. Black, despite all that he’s been through, gears up for three Black Masses that finish Sullivan who is a bloody mess. Despite the loss, Sullivan remains strong and establishes himself as a big man who can do more than just look big. Black, who needs no validation, put on another great match as NXT Champion.

Aleister Black def. Lars Sullivan via pinfall (4.25 Stars)

Chicago Street Fight: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa

392 days before this pay-per-view, Tommaso Ciampa turned on Johnny Gargano after DIY lost a hard-fought battle. What followed is the most compelling storyline in WWE since that moment. Gargano and Ciampa earned the first five-star match since I started these ratings, so when the feud continued, and we got word there would be a street fight between these two most fans dreamed of what could be another historic bout.

Gargano is stopped by his wife, Candice LeRae, before the match. She hands him a broken crutch to use as a weapon and encourages Gargano to “kick his ass.” Ciampa walks out to no music and a chorus of boos. They waste no time and begin battling with crutches until they move ringside. A street fight like this means that they can’t be counted out or disqualified so based on the history between these two, carnage is expected. Ciampa takes a sign from a Gargano fan in the crowd but is unable to rip it up so he uses it to beat Johnny. Gargano grabs the sign and peels it apart to find a stop sign he can beat his former friend with.

As Ciampa crawls back into the ring and away from Gargano, Johnny goes under the ring and tosses a metal trash can and steel chair into the ring. A recovered Ciampa uses a string of suplexes to stop Gargano from using the weapons, but Gargano gives a suplex of his own before he hits a Suicide Dive. Back outside the ring, Ciampa takes a chair from under the ring and wraps it around the neck of Gargano. He sends him into the steel staircase and stares at Gargano struggling to breathe.

Eventually, Johnny Wrestling rallies and attacks Ciampa with his belt. Once the match is in Gargano’s favor he sets up the trash can in the corner of the ring but Ciampa uses the lid to daze him.  A neck breaker off the apron and onto the steel steps should’ve ended Gargano’s night, but a kick out means Ciampa has to take it up a notch. He uses cable cutters to remove the mat from the ring and exposes the wood base of it.

During all of this, Gargano is limp laying on the canvas. He can’t recover enough to stop Ciampa from biting his ear as Ciampa perches him on the top turnbuckle. Gargano miraculously gets underneath Ciampa and superkicks him knocking him back down to the mat. The two trade strikes until they knock each other out with Gargano collapsing in a pin position. Somehow Ciampa kicks out, but his knee is now the clear focus for Gargano. The way Gargano attacks Ciampa’s knee almost feels like a heel turn, but it’s clear the NXT fans will not turn on their beloved hero.

Ciampa uses the crutch from earlier to bloody Gargano before he recreates the heel turn from a year ago by sending Johnny into the entrance screen. “That’s not enough” Ciampa explains as he drags Gargano up a structure, presumably to end his life. Ciampa stalls too long by removing his opponent’s wedding ring, spitting on it, and chucking it into the crowd. Gargano’s emotion compels him to jump off the structure through a table and Ciampa needs a stretcher to leave the arena.

Johnny Wrestling refuses to let Ciampa leave the ring this way and really teases a heel turn by dragging him back into the ring for one last beat down. A slew of backstage suits tries to pull off Gargano, but that’s not how things will end. Ciampa tapped a few times but there was no referee present to end the match. A handcuffed Ciampa, now being tended to by a ref, gets to his feet and gives Gargano a DDT through the ropes onto the exposed wood part of the ring. In the end, Gargano’s emotion got the best of him and caused him to lose the match. With the series tied 1-1 we can expect a match to complete the trilogy come Takeover New York in August.

Tommaso Ciampa def. Johnny Gargano via pinfall (5 Stars of David)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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David Rosenberg

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