Tonight is the first NXT Takeover event since the brand was overhauled to NXT 2.0. Not to be negative, but I’ve not enjoyed much of what I’ve seen of NXT 2.0. It isn’t the NXT I used to know and love…but all good things must come to an end. And even the NXT I loved struggled to keep me entertained towards the end of its days (truly, Karrion Kross was one of the worst NXT champions). However, the halcyon days of glorious NXT are over. This rebranded, Vince McMahon-influenced NXT 2.0 is now just another WWE brand. Perhaps a true developmental one, but it’ll never reach the zenith of NXT 1.0.
I’ll check out tonight NXT Takeover: Wargames V, but if it’s anything like this years NXT Halloween Havoc, it’ll be full of short matches. At one time, NXT Takeover was synonymous with excellence. You could guarantee at least two-thirds of the matches would be (more than) worth watching. And with a Match of the Year contender happening on a regular basis, it’s hard to narrow down a Top 10 List of NXT Takeover Matches (I’ve made it easier, obviously, by excluding regular NXT TV…). But here’s my attempt…
- Charlotte vs Bayley vs Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch (Fatal 4-Way Match for the NXT Women’s Championship Match, NXT Takeover: Rival)
Four of the best women wrestlers ever came together to (once again) prve that not only could the Four Horsewomen hang with the boys, but even surpass them. Yes, the Women’s wrestling scene in NXT had always been one to watch, but this match alone made it vital viewing. WWE had conditioned us to expect 5 minute women’s matches; here the four women battled for almost half an hour. In the hallowed hall of Fatal 4 Way matches, this is in the Top 5. Easy (even, I daresay, better than the men’s Fatal 4 Way matcj at Takeover: Fatal 4-Way). And this was only an inkling of the heights the four women would reach, both in NXT and on the main roster.
- Adrian Neville vs Sami Zayn (NXT Championship vs Career Match, NXT TakeOver: R Evolution)
This is actually #100 on the WWE Network’s Best 100 Matches List (one of three or four NXT matches on the list). If I asked you to name the best underdog story of 2014, you’d probably say Daniel Bryan’s road to WrestleMania. However, that was not planned by WWE. We, the people, forced their hand. Just think, the original plan for WrestleMania 30 was to have Batista and Randy Orton main event…While Bryan’s underdog story was satisfying, Sami Zayn’s underdog story built for over half a year until it culminated in this match. And what a match it was. Almost the best underdog vs cocky champion match in NXT (that honour goes to #2!). Zayn was a lovable, believable underdog, and Neville’s role in making early NXT unmissable is always understated. This match has everything: a cracking feud leading into it, a sizzling hot crowd, and a match that contains superb wrestling, psychology and storytelling.
- The Revival vs #DIY (NXT Tag Team Championship, 2/3 Falls Match, NXT Takeover: Toronto)
Just like women’s wrestling, NXT brought depth and meaning to tag team wrestling (in the world of WWE). And whilst there are a number of teams vital to the division’s success, The Revival were the core of that success. Harking back to old-school tag teams like The Midnight Express, they didn’t need flips or fancy moves; just fists and impeccable basics. While it’s hard to choose from their many amazing battles, I can’t think of a more impressive one than this against #DIY. The ultimate battle of flips vs fists, this started off hot and never simmered. It’s a pity that The Revival never had a chance on the main roster, and a blessing Ciampa and Gargano haven’t been called up. But this is possibly the finest NXT tag team match.
- Adam Cole vs the Velveteen Dream vs Lars Sullivan vs Ricochet vs EC3 vs Killian Dane (Six Man Ladder Match for the NXT North American Championship, NXT Takeover: New Orleans)
Thanks to the annual Money in the Bank PPV (which includes not one, but two Money in the Bank matches), my senses are dulled to multi-man ladder matches. Of course, they are usually entertaining, but I’d argue the original MITB match is still the best one. However, even that hallowed classic pales in comparison to this six man ladder match that crowned the first ever NXT North American Championship. Four great wrestlers, twos mediocre one, combined to innovate and thrill. This was the opening match of one of the all-round great NXT Takeovers…and is there a better opening match than this one? Even Lars Sullivan (yes, he’s the mediocre one I meant!) pulls his socks up to keep up with the talent in this match. Ricochet, Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, Killian Dane…and EC3…who, actually didn’t pull his socks up. He’s the only weak link, and when he’s on the offence it’s the only time you can look away. Apart from that, you’ll be glued to the screen (and it’s a shame only one of the six wrestlers here are still with WWE today…).
- Tyler Bates vs Pete Dunne (NXT UK Championship, NXT Takeover: Chicago)
Who says you need over half an hour to have a great bout? Bates and Dunne gave us a five star bout in under a quarter of an hour. This was a rematch for the NXT UK Championship, and whilst their first match was very good, this was something else. Bates shocked the world (well, maybe that’s an exaggeration) with his NXT UK belt victory, and this was his first title defence. With Bates and/or Dunne you’re always guaranteed a very good bout. Put them together and you get this blitz of a match, one that’s in fifth gear from the opening bell to the three count. This put NXT UK on the map, as well as both Bates and Dunne.
- WALTER vs Ilja Draganov (NXT UK Championship Match, NXT Takeover 36)
Match of the Year 2021? I’d have to say…yes (if we’re just talking about WWE/NXT!). This A bruising war that was so hard hitting that it left chop marks on the viewer’s chests. The two warriors had one of the best matches of 2020…and somehow, they surpassed tha steller effort by taking each other over the limit, so much so that the limit was a tiny speck in the distance. The sheer workrate in this match, the sheer willingness of each wrestler to take the atiffezt shots imaginable, the sheer audacity to make everything else on the show look like amateur hour…it’s only fitting the last Takeover from NXT 1.0 included this all-time classic.
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover: Dallas)
Nakamura has never been hotter, or better, in the WWE realm that his debut in NXT. He never quite showed the same intensity or enthusiasm afterwards (and yes, he has been poorly utilised in WWE, but even his short NXT career wasn’t memorable…apart from this match, obviously). One of the best in the world, at the time, had made his way to NXT…and the crowd loved it, one of the best crowd reactions in NXT history. With Nakamura’s incredible entrance and the crowd chanting ‘This is Awesome’ even before the two had locked up, you knew you in for something special. Nakamura and Zayn gave the crowd a superb slobberknocker, a punishing bout that really showed off the ‘King Of Strong Style’s’, well, style! Shinsuke’s never shined brighter here.
- Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs Johnny Gargano (NXT Championship Match, NXT Takeover: Philadelphia)
This was the beginning of Gargano stealing NXT Takeover on a regular basis. Yes, he’d done it with Ciampa in #DIY, and was always very good in singles competition. But this was one of the best NXT Championship matches ever. It took me by surprise; I expected a good match, even a very good match, from the two of them. But this blew my socks off. For half an hour, these guys put on a gosh-darned classic. Everything looked so fluid, so natural; the chemistry between them was off the charts. It was such a classic match that Andrade tried to repeat it, almost move for move, in his match against Aleister Black at the following NXT Takeover. Simply the best NXT Championship match ever…
- Sasha Banks vs Bayley (NXT Women’s Championship Match, NXT Takeover: Brooklyn)
What can I say about this bout? One of the best women’s bouts AND one of the best bouts in general of last decade. Although Owens/Balor was the main event, this was the true main event of Takeover: Brooklyn. Yet again, the feud had been built beautifully; the cocky heel against the plucky (and often unlucky) babyface, the latter who always fell short when the title was on the line. It’s a classic, some would say tired, story, but here, it was played to perfection (and was a storyline NXT was ever so good at portraying…see #9!!!). And the bout itself…a wrestling classic, a non-gimmick bout that focused on each wrestler’s ability. They’ve fought on NXT and WWE plenty of times since this classic, but have never reached these heights (although their Hell in a Cell bout last year came very, very close).
- Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa (Unsanctioned Match, NXT Takeover: New Orleans)
The first match of this card was the awe-inspiring Six Man Ladder match. The last match was an hate-filled, nasty blood feud. One of the best wrestling feuds of this decade occurred between Gargano and Ciampa. Yes, it may have fizzled out, thanks to Ciampa’s injury and a boring ‘Final Fight.’ But for a year and a half (even when Ciampa wasn’t on TV!), this was the hottest feud on TV. And it came to a head in this unrelenting, ultra-violent Unsanctioned Match, the first match between the two after Ciampa shockingly turned on Gargano in an unforgettable angle. This feels like a proper fight; the hatred between the two almost melts the screen. They may have had more great matches after this one, but none came close to the intensity, the brilliance, and the heat of this one. Loved the feud, loved this match even more. One of the few times I utterly lost myself in a match. I hadn’t been hyped for match in a long, long time…and this lived up to the hype.
Charlotte vs Natalya (NXT Women’s Championship Match, NXT: Takeover)
Adrian Neville vs Sami Zayn vs Tyler Breeze vs Tyson Kidd (NXT Championship Fatal 4 Way Match, NXT Fatal 4 Way)
The Revival vs American Alpha (NXT Tag Team Championship Match, NXT Takeover: Dallas)
The Authors Of Pain (Akam & Rezar) w/Paul Ellering vs. #DIY (Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano) (Ladder Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship, NXT TakeOver: Chicago)
Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole (Extreme Rules Match, NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia)
The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong) vs. Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) (NXT Tag Team Championship Match, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV)
Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole (NXT Championship Match, NXT TakeOver: XXV)
Io Shirai vs. Candice LeRae (NXT TakeOver: Toronto II)