NXT Takeover: Vengeance Day: Every Match Ranked

What a great show. There’s really no simpler way to say it. This show far exceeded any of the 2020 Takeovers in my view and was an absolute joy to watch from start to finish. It’s shows like this that make ranking the matches difficult. The middle of the list was especially hard to rank on this one as all five of these matches have things worth raving about.

The biggest headline though is what happened after the main event, I’ll talk about it here so it’s out of the way. In my heart, I kinda wished Undisputed Era would go on to Raw or Smackdown as a unit but ignoring that, they have done everything there is to do in NXT. They’ve risen, they’ve fallen, they’ve risen again, and they’ve fallen again, as far as NXT is concerned, their story is done. Which means that the options were to either have them move on to the ‘main roster’ or break up and turn them all into singles stars.

I think there’s going to be some very interesting storytelling on the horizon between the faction, especially with Dunne and Balor on the periphery of the scene. This break-up could easily become the standout storyline of the year.

Now, let’s talk about the wrestling.

5 – Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez def. Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon
(Women’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)

This is one of those scenarios where I have to clarify that even though this match is ranked last, it’s still really good.

As expected these two teams clicked really well in the ring, even if they lacked the polish you’d see in veteran teams. The story was interesting because the faces actually dominated the largest chunk of the match, which you don’t often see in tag matches. It serves an underlying story though because whenever Dakota Kai was in the ring, their team went on the back foot, but as soon as Gonzalez got in, they were back in control. No attention was ever drawn to it, it was very clearly there throughout the match, and it’s going to be interesting to look back on stuff like this when Gonzalez inevitably breaks away from Kai.

It took a while for me a little while to get into this match, as it had a slow start, but that was entirely forgotten by the end as the action really got going into the place that I like. Gonzalez was undoubtedly the star of the show here, getting to show all aspects of her arsenal with explosive & brutal attacks combined with slower, more devious assaults. The faces kept coming back for more though, and they came out of it looking like they’d fought hard for it, they’re both raring to go in terms of going for the women’s title, and I think this was a decent platform for them to get there, even with the loss.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez & Kai are also ready to pop off, and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with all of these women gunning for Io’s title in the near future. I highly doubt that Gonzalez & Kai will beat Jax & Baszler for the titles, but that’s ok because this tournament felt more like a way to solidify the incredible push Gonzalez has been getting over the past few months. What I do know for sure though, is that NXT’s women’s division is going to have one hell of a year with these talents all over it.

4 – Io Shirai(c) def. Toni Storm & Mercedes Martinez
(NXT Women’s Championship)

Again, this was a really good match that I enjoyed; I’m just a bit disappointed it didn’t go longer. It only got 12 minutes in the end, and I really think it deserved more, especially to kick it up into that higher gear that it should’ve got to.

That complaint aside, there was still plenty to enjoy about this one. As expected, Martinez & Storm ended up focusing too heavily on each other to realise the ferocity at which Shirai was coming at them. Martinez felt like the main star of the show to me, she kicked things off with a bang and seemed to be involved in the action at every single point. It definitely helped re-establish her place in the division after disappearing for a while thanks to Retribution. Similarly, Storm got a lot of momentum on her side, and it doesn’t feel like she’s done with Shirai, it wouldn’t surprise me if a singles match between the two takes place in the near future.

Shirai did what she did best though and tore it up whenever she was on screen. Even if she wasn’t always the main focus of the action, her presence was always felt, doing cool stuff like jumping off of the scaffolding, for example. The match kept up a good pace, as you’d expect with three competitors in the mix, it kept me glued to the screen all the way to the finish. As I said, the only problem was that I felt a little short-changed by the 12-minute runtime. However, I’m confident this will lead to greater things down the line.

3 – MSK def. Grizzled Young Veterans
(Men’s Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Finals)

Another blinder of a tag match from a division that is heating up in a significant way.

One thing I’ve not given Grizzled Young Veterans (and specifically Zac Gibson) enough credit for is how brilliant they are on the mic. It’s no wonder that they’ve been given promo time before every single one of their matches in this tournament as it’s really where they shine brightest. That’s not to say they don’t shine brightly in the ring though, as they undoubtedly meet the high standards I’ve set for the NXT tag scene.

There wasn’t much complex in the way of the story in this match, both teams got their time to shine and show off just about everything they can do. Thankfully, they didn’t need too much of a story because what they can do is bloody entertaining to watch. There was a lot of fun to be had in this match, and neither team ever looked to have it in the bag. MSK pulled out the high-flying stuff (which we saw surprisingly little of last night) but Gibson & Drake were able to counter that with an extra dose of brutality in their offence.

While I certainly wouldn’t have complained if Grizzled Young Veterans had won, I think MSK to get the win was the right decision. It solidifies their place as feature players in the tag division, even though they’re not going to win the titles just yet, and it gives GYV another chip on their shoulder, which I’ve no doubt they’ll spin into promo-gold.

2 – Johnny Gargano(c) def. Kushida
(North American Championship)

So you know the match that you pictured in your head when someone said Gargano vs Kushida? Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what this match was, and it was brilliant.

The fast-paced opening immediately grabbed my attention and kept me in the match for the entire runtime. That extended sequence of the two of them continually trading blows and counters without missing a beat ‘action too quick to call’ as I’ve heard it referred to is just the sauce I like. While I’d love for it to carry a whole match, I know that’s quite the ask when these two guys have to go 20 minutes, so an extended sequence right at the start is more than enough to satisfy me.

The match didn’t lose me when it slowed down though, as it shifted the focus from impressive offence to a clear story where both men were focusing on each other’s weak spots and trying to get one over on each other at every opportunity. Gargano is brilliant at adapting his heel style depending on his opponent and his tactic against Kushida of striking the neck little and often was a very engaging one. Kushida was never really on the back foot though, he took it to Gargano’s arm at every opportunity, and the two men were able to match each other beat-for-beat. I loved that feeling of both men feeling like they were on an altogether even playing field.

While I wouldn’t have booked Gargano to retain, I can’t complain about the decision. Kushida will undoubtedly bounce back from this loss and Gargano’s title reign is really turning into something special, with both of his major stories so far being winners.

1 – Finn Balor(c) def. Pete Dunne
(NXT Championship)

In the intro, I mentioned that this list was hard to rank, but the number 1 spot was never in any doubt. This match was incredible and an early contender for match of the year.

In my predictions, I speculated over whether Balor would slow his pace to match Dunne, or whether Dunne would accelerate his pace to meet Balor. As it turns out, the answer was both of those things would happen. The first half of the match was a slow, mat-based affair that was full of tension. Dunne controlled the majority of it, with Balor on the back foot in a way we haven’t really seen from his title reign just yet. However, the story progressed, and Balor started to adapt, he started to match Dunne’s holds and bite back here and there, as the match’s pace slowly picked up.

Towards the latter third of the match is where things really got going, as Balor broke free from Dunne’s holds and went balls-to-the-walls with his offence. What was brilliant though, was that Dunne immediately snapped into that style and could match Balor. It gave me the impression that this was Dunne’s gameplan all along and from here the match because of a brilliant back-and-forth affair that had me on the hook with every near fall. The flow between every hold and every move was damn-near flawless, and both guys felt like they were an inch away from victory at any given moment.

As much as I wanted Dunne to win, I can’t deny that Balor earned the victory in this one and Dunne looked great for it. I don’t think this is the last of Dunne in the title scene, and I can’t wait to see what else he and Balor can do, potentially with Undisputed Era in the mix too.

Every NXT Men’s & Women’s Champion Ranked – Part 1

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’m going to be trying my hand at streaming, starting next Saturday at 6pm GMT, because, quite frankly, I’ve got nothing better to do right now. I’m going to be playing a variety of indie games for the first time, along with a few classics that I love. If you’re interested, then please swing by twitch.tv/strongstylesmark and hit the follow button to be notified when I go live!

Ahh NXT. When the world of Raw & Smackdown makes it feel like wrestling will never be good ever again (which doesn’t happen all the time, although sometimes it does feel like it) there’s always the warm black and gold glow of Full-Sail University gently sits you down and reminds you that: “Hey! Wrestling’s fun and you enjoy watching it!” Whether it’s compelling storytelling or five-star matches, NXT has just about everything you could want from a modern-day wrestling promotion and no-one better embodies that than it champions.

Between the main Men’s and Women’s Championships, 25 different wrestlers have stood at the top of the brand at some point in their career and each of them brought their own unique style and flair to the title. That said, as is the case with everything in life, not all of them were equal, and it’s always going to be someone’s job to file their opinions on these titles reigns in the form of a ranked list.

As for what criteria I’m ranking these on, it’s a combination of hard stats (days as champion, number of defences etc.) and my personal feelings of the quality of storylines and matches they had while champion. Whatever they did outside of their title reign is irrelevant, all that matters is what they did when the gold was around their waist.

I also won’t be including Io Shirai in this list, nor will I count Karrion Kross. In Io’s case, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a title reign before it’s over, while in Kross’ case, the injury was a tragedy, and the 4 days he held the title wasn’t representative of what was planned for him. All-in-all, I just think it would be mean to put him on the bottom spot of this list when it wasn’t his fault his reign was so short.

With those caveats made, let’s get started.

26 – Kairi Sane

Days as Champion: 71
Successful Title Defences: 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Shayna Baszler at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV

Kairi Sane had the unfortunate distinction of being a hot up-and-comer in the NXT Women’s division during Shayna Baszler’s run of dominance. While this time was terrific for the NXT Women’s division as a whole, with countless incredible matches, very few women ever got a taste of the gold. However, the only woman who managed to interrupt Baszler’s time at the top for a little while was Kairi Sane.

Sane won the title from Baszler in one of the best matches of that year and was just one chapter in the fantastic rivalry the two had. Given who was on the NXT Women’s roster at the time, there was all the potential in the world for Sane to spend a year going around and having brilliant matches with everybody in sight, especially after Io Shirai burst onto the scene. Unfortunately for Sane, Baszler had so much potential, and NXT management saw more money putting the title back on Bazler.

So, at Evolution, without a single title defence under her belt, Kairi Sane lost the title back to Shayna Baszler. Again, the match was great, and Baszler would do great things with the title, but it was disappointing for Sane. It’s an unfortunate scenario of a wrestler being in the wrong place at the wrong time, meaning their chance at crowning glory was swept to one side for someone else.

25 – Johnny Gargano

Days as Champion: 57
Successful Title Defences: 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Adam Cole at NXT Takeover: XXV

Well, if you want a ‘victim of circumstance’ look no further…

Gargano’s title reign should’ve been so much grander. It should’ve felt like the culmination of the whole previous era of NXT. From the moment Ciampa threw Gargano into the LED screen at Chicago in 2017, it had felt like Gargano has NXT Champion was NXT’s new endgame. Then the world intervened, and NXT had to adapt and create something different. Which unfortunately left Gargano in the dust.

The match where Gargano won the title at Takeover New York was fantastic, but it should’ve been so much more. When the finale of the Gargano vs Ciampa series was set for the show, it felt like we were finally going to reach the end of this story. The characters had changed and adapted over the years, but they were still the same people, and they still had business to settle. Then, tragedy struck, and Ciampa got injured. Adam Cole came in as the replacement and – as I said – the match was one of the best of that year, but the moment when Gargano won the title didn’t feel like the massive payoff it would’ve if it was against Ciampa. In fact, once the match changed many fans, myself included, turned against Gargano and was rooting for Cole to win the title instead.

Seeing their best-laid plans fall directly into the bin, NXT management did what they do best and adapted. They didn’t stubbornly stay the course, they changed tactics and during the rematch a couple of months later. Cole took the title from Gargano, ending a completely empty reign. Once again, the match was one of the best NXT has ever produced, and it started off a fantastic title reign for Cole (more on that later), but it left Gargano with nothing to do from that point onwards. He’s managed to find a better character angle to take now, but it took almost a year to get there.

The only thing that separates this title reign from Kairi Sane’s down at the bottom is that Gargano’s matches where he won and lost the title were better. Other than that it’s just two faces that should’ve had everything but, thanks to circumstances beyond their control, ended up with almost nothing.

24 – Keith Lee

Days as Champion: 52
Successful Title Defences: 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Dominik Dijakovic on NXT 15th July 2020

Well, this was a disappointment.

For context, when I started writing this list, Lee hadn’t even won the title yet. It was during the build to The Great American Bash, and there were high hopes for Lee to have a dominant run at the top of NXT.

I think the main problem with Lee’s title reign is that it came just a little too late in his run. Lee spent about a year doing practically nothing of note in NXT until he suddenly hit the big time in 2019. He had that star-making performance against Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. He spent the first half of 2020 blowing everyone away with his defences of his North American Championship. Realistically, he probably should’ve taken the title from Cole in the spring.

By the time Lee won the title, two things had happened. First, those behind the wheel on Raw realised what a ready-made star they had on their hands with Lee, and they wanted a piece. Second was that an absolute monster had arrived in NXT by the name of Karrion Kross, and there was no way he was doing anything other than shooting straight to the top.

There was at least some good story during his reign, I loved the rivalry turned friendship that Lee & Dijakovic have shared over the past year, and it was brilliant to play that into Lee’s feud with Kross. In addition, at least Lee got to defend the title at least once, which puts him over both of the other champions we’ve covered so far. As disappointing as it was for Lee to lose the title so quickly, he’s absolutely killing it on Raw right now, and we’ll always have that euphoric visual of him holding up both titles amongst the confetti.

23 – Drew McIntyre

Days as Champion: 91
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Andrade “Cien” Almas at NXT Takeover: WarGames

It pains me to do this, it really does.

Being a man who had already seen success in WWE prior to his 2017 run in NXT, it always felt like Drew was never going to stick around for very long down at the Performance Center. Not only had he already been an established WWE star before his 2015 release, but he’d come back looking like one of the toughest tough guys to ever be tough, of course Vince was going to decide he wanted a piece of that action on Raw & Smackdown sooner rather than later.

This meant that, despite coming into NXT full of fire and taking the title from Bobby Roode in an excellent match, he didn’t really get much of an opportunity to do anything exciting with the championship while he was holding it. While the 91-day length is longer than several other entries on this list, he didn’t get a chance to show what he can really do in any of those 91 days. Both of his successful title defences were on NXT TV, rather than at a Takeover, which meant that they didn’t have that atmosphere or drive that takes NXT matches to the next level despite both being excellent.

When he lost the title to Andrade, it came as a surprise to many, myself included, as it felt like his reign was only just kicking into gear. As it turned out, even if he had won that match it wouldn’t have made a difference, as Drew suffered an arm injury in that match and was out of action until Spring of 2018 when he showed up on Raw.

Drew Mcintyre is a brilliant wrestler who deserves all the success he is currently experiencing in his career; however, he left no lasting impact whatsoever when it comes to NXT.

22 – Samoa Joe

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 121; 2nd Reign – 13
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 1; 2nd Reign – 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Finn Balor (Steel Cage) at NXT Takeover: The End

Given that Joe was the first-ever two-time NXT Champion in history, you’d surely expect him to be a lot higher on this list than fourth from bottom. However, let me ask you a question: What did Joe actually do with the title? Seriously, what did he do during his time as champion to leave any impact whatsoever on NXT? The answer, my friends, is nothing.

For one thing, Joe’s title win wasn’t even televised. For context, by this point in 2016, Joe & Balor had been feuding for ages, and Joe had come out on the losing end every single time. At both London & Dallas, Balor had put Joe away cleanly, walking away with the title both times. Then suddenly one night, on an untelevised house-show, Joe wins the title from Balor. It wasn’t a botch, this was a genuine booking decision made by NXT management. Now, title changes happen on house-shows once every couple of years or so (usually at Madison Square Garden), and it’s always fun when it does. However, in Joe’s case, it felt a bit underwhelming, especially after he’d failed to win the title so many times before.

Joe’s 121 days to his first title reign may sound impressive, but don’t let that fool you, nothing of interest happened during that time. He defended the title against Balor in a Steel Cage, in a good match, but nothing extraordinary. Then Shinsuke Nakamura burst onto the title scene, they feuded for two months, and when they finally had a match, Nakamura won the title, just like that.

“But what about his second title reign?” I hear you ask. Well, it lasted about as long as this sentence.

Joe won the title back from Nakamura at Takeover: Toronto in a shocking moment. However, this title reign lasted an upsettingly short 13 days. The only reason Joe even won the title back is that NXT was doing a show in Nakamura’s home country of Japan in a couple of weeks and they wanted Nakamura to win back the title there. That’s honestly it. Joe left NXT shortly afterwards, and it honestly felt as if he’d never been there in the first place. It seemed like him having the NXT title was more just something for him to have on his resume when he went up to the main roster. I honestly don’t think the history of NXT would have looked any different if the title had gone directly from Balor to Nakamura instead of using Joe as a stop-gap.

21 – Shinsuke Nakamura

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 91; 2nd Reign – 56
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 0; 2nd Reign – 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Bobby Roode at NXT Takeover: San Antonio

I seriously considered having Joe & Nakamura share a slot to be entirely honest with you because I have very similar things to say about them. As great as we know Nakamura can be, I don’t think he left much of an impact on NXT while champion. His best work on the brand all came before he won the title. His match against Finn Balor was one of the last stepping stones before he challenged for the title and his match with Sami Zayn (his unquestionably best match in NXT) was his debut.

By the time he’d actually won the title, it felt like NXT was ready to move onto the next era. They were starting to sign a bunch of big names left-and-right, and with no secondary title, they rushed a bunch of them to the title too quickly. In fact, Joe & Nakamura are great examples of this. They both should’ve had long and fruitful reigns with the title, but they rose to the top at almost the exact same time, which meant they both dragged each other down.

The story with Nakamura’s title reigns is just as dull as Joe’s. He won it from Samoa Joe at Takeover: Brooklyn II, lost it back to Joe at Takeover: Toronto, before winning it back again in a taped match from Japan. A few weeks later, their feud finally ended when Nakamura beat Joe in a Steel Cage in Melbourne. It’s worth noting that all of these matches were good, it’s just that it had got very tiresome by the end, and I now look less fondly on the earlier matches as a result.

Finally, Nakamura was free of Samoa Joe and could move on to defend the title against NXT’s best a brightest…or not. Nakamura surprisingly lost the title at Takeover: San Antonio to Bobby Roode…and that was that. He lost a rematch to Roode in Orlando and showed up on Smackdown later that week. Thankfully, Roode would break this cycle and be a far superior champion, but it meant that Nakamura’s legacy in NXT is quite a disappointing one.

20 – Sami Zayn

Days as Champion: 62
Successful Title Defences: 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Adrian Neville at NXT Takeover: R Evolution

Sami Zayn’s title win marked the end of the first era of NXT. It was the biggest story the brand had ever had, and Zayn’s title win represented the culmination of it. It was the point where many fans finally turned their heads and started paying attention to the black & gold brand. The great thing about Takeover: R Evolution though, is that it didn’t just culminate a great story, it immediately started a new one.

Immediately getting annihilated by his best friend Kevin Owens, Zayn had a red-hot storyline to kick off his title reign. He put on a good show in his rematch with Neville shortly after he won it, but following that, it was all Kevin Owens. NXT had taken it’s biggest babyface and given him a rival that had everything. Not only are they real-life best friends, and thus know each other better than anyone, but they’ve both got unmatched microphone skills and storytelling ability. It was that storytelling ability that pulled Zayn’s title reign up a few places from where it should realistically be.

When you look at the bare facts of how Zayn’s title reign ended, it sounds like a travesty. The biggest babyface NXT ever had up until that point got absolutely annihilated, to the point where the referee called for the bell, handing the title to the new monster heel, barely two months into his title reign. The thing is though it was brilliant. Zayn as a face is undoubtedly a character that benefits from getting arse kicked, and the story surrounding it meant that this outcome made sense. Owens knew Zayn’s in-ring style inside and out, while Owens had totally transformed himself into a killing machine. There was nothing Zayn could do to get one over on Owens, and it made all the sense in the world.

However, as great as the story was, it doesn’t change the fact that Zayn lost the title after barely having a cup of coffee with it.

19 – Big E Langston

Days as Champion: 168
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Seth Rollins at NXT 6th December 2012

When looking back on the history of NXT, the early champions are always pretty hard to rank, because the only thing that connects 2012-2014 NXT to 2015-present NXT, is the name – apart from that, they may as well be two completely separate entities.

As it stood, Big E was a big dominant guy who had an undefeated streak, and that was pretty much it. The fun & exciting part came from where he demanded that the referee count 5 on his pinfalls instead of three. A fun little gimmick at first, but it’s not a great deal to go on. This was before the NXT writers room was full of the most inspired storytellers in the business, and was instead just a bunch of guys that weren’t ready to write for Raw yet.

He dethroned Rollins to become the second-ever NXT Champion, as Rollins was a bit busy being one-third of the newly debuted Shield at the time. Then we hit our next stumbling block with this era of NXT, because, although Big E held the title all the way from the start of December through to the end of May, he only defended the title three times, with minimal story going into any of them.

He dispatched of Conor O’Brian (who would later become one half of The Ascension…and put a ‘K’ at the front of his name for some reason) sometime in March. A few weeks later he beat Brad Maddock (yes, the guy who was Raw GM so briefly you’d almost certainly forgotten about it) in under 90 seconds. Then Bo Dallas came around, and that was that. Big E had already debuted on the main roster by this point as Dolph Ziggler’s lackey, and there was very little value in him being NXT Champion anymore.

I think Big E definitely has some decent role in establishing NXT for the success it would later see, but I can’t say that what he did with the title was particularly impressive.

18 – Ember Moon

Days as Champion: 140
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Shayna Baszler at NXT Takeover: New Orleans

Based on the numbers, you might think Ember should be a bit higher up on the list, but as much as she had an enjoyable run as champion, I don’t feel like she left much of an impact on the brand.

In 2017, it felt like Ember Moon was to be the successor to Asuka’s throne. It’s hard to say whether or not she would’ve eventually overcome Asuka had The Empress of Tomorrow never gotten injured, but the general feeling was that Ember Moon was going to be sitting on top of the NXT Women’s division for quite a while. Sadly, she fell short of these expectations, not because of any fault of hers, but because she was surrounded by some extremely hot prospects.

When Ember Moon won the NXT Women’s Championship, it wasn’t too far out from the very first Mae Young Classic tournament ending, which meant that there was a fresh crop of incredible women’s wrestlers waiting for their time to shine in NXT. Ember was delayed in winning the title to begin with, thanks to the insanely hot run Asuka found herself on, but once Ember got a hold of the title, there were some high expectations.

Her first defence of the title was against Sonya Deville on an episode NXT in November. It was a good match, but it was only 7 minutes long and served more to be a mini-showcase for Sonya Deville than anything substantial. Then Ember ran into the woman who would cause her run at the top to be cut short: Shayna Baszler. Admittedly, Baszler was nowhere near as dominant as she would later become just yet, but anyone with half a brain could see all the potential in the world, so her winning the title was very much a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

Moon successfully defended the title against Baszler twice, however, both times it was by the skin of her teeth; one via an opportunistic rollup and the other via DQ. On top of that, Baszler laid waste to Ember at every opportunity. Great for the purposes of building Baszler up as the next big thing, not so great for Ember and her title reign, which would end at Takeover: New Orleans with relatively little fanfare.

As great as Ember Moon had the potential to be as champion, the way history has played out, her legacy is entirely overshadowed by the two dominant forces that surrounded her in the form of Asuka & Shayna Baszler.

17 – Seth Rollins

Days as Champion: 133
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Big E Langston at NXT 6th December 2012

Rollins gets a prestige boost by virtue of being the first champion, but that doesn’t carry him far.

If I’m being entirely honest, my thoughts of Rollins as champion are very similar to my thoughts on Big E’s time as champion. The difference here being Rollins at least wrestled for a lot longer during his title defences. Admittedly, that’s not much of a benefit when his main rival was Jinder Mahal, but it’s still got to count for something.

Defeating Jinder Mahal in the finals of a tournament, Rollins was chosen as the very first man to carry the black and gold brand to glory, and he did an admirable job for the upstart promotion. His first title defence was against Michael McGillicutty – who would later come to be known as Curtis Axel – and while it wasn’t anything incredible, it was a better match than you’re probably thinking it was.

Rollins then didn’t do much of anything for a few months, until Jinder Mahal came sniffing around once again, looking for vengeance. Following this match, Rollins debuted on the main roster as part of The Shield, and the writing was on the wall for his title reign. At the next set of tapings, he lost via DQ to Corey Graves in 5 minutes, then lost the title to Big E.

Much like Big E, Rollins held the title for a decent number of days and defended the title cleanly in decent matches. That, alongside being the very first champion gives him a slightly grander legacy as champion than most from this era, but that really isn’t saying much in the grand scheme of things.

16 – Aleister Black

Days as Champion: 108
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Tommaso Ciampa at NXT 18th December 2018

Aleister Black was such a dominant force in NXT for so long that I always find it quite surprising looking back at his title reign because it’s so boring. He’s one of those people who ended up doing most of his best work before and after his time as champion. All of his best matches (vs Velveteen Dream, vs Johnny Gargano, w/ Ricochet vs War Raiders) happened without the championship over his shoulder.

His victory against Almas was a good one, but it didn’t main event the show, as that slot was (quite rightly) taken by the first Gargano vs Ciampa match (trust me, this is going to be a pattern). Black was made to look very strong as champion and came out on top more often than not in any encounter he had, but none of them were all that memorable.

He defended the title against Eric Young on an episode of NXT that was good, but not very long. Then, when Takeover: Chicago II rolled around, Black once again had the main event spot taken from him by the second Ciampa vs Gargano match. Sadly, his match wasn’t anything too special either, as he dragged Lars Sullivan to a passable 15-minute match.

Before we knew it, the time had come for Black to lose the title, and it wasn’t even on a Takeover event. After being shunted aside for it twice, Black found himself stuck in the middle of the Ciampa/Gargano feud. Gargano’s actions in his title defence against Ciampa would indirectly cause him to lose the title. Black was set to fight in a triple threat match for the title at Brooklyn 4, but an injury put the lid on those plans.

Black’s reign wasn’t very glamorous or memorable, but it rises this high on the list because he was treated very well as champion. As I said, he rarely if ever lost a non-title match, and continued to cultivate his strong and mysterious persona.

15 – Andrade “Cien” Almas

Days as Champion: 139
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia

Andrade is one of those people that I always seem to forget was NXT Champion. Not because he didn’t do well as champion, I liked a lot of what he did, he just didn’t seem to leave much of a mark on the belt at the end of the day.

As 2020 seemed to mark the end of NXT’s 2nd goldern era, I think it’s interesting to look at where it began. Most people focus on the Gargano/Ciampa rivalry, as that’s a large part of what defined the era, I think a very good case could be made for Andrade as the first champion of that era. The match where he won the title from Drew McIntyre was good, but not amazing thanks to Drew’s injury, but Andrade would work his arse off to make his title reign worth it from there onwards.

Having Zelina Vega as a mouthpiece was brilliant for him and the two clicked better than most wrestler/manager combinations have in recent memory. They both carried themselves with a cocky swagger that suited Andrade’s persona and even though they didn’t directly talk all that much, their chemistry during Andrade’s matches was incredible.

Speaking of Andrade’s matches, there’s one that sticks out in the mind far more than others. His first title defence at Takeover: Philadelphia against Johnny Gargano was the first in a long, LONG series of genuinely unbelievably good series of Takeover main events. It was the first match in NXT to be awarded 5 stars by the Wrestling Observer and remains one of my favourite NXT singles matches to this day.

The problem with Andrade though is that he doesn’t have much of a legacy in NXT outside of that match. He defended the title again a few weeks later against Gargano in another great match that is largely forgotten by history. Then, while the match where he lost the title to Aleister Black was brilliant, it was entirely overshadowed by everything else that happened on Takeover: New Orleans, a show seen by many to be NXT’s finest work.

I wanted to place Almas higher, but when you look at his title reign’s content, it doesn’t really justify it. Admittedly his match against Gargano carries him up a handful of places on its own, but given that it was immediately followed by the Ciampa/Gargano feud, this reign tends to be a bit more forgettable.

14 – Paige

Days as Champion: 273
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Emma on NXT 12th June 2013

Paige is somewhat of a difficult one to rank in the context of this list. When you compare her to the women who came after she’d left NXT, she technically didn’t do all that much fantastic stuff with the belt, however, I think doing that woefully understates the impact she made on, not just NXT, but main roster WWE as well.

With Paige, you have to look at what was going on with the women’s division in WWE at the time and how Paige’s work compares. For one thing, WWE was still calling them ‘Divas’ instead of ‘women’. The longest women’s match on Pay-Per-View for the entirety of WWE in 2013 was 11 minutes long, and that was only because it was a 7 on 7 elimination tag match, and even then it was one of the worst Survivor Series tag matches we’ve ever seen.

Then, you put that in contrast to what Paige was doing in NXT at the time. She was putting on 15-minute matches that outshone just about any women’s match in WWE history at the time and carrying the only women’s title that felt like it meant anything in WWE. When looking back at the rise of women’s wrestling WWE, the four horsewomen are always the most obvious people to point at for where it all started, but I don’t think that’s true. The four horsewomen may have brought the idea that women can actually do great wrestling to a mainstream audience, but Paige was the one who knocked the door down in the first place for them to take advantage. It’s entirely possible that without Paige putting in the incredible work that she did, NXT never would’ve come around to booking it’s women’s division seriously, and then where would we be?

It wasn’t perfect though, the fact that she defended the title only 3 times in 9 months isn’t the best, especially when one of those was a 3- minute match against Summer Rae. On top of that, she never actually lost the title. Instead, she was forced to vacate it by JBL (who was apparently the General Manager of NXT for a while?) after she showed up on Raw in the spring of 2014 and won the Divas title from AJ Lee. That move did lead to great things in the long-run, but the fact that the first NXT Women’s Champion never actually lost the belt is a bit of an oddity.

Paige laid the groundwork for what would become NXT’s revolution in women’s wrestling, and her role cannot be understated. However, when you compare her to the modern era, where women’s wrestling is taken far more seriously, her title reign just doesn’t quite hold up against a lot of them. She was the one who lit the fire but didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the flame.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what you thought of these NXT title reigns, either in the comments below, or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be covering my favourite post-game features in the Pokemon series, PLUS the week after that for part 2 of this list!

WWE Match of the Year 2020

Much like every company (and every person) in 2020, it’s been one hell of a year for WWE, with a lot of ups and downs. However, it led to many things we’ve never seen before, some stuff we never thought we’d see in a WWE ring and a lot of bloody good wrestling. So, as we sail off into a new year which surely HAS to be better than this one, let’s take a look back at some of the best matches WWE gave us in 2020.

10 – Men’s Royal Rumble – Royal Rumble

Putting a Royal Rumble on the match of the year list almost feels like cheating, because even a lousy rumble is at least a little bit good. However, I think this one did enough unique things that it deserves to be spoken about.

Rumbles often have a bit of a through-line story to them, especially when there’s a story surrounding who enters first, however, normally in that instance it’s about that wrestler being an underdog. So here, we finally got a chance to see what it would be like if that formula got turned on its head. Brock dominating the first half of the match was brilliant, I know some people say it went on for too long, but I entirely disagree, it was perfect. Not only was it something new, but it gave us so many great little moments between Brock & various competitors, and the little moments are what make a lot of the best rumbles so good.

On top of all that, it led to what was possibly the largest crowd reaction of the year (not exactly a high bar, but whatever) when Drew eliminated Brock from the match. From there we got loads of really fun Rumble antics that hit all the beats you want from a match like that. We got a bunch of fun action as the ring filled up, until what was ACTUALLY the biggest crowd reaction of the year when EDGE returned to wrestle for the first time in 9 years. Then, as the match drew (heh) to a close, we got another brilliant final four-segment between Orton, Edge, Roman & Drew that gave me a result I wasn’t expecting but was very happy about.

The past few years have been absolutely brilliant for rumble matches, and it makes me all the more excited for 2021’s version of the match, whatever form it takes.

9 – WALTER(c) vs Ilja Dragunov – NXT UK 29th October
(United Kingdom Championship)

Live crowds weren’t the only thing we missed out on this year, thanks to the UK’s restrictions, NXT UK was off the air for a large chunk of the year. However, once it came back, they did as much as they possibly could to make up for all the time they missed.

Truth be told, there isn’t really anything complicated about why this match is so good. It’s not a technical masterpiece or an epic story, it’s just two men beating the absolute stuffing out of each other for twenty minutes, and it blew me away. WALTER wrestled a ferocious style at the best of time, it’s what made his matches against Dunne and Bate so incredible to watch, but when he’s up against a guy like Dragunov who, despite his smaller size, can hit back just as hard, it’s compelling in the weirdest way possible. Almost like a car crash, in that, you just can’t quite bring yourself to look away.

Despite the brutal style, they still did a great job making Dragunov someone I wanted to cheer. I don’t watch NXT UK’s weekly show very often, so I wasn’t very well informed of the story going into this match, but I got all I needed to from watching the match itself. He was able to mix his strong strikes with that kind of plucky underdog style of creating openings and pulling out ‘hope’ spots; a factor that is greatly aided by the fact that WALTER is bloody massive. There’s a reason you have to write his name in all-caps, after all.

This match was a brilliant showcase of the best of what the division has to offer, which was desperately needed after the show had been off our screens for many months.

8 – Bayley(c) vs Sasha Banks – Hell in a Cell
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)
(Hell in a Cell)

Bayley and Sasha are just really good at wrestling each other.

Their NXT matches are, in my opinion, the two very best women’s matches the world has ever seen (and in the conversation for best overall) and they haven’t missed a beat since those encounters, even with the heel/face roles reversed. In fact, I’d argue the reversal of the roles was to this match’s benefit, as it created a very different feeling match. Sasha can draw love from any crowd by simply selling like she’s being murdered with every move she takes. At the same time, Bayley spent 2020 producing the best heel-work seen in the company all year, to the point where the super-babyface NXT Bayley genuinely feels like a completely different person.

Hell in a Cell matches are usually not for me, they’re the very height of slow builds to high spots we’ve seen plenty of times before, but in this match, the competitors didn’t let the weapons detract from the action. Other cell matches would grind the match’s pace to a halt so the wrestlers could set up a spot, only to immediately go through the motions to do the next one, in this match, the weapon spots were primarily set up during the auction. There were a few points where things had to slow down, but they were few and far between, and the match’s wrestling action spoke for it more than the weapon spots.

That said, what weapons spots there were had a significant impact. The thread of Bayley using the chair that came back towards the end was classic storytelling done to near-perfection, and it helped the match build to its climax. Sasha winning wasn’t was I was expecting going in, but with hindsight, it was definitely the right conclusion. I’ve become so used to WWE dragging out stories for way longer than they needed to, that I forgot how great it feels when the big win happens when it feels like it’s supposed to. It rounded off a great match which a wonderful emotional moment that left me with very positive feelings.

7 – The Undertaker vs AJ Styles – Wrestlemania 36
(Boneyard Match)

I was really worried this was going to be crap. The few times in the past WWE had tried cinematic matches, they’d been awful, or cheap imitations of what other companies had already done. However, when the world felt like it was ending, WWE pulled out all the stops and created some genuinely amazing pre-taped stuff this year. The Money in the Bank match isn’t on this list, but it was a little bit out there, and genuinely hilarious with the bits they filled it with, and it showed that when WWE employees are allowed to be creative, they can create some magic. Speaking of…the boneyard match.

It reminded me of some of the more epic fight scenes from movies, but with a difference. The thing is, in a movie, a fight scene is just one part of the overall story, there’s usually so much more going on around it that the scene is either short or constantly cut away to see what the other characters are going. However, in a wrestling match, the fight IS the story, so we got 24 minutes of two men fighting like their lives depended on it.

The build was a little bit goofy, but in the match itself, both men leaned all the way into it, and it made it work. AJ became the most hatable human in the world and Undertaker had the badass vibes we haven’t seen from him in a while. With the hindsight of knowing this is Undertaker’s last match, it gains a whole other layer too. The way he fights like an old gunslinger on his way out of the door, the way he acts so visibly tired in some points, and even the way he talks to Styles as he puts him in the ground. It’s not the send-off I expected, or even wanted for Taker, but it really works.

It was the kind of match that I was genuinely on the edge of my seat during it because it was something I’d never seen before. Every new twist popped me in some way, and at the end of the day, it left me with a massive grin on my face, and I can’t ask for more.

6 – Roman Reigns(c) vs Jey Uso – Hell in a Cell
(Universal Championship)
(Hell in a Cell)
(I Quit)

There’s been a lot going on with Roman Reigns this year. After it looked like we were in for another run with face Roman at the top following Wrestlemania, the unfortunate circumstances forced him to take time off from WWE and miss out on that opportunity. We all knew he’d come back at some point, and I was looking forward to seeing him around again, but little did I know just how great it would be. After years of asking for it, we’ve finally got to see what Roman Reigns can do as a heel, and it’s absolutely fantastic. He has this aura of indestructibility around him that makes him the kind of figure you always want to pay attention to when he’s on-screen.

A considerable part of building this aura was his story with Jey Uso, where he showed himself to be genuinely ruthless in a way we haven’t seen from anyone in WWE for a very long time. Jey Uso is the kind of guy that I don’t think anyone ever saw as a single star, that’s not to say he didn’t have the potential to do well. It’s just his identity (and looks) as a wrestler are tied so heavily to his brother, it seemed impossible for them to do anything outside of the tag team division. This was precisely the right story to prove that belief wrong, though.

This match at Hell in a Cell is the best part of this story. The Cell is largely irrelevant, and to be entirely honest, so is most of the actual wrestling action. What matters here is that the story that was told was one of the most compelling WWE have told in years. Every element simply worked. Roman wanting to assert his dominance as the leader of the family, Jey desperate to prove himself, Jimmy wanting to make sure his brother didn’t get hurt and Heyman standing by to put the exclamation point on everything, along with being the personification of Roman’s betrayal of his old ideals.

The way Roman would put Jey down with such ease, only to watch Jey struggle to his feet. He would gain the advantage here and there, but it never lasted long. It was clear that Roman was the far superior wrestler, but Jey just wouldn’t say die, which ended up being his undoing. We got to see just how much of a bastard Roman has become, not just in the way he brutalized Jey, but in the way he pretended to break down crying, only to emotionally manipulate his cousins into letting their guard down.

It struck the right balance of drama so that it didn’t feel over the top, it just felt real, and I felt the emotional weight of every moment of it. It didn’t just establish Roman as an absolutely horrible person, but it elevated Jey’s standing to the point where he’s now seen as a credible singles competitor. Everybody wins.

5 – Drew McIntyre(c) vs Seth Rollins – Money in the Bank
(WWE Championship)

There really isn’t any complexity to this one, it’s just a bloody great wrestling match.

Drew McIntyre’s ascension in 2020 has been one of the more positive stories of this dark year. I’ve already talked about his Royal Rumble win, but once he actually had the title over his shoulder, the pressure was on to deliver. We all knew he had it in him, it was just a matter of whether or not it would be able to shine in his feuds. Thankfully, WWE knows what they’re doing sometimes and knew that Seth Rollins was the perfect person for Drew’s first major feud as champion.

This match let us see all sides of what Drew could (and would) give us as WWE Champion. He was able to look beatable, without looking weak, he was able to look tough without seeming too dominant, and most importantly, he could wrestle like hell and hang with the best. Both competitors came together perfectly to create a match that was an absolute joy to watch. When Rollins lets loose, there are honestly few better in WWE and McIntyre rose to his level particularly on that night.

Rollins adapted his fast & flashy high-flying offence into something slightly slower and hard-hitting. Instead of bouncing all over the place with some fast-paced flying knees, he slowed them down and made them more impactful when he smashed Drew in the face with them. It worked to Drew’s more brutal style and created the sense of a real fight that kept me engaged in the action from start to finish.

4 – Rhea Ripley(c) vs Charlotte Flair – Wrestlemania 36
(NXT Women’s Championship)

While Ripley’s star has faded slightly from what it was at the beginning of the year, the fact that she was able to have the best singles wrestling match of Wrestlemania against one of the best women’s wrestlers in the history of the sport is something that will forever keep her a star in the eyes of everyone inside and out of WWE.

This was the match I was the most hyped for going into Wrestlemania, and it didn’t disappoint. As the opening match for night 2, it set the tone perfectly for the rest of the show. It’s easy to roll your eyes at Charlotte these days after she was pushed so hard for so long, but we can’t forget that when it comes to pure wrestling ability, she’s in the discussion for best women’s wrestler of all time. Charlotte pulled out all the stops in this match, and Rhea matched her beat-for-beat. This match felt so explicitly crafted to make both women feel perfectly matched for one another, and Rhea came out of it looking like a star, even in defeat.

The action was so fluid and satisfying at all moments, with Rhea slipping into the role of the hungry underdog, while Charlotte looked down her nose at Rhea as the veteran. Charlotte underestimated Rhea in the opening segments but quickly learnt what she was capable of, which was all the story that was needed to turn this into one of the best matches of the year.

3 – Keith Lee(c) vs Dominick Dijakovic – NXT Takeover: Portland
(North American Championship)

While NXT is still an excellent wrestling product these days, it definitely feels like the golden era is over now. For the past couple of years, NXT has dominated my ‘match of the year’ lists, but as you’ve seen, it’s been pretty barren this year so far. I think it has suffered greatly from the lack of live crowds – perhaps more so than any other major promotion – so I guess it makes sense that one of their better matches would come before we were all locked down.

Keith Lee is a rocket waiting to take off. From his performance at Survivor Series 2019 all the way through 2020, you can feel the stardom that awaits him when he’s finally allowed to run free, and this remains one of his finest works. Interestingly, it took me a hell of a long time to get on board with Dominick Dijakovic (now Retribution’s T-Bar). For the longest time, I just didn’t understand what was so special about him, he was just another big guy, right? Wrong, very, VERY wrong.

Turns out, he’s a big guy moves like a cruiserweight and can put on fast-paced, exciting and bombastic matches with a wide range of opponents. Lee & Dijakovic clicked like you wouldn’t believe in this match, they were absolutely perfect for each other. Rather than focusing entirely on power, the early stages of this match focused more on the two competitors out-manoeuvring each other to get the upper hand, only busting out their feats of strength when they had the upper hand. Then, once the opening was out of the way, they slammed their feet down on the accelerator and started to destroy each other for our entertainment.

This match stunned me in how amazingly fast it was, yet it still managed to convey the two men’s power and brutality. All of the biggest moments came and went in a flash, and yet they left such an impression on me that I can still picture some of the spots almost a full year later. Lee seems like he’s going to reach the spot her deserves at some point over the next few years, and I hope Dijakovic does the same because he deserves so much more than what he’s currently getting.

2 – The Fiend Bray Wyatt vs John Cena – Wrestlemania 36
(Firefly Funhouse Match)

The only reason this isn’t number 1 because it wasn’t technically a match. Truthfully though, I believe it to be one of the best things WWE has ever aired.

When The Fiend lost to Goldberg, there was a lot of worry about how the character would be treated going forwards. This was the hottest property in the company all year, and it seemed like it was going to be squandered. Then, the character set his sights on righting the wrongs of the past, not just of himself, but of the company. Focussing on Wrestlemania 30 for this feud, and how Cena definitely shouldn’t have won was a brilliant way to frame the animosity between these two that hasn’t been done to this great effect before. Cena leaned all the way into it as well and came across like quite an embittered man about the whole thing, something Wyatt preyed upon.

I don’t even know how to go about breaking down how brilliant this whole thing was. It was a complete and total character assassination of, not only John Cena but the whole WWE system of hand-picked stars to carry the company. It’s a miracle that it was ever even allowed to air on a WWE product given that included lines such as puppet Vince McMahon saying “it’s such good shit”, a line used by Jon Moxley to mock Vince after he left the company. It broke down every aspect of John Cena’s career and highlighted how much of a farce it was, and how deeply flawed it was. While it didn’t directly address many of the topics at hand, it doesn’t take much backstage knowledge of WWE to understand the implications of stuff like nWo Cena, tearing down not only Cena but also Hogan’s history of keeping people down for no good reason.

The Firefly Funhouse match didn’t just blur the lines between fiction and reality, it straight-up shattered that line and used every broken piece of the line to create the finished product. It’s the kind of thing that I never thought I’d see on a WWE product and may never get the chance to see it again and I utterly adored it.

1 – Charlotte Flair(c) vs Rhea Ripley vs Io Shirai – NXT Takeover: In Your House
(NXT Women’s Championship)

While, in all honesty, the Firefly Funhouse match was probably my favourite thing to happen this year, this is a list about proper wrestling matches, and on that front, nothing this year came close to this match.

I don’t think NXT made the most of having Charlotte Flair as their champion. It’s not entirely their fault, as they were somewhat handcuffed by the fact that Raw still wanted to use Charlotte on a weekly basis without even referencing the fact that she was NXT Champion. Either way, there was definitely a feeling of wasted potential when it came to an end. That said, they sure as hell did their best to get as many amazing performances out of it as possible. I’ve already covered her Mania match with Ripley, but on top of that, we saw a great match against Io Shirai on NXT and this match, which is one of the best triple threat matches I’ve ever seen.

Shirai was definitely coming into this match with momentum, but I really didn’t think she stood a chance of winning the title. I’m glad that I was wrong about this, but I honestly thought NXT had missed the boat with her thanks to her rise coming right in the middle of Shayna Baszler’s run of dominance. The match’s story was definitely with Rhea & Charlotte following their Wrestlemania encounter, but Io Shirai burst into the feud and made sure her voice could not be ignored.

This patch was paced to near perfection, and never let up. It used the triple threat factor to its advantage and never let there be a moment where nothing was happening. Rhea felt like a vicious underdog who was looking to recover from her Mania loss, Charlotte fought like a woman fuelled by her hatred of anyone that wasn’t her, and Io came in like a house on fire, tearing down any and every obstacle in her way.

It had everything I want from a headline NXT match: Drama, action, excitement and ending out on both a surprise and a high-note. I think it says something about how fantastic NXT is that even in a year where I consider NXT’s performance to be sub-par, it put on some of the best damn matches in the entire company, in 2020.

NXT Takeover 31: Every Match Ranked

I knew I was right to not give up on Takeovers just yet, this was a lot more in line with what we liked them for! As it happens, I don’t think this show will be remembered all that much in the years to come, purely because there wasn’t any major story or event that stood out in the whole thing. Every champion retained, and the two big surprises will live or die on how they’re followed up on, so there’s not much to look back on in a year’s time. However, it was still a damn good night of wrestling, so let’s break it down.

5 – Damian Priest(c) def. Johnny Gargano
(North American Championship)

This is one of those cases where I have to specify that, even though it’s last, I still really liked this match. It’s just that all the other matches were even better.

After having a key role in the ladder match at Takeover 30, this was the first match where I’ve felt really impressed by what Priest has to offer. He’s had plenty of good matches up until now, of course, but this was the match where I got the feeling that he could properly hang with the best of the best in NXT. Gargano has finally settled into a style that captures the right balance between his heel & face styles. He’s still able to slow the pace, and make nastier moves, but without sacrificing the excitement of the match.

Priest winning was definitely the right decision. I’m a little confused as to why the referee seemed so concerned about the random security guys who were standing in a stupid position. Still, nevertheless, it gave Gargano an opening to do his thing. My only real concern is where Gargano goes from here. There’s no room for him in the NXT title scene at the moment, and he can’t keep hanging around the North American title like he has been most of the year. Personally, I’d think the best creative decision would be to leave him off TV for a while, so we can get excited about him when he’s back. However, I know that’s not realistic, so I just hope they’ve got a good non-title feud on the horizon for him.

Damian Priest, meanwhile, could fight just about anyone. He’s technically a heel, but this feud proved that doesn’t matter too much, and as long as it’s someone he gels well with, I’m sure the final product will be great.

4 – Io Shirai(c) def. Candice LaRae
(NXT Women’s Championship)

I didn’t expect this to seem like it was closing the book on the past year of NXT’s women’s division, but that’s the feeling I got coming out of it.

As expected, these two had all the chemistry you could want in the ring after all the times they’ve competed before. I will say that I don’t think it was either woman’s best work, but it was still an utter joy to watch. Io’s persona has shifted into a face a lot better than I thought it would, and her in-ring style has kept a definite edge to it that makes her feel different to what she was like a couple of years back. Candice, meanwhile, knows exactly what she’s doing, and exactly how to do it. I’d say she’s far better at working heel than her husband, which is a bit surprising considering how lovable she was as a face.

The headlines here though are about what happened after the match. First of all, Toni Storm kicked the door down and declared she’s coming for Io. This is brilliant, I’ve been waiting for Storm to break free of NXT UK and spread her wings here, so we should finally be getting to see her at her peak. The big surprise though was Ember Moon’s return. I honestly wasn’t sure if she’d ever wrestle again after the news of her various injuries, but now she’s back, and we’re going to get to see her fight Io, which is terrific. I think her underwhelming run with the title in 2017 made people forget just how amazing Moon can be, so hopefully, this will be a reminder.

3 – Kushia vs Velveteen Dream

This definitely wasn’t the match I was expecting from these two, so maybe that’s why I liked it so much.

Given Kushia & Dreams styles, I was expecting a highly technical affair. Both men have shown countless times that they can make mat-wrestling look very exciting, so I was settling in for a nice hefty dose of that when this match started. What I got instead though, was very interesting indeed. The pace was exceedingly quick throughout the whole match, as these two really tried to brutalize each other. Both of them came out of the gate with incredible energy that got me pumped for the rest of it.

Things eventually slowed down a bit, but it never lost the pace and energy that the beginning had built up, and it created the kind of back-and-forth contest that I haven’t seen in NXT for quite a while now. It definitely felt like Kushida controlled the match, but Dream was still able to look like an even match for the guy. They played around with the character work a lot, and I was wondering if they were trying to cast a shadow on the heel/face rolls, and if the aftermath is anything to go by, I think I may have been right.

I’m not sure if this would count as an out-right heel turn for Kushida, but I definitely wouldn’t be against it if that was the way they wanted to go. With Undisputed Era having turned face, it’s left a bit of a hole at the top of the card for heels, and I’d be excited to see what Kushida could do with such a role.

2 – Finn Balor(c) def. Kyle O’Reilly
(NXT Championship)

Kyle O’Reilly is a singles star now, it’s as simple as that. Anyone who already followed O’Reilly’s career already knew that he was a fantastic singles competitor, but to finally see it manifest in NXT is wonderful.

I was resistant to Balor’s heel style when he first started having featured singles matches in NXT, but I’ve absolutely come around to it now. I tend to prefer the fast-paced and flashy styles, but I think over the past year I’ve learned to appreciate the slower, hard-hitting styles that someone like Balor can produce. It makes for a match that feels weighty, where every move has a meaningful impact, and the story is allowed to flourish.

The way they structured this match got to show all of O’Reilly’s strengths as a performer and, by extension, Balor’s strength as a champion. People had already fallen in love with his charm – stuff like his belt air-guitar – but here we got to see a very sympathetic side to him. When a character like O’Reilly is a heel, it’s scarce that we see them struggle. The only time that he could be classed as ‘struggling’ as a heel, we’re too busy cheering because we’re happy he’s getting beaten up. I got the clear idea in this story that, Balor had the edge and was the better competitor overall, but O’Reilly was ready to give him one hell of a fight.

It was precisely the kind of feeling you need for an upcoming face. It felt like last night, Balor was the better man, but on any other night soon, it could very easily have gone the other way.

1 – Santos Escobar(c) def. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott
(Cruiserweight Championship)

This is the first time since the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 that I feel like the Cruiserweight Division is living up to its potential.

This was honestly everything you could ever want from a cruiserweight match. It wasn’t super-heavy on high-flying action, but it didn’t particularly need to be. It gave us a healthy dose of the hyper-athletic stuff but didn’t bear down on us constantly with it. I think this ability to hold back from being super flashy all the time is what allowed the story of the match to properly grasp me and become my favourite match of the night.

This is one of those rare cases where the interference enhanced the story of the match and made it more exciting. I know one other match had interference last night, but the way they balanced it before quickly and efficiently disposing of it was far better than the other example. The thing with putting the Cruiserweights in a meaningful Takeover match for the first time is that you have to impress upon the audience that there’s more to the division than just the two guys you’re currently seeing. This interference did that, I don’t really know much about any of these characters, but I absolutely want to know more now I’ve seen this match.

The near-falls scattered throughout were a lot of fun. I know many people don’t like a bunch of false-finishes, but I always have been, and always will be a sucker for a good kickout. If this is the template for the Cruiserweight division from here on out in NXT, then I’m all-in, because this was brilliant.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back this time on Saturday, where I’ll be counting down the worst ever Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons.

NXT Takeover: Portland: Every Match Ranked

Another Takeover, another great night of wrestling. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to discover that the show last night was just as good as they always are. I was worried the addition of a 6th match would mean that one of the matches get slightly shafted, but instead, the length of the show was simply extended to make room, which is fine with me and I don’t think 3 hours is too long of a show, especially when compared to Raw & Smackdown PPVs. So let’s not waste any more time and take a look at the matches.

6 – Dakota Kai def. Tegan Nox

Interesting how on one show we can have examples of two match-interferences, one of which was to the match’s benefit, the other its detriment, no prizes for guessing which one this was.

The action between Nox & Kai was great stuff, as I mentioned in my predictions, this whole build has done a great job of making both women seem like legitimate contenders in the women’s division and the brutality on display here has capped that off perfectly. I know I’m not normally a fan of weapons matches but I think this one kept the pace fast enough to hold my interest.

The interference at the end feels to me like a case of short-term loss for long-term gain, which is ultimately a good thing, but it doesn’t stop it from bringing this match down. It didn’t help that I – and seemingly the whole arena – had no idea who it was that interfered in the match, but I kind of like that, it immediately creates intrigue surrounding them and it lets them have a real ground-zero for a new character. That said, I’m not sure giving Dakota a lackey is the greatest idea, especially when you consider that we’ve already done that story very recently with Baszler, Duke & Shafir.

I have faith in the NXT creative team to make it feel like something different, however, until I see proof of that, I shall remain wary.

5 – Finn Balor def. Johnny Gargano

I know, I know. This match was fantastic, but there was so much good stuff on this show and I just couldn’t put this above the other matches from last night.

I think one of the main reasons I dropped this one is because it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly, very high) expectations. I think because of Johnny’s injury, it lost a little bit of steam and the match as a whole just felt like it was missing something. What exactly that something is, I can’t quite put my finger on, but it dropped my enjoyment of the match just a bit.

That said, the match was still really good. I know people have soured on Gargano slightly, but I honestly don’t know where those people are coming from because I don’t think he’s lost a beat. These two matched up about as well as you’d expect them to and the action was, fast, hard-hitting and full of spectacle as a result.

Against, what I said in my predictions, I actually think Balor winning is the better idea now I’ve considered it. Gargano has had his status reinstated by what happened in the main event, so giving Balor this win to give him that boost in credibility after his return & subsequent heel turn was definitely the right way to go.

4 – Rhea Ripley(c) def. Bianca Belair
(NXT Women’s Championship)

This match is actually a really great look into how far Bianca Belair has come over the past year.

When Belair got a title shot against Baszler this time last year everyone viewed it as an opportunity to proves she belongs in the uber-high quality of the NXT Women’s division and she succeeded. Now, a year later she has another opportunity and it’s clear that she’s easily on par with any other competitor in the NXT locker room. In an era of NXT where the majority of stars are wrestlers who come in with a wave of indie support & hype behind them, looking back I’ve loved watching Belair become the fantastic performer she is today.

I had a lot of fun watching this match. Rhea has settled into her role as champion so easily that it only further proves how worthy of a successor she is to Shayna Basler’s crown. The chemistry here was stellar and there was such a wonderful sense of flow to the whole thing that kept my attention ticking over from one spot to the next. I don’t really have anything special to say about it, it was yet another great performance from two great performers and I’m very excited about what Rhea & Charlotte have in store going into Wrestlemania.

3 – Adam Cole(c) def. Tommaso Ciampa
(NXT Championship)

Oh! That’s the direction they’re going in, alright, you’ve got my attention.

This match was exactly what I’d hoped it would be and honestly, I think that’s the best thing I can say in its favour. This easily had the strongest story going into it and both guys feel like huge stars in both their presence and in the ring. There was a subtle brutality to this match, even though there wasn’t a great deal in terms of big “OMG” spots. Probably helped by that fact that Ciampa looks ripped, this felt like a real hard-hitting fight between two men who genuinely despise each other.

Despite Ciampa’s overwhelming presence and being the one with all the steam behind him currently, Cole made sure that he wasn’t forgotten as the champion and just in general, this match really cemented both of these guys as two of the biggest stars NXT has ever had. This fed into the finish, where we got a bait-and-switch with the interference, as Cole used all his greatest hits in terms of using underhanded tactics to try and win the match. The Undisputed Era getting involved, the low blow, the ref bump;  it felt like a real swan-song for Cole’s title reign and right up until Gargano showed up, I was certain Ciampa was going to win.

Gargano’s arc over the past three years has been so interesting to watch, it’s like when Ciampa’s around, Gargano just can’t help but become the worst version of himself. It’s almost like some kind of deeply ingrained trauma inside his mind that just turns him into a completely different person whenever Ciampa gets involved. There are so many pieces involved here and I’m not sure exactly how they’re all going to come together, but I’m very excited for wherever this whole thing ends up.

2 – Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne def. The Undisputed Era(c)
(NXT Tag Team Championships)

In my predictions, this was easily the match I was the most negative about and when it comes to the character stuff, I stand by what I said. I liked the caddy they drove themselves & the trophy out on, but I was not a fan of the “Fish” stuff. I understand why other people would find it funny, but it’s just really not for me. When it comes to the in-ring stuff, however, that’s the kind of stuff I live for.

In the past, I criticised the fact that Riddle & Dunne have a distinct lack of chemistry in the ring and while I still wouldn’t say it was perfect here, it was absolutely much better than it has been in previous matches. This match was back-and-forth the whole way through which is where I think tag matches are at their best, there was never a chance to settle into the groove of the match because as soon as one team established control, it somehow got broken and stuff started going mental again.

Something I think this match did particularly well was towards the finish when it kept me guessing as to who was going to win right up until the referee hit for three. It continued that form that I talked about earlier, I was never allowed to settle into the finish which meant that the excitement just kept building and building until Dunne & Riddle finally got the win. Despite what I said in my predictions, I’m actually glad the titles changed hands here because I think a shakeup in the tag division is absolutely in order because it’s really lacking in major talent right now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get on board with their odd-couple pairing, but as long as they keep churning out matches like this, I really don’t mind.

1 – Keith Lee(c) def. Dominic Dijakovic
(North American Championship)

So THIS is what an all-out hoss fight is supposed to look like…I like it!

Quite simply, these guys went all-out and unleashed just about everything they could possibly think of to do and it was just fantastic fun to watch. it proves that big-guy fights don’t have to be slow, plodding affairs full of tests of strengths and grunty pushing. This match had such a different feel to everything else on the show, it was able to have an incredible sense of spectacle to all the big spots, while still maintaining a sense of a hard-hitting fight.

Not to mention, it helped to make an absolute star of Dijakovic. I know most of the NXT faithful know that he’s a great wrestler, but this was his first match on a big show like Takeover and I’ll be very surprised if he didn’t turn some heads. I could sit here listing all of the awesome spots that filled this match, but let’s be honest, you’ve already seen the gifs. I didn’t even know it was possible for people the size of Lee & Dijakovic to pull off some of the stuff they did last night, but quite frankly, I’ll never see gravity in the same way again.

It had just about everything you could want from a big match like this (both figuratively and literally) it was loud, proud, impressive and, most importantly, an absolute blast to watch, easily the best match of the show.

That’s all folks! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this article, please let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back on Saturday, where I’ll be running down the best speeches from Doctor Who!