NXT has outdone themselves this time. TakeOver: New Orleans might possibly be the best show the upstart developmental brand has ever put on, a three-hour extravaganza with five incredible matches, not one of which could be realistically rated below ***1/2. With four title bouts and one deeply personal grudge match as the headliner, this show was everything you could want out of a TakeOver special.
The festivities exploded right out of the gate with a violent but safe six-way ladder match for the new NXT North American Title. Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, Killian Dain, Lars Sullivan, and the debuting EC3 and Ricochet put on one of the best multi-man schmozz bouts in recent memory, with multiple threads coming together to introduce this new championship in style. Dain and Sullivan gave us a battle of the bulls multiple times throughout the match, Richochet showcased his unparalleled acrobatics, Velveteen Dream demonstrated that he's much tougher than his flamboyant character would indicate, EC3 took some crazy bumps (though he seemed absent for much of the bout), and Adam Cole played the opportunist to the hilt, swooping in at the last second to retrieve the title and become the inaugural North American Champ at the 31-minute mark. This was a wild, brutal affair and set the tone for a rugged night of wrestling.
Next up was a Women's Title rematch, as Ember Moon faced Shayna Baszler once again. Where their MMA-inspired first match felt unique but perhaps a little clunky, this bout blended the MMA and pro wrestling styles beautifully while still feeling like an animosity-laden fight. Ember had done her homework, countering nearly every Baszler attack and going after her arm to try to render Baszler's submission repertoire useless; at one point Baszler slammed her dislocated shoulder into the ring post to pop it back into place. This was an intense back-and-forth that included Ember hitting the Eclipse from the apron to the floor before Baszler eventually countered a second Eclipse in the ring, locking in her rear naked choke for an eventual pass-out title win. This was one of the best NXT Women's matches in some time and the intimidating Baszler should make a very credible champion.
The weakest match of the night (by default) was the three-way Tag Team Title/Dusty Classic match pitting Kyle O'Reilly and Adam Cole (subbing for an injured Bobby Fish, and still recovering from the ladder match) against Authors of Pain against Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne. Like the ladder match this was an unruly affair but featured compelling action, particularly when the accomplished O'Reilly was involved. I'd love to see KOR vs. Pete Dunne in a singles match sooner rather than later; these two worked great together. After fifteen minutes Roderick Strong inexplicably turned on Dunne, hitting him with his signature backbreaker and rolling an unconscious O'Reilly on top for the win. Strong then formally joined The Undisputed Era, an odd move considering Dunne had the match won. But maybe being a member of the top heel stable was more important to him than winning gold? Anyway, as I said, this was the weakest match of the night but still a fine tag team clusterfuck.
The last two bouts were each **** affairs, starting with my personal favorite of the night, Andrade Almas vs. Aleister Black for the NXT Title. This urgent 18-minute clinic was full of fast-paced action and multiple interference spots from Zelina Vega (who's made a huge difference for Almas's career), as Black and Almas worked their damnedest to steal the show. The repeating story was Black would dominate for a while until Vega's outside maneuvering (including some great-looking hurricanranas) would allow Almas to gain the advantage. The shenanigans finally backfired as Black dodged an oncoming Vega and Almas caught her only to take a Black Mass to the head, costing him the match and the belt. This was a masterful bit of action-packed storytelling and for me stole the show.
The highly anticipated main event was the epic grudge match between Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa. Ciampa entered the ring to no music, with the entire building booing and cursing the shit out of him. That there is some old-school heel heat. Gargano had the crowd in the palm of his hand as the sympathetic babyface, as Ciampa did every sadistic thing he could conjure up over the match's 37-minute running time. For me the bout, as good as it was, felt about ten minutes too long. What worked, worked extremely well in telling the story, but I felt like it was a bit overindulgent. The match boiled down to Gargano pulling a double bluff - threatening to bludgeon Ciampa with his own knee brace but hesitating, drawing out a Ciampa double-cross and cutting him off at the pass. Gargano then locked in an STF, using the knee brace and getting an immediate tap out to win the match and his NXT reinstatement. This was a fine bit of storytelling but for me fell a bit short of the Gargano-Almas match from Philly. Still, a helluva main event to cap off a pretty insanely good show.
NXT's two best specials in my opinion are this one and the Dallas show two years ago. Dallas had the best single match of the two - Nakamura vs. Zayn - but this show was more consistently good, with literally not one match below the ***1/2 mark. It's a toss-up. Either way, NXT once again outdid their main roster counterparts with a spectacular night of wrestling.
Best Match: Andrade Almas vs. Aleister Black
Worst Match: Tag Team Title Triple Threat, but that was still damn good.
What I'd Change: Cut a good ten minutes from the main event. Other than that, not much.
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the main event since I was expecting it to be on par with Philly's main event (still my 2018 MOTY at this point)
Most Pleasant Surprise: How much better the women's match was
Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - Can't go wrong with these TakeOver specials.
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