NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day was another very strong effort by WWE's good brand, boasting two pretty excellent men's title bouts, a pair of action-packed Dusty Classic finals, and a solid Women's Championship three-way. As usual there was nothing bad on the show and its two-and-a-half-hour running time didn't overstay its welcome. Nothing much to complain about here.
The hot opener pitted Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez against Ember Moon and Shotzi Blackheart in the Women's Dusty Classic final. This was all action from start to finish, and while sloppy in spots, everyone worked very hard. Gonzalez came off as the star here, actually playing the monster babyface in peril for much of the middle act, despite being on the heel side. Both babyfaces worked her over for a long time but she just kept getting up. The finish came after Gonzalez threw Ember off the entrance ramp and then powerbombed Shotzi, and both heels covered her for the pin (Not sure why it's legal for both members of a tag team to pin someone). They celebrated like babyfaces when presented with their trophy, so I wonder if the plan is for them to turn good. I suppose since they'll be challenging WWE Women's Champions Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler this makes sense. Solid match that felt a little too chaotic at times. ***1/2
One of the two expected show stealers was next as Johnny Gargano defended the North American Title against Kushida in a highly technical match. Kushida spent the entire 25 minutes working over or attempting to work over Gargano's arms to soften them up for the Hoverboard Lock. Kushida came off as a dominant technical wizard, usually staying a step ahead of the champion, while Gargano often had to resort to desperation moves to escape, such as getting Kushida tangled in the ropes and falling backward to pull Kushida's face into the top rope. The most spectacular moment of the match saw both men on the top turnbuckle as Kushida executed a combination Spanish Fly/armbar from the top all the way to the mat. Gargano managed to retain the title after hitting his slingshot DDT on the apron, followed by another inside the ring. Helluva contest where both guys looked great. ****1/4
The surprise hit of the night for me was the men's Dusty Classic final, as newcomers MSK (Can anyone tell me what those initials stand for?) took on Grizzled Young Veterans. This match had the classic old-school babyface vs. heel dynamic, as MSK played the young underdogs to the hilt, dazzling the crowd with their flashy offense and gallant comebacks, while GYV were the more grounded, technical villains who dominated their younger opponents. That's not to say the Veterans didn't execute some crowdpleasing offense of their own; James Drake at one point hit a 450 splash, and late in the match the team nailed an updated version of the Doomsday Device outside the ring, where Drake flew through the ropes with a diving clothesline, flipping Nash Carter (awful name) off Zack Gibson's shoulders. But MSK wouldn't be outdone in the spectacular moves department; at one point Wes Lee did a standing moonsault and Carter pushed him, midair mind you, over a couple feet so he'd land squarely on Gibson. I've never seen anything like that before. MSK eventually overcame their stronger, more experienced adversaries after a tandem corkscrew blockbuster, winning the Dusty trophy and announcing themselves as a major new force in the tag team division. This was a super fun tag bout structured as an old-time heel-face dynamic but with modern moves. ****
The weakest and shortest match of the night was Io Shirai's title defense against Toni Storm and Mercedes Martinez that was apparently cut short by the wrestlers themselves. Set to go up to 20 minutes, this only ran about 12, I'm guessing largely because of an embarrassing table snafu. At one point Toni Storm began clearing off the announce table to set up a spot, and whoever loosened it must've gotten carried away because it collapsed prematurely as Storm was moving monitors and lights off of it. The women forged on like seasoned pros, but this was a pretty bad oversight on someone's part. Io changed the subject quickly with a spectacular dive off one of the lighting trusses. The finish was rather sudden as Storm hit Martinez with her Storm Zero tiger bomb, only got a two-count, and then hit a top rope headbutt but was interrupted by Shirai's moonsault, allowing her to steal the pin on Martinez and retain. I assume we'll get a one-on-one meeting between Shirai and Storm in the future since Shirai has yet to pin Storm. This was good but could've been better with five more minutes and a properly loosened table. ***1/4
For me the match of the night was the main event, an expertly performed technical match with Finn Balor defending the NXT Title against Pete Dunne. The first half of this was all airtight mat work, as each man tried to wear down the other and gain an advantage. Dunne targeted Balor's previously injured left arm and jaw, and of course often went after his fingers, while Balor worked Dunne's knee. This felt like an old NWA Championship match, a human chess game punctuated by big moves that felt earned. Dunne came dangerously close to winning the belt after hitting his Bitter End pumphandle slam, as Balor just barely kicked out before the three. Balor countered a second attempt with a reverse 1916, then landed the Coup de Grace followed by another 1916 to retain the title. Post-match Dunne's stablemates Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch attacked Finn, but Undisputed Era made the save. Kyle O'Reilly helped Balor to his feet in a sign of respect, but Adam Cole suddenly leveled him with a superkick. When O'Reilly protested, Cole gave him one as well, and stormed out. Roderick Strong sold confusion and emotional distress as his stable imploded. This was a great main event. ****1/2
Hard to argue with much about this show - Vengeance Day was yet another damn fine night of NXT wrestling. Three matches at *** or better - can't complain about that.
Best Match: Finn Balor vs. Pete Dunne
Worst Match: Women's Triple Threat, but it was still good
What I'd Change: Bitchslap whoever overly loosened the announce table
Most Disappointing Match: Women's Triple Threat
Most Pleasant Surprise: Men's Dusty Final
Overall Rating: 8.5/10