Well, Night 1 of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, um, delivered. Big time. Of the five matches, I'd call four pretty great. And, unlike a lot of WWE-related shows, they were all very different. Maybe now that NXT is moving to Tuesdays and thus isn't head-to-head with AEW anymore, Vince lost interest and is going to let the one good WWE brand run more or less on its own again.
The show started with a rather short but technically excellent grapple-fest between Pete Dunne and Kushida, which was all about stringing together great chain wrestling sequences. I love these kinds of matches and in 2021 we don't see enough of them. From grappling and submissions, the match progressed to striking, before moving on to the big moves. Kushida nearly had the match won with the Hoverboard Lock but Dunne reached the ropes twice, tweaked Kushida's fingers to the point that Kushida couldn't throw his signature punch without hurting himself, and hit the Bitter End to take the match. Damn good stuff in the opener. ****
My least favorite bout, though it was enjoyable, was the Gauntlet Eliminator, basically an Elimination Chamber without the Chamber. Leon Ruff and Isaiah Scott started things out with fast-paced exchanges before Bronson Reed entered. Reed dominated both guys, using his superior size and strength. Next in was Cameron Grimes, who paid Scott to form an alliance, and the two heels double teamed Ruff, resulting in his quick elimination as Dexter Lumis joined the fray. Lumis hit moves on everyone, looking like a monster. The final entrant was LA Knight, who cut a promo on everyone and proceeded to hit a bunch of big moves including a Kurt Angle-style superplex after quickly scaling the ropes. Knight pinned Lumis with a quick cradle but was quickly eliminated by Reed. Isaiah Scott turned on Grimes, pinning him with a rollup, and Reed and Grimes had a strong final sequence full of high impact offense. Reed eventually won with his big splash off the top rope to punch his ticket against Johnny Gargano. Good match but it went kinda long. ***1/2
I think my favorite bout of the night was a straight-up fight between Walter and Tomasso Ciampa. These two just beat the snot out of each other for sixteen minutes and it was great. Walter once gain played the old-school bruiser perfectly, while Ciampa tried to out-gut his much larger opponent. After Walter missed a chop at ringside, leaving him to chop through the top part of the announce desk, Ciampa targeted his right hand, rendering several of his moves ineffective. This gave Ciampa an even playing field and he at one point hit something like twenty lariats in a row trying to knock Walter down. Ciampa nearly won the match with a second-rope Air Raid Crash, but Walter kicked out and hit a pair of powerbombs for a near fall. Finally Walter hit a sleeper suplex, Ciampa managed to roll to his feet, and Walter used his injured right hand for one final chop to win the match. At first I was like "Uhh, he won with a fucking chop?" But then I remembered, "Oh yeah, his hand was unusable and this was his last ditch - he won with a fucking chop!" Hella good fight, and overall the best match on the show. ****1/2
Also great, in a completely different way, was the three-way tag title match, just a breathtaking bit of high energy action between MSK, Grizzled Young Veterans, and Legado del Fantasma. This match had so many big moves they can hardly be catalogued. We saw a ton of innovative offense from everyone and a crapload of near falls. This was the type of match the old-school purists tend to hate, but all the over-the-top athletics made sense and everyone got time to shine. It came down to the two Dusty Classic teams, and MSK took the match and the titles after their tandem blockbuster finisher. Excellent tag team sprint. ****1/4
I was tempted to give the main event Match of the Night honors just because it felt like a big fight. Io Shirai was fantasic as always, and Raquel Gonzalez just has incredible presence. Her in-ring has improved tremendously to boot, as evidenced by her work here. This was a main event that had no wasted minutes but also didn't feel rushed. Just a lean 12-minute bout where it felt like both women got all their shit in. The most memorable moment of course was Shirai hitting a cross body off the 12-foot skull on the entrance ramp, which looked amazing and also ended with her landing HARD. Shirai rolled Gonzalez back in the ring and hit her moonsault but Gonzalez kicked out, made a comeback and hit her one-armed powerbomb to win the title. This was a big moment and unless the company screws it up, Raquel Gonzalez should be a major women's star going forward. These women 100% earned their main event slot. ****1/4
So yeah, this was a helluva show to set the bar for the extended WrestleMania weekend. Not quite on the level of NXT: New York in 2019 or NXT: Dallas in 2016, but an excellent show with one pretty good match and four ****+ ones - a grappling showcase, a stiff fight, a dazzling tag team spotfest, and a big-time main event. This was the best TakeOver since New York I'd say. Hard to ask for a better two-hour wrestling show in 2021. Let's see if Night 2 can top it....
Best Match: Walter vs. Tomasso Ciampa
Worst Match: Gauntlet Eliminator by default
What I'd Change: The gauntlet could've been a little shorter, but aside from that not much.
Most Disappointing Match: None
Most Pleasant Surprise: I think the main event was even better than I expected it to be.
Overall Rating: 9/10
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