What may have been the final NXT TakeOver as we know the concept was a smashing success. The 36th Network special from WWE's only consistently good brand featured nary a bad match, boasting two bouts that easily cruised into ****+ territory, and three others that were solid ***1/2 fare.
The show's unexpected hit opened things, as LA Knight defended the Million Dollar Belt against Cameron Grimes in a bout I had no interest in, but one that delivered in spades. These two worked a blistering match with loads of high-impact offense including Grimes hitting his backflip powerslam after skinning the cat back into the ring and Knight hitting a top rope German suplex. Knight tried to use the Million Dollar belt but Ted Dibiase took it away, tossed it into the ring to distract the referee, and locked Knight in the Million Dollar Dream. He threw Knight back into the ring and Grimes put him away with his Cave-In double stomp to win back the title. A very good opener that I enjoyed much more than I expected to. ***1/2
Next up was the Women's title as former best friends Raquel Gonzalez and Dakota Kai faced off in an intensely personal contest, a la Diesel vs. Shawn in 1995. Dakota used her speed and flexibility to keep Raquel off-balance for the bout's first act. Raquel seemed to take a little while to find her rhythm in this match but by the second half everything looked really good. Kai at one point hit her Kai-ropractor, a Canadian Destroyer-like back-cracker that looks super cool. She tried to finish Raquel with a Balor-esque top rope stomp but Raquel kicked out. They fought on the top rope and Raquel withstood a yakuza kick and got off her Chignona Bomb from the second rope to retain. Another very good match from a young champion solidifying herself as the division's leader. ***3/4
The third match blew away everything else from WWE's weekend, as Walter and Ilya Dragonov beat the ever-lovin' SHIT out of each other for 22 minutes. This was a Joe vs. Kobashi-esque all-out war that left Dragonov's chest looking like Freddy Krueger's. Walter's chops are in a class all their own and I can't fathom taking even one of them, let alone a dozen over the course of twenty minutes. Dragonov played the resilient underdog babyface to perfection, refusing to stay down or be bullied by his monstrous opponent. I won't attempt to recap the whole match, but it was incredibly stiff and believable, and everything you'd want out of a rugged slugfest. The bout came to a head when Dragonov locked in a choke, Walter kept fighting to his feet, and Dragonov pounded the crap out of Walter's back before locking it in and pulling back as hard as he could. Walter frantically tapped out and Dragonov became the new NXT UK Champion, ending the 870-day reign. Go out of your way to see this; it's superb. ****3/4
Almost as good, especially given the near-impossible task of following Walter-Ilya, was the Kyle O'Reilly-Adam Cole Three Stages of Hell match. The first fall was contested under normal rules and was 200 seconds of furious action that briefly spilled to the outside before O'Reilly went for a second-rope move and was met with a superkick out of nowhere. Cole went for Panama Sunrise but O'Reilly snared him in the Mysterio cradle for a quick three. The second fall was a Street Fight, and Cole went after O'Reilly's ribs for most of it. O'Reilly fought back, tossing Cole into the audience plexiglass from the entrance ramp. Cole propped up two back-to-back chairs and threw O'Reilly off the top rope onto them, in a spot I can't believe didn't bruise O'Reilly's spine. Cole followed up with a Last Shot to win the second fall. As the steel cage lowered for the third fall, Cole powerbombed O'Reilly on the announce table and tossed him back in. They went back and forth, fighting on the top rope, before Cole hit a Panama Sunrise and then handcuffed O'Reilly to the top rope. Cole hit a few superkicks but O'Reilly countered with a one-arm heel hook and got the submission victory. Adam Cole finished up his NXT (and likely WWE) run with a bang. I liked this better than the unsanctioned match from Stand & Deliver. Damn good stuff. ****1/2
The main event saw the in-ring return of Samoa Joe, as he and Karrion Kross put on a stiff 12-minute bout that was sadly overshadowed by almost everything else on this show. Kross looked better than he ever has, and Joe fell right back into his old groove, hitting his signature senton, Boston crab into STF, and Coquina Clutch. Kross nearly had the match won with his own choke, but Joe fought out, hit a uranage, and countered a Kross top-rope attack with a head kick followed by the Muscle Buster to win his third NXT Championship. Now can we see Joe vs. Walter?? This was solid. ***1/2
So yeah, a helluva five-match card with two bouts meeting or exceeding ****1/2. Not much to complain about there. If this is NXT's final hurrah as we know it, they went out on a high note. For maybe the final time, NXT TakeOver far surpassed its main roster counterpart for the weekend.
Best Match: Walter vs. Dragonov
Worst Match: I guess Kross vs. Joe by default?
What I'd Change: Not much to be improved on this show.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing
Most Pleasant Surprise: Grimes vs. Knight far exceeded my expectations.
Overall Rating: 9/10
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