NXT Takeover XXV Review – Johnny Gargano © vs. Adam Cole – Rematch For The Ages
The 25th NXT Takeover event, kindly titled NXT Takeover XXV, is in the books. If this was a main roster show they would’ve tried to call it the 25th Anniversary of Takeover… It’s one that was plagued with unforeseen issues in the build, to the point where it seemed like the show was damn near cursed before it ever occurred.
Dominick Dijakovic, would-be challenger to Velveteen Dream’s North American title, got injured a month before the show, with only three NXT episodes left from a lone taping to come up with a suitable replacement. The War Raiders/Viking Experience/Viking Raiders were called up in the middle of their tag title reign on a whim for very important Main Event matches, forcing them to relinquish the titles. Even the show’s planned date and location were seemingly forced to change, with Takeover having to be moved up a week earlier than expected, and moving from San Jose to Bridgeport.
This all on the first Takeover in two full years to not be paired with a main roster show. This all right after plans for the year no doubt already had to drastically change thanks to the untimely injury to then-NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa.
But… it’s still Takeover. And if you were worried the show would be hurt by all this, you were worried about nothing. Welcome to my review of Takeover XXV.
The show appropriately begins with a nice video package taking us through the journey of the first 24 Takeovers and giving us a glimpse of the many highlights from it’s history. This transitions into a more traditional package hyping the show’s card, taking us to the booth where Beth Phoenix is making her Takeover debut. From there we’re off to our opening bout.
Matt Riddle vs. Roderick Strong
You could make an argument that Roderick Strong is among the most underrated commodities in NXT. He’s the perennial ‘hell-of-a-hand’ type of guy, who can have a really, really good match with just about anybody without overshadowing them. So he’s the perfect guy to book against someone who, say, might be challenging for the NXT Title at the next Takeover… it might keep him from ever being a singles champion, but it’s a valuable role, and one that he’s suited to.
The build saw Roddy take Riddle out for a brief time, showing Cole a stolen flipflop to serve as evidence. With that in mind, you gotta like the nod to this of Riddle’s usual flinging of the flipflops being sent Roddy’s way right before the match. Just a nice little touch to remind you this is a grudge match.
The opening minutes of course see Riddle mostly on the offense, including a nice highlight where he ran up and used the stairs as a platform, leaping off for a huge flying forearm. However when he attempted to bring the match back in the ring, this led to a brutal back suplex that landed Riddle right on the apron, the hardest part of the ring!
This changes the tone of the match a fair bit, as Riddle struggles to get back into it whilst Roddy targets the now injured back; which, if you didn’t know, is kinda Roddy’s thing. Riddle gets to be the gutsy babyface here, throwing hands in spite of the abuse and trying to come back with intricate roll-ups and submission setups. But he doesn’t really get anything going until he counters a suplex with an old school Southern wrasslin’ style not-really-a-brainbuster.
Roddy’s on his heels for a bit after that, but even after big flurries, Riddle still sells his lower back. Eventually he struggles to set him up for a tombstone and powerbomb thanks to this, leading to another momentum swing, in which we see just how vicious Strong’s slams can be. He’s a guy with a second gear, gets so destructive when he gets going. His vanilla, benign nature otherwise makes this so deceptive, and that might sound like an insult but it’s honestly a quality I really dig about him.
This includes some rarely seen maneuvers, as Roddy nails a Tiger Bomb and even transitions into the Strong Hold, an old finisher of his. It’s his version of the Elevated Boston Crab (Walls of Jericho) which I can’t recall him using up to this point in NXT. Riddle uses his MMA skills to get out of this, singling out the head and transitioning to a Bromission. His bad back makes him struggle to lock it in all the way though, so instead he drags him up and plants him with a new finisher, effectively an Inverted Styles Clash which he calls the Bro Derek, to get the duke.
Winner: Matt Riddle by pinfall after a Bro Derek (14:42)
Don’t expect me to give match ratings, I have a feeling everyone would think I’m way too generous with them anyway. And I think it’s more effective regardless to just tell you that this was a really fun, well-paced match that accomplished exactly what it set out to. Riddle already has a recent singles win over Adam Cole under his belt, which you might find out later in this review is pretty significant right now. We won’t know for sure what the plan is for another couple of weeks most likely, but he sure seems primed and ready to challenge for the NXT title at Takeover: Toronto II.
Shawn Michaels and newly-minted NXT writer Road Dogg are spotted in the front row admiring each other’s Hall of Fame rings. And now, it’s four-way tag team ladder match time!
Four-Way Ladder Match for the NXT Tag Team Championships: The Forgotten Sons vs. Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan vs. Street Profits vs. The Undisputed Era
As previously mentioned, the Artists Formerly Known As Hanson And Rowe ended up vacating their tag titles during the build to this show. They could’ve just had them drop it abruptly to any of these teams before they left on their last taping, but they figured it was best to go bigger, and boy have they gone as big as they could with this one. If this ain’t making lemons into lemonade, I don’t know what is.
It was a big occasion for many involved, as not only was it the long-delayed Takeover debut for the Street Profits, but it was also Wesley Blake’s first Takeover appearance since him and Buddy Murphy lost the tag titles at the original Takeover: Brooklyn four years prior. With four talented teams and a buncha ladders involved, it was easy to expect this to be a show-stealer and I’m pleased to say it was pretty much exactly what I figured it’d be. Wild, reckless, nonstop action as all four tandems showed their hunger for the gold.
Blake reintroduced himself to the Takeover stage early, suicide diving himself into a ladder that was being held up by Fish and O’Reilly, followed shortly by heavyweight Angelo Dawkins leaping from the top rope to the floor onto everyone involved. This set the tone right away, displaying how genuinely motivated everyone here was to put on a show and make a name for themselves.
O’Reilly in particular took a lot of abuse in this match. He was atop a ladder that Blake tipped over, which ended up seeing him fall right onto his back onto the steel from a great height. Moments later, that same ladder went flying across the ring and smacking violently into his prone body seemingly by accident. A missile dropkick over an elevated ladder also saw him perhaps clip his back onto it, and another occasion saw him get powerbomb tossed into a ladder, which knocked his partner Fish off of it… and saw him land roughly right onto O’Reilly.
When poor O’Reilly wasn’t being decimated, TUE were trying to play the smart game, letting one go up for the ladder while the other played defense. Sons meanwhile just went for full brutality. Profits brought the flash and Lorcan and Burch as usual played the scrappy underdogs.
ate in the match, Jaxson Ryker interfered on behalf of the Sons, brutalizing everyone with power moves. In limited use like this, the powerhouse brute is pretty damn effective, gotta say. Eventually he was dispatched when everybody aside from Blake and Cutler ganged up and took the boots to him, and slammed a ladder into his back repeatedly.
Other highlights include: Fish and O’Reilly hitting their assisted Wheelbarrow German Suplex on Ford sending him into a rope-hung ladder, the impact of which he bounced right off of. Steve Cutler hitting what was basically a curbstomp to the chest of Fish from off the top of the ladder, whilst Blake simultaneously planted him with a reverse DDT. And Ford with one of the craziest topes ever, vaulting over a held-up ladder AND clearing the top rope to nail Ryker, who was probably a little too far away for his cue at that!
Finally, after seemingly clearing the ring, the Forgotten Sons were on their way to victory until Dawkins ran between a setup ladder to spear Cutler out of his boots. Meanwhile, Ford leapt from out of nowhere to the top of the ladder to knock Blake off and take down the titles for the victory.
Winners: Street Profits (21:30)
It’s safe to say the Street Profits’ title win was a long time coming. The pair have been teaming since 2016, and they’ve been remarkably popular for most of their run, in spite of never even having a Takeover match up to this point. But for Angelo Dawkins, the road was even longer.
Having signed a developmental deal in 2012, he’s been in NXT since the very beginning, with his first couple of house show appearances seeing him lose to the likes of Sawyer Fulton and Yoshi Tatsu. He struggled for years just to make it into a regular TV role and then struggled alongside Montez Ford for a few more years to get bigger opportunities.
Ford is the star of the team, no doubt, but the story of this night has to be Dawkins. Nobody has had to stay at the grind longer than him to become a champion in NXT. It’s nice to see him be rewarded for sticking to this for so long, after seven years of trying his damnedest to improve, and it’s quite the fitting result for a show that celebrates NXT’s past, present and future.
And now for the NXT North American title match between the two most successful flamboyant characters in the brand’s history.
NXT North American Championship: Velveteen Dream © vs. Tyler Breeze
This was a lovely dream match befitting the occasion of the 25th Takeover in more ways than one. Not only is it a contest between the original mega-popular colorful character of NXT and the modern day equivalent, but it being for the North American title is also extremely appropriate.
For me and those I speak to anyway, Tyler Breeze was the man back in the day that made us wish NXT had a singles midcard title. If the North American Championship was introduced in 2015, there’s no way Prince Pretty wouldn’t have claimed it as his own. Instead, Tyler went his whole NXT run without ever getting his hands on any gold, in spite of how beloved he was. So to see him come back and challenge for this title is quite the meaningful thing from my perspective.
As one would expect this began with some lovely character interactions, with Breeze nonchalantly lounging on the rope, Eddie Guerrero-style, like in the days of old. Dream would take the advantage and answer to this by taking Breeze onto the table and stealing his phone to take a selfie of him alongside the North American title.
Fun as the fluffier parts of the match were, the two brought it between the ropes as well, with a clearly inspired Breeze coming in hard, at one point flying off the apron for a flying forearm that Dream countered with an uppercut, only for Breeze to land atop him and force him to the floor anyway. He also got a nice nod to his trainer Lance Storm in, smoothly transitioning an inverted drop toe hold into a single leg boston crab.
A chant of “This Is Gorgeous” breaks out deep in the affair, a fittingly unique reaction for a unique match-up. The two really looked evenly matched, but Dream did one-up Breeze in one major way; Breeze repeatedly went for the Unprettier (a choice I always adored for him) through the match, only for Dream to surprisingly steal the move and hit it first. Breeze did eventually nail it himself though for one of the matches’ closest nearfalls.
In the closing moments, Breeze picked up a limp, seemingly beaten Dream and hit him with the Beauty Shot, only for Dream to fall out of the ring to avoid a pin. Breeze then struggled to get the dead weight of Dream into the ring, as the champ seemed ready to to take a countout loss to retain. Breeze tried to plead with the ref to stop the count, allowing Dream a moment to grab his title and approach the ring. Breeze would rip it away from him, forcing the ref to rip it away from him, distracting him enough for Dream to nail a Dream Valley Driver and Purple Rainmaker for the pin.
Winner: Velveteen Dream by pinfall after a Purple Rainmaker (16:49)
Like any Velveteen Dream match, it was a lovely mix of style and substance, and Tyler has wasted little time proving that he can still hang. The indication has seemingly been that his return to NXT is a permanent one, after a bit of testing the waters with him challenging Ricochet a few months ago, so I’m excited for what’s to come.
After the less-than-decisive victory, Breeze and Dream confront one another. After some discourse, Breeze is able to convince the champ to take a selfie with him, out of a flamboyant bit of mutual respect.
A vignette plays hyping up the arrival of Damian Priest, which is the new ringname for former Ring Of Honor standout Punisher Martinez. Some question the names the guy gives himself, but there’s no denying he’s a very interesting prospect. Tall athletic dude with a menacing look, oughta do well with NXT’s creative.
That brings us to Shayna Baszler’s 25th consecutive Takeover defending the NXT Women’s Title… or maybe it just feels that way.
NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler © vs. Io Shirai
I’m a positive guy when it comes to wrestling, at least as far as the talent’s concerned. I consider myself a fan of basically every wrestler I know… but I’m not particularly big on Shayna Baszler. It’s barely even her fault really, I’m sure she tries her hardest and she’s an effective heel bully that brings a lot of legitimacy to the ring. But man, do I wish she wasn’t the champion.
The NXT Women’s title had one of the most perfect lineages ever until she came around, and the championship defenses had a tendency to steal the show at Takeover, putting on matches that the main events often struggled to follow. That ended the moment Shayna choked out Ember Moon, with every major defense since focusing on covering for her weaknesses, such as her lacking stamina and limited moveset.
As a result, this spot went from being one of the biggest highlights of every show to easily the weakest match of every single Takeover. Which, y’know, some match has to be I guess, but it’s sad to see that happen nonetheless.
It’s not like the talent in the division has diminished, in fact it’s only gotten deeper with time. I’ve no doubt the era of stellar Women’s title matches will continue the very moment she drops the title for good, so uh yeah, just… still waiting for that, basically have been since January of last year.
Anyway this was a Shayna Baszler match, consisting of grinding away with lengthy holds between bouts of stalling with posing. It picked up whenever Shirai got on offense with her high flying, hard-hitting style but every Baszler match is gonna be about 70% in her favor so there’s not a lot to be done there.
Late in the bout, the routine appearance from Duke and Shafir occured, but Candice LaRae, ally to Shirai after Kairi Sane’s untimely call-up, was able to cut them off, attacking them with a kendo stick. Hilariously even after being picked up with a rear waistlock by Shafir, she kept wailing on Duke with the stick, probably my favorite moment of the affair.
Shirai proceeded to transition a La Magistral into a deep bridging pin, but gave up her neck in the process, allowing Shayna to counter with a Kirifuda Clutch. After a lengthy struggle, Shirai had to tap out, ensuring another few months of status quo.
Winner: Shayna Baszler by submission with the Kirifuda Clutch (12:13)
The result may have been oldhat, but the post-match sure wasn’t. Shirai attacked her after the match, ruthlessly wearing her out with a kendo stick that left her with deep welts. She followed up with her usual particularly vicious moonsault, only to take it a step further by goading a begrudging LaRae to hand her a steel chair. A spectacular steel chair-assisted moonsault finished off the beatdown.
It was always the theory among my group of friends that Io would inevitably turn on Kairi Sane, ultimately leading to a big title feud between them. Now it seems the plan is for her to end up doing this with Candice instead down the line.
The reaction to this assault was funny. At first it was mixed, with some not being to help booing the rather cowardly act of ruthlessly jumping her after taking a tapout loss. But as they watched Shayna struggle to her feet alone in the ring, they couldn’t help but settle on a loud “You Deserve It” chant.
A double turn this ain’t. But we’re certainly starting to see Io’s true colors and that’s pretty exciting.
A video for NXT UK plays, announcing the second UK Takeover, coming to Cardiff, Wales on August 31st. For the uninitiated, that just so happens to fall on the same night as All Out, AEW’s next major PPV. It won’t be head-to-head of course, with it being an overseas show that takes place several hours earlier, but it’s interesting all the same.
And now for a big-time rematch from Takeover: New York, with only the one fall this time.
NXT Championship: Johnny Gargano © vs. Adam Cole
Adam Cole comes out with rapper Josiah Williams accompanying him and freestyling to the Undisputed Era theme. Call it campy if you want, but it was honestly pretty well done and Cole’s certainly a big enough personality to get away with it. It was really about time he got some sort of special entrance and this was certainly an appropriate occasion
It also should be mentioned how impressive it is that they managed to go from a match with a stip to a totally normal match, and not have it feel like a step down. Cole’s entire argument and reason for even being in this match is that he beat Johnny in the first fall in New York, and that in any other match, he’d have been champion. So yes, the big-time story here is that this match is for ONE FALL!
These are perhaps the two men that NXT’s audience are most passionately behind, so it’s no surprise that the atmosphere is every bit as electric as their last outing together. There was a sequence early in this match that saw the two spill to the outside whilst avoiding each other’s attacks time and time again, that allllmost feels like a nod/response to how the Bucks/Lucha Bros match began at Double or Nothing. Probably just my imagination, it’s not like it ended the same way, but it’s my review so I’ll say it’s on purpose.
It does have an absurd amount of superkicks though. One sequence saw them both hit three of them on each other, with the last being a simul-superkick that laid out the both of them. Another big one to counter a Gargano suicide dive attempt later and two more from each for good measure brings the total to nine. Wouldn’t even be surprised if I missed one, but that’s my count. You really have to call that a superkick party, and Cole was certainly part of plenty in his days with the Bucks.
Really though, what is there to say about these matches? We’ve seen a lot of Gargano Takeover main events at this point but they really never get old. Once again we’re treated to over half an hour of a beautiful blend of in-ring action, emotion and storytelling. And I tell you, Cole’s so famous for his promo and character work that I think it can overshadow just how great he is in the ring as well, I consistently find myself surprised by how well he can bring it in a big match.
We see some new stuff from him here, most notably a moment where, with the ref taken out, Cole pretended to signal for his Undisputed friends as a distraction, certainly a new one for me. When Johnny finally figured out what was going on and tried to get back into the ring, he ended up being caught prone between the ropes, a common theme for his matches, and Cole proceeded to plant him with what was effectively a hopping hands-free piledriver.
This is very reminiscent of a move BUSHI in New Japan likes to do on the apron, but Cole did it into the ring so that he could get a nearfall off of it. This fits as a variation of the Panama Sunrise, his version of the Canadian Destroyer, which he played to throughout the match with constant attempts.
Maybe the craziest spot of the match saw Cole finally hit the aforementioned Panama Sunrise… after hopping off the apron, and sending Gargano right onto his head on the floor. But when he threw him in, even this failed to get the pin. Gargano’s theft of the Last Shot failed to get the victory as well.
Cole gradually found himself targeting Gargano’s right knee more and more throughout the match, with it eventually becoming so bad that Johnny couldn’t even drive with both legs when applying the Garga-No-Escape. So he instead crossed his bad leg over and made sure to lead only with the good one, quite wisely. But Cole forced him to flip over allowing him to target the knee and escape.
In the closing moments, Gargano tried to pursue Cole as he went to the corner, but his leg gave way, and the stumble helped Cole finally hit the standard Panama Sunrise, leading right into the Last Shot, with which he picked up the victory and finally became NXT Champion.
Winner: Adam Cole by pinfall after a Last Shot (31:46)
To be honest, I didn’t see it coming. I mean don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think Johnny would have a long reign. He’s the face of NXT, but characters like him never hold the title for very long, it’s intrinsic to how they work, they always have to be chasing. Still, I did kinda figure he’d atleast make it to Toronto with the gold.
It’s hard to argue with Adam Cole getting the win though. The thought was always that he’d get there, dependant only on how long he stayed in NXT. Well, he’s been there for about two years now and it’s time for him to reign over the black and gold brand.
In defeating the first-ever NXT Triple Crown winner, Cole became the second to accomplish the feat. Considering he also has a Dusty Rhodes Tag Classic win under his belt and was on the winning side of the first-ever NXT WarGames match, you could rightly call him the most decorated performer in NXT history. This in addition to leading by far the most successful faction NXT has ever known.
And somehow he did all this without ever feeling overbearingly pushed down anyone’s throat. At no point did it feel unnatural for him to be achieving all this. If anything, it was only ever a surprise the accolades didn’t come even sooner than they did. This title needed stability right now and Cole will no doubt give that for, most likely, the remainder of this year.
All in all, yeah, another stellar Takeover, in spite of everything that seemed to be working against it. It wasn’t the mega show that New York was, but that wouldn’t have been fair to expect. It will still easily go down as among the top shows of the year under the WWE banner all the same.
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