By Mid 2017 NXT had really become the ‘alternative’ brand in WWE. The ‘cooler’ somewhat underground brother to the juggernauts of Raw and SmackDown… and NXT TakeOver shows had become a great addition to a traditional ‘big 4’ PPV weekend. But every now and then we would get either a ‘standalone’ TakeOver show, and chance for NXT to take the full limelight, or a TakeOver before another WWE main roster PPV. And just 24 hours before the Backlash PPV that would become infamous for the crowning of the most unlikely WWE Champion of all time, it was time for the black and gold brand to have it’s chance to shine again.
Coming just after WrestleMania 33, and NXT TakeOver: Orlando which then followed the likes of former champion Shinsuke Nakamura, former tag champions The Revival, as well as Tye Dillinger and Elias leaving NXT and going ‘up’ to the main roster, it really was a time of change in NXT. But such is the nature of the brand change is something which happens regularly, and they always seem to rebound and continue to put on a great product. And whilst this may not of been the absolute peak era of NXT TakeOver shows, this one I’m going to talk about here was a cracker.
The ‘dark’ matches filmed in the arena before TakeOver went on the air for future NXT TV episodes each had winners that would go on to hold NXT gold, so a new wave of superstars was on the way, but as for the here and now in May of 2017 NXT TakeOver: Chicago was a show of dominant champions, and as always in NXT a show of GREAT matches. SAnitY were still on their path of dominance since Eric Young led Alexander Wolfe, Nikki Cross and Killian Dain into NXT, and on this night it was the heroic Roderick Strong (still around a year away from his shocking UNDISPUTED turn) who stepped up to try and silence them. We also had FOUR championship matches beginning with the recently created WWE United Kingdom Championship (which was won by Tyler Bate at the first UK tournament just prior to this TakeOver) on the line with Bate defending against Pete Dunne. Although it was Bate who won the final and the title it really was a tournament where the Bruiserweight was the star, with his ultra-aggressive ‘smash mouth’ style earning more than a name for himself. Next was the greatest champion in the brand’s history, Asuka, defending against Ruby Riott and Nikki Cross in a triple threat. It was originally a four way, only Asuka caused top contender Ember Moon (who at the previous TakeOver in Orlando came as close as anyone ever has to conquering the Empress) to be injured in the build to the show, and as a result Moon’s next opportunity would have to wait… We also had the NXT Tag team titles on the line with the Paul Ellering led Authors of Pain defending against DIY (Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano). I will talk way more about that match later, as we didn’t know it going in, but coming out the show the fallout of that match would start a chain of events which would change the history of NXT forever… and finally Bobby Roode, the ‘Glorious’ champion of NXT would be defending his title against Hideo Itami. A challenger who almost had an injury curse put upon him ever since his much-publicized arrival, but now was the time he would finally get his chance at the biggest prize. It was all set to be a historic night, and for many reasons it was a night that I for one as an NXT fan will never ever forget. So here is my review of NXT TakeOver: Chicago, coming to you from the famous Allstate Arena on May 20th 2017.
The opening video lead with Bobby Roode talking about how Chicago was famed for dynasties (referring to the Chicago Bulls I presume), and dominant champions, and links being made to AOP and Asuka too. Roode said underdogs don’t exist in his NXT. There were also features from the likes of Hideo Itami, Nikki Cross, Ruby Riot and DIY.
The commentary team for the show are Tom Phillips, Percy Watson and Nigel McGuinness. Mike Rome was the ring announcer.
Roderick Strong defeated Eric Young (with Alexander Wolfe and Killian Dain)
If only SAnitY got the TV time that Retribution got on the main roster… 😦 … Anyway, after Dain and Wolfe followed their leader Eric Young out, Roderick Strong surprised everyone by coming out through the crowd. He attacked Dain and Wolfe before the bell so it was as close to a 1 on 1 match as possible. Solid back and forth with Roderick Strong getting the better of it (with knees and strikes), until Killian Dain made the most of an opening to take Strong down (whilst the ref was looking away at Eric Young). Young was on top after, and got a nearfall after a kick. Roderick Strong briefly had his moments but Young was really in charge, although that seemed to change when Strong hit a dropkick to Young as he came off the top rope. Eric Young hit a neckbreaker on the outside, and eventually he rolled Strong into the ring for a 2 count.
Young later hit a tremendous looking elbow drop off the top for a nearfall, Strong got on top after and tried for a backbreaker, but Young seemed to go at Strong’s eyes. There were chants of ‘let’s go Roddy’ as both men were on top, and they battled until Strong hit a knee to Young that sent him falling onto Wolfe and Dain on the outside. With both of his henchman taken out, Young was placed back in the ring and he exchanged knees with Strong, and then almost out of nowhere Roderick Strong hit the backbreaker for the win. This was a decent opener, and Strong looked like superman. I recall he went into an NXT Title tv feud not long after this show, so it makes sense him going over so… well… strong…
They played an advert for the Backlash PPV that was the next night, focusing on the match between Dolph Ziggler and Shinsuke Nakamura. I reviewed this show for a previous blog, it was… something let me tell you…
Ruby Riot, Asuka and Nikki Cross were all pictured backstage each preparing for their triple threat match later. The funniest thing about this to me was that in the background as shots of each women was played on screen, one of the theme songs for the show was played in the background… Judas by Fozzy…
A tremendous video package previewed the next match. One that for me was the breakout match of an entire county’s wrestling scene.
Jim Ross was brought out to commentate on the next match. Which made it great before it even started.
Pete Dunne got a huge ovation when he came out. A very youthful-looking Tyler Bate (who was TWENTY when this match took place) got a polite reaction, but it was clear who Chicago’s favourite was for this match.
Pete Dunne defeated Tyler Bate (C) to win the WWE United Kingdom Championship
They went back and forth for most the match, with both showing off their different but fantastic array of moves. The crowd were into every moment of it too as their incredible chemistry showed throughout.
The crowd went wild when Bate did an amazing Airplane Spin, as they did for a close Dunne nearfall after an uppercut and a powerbomb-type move. Bate later went for his finisher, Dunne tried for his but soon turned that into a ddt on the outside. Bate then hit a crazy moonsault to Dunne on the outside, and rolled into the ring and hitting a corkscrew 450 on Dunne for a 2 count. With the crowd losing their minds at this point of the match, Bate tried for a suicide dive but flew right into a big punch from Pete Dunne. Dunne later rolled Bate into the ringand hti the Bitter End… 1,2,3. Crowd popped huge for Dunne winning despite him being the clear heel. Day 1 of 685 for Pete Dunne as WWE’s UK champion.
This match was voted NXT’s match of the year. And rightly so. Please go out your way to find it somewhere. It was such a joy to watch it again.
The Backlash PPV advert focused on AJ Styles challenging for the US Title against Kevin Owens.
One of the official theme songs for the show was Over-Throne by the group ‘Hacktivist’.
Hideo Itami and then champion Bobby Roode were shown backstage ahead of their NXT Championship match later.
Asuka defeated Nikki Cross and Ruby Riott in a triple threat match to retain the NXT Women’s Championship
Although in it’s final few months, we were still well and truly in the Asuka era of NXT. She was by far the most popular with the crowd in this match, although Riot got a polite ovation given her background in the wrestling scene local to the Chicago area. As a video before the match showed this match came about after a battle royal to decide Asuka’s next challenger was prematurely ended when the champion came out to take down the final 3 women in the match; Cross and Riot were beaten down, but Ember Moon (whom had narrowly lost to Asuka at the previous TakeOver) was sent flying off the apron in a nearby crowd barricade when Asuka came out. A furious NXT GM William Regal promptly made a 4 way for TakeOver, only that Moon wouldn’t be medically cleared after suffering a shoulder injury in colliding with the barricade, and so we had a triple threat. Now I like every women in this match a lot, but there was a large Ember Moon shaped hole in it, and thus there was little to no believability in Asuka losing her title.
And the match really suffered as a result. The finish just compounded everything really… Riot hit Cross with the Riot Kick and then went for the pin… but then Asuka ran against the ropes and came back with a huge knee strike to Ruby… AND THEN SHE PINNED THEM BOTH! The dominant champion pins BOTH the challengers that nobody thought would beat her anyway… I felt then and still feel now it wasn’t needed for her to beat them both like that. At this past WrestleMania I wasn’t a fan of how Roman beat Edge and Bryan in a similar way… just feels like you don’t NEED to pin both other people in the match… so why would you? Does the champion NEED to beat them both like that?… Really?…
Next up was the NXT Championship match. This was billed before the show as the main event… but it would become clear later why this match didn’t go on last…
We had a really good video telling the story of Hideo Itami’s arrival in NXT. He came over as a bright star from Japan to a lot of fanfare, and he had the big push out the gates and even got a spot in the Andre Battle Royal at WrestleMania in 2015. But an injury stopped his run in its tracks… he was out for well over year before returning to confront then champion Bobby Roode… and then he got injured again… and in that time Roode really made it HIS NXT. But Itami would go up against Roode at long last… a slap to the champion, and then officially becoming number one contender made this long-awaited match finally ON!
‘The Glorious’ NXT Champion had a string of big entrances at Takeover’s and this one was no exception…
If I was booking WWE, one of the first things I’m doing is brining back THIS Bobby Roode. (See my blog I did previously on Roode’s run in NXT).
Bobby Roode (C) defeated Hideo Itami to retain the NXT Championship
They did the pre match intros in the ring and dimmed the lights during to give it a real big fight feel. It seemed the crowd were more into Roode during the match, but given it’s in CHICAGO it was no shock they popped HUGE whenever Itami went for the GTS… I wonder why… And Itami nearly hit the big move during the very opening seconds, but Roode got out of it and rolled out the ring just as quickly. They went back and forth most of the match, but the brutal stirking came from the viscous Itami. It was really good to see the man I know more fondly as KENTA get a big showcase here, and for me it felt like this was more his match than Roode’s.
But Roode played his role perfectly, and did hit a big Glorious ddt only for Itami to kick out! Not long after Hideo did hit the GTS to a big reaction, only for Roode to roll to the outside so Itami couldn’t get the pinfall right away, and the delay in getting him back in the ring meant a kick out. Itami tried for the GTS again but Roode turned it round to the Glorious ddt, and then he hit the move right away again after. 1,2,3. Roode retains in a really good ‘rasslin match.
The next Backlash PPV advert was around the Randy Orton vs Jinder Mhaal WWE Championship match… LOL.
Judas by Fozzy was promoted as one of the theme songs for the TakeOver… LOL.
The likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Hall of Famer Pat Patterson and Kassuis Ohno were pictured in the crowd.
We had another brilliant promotional video for our final match. It explained how the DIY team of Indie darlings Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano were the ultimate underdogs done good. They fought there way to the big stage, and won the NXT Tag titles… and then they ran into the monstrous Authors of Pain… who won the titles from them. With The Revival having since gone to the main roster, this is where AOP would get rid of another of their contenders… but not how we would expect…
There was plenty of talk going into this match (just as their would be after of course) about Tommaso Ciampa. There were many reports he had got an injury before this match at a live show. And there were even rumours he would be out of the match, with people talking about maybe Dash Wilder or Scott Dawson replacing him… But as it turned out Ciampa was here, the match was on, and it was something we would never forget…
Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar) (C) with Paul Ellering defeated DIY (Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano) in a Ladder match to retain the NXT Tag Team Championship
I don’t know where to begin to talk about this match… so here’s the highlights:
- Ciampa hurting his knee by falling off the ladder (this would be the one that kept him out all those months after)
- Both Akam and Rezar laid out on Ladders, and both of DIY diving off ladders onto them both in one heck of a spot
- Paul Ellering stopping Gargano from winning, and then taking a superkick for his troubles
- Gargano pushing Ciampa out the way to take the ladder shot from AOP himself (which was a fascinating spot given what came after the match)
- Ciampa hitting what was almost a german suplex that sent Rezar off a ladder and crashing through a ladder that was set in the corner (this ladder exploded upon impact). Crowd went wild for this spot.
- DIY hitting their tag finisher of Ciampa’s running knee and Gargano’s kick whilst one of their opponent’s had a ladder around his neck (seemed Ciampa came off worse with his knee after)
- AOP taking out the ladder that Gargano and Ciampa had climbed, and then Akam and Rezar each caught one of their unfortunate opponents, who were hanging from the title belts, they then hit the Super Collider, and climbed the ladder themselves to grab the titles for the win.
The match, as good and as epic as it was… really was the secondary story… As the victorious champions left with their manager and titles, DIY stayed behind looking disconsolate but got a great standing ovation from the Chicago crowd for their efforts…
And then… well. If you ask fans of NXT if they know what heartbreak looks like, they’ll refer you to this…
Probably the most defining moment in NXT history. A moment which was the genesis of not only the singles run of Gargano, but was the basis of the amazing heel run that Ciampa would have alongside.
From here, after what top to bottom was a great great show, Sanity would go on to face AOP for the tag titles as Roderick Strong went into a feud with Roode for the NXT title, before a certain Scotsman made his presence known… Asuka would once again have a big singles match with Ember Moon at long last the next August. Pete Dunne would go on a long and historic reign as UK Champion, before running in to a Ring General… and Ciampa vs Gargano would go on to be the most amazing rivalry in NXT history. Ciampa’s injuries meant we would have to wait nearly a year for the big showdown, but it was more than worth the wait. NXT proving once again why it’s the absolute best.
But on this night… Tommaso Ciampa finally decided it was HIS moment… and he and NXT never looked back.