The show hit the ground running with the six-man ladder match to crown the first NXT North American Champion. Among the combatants were the leader of the Undisputed Era, Adam Cole (Baybay!), Velveteen Dream, Killian Dane, Lars Sullivan, as well as, Ricochet and EC3 who made their televised in-ring NXT debuts. EC3 was the first participant to make his way to the ring and received a huge pop from the crowd. Unfortunately, WWE did what WWE does best and “forgot” that other promotions exist in the pro wrestling world and fans do actually watch them from time to time. Now we all know that his moniker in TNA/Impact Wrestling was EC3, short for Ethan Carter III, and his background was that he was the nephew of then TNA President Dixie Carter. Instead, as he made his way to the ring Percy Watson fumbled through his back-story, much like most of his commentary, by saying his family owns a chain of restaurants and commercial properties and that many feel the E stands for entitlement. Well, they have time to work on that story. Nonetheless, the action in this bout was fast and furious with a number of broken ladders and awe inspiring aerial maneuvers including a couple shooting star presses from Ricochet who did not disappoint and stole the match as he backed the reputation he garnered on the indie circuit in promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerilla. In the end, Adam Cole’s ridiculous momentum continued as he emerged from outside the ring to dump Ricochet off of the ladder and over the top rope. Cole then scaled the ladder and retrieved the North American title that was suspended high above the squared circle to earn his first NXT title.
The NXT Women’s Championship was then defended by Ember Moon as she faced UFC alum Shayna Baszler. This contest was a rematch of their previous encounter at TakeOver: Philadelphia in which Ember retained her title not unscathed. With Four Horsewomen cohorts Ronda Rousey and Jessamyn Duke at ringside, the Queen of Spades didn’t waste any time dropping Moon with a stiff right hand sending her out of the ring. What appeared to be a turning point in the match occurred when Moon achieved a bit of payback on Baszler when she pinned her hand down with her foot and proceeded to essentially curb stomp her bent arm. Just as Moon seemed poised to take control, Baszler crotched Moon on the top rope. With Moon temporarily incapacitated, Baszler proceeded to slam her shoulder into the ring post as Nigel McGuiness claimed it was “dislocated.” After Baszler countered Ember Moon’s attempt at her finisher, the Eclipse, as she caught her in the Kirafuda Clutch, Baszler was initially unable to sustain the submission hold due to the injury to her left arm. The Queen of Spades then showed some true ingenuity and locked in the rear naked choke by substituting her left arm with her own hair! Not long after, the referee called a stop to the action as Moon lost consciousness. Your winner by submission and new NXT Women’s Champion, Shayna Baszler. With this loss, I would not be the least bit surprised to see Moon make the jump to the main roster and possibly debut in the Women’s Battle Royal at Wrestlemania.
The NXT Tag Team Championship was then contested in a triple threat match that also served as the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. We witnessed The Undisputed Era, Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole, defend against the Authors of Pain and the tandem of Roderick Strong and the “Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne. We arrived at this match-up as a result of interference during the finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Since the Undisputed Era deprived us of a winner being crowned, NXT commissioner William Regal announced that there would now be a triple threat match with the victors being touted as the tag team champions and winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Additionally, with Bobby Fish sustaining an injury at an NXT live event, Adam Cole filled in for his second match of the evening. Not surprisingly, AoP controlled the action for the vast majority of the match. In the end, we had the shocker of the night. With AoP finally subdued, Pete Dunne hit The Bitter End on Kyle O’Reilly. As Dunne went for the cover, his tag team partner Roderick Strong broke up the pin attempt with a vicious stomp to the back of his head. Stong picked up Dunne and hit The End of Heartache on him subsequently dragging O’Reilly over him for the pinfall victory. After the match, Strong ripped the Undisputed Era armband from Adam Cole and put it on himself effectually becoming the latest member of the faction.
Steve’s Take: I didn’t even see this one coming, granted I anticipated a falling out between Strong and Dunne, I did not expect a gold old fashioned pro wrestling backstabbing in the spirit of HBK putting Jannetty through the Barbershop window!
Surprisingly, the NXT Championship was then defended by Andrade “Cien” Almas as he faced Aleister Black as opposed to in the main event of the evening. This marked Almas’ second defense of the title since he shockingly defeated Drew McIntyre at TakeOver: War Games in November. This match was all about the inevitable christening of Aleister Black as the new NXT Champion. Black’s striking ability was on display throughout the match and while Almas did mount some aerial offense, he was relinquished of his title in the end ironically by the woman who helped him to the top, his manager Zelina Vega. After landing two hurricanranas on Black during the match when the ref was conveniently distracted, Vega inexplicably went to the top turnbuckle for number three. Black was ready for her this time as he ducked out of the way. Vega landed in the arms of Almas leaving him vulnerable to be the recipient of Black Mass right on the chin followed by the 1, 2, 3. Your winner and new NXT Champion, Aleister Black.
Finally in the main event of the evening, we were treated to former DIY tag team partners turned bitter rivals “The Sicilian Psycho” Tommaso Ciampa squaring off with Johnny Gargano in an Unsanctioned Match. This match developed after Gargano lost to Andrade “Cien” Almas spearheading his “release” from NXT due to interference from Ciampa as the stipulation to acquire the rematch from NXT Philadelphia was putting his career on the line. The rules of this match were simple, there weren’t any. Johnny Wrestling needed to win this match in order to be reinstated to the NXT roster or be finished forever. I was a bit skeptical at first with this match’s placement in the main event slot but there was a reason Shane McMahon was spotted in the front row because it did not disappoint. This match was one the most entertaining I’ve seen in WWE in a long time. It lasted 45 minutes and the way the crowd responded, I‘m fairly certain they would have been ok with double that. Ciampa has transformed into a bona fide heel as he was greeted by the NXT Universe with chants of “F&%k you Ciampa,” “You suck,” and “A$&hole” while Gargano received a hero’s welcome as the textbook babyface. Aside from these entertainers placing their full arsenals on display, we had several entertaining spots in the match. These included the crowd’s “Mama Mia” chant taking the words out of Mauro Ranallo‘s mouth, Ciampa stealing a pair of crutches from a “random guy” in the crowd, and Ciampa being lawn-darted head first into the dreaded exposed turnbuckle. In the end, Ciampa’s ego and bloodlust got the best of him. Ciampa removed his knee brace with the intent of taking Gargano out with a shot to the head from his exposed knee. As Ciampa went for the finishing blow, Gargano grabbed the knee brace and struck Ciampa in the leg with it. With Ciampa down, Gargano went for a broken crutch in the ring and just as we thought we were going to bear witness to capital murder, he held up in a brief moment of sympathy as Ciampa cowered. Gargano showed a brief instance of mercy as he almost found himself at the receiving end of Ciampa sucker punching him with his knee brace. In a flurry of submission brilliance, Johnny Wrestling locked in the Gargano Escape and as Ciampa began to reach again for the knee brace, Gargano wrestled it from his clutches and wrenched his head back with it as he trapped him in an STF for the submission victory. The show concluded with the newly reinstated Johnny Gargano celebrating in the ring with his wife Candice LeRae. On a side note, Johnny is probably ecstatic that his wife signed with the PG rated WWE so that she no longer can utilize her finisher the Ballsplex (YouTube it and see for yourself) unless he’s into that kind of thing.
Overall, NXT TakeOver: New Orleans exceeded the hype and the main roster certainly has their work cut out for them!
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