NXT TakeOvers have become some of the most highly anticipated WWE-branded shows whenever they pop up on the calendar. As we enjoyed NXT TakeOver: XXV in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Saturday night, it's fascinating to see how far NXT has come.
Five years ago this week, the first TakeOver special emanated from Full Sail University with a fascinating, five-match card that feels far longer than five years ago. Charlotte Flair won the first of 10 titles (and counting) in the WWE on that night, and Adrian Neville defended the NXT title against Tyson Kidd.
Tyler Breeze was on that card, and he was back to challenge Velveteen Dream for the NXT North American championship at NXT TakeOver: XXV. Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole ran back their instant classic NXT title match from WrestleMania weekend, Shayna Baszler looked to carry on her increasingly dominant NXT women's championship run against Io Shirai, and four teams were poised to unleash destruction upon one another in a ladder match to crown new NXT tag team champions.
Matt Riddle and Roderick Strong rounded out the card, which was covered live by Tim Fiorvanti at Webster Bank Arena, with match ratings and support from Sean Coyle.
Adam Cole def. Johnny Gargano to win the NXT championship
How do you follow up a match that many consider the best of the year? If any two performers could top their own classic, it was NXT champion Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole. Gargano and Cole put forth an epic two-out-of-three falls match at TakeOver: New York during WrestleMania weekend for the vacant NXT championship. While Gargano looked to keep the momentum going, Cole would try to join Gargano as the only two superstars to have held both the NXT and North American championships.
Gargano, who was performing in his 14th TakeOver match, and Cole picked up right where they left off, executing some nifty sequences with sharp counters to dueling "Johnny Wrestling" and "Adam Cole" chants from the Bridgeport crowd.
Gargano created a bull's-eye on Cole when he leapt off the ring apron to the outside and stomped on Cole's left arm, potentially setting him up for his Gargano escape submission. However, Cole created his own target in Gargano's right knee and began to work on it with multiple strikes and holds.
The first big blow of the match saw Cole attempt a drop kick from the middle rope, but Gargano turned it into a sit-down power bomb. That bought Gargano some time, and he began to catch fire, hitting a tornado flatliner and his patented slingshot spear, but it wasn't enough to put Cole down for a three-count. It was much too early for that.
The match really began to heat up at that point. Cole caught Gargano with an innovative burning hammer/knee strike combination. A super-kick party ensued, the last of which sent Cole to the outside of the ring. They completed the sequence with dual super kicks to each other on the outside of the ring. Cue the "fight forever" chants.
A few sequences later, Gargano viciously whipped Cole off the middle rope onto his shoulder and locked in the Gargano escape. Cole, however, managed to reverse that into a figure-four leg lock. It was a beautiful display of consecutive submission tactics on each competitor's injured body part.
One of the highlights of the match occurred a few sequences later when Gargano attempted a suicide dive to the outside of the ring but was met with a super kick by Cole right in the face. Cole then executed a Canadian destroyer to the outside and rolled Gargano inside the ring but was, again, able only to keep the champ down for a two-count. "Mama Mia" chants began.
After Gargano dodged Cole's last-shot knee strike, he attempted another Gargano escape. Cole turned it into a Gargano escape of his own, but Gargano rolled through and connected with Cole's own last-shot knee strike. It wasn't enough to put the challenger away.
At this point in the match, Gargano and Cole began to pummel each other with hard-hitting strikes, including Cole finally hitting his last-shot knee strike. Gargano kicked out of the ensuing pinfall attempt to the roar of the crowd as Cole argued with the referee. A frustrated Cole attempted to bring a steel chair into the ring, and as the referee tried to stop him, Gargano came out of nowhere with a suicide dive but accidentally hit the referee. He proceeded to kick the steel chair into Cole's face, but there was no referee to count Cole's shoulders to the mat at that point.
Cole feigned calling for the rest of the Undisputed Era and successfully tricked Gargano enough to hit a modified piledriver from the middle rope. It wasn't enough to end the match, and before he knew it, Cole was, once again, locked in a Gargano escape. He broke the hold by targeting Gargano's bum leg, delivering a flurry of elbows. After another Canadian destroyer by Cole, he delivered a final last-shot knee strike and finally put Gargano away. Adam Cole is the new NXT champion.
After the match, the rest of the Undisputed Era joined Cole in the ring to celebrate.
Cole, the inaugural North American champion, is now in the midst of the 18th NXT championship reign following another instant classic.
Shayna Baszler def. Io Shirai via submission to retain the NXT women's championship
Shayna Baszler and Io Shirai have created a compelling rivalry over the course of the past couple of months. Baszler, along with allies Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke, have maintained their statuses as the bullies of the NXT women's division. Shirai looked to put an end to both their crusade and Baszler's 200-plus-day championship reign.
Baszler toyed with Shirai a bit as the match began, but Shirai wasn't having it. She responded with a stiff slap to the champ's face and took control early on. Baszler did what she does best before too long, though, and created a target on Shirai. She stomped on Shirai's left arm and made that her focal point.
Shirai attempted to ignite her offensive game, but the injured arm prevented her from executing a number of maneuvers the way she wanted to. She was able to connect with a German suplex but was unable to hold on to Baszler for a pinfall attempt.
The challenger's adrenaline kicked in as the match wore on, and she got her licks in, which included a beautiful springboard dropkick. She followed that up with one of her patented moonsaults from the top turnbuckle to the outside of the ring onto Baszler.
Fearing that their comrade might be in trouble, Shafir and Duke emerged, but they didn't get too far. Candice LeRae came to Shirai's aide and pummeled them with a kendo stick.
Back inside the ring, Shirai attempted a moonsault, but Baszler moved out of the way and locked in the kirifuda clutch, which Shirai rolled through into a pinfall attempt for a two-count. After another pinfall sequence, Baszler locked in the kirifuda clutch once again and, after a struggle, caused Shirai to tap out.
After the match, Shirai snapped. She climbed back into the ring with a kendo stick and assaulted Baszler with it. She nailed a moonsault and took it up a notch with a second moonsault while holding a steel chair.
Based on the postmatch happenings, it's quite clear this rivalry is far from over -- but for the time being, the dominant championship reign of Baszler will continue.
Velveteen Dream def. Tyler Breeze to retain the NXT North American championship
Velveteen Dream and Tyler Breeze had a seemingly impossible task at hand, having to follow two exciting, emotional matches that the crowd went all-out for.
Dream and Breeze are two characters and performers cut from a similar cloth, though, and with a chip on each of their shoulders for markedly different reasons, Saturday's NXT North American championship match continued the momentum of a tremendous show with a match that served as a reminder that Tyler Breeze is one heck of a wrestler.
Even after expending a tremendous amount of energy early in the show, the Webster Bank Arena rang out with dueling "Tyler's gorgeous" and "Vel-ve-teen" chants at the outset. Breeze broke out the kind of offense he hasn't been able to show in years, with a bow-and-arrow rib-cracker/backbreaker, and it was off to the races.
Not to be outdone, Dream hit a massive liontamer, but Velveteen couldn't get a lock on his opponent, and Breeze made Dream pay by going after Dream's knee. The action moved in and out of the ring, but ultimately, Breeze got the worst of it as Dream bludgeoned him repeatedly on top of the commentary table. Adding insult to injury, Dream retrieved Breeze's phone and took a selfie with a prone Breeze and the NXT North American championship.
If it wasn't clear from the outset that Breeze was all-in on this match, and the opportunity at hand, the snap of his superkicks and dropkicks removed any doubt. Even as Dream hit the smoothest Dream Valley Driver to date, Breeze rolled out of harm's way with the Purple Rainmaker lined up and then snapped off his third devastating superkick to great effect.
The battle raged on, and as Dream tried to line up the Purple Rainmaker once again, he elected to change his mind, jumped off the top rope and tried to transition into the DVD. Though he couldn't do so, Breeze left himself open for an unprettier, and Dream cashed in -- only for yet another Purple Rainmaker attempt to send Dream into the knees of Breeze.
Though Dream was the clear favorite throughout the match, Breeze brought a little doubt into the equation late. With a trapped-head (Cheeky Nandos) kick straight into an unprettier, Breeze earned a 2.98-count before Dream finally kicked out.
Breeze pushed toward victory once more with a supermodel kick, but Dream rolled out of the ring just out of Breeze's grasp. Breeze put a lot of effort into trying to roll Dream back into the ring, but couldn't quite pull the dead weight. Dream caused enough of a distraction by grabbing the title belt and nearly hitting Breeze with it to swing the balance in the end.
Although Breeze dodged and snatched the title away, handing it to the ref, in that moment Dream hit a DVD and a Purple Rainmaker for the victory.
To prove there were no hard feelings after the match, Breeze asked for and was granted a postmatch selfie with the champ -- the modern version of a postmatch handshake to show mutual respect.
The Street Profits def. the Undisputed Era, the Forgotten Sons and Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch to win the vacant NXT tag team championships
With the Viking Raiders making the transition to the RAW roster, and vacating the NXT tag team championships as a result, it was time for a new team to take the throne. While the Undisputed Era looked for their record-setting third NXT tag title reign, the other three teams involved looked to take their careers to new heights with their first run as tag team champions.
As you'd expect with eight superstars participating all at once, separate brawls broke out to begin the match and each team mixed and matched battles in the ring.
The Undisputed Era was the first team to introduce the ladders into the match, but as Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly carried the ladder to the ring, Wesley Blake delivered the first big spot of the match by way of a suicide dive into the ladder, taking down the Undisputed Era. Angelo Dawkins followed that up with a diving splash off the top rope to the outside of the ring onto all of his opponents.
The big spots continued with virtually every ensuing sequence. At one point, Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch performed simultaneous German suplexes to the Forgotten Sons, who were holding a ladder and the ladder went flying along with them. Soon after that, as Fish was climbing the ladder, Blake power bombed O'Reilly -- who took a beating in this match -- into the ladder, knocking Fish to the mat.
About midway through the match, the third member of the Forgotten Sons, Jaxson Ryker, emerged and began to cause havoc, tossing and slamming everyone in sight. Revenge was not far behind, though, as the Undisputed Era, Street Profits and Lorcan and Burch teamed up to take out Ryker with an assist of a ladder and multiple aerial attacks by both Montez Ford and Lorcan.
As the match neared its culmination and two ladders were set up in the middle of the ring, the Undisputed Era and Lorcan and Burch battled atop both ladders as they reached for the championships. But it was not to be. The Forgotten Sons pushed both ladders, and their combatants down to the ground.
As Blake climbed the ladder with Steve Cutler holding it steady, Dawkins came out of nowhere and speared Cutler. Then, from the other side of the ring, Ford leapt from the turnbuckle to the ladder, knocked Blake off and claimed the championships.
A new era in the NXT tag team division has begun and the 18th reign in the title's history belongs to the Street Profits.
Matt Riddle def. Roderick Strong
Roderick Strong is, for better or worse, often pegged as the fourth member of the Undisputed Era, if only by the nature of him joining the group last. But every time he's been given the spotlight of an NXT TakeOver special to shine, he's stepped up and reminded everyone just how talented a performer he is in the ring.
The opening match of NXT TakeOver: XXV was no exception. In less than 20 minutes, Strong and Matt Riddle continued the tradition of tremendous opening matches on TakeOver specials and had the Bridgeport crowd eating out of their hands by the match's final moments.
Strong's loss likely doesn't portend a very good night for the Undisputed Era, but in the best moments of Riddle vs. Strong, the audience truly believed Strong was in position to score the biggest victory of his NXT career. The tone of the match was set in the first few minutes after Strong sent Riddle head-first into the ring post and then utilized the apron for a modified backbreaker.
Riddle was, as always, on top of his game throughout. A Bro-2-Sleep into a high-angle German suplex gave the crowd the momentary impression that Riddle could put Strong away in short order, but that was only the beginning. Strong quickly recovered, and a war of attrition was on. Each man contorted their bodies and their opponents' bodies with reckless abandon.
Strong had everyone holding their breath as he and Riddle ascended to the top rope and shared very limited real estate before a high-impact superplex. The roars got louder and louder as Strong bounced back and forth between the ropes with stinging forearm after forearm. Every pinfall attempt could have meant the end at this point, and the audience had bought in. Riddle seemingly had it locked up again, with a knee, a powerbomb and another knee, but a kickout led directly into a Bro-ton attempt from the top rope that landed him squarely on Strong's knees.
A running knee followed by end of heartache and a gutwrench powerbomb surely had to be the end, but then, it was simply a two-count. Undeterred, Strong locked in his Strong-hold in the middle of the ring, which he then transitioned into a liontamer as he torqued Riddle's back.
Kicks to the face got Riddle free, and as Strong went for a strike to the ground, he got caught in the bro-mission. Riddle peppered Strong with elbows, and despite Roddy catching them at one point, vicious standing elbows fed directly into a piledriver-setup slam.
Riddle unsurprisingly walked out with the victory, and almost certainly set himself up at or near the top of the list of prospective NXT championship challengers. Strong's failure could play out in a few different ways, depending on how the rest of the Undisputed Era fares Saturday night, but this was clearly the best match of his NXT tenure and likely Riddle's as well.