The first Takeover of the year hosted a match that some have called one of the best in WWE history, as Johnny Gargano’s quest for NXT’s big one continued…

We weren’t able to see the show live, and there’s already a thousand (spoiler: not quite) other takes out there, so we’ll try and keep this brief! It’s Mauro Ranallo and Percy Watson flying on commentary, with Nigel McGuinness off ill…

NXT Tag Team Championship: Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar) vs. Undisputed ERA (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) (c)
Kyle O’Reilly was Hulking it up like it was late 90s WCW… in that he tried to air guitar with his title belt. Yeah…

Rezar’s all over O’Reilly early, but his ground and pound almost caught him out as Kyle counters into submission. The AOP quickly start to double team and isolate the champions, with O’Reilly eating a push-down stomp-assisted sidewalk slam… but Akam’s knee looked to get tweaked on the impact – not helped by Bobby Fish going for it.

A spear from Fish takes himself and Rezar spectacularly crashing to the floor, allowing the ERA to target and isolate Akam in the wrong corner. O’Reilly’s knee bar keeps Akam in trouble, but he’s able to break free and get Rezar in for the obligatory big man’s spot – the fallaway slam and Samoan drop combo. O’Reilly blocks a spear by ramming his knee into Rezar’s head, and that’s the champions back in control, landing an Exploder Chasing the Dragon (kick-assisted Exploder) for a surprising near-fall.

Akam comes back in but his knee remains a target… but I’m not sure how wise it was for Rezar to break up a knee bar by flinging Bobby Fish onto O’Reilly! That sparks a comeback from Akam, where he buckle bombs Kyle while Fish gets booted away by Rezar, leading to a teased Super Collider… but Akam’s knee buckled after his part of it, and he’s quickly rolled up by O’Reilly as the champions retain! A hell of an opening tag match, and not the usual “in and out” sprints that usually open Takeovers. The AOP have more than turned the corner, and you’d have to think that this loss could signal something now that the NXT tag division is getting more crowded with each passing month. ***¾

Oh hey, War Machine are in the crowd! Identified as Hanson and Ray Rowe…

Velveteen Dream vs. Kassius Ohno
On the pre-show, Dream promised to beat Ohno in thirty seconds. That didn’t happen, presumably because his new boxing shorts gear took a little getting used to. Dream’s got a mini entourage, and I swear that’s Blaster McMassive…

So, Dream’s looking to pick up the pace after his losses to Aleister Black and Johnny Gargano in what were fantastic matches, regardless of the “for someone of his experience” tag.

Of course, the crowd count along those 30 seconds, but a series of body blows and a KO punch almost get the win… but Dream’s too busy wanting the ref to call the KO rather than go for the pin, so Ohno gets up and issues a receipt. TO BOOS. Wow, Philly is a tough crowd.

The strikes continue, but Dream catches Ohno in a spinebuster before wearing him down onto the mat with a grounded abdominal stretch. Dream keeps peppering away on Ohno with kicks in the corner, before a double axehandle off the top nearly gets the win as Velveteen continued to wear away on Ohno.

Bloody hell, Dream gets Ohno up for a death valley driver, but Ohno elbows away from it and instead counters with an X-plex! Ohno keeps up his comeback with a back senton, then the cyclone kick as he nearly picked up the relative upset… and that seems to spark Dream back into life, only to leap into another bicycle kick from Ohno!

Out of nowhere though, Dream counters back with a death valley driver as Ohno charged at him. A ripcord rolling elbow gets Ohno a two count as both men were throwing the heavy strikes, before Dream finally gets a rolling death valley driver ahead of a massive Purple Rainmaker elbow off the ring post for the win. Dream’s getting back on track, and with age on his side, there’s every chance he could find himself becoming a surprising part of the main roster in the not too distant future. ***½

NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler vs. Ember Moon (c)
With limited experience on the NXT roster, this will be a bit of a litmus test – will they have Baszler as someone blowing away the champion, or will the “bully” be a bit more evenly matched here?

Big pop here for the quasi-Horsemen music that Baszler has, and the Goldberg-esque entrance too.

Ember went for a takedown early, but Baszler stuffs it and gets one of her own, only for her early attempt at the Kirifuda driver to get blocked as Moon hits back hard with a dropkick, taking her challenger to the outside. Moon meets her there with a low-pe, before an attempt at a roll-up into a lariat into the corner’s blocked, with Baszler nonchalantly kicking her away for an early two-count.

Baszler stomps on Moon’s left arm, similar to how she snapped Dakota Kai’s on NXT a few weeks earlier, and there’s the target for the challenger to aim for, as the left arm and wrist becomes the focal point of Shayna’s offence. Eventually Ember is able to break free, but a springboard crossbody is only good for a near-fall as her arm looked to become problematic… but she’s able to head up top for the Eclipse… only for that to trigger her arm again as she was writhing in pain after the landing.

Medical staff hit the ring to check on Moon, all while Baszler was still flat out and not moving from the Eclipse. How about someone go check on her, eh? When they go away, Moon gets suckered into a cross armbreaker, but Ember makes it to the ropes, only to get caught it in again immediately. Baszler keeps hold of the arm, despite Moon’s attempts to roll into the ropes, and that doggedness costs her in the end as Moon’s able to roll her up… and with Baszler refusing to let go, Moon sneaks out the win! The first chink in Baszler’s armour’s shown here then, as the one-sided “let’s go for the submission” tactic costs her after a pretty decent title match. It was a no-win situation, as either Baszler lost, or Ember lost the title early on… this was perhaps the better way out. ***¼

After the match, Baszler attacked Ember in the aisle, trapping her in a rear naked choke…

Oh hey, Trevor “Ricochet” Mann!

Extreme Rules: Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole
When in ECW-land, I guess… and unsurprisingly, the crowd are hot for this one from the off.

Black struck hard first, sending Cole to the outside with a kick… and that’s the cue for Cole to grab a steel chair. Cue ECW chants, and that’s something that’s probably never going to die, isn’t it? Cole’s chairshot’s evaded as Black just sits in it, before opting to take Cole outside for some more forearms to the head.

There’s plenty of plunder under the ring, as Cole goes for more chairs, a bin and eventually a Kendo stick… but Aleister finds another one too, only to throw his away as he dares Cole to swing for him. Which he does, except they miss until a Quebrada off the ropes is met with a shot to the ribs instead.

Cole’s working away on Black’s ribs and midsection from there, before falling for the crowd’s chants to get a table out. Instantly, Cole took Black to the top rope, threatening to suplex him to the table on the floor, as the camera picked up a bloodied leg from the Undisputed ERA’s leader… Black avoids the suplex and instead press slams Cole through a bin in the ring, before picking up a two count from a kick.

On the outside, Black sets up another table alongside the one Cole’d put up… but then he pulls out a ladder, which instantly gets baseball slid into him. Cole pulls the ladder into the corner as he tried to suplex Black into it, before opting for some mounted punches and a reminder of what his name is.

Black counters away, eventually throwing Cole into that ladder as he shoved him out of an Electric Chair position… think “how Lykos does the flying lungblower”… that’s almost followed up by Black kicking Cole’s head through a chair, but Cole avoids it and ends up eating a double stomp to the gut as Black goes back to the chair… putting Cole head-first through the open-chair, only for an attempted stomp off the top go get blocked, with Cole superkicking Black through the tables on the outside.

Yeah, I’d forgotten about them too…

With Black getting back to his feet, Cole sets up two chairs back-to-back… but Wrestling Logic strikes again as Cole takes a death valley driver onto the apex of the two chairs. THAT SUCKED. Cole’s attempt to climb back to his feet using a chair saw him get a chair dropkicked into him, as Fish and O’Reilly hit the ring to wipe out Black with a Total Elimination!

Cole directs the NXT tag champs to use the announce table, but SAnitY arrive to make the save, just as Black was about to get thrown off a handily-placed equipment box at ringside. Dain’s tope into the pile was the exclamation mark as we were left with the two men who started the match… but Black’s still on the equipment case, and has to fight out of a suplex as he instead flies into Cole with a stomp, crashing him through the table!

All that’s left is for Black to head back to the ring, where Cole eats the Black Mass, and that’s a thoroughly absorbing match done with. As for Black, well, you have to think that a title shot will be in his not too distant future, as he continues his impressively dominant run. ****

Oh, hi EC3! There’s trouble (trouble, trouble, trouble…)

NXT Championship: Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (c)
Almas had a mariachi band for his entrance, all wearing lucha masks, while he busted out his old La Sombra hood for good measure.

The early scrambling leads to a stalemate as Gargano tried to grab Almas’ wrist, but we’re kept on the mat as both men continued to try – and fail – in grabbing a hold. Almas tries to get in a hammerlock DDT, but Gargano shrugs it off, before firing in a series of dropkicks and armdrags as the challenger finally got a foothold in things.

Almas is able to fire back, but Gargano’s quickly back with a ‘rana out of the corner before he’s sent outside… and after swings and misses, Gargano is able to counter with a kick off the apron before he crashed and burned from a cannonball off the apron! Back inside, Almas wears away on Gargano with a rear chinlock, almost forcing a submission as Johnny Wrestling faded away.

Gargano’s able to break free and land a roundhouse up-kick as that missed senton earlier looked to have affected his back… something that wasn’t helped when he was held in a Tree of Woe, although he did avoid a stomp and send Almas crashing into the corner with an overhead belly-to-belly!

A flying flatliner almost gave Gargano the win, as did a slingshot spear after Almas fooled around in the ropes. Another turnaround gave Almas a shot, as a moonsault stomp misses… but he quickly chained it into a standing moonsault for a near-fall, before a lariat adds another near-fall to Almas’ deck. Straight away, a superkick from Gargano’s good for a two-count as well, before duelling lariats led to both men collapsing in a heap!

After both men got back to their feet, Gargano had to escape a superplex effort, as he throws in a Cheeky Nando’s-ish kick… but his attempt at a sunset bomb is blocked as Almas burst into lift, charging into him with double knees before an inverted tornado DDT out of the corner almost ended that flurry with the win. Holy hell, that was too fast to call! Both men drag themselves onto the apron next, where Gargano’s forced to block a hammerlock DDT, then a death valley driver as he slipped out and instead hits a gamengiri before a slingshot DDT spiked the champion onto the apron.

Gargano keeps up with a lariat and a lawn dart, but Vega’s attempt to distract Gargano nearly backfired as he hits an inside cradle, then a superkick as the two-counts kept racking up, prompting louder-and-louder reactions from the Philly crowd. Almas hit back with some venom, connecting with the Del Rio stomp as Gargano was trying to pull himself up on the apron, before the challenger got thrown repeatedly into the apron LED boards.

Back inside, Gargano’s forced to endure more running knees into the corner as he somehow found enough in him to kick out yet again, and to land a superkick and a reverse ‘rana as Gargano on fumes almost eked out the win, trapping Almas in a La Mistica turned into the Gargano Escape! The submission’s broken when Zelina Vega grabbed Almas’ hand and pulled him into the ropes, before Almas raked the eyes…

We have an avoided ref bump as Almas charged Gargano into the corner, but the champion’s taken outside for a tope into the guard rails… only for Vega to interfere again with a ‘rana off the apron! It looked elementary from there, but Gargano kicks out from the hammerlock DDT as the crowd again roars, sensing a title change in the offing…

Gargano goes outside again, but just as Vega was about to approach him for more interference, Candice LeRae jumps the railing and throws Vega into the barriers as the two ended up brawling in the crowd… well, that’s that neutralised! With that dying down, Gargano almost snatches the win with a slingshot DDT, but his follow-up Gargano Escape ends with Almas in the ropes.

Sensing defeat, Almas shoves Gargano into the ringpost, before dragging him back into the ring with a hammerlock DDT… and that’s all folks! Not a popular result, but my God, I’ll be damned if this wasn’t the best WWE match you’re going to see this year. A hot crowd, a result that never looked to be sure until the dying seconds… yep, this is going HIGH on those ballots come the end of the year! *****

We had one last surprise though… with the copyright graphic popping up at the end, we were again lulled into a false sense of security. Johnny Gargano was too, as he turned to salute the crowd, only to get whacked in the back by a crutch from… Tommaso Ciampa?! Just when you’d forgotten about him, Ciampa’s back to ruin another Gargano moment!

Philadelphia’s Takeover was business as usual for NXT – good wrestling at its worst, and exceptional at its peak. Not having Sky Sports aside, this brand is the only reason why I keep watching WWE – and it’s nice to be able to be rewarded with quarterly-ish shows that affirm whatever confidence you may have in America’s biggest promotion.