Preview by Joseph Currier
Tommaso Ciampa will challenge for the title that he never lost as NXT TakeOver: Portland takes place at the Moda Center tonight.
Adam Cole will defend his NXT Championship against Ciampa at the show. Ciampa was forced to vacate the title after undergoing neck surgery last March, and he's been focused on Cole since returning in October.
Three other title matches are also set for tonight. Bianca Belair will challenge Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women's Championship. The winner of that match will potentially have a title defense against Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 36.
After winning the title from Roderick Strong last month, Keith Lee will put his NXT North American Championship on the line against Dominik Dijakovic. Dusty Classic winners Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne will also challenge Undisputed Era's Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish for the NXT Tag Team titles.
Two grudge matches round out tonight's card. Johnny Gargano will take on Finn Balor, and Tegan Nox faces Dakota Kai in a street fight.
Tonight's pre-show begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. The main card starts a half hour later.
The pre-show opened with the panel of hosts welcoming us to the show. Charly Caruso was joined by Sam Roberts and Mansoor on the panel. Roberts immediately heeled on the town as he insulted the fans of Portland. Mansoor and Roberts would go on to bicker with each other as they ran down the card.
The live crowd booed Roberts any time her began to speak, and they cheered Mansoor upon his retort.
Recording artist Poppy -- and what was described as her zombie band -- arrived to the building in black SUVs. Poppy wore her gear to the building so she is ready. Always bring your gear. That's a veteran move. She and her band are performing a song on the show later on.
Doing things a little different than most WWE telecasts, the introductions of the commentary team was shown on the air just minutes before the main card was set to begin.
The show opened with a canned intro, and then Poppy performed "Fill the Crown" from her new studio album titled I Disagree.
The opener is a hoss match.
NXT North American Champion Keith Lee defeated Dominik Dijakovic to retain his title
Lee pinned Dijakovic after the Big Bang Catastrophe. This was a fantastic opener. The bar is set very high from the start.
Dijakovic wore to the ring a hooded sweatshirt with a tribute to Kobe and Gigi Bryant. Nigel McGuinness got in a reference to legendary late Portland promoter Don Owen saying he would have loved this match.
The crowd seemed hot from the start. They marveled at the spots early on as the big bulls locked horns. Lee with a hurricanrana popped the crowd first, and then they ran through a series of spots that popped them even more.
Dijakovic went for a dive, but Lee caught him to attempt a powerbomb. Dijakovic escaped and a moment later he suplexed Lee on the apron. Lee went on to sell as Dijakovic worked him over in the ring.
Lee powered out of an attempted suplex. He struck down Dijakovic and got a two count on a release German suplex.
Dijakovic fought back with a cyclone kick and a corkscrew moonsault. They continued to trade strikes in a fighting spirit exchange. They threw a ton of lariats at each other. Both went down to a knee, and both rose back to their feet still locked in combat.
Dijakovic with an avalanche Death Valley Driver off the top rope, and the crowd came unglued. Lee with a pounce sent Dijakovic flying into a corner, which looked to turn the tide.
They were brawling near the announce desks. The crowd was chanting "we want tables" when Lee shushed them. They arena went silent so that Lee's chops on Dijakovic could echo through the building.
Dijakovic with a superkick sent Lee into a seated announce chair. Dijakovic then did a springboard senton off the top rope onto Lee in the chair at ringside. Dijakovic looked to finish Lee, but Lee would fight back.
Lee took a chokeslam, and got up. Dijakovic twice took a Spirit Bomb, and kicked out both times.
Dijakovic with a Spanish Fly off the top for a close near fall. He went for his finisher, but his back gave out. Lee then executed his finisher -- which is a fireman's carry into a jackhammer that is now called the Big Bang Catastrophe.
Not sure if this was a blow off to their feud, but it sure seemed like it. Great way to go out, and they shook hands in a show of respect after the match.
Dakota Kai defeated Tegan Nox in a street fight
Kai pinned Nox after interference from Raquel Gonzalez. This was a wild brawl from the start and stiff as hell. Great weapons brawl that would fit on any ECW card in the 1990s.
Kai in a sneak attack jumped Nox during her enrtance. They brawled to the ring and the weapons came out early on from underneath the ring. Trash cans, lids, tables, chairs, a cricket bat, and more would be used as they fought in and out of the ring.
They took some crazy bumps in this match. Kai took a German suplex onto a trash can that looked particularly nasty.
Nox with a chokeslam off the top in honor of Kane, and then she did a Molly Go Round in honor of Molly Holly.
Kai fired up on Nox, and she kicked a chair in the face of Nox. Kai duck taped Nox to the ring post, and then measured her for several kicks. Nox blocked one attempt, and then targeted the knee brace on Kai. She hit her in the leg with a lap top.
Nox then got chain from underneath the ring, and used it on the knee. Nox took a chair and Pillmanized the leg. She delivered a Shining Wizard, and then Nox set up a table in the ring.
Nox laid Kai on the table and put her neck in a chair, and she teased jumping off the top on to the table. Suddenly, Raquel Gonzalez ran in to attack Nox. Gonzalez threw Nox backwards off the top on to the table -- which didn't break. Kai rolled over to cover Nox for the pinfall.
Finn Balor defeated Johnny Gargano
Balor pinned Gargano in one helluva great match. Balor won clean and looked like a contender in doing so. Gargano is such a great babyface. Probably the best in NXT history no less.
The crowd was electric for this from start. The grappled in the early moments doing some great exchanges as Balor heeled and taunted Gargano. Balor displayed a great mean streak.
Balor began to work over Gargano as he shined me up for a comeback where Gargano speared Balor on the apron. Later on Gargano would take a sling blade on the floor.
Balor soon cut off Gargano and grounded him again. Gargano got trapped on the top rope where Balor executed a dragon screw. Balor then targeted the leg of Gargano.
As Balor continued to work the leg and knee, Gargano created some distance at one point for a hope spot with a small package. Balor went back to working the leg as he tied Gargano in a leglock.
Gargano fought back with step-up enzuigiri, a roundhouse kick and a lariat. Gargano went for a tope through the ropes, but Balor caught him. Balor teased going for the 1916 on the floor -- which previously injured Gargano months ago.
Gargano with a somersault senton off the apron.
Gargano sent Balor into the ring steps to block the move. Gargano with a slingshot spear as he began a comeback. Balor soon cut him off -- but not for long. They traded big moves down the stretch.
There was a double down after a DDT. They were trading strikes when both hit the same high kick. Gargano then avoided a double stomp to deliver a slingshot DDT for a near fall.
There was stand-off before they launched into a closing minutes. Gargano was measuring Balor for a superkick, and Balor hit him with a sling blade. Superkick by Gargano and another sling blade by Balor.
Balor went for his double stomp finisher, but Gargano rolled away and then went for his submission finsiher. Balor escaped, but Gargano applied it seconds later. Balor got a rope break.
In callback to their brawl from months ago, Gargano measured Balor with pistol guns and then hit him with a shotgun dropkick into the barricade for a recepit.
Balor gave Gargano a gourdbuster on an announce desk. Balor then ran down annouce desks to give Gargano a shotgun dropkick to the floor.
Balor with the Coup de Grace, and then he delivered the 1916 DDT befoer pinning Gargano clean as a sheet in the middle of the ring.
Cathy Kelley was backstage interviewing Undisputed Era when Roderick Strong cut an impassioned promo, and then Adam Cole told Kelley to leave.
NXT Women's Champion Rhea Ripley defeated Bianca Belair to retain her title
Ripley pinned Belair clean with the Rip Tide finisher. Charlotte Flair ran in after the match to attack Ripley. Charlotte also said she agrees to face Ripley in a match at WrestleMania.
Belair's gear honored Black History Month. She looked great in the match, and was not hurt in losing.
Belair was aggressive from the start, and Ripley soon fired up too. Ripley hit Belair with a series of chops. Belair herself returned fire and looked to punish Ripley.
Belair with a standing moonsault. They appeared to twice try a vertical suplex of some sort -- maybe delayed. Belair turned it into a brainbuster and the match went on.
Ripley with a sit-out facebuster for a two count. Ripley then applied her standing leglock submission hold, but Belair escaped to get a roll-up for two. A spingbuster netted Belair another two.
They traded hard slaps, and Belair hit Ripley with her hair braid. Belair with a gorilla press slam, and then she did a handspring into a moonsaullt. Ripley got her knees up. and Ripley blocked a KOD.
After a double down, they traded strikes and kicks. Belair with a high backdrop sent Ripley over the ropes to the floor. Belair followed with a running flip dive to the outside.
Ripley at ringside sent Belair into the steps. They were fighting on the turnbuckles when Ripley was able to execute Rip Tide to score the pinfall.
Flair with sneak attack jumped Ripley after the match. Charlotte got a microphone and said she accepted Ripley's challenge to a match at WrestleMania. Flair grabbed the NXT title belt and posed with it before leaving the ring.
On her way out Flair also attacked Belair, and she sent her into the ring steps. Maybe Belair will remain involved in this angle in some way, but Flair vs. Ripley nonetheless looks all but official for WrestleMania.
Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne defeated Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish to win the NXT Tag Team Championship
The Broserweights earned the title shot after winning the Dusty Classic. Riddle & Dunne rode out in their tricked out golf cart. Riddle led the crowd in singing his jingle about Bobby Fish frying fish.
Undisputed Era grew increasingly more angry before they ran out of the ring to attack Riddle & Dunne in the aisle. A melee erupted before the bell could even sound.
The match eventually moved to the ring. Undisputed Era proverbially cut the ring in half as they began working over Dunne.
Riddle cleaned house after a hot tag. He ran wild on Undisputed Era looking like a true superstar. Dunne and Riddle both climbed the turnbuckles. Dunne with a moonsault to the floor, and Riddle with a Floating Bro in the ring.
O'Reilly and Riddle with a fantastic series of exchanges and both fell in a heap. Fish tagged in and chop blocked the knee of Riddle. Undisputed Era with double team moves, but Riddle was able to tag in Dunne.
Dunne targeted the joints. Both Riddle & Dunne both applied ankles locks at the same time on their foes.
Everybody went down in a spot, and that also served to hype the crowd even more.
Dunne & Riddle were going for a Doomsday Device when they got tripped up.
Riddle got trapped in a leg bar, but Dunne leapt off the ropes to make a save.
Dunne inadvertently knocked Riddle off the apron. Moments later Riddle tried to make a save, but that backfired.
Chasing the Dragon let to a near fall for Undisputed Era.
They fought on and suddenly the Broserweights were executing their tandem finisher. Stereo jumping knee strikes out of a fireman's carry led to the pinfall and the title change. Broserweights are the new NXT Tag Team Champions.
NXT Champion Adam Cole defeated Tommaso Ciampa to retain his title
Cole pinned Ciampa after Gargano turned heel where he interfered in the match.
Gargano hit Ciampa with a belt shot in the finish of a long match that was great up until a referee bump.
They started slow building to a fever pitch later on. This felt like an updated version of the early stages in an old school NWA title match from back in the day. Then it got even better from there.
Ciampa showed fire and aggression as Cole tried to counter the onslaught of Ciampa. The fight spilled outside the ring, and Ciampa fired up on Cole when Cole started taunting him.
Cole was begging off, and Ciampa kept laying in the offense. Cole was reeling as Ciampa manhandled him around the ring and at ringside.
Ciampa on the floor with a leg lariat on Cole would pop the crowd.
As they fought by the announce desk, Cole with a wheelbarrow suplex sent Ciampa into the table neck first. That was crazy.
A lungblower got Cole a near fall, and Cole went back to work on working over Ciampa.
Ciampa countered and fought on to block a Panama Sunrise.
Ciampa exploded with a series of lariats and a German suplex. A Torture Rack bomb by Ciampa led to a near fall.
Cole cut off Ciampa to deliver an ushigoroshi.
Ciampa with an avalanche Air Raid Crash for a very close near fall and a callback to earlier in the feud.
Ciampa powerbombed Cole on an announce desk, and then he did it again. The table broke on the second attempt.
Cole threw a superkic, but he ate a lariat from Ciampa. Cole took Project Ciampa and somehow kicked out.
They traded strikes in the center of the ring, and Ciampa took some kicks that sent him out of the ring. Cole for the first time in NXT -- as noted by Mauro Ranallo -- went for a tope. Ciampa with a knee lift made Cole crash and burn.
Cole seconds later used another ushigoroshi for another near fall.
Cole hit the Last Shot, but Ciampa rolled over to get in the ropes -- thus blocking any pin attempt.
They teased a Canadian Destroyer on the apron, but Ciampa instead gave Cole an Air Raid Crash on the apron.'
Not to be out done, Cole jumped off a table for a Panama Sunrise pn the floor.
Ciampa miraculously hulked up for the best near fall of the night.
They traded crossfaces, until Ciampa had it locked in deep. Cole crawled over to get a rope break.
Roderick Strong ran in to cause a distraction. O'Reilly & Fish ran in to jump Ciampa. Cole covered Ciampa as Undisputed Era looked on. Ciampa kicked out, and he would soon run wild. He flew through the ropes with a dive.
Cole cut him yet again and Ciampa kicked out again.
O'Reilly threw the title in the ring. They bumped the referee, and he went flying out of the ring. Ciampa with a Jay Driller but no ref to count.
Johnny Gargano caem to ringside, and he grabbed the title belt away from Ciampa. He was seemingly in the corner of Ciampa...or was he? Gargano hit Ciampa with a belt shot to turn on him.
Cole covered Ciampa for the pinfall as the crowd showered Gargano in jeers. The announcers played it up like the loss to Balor earlier on had flipped a switch on Gargano.
Cole retained the title, and the rivalry between Gargano and Ciampa is born again.
Thus ened a fantastic card from top to bottom. This was a really great show from start to finish.