Joni Mitchell has a great quote about things going stale: "My name had gone stale, and no matter how progressive I got, it was my time to die."
Like any truly great quote, it’s a bit over the top, but her message is true. No matter what Johnny Gargano does on Saturday, it’s time for his NXT run to end.
There’s a reason that most people like an artist's early work. Besides being new and fresh, they still have plenty to say, haven’t told all their stories yet, and their gimmicks haven’t become overwrought and cliche. But, even the best artists run out of meaningful things to say. Kanye West’s last three albums have been real bad because he’s just a rich and successful guy now. What’s his struggle? We already heard his story. We’ve already heard Gargano’s story, and that’s a problem.
Minus the War Games TakeOvers, Gargano has been in the main event of the six of the last seven TakeOvers. Even on the one that he didn’t main event, he won the North American title and still closed the show on stage. This is John Cena levels of oversaturation. Imagine if there wasn’t so much time between TakeOvers? What if they ran every few weeks like the main roster did? The internet wrestling hivemind would be coming undone about something like that (and they already kind of are). If the matches weren’t, you know, good (but tiresome and long), the backlash would have started long ago.
So, why is this happening? Did Tomasso Ciampa’s injury and the call-ups of Ricochet and Aleister Black actually send everything into such chaos that they decided to just keep running Gargano out there to close shows? Was he actually supposed to be on the main roster now? The answers to these questions might be fun to know, but they don’t matter. Playing the what if game is fun, but inevitably pointless. For the past few years, all roads in NXT led to Johnny Wrestling and it’s time for something different.
NXT Breakout tournament finals: Jordan Myles vs. Cameron Grimes
This tournament was a fantastic idea and a great way to introduce a whole bunch of new characters to NXT. I especially liked that not everyone in the tournament was great or is even expected to be great. PWG runs the best independent wrestling tournament every year in The Battle of Los Angeles and every year it’s incredible. I went to the 2018 version and it should be on every wrestling fan's bucket list. My only problem with it is that it can be too stacked. They bring in the cream of the crop, and only one person can win it. In the past, there has been very little chaff so weird things would happen like Ricochet losing in the first round back in 2015.
What NXT did differently was to include guys that didn’t have a realistic shot at winning which freshened everything up. If people like Matt Riddle and Keith Lee were in the tournament, it would be kind of obvious who was going to be in the finals. But since dudes like BOA, Bronson Reed, and Dexter Lumis were in there, it created a nice dichotomy of talent levels and oh my god I am such a nerd.
Another thing this tournament did was give guys screen time immediately, and it was clear who had a presence and who didn’t. The actual breakout star was Angel Garza who isn’t in the finals, but should immediately be on television regularly. The two guys who advanced are realistically the best choices to put on a live special. Myles has wrestled all over the world and is more than comfortable working in front of a huge live crowd. The same is true for Grimes, a television veteran and as natural a heel as there is. Neither of them had an actual breakout performance so far in the tournament, but if they’re given 10-12 minutes, they could really show out here. Babyfaces almost always win tournaments like this and Myles is the logical pick to win here.
Candice LeRae vs. Io Shirai
It feels good to see a TakeOver with two women’s matches on them. My infallible research tells me the last TakeOver with more than one women’s match was TakeOver Brooklyn II, which had Asuka vs. Bayley and Ember Moon vs. Billie Kaye, almost three years and 15 TakeOvers ago. Unacceptable might seem like an overreaction, but it isn’t. If there is enough talent to have a women only PPV, there surely is enough to have multiple women’s matches on TakeOvers.
The arrival of LeRae as a fully formed character in NXT is long overdue. For too long, she was Johnny Gargano’s wife who also wrestled instead of Candice LeRae, the wrestler who main evented PWG cards. Even if it took awhile to get here, we still got here and I’m so glad we did.
Unfortunately for her, she is running into the fully realized heel and fully leveled up version of Io Shirai, a woman who is so preternaturally gifted that she doesn’t need any friends, and certainly doesn’t need any of us. She is wonderful and she is perfect. You can tell NXT is serious about this because they immediately gave her new theme music after she turned on Candice.
And on Saturday, she is going to do more than turn on Candice; she is going to do everything she can to end Candice. Io winning is a fait accompli. She is more than the genius of the sky. She is the star of stars who is the future of the women’s division in NXT. Candice may put up a good fight, but will be nothing more than a speed up on Io’s road to the top.
NXT North American Champion Velveteen Dream vs. Pete Dunne vs. Roderick Strong
Guys in this match who have said ‘ain’t no laws when you’re drinking the claws!’ unironically, ranked:
- Roderick Strong
- Roddy Strong
- Rod Strong
As they say on the internet, that’s it. That’s the list. This match, more than any other, shows the difference between NXT and the main roster. This match would never happen on the main roster mainly because this collection of characters would never exist on the main roster. 90% of the guys on Raw and SmackDown are just various shades of gray. They all blend together, and very few stand out. The standouts are the ones who really stand out: The New Day. Bray Wyatt. R-Truth. They all do something so different than everyone else.
Kevin Owens is playing a face battling against the bad authority figure, just like everyone else in wrestling history. Even Daniel Bryan, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, was part of the same story idea. Those two elevate that blase level of storytelling because of their talent, but not everyone can do that. NXT allows the characters to breathe. They let even a cookie cutter character (Roddy) be themselves in some way. They’ve invested in the characters so the audience will invest in them. It’s not that hard.
I realize that whenever I write up a Dream match I inevitably talk about character, but that’s the entire point of him. He’s a larger than life character that just happens to be a wrestler. Just because he’s larger than life doesn’t mean he’s unbelievable. We’ve seen him establish himself as something serious (his match with Aleister Black) into a true champion, and it’s been a fun ride. Roddy has tread a similar path in his own way, going from a happy-to-be-here family man, to turning on his tag team partner so he can hang out with his bros in the back of freight trucks.
Even Pete Dunne whose emotions range from ‘angry’ to ‘more angry’ is showing signs of being more than that. Did he leave NXT UK because he couldn’t beat WALTER? Did he leave because he wants to payback Roddy for turning on him? Or did he leave because North America is bigger than the UK and he wants a bigger stage? We don’t know yet, but the seeds to develop those aspects of his character are there.
It kind of makes sense for Roddy to win here and for the Undisputed Era to leave with the belts. If he loses here, that’s two TakeOver losses in a row and it would be hard to rationalize him getting another singles match during the fall TakeOver. Dream doesn’t need this particular belt, and if Pete is sticking around NXT proper, he and Roddy would have a banger of a match at any point in the near future.
NXT Tag Team Champions Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) vs. The Undisputed Era (Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish)
The Profits finally winning gold, and celebrating in the crowd was one of the best moments of the year and they’re following that up by leaving NXT. This is the second time in a row that the NXT Tag Champs have left for the main roster before formally dropping the belts. I suppose that kind of thing comes with the territory when we are watching developmental. One of the reasons it works so well is that acts typically cycle through, keeping the card fresh. But can we please just leave the good tag teams in NXT so they can actually wrestle? I was real excited to see Montez Ford confront Drake Maverick about not having sex with his wife on Monday. We live in the stupidest time in human history. Imagine watching Ford this week and not seeing the biggest star in the company? The promo he cut was just spot on and proved he can cut any type of promo they ask of him. He’s turning drinking milk out of a solo cup into must see television.
If this is the end for the Profits, it makes sense for them to drop the belts to Fish and O’Reilly, two incredibly good workers who can make anyone look good. The tag team division in NXT is a bit thinner that it has been in awhile. Using Fish/O’Reilly as pseudo gatekeepers while new face tag teams get built up will make for a lot of fun. The only team with a believable shot at taking the belts are Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, two dudes who can really go but seem destined for a mid-card run at best. All that matters is that MY president Kyle O’Reilly is walking out of Toronto. I know he’s Canadian but I don’t care. Our world is falling apart and only Kool Kyle can save us.
NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler vs. Mia Yim
The second women’s match on the card is also the second most exciting women’s match on the card. I guess thems the breaks when Io Shirai achieves her final form and Candice LeRae is finally given the platform she deserves.
We are supposed to buy into this idea that Shayna Baszler is scared of...Mia Yim. Shayna Baszler, the forever NXT Champion, the SHOOT BADASS, is afraid of Mia Yim? It just does not compute. There is a disconnect in this story somewhere and I just can’t quite place it. I don’t think the dialogue has done her any kinds of favors. The line "game recognize game and you look real unfamiliar right now" was supposed to sound tough, but it just came across as all sorts of cringey. I mentioned it last time when I said Yim just isn’t for me. She is very good and very talented, but she just doesn’t get me excited to watch her.
On the other hand, Baszler is very much for me, but she is also very much not for a lot of people. She only wrestles one style, and that style isn’t exactly over the top exciting. Her presence and her character continue to carry her matches. The same issues that plague Gargano could theoretically apply to Baszler as well. She’s been the fulcrum of the women’s division for years now. The story they’re telling is one that leads to a believable win for Yim. The crowd is behind her, but I just can’t help but think she’s not the won to send Baszler out of NXT.
It took a Mae Young Classic winner (Kairi Sane) to take the title from her once, and Yim just isn’t quite there yet.
NXT Champion Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano: Two-out-of-three falls match
Here we go again. In the words of Ric Flair, "One more time, I’m gonna show ya how to do it." Did I rework this intro more times than I want to admit just so I could shoehorn that reference in there? You know I did but that doesn’t make it any less true. Before WWE got real horny for two-out-of-three falls matches for the past month, NXT established that type of match as the ultimate payoff to a feud. It’s just real strange because...they already wrestled this match in April. If people are already tired of Cole and Gargano wrestling each other, letting them wrestle what is essentially three small matches at once is an interesting choice. This has to be the end. This has to be it. It’s high time for a new babyface to hang out at the top of the NXT card.
This is going to be the shortest capsule I’ve ever written about a main event on a TakeOver. Everything that needs to be said about Cole/Gargano has already been said, and already been seen. The match will objectively be good, but is it actually going to be something that you just have to see? I just can’t see it. Much like I just can’t see a world where Gargano somehow closes the show as NXT champion again. We don’t need anymore vignettes. We don’t need to know how much this means to him. We know it does. We don’t need to see a legacy cemented because it already has been. We know his story, and it’s time for something else.