Royal Rumble weekend begins tonight as the Talking Stick Resort Arena hosts NXT TakeOver: Phoenix.
Tommaso Ciampa will defend his NXT Championship against Aleister Black, while Johnny Gargano is set to challenge for Ricochet's North American title. On the go-home show for TakeOver, Ciampa and Gargano laid out their respective TakeOver opponents. Ciampa then offered Gargano a handshake, but Candice LeRae ran out to stop him from accepting.
The NXT Women's Championship will be on the line as Bianca Belair challenges Shayna Baszler. NXT Tag Team Champions The Undisputed Era (Kyle O'Reilly & Roderick Strong) defend their titles against War Raiders.
In the only non-title match on the show, Matt Riddle and Kassius Ohno face off for the second straight time on a TakeOver special. Riddle defeated Ohno in six seconds during their matchup over Survivor Series weekend.
There will be a one-hour pre-show starting at 6 p.m. Eastern time. It will feature the unveiling of the winners of the 2018 NXT year-end awards.
Here are the NXT Awards, announced during the Kickoff show.
- Overall Competitor of the Year – Kairi Sane
- Rivalry of the Year – Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
- Male Competitor of the Year – Tommaso Ciampa
- Breakout Star of the Year – Ricochet
- Female Competitor of the Year – Kairi Sane
- Match of the Year – Andrade vs. Johnny Gargano - NXT Championship Match (TakeOver: Philadelphia)
- Tag Team of the Year – The Undisputed ERA
- Future Star of NXT – Io Shirai
- TakeOver of the Year – TakeOver: New Orleans
Undisputed Era vs War Raiders for the NXT Tag Team Titles opens the show
War Raiders got a fancy, medeival-style entrance coming out. War Raiders won the titles with the Fallout on Kyle O'Reilly in an excellent opener. The story of this match was War Raiders used their superior strength, which Strong & O'Reilly had to use their wrestling skill to combat.
War Raiders ran wild early, with the highlight being Rowe bodyslamming Hanson off the ring apron and onto Strong and O'Reilly on the floor. Rowe picked up O'Reilly in a gutwrench and power bombed him into Strong. Hanson went for a Suicide Dive, but Strong & O'Reilly moved out of the way, sending him crashing to the floor. That led to the champs getting the heat on Rowe, since he had no one to tag. When Hanson finally got to the apron, Strong & O'Reilly used every old school tag team heel trick to prevent the tag.
O'Reilly and Rowe stood mid-ring and exchanged kicks, which Hanson eventually got the best of with a knee strike, which allowed Rowe the chance to make the hot tag. Hanson got the crowd jumping when he did a cartwheel to avoid a strike by O'Reilly. A mis-direction spot saw O'Reilly give a running corner kick to Strong on accident. A 4-way brawl broke out, with War Raiders getting the best of it, laying O'Reilly out with a Pop-Up Running Powerslam and Strong got knocked to the outside. Hanson later kicked out of a combination superplex/top rope knee drop, which everyone bought as the finish. Hanson also kicked out of a High/Low, becoming the first person to do it.
Pete Dunne and Toni Storm were shown at ringside.
Matt Riddle vs Kassius Ohno
Well it lasted longer than their first match. Riddle won this one by tap out due to elbows. The story was Ohno had not only lost the first two matches to Riddle, but had also lost all 4 TakeOver matches he's had, so he was pulling out all the stops. A step down from the opener, but a good match in it's own rights.
Riddle exploded at the bell, with Ohno running around and trying to avoid him, but Riddle followed and continued beating on him. Riddle went for a sunset flip power bomb to the outside, but Ohno blocked it, covered his face with the ring apron and stomped down on it. Ohno “accidentally” hit Riddle with a back elbow at one point and almost won. Riddle briefly fired back when Ohno yelled that he was a bum, but that didn't last long. Ohno sent Riddle crashing into the ring post and steps, harkening back to an angle on NXT in December.
Riddle went for a German Suplex, but Ohno was too heavy for him and Ohno stomped his foot. Riddle summoned that power seconds later as he hit the German on the second attempt. Ohno blocked a kick and began biting Riddle's toes before hitting a Liger Bomb for a near fall. Riddle kicked out of an Ohno Moonsault and got on the Bro-mission, but Ohno got the ropes. Ohno asked Riddle for a fist bump near the finish, but Riddle didn't fall for it.
Ricochet vs Johnny Gargano for the North American Championship
This was a must-see 20+ minute classic. A series of innovative and creative spots, unbelievable athleticism and story telling that can't be duplicated by many in WWE. Gargano became the third North American Champion with a Slingshot DDT, which followed a brainbuster on the exposed floor.
An impressive series of moves and reversals and counters opened the match, leading to a stand off and a chant of “NXT”. Ricochet asked Gargano which Johnny we were going to get, so Gargano used a cheap shot. They fought to the outside where Ricochet stepped from the apron to the middle rope and hit a moonsault to the floor in one fluid motion. In the ring Ricochet went for a top rope Hurricarana, but he played to the ground and Gargano was able to slip out and drop Ricochet on the top rope.
Gargano used an laying down Abdominal Stretch and a chop to the throat, which just looked nasty. Ricochet side-stepped a Slingshot Spear and used a moonsault to the kneeling Gargano. Minutes later Gargano went for a Slingshot Suplex, but Ricochet caught him and threw him out of the ring and Gargano crashed rib-first onto the ring apron. Richochet broke out the Fosbury Flop outside the ring and a second rope Moonsault inside the ring for a near fall.
Gargano went for his own top-rope Hurricarana, but Ricochet landed on his feet. Gargano hit a Superkick, but Ricochet hit a Pele and went for a Handspring Move, but Gargano ducked it and locked on the Gargano Escape. Ricochet stood up and threw Gargano over his head, crashing into the turnbuckles. Ricochet went for the 630, but Gargano rolled to the other side of the ring and out of it. Ricochet saw that...and did a running tope over the ring post to the floor. Gargano got his knees up on a Shooting Star Press and used an Inside Cradle for a 2 count.
Ricochet literally caught Gargano on a Suicide Dive, but Gargano turned that into a reverse Hurricarana. He immediately hit a Slingshot DDT in the ring for the nearest of near falls. Gargano nearly snapped and went to do a Draping DDT onto the exposed concrete floor, but had a change of conscience, which the fans booed, but they immediately got back into the match. Ricochet locked on his own version of the Gargano Escape, but Gargano got the ropes. They ended up on the apron and Gargano shoved Ricochet into the ring post, which led to the finish.
Shayna Baszler vs Bianca Belair for the NXT Women's Championship
It should be noted that during the Kickoff Show, Sam Roberts openly questioned why this match was happening, stating Bianca Belair had no chance and didn't deserve to be wrestling on TakeOver.
Baszler retained the title with the Kirifuda Clutch after rolling out of the way of a 450 Splash. Belair fought it and got to her feet, but couldn't get out of the Clutch and finally passed out. The match was better than expected, but it was insanely difficult after following the previous match.
A super creative spot early on, as they fought outside, Baszler threw Belair around the ring post, but kept hold of Belair's long braid and yanked her into the ring post. Belair crowed that she was undefeated and Baszler fired back, calling her overrated. Baszler stomped down on Belair's elbow in a similar fashion that she did to Dakota Kai in early-2018. Baszler used a series of armbars until Belair started her comeback with a huge slap to the face. Belair did a good job of selling her shoulder even when on offense, so that's already a step up on a lot of people. Belair kept going for punches, but missed by several feet, so finally she used her hair to whip Shayna, which actually caused a cut on Baszler's ribs. Belair got sent into the referee, knocking her out and then she got a visual pinfall on Baszler after the KOD.
Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke ran in, but Belair got the best of both of them. Belair got out of the Kirifuda Clutch on the first attempt, but not the second.
Velveteen Dream was shown sitting at ringside watching the main event.
Tommaso Ciampa vs Aleister Black for the NXT Championship
Ciampa retained after 4 Fairy Tale Endings. Black got out of the third one and went for Black Mass, but his knee, which was worked on the entire match, gave out. This was a very good main event and it was very well worked, but the fans didn't get into it until the finish.
The most intense collar and elbow tie up you've ever seen started the match. Ciampa played dirty early, using a standing armbar and standing on Black's hair while doing it. Ciampa sat on the mat when Black went for a Roundhouse Kick, so Black sat down across from him, but Ciampa booted him right in the face. The match was all about Ciampa working on the knee of Black. Outside the ring Ciampa sent Black knee-first into the ring steps and then used a suplex onto the steps. Ciampa tied Black's leg up in the ropes and did a running knee to the leg. Black used a running kick to Ciampa, which caused them both to topple over the top rope to the floor.
Both men blocked and/or ducked multiple attempts to hit their respective finishers. Black used a Bridging German Suplex, but only drove with one leg, since the other was hurt. Both used a Single-Legged Crab with little success. Ciampa broke up a Moonsault attempt and hit a Tower Of London on the ring apron, which is the hardest part of the ring. Black did a great job selling his knee, including running the ropes by hopping on one leg. He did finally hit his corner Moonsault, but slipped on some water outside the ring. Ciampa hit the Fairy Tale Ending (Angel's Wings) for a 2 count.
Ciampa pulled up the black mats outside the ring, ala Johnny Gargano earlier tonight. However Black came off the apron with a knee strike and then hit Black Mass in the ring...but it took him too long to make the cover and Ciampa had rolled over. Black kicked out of a second Fairy Tale Ending, which was following Ciampa pulling the referee in front of Black Mass (which Black stopped mid kick).
After the match, Johnny Gargano came out and raised his title in the air. Ciampa seemed to take it as meaning they were together as a team, while Gargano kept looking from his title to Ciampa's.
Overall another very good TakeOver and good luck to the Royal Rumble on topping this one!