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NXT TakeOver Chicago preview: Gargano vs. Ciampa street fight

The sun rises, the world turns, I dream of soft serve ice cream, and NXT keeps producing better content in one-hour blocks than the rest of WWE put together.

Even with some talent moving up to the main roster -- Ember Moon, The IIconics, among others -- NXT just keeps rolling right along even though it should be a time of transition. Clearly a large part of that is just the overwhelming amount of talent on the brand, but they’ve also learned how to grow while changing, and are able to keep making new stars without forcing anyone down the throats of the audience.

Moving Authors of Pain and SAnitY up so they can inexplicably do nothing? No big deal, here's Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch to hold things over until the War Raiders are ready. Andrade "Cien" Almas is going to SmackDown? It’s cool, big boy Lars Sullivan is here with Velveteen Dream, Ricochet, and EC3 waiting in the wings. Same thing with Ember Moon to Shayna Baszler/Dakota Kai/Lacey Evans/Bianca Belair, etc.

NXT is an absolute wagon. I didn’t even mention a good amount of talent that’s actually, you know, wrestling on the card. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa are poised to blow off the best feud in years. Ricochet and Dream are ready to blow Chicago’s doors off and make a leap to full-fledged superstardom. It’s all here. It’s all happening, and it’s not stopping anytime soon. If you’re tired of watching Jinder Mahal get 20 minutes of television time every Monday, or sick of being confused by the presence of Big Cass, then come to Wednesday nights; it’s safe and warm and almost never lets you down.

It’s not even worth wondering if TakeOver is going to be good, it’s a matter of just how good at this point. So like we always do at this time, let’s run down this card in the (correct) order of my personal desire to watch the match:

NXT Champion Aleister Black vs. Lars Sullivan

When I write these column/previews I, predictably, write up each match individually. The order that I write them in, typically, determines my excitement about the match itself. This one came last and it wasn’t even close.

It just doesn’t quite hit home for me. This feels massively less important than Ricochet/Dream, which doesn’t even have a belt attached to it, let alone the damn NXT title. The build to this has been entirely unspectacular. It’s pretty much been Large Lars (™ myself) being Large Lars and beating up Aleister Black a couple of times and now they have a title match. When that’s all a match is, it’s hard to come up with more than a few sentences about it.

The match should be, and most likely will be, fine, with Black retaining by hitting Black Mass in some capacity. Heck maybe he hits him with like three of them to keep Lars looking strong and keeping the title on Black. Spoiler alert: I think every title should be retained here which almost never happens, so something has to give at some point. Is this really the time to hot potato the belt off of Black after he just won it in New Orleans?

NXT Tag Team Champions The Undisputed Era (Kyle O'Reilly & Roderick Strong) vs. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch

Before I get into the actual match, I just want to talk about how perfect Kyle O’Reilly is. He’s become the most gif-able wrestler that isn’t Will Ospreay, and I am absolutely smitten. I remember watching him when he was in Future Shock with Adam Cole and am fully willing to admit that I didn’t see this coming. He plays the smarmy, cocky heel role like he was born into it, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

With that said, I just can’t get all the way into this match. All four of these guys are good to great in the ring, but that's kind of where it stops for me. I don’t have a vested interest in either Lorcan or Burch, neither of them display enough personality for me to really care. They’re both great hands, but are they anything more than that? And this is coming from someone who has watched them both work the Northeast indie scene fairly heavily before and during their time with WWE.

I think this is the perfect match to go about 12-15 minutes, go on first, and just be a stiff as hell sprint. Lord knows all four of these guys are capable of beating the hell out of each other, so just let them do that.

This does kind of smell like it's setting up for something between Cole and Pete Dunne in the near future. Both have been heavily involved in the feud leading up to this, and both are conspicuously absent from the card. As far as the result goes, I just don't think it’s time for Lorcan/Burch right now. I’m not saying they don’t have a time, but it certainly isn’t now. Oney does rule, though.

NXT Women's Champion Shayna Baszler vs. Nikki Cross

I love how Shayna Baszler has been presented in NXT. Everything she is a part of hides her weaknesses and accentuates her strengths. Is she still a bit green in the ring? Sure, but she hasn’t been asked to carry a match with someone at her level of experience.

Is she incredibly charismatic and believable as a "real fighter?" Absolutely. She carries herself like the real deal, so we believe she is the real deal. The only downer is the fact that she’s almost 38 years old. Imagine if she transitioned into wrestling just a few years earlier? What an absolute monster she would be.

This match with Nikki Cross is, again, an example of perfect NXT booking. Much like Baszler, Cross completely owns her character as an unhinged...something that is totally unafraid of this very real, very bad ass woman standing across from her. It just proves what good characters and booking can do to make a feud seem believable. Cross is maybe 5’1 on a good day, and Baszler just towers over her. But it doesn’t feel like she's overmatched, because her character does not believe she’s overmatched.

This match does feel a bit rushed, and I suppose that’s because out of all the NXT women, Cross is the most ready. She’s been there awhile, has been on TV, has been on live specials, and certainly stands out. Everyone else just isn’t quite there yet. Dakota Kai is almost there and Bianca Belair is certainly on her way, but Cross is the character the audience knows the most. This is, of course, ignoring Kairi Sane, who NXT still seems to be figuring out for whatever reason.

I'm excited for this match, much more than I was about Baszler’s matches with Ember Moon, because Cross is just a better professional wrestling character. Baszler should absolutely retain here and have a long run at the top. When she drops the belt it should be at the end of a decent length storyline that can be used to establish a new top babyface...not in a match that had this little build to it.

Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream

Give me this. Give me this again. Give me this forever. If this TakeOver was just this match, I would be more than okay with it. Ricochet is the guy the internet has been talking about as the next big thing forever. Dream is the guy John god damn Cena name dropped as someone who could be the next big thing. I love it. I love it SO much. The amount of talent and charisma in this match is actually disgusting.

I don’t think there is anyone, anywhere that isn’t extremely excited for this match. Ricochet’s first time to shine in a singles match and yet another chance for Dream to impress at a TakeOver. This is the match that for sure will have the most "moves" and should provide enough of a stage for both guys to become even bigger stars than they already are.

What’s most exciting is where this can go from here. Dream’s whole character is based on ego, he thinks he’s the biggest star, who deserves the biggest stage, and is the main attraction. But what happens if someone outshines him? What happens if someone like Ricochet comes in and sets the world on fire? Where does that leave him? Does he fall apart? Does he reconsider everything? Hell, does he try and team with the guy? There are endless directions to go with this. If he wasn’t such a well-rounded performer, we wouldn’t even ask these questions. It’s a testament to how good he is that we can even consider such a variety of outcomes for him.

Ricochet should go over here. He’s still the "new" hotness and could use the win to either set up a longer feud with Dream, or launch him into something else. Dream continues to not be defined by wins or losses, so he can take one here without losing a thing.

Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa (street fight)

The (possible?) payoff to the best feud in wrestling. An absolute master class in storytelling, promo work, and in-ring performance. Even the biggest Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa fans could not have seen THIS coming. This level of performance, the amount of development and growth these two have went through is nothing short of astounding.

They kept a white hot feud going through Ciampa’s ACL injury and are ready to finish it right where it started, in Chicago. What else can possibly top this? This is a WrestleMania caliber main event happening on a random Saturday in June. This is our reward for watching insufferably bad Raws and barely tolerable SmackDowns for the last 2-3 months.

I used to listen to a podcast that said there are only three types of movies: love stories, revenge stories, and coming-of-age stories. This is all of them. What started as Johnny Wrestling trying to get revenge on his former partner has turned into something so much more. Ciampa is so in Gargano’s head that he has become what he hated. Someone so fixated by the idea of hurting someone that he’s willing to throw everything else away. He’s lost the support of his wife to chase this obsession. He started out as a vanilla babyfaced boy from Ohio, and has grown into a man laser focused on hurting someone that he used to love, someone he thought was his brother.

Of course a story like this can’t exist without both people playing their parts equally, and holy hell has Ciampa carried his part of this; to the point where I think he’s actually the real MVP of this feud. Everything he has done has been pitch perfect and true to his character. My personal favorite was when he put athletic tape around his eye, that’s just some next level sh*t.

And yes, there is a clear argument that this feud should have ended at the last TakeOver, and if Ciampa wins here then clearly they have to have the rubber match during SummerSlam weekend. But come on, watch the video package and tell me you aren’t excited for more matches between these two: