Chekhov’s Gun – A NXT TakeOver Chicago II Recap and Reaction

Tonight’s TakeOver took place in…er…Chicago in the Allstate Arena.  Technically, it’s not really in Chicago.  You can say the same about All In, really.

Overall, you could say Matt and myself had mixed feelings going into this TakeOver.  The expectations among the Dark Match team and the internet at large was mostly unimpressed with this TakeOver lineup.  I’m happy to say it mostly cleared that bar, even if it was set a little low.

Oney Lorcan is a Star

The crowd exploded for The Undisputed Era.  Although I generally like the champions entering last, this show needed to start with a big pop.  I enjoyed the contrast of the almost non-existent pop that Oney and Danny received.  No one was expecting the match that followed.

It was fast-paced and brutal, tearing each other apart with fierce elbows and kicks.  Undisputed Era took control of the match early on after sending Birch into the LED board.  The built up the hot tag that felt organic, not the forced way it always felt when Enzo was just getting beat up waiting for the Big Cass.  Lorcan finally got tagged in and went to work, leveling the playing field.

Lorcan hit an amazing flying European uppercut that would put Cesaro’s to shame.  We almost had new Tag Team Champions if it weren’t for a save from Adam Cole, who was promptly ejected.  After eliminating Burch from the match, O’Reily and Strong hit Lorcan with a succession of strikes and got the pinfall.

I had really low expectations for this match.  There’s almost zero story but they made up for it in a stellar display to prove why they should be on more TakeOvers.  They got a standing ovation and deserved it.

“I’m a Wrestling God”

First off, The Dream shows up in a Prince Puma/Hulk Hogan getup for some reason.  I’m assuming that he got the tights and realized the colors were the same.  Perhaps he’s also thanking HH for the positive tweet after his elimination from Tough Enough a few years prior. Either way, it was brilliant.  Dream Mania is running wild, brother.

I like Ricochet’s entrance too.  I like the lasers.  It’s a little reminiscent of the “Man that gravity forgot” Neville, in a way.  I do wish Ricochet and Neville could go at it.

The first half of the match was basically mind games but the latter half was just brutal.  It’s a good thing that neither have to wrestle immediately after.  I hope both of them can have a couple of days off.  Probably the most insane spot was when Dream suplexed Ricochet to the floor.  There was probably no good reason for that except to prove that they could.  Ricochet also “stole” the Purple Rainmaker to put The Dream down.  Ricochet followed it up with a Shooting Star Press halfway across the ring, but Dream got his knees up just at the last second.  In an effort to show that he could do things better, Dream attempted a Purple Rainmaker from the other side of the ring.  He missed, setting himself up for a 630 (!!!) splash to end the match.

This was just a great match.  It’s also your quarterly reminder that Velveteen Dream is just in his early 20s.  It’s unreal.  Hulk Hogan was right.

Go To Sleep

The two title matches were a bit lackluster, really.  I love Nikki Cross but I felt like this wasn’t her time to win.  And what better heat than defeating a fan favorite like Cross?

I’m not going to bore you with this.  Nikki got some nice hits in but Shayna ultimately won via submission.  What I did very much appreciate is how they did it.  Shayna locked in the sleeper.  Nikki initially resisted.  When she realized there was no way she was getting out of it, she smiled and went to sleep.  There’s certain wrestlers that should never tap out.  Nicki is one of them.  In fact, she might be at the top of the list for WWE.  While it’s no Hart Vs. Austin from Wrestlemania 13, it’s effective storytelling.

In NXT, they actually pay attention to long-form storytelling.  And the result of that is heels actually get booed.  With the exception of Undisputed Era, the heels got booed tonight.  That’s kind of an incredible feat in the modern era.  Just think about how effective it’ll be when Candice or Kairi strip that title from her.

Lars Needs some Work

Listen, I’m pro Lars Sullivan.  I do think he actually has what it takes.  Even Brock Lesnar reportedly took his only trip out to the NXT Performance Center to work out with him.  And unlike Brock, he actually really does love the business.  According to this Sports Illustrated article, he once skipped out on his girlfriend’s birthday to go to an ECW pay-per-view.  That’s some dedication to the sport.  He’s a freak of nature and he’s going to be a future top star.  Just pay attention to the fact that I said “future”.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s probably better than Jinder, Big Cass, and a handful of people making good money on the main roster.  He just doesn’t quite fit in with the exceptional talent that NXT is hording at the moment.

This match wasn’t all terrible, just mediocre.  The only cringe-worthy moment was when Black missed a Black Mass and Lars decided to sell it anyway.  That’s a rookie move.  I did like that it took two successive Black Masses to end the match for Aleister to retain.

It was the weakest part of the show.

Checkov’s Gun

Over one year later in the spot where the betrayal happened, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa are back at it again.  Both Matt and I were skeptical of what they could do to top their amazing match at TakeOver New Orleans.  I don’t know about Matt, but I was blown away.  It was viscious, inventive, and, as much as it pain’s me to write this, the right man won.

After a brutal offense from Tommaso, it appeared Gargano was going to just take a massive beating.  Maybe this was a poor choice of match for the two to engage in.  Ciampa was inventive in his weapon choice, at one point hitting a back body drop from the apron to the steel steps below.  He deconstructed the ring, exposing the wooden boards below the canvas and two-inch padding.  But I called this match Checkov’s Gun for a reason.  Yes, it’s important, but not right away.

It seems that Tommaso wants to visit the scene of the crime from last year.  He throws Johnny into the LED boards and takes him into the crowd.  He sees a table setup and gig boxes towering above.  It’s time to end Johnny Wrestling once and for all.  Johnny made him do this.  It’s not his fault.  Ciampa has repeatedly told him this.  But he makes a mistake.  He takes off Johnny’s wedding ring and chucks it into the crowd.  Johnny recovered and put Ciampa through the table in a brutal spot.

The medical staff get called out.  Ciampa was in bad shape.  I legitimately questioned, just for a moment, if it was real.  While Tommasso got loaded up onto the stretcher, Johnny sat atop the boxes in an eerily similar image, feeling the absence of the ring on his finger.

I really did feel like this was how the night was going to end.  Johnny seemingly went too far and he was maybe even feeling a little bad about it.

Johnny went full dark side.  As the medical personnel was leading the stretcher away, Johnny got off the box with a newfound determination to perhaps end Ciampa’s life.  He took control of the stretcher knocking down the ref and the medical staff in the process.  He handcuffed him in the ring and locked in the GargaNO Escape.  Ciampa was tapping furiously, but there was no ref to record the submission.  By the time the ref got back there, Ciampa was able to take advantage of the distraction and hit a DDT on the boards he exposed earlier in the match.  Chekhov’s Gun.

I have no idea where they go from here.  I think it ultimately ends in some sort of reunion between the two.  In a weird, abusive way, they love each other.  It’s compelling long-form storytelling like this that proves how good wrestling can be.  Between Omega and Okada’s 7-star match last week, and the latest chapter in Gargano and Ciampa, we are living in a golden age.