As has been the case with the 25 previous TakeOver events, the NXT TakeOver: Toronto card was stacked. Saturday night's show at Scotiabank Arena didn't disappoint, and by the end of the night, Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano had fought into every corner of the arena and from atop a steel cage adorned with barbed wire.
It was a fitting ending to their rivalry, and a fitting ending to a show that once again set an incredibly high bar for WWE's main roster show, SummerSlam, which follows on Sunday night.
(c) - indicates defending champion
2-out-of-3 falls for the NXT championship: Adam Cole (c) def. Johnny Gargano (2-1)
What a rivalry it has been. After NXT TakeOver: New York and TakeOver:XXV, with Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole each claiming a victory in two of the best wrestling matches of 2019, expectations for Toronto couldn't have been much higher.
It was going to be hard to top those first two matches, especially with a return to a 2-out-of-3 falls format, but by the time a battered and exhausted Cole used the last of his energy reserves to swing his arm over and cover Cole to end the carnage, it was clear both men had given everything they had, and then some.
Fall No. 1: Traditional wrestling match
A slow, measured start allowed both men to illustrate the familiarity they've developed throughout the first couple of installments of this rivalry, utilizing a plethora of counters and reversals. They weaved in and out of their sequences so smoothly, in fact, that there wasn't a noticeable misstep throughout the entire match. The first fall, while filled with fantastic wrestling -- including a Cole wheelbarrow suplex to Gargano on the ring apron and a Cole codebreaker on a leaping Gargano -- was all about psychology.
Gargano had a plan and didn't mind dropping the first fall if it meant he'd gain the advantage for the remainder of the match. Instead of wearing himself out, he snagged a steel chair and smashed it over the back of Cole. Gargano was disqualified, but Gargano was in control. 1-0 Cole.
Fall No. 2: Street fight
Gargano maintained the advantage he claimed at the end of the first fall throughout the second part of this match, as he and Cole made their way through the crowd. You can't have a street fight without a stroll through the arena, right?
Gargano still had the match right where he wanted it as they made their way back to ringside, and he back-body-dropped Cole off one announcers table and through another. After Gargano tossed a couple of tables in the ring and battled with Cole some more, Gargano sent the champ flying into a chair set up in the corner of the ring like a lawn dart and locked in the Gargano escape for the submission win. Tied 1-1.
Fall No. 3: Steel cage match with weapons along the cage
As "ECW" chants filled Scotiabank Arena, harkening back to the late-'90s innovators of violent wrestling matches, Cole and Gargano stared up at the cage that was lowered around them. Chairs were a theme early on in the fall, highlighted by a Gargano tornado DDT onto Cole through two of them. After following that up with a brutal sunset flip power bomb off the top rope, Gargano appeared poised to take the match to a different level by introducing a sledgehammer to the match.
Cole countered with a super kick followed by two Panama sunrises -- one off the middle rope and one off of a ladder -- neither of which put Gargano down for a three-count.
Those Panama sunrises paled in comparison to the Canadian destroyer (a flipping piledriver, done by jumping off the turnbuckle) that Gargano executed shortly after. Somehow, Cole kicked out.
Gargano then climbed the cage with bolt cutters and cut a piece of the barbed wire fastened around the top of the cage to use as a weapon. Cole climbed the other side of the cage, looking to escape, but Gargano chased him until they were both perched on top of a table positioned at the top of the cage. From there, they both plummeted 20 feet through one of the tables. Cole managed to drape his arm over Gargano for the three-count. 2-1 Cole.
NXT women's championship: Shayna Baszler (c) def. Mia Yim
Shayna Baszler's nine-month run with the NXT women's championship seemed in doubt in a handful of moments, and the attack on Baszler's arm was an effective attempt at a counter-measure. It also opened the door for a creative, leg-based submission solution to end the match and allowed Baszler the chance to prove she doesn't need Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke to win matches.
Although the match didn't quite click as much as expected, it got the job done in terms of telling the same story that's been underlying the better part of the past year in the NXT women's division. With all due respect to Asuka, Shayna Baszler has been presented as the most dominant NXT women's champion in history. She put down challengers left and right throughout her two title reigns, and Yim, Saturday's challenger, was no exception.
There were strong creative decisions in this match, from Yim continuing to give Baszler a taste of her own medicine with underhanded, rule-breaking tactics throughout the match. Yim's focus on neutralizing Baszler's arm, and thus her finishing maneuver, was a strong through line, but these two talented performers simply didn't get the match clicking until the later stages.
Despite Yim's catching Baszler with a suicide dive to the outside of the ring and a sunset flip off the middle rope back inside the ring, it was the champion who would have the last laugh. After Yim appeared to have a cross arm breaker locked in, Baszler attempted her kirifuda clutch but couldn't lock it in due to her injured arm. Instead, she tapped out Yim with a triangle choke, using her legs.
NXT North American championship: Velveteen Dream (c) def. Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong
It's hard not to get excited about Velveteen Dream, Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong -- three of the best in-ring performers -- not just in NXT, but in all of the WWE. That trio colliding in the middle of the ring was a spectacle, as expected, and all three afforded themselves well in their triple-threat showcase for the NXT North American championship.
Dream ultimately walked out of the match with his title still in hand, but throughout the match, each of the three seemed as though he thought had the match locked down. Beyond his tributes to The Mountie and the Toronto Raptors, Dream did what he has done consistently throughout his time in NXT -- he backed up the flash with substance and physicality.
Early on, Dream locked in a tribute to Bret Hart's iconic sharpshooter onto Strong, but Dunne broke it up with a missile dropkick from the top rope. Dunne continued his aerial attacks when he caught both Dream and Strong with a moonsault from the ring apron to the outside of the ring, and it was off to the races.
Back in the ring, all three superstars traded a scintillating exchange of strikes on each other leading into suplexes and slams that left all three laying in the middle of the ring. The "this is awesome" chants rained down from the rafters of the Scotiabank Arena, and there was no looking back.
Dream and Dunne went flying off the top rope when Strong executed an Olympic slam to Dunne, who then pulled Dream down with him. Then, when Dunne and Strong were battling in the corner of the ring, Dream dropped a coast-to-coast elbow onto Dunne.
Strong locked both Dunne and Dream into his Strong hold (a modified Boston crab) at the same time, but Dunne responded with his bitter end finisher to Strong -- only for Dream to keep the referee's arm from hitting the canvas for the three count. Finally, as Strong caught Dunne with his end of heartache back-breaker, Dream dropped his purple rain-maker elbow from the top rope and covered Dunne to retain.
Io Shirai def. Candice LeRae
Those who overlooked Io Shirai vs. Candice LeRae on this deep NXT TakeOver: Toronto card did so to their own detriment, as the lone non-title match on Saturday night set a tremendously high bar for the three matches to follow it.
Io Shirai's turn to the dark side has offered her a tremendous amount of character development in recent months, and her former alliance with Candice LeRae was a potent way to put that personality on display in the ring. Following two unsuccessful attempts at dethroning NXT women's champion Shayna Baszler, Shirai took her frustrations out on LeRae -- but LeRae gave them right back in a match that featured an incredible string of physical feats and a showcase of each wrestler's dynamic moveset.
From the moment Shirai caught LeRae with a suplex onto the announcers' table, the mood was set and the pace rarely slowed for the remainder of the match. LeRae's inevitable comeback attempt came when she dodged a Shirai missile dropkick from the top rope. From there, she took out her frustrations with Shriai with a dizzying array of high-impact offense -- highlighted by a suicide dive to the outside of the ring that turned into a tornado DDT, followed by a reverse hurricanrana and a swinging neck breaker from the second rope
But it wasn't enough. Shirai tried her luck with a Spanish fly from the top rope and one of her patented moonsaults, but the valiant LeRae managed to kick out of a near-fall that almost everyone in the building was ready to call the end. Shirai locked in a new leg-based submission choke, which put LeRae out of commission and gave Shirai the victory.
A chaotic confrontation between Matt Riddle and Killian Dain followed soon thereafter, and that was a smart creative decision, because the crowd certainly needed a moment to catch its breath after this match.
NXT tag team championships: The Street Profits (Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins) (c) def. The Undisputed Era (Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish)
The Street Profits opened NXT TakeOver: Toronto by short-circuiting Undisputed Era of ending the night with all of the gold. In their most thoroughly well-rounded performance to date on a big stage, Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford stood toe-to-toe with Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly and wrapped up a successful defense to kick off the show.
These two teams, along with the Forgotten Sons and the duo of Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, tore the house down at TakeOver XV back in June in a ladder match as Ford and Dawkins won the vacant NXT tag titles. If there was any doubt that they could thrive in a more traditional style of match, it was dispelled pretty quickly.
The bout began with dueling "Undisputed" and "Street Profits" chants from the Toronto crowd as Dawkins and O'Reilly got things started. Both teams utilized good-old-fashioned, tag-team wrestling early on, trading quick tags with solid teamwork. The action began to heat up after the Undisputed Era had done their part in wearing out Dawkins, when the ridiculously athletic Ford entered the match with high energy and athleticism that allowed the 6-foot-4 standout to execute a beautiful standing moonsault.
He attempted to channel The Rock by teasing the "people's elbow," but gave the enthusiastic Toronto crowd a little taste when he hit Fish with a rock bottom. Throughout the match, both teams mixed flash with physicality, particularly impressive in moments such as when Fish superplexed Ford and an O'Reilly heel hook onto a previously damaged leg of Ford.
After swinging back and forth, the closing sequence included Dawkins hitting two spears -- one each to Fish and O'Reilly -- followed by a frog splash by Ford that would make Rob Van Dam proud.