When it comes to NXT's greatest hits highlight reel, WarGames has an outsized presence compared to other TakeOver specials for a reason -- and the conclusion to Saturday's men's match inside of the cage will likely have a permanent residence on that reel.
Tommaso Ciampa's Air Raid Crash to Adam Cole from the top of the cage through two tables was a moment in which everyone's breath collectively got caught in their throat as they watched on helplessly, hoping that everyone got through it as unscathed as possible. Once it appeared that the two wrestlers were OK, and the shocked moment of silence passed, the scope of what Ciampa and Cole pulled off brought a surge of excitement and a fitting ending to a wild night at NXT TakeOver: WarGames.
Not only did Ciampa bring victory to his team -- bolstered by the unlikely addition of Kevin Owens -- and lock himself into position for a run at the NXT championship, but he called back to the moment where his legend became possible. In the same building -- the Allstate Arena, in May 2017 -- Ciampa used that same air raid crash to put Johnny Gargano through a pair of tables and ignited the biggest rivalry in the history of NXT.
And just as the women's WarGames match thrilled the crowd to open the night, Undisputed Era put it all on the line for the third straight year in WarGames, and Ciampa, Owens, Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic matched them blow for blow. Unlike the women's match, and previous WarGames matches, weapons only played a passing role until the dizzying final sequence in which Chekov's tables that had lingered for most of the match were finally broken by each member of The Undisputed Era.
Owens stole a bit of the thunder with his shocking entrance, which was immediately followed by powerbombs and suplexes for all members of The Undisputed Era. Cole and Owens put a wonderful touch on their first in-ring reaction with a callback to the finish of WrestleMania 14, exchanging superkick and Stone Cold stunner attempts until Owens successfully hit the stunner.
14-24-20 pic.twitter.com/ldTCkJPeKM— Kevin (@FightOwensFight) November 24, 2019
From there, it was off to the races. All manner of what would usually be finishing moves by all eight men swung the momentum back and forth throughout. Owens teased a package piledriver on the diamond-plated steel between the rings, only for Cole to hit a Panama Sunrise on the same surface.
All four members of The Undisputed Era ultimately met their demise in fittingly parallel fashion. Dijakovic chokeslammed Roderick Strong through a table first, and then he struggled with chokeslam and one-armed powerbomb attempts on Kyle O'Reilly, ultimately leaving O'Reilly prone for a Kevin Owens frog splash. Lee picked up Bobby Fish and, from the second rope, powerbombed Fish and took him out of play.
That left Cole and Ciampa, struggling for control atop the cage with two tables lingering below. Just as Cole had been center stage for two other massive WarGames spots -- the primary victim of Ricochet's double moonsault in 2018 and the victim of (pre-TUE) Strong's suplex onto a half-dozen friends and foes -- he was the subject of Ciampa's aggressions.
There will be dozens of highlights from this match shown for a decade or more, be it Lee and Dijakovic's unlikely acrobatics, Strong's avalanche Olympic Slam or all of The Undisputed Era's creative tag team innovations. But Ciampa and Cole, two parts of the bedrock upon which NXT is based, putting it all on the line to make a lasting memory will be the singular image attached to this show.
Finn Balor def. Matt Riddle
If you said you saw this match coming a month ago, you'd be lying, but here we are, with one of the most intriguing matches of the weekend.
Finn Balor made his triumphant return to the NXT brand a few weeks ago and shocked the pro wrestling world when he executed a brilliant heel turn. His target that night was Johnny Gargano, but with Gargano out due to injury, Matt Riddle took his place. Riddle was on the receiving end of some recent Balor attacks himself and looked for revenge on the now villainous former Universal, Intercontinental and NXT champion.
The match was methodical in nature early on. It began with mat wrestling, right up Riddle's alley, but Balor held his own. Pace picked up after Balor connected with a basement dropkick, a running dropkick and finally a dropkick to the outside of the ring to Riddle.
A front kick by Riddle shifted the tide in his favor and both men traded advantages in the ensuing sequences. Riddle targeted Balor's ankles with ankle locks, but Balor followed that up with yet another beautiful dropkick. Shortly after, Riddle caught Balor with a Goldberg-esque spear/jackhammer combination, but it wasn't enough to keep Balor down.
Balor fought back and connected with an inverted version of his 1916 DDT, but Riddle kicked out of the pinfall attempt and followed that up with a Bro To Sleep. After an unsuccessful Coup de Grace attempt by Balor, Riddle locked in his bro-mission, but couldn't tap Balor out. Balor turned the tables and connected with another 1916 DDT for the win.
With the victory, Balor moves to 9-1 at TakeOver events. Only Asuka (10) has more.
What's Next: Finn Balor will likely continue his ascent up the NXT ladder, possibly toward a future NXT championship match, but a returning Johnny Gargano would likely figure into the equation before that occurs. As for Riddle, it's back to the drawing board and there are plenty of potential rivalries.
Pete Dunne def. Killian Dain and Damian Priest
It would've been easy for the triple-threat match between Pete Dunne, Damian Priest and Killian Dain to get overshadowed by the tremendous women's WarGames match that opened the night, but Dunne, Priest and Dain proved that wrestling violence comes in many forms.
The match was slow, deliberate and physical in a way that changed up the pace -- and though it took the crowd a little while to regain their breath, by the end they all bought in to a tremendous match, in which Dunne locked up an NXT championship match against Adam Cole at Survivor Series.
All three men seemed to have multiple opportunities to put each of their opponents away, only to forget about the third man to their detriment. Dunne hit Bitter Ends on both Priest and Dain. Priest and Dain both hit their own versions of Michinoku Drivers that used Dunne as a weapon against their third opponent.
There was plenty of violence on the outside as well. Priest hit a Razor's Edge powerbomb to Dunne onto the Spanish announce table, only for Dain to re-enter the picture by hitting a running senton that drove the both of them through a steel barricade at ringside.
Priest added another Razor's Edge, from the middle rope to Dain, only to see the pinfall broken up by Dunne. Then Dunne hit a moonsault onto both men, from the top rope to the outside.
There were Vader bombs, a bevy of cyclone kicks from Priest, and just as it seemed there would never be a conclusive victor, Dunne locked a sleeper in on a standing Dain. Just as he had multiple times earlier in the match, Dain turned Dunne into a bludgeon by dropping backward onto Priest. Dunne took advantage of the immediate aftermath, scooped up a leg and secured a pinfall before Dain could figure out what had gone awry.
What's next: For Dunne, an NXT title match against Cole Sunday at Survivor Series. For Priest and Dain, perhaps a one-on-one battle of the behemoths. Either man could ultimately come back for more against Dunne, once everyone gets back to Full Sail.
WarGames match: Team Ripley (Rhea Ripley, Tegan Nox, Candice LeRae & Dakota Kai) def. Team Baszler (Shayna Baszler, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair, Kay Lee Ray)
Women's wrestling continues to break down walls. Over the past few year's there have been women's Royal Rumble matches, hell in a cell matches, iron man matches and money in the bank ladder matches. Tonight was yet another milestone as eight fantastic superstars were scheduled to battle in the first-ever women's War Games match -- and what a match it was.
However, the lineup changed before the match even started. On tonight's kickoff show, Mia Yim, who was set to be a part of Team Ripley, was attacked and was unable to compete. As a result, Dakota Kai, who was initially passed up as being a member of the team, was called upon to fill in.
Candice LeRae and Io Shirai began the match with their respective three teammates locked in cages atop the entrance ramp, impatiently waiting to enter the two-ring, two-cage structure.
Setting the tone for what should be a physical night of action, LeRae and Shirai began with a brawl. From there, Shirai took control, highlighted by a springboard dropkick from one ring into the other.
The next entrant into the match was Team Baszler's Bianca Belair and LeRae was outnumbered. Belair immediately put on a show, dropping LeRae with a face-buster, a standing shooting star press and, most impressively, a triple-powerbomb to LeRae into the steel cage.
Rhea Ripley joined the fray next and before entering the cage, she tossed trash cans, steel chairs and kendo sticks into the ring. Upon entering, she slammed Belair, face first, onto one of the trash cans, much to the crowd's delight.
NXT UK Women's champion Kay Lee Ray entered the match next with some more steel chairs and unloaded on both Ripley and LeRae. That was nothing compared to the next spot, though, which saw Ripley execute an avalanche power bomb to both Shirai and Ray onto a set of steel chairs, followed by a Belair 450 splash onto Ripley.
Kai was next to enter the match, but immediately after stepping out of the holding cage, she turned around and brutally assaulted her own teammate and 'Team Kick' comrade Tegan Nox. Kai viciously attacked Nox, slamming the cage door on her knee repeatedly and was ultimately removed from the match by NXT General Manager William Regal.
Nox was medically unable to compete, and Baszler entered with a four-on-two advantage and a huge smile on her face.
Ripley and LeRae didn't back down and ultimately went on the offensive. The first pinfall attempt came when LeRae tossed Baszler off the top rope onto a steel chair and followed it up with a springboard moonsault, but she only kept the NXT women's champion down for a two-count.
The highlight of the match came a few sequences later when Shirai ascended to the top of the cage. She ignited "Mama Mia" chants from the Chicago crowd after executing a beautiful moonsault from the top of the cage onto both LeRae and Belair. "This is awesome" chants followed.
Moments later, Baszler locked in her patented kirifuda clutch onto Ripley. Just as it appeared Ripley was going to tap, she broke free, handcuffed herself to the champ, delivered her rip-tide finisher to Baszler onto two upright steel chairs and scored an unlikely victory.
The women's revolution continued tonight with a stunning effort. This will be a tough act to follow.
What's next: Given that Ripley pinned the women's champion, one would think she'd be next in line for a title shot. As for Kai, she'll begin what should be a compelling journey as a heel in NXT, likely starting with a feud with Tegan Nox.
Angel Garza def. Isaiah "Swerve" Scott
NXT has historically showcased their "next big thing" ahead of TakeOver specials, offering an opportunity in front of an arena-sized crowd just ahead of the bright lights of the TakeOver spotlight. That certainly seemed to be the case on Saturday night, as Angel Garza and Isaiah "Swerve" Scott each showed why they are both among the most promising talent NXT's next wave of stars has to offer.
Both men showed off their mix of acrobatic skills and brutality, including a rebounding, flipping powerbomb for Garza and a death valley driver from Scott to Garza on the ring apron followed immediately by a double stomp to the floor. The match was on the shorter side, but Garza instigated enough confusion in the closing moments with an attempted low blow to allow himself an opportunity to hit the wing clipper for the pinfall victory.
What's next: Both Scott and Garza figure to feature prominently in the immediate future in terms of Lio Rush and the cruiserweight championship, but don't be surprised to see Garza step into the North American championship picture as the calendar turns over to 2020.