WWE’s developmental NXT brand kicked off Royal Rumble weekend with their first TakeOver event of 2019. While it was only five matches, they were jam-packed with storylines that included four titles on the line and one grudge match. How did it go? Here are my thoughts on the NXT TakeOver: Phoenix.

For the reviews, I’ll go over some parts of the match, give the thoughts on each match with a grade included.

NXT Tag Team Championship – War Raiders def. The Undisputed Era (c)

Credit: WWE.com

Grade: A

The show opener saw War Raiders challenge The Undisputed Era for the NXT Tag Team Championships. The match and story were simple. Can the smaller sized Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong take down the powerful Hanson and Rowe? In the early stages, we saw UE separate the Raiders and slowing down their momentum. A hot tag to Hanson got the crowd going after showing off his combined size and agility after a cartwheel lariat and bronco buster. The early part was slow but the ending really picked up after the hot tag.

Each team broke up deciding pins, which got the crowd really involved in this match. O’Reilly and Strong superplex/flying knee drop combo only managed a two-count to Hanson. The champions tried their high-low finisher, but Hanson kicked out once again, igniting a “this is awesome” chant from the crowd. A handspring double back elbow from Hanson halted Strong and O’Reilly’s momentum and their Fallout finisher earned them the titles.

This was a great opener, showing the athletic ability both of these teams have without exciting action throughout. A War Raiders win gives a fresh light on to NXT’s tag division showing that Hanson and Rowe are one of the next big things for the yellow brand. Like I said on my predictions, will likely see Strong and O’Reilly get a rematch for the titles but this could be the startup to their eventual main roster call-up.

Matt Riddle def. Kassius Ohno

Credit: WWE.com

Grade: B-

There is no doubt that Matt Riddle signing with NXT was huge for the company and they have huge plans for him in 2019. Tired of seeing constant new signees getting the spotlight, veteran Kassius Ohno looked to stop the hype of Riddle.

Riddle took the fight to Ohno right out of the gate, firing off with a series of strikes and a running senton. The veteran Ohno used the ring apron to blind his opponent and gain control. Riddle tried to come back but Ohno unloaded with a series of back fists. The Knockout Artist continued his assault and sent Riddle into the ring post and then the steel steps.

Ohno attempted a senton, but Riddle caught him and put him in a rear-ended chokehold. After grabbing the ropes to break the hold, an angered Riddle hit Ohno with a knee to the face and delivered a suplex. He mounted on his opponent’s back and obliterated him with a series of forearms to the head and neck area, which forced Ohno to tap.

The all-fun “bro” and flip-flop wearing superstar showed a different side of Riddle once the bell rang. It shows that there is more to him than just having fun. Weeks of rage resulted in a pretty great debut match for Riddle. The match wasn’t pretty, but it is a good start for The King of Bros.

NXT North American Championship – Johnny Gargano def. Ricochet (c)

Credit: WWE.com

Grade: A+

Johnny Gargano was unsuccessful when it came to winning a title in 2018 and looked to start off on the right note against North American Champion Ricochet. A wave of reversals and counters at the beginning from Ricochet left Gargano shocked and frustrated from the beginning. Ricochet’s greatest ability is his aerial offense and Gargano’s best way to win was to stop that entirely.

Ricochet somersaulted into a sit-out powerbomb from Gargano which followed with a cross-face. The champion then countered a Gargano slingshot DDT that sent him to the floor. After action on the outside, Gargano sat Ricochet up the top rope for head scissors attempt, but Ricochet landed on his feet, igniting the crowd.

Later on in the match, Gargano was clearly getting frustrated so he decided to remove the mat from the arena floor. At first, he went against it but decided that this could possibly be the only way to win his first NXT singles gold. Gargano delivered a brainbuster on the concrete floor and delivered the springboard DDT to score the victory.

While it was the third match of the night, this was the best match throughout the night. The athleticism and agility by both Gargano and Ricochet were outstanding, which could be expected from these two. It may be early, but this is already a candidate for Match of the Year. Gargano went full heel by using the exposed mat to earn the North American Title. It’ll be interesting to see what the plan is now heading into the next NXT TakeOver.

NXT Women’s Championship – Shayna Baszler (c) def. Bianca Belair

Credit: WWE.com

Grade: A-

Bianca Belair came into Phoneix undefeated and ready to earn her first championship in NXT. She had a tough task as she went up against the dominate Shayna Baszler. Belair seemed unfazed by what damage Baszler has done to her past opponents as the match was about to begin.

Baszler used Belair’s trademark ponytail to pull her shoulder-first into the ring post. She then targeted the arm of her challenger, gaining control early. She continued her attack on the arm by stomping on it. She started to get overconfident as Belair slapped and started a comeback that included a spear. Still in pain from earlier, Belair used her ponytail as a whip that left Baszler writhing, leaving a sound that echoed in the arena.

A ref bump allowed Baszler’s friends Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir hit the ring, but Belair deflected them immediately. Belair scaled the ropes, but Duke interfered once again. She kicked her out of the way and tried for a 450 splash but got out of the way and applied the choke. After trying to fight it out multiple times, she fell to the crowd and did not move.  The referee called for the bell and Baszler was awarded the victory.

The booking was perfect here. Belair is looked at as the future of the NXT Women’s division and had a tough task ahead in Baszler. Even after vicious attacks early on and interference from Duke and Shafir, Belair continued to fight. Another thing to look at was that she never technically tapped. Despite a loss, this was a good start in her NXT career. As for Baszler, it was another great match for her and shows that NXT is planning on keeping her around for a little while longer.

NXT Championship – Tommaso Ciampa (c) def. Aleister Black

Credit: WWE.com

Grade: A-

Tommaso Ciampa won the NXT Championship last summer under controversy. Saturday night, Aleister Black was seeking revenge and to become a two-time NXT Championship.

Black seized controlled early with a series of strikes and a kick to the chest. Ciampa delivered a nasty suplex at ringside to halt the momentum, crashing his knees into the ring steps. Ciampa worked on the injured leg and wrapped it around the ring post. The champion was on top of the rope, looking to continue the momentum when Black caught him with a big kick from out of nowhere that sent both men to the floor.

Unsuccessfully attempted finishers from both allowed Ciampa to hit a clothesline to the back of his head, only for Black answered with a German suplex for two. Later in the match, Ciampa pulled the mats from ringside. A discussion between him and the referee allowed Black to seize an opening and deliver a double knee. Black delivered Black Mass back in the ring, but Ciampa rolled to his stomach to prevent a pin. A DDT and three Fairy Tale Endings later allowed Ciampa to retain the title.

There were no big high spots or high-flying offense like previous matches. Rather, this was a good psychological wrestling match that told a story. Kudos to both men putting on something different here. A great match between the two to end the night.

Overall

An interesting note here. After the match, as Ciampa made his way up the ramp, Gargano appeared and stood side-by-side with his former partner and year-long rival. As the show ended, you see Velveteen Dream come out to confront them both. This followed by Adam Cole making an appearance as well as Black making a return up the ramp. That situation right there was an interesting way to end NXT TakeOver: Phoenix. Those six guys right now are the top stars of NXT and hopefully, we can see them all in one match together before they go their separate ways on the main roster.

As for the show, it was a solid way to open the New Year. 2018 was a great year for the TakeOver events and 2019 will look to follow suit. Johnny Gargano vs. Ricochet stole the show, while the tag team opener I believe is one of the best NXT has had. Overall, a great showing for the developmental brand. The next NXT TakeOver is scheduled for WrestleMania weekend with NXT TakeOver: New York.

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