NXT Takeovers are like Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. Like entries into the MCU, take any two entries in the Takeover canon at random and their cards will be designed and executed in relatively similar fashion. For the impassioned, enthused core fan base of the NXT brand, it is a formula that succeeds with astonishing consistency, even if it might lead to a more casual fan like myself to have something of a milder reaction to them than is now typical within the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC). Top of the list of those reactions to NXT Takeover: Chicago II from last night was that of the main event.
As discussed between myself and host of The Late Shift, Steve, on last night’s post-show LOP Radio podcast Aftershock, the thirty-five minute long Street Fight between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano was a match I stopped enjoying around ten minutes in. The reasons are myriad, and Steve and I delve into our individual reactions to the match with great depth on the podcast, but for the purpose of this column I will share only my central issue.
One of the basic fundamental elements to a good story is progression, of both narrative and, more importantly, of character. If someone were to pick up and read a 700 page book only to discover two thirds in that the central characters were in the exact same place emotionally, physically and literally as they were the start of the book, some would not consider that effective storytelling. Quite apart from the issues discussed on last night’s Aftershock, it was frustrating that, after a year of watching the Ciampa / Gargano story unfold, including over 70 minutes of ring time, the two characters ended last night emotionally, physically and quite literally in the exact same place they were a year ago.
That their latest chapter struck a chord with the fans is undeniable though, and certainly social media was awash with colourful praise for their latest epic. Further, and like normal, praise has been forthcoming for the show’s entirety. Another tremendous night for The Velveteen Dream saw Ricochet make his mark in his first prominent singles match for the company, Nikki Cross helped bring the character performer out of defending NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler in a straight-forward piece of character development and Aleistar Black defended his NXT Championship against Lars Sullivan in a fun match marred only by some unfortunate miscommunication at its climax.
For this writer, though, it was the match I was most looking forward to ahead of time (as detailed in my last column) that stole the show last night, as the unlikely championship-challenging team of Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, referred to often as the ‘Blue Collar Team,’ challenged The Undisputed Era for the gold.
Chicago II’s hot opener started off in traditional territory, looking like any other type of tag team match might. Indeed, even the crowd was prepared to play their traditional role of rebelling against the intended moral dynamic, cheering the villains and booing the heroes.
Thanks to the quality of what followed, it didn’t take long for them to forget such maverick tendencies.
Some beautifully creative sequences – Burch taking O’Reilly down face first by the ankle, for example – couple with imaginative set pieces – O’Reilly backing Lorcan towards the Era’s corner as he invites him to his canvas domain, knowing full well Lorcan will refuse, for example – to craft a first act as varied as it is characterful.
That opening third is defined by the Era’s first solid advantage, gained with team work as fluid as water, dealing out punishment as cold as the ice blue motif adorning their ring gear. The revolutionary will of the Blue Collar proves impossible to quell, though, in spite of the well oiled machinery of the champions, it is Burch’s attempts to fight his way back to his corner – all points of elbows and thudding headbutts – that begin the escalation. Gradual at first, that escalation eventually sees the match turn into an exclusive demonstration of both side’s heavy artillery and nothing else, increasing rapidly as act two explodes into life once Oney Lorcan is allowed to roll out his incredible firecracker-like hot tag routine.
From then on, the match becomes a Napoleonic-like battlefield, with cannonade acoustics reverberating off of a crowd turned from wilfully rebellious to wilfully immersed. From Lorcan being impaled on the edge of the ring to Burch withstanding some of the Era’s most creative double-team onslaughts, the action blasts its way across the screen fast, furious and unrelenting in a violent parade that powerfully evokes the central appeal of the Blue Collar: fighting spirit.
Fighting spirit becomes the core theme, in fact. When the match moves into its final third with Adam Cole being ejected from ringside, the performance allows the villainous champions to prove their own fighting spirit in the ring so as to underscore the fact that, though they might be arrogant and prone to shortcuts, they are immensely dangerous between the ropes. That their eventual win comes without a shortcut, without outside help, transforms what could have otherwise only been a statement performance for the Blue Collar into an effort that should rightfully put the champions as much on the map of NXT’s tag division historically as it should put the challengers on the tag scene currently.
Make no mistake, that’s exactly what Chicago II’s curtain jerker did. Lorcan and Burch’s story of becoming the Blue Collar team has benefited from its relative simplicity and brevity both. The two wrestled respect out of one another in a handful of stiff matches previously, before garnering a couple of big wins as a tandem in order to earn an unlikely title opportunity. Their resultant performance has demonstrated they have life as a duo, capable of appealing to a mass audience courtesy of what they do between the ropes. Though Chicago II’s tag title bout was perhaps not on that elite level of the likes of The Revival vs. DIY or American Alpha, that was the bar it seemed to very consciously strive for. It was in the struggle to reach it that both the Blue Collar and Undisputed Era revealed they have the potential, at least, to one day do just that. While I won’t expect Chicago II’s challengers to be carrying the title straps anytime soon – especially considering how deceptively stacked the NXT roster is right now – I hope they eventually find their way to the top of the division, or at the very least to WWE’s main roster.
Admittedly, the adrenaline rush of the match’s ‘slap-bang’ acoustics and rapidly escalating pace didn’t quite intoxicate as much on today’s re-watch as they did last night, but it remained as refreshing a tag match as it originally felt all the same. That tag wrestling in WWE this year thus far has been, to put it kindly, underwhelming, means that seeing a match actively pursue that Revival style was an immense pleasure. Had the match been less at pains to originate at the same time, I might not feel quite so strongly about it, but it was the balance between its ring literacy – demonstrating knowledge of the matches that so seemingly inspired their own – and the two teams looking to evolve what had come before – like referring to the famous Revival / DIY double submission spot, for instance, that this time was turned on its head with O’Reilly’s creative, animalistic manoeuvring on the canvas – that really has me thinking of it as Chicago II’s match of the night (as minority an opinion as that might be), and the best tag bout of the year thus far in WWE.
The raw, visceral, sinewy conflict between Undisputed Era and Blue Collar at Chicago II was a treat; one I had been looking forward to immensely because of its shared universe origins stemming out of the ongoing Roderick Strong / Pete Dunne rivalry, but one that nevertheless exceeded those expectations. While there was plenty on Chicago II’s card to satisfy fans of character-driven wrestling, for me the night – as popularly received as it was – peaked with its opening NXT Tag Team Championship Match, and it feels like it has been far too long since I’ve been able to state that.
But what about you? If you have any thoughts on NXT Takeover: Chicago II, or of any individual match of its card, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums; just click here to sign up!