A star was born at TakeOver: WarGames.
Somehow, in a WarGames match that contained Adam Cole, Pete Dunne and Kyle O’Reilly, the standout performer was former NFL player Pat McAfee. He was nothing short of brilliant, and his high spots are the ones that will long define this match.
In only the second match of his career, McAfee again showed that he is much more than just a mouthpiece. He proved at WarGames he can tell a story against multiple opponents, present legitimate realism through his physicality, and whether it’s moonsaults or swantons off the top of the cage, his ability to take off and fly adds another dynamic element to NXT.
Sunday’s TakeOver event was built around the WarGames match, a caged two-ring no disqualification affair. WarGames does not officially begin until all participants have entered the ring, so it is an especially daunting challenge for the wrestlers to hold their audience’s attention for the majority of the match even though a finish is not yet in play. That was not an issue in either WarGames match. The show opened with the women’s WarGames, then closed with the men’s WarGames in the main event—and both delivered the best WarGames matches since NXT rebooted the concept in 2017.
Here are the results:
-- Team Candice defeated Team Shotzi in a WarGames match
-- Tommaso Ciampa defeated Timothy Thatcher
-- Dexter Lumis defeated Cameron Grimes in a strap match
-- Johnny Gargano won the North American Championship in a triple threat match against Leon Ruff and Damian Priest
-- The Undisputed Era defeated Team McAfee in a WarGames match
WarGames is an inherently difficult match because it is designed for dangerous spots. That was on display in the women’s match, most noticeably with Io Shirai jumping off the top of the cage with a garbage can over her head. Other brutal spots included Shotzi Blackheart jumping off a ladder onto Candice LeRae, who was sandwiched by steel chairs above and below her, as well as Ember Moon hitting Dakota Kai with an Eclipse off the top rope and onto a chair. This was such a physical encounter, and hopefully, word does not come out on Monday that anyone suffered broken bones.
The finish saw Raquel Gonzalez choke-slam Shirai off the cage and onto a ladder. Out of all the potential closing sequences, Gonzalez pinning Shirai was a big surprise. That finish sets up a program between Shirai and Gonzalez, which is an incredible platform for Gonzalez. It is also perfect for Shirai, as this gives her a bigger opponent to slay—and keeps Dakota Kai closely involved in the title picture.
Although it is operating in AEW’s shadow in terms of buzz and notoriety, NXT has been on a real hot streak. TakeOver shows benefit from their succinct five-match cards, and the order of the matches was also strong, beginning with the women’s WarGames match. That was 35 minutes of nonstop action, and it was wisely followed by a mat-based, stiff wrestling contest pitting Tommaso Ciampa against Timothy Thatcher. I am not sure Thatcher will ever be a fit for the main roster, which is a brand of wrestling that does not often present technical wrestlers in boots and trunks in the right manner, but he is perfect in NXT. A bloodied Thatcher lost the battle against Ciampa, an NXT cornerstone, but this feud, as evidenced by their post-match stare down, is set to continue. A prolonged program, with Thatcher eventually winning, will significantly elevate his status in NXT.
Not all of the winners had their hands raised at TakeOver. Dexter Lumis defeated Cameron Grimes in a strap match, but this was another brilliant performance by Grimes. In a world of larger-than-life figures and oversized personalities, Grimes plays an outlandish character yet still comes across as authentic and real. He is quickly establishing himself as one of wrestling’s best villains, and it is a massive accomplishment for Grimes to remain so relevant on this card despite the loss.
While on the subject of losses, Leon Ruff dropped the North American Championship to Johnny Gargano. This was a triple threat match that included Damian Priest, and it was one of the best performances for both Priest and Ruff in NXT, which is another credit to Gargano’s ability to make his opponents shine. The match was action-packed but diluted by nonstop outside interference. Priest was supposed to look superhuman while knocking out a plethora of masked wrestlers wearing their Scream masks, but there was an overreliance on that storyline. Fortunately, it hit its climax when Austin Theory revealed himself as the one that knocked out Priest.
It was also no mistake that Gargano was wearing Cleveland Browns colored tights. Just like his beloved Browns had a signature win earlier in the day, Gargano now adds another North American title reign to his collection. Ruff’s run with the belt was short, but it was designed to make him a player in NXT, which was successful. And Gargano regaining the belt is a solid touch, as it gives NXT a collection of singles champions—Finn Balor, Shirai, Gargano, and Santos Escobar—unlike any other promotion in wrestling.
There is a limited in-person crowd at the Capital Wrestling Center, which provides some real-life energy to the wrestlers in the ring. Unfortunately, the viewing audience is dealing with far too much piped-in crowd noise. There were moments during the main event when the artificial noise was subdued, but it was far too distracting throughout the evening.
The tell that Undisputed Era was going over in the main event happened after Gargano reclaimed the North American Championship. It was unlikely that NXT was going to book back-to-back villains to win the final two matches of the night, but a victory by the Undisputed Era is the right call. Having Kyle O’Reilly pin Oney Lorcan should lead to a series of tag title matches pitting the Kings of NXT against O’Reilly and Bobby Fish. Losing also gives McAfee and Dunne more incentive in their story against Adam Cole. McAfee will eventually get retribution on Cole, and Dunne remains my pick to eventually dethrone Finn Balor.
Ultimately, TakeOver: WarGames continues a very high standard of pro wrestling in NXT.