For the past three years, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn has kicked off SummerSlam weekend at the Barclays Center by setting a tremendously high bar for everything that has to follow it. From Sasha Banks and Bayley, to Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe, to Asuka and Ember Moon and many more, the men and women of NXT bring it to an event that's essentially become its WrestleMania.
This time around, NXT is riding a tremendous wave of momentum, coming off next-level performances across the board in New Orleans and Chicago. There are four title matches on the card, headlined by a third grudge match -- this time in a Last Man Standing format -- as Tommaso Ciampa defends his newly won NXT championship against Johnny Gargano. Tim Fiorvanti is live at Barclays Center to recap the action, with Sean Coyle offering a variety of contributions including match ratings throughout the night.
Last man standing match for the NXT championship: Tommaso Ciampa (c) def. Johnny Gargano
By becoming everything that he hated, Johnny Gargano lost everything when it appeared as though his moment of triumph was inevitable.
In the long and winding story that is Tommaso Ciampa versus Johnny Gargano, Gargano has now lost everything. Now the journey to redemption can begin.
For Saturday night, however, Ciampa made good on his guarantee and crushed the dreams of his longtime foe, leaving a disappointed crowd to boo the defending champion to a deafening degree and bring this particular chapter of this epic story to a dramatic, unexpected close.
It seemed so promising for Gargano at many different points in the match. Before Kayla Braxton could even finish her introduction of Ciampa before the match, Gargano was on him and swinging his arms from every angle imaginable.
Ciampa struck first when he sent Gargano back-first into the steel stairs. Ciampa went for the stairs again, but Gargano flipped it around, threw Ciampa into the barricade a few times, and then pulled the bottom level of the steel steps further out from the ring.
Gargano, similarly to previous encounters, pulled the foam mat up and exposed the concrete floor at ringside. That didn't immediately come into play. Instead, each swung for big moves and missed, though Gargano ultimately gained an advantage. Commentator Percy Watson barely got out of the way in time as Gargano threw Ciampa over the commentary table, but Ciampa got the better of it when, reminiscent of several key moments in this rivalry, he hit a running White Noise from the English commentary table through the Spanish commentary table.
Ciampa hit a running knee, but upon trying to hit a second, Gargano got a chair up to absorb the blow. Then Gargano hit Ciampa with the chair. Repeatedly. An attempt at a lawn dart into a steel chair wedge between two turnbuckles went sideways, and as Ciampa locked in a headlock and used the ropes for leverage, "Johnny Wrestling" and "Psycho Killer" chants were shockingly even at the Barclays Center.
Gargano fought off another count from the referee, only for Ciampa to immediately slap a sleeper back on to try to wear down his title challenger. As the crowd started a very-much-not-PG chant toward Ciampa, Gargano obliged his supporters by successfully nailing the lawn dart through the corner steel chair to get Ciampa off his feet and in peril for the first time all match.
As Ciampa scrambled, Gargano pulled out a couple of tables, set one up on top of another, and then tried to suplex Ciampa out of the ring and through his contraption. Action spilled back into the ring, as Ciampa nailed a chain of German suplexes, which ended in a straight-jacket variant that left Gargano reeling and in perfect position for another exposed running knee.
Ciampa returned the favor with a series of malicious chair shots, and as they stared into each other's eyes, Ciampa took a full wind-up and rapped Gargano on the back. A few Project Ciampas (powerbomb lungblowers) later, Ciampa set up a steel chair in the middle of the ring, sat comfortably, and waited for Gargano to get counted out.
At nine, Gargano popped up with all the remaining energy he could muster and hit a low superkick that sent Ciampa spilling backward off his perch. Gargano eventually lined up for his outside-in spear, countered an angel's wings into a head scissors and eventually won the scramble with a German suplex.
It took three clotheslines, back-to-back, for them to take each other out, and when they popped back up to their feet, they punched each other silly, kicked each other silly, kneed each other silly ... well, you get the point.
The two exhausted combatants both struggled to get to their feet, and action spilled back to the outside. Gargano went for another running somersault from the apron and Ciampa waved him by. Ciampa then took all of the air out of the building with an angel's wings that brought Gargano crashing down facefirst into the long-forgotten steel steps.
Gargano used the retaining wall to prop himself up, but he appeared to be in dire straits at this moment. Ciampa cut away the plastic ties holding the foam mats down to the plywood boards in the ring -- leaving a big section of the ring exposed. Then he pulled back a second section, leaving even more boards out there. Just as Ciampa seemed poised to strike, Gargano used a fire extinguisher to blind Ciampa, pulled out a crutch and left it sitting on his shoulder.
Each full-bodied swing left another part of the crutch to go flying, but Ciampa had Gargano on the ropes on the apron. He waved bye-bye to Gargano, only for Gargano to hop from the outside in to DDT Ciampa on the exposed boards.
Ciampa rolled out of the ring to stand before the 10-count, but Gargano followed up immediately by a suicide dive to the ramp side of the ring, followed by another to the commentary side of the ring.
Ciampa slid out of the way and Gargano accidentally superkicked a member of the ring crew. In the chaos, Ciampa sent Gargano headfirst into a monitor on the commentary table and then hit yet another running knee that sent a chair into Gargano's face. Ciampa then buried Gargano under the fallen ring crew member, a chair and a pile of gear, but Gargano dug his way out just in time.
Ciampa pulled out a set of handcuffs to return the favor from what Gargano did to him in their previous match, but Gargano managed to lock one hand of Ciampa's in the handcuffs. They battled back and forth on the apron, and the pair of tables finally came into play. Gargano superkicked Ciampa off the apron and through the tables on top of one another -- only for Ciampa to use the ever-present crutch to push himself up to his feet at the count of nine. Gargano stared down at a hobbled Ciampa from the ring and chased Ciampa up the ramp.
Gargano kicked out the crutch that was supporting Ciampa's weight and, finally, after multiple occasions in which Ciampa had done the same to him, Gargano sent Ciampa headfirst into the video board.
After locking in the Gargano escape to weaken his opponent, he handcuffed Ciampa to one of the video boards and then superkicked Ciampa's head into that board. They went nose-to-nose, yelled at each other, and then Gargano hit a second superkick. And then a third. As Ciampa struggled to get to his feet, begging for mercy and apologizing, Gargano exorcised the last of his demons by setting up for one last kick. In the spirit of the #DIY finisher, Gargano lined up one final kick. But Ciampa tried to get in his ear.
In the moment to summon his killer instinct, Gargano lowered his kneepad and smashed Ciampa's head into the video board -- only to stumble off the stage and hurt his knee, preventing him from standing back up.
When the referee got to a nine-count, Ciampa flung his feet off the stage and did just enough to stand -- but Gargano could not do the same. As the broadcast faded to black, Ciampa held his title aloft and stared down Gargano. In the world of professional wrestling, there's always another chapter -- but for now, Gargano's cause seems a lost one.
Sometimes, to make the redeeming moment special, the villain has to win.
NXT women's championship: Kairi Sane def. Shayna Baszler (c)
Shayna Baszler has been a dominant force since arriving in NXT and her NXT women's championship reign has been unblemished.
Enter Kairi Sane. Sane is the only superstar to hold a pinfall victory over Baszler under the WWE umbrella. She defeated Baszler in the inaugural Mae Young Classic final and looked to take her career to new heights at TakeOver by doing it one more time.
With Baszler's four horsewomen allies at ringside, the match began with Sane surprisingly grabbing the early grappling advantage. Sane reverted back to her game plan, however, with a head scissors takedown and some stiff chops. But with one kick to Sane's left knee, Baszler found her target.
The champion continued to put pressure on Sane's knee via stomps and submissions despite the gritty challenger's attempts to break free.
With adrenaline kicking in and the crowd getting behind her, Sane rose to her feet screaming in anger. She assaulted Baszler with strikes and a couple of neckbreakers. However, as Sane climbed to the top rope, Baszler caught her with a kick and a gut wrench suplex.
At a stalemate at this point, the two traded forearms as they rose to their feet. After a vicious knee to Sane's face, the challenger was able to recover and deliver her interceptor spear out of nowhere and one of her patented elbow drops. As Baszler rolled to the outside of the ring, Sane flew again, this time with a cross-body block to the outside. She rolled the champ back inside the ring and hit another Insane Elbow drop off the top rope, but the resilient champion kicked out.
The next sequence saw Sane attempt to lock in her anchor submission hold, but Bazler reversed it into the Kirifuda clutch. Somehow Sane wiggled herself to the ropes to break the hold. Baszler then began to once again target the left leg of Sane with a leg lock, but Sane broke free yet again. She hit Baszler with an Alabama Slam and tried to hit a third Insane elbow off the top rope, but Baszler lifted her feet up to block the elbow.
Immediately after the block, Baszler locked in the Kirifuda clutch, but Sane rolled backward, trapping Baszler in a pinfall situation, and won the match in sudden fashion.
Outside of a wonderful moment in Sane's career and her upcoming direction in NXT, the biggest question coming out of this match is Baszler's future. The loss would seem to indicate that a main roster call-up is imminent. Will Baszler join close friend Ronda Rousey as the Evolution event draws closer? That seems like the likely scenario at this point.
NXT North American championship: Ricochet def. Adam Cole (c)
There are certain iconic moments in WWE history that follow superstars around from the moment they happen to the time they put their boots on for the final time.
Coming into the North American championship match between Adam Cole and Ricochet, it wouldn't have surprised many to know that the match would generate a number of shocking and potentially iconic moments. Few could've expected that both Cole and Ricochet would walk out of the Barclays Center on Saturday night with a move that will be in their highlight reels for the rest of time.
From the start of the match, there was a special feeling in the air. Neither man wanted to be the first to move, so they stood staring and yelling at each other from opposite corners of the ring. They circled for a moment, and from the moment they locked up the crowd felt like it was ready to explode with the slightest of triggers. An acrobatic showcase from Ricochet nearly led him straight into a superkick, only for Ricochet to avoid contact at the final moment.
Cole did everything in his power to slow the match down, but a double leg dropkick while Cole was in midair drew an audible "oh" from the crowd. Ricochet threatened on several occasions to hit some form of high-flying offense early on, but Cole kept him grounded by shoving Ricochet off the top turnbuckle and then into the ring barrier.
Cole never stopped talking to Ricochet throughout the match, insisting Ricochet wasn't special and taunting him every step along the way. Ricochet turned it around with a kick from the corner and another low dropkick and with a spinning front flip to the outside to take Cole out. Oh, and he landed on his feet.
Ricochet took over control and ran like crazy. He nailed a springboard European uppercut, missed a top rope moonsault only to spin over and hit a standing shooting star press, and then finished it all off with a phoenix splash ... but it was only good for two.
Most of Cole's biggest moments came from his counter-offense, as was the case when he caught Ricochet prone in midair and nailed him with a backstabber. The exchanges got more and more intense, as Ricochet caught a superkick attempt in midstrike and nailed a roaring elbow. His high-flying offense would come back to haunt him once again, though, as Ricochet was in mid-rotation in the air -- vertical and upside down -- when Cole nailed a superkick flush. Cole followed with a vertical suplex neckbreaker, but that, too, only earned a two-count.
After each dodged the other's signature offense, Cole hit a superkick and Ricochet instantly rolled into an enzuigiri. Cole landed on top for another two-count, to the delight of the crowd, and the match really started to pick up in its final minutes. Both guys struggled to get to their feet. Cole brought down his kneepad for a last shot as Ricochet pretended to be prone facing the wrong way in the middle of the ring. Ricochet ducked the knee, then hit a reverse spiking hurricanrana to spike Cole headfirst into the mat and set up for the 630. Cole slowly rolled to the opposite side of the ring.
With Cole holding onto the ring post from the apron, Ricochet leaped over the top rope, wrapped his legs around Cole's head and head-scissored Cole to the floor. Yes, it was as spectacular as you could possibly imagine.
Ricochet flung Cole back into the ring, set him up in the corner and then nailed the 630-splash to pick up the pinfall victory.
This result, while somewhat unexpected, opens up a world of possibilities moving forward. Cole and the Undisputed Era could continue their hostilities and few would complain. Cole could be the next one up to challenge for the NXT championship, and that'd make all the sense in the world. Heck, considering his Royal Rumble appearance and performances to this point, it really wouldn't be all that shocking to see Cole show up on Raw or SmackDown this week.
Regardless, having to live up to the expectations that come with an NXT TakeOver match -- let alone one between two guys with all of the talent in the world -- wasn't easy. Cole and Ricochet did so in a big, big way.
Velveteen Dream def. EC3
You'd be hard-pressed to find any more charismatic superstars on the NXT roster than EC3 and the Velveteen Dream. Both men thrive on their ability to tell stories and entertain, and the build to their budding rivalry has been simply entertaining.
Both were in need of a high-profile win entering TakeOver. Dream has won only one TakeOver match in four chances while EC3 was on the losing end of his only such match -- the six-person North American title ladder match in New Orleans. Who would begin his ascent up the NXT figurative ladder?
Donning a "Call Me Up Vince" message on his tights, Dream tried to get into the head of EC3 before the match began by throwing his entrance jacket in EC3's face, but EC3 didn't bite. As the match began, EC3 maintained an early advantage, overmatching Dream with his power. After a few sequences dominated by EC3, the biggest move of the early portion of the match occurred when, on the outside of the ring, Dream executed a twisting DDT onto the entrance ramp. He followed that up by tossing EC3 into the ring post to the crowd's delight.
As "Velveteen" chants filled the Barclays Center, Dream continued the punishment and targeted EC3's neck to capitalize on the earlier DDT highlighted by a Rick Rude-esque Rude Awakening neckbreaker.
The mind games continued on the outside of the ring as Dream tossed water in the face of EC3, but that angered EC3, who regained control inside the ring with a modified neckbreaker of his own and a headlock driver. Dream countered by slapping EC3, who came even more angered. After a sequence that saw EC3 nail a cross-body block from the top, he returned the favor and slapped Dream, then delivered two power bombs and later a superplex.
The crowd, firmly behind Dream, was ecstatic when Dream responded with a kick to the side of EC3's head and his Dream Valley Driver, but it wasn't enough to win him the match. Then in the most shocking move of the match, Dream took it to a whole new level by hitting the Dream Valley Driver on the ring apron and followed it with his Purple Rainmaker elbow drop. That was enough to keep EC3 down for the three-count.
The win likely gives Dream some momentum, but will that momentum propel him to the main roster as his tights indicated? Or will he pursue the NXT championship? Time will tell, but the future couldn't be brighter regardless.
NXT tag-team championships: Undisputed Era (c) def. Moustache Mountain
After trading the tag team titles back and forth in a pair of tremendous matches, the bar for the third match in this trilogy was set mighty high -- and all four men delivered. Though it appears that, for now, this chapter of Undisputed Era vs. Moustache Mountain is over, the hopes for revisiting this rivalry in the future are high.
Though the temptation in a high-stakes match such as this one is to fire on all cylinders from out of the gate, the pace was set to perfection from the opening bell and slowly ramped up to a thrilling conclusion.
Control swung back and forth in the early going, with dueling chants of "Undisputed" and "Moustache Mountain" roaring through Barclays Center. Tyler Bate came in like a house on fire and hit his double airplane spin on both Strong and O'Reilly, and as O'Reilly tried to fight his way out of it via sleeper, Bate hit a German suplex on Strong and squished O'Reilly while he was still sitting on Bate's back.
Quick tags, brutal strikes and more than one stinging clothesline allowed the Undisputed Era to keep Bate trapped in their corner -- culminating in Strong locking in a Gory Special submission and bending deep. Just as they'd worked over Seven's knee in their most recent title match, O'Reilly started working on Bate's left quad and knee, and Strong continued to increase the damage as they looked to mirror the effect. Bate used his one good leg to flip Strong headfirst over the top rope, tossed O'Reilly over the top rope elsewhere and Seven fought off several waves of underhanded tactics to finally tag in.
A bottom rope suicide dive kept Seven moving forward, and a one-armed powerbomb and a variety of suplexes left the Undisputed Era struggling to get back into the match. Once Strong got an inch of space he turned it around though, and O'Reilly ultimately got in and nailed a brainbuster on Seven to level things out. Chants continued to ring through the crowd in equal tone and volume for both teams, and a mad scramble led Strong to lock a Boston Crab in while O'Reilly put on a triangle choke on Bate.
In another enormous show of strength, Bate picked O'Reilly up with one hand, carried him halfway across the ring and powerbombed him into Strong to break the submission hold and earn a thunderous reaction. Bate hit an exploder suplex on O'Reilly, a tope over the top into O'Reilly and then a rebound clothesline on Strong on the outside. He appeared to have the match won for Moustache Mountain when he nailed the Tyler Driver 97 on Strong, only for Strong to kick out at two.
Strong and O'Reilly had one trick left up their sleeve as they continued to work on Bate's left knee to keep their advantage. O'Reilly locked in a heel hook in the center of the ring with nowhere for Mate to go, and he cried out in pain. As Seven tried to get in the ring to break it up, Strong pulled O'Reilly and Bate closer to their corner.
Just as Bate had done for him in the last match, Seven nearly threw in the towel to end the match, but Seven instead threw the towel into the crowd. After flipping Strong to the outside, Seven got the tag, hit the Seven Stars Lariat, but only got a two-count on O'Reilly. Strong was once again neutralized, Bate and Seven hit their tag team finisher, but that too was not enough as O'Reilly kicked out.
"Fight Forever" chants hit a near-deafening pitch as the match raced toward its conclusion.
Seven tried his best to fight off O'Reilly and Strong singlehandedly, but Strong and O'Reilly hit ReDRagon's finisher -- the leg sweep/clothesline combination -- to hold on to their titles. To leave little doubt as to what was next, the War Raiders climbed out from beneath the ring and laid waste to the tag team champions. Hanson was particularly impressive as the giant hit a suicide dive among a flurry of offense.
Needless to say, the future of the NXT tag team division remains bright.