On paper, NXT TakeOver: Portland had all the makings of a great show. It took exactly one match -- a staggering display between Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic -- to prove those expectations were not misplaced. Throughout the night, everyone featured on the card proved how strong the current NXT roster is.
It was a night in which it would've been wise for everyone to watch their backs. First, it was Raquel Gonzalez attacking Tegan Nox to help Dakota Kai win her street fight. Then, Charlotte Flair came charging in after the NXT women's championship match, declaring her intentions to face Rhea Ripley for that title at WrestleMania 36.
And in the evening's main event, after the Undisputed Era predictably made their way to ringside to try to help Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano brought everything full circle by attacking Tommaso Ciampa with the NXT championship belt. This after Gargano lost a thrilling match of his own against Finn Balor.
Throw in a tag team title change for the white-hot, recently cobbled-together pair of Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne, and Sunday night proved to be a pivotal one in the history of NXT. With only a month and a half until WrestleMania weekend and TakeOver: Tampa, NXT has shifted into high gear.
This file was updated in real time. (c) - indicates defending champion(s)
NXT championship: Adam Cole (c) def. Tommaso Ciampa
Eleven months ago, Tommaso Ciampa had to relinquish the NXT championship that he had held for over 200 days, short-circuiting a historic match for WrestleMania weekend in New York against Johnny Gargano.
Ciampa needed fusion surgery on his neck, and his future was uncertain. During that time, Gargano and Adam Cole traded title reigns in what would be the NXT rivalry of the year. Once Ciampa returned to the ring, he shifted his focus from his old teammate and rival in Gargano to a new target in Cole. From his performance in and out of the ring Sunday night, you wouldn't know Ciampa was less than a year removed from such a serious injury, and it appeared at several points as though it could be his night to close the circle and regain his title.
But as wrestling often goes, there was heartbreak at the end of the line. With the referee knocked out, Gargano appeared at ringside and betrayed Ciampa by smashing him in the face with the title -- reigniting their rivalry and saving the Undisputed Era from losing their last grip on championship gold.
As far as the match itself and everything that led up to that moment, Ciampa seemed to have Cole's number in the early going until a frankly devastating maneuver flipped the script and brought the crowd to an eerie silence. A wheelbarrow suplex sent Ciampa neck- (and back-) first into the edge of the announcer's table. Just like that, Cole was in complete control.
The story shifted from Cole's inability to get going to Ciampa's attempts to fight through an injury to his surgically repaired neck. While Ciampa wasn't as dominant as he was in the early stages of the match, he continued to battle valiantly. He nearly put the match away when he turned a torture rack into a sit-down powerbomb. He came even closer when he hit an air raid crash from the middle rope. Neither of those moves were enough to put Cole away.
Ciampa continued to take his offense to another level. On the outside of the ring, he powerbombed Cole onto the announcers table. The table didn't budge. It broke the second time, though. Following that and a Project Ciampa powerbomb/backbreaker combination inside the ring, Cole still kicked out as the crowd rose to its feet and "Fight forever" chants broke out.
The worn-out combatants continued to trade near falls, and just when it seemed Cole had the match in the bag with a Last Shot knee strike, Ciampa rolled under the ropes to avoid a pinfall attempt. It was there where he was able to goad Cole into another air raid crash, this time on the ring apron.
Cole eventually came back with a vengeance, successfully landing a Panama Sunrise flipping piledriver on the outside of the ring. Even as Ciampa continued to fight, the rest of the Undisputed Era appeared at that point, and Fish and O'Reilly caught Ciampa with the high-low on the outside of the ring as the referee was distracted by Roderick Strong. After taking out everyone at ringside, Ciampa kicked out of two ensuing pinfall attempts -- the second after yet another Last Shot knee strike.
As the match neared its conclusion, Ciampa accidentally shoved Cole into the referee, who was then down and out. They traded low blows, and Ciampa hit another Fairy Tale ending, but there was no referee to count. Finally, Ciampa got some backup, or so he thought, when Gargano appeared at ringside. However, Gargano wasn't there to assist his longtime friend-turned-rival-turned-friend-again. Instead, Gargano bashed Ciampa in the head with the NXT championship, sending Cole on to victory.
What goes around comes around. Ciampa was responsible for NXT's biggest heel turn ever, back in 2017 at TakeOver: Chicago, when he turned on Gargano and became the premier villain in NXT. This time, the roles have been reversed and another roller-coaster ride appears to be in store. As for Cole, it remains to be seen whether Gargano and Ciampa will be in the title picture, or if another challenger will step up to the plate. A triple threat for the NXT championship seems as likely a scenario as any right now, but we'll have to see how it all plays out.
NXT tag team championships: The Broserweights (Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne) def. Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly) (c)
The unlikely duo of Pete Dunne and Matt Riddle caught fire as a makeshift team in this year's Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Not only did the audience instantly take to them as a team, but they won the whole tournament and gelled as a team in record time.
They reached an entirely different level Sunday in Portland by winning the NXT tag team titles from the three-time tag champs, The Undisputed Era.
The brawl began on the entrance ramp when Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish got tired of hearing Riddle ridicule them on the microphone with their fish-based rhymes. But things got serious in a hurry.
The challengers controlled the bout early on, highlighted by multiple gut-wrench suplexes by Riddle to Fish, followed by a Dunne-assisted corkscrew moonsault. Dunne continued the early onslaught by utilizing his patented joint manipulation methods.
The champs gained control soon thereafter, though, with quick tags and classic tag team wrestling -- isolating Dunne and wearing him down. But before too long, the hot tag was made, and Riddle began to clean house by using his educated feet and multiple suplexes. Despite neither team appearing to show much in the way of damage for very long, the crowd was completely invested in the match.
Toward the latter half of the match, O'Reilly got a chance to show off his submission skills, trading holds with Dunne several times over. Eventually, O'Reilly had a sharpshooter locked in on Dunne while Fish had a rear naked choke on Riddle. Riddle single-handedly broke up both holds by kneeing O'Reilly in the face and falling back on Fish in one of the most memorable sequences in the match.
Miscommunication almost cost the challengers when Riddle accidentally speared Dunne, but Fish and O'Reilly were unable to put the nail in the coffin. That came back to haunt the Undisputed Era, as Riddle and Dunne executed a series of double-team maneuvers of their own -- culminating with a modified "Bro"-to-Sleep in which Riddle and Dunne both connected with knee strikes to Fish to seal their victory.
This was the end of a nearly 200-day reign for the Undisputed Era. A rematch would seem to be in order, as the tag team division in NXT is a bit thin. Over the next couple of months, it would be nice to see some more attention paid to developing the next generation of tag teams in NXT.
NXT women's championship: Rhea Ripley (c) def. Bianca Belair
Rhea Ripley's WWE career thus far has been a revelation. After participating in the first two Mae Young Classic tournaments, Ripley became the inaugural NXT UK women's champion in 2018. A little over a year later, she became the NXT women's champion while opening a lot of eyes at last year's Survivor Series event as one of the sole survivors for team NXT.
It's only getting better for Ripley, too. After recent appearances on Monday Night Raw to confront 2020 Royal Rumble winner Charlotte Flair, Ripley was granted her wish by Flair on Sunday night -- albeit it in a way she might not have preferred.
Back to the match at hand, Bianca Belair stood toe-to-toe with Ripley as both fast-rising young performers enjoyed a showcase against one another with the title on the line. Ripley had things going early on, connecting with a couple of short-arm clotheslines, a dropkick and a few stiff chops. Belair responded with a perfectly executed standing moonsault of her own.
The first big move of the match came when Ripley set Belair up in the electric chair drop position and dropped Belair face-first on the mat. The match really began to pick up steam when Belair placed Ripley on the top turnbuckle and the two began to viciously slap each other, culminating with a braid whip by Belair. Belair continued that momentum when she back-body-dropped Ripley high over the top rope to the outside and executed a somersault plancha over the top rope onto the champion.
However, it wasn't enough. As the two battled back inside the ring, Ripley caught Belair in the pump handle position from the middle rope, hit the Riptide suplex and retained her championship.
After the match, Flair blindsided Ripley and confirmed that she officially accepted Ripley's WrestleMania challenge. She tossed Belair into the ring steps for good measure on her way out.
Well, we know what's next for Ripley: She'll take on Flair in a top tier WrestleMania match with the NXT women's championship on the line. Belair's situation is a curious one. She could well have business with Flair to settle, as well, so it will be interesting to see if she fights her way into the WrestleMania match. At the very least, it wouldn't be surprising to see Flair pop up regularly on NXT TV over the next two months, and perhaps we might even get Flair vs. Belair one-on-one, which would be great fun.
Finn Balor def. Johnny Gargano
If a Mount Rushmore of NXT were to be created, Finn Balor and Johnny Gargano would unquestionably be two of the four faces featured. Balor, who once held the NXT championship for nearly 300 days, was an integral piece of the brand in its early days. Gargano, often referred to as "Johnny TakeOver" has arguably been the face ever since.
The now villainous Balor collided with Gargano on Sunday night in Portland, and while it was a feeling-out process early on -- as Nigel McGuinness predicted on commentary as the match began -- they did not disappoint by the time all was said and done.
Each sequence seemingly picked up in pace and built upon the previous one, and Gargano kicked it all off when he speared Balor on the ring apron. Balor responded, however, with a sling blade on the outside of the ring and a vicious knee strike to the jaw.
Psychology came into play a little later in the match when Gargano targeted Balor's left arm, looking to soften it up for his Gargano escape submission. Two could play that game, though, and Balor responded by creating a bull's-eye of his own on Gargano's left leg as he went to town on it.
A determined Gargano fought through the pain as the fight trickled to the outside of the ring, hitting a rolling senton off the ring apron onto Balor and following it up with a slingshot spear back inside the ring. Shortly thereafter, he tossed Balor like a lawn dart into the middle turnbuckle and connected with a slingshot DDT. None of those offensive efforts were enough to keep Balor down for the count of three, though.
The two continued to trade impressive striking advantages much to the crowd's delight as Portland was split down the middle chanting, "Let's go, Balor" and, "Johnny Wrestling."
Balor seemed poised to put the match away, but as Balor initially lined up his finishing sequence, Gargano escaped both times and locked in his Gargano Escape submission. Balor broke the hold with the help of the ring ropes and slid to the outside of the ring. There, he was met with a Gargano dropkick into the guardrail, but as Gargano began to clear off the announcers table for use, Balor dropped him stomach-first on top of a monitor. Balor followed that off by drop-kicking Gargano off the table and into a different guardrail, and that was the beginning of the end.
Balor tossed Gargano back in the ring and hit the Coup de Grace and then 1916 DDT for the win. He then rubbed salt in the wound by refusing to step off of Gargano for several moments after the match.
Following a major win like that, an opportunity at championship gold would seem to be in Balor's future, whether it be the North American or NXT championship. Gargano's immediate direction is up in the air, but the beloved cornerstone of the brand should be back on his feet before too long. For now, it seems like an opportunity at contemplation.
Street fight: Dakota Kai def. Tegan Nox
Dakota Kai did the unthinkable at last year's TakeOver: War Games event when the consummate babyface turned on longtime friend and "Team Kick" ally Tegan Nox in ruthless fashion. Since that time, Nox has been out for revenge, and while she has gotten a measure of it recently on NXT TV, this combustible rivalry reached its boiling point tonight in a street fight.
In fact, it reached that level before the match even started. As Nox was making her entrance, she was blindsided by Kai, and the two battled their way into the ring for the official start of the match and didn't hold back.
In one of the early spots of the match, Nox placed a trash can over Kai, who was sitting in front of the steel stairs. Nox then executed a running inverted senton splash onto the trash can-covered Kai. Another trash can would come into play a bit later when Nox German suplexed Kai back- and neck-first on top of one.
Shortly after, Nox connected with a Molly Holly-inspired Molly-go-round from the top rope, but she was able to muster only a two-count.
Kai got her share of offense in, as well, some of it aided by a roll of duct tape, which she used to secure Nox to one of the ring posts long enough to hit one of her patented running kicks.
Nox countered Kai's duct tape tactic with a much more effective steel chain, which she whipped into the stomach of Kai and pounded on Kai's knee. After that, Nox exclaimed, "I'm not done yet. I'm ending you."
Nox brought a table into the ring, placed Kai onto it and stuck her head in between a steel chair, looking to put an end to the conflict once and for all. However, as Nox ascended the top rope, she was unexpectedly attacked by Raquel (formerly Reina) Gonzalez. Gonzalez proceeded to toss Nox off the top rope onto the table -- which looked even more brutal when it didn't break -- and that allowed Kai to score the pinfall victory.
Kai seemed perplexed that Gonzalez made the save for her, so we'll get some more insight into that alliance in the coming weeks. But tensions between Kai and Nox seem far from over.
NXT North American championship: Keith Lee (c) def. Dominik Dijakovic
To say Keith Lee's WWE stock is rising would be a tremendous understatement. In addition to feature spots at Survivor Series in late 2019 and January's Royal Rumble match (which included a memorable encounter with WWE champion Brock Lesnar), Lee won his first championship under the WWE umbrella when he defeated Roderick Strong for the NXT North American championship.
In Lee's first televised title defense, he was met with a familiar foe with whom he has battled for years on numerous stages and over a year on NXT TV. But this was far and away their biggest stage against one another, and, simply put, this was the perfect match to open the show if the goal was to get the crowd going. Portland absolutely loved it, and with good reason.
After an intense stare-down, the match began with quick counters and an ultra-impressive hurricanrana by the 300-plus-pound Lee. After some strike-heavy offense by Dijakovic, Lee then executed a standing German suplex. Lee was on his game.
However, after a cyclone kick and a corkscrew moonsault off the top rope, the 6-foot-7 Dijakovic was right back in it and imposing his will. Dijakovic continued to utilize the turnbuckle, though, as he connected with a death valley driver off the middle rope onto Lee.
The back and forth affair became strike-heavy again on the outside of the ring when Lee beckoned the crowd for silence, got it, and then double-open-hand slapped Dijakovic on his chest twice. Lee had the crowd in the palm of his hands.
Dijakovic fired back with the spot of the match. After super kicking Lee onto one of the commentator's chairs near ringside, Dijakovic then hit a springboard plancha from inside of the ring onto the sitting Lee. The crowd erupted.
We reached the "fight forever"-chant portion of the match back in the ring when Dijakovic narrowly kicked out of two Keith Lee spirit bombs. Not to be outdone, Lee proceeded to kick out of a Spanish fly that Dijakovic hit from off the top rope. Lee recovered and delivered his patented Ground Zero fireman's carry power slam for the win. Afterward, the two rivals embraced in a show of respect, and Lee even helped an exhausted Dijakovic to the top rope for a postmatch celebration.
This match sent a clear message to the rest of the TakeOver: Portland card: Good luck following that.
After a brilliant match, it's time for a new contender to step up to the plate and battle Lee for the North American championship. Names such as Finn Balor and Killian Dain, among others, come to mind. Dijakovic might have to take some time to put himself back into title competition, but NXT's deep talent roster has plenty of options.