NXT TakeOver: War Games Recap

WAR GAMES. To the tune of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Welcome to the recap of the latest mega-event of team destruction and insane amounts of destruction. We open with one of the titular matches, set for the standard rules – two teams will be contained in separate cages with one member of each team starting the match. After three minute period, alternating teams will enter the match until all competitors are in. Once all are in, War Games officially begin. The only way to win is pin or submission, and if you leave the cage, you forfeit for your team.

Women’s War Games Match – Team Shotzi (Ember Moon, Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai, & Shotzi Blackheart) vs. Team Candice (Toni Storm, Dakota Kai, Raquel Gonzalez, & Candice LeRae) (4 stars)

Dakota Kai enters first for Team Candice, while Ember Moon enters first for Team Shotzi. Team Shotzi has the advantage after Shotzi defeated Raquel in a ladder match last Wednesday on NXT.

Kai and Moon have had a small feud brimming with expectation it really kicks into gear soon, and what better way to do that than have them lead the opening of a major match. Neither really exceed to excessive heights, but it was always fun to see the more creative spots between the two rings like Kai used early on to get some space. Moon eventually gets Kai suplexed between the ropes and the cage and splashes into her through the mid-rope. Kai does get the upper hand, landing her Kairopractor before the next member of Team Shotzi comes in.

And whaddaya know, it’s the captain herself! Shotzi throws around multiple items in the ring and immediately gets in a ton of offense on Kai. Kai actually gets a moment of smashing each of Shotzi and Ember’s faces into the steel cages surrounding them. After a quick tag team moment for Blackheart and Moon (come on, name alone, they should be a tag in the future), Raquel Gonzalez enters and tears down the two of them, powering them like real jabronis. And destroying them wasn’t enough, she then launches Kai on her shoulders to sling her feet into their skulls, wiping them out even further. Selling the chemistry of Kai and Gonzalez early was a good note.

Rhea Ripley enters and Ripley and Gonzalez immediately face off. Ripley fires off at Gonzalez then Ripley and Kai face off for a moment while Shotzi and Moon go at Gonzalez. Then the objects get involved. Ripley opens the toolbox and pulls out a hammer, slapping at Kai while Gonzalez fights off Moon and Blackheart for a showdown in the middle of the rings with Ripley and Gonzalez. Just in time for another member of Team Candice. Toni Time! She immediately goes for kendo sticks and exposes a turnbuckle. Gonzalez sets up Ripley for Storm’s kendo assault, then after beating her with a stick, she whips her into the exposed turnbuckle.

Storm and Gonzalez land kendo strikes on Moon and Blackheart. All six women all get in a huge spot on the top corners in the middle with a huge big splash of wrestler following. Io Shirai gets the ladders! While she’s getting a second one, Raquel shuts the door on her, but then Io slaps her hands on the cage with a kendo stick and they face off for a second until Raquel gets distracted elsewhere. When she does come back, she continues to shut the door and make sure Io doesn’t get in. Io gets some chairs in. Moon and Storm are in the middle. Gonzalez is kicking Blackheart in the corner. Then Gonzalez tries to get back to Io and Io almost gets in after kicking a chair back into Raquel on the outside, but Raquel shuts the door again. Io attempts to climb up the side and Gonzalez throws Shotzi into Io, knocking her off the cage. Raquel Gonzalez has owned all members of Team Shotzi and now prevented the advantage. Remember this.

Candice gets in and faces off with Io, but Indi Hartwell shows up and gives Candice an unfair 5-on-4 look but Indi with the brace doesn’t get in. Indi locks the cage and puts the key in her shirt. Candice immediately gets in and brutalizes Shotzi with some hard kendo smacks. Kai, Gonzalez, and LeRae all get in a circle and slap Blackheart around with kendo sticks while everyone holds off Moon and Ripley. Candice goes for a pin, but Io never made it in. Well, now’s the perfect time for that entrance.

Try and imagine this without looking it up and I promise you it will never look as perfectly insane as it did in real life. Io Shirai, standing on top of the cage, puts a trash can over the top half of her. And then she jumps into the seven women in the ring. “And now, War Games can begin.”

There, I saved you a few seconds.

Shirai grabs a hammer and starts swinging at Raquel then everyone else individually. Ripley and Shirai get a massive DDT, then a perfect spot to have Team Shotzi get the momentum occurs, in which all four women on Team Candice are lined up in the corner, stacked against each other. Shotzi suplexes Candice up front, rolls out of the running Rhea Ripley at Toni Storm and throws her into the cage, with Ember Moon following up on Dakota Kai while NXT women’s champ Io Shirai dropkicks a chair into Raquel Gonzalez, finishing all of this with a huge moonsault and a near fall to win.

Candice and Toni both pulled off dueling submission attempts on Ember and Shotzi, then Shotzi gets a ton of steel chair and kendo work until Kai gets involved and Shirai comes out of nowhere with a dropkick into her chair. Kai returns the favor with a big double stomp from the top rope with a garbage can on top of Shirai. Kai sells the surgically-repaired knee with Ember, who gets Kai set up and the most gnarly Ember Moon move I’ve ever seen occurred, her Eclipse off the top rope into a Dakota Kai laying over two different steel chairs. Toni Storm breaks up the Moon near fall on Kai and nails her signature more. Shirai and Ripley work together to break the pin and get momentum back, getting a ladder set-up. Candice LeRae then goes off on Ripley with a massive kick to a trash can lid to Ripley’s face.

We finally get a true captain vs. captain moment between these two women. It ends with Shotzi splashing on top of Candice very heavily. While all of this is happening, the other ring has Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley continuing their teamwork and getting another near fall after another Shirai moonsault. It was broken up by Toni Storm literally tackling Ripley into the pin. They then set up for another moonsault, but Raquel got back in time and she gets Shirai from the top rope in a moonsault position while she stands on the bottom rope of both rings. And she then powerbombs Shirai into a ladder traversing both rings, breaking it in two and getting the 1-2-3 victory for Team Candice.

That was a long one, and we have another long one later on. Just, wow. If I had any complaints, it would be that the ending definitely didn’t feel that huge, even though the implications of Raquel winning and this performance are big for her. And most of the near falls felt like jokes or just throwaway moments that never really led to anything. Was it a good match? Absolutely. Did it have issues? Sure. Did most of that get made up for elsewhere? That’s what I’m implying.

We get a quick look at Finn Balor mentioning that things go back to being about him this Wednesday and then a quick look at both men’s War Games teams showing up at the CWC.

Tommaso Ciampa vs. Timothy Thatcher (3 ¼ stars)

A polar opposite feel and pace to the previous match, Ciampa and Thatcher was never going to be a spot-fest. This was going to be a tough, prodding journey through pain and suffering. It’s a deeply dramatic fight for leverage and momentum. Ciampa finally gives Thatcher an opponent and a match that really feels like Thatch’s best opponent in style and build. Ciampa takes a nasty uppercut from Thatch and Thatch doesn’t let up from that point, going at every strike and piece of the apron he can use.

“This is going to turn into an atrocity exhibition here tonight,” Wade Barrett warns. Also, very nice usage of the phrase “atrocity exhibition.” The weirdest moment of this match was when Ref MAGA Douche actually called Thatch on an illegal pin with his own legs under the ropes… which, fine. Thatch just decimates Ciampa for a severe amount of this match. When Ciampa finally does get in any offense, it’s huge moves that suddenly shift things back for him. Thatch gains wrist control and they go back in forth with blows until Ciampa gets out and misses Thatch until they run into each other head-first. Ciampa fires off tons of lariats and finishes with a massive clothesline. If you don’t know the difference, now is not the time.

Ciampa finally turns the entire tide with a massive superplex, but doesn’t get the 3 just yet. And while Thatcher writhes in agony, Ciampa plays with his prey, but Thatch’s last life is him fighting back with a massive double throat chop and then gets in his front guillotine until Ciampa rolls the both of them out of the ring. Ciampa gets in a couple of huge knee strikes and then he locks in the bulldog choke, to which Thatch almost gets him all the way up while finally breaking it. A nice apron spot where Thatch jumps down while pulling on Ciampa’s arms and striking his throat occurs, but Ciampa starts really laying it on thick and gets a massive Willow’s Bell DDT and gets the win.

Damian Priest, Johnny Gargano, and Leon Ruff all get extra ready for their triple threat match for the NXT North American Championship. But, first, it’s time to get some leather out…

Strap Match – Dexter Lumis vs. Cameron Grimes (3 stars)

Look, most of my words aren’t gonna get you past the idea that is a strap match. It’s a fantastic idea to have Grimes work such a match with the weirdo that is Dexter Lumis. Before the bell can even ring, of course there’s shenanigans. Grimes insists his strap should be used, to which the ref insists they use his, but Grimes doesn’t even let Lumis get strapped up. Grimes just starts beating the hell out of him, long enough to have multiple mentions of this match not starting yet from commentary.

Finally, when it does, Lumis is in control and it’s not exactly the prettiest match from there. Throwing around Grimes for a bit, Grimes attempts to gain the advantage by getting Lumis outside, but that just makes things much worse for Grimes. Lumis makes Grimes regret all of this in one fell swoop by tossing his body all over the barricades. Grimes ends up actually getting in a big move in throwing Lumis over the barricade for a spooky moment of Lumis rising from the bottom. But Grimes finally stops and kicks Lumis’ head off while pulling him back over the barricade with the strap. Grimes gets some momentum by doing all kinds of stuff by commentary.

At this point, Grimes puts a sack on Lumis’ head to remind everyone there was a blindfold match in this too, and then slaps him with the other strap, really laying it in and forming some welts. Grimes even poses with his straps in tow, but Lumis randomly comes alive with a huge spinebuster. Lumis gets Grimes in the corner for something, but Grimes ends up falling away and pulling him into the massive steel structure on the outside housed for the cages. Lumis ends up pulling Grimes off the apron in a nasty fall. Lumis gets in a few different strap slaps, but goes for a huge splash in the corner and misses to a Grimes German suplex counter in the corner. Grimes lays in multiple chair shots to Lumis’ back and then takes a seat over the agonizing Lumis rolling around.

Grimes gets a near fall after his flipping cross body lands, but doesn’t let up and continues to lash Lumis on the chair. After a short exchange, Lumis gets back into it and starts firing with some counters to Grimes, leading to a combination of moves that leave Grimes all tangled up in the strap for Lumis to lock in his Silence submission finisher and get the win.

While Vic does the heavy lifting selling a War Games set for the holidays, we get a quick vignette of what can only be a warning or a reminder of Karrion Kross’ return.

NXT North American Championship – Damian Priest vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Leon Ruff (c) (3 ½ stars)

Gargano went immediately into trying to get a quick win, isolating Ruff and keeping Priest on the outside. Ruff got to showcase the same few moves on the ropes in the corner. Impressive stuff, but I’ve seen it by now. We can move on to other things, which they happily do. Priest gets in and tells Ruff to back off, to which he doesn’t. Eventually, Priest gets overwhelmed by both and Gargano dives at Priest and gets Ruff to head that way too, to which Gargano counters with a spear.

Gargano goes to close the gap on Ruff even further, but Priest knocks him around on the outside. Ruff refuses to listen to Priest’s call, so Priest just throws Ruff through the barricade with a massive Razor’s edge that takes down a bunch of other debris. Priest actually says he’s sorry while Ruff is being taken out by officials. Gargano capitalizes on the distracted Gargano, nailing a massive tornado DDT off the elevated ramp on Priest.

Priest gets a spinning heel kick on Gargano back in the ring and almost gets a 3, so Gargano counters with a massive Sliced Bread maneuver that gets him a 2, as well. Leon Ruff runs down the ramp off of Priest’s back and dives at Gargano. Ruff then dives on both of them to remind everyone who the champ is. Ruff nails a beautiful springing, spinning cutter then keeps at the high risk moves and goes up top again, only for Gargano to rip him off. Ruff gets thrown by Gargano into the ropes, but he bounces back and gets a near fall.

Priest finally shows up and lands a massive boot on Ruff’s face. Priest gets in a double flatliner on both men, really showcasing the size difference here amongst the three. Using these men, the ring, and everything else, Priest does what he can, but Gargano gets him caught up in the corner and then Johnny Wrestling throws Ruff’s head into the Priest’s head on the outside with his modified Snake Eyes move. Gargano ties up Priest in the ropes, leaving him there to watch as he takes on Ruff for his big finish, but Ruff counters with the crucifix pin he won the title with. But, alas, no storybook continuation here.

Ruff climbs up the top and misses a huge frog splash, and Gargano gets his Escape in right in front of Priest, just long enough for Priest to get involved and break it up. Priest gets ready to fire his arrow and splash into the corner, but he misses Ruff, and throwing a fighting Ruff on the outside, Gargano lands a massive superkick. Priest capitalizes on the outside to get Gargano in, and the Ghostface weirdos show up to disrupt everything. Priest finally gets them all out and Priest boots another as more show up. He does a massive dive and gets back in, diving on another massive group. Damian Priest is JACKED. He chokeslams an attacking Gargano on the apron and Ruff frog splashes Gargano for the very close 2 as Priest barely gets there in time to break it up.

Ruff is clawing at Priest, and Priest drags him up to strikes from the champ, but Priest wipes him out with a knee. Gargano almost gets the spin part of his standing Gargano Escape, but Priest counters out and wipes out Johnny with a kick. But then another Ghostface showed up with a lead pipe and Gargano looks on. Ruff tries to roll Gargano up while he’s distracted, but Gargano rolls all the way out into a superkick. He gets back on the apron at one moment shortly after and lands the One Final Beat DDT on Ruff for the victory and the NXT North American Championship for the third time.

The big reveal at the end here is that Austin Theory removes a Ghostface mask and lets everyone know that it was him – Austin – all along. Good reference, terrible set-up. NXT’s next special, New Year’s Evil, will air on Wednesday, January 6th, the first episode of 2021. And the sirens blare again, and it’s time for the men’s War Games and tonight’s main event.

The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, & Roderick Strong) vs. Team McAfee (Pat McAfee, Pete Dunne, Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch) (4 ½ stars)

Kyle O’Reilly starts for the UE (their fourth War Games match, just a note), while Pete Dunne is gonna start for Team McAfee. McAfee getting work in general is an eye-opening moment for myself – I’m still shocked he can do this well at this level with these guys. But Pete Dunne was the real MVP of this match, maybe the entire pay per view. His darker, more powerful attitude gave a lot of great little moments in the five minutes with KOR, not that O’Reilly didn’t have a ton of great submission transitions and situations even with the very technical Dunne. Having these two start really gave us everything we had with both of these guys and the new feel that both have. Both are standing in completely opposite situations before entering this match, and they both are fighting for very different reasons. O’Reilly just fought for a NXT title shot showing his top-level talent against Finn Balor, while Pete Dunne was an unstoppable champion himself until WALTER showed up.

Despite going on for five minutes, these guys get double time worth in with perfect precision. They fit so much in without leaving too much on the table. Oney Lorcan enters the match, and the Boston Brawler and the Bruiserweight connect on loads of offense, really digging at O’Reilly and leaving him fighting back in desperation, tying up both men in Dragon Screws in the ropes. Dunne valiantly tries to stop O’Reilly, now on the top rope after walking over both corners, but KOR kicks Dunne away long enough to launch himself and his knee into Oney Lorcan, flipping him through the ropes again. Immediately after, Dunne lands a flying dropkick right into the knee of O’Reilly and then both men immediately apply submissions, and nothing can be done. Commentary reminds us that the match can’t end until all the men enter.

Bobby Fish. He takes out Dunne and Lorcan immediately, playing up the fresh body. Huge spinebuster on Lorcan and goes to Dunne, but he scraps until O’Reilly is back up. The O’Reilly/Fish combos were obviously nice to see, After a moment, Fish gets a Dragon Screw on Oney, playing up the leg again. O’Reilly tries to get an armbar on Lorcan while Pete Dunne is making Bobby scream in pain while his body and face are being smushed into the cage. Danny Burch enters and he enters with a cricket bat. With the bats, Dunne and Burch start waylaying Fish and O’Reilly while Oney gathers himself. It gets pretty brutal with the bats throughout, but not too violent.

Roderick Strong gets mauled upon entering by the tag champs Lorcan and Burch. Suddenly, he gains speed and hits that gear and takes over, trying to even back the odds here in the ring. Two minutes until Pat gets in. Seven before Adam Cole. This match is already a phenomenal start, much like the women’s if not better. It becomes a game of isolation and separation for Team McAfee, as they control Strong, O’Reilly, and Fish. It just looks like these guys are being outclassed by a very new threat to their crown they’ve had over NXT for a while now. And things aren’t getting better for a bit.

#ForTheBrand.

Pat McAfee has entered the War Games. And he’s bringing the tables. There’s one marked for each UE member, a nice touch and reference. Once he finally enters, he watches as his team builds the tables and prepares the carnage. Pat then slowly turns and does a textbook moonsault on Roddy, really feeding all of his ego and inflating all of his confidence. And then Adam Cole comes out.

It would be easier than most takes to explain that Adam Cole is the best thing about NXT since he debuted. It would be harder to say he is one of the five best wrestlers to ever come from NXT, if not the greatest. But I’m one of those people. Adam Cole has always been a delight, and I’ve never been disappointed by an Adam Cole match. Adam Cole comes in (with an assist from a fire extinguisher to clear the entrance), clears house, and stands tall (well, as tall as he can) as he sets his eyes on his mark – the man who has taunted him and everyone else in the Undisputed Era for weeks and weeks and weeks. But, wait, there’s a Pete Dunne in the way. And he wants some loving— I mean, fists. Dunne knocks him back and then proceeds to stomp on him for a bit, until he gets out of a huge pumphandle slam and lands a massive DDT. He goes for more, but Pat grabs Adam on the ropes and Dunne capitalizes. But while he goes at Cole, Kyle O’Reilly shows up. With a chair.

They distract Pat McAfee and slap him with a chair AND ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Everyone is breaking loose and going nuts. A couple of near falls, but nothing really that close. Pat McAfee gets a most of his work thus far in one massive exchange with Cole, where he starts by chop blocking him then putting him in a Figure-4 Leg Lock, all while Ric Flair-ing it up. Cole reverses it and it’s a pretty solid moment, just to see McAfee really having it. Everyone is leveled. Everyone is feeling it. Strong and Fish start dueling with table-setting Lorcan and Burch. Cole, out of nowhere, battles back with Dunne and gets a Ushigiroshi for a near fall.

There’s a particular table spot where Dunne is set to go through Burch through a table, but like the very perfect segment of Botchamania – I Am The Table – goes, the table just stands. Roddy does a dive to break the table, though. Bless the lads for sticking to the script. Then immediately following that, as if things weren’t already a little strange, McAfee tries to Superplex Cole off the top rope, but he pushes him off, launching him into the table. If Cole & McAfee don’t do this right, it turns into a very special segment of Botchamania. Thankfully, Pat really went for it and all is well.

I mean, all is well if you want the Undisputed Era to win. Adam Cole sits tall (this guy and looking tall) on the corner as everyone is dead and gassed. With Dunne, Lorcan, and Burch on the ropes, the UE go full firing squad and each of them all land a ton of strikes, rendering them forever useless for the remainder of this match. A comically brilliant moment of Pat trying to run away from the Undisputed Era before they all tear him to shreds. Just when they get ready to really dig in, though, the dead bodies from before revive themselves and then everyone gets in one huge move from the top. Then everyone is laid all the way out.

They all crawl back to their feet, somehow managing to have the energy to go. While all get real cozy and close, Pat McAfee does a massive Swanton Bomb from the top of the cage and nearly misses all of them. We come back to Dunne and O’Reilly from the beginning. Dunne lands a Bitter End finisher on O’Reilly, but he somehow kicks out. Dunne drags his lifeless body and gets him prepared to go through his table, but O’Reilly slides out and lands a massive suplex on the steel strip combining the two rings together. And somehow, Dunne kicks out of that. For some reason, over 40 minutes, if not 45 minutes into this match, and these two pinfalls here had particular weight to me completely missing from the women’s match earlier.

McAfee almost cinched this whole shindig early, but Cole really had to work to get back in this. Superkicking the hell out of Pat before getting the Panama Sunrise before the best reaction of literally anything I’ve seen in a long time when Pat kicked out WAS NOT ON MY BINGO LIST. Pete Dunne nailed a Bitter End on Cole on the steel chair, which was just fuckin’ BRUTAL. O’Reilly nails a knee off the top of the rope on Oney Lorcan’s face and they get the 3. It was really fast to finish it, but things definitely met the expectations and exceeded them.

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