NXT TakeOver: New Orleans had high expectations coming into the event, with an absolutely incredible card of matches at hand having fans incredibly excited for the show. Oftentimes such exciting cards wind up being something of a letdown, but if anything TakeOver: New Orleans exceeded those expectations to such a degree that it might be remembered as the best NXT show ever.
From the first-ever NXT North American Championship winner to Aleister Black’s first opportunity to become NXT Champion to the culmination of the blood feud between Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa and everything in between. There’s a lot to unpack from an incredible night of wrestling, but here’s our three big standout talents from the night, as well as two big lessons we took away from three great hours of NXT.
3 standout stars of the night
The Undisputed Era
Not only did Adam Cole become the first-ever NXT North American Champion, but thanks to the knee injury suffered by Bobby Fish recently he was forced to pull double-duty to help stablemate Kyle O’Reilly retain the NXT Tag Team Championships and win the Dust Rhodes Tag Team Classic — and after a shocking turn of events, the Era recruited a new member as well, thanks to Roderick Strong turning heel and joining them at the cost of his rival-turned-teammate-turned-victim, Pete Dunne. New Orleans represented a major and surprising coup for the Undisputed Era, especially after it seemed as though there was a very real chance that the night could go disastrously poorly for them coming into it. Instead, they hold multiple titles, and continue to be the single most dominant force in NXT since their arrival at TakeOver: Brooklyn last summer.
The ladder match for the North American title was won by Cole, and for many the standout performer was one of Ricochet or Lars Sullivan or Killian Dain. And while all three men where wildly impressive in different ways, the real standout talent in the ladder match was one Velveteen Dream. Despite his tender young age of 22, Dream has been a fantastic performer over the last year, winning Rivalry Of The Year for his feud with Aleister Black and winning over the fans in a big way despite having to overcome a very shaky and raw start to his career with a character that threatened to fall flat from the start. This ladder match truly sealed him as one of the absolute best talents in all of NXT, thanks to being involved in most of the biggest moments of the match, and whenever he was active his skill and demeanor absolutely demanded attention. The future is very, very bright for Velveteen Dream in WWE, and we might one day look back at this match as the day that he really launched himself as a star.
Even though it’s been nearly a year since their explosive breakup as a tag team, it’s clear that both Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa have an incredibly bright future ahead of them in WWE. Gargano’s fight-through-everything babyface attitude full of heart and grit is the kind of thing that made fans fall in love with Daniel Bryan, and few have ever pulled off the psychopathic heel routine like Ciampa can. Their match was jaw-droppingly good, and both men will be at or near the top of the NXT card until they move to the main roster after a display like that.
Two lessons learned
NXT has some of the best storytelling around
One of the hallmarks of NXT has always been their ability to execute some old-school wrestling storytelling and integrating it into more modern wrestling styles and with some high-end performers. In fact, their consistency with those stories and the way they craft them over months and months is at a level higher than almost anywhere else on the planet, and even on the main roster their stories rarely have the same depth and consistency that NXT pulls off with regularity, and that was on full display at TakeOver.
The night saw Roderick Strong’s long-held desperation for a championship win melded with the old tease of being offered a place in Undisputed Era all the way back when they first arrived in NXT. The nearly year-long build to Johnny Gargano facing off with Tomasso Ciampa, with all the reminders of the painful breakup of their #DIY tag team along the way before Ciampa cost Gargano a title-versus-career match, and their match was very much the appropriate, brutal culmination of what can only be described as a blood feud. They used all their knowledge of each other to constantly counter and brutalize one another, along with so many hallmarks and callbacks to moments from their tag team days, their Cruiserweight Classic match, Ciampa’s betrayal at TakeOver: Chicago a year ago, and to the crutch shots that tormented Ciampa over the last few months.
Perhaps the best sign of how good that storytelling is, though was the way Ember Moon and Shayna Baszler’s feud grew and built and escalated to the point it reached on Saturday night. It started out as the NXT Women’s Champion in Ember standing up to the newly-arrived brutal bully in Shayna, but she only barely survived their first title clash. Their second was looking dire before it was thrown out for interference, but this third match grabbed all the threads of their story and wove them together, right down to their promos showing that this feud has grown from disrespect to outright naked hatred for one another. It started with Shayna easily countering Ember’s fast-flying opening attack from the second match, then moved on with Ember hitting Shayna’s now-trademark shoulder-injuring kick pinned against the mat. Shayna won with the Kirifuda Clutch that Ember has never found a solution for, winning the title and finally, completely asserting her dominance over Moon.
It’s time for a few stars to move on up
It’s become fairly normal for several NXT stars to move up to the main WWE roster after Wrestlemania, and a shortlist of those potential fast-movers became clear on Saturday night. The Authors Of Pain have been a fantastic force to watch grow and evolve over the past two years in NXT’s tag team division, and it’s high time that WWE find a place for them on the main roster. Ember Moon as well, now that she’s dropped the NXT Women’s Championship, has little left to do or accomplish in NXT at this point, having been a part of arguably the two biggest women’s feuds in NXT over the last couple of years between her battles with Asuka and now Shayna Baszler. Once she gets her rematch against Baszler — which could come in their next set of TV tapings — she’ll likely be up to the main roster in a hurry.
Even Johnny Gargano, who won his NXT career-saving bout against Tomasso Ciampa, probably isn’t long for the developmental division of WWE. His departure will probably be a little longer, but it’s clear that Gargano has a fairly bright future ahead of him somewhere on the main roster. He probably won’t be a future WWE Champion, but he has the skillset and demeanor to be a major fan favorite in the mid-card, and considering that he and Ciampa were never even supposed to reach this level of popularity and success in NXT, it’s amazing to see where Gargano has gotten to already.
It’ll also be interesting to see where Andrade “Cien” Almas goes from here now that he’s no longer NXT Champion. He’s already gotten a taste of the main roster via the Royal Rumble, and his talent and character work could certainly make some noise on Raw or SmackDown Live. But it feels like there’s more story to be told with him in NXT, especially as he reacts to his first major failure after joining forces with Zelina Vega.