In December 2014, WWE’s development brand put on NXT TakeOver: R Evolution. It’s a show that many still consider to be NXT‘s masterpiece, culminating in a work of art between then-champion Adrian Neville and plucky underdog Sami Zayn. When Zayn won the match, his best friend Kevin Owens, who had debuted earlier that night, turned on the new champion and brutally attacked him. It was the start of a trajectory that would see Owens become one of the company’s best bad guys and cement Zayn as one of the most relatable underdog babyfaces in WWE.
That show was brilliant, but it may have been surpassed on Saturday night by NXT TakeOver: Chicago.
The top stars in NXT joined forces with two of Britain’s finest talents to produce a show that was absolutely excellent from top to bottom, featuring at least one bona fide contender for Match of the Year. It also finished with a heel turn that was every bit as shocking and well-executed as a bloodied Kevin Owens hitting a powerbomb on his best friend against the apron.
Eric Young vs. Roderick Strong
Sanity continued its streak of opening TakeOver specials, with their leader Eric Young taking part in a fun battle with Roderick Strong. Young’s stablemates at ringside were dealt with early by Strong, who burst from the crowd before the match to take them out. Despite the best efforts of Sanity to interfere, Strong was eventually able to pick up the win following the End of Heartache backbreaker.
This was a fun match and Strong seems to be connecting with the NXT Universe. Sanity, meanwhile, seem to be in something of a holding pattern. The faction has lacked a definitive, big win so far and it is this that it needs if its members are going to ascend to the next level within the company.
Roderick Strong def. Eric Young via pinfall following End of Heartache in 13:42.
UK Championship: Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate (c)
WWE finally brought its new United Kingdom division to the biggest possible stage as defending champion Tyler Bate squared off against devious, vicious heel Pete Dunne. This was an epic encounter that really caught fire with the fans in Chicago, who were brought to their feet in standing ovations on multiple occasions during the match and regularly chanted “UK”.
Dunne and Bate delivered a hard-hitting encounter that was a real showcase for British wrestling, featuring World of Sport-style mat exchanges, high-flying work and some hardcore strong style. The match culminated in emotional fashion as Dunne finally scored with his pumphandle flatliner finisher The Bitter End and seemed to be almost in tears as he covered Bate for the biggest win of his career.
This was an absolutely wonderful wrestling match that showed just how much WWE should be betting on its UK stars. Dunne and Bate completely won over the audience with their dynamic, thrilling work. I have spoken before about how Bate and Dunne worked at the first indy show I attended and I was immensely personally proud to see them deliver the Match of the Year so far. Their continued success makes me proud to be a British wrestling fan.
Pete Dunne def. Tyler Bate via pinfall following The Bitter End in 15:27. NEW CHAMPION
NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka (c) vs. Nikki Cross vs. Ruby Riot
Can anyone stop Asuka? She won yet another match against multiple women at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, simultaneously pinning Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot after a fun triple threat battle. The contest was structured in fairly conventional fashion for this kind of a match, with the women largely taking turns to fight each other in singles style, as well as some rather clunky three-way spots.
There was plenty of excitement, though, and Asuka continues to be a dominant and compelling champion. At this stage, it seems that the wisest thing to do would be to bring her to the main roster undefeated and force her to relinquish her NXT Women’s Championship in the same way that Paige did. The women’s division could do with the refresh provided by a tournament and Asuka would really benefit from the label of dominant destroyer when she hits the main roster.
Asuka def. Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot via pinfall on both women following a running knee in 9:30.
NXT Championship: Bobby Roode (c) vs. Hideo Itami
Bobby Roode continued his run as NXT Champion when he fought off Hideo Itami in front of a Chicago crowd that reacted far more kindly to Itami’s use of the GTS than I expected. The duo worked a methodical, patient match that built to a genuinely dramatic conclusion in which Roode hit a brace of Glorious DDTs to keep the Japanese competitor on the mat for the three count. Both men sold body parts throughout the match, in a contest that was a tough psychological battle between the two main event talents.
It was a compelling match and one that showcased Roode’s in-ring smoothness and reliability – he’s like the Randy Orton of NXT. It also gave us flashes of what Itami can do, with some stunning flurries of striking ability as he shakes off the ring rust from his time on the injured list. This wasn’t a signature match for either superstar, but it was a very strong and entertaining title clash between two of the best wrestlers in the world.
Bobby Roode def. Hideo Itami via pinfall following a pair of Glorious DDTs in 17:34.
NXT Tag Team Championship: Authors of Pain (c) vs. DIY (Ladder Match)
Initially, it seemed a little peculiar to see the Tag Team Championship in the main event of NXT TakeOver: Chicago, but what unfolded made the decision look entirely sane. Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano have been incredible as a tag team and this was another great match for the duo, working with the Authors of Pain in an environment that concealed the latter duo’s shortcomings as wrestlers at this stage. It was an all-out war, waged with stunning brutality and real passion, right up until the champions hit their Super Collider finisher and retrieved the title belts.
More than an excellent wrestling spectacle, though, this was a masterclass of storytelling as DIY entered the match as brothers and left as a team divided by Ciampa’s shocking attack on his partner. The turn was made more shocking by the way in which Gargano took a horrific ladder blow intended for Ciampa towards the end of the match, showing his loyalty to his best friend. When Ciampa later tossed Gargano into the entrance ramp screens and then hit a brutal belly-to-back driver off the stage, it was horrific, brutal and shocking.
There were real parallels with the Owens heel turn at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution, particularly as the turn did not occur until after the credits box had appeared on screen, making it even more of a surprise. Ciampa executed his descent into evil perfectly and, on the strength of the match the two men had during the Cruiserweight Classic tournament last year, this is going to be one of the hottest feuds in wrestling going forward. It certainly made for a dramatic ending to a great show.
Authors of Pain def. DIY when they climbed the ladder following a Super Collider in 20:00.
Helped by its shocking finale and the genuine classic battle between Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate, NXT TakeOver: Chicago was the developmental brand’s best show in years. The roster has been in danger of looking a little thin since the departure of so many talents during the brand split last year, but it seems NXT is now finding its groove.
Every match on NXT TakeOver: Chicago was well worth watching and it is a show that demands to be rewatched many times in the weeks to come. Once again, it seems the stars of NXT are giving their main roster counterparts a run for their money.
(Overall Grade: A)
What did you think of NXT TakeOver: Chicago? Which match was your favourite? Let me know in the comments section and check out more of our wrestling content.