REVIEW: NXT Takeover: Phoenix: The Desert Classic

Welcome to KB’s Old School (and New School) Reviews. I’ve been reviewing wrestling shows for over twelve years now and have reviewed over 6,000 shows. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’ll be posting a new review here on It could be anything from modern WWE to old school to indies to anything in between. Note that I rate using letters instead of stars and I don’t rate matches under three minutes as really, how good or bad can something that short be?

Takeover: Phoenix
Date: January 26, 2019
Location: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
Commentators: Nigel McGuinness, Percy Watson, Mauro Ranallo

I don’t think I need to waste your time suggesting that this show might be awesome. Takeover has raised their standard up so high that there’s no reason to suggest that it’s going to be anything less than great. The question now is how great, which should make for a heck of an evening. Let’s get to it.

The opening video focuses on the desert, where it’s hot, dry and quiet. Until there’s a loud chant for NXT of course. The card gets a rundown, which works quite well when there are only five matches. The sound of a rattlesnake is a nice touch.

Kingdom Hearts III is sponsoring the show. I’m home.

We go to the Spanish broadcasters but the lights go out as they’re talking….because we have vikings.

Tag Team Titles: War Raiders vs. Undisputed Era

The Raiders are challenging and have a full legion of vikings with shields and spears (one of which was apparently played by Rowe’s newlywed Sarah Logan). I’m not big on vikings most of the time (now Cowboys on the other hand….) but this was freaking awesome. Bobby Fish is out with the champs here. The fans seem to be behind the champs, who jump the Raiders to get things going.

Rowe takes both of them outside with clotheslines, followed by Hansen doing the same. Just to show off a bit, Rowe slams Hansen off the apron onto both of them and then shrugs off a flying shoulder back inside. O’Reilly breaks up Fallout and the champs finally get in some offense. A bunch of strikes have Hansen in trouble as kicking at the legs slows him down. Hansen shrugs off a guillotine choke and brings in Rowe, who no sells a forearm and throws O’Reilly at Strong.

Everything breaks down and Hansen misses a suicide dive for a nasty looking crash. That doesn’t seem to bother Rowe, who hammers both of them down anyway. A backbreaker cuts him off though and Rowe gets dropped ribs first across the top rope. The dueling chants begin as O’Reilly hits a half nelson backbreaker for two. O’Reilly tries a rear naked choke so Rowe walks him into the corner, drawing Strong in for the double teaming.

The fans rather approve as they’re certainly split here. Rowe tosses O’Reilly to the floor, followed by winning a strike off back inside. That’s enough for the second hot tag to Hansen so house can be cleaned again. Hansen cartwheels into a dropkick and tries the forever lariats in the corner. A Bronco Buster gets two on Strong but Strong is right back with a running clothesline.

The pop up powerslam plants O’Reilly and Hansen dives onto Strong as Kyle kicks out in a heck of a near fall that I almost bought as the finish. A powerbomb into a top rope splash gets two more but Fallout is broken up again. Instead Strong hits a top rope superplex into a top rope knee from O’Reilly for a VERY close two and that’s a standing ovation. Strong scores with the Angle Slam for two more, followed by High/Low for ANOTHER two as Hansen just won’t stay down.

Another High/Low is countered and it’s a Tajiri handspring elbow to both champs. Rowe comes back in and it’s a powerbomb/World’s Strongest Slam to O’Reilly and Strong at the same time. Because that can just be done you see. O’Reilly is DONE and Fallout gives us new champions at 16:58.

Rating: A-. This was the long form tag team formula and it told a great story with the Era hitting everything they could on the monsters but not being able to do enough. It makes the Raiders look like the truly better team because the Era couldn’t stop them no matter what. That’s how you do a match like this and the Raiders are going to hold those titles for a very long time. Great opener.

Pete Dunne and Toni Storm are here.

We recap Kassius Ohno vs. Matt Riddle. Ohno has lost to him twice in a row now but after the second loss, he attacked Riddle in a huge heel moment. The idea is that Ohno isn’t happy with Riddle for being the new NXT toy and wants to give him a welcome beating.

Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

Riddle is ready with the strikes at the bell and knocks Ohno to the floor for a running forearm off the steps. Back in and Riddle knees him in the ribs, followed by a running forearm on the apron. A sunset bomb is countered with a stomp to the face (sometimes it makes more sense to go simple) and we hit the cravate on Riddle. An elbow to the face gets two more and Ohno erupts on him in the corner.

They head outside again with Ohno sending him head first into the steps, just like he did in the post-second match attack. Back in and Ohno stomps hard on Riddle’s fingers but Riddle is fine enough for a bridging German suplex. That means it’s time for the kicks to the chest….so Ohno BITES THE TOE. Good grief dude I know you have a good sized gut but if you need a snack during a match, we’re reaching Bastion Booger territory.

Ohno gets two off a Liger Bomb and a moonsault (THUD) connects for the same. Riddle pulls him straight down into a rear naked choke but Ohno is in the corner pretty fast. The offer of a fist bump just gets Ohno beaten up even more, with Riddle taking him down and unloading with forearms to the back of the head for the tap at 9:49.

Rating: C+. Not too bad at all here, but it wasn’t exactly in doubt, save for a surprise Keith Lee turn. The action was fine with Ohno seeming desperate to beat Riddle, who has beaten him twice before. That was a fine story and the ending was the right call, though it wasn’t exactly some thrilling stuff. They didn’t overstay their welcome though and that’s how things should have gone here.

Velveteen Dream arrives with some good looking women.

We recap the North American Title match. Champion Ricochet is answering a challenge, as Tommaso Ciampa suggested that Johnny Gargano go after the title. Ricochet is an amazing talent, but Gargano is full of evil and seemingly being manipulated by Ciampa, but this has the potential to be an instant classic. They’re heavily pushing the good vs. evil story here, as Ricochet is almost pure while Gargano is willing to do whatever it takes to shake off his demons and become champion. Heck of a story indeed.

North American Title: Johnny Gargano vs. Ricochet

Ricochet is defending. It’s a feeling out process to start with no one getting the advantage early on. Johnny’s headlock doesn’t get him very far but Ricochet nips up off a shoulder. What looked like a Gargano Escape winds up being a crucifix for two but Ricochet is right back up with some flips to avoid a hurricanrana. Another headscissors attempt earns Gargano a dropkick to the floor, setting up a step up moonsault from the middle rope, because Ricochet can just do that.

Back in and Ricochet gets caught in a hot shot onto the top turnbuckle as Gargano isn’t just evil, but he’s also smart. A chinlock backbreaker gives Gargano two but the slingshot spear misses, allowing Ricochet to hit a moonsault to the back. Ricochet picks up the pace with a running hurricanrana and a 619 in the corner. There’s the spring European uppercut into the rolling suplexes for two more.

Another hurricanrana is countered into a sitout powerbomb into a crossface and now it’s Ricochet in trouble. It’s too early for the Gargano Escape but the slingshot DDT is countered with a backdrop out to the apron. You know that means the flip dive, because that’s what Ricochet does. Back in and it’s a standing shooting star into a middle rope moonsault for two on Gargano as things are getting faster. Ricochet goes up but Gargano catches him with a hurricanrana….so Ricochet lands on his feet. The fans are VERY impressed, as they should be to be fair.

Ricochet tries a handspring but gets pulled into the Gargano Escape, again much to the fans’ delight. That’s broken up with some power (an underutilized part of Ricochet’s offense) and Gargano gets suplexed into the corner. It’s too early for the 630 as Gargano rolls outside before Ricochet can launch. Instead it’s a running flip dive over the corner as Ricochet gets to show off again.

The springboard 450 gives Ricochet two but a way too long shooting star press hits knees. Gargano superkicks him to the floor, where Ricochet catches a suicide dive in a fireman’s carry….which is reversed into a reverse hurricanrana to drive Ricochet head first into the floor. Back in and Gargano’s slingshot DDT is only good for two as even commentary needs a minute to breathe. With frustration setting in, Gargano pulls the floor mats back but a little humanity sinks in, causing Gargano to take it back inside instead.

A clothesline drops Gargano, who avoids the Phoenix splash. Instead Ricochet throws him down and slaps on a Gargano Escape of his own, sending Gargano crawling to the ropes. They head to the apron with Gargano sending him head first into the post (which was done to him last year), setting up a suplex/brainbuster hybrid on the concrete. Ricochet is out on his feet so it’s another slingshot DDT (with a spike) to give Gargano the pin and the title at 24:25.

Rating: A. What a spectacle but they actually had a story being told as well. Ricochet is the ultimate athlete with a combination of power (not a great amount but it’s there) and incredible athleticism, but Gargano is just talented all around, combined with a never say die attitude. The story here though was Gargano doing whatever it took to win because he knew what would happen if he didn’t. There was also the resistance to use the concrete before giving into the demons in the end and winning the title by any means necessary. Heck of a story but an even better match. This is an early Match of the Year contender, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

We recap Shayna Baszler vs. Bianca Belair. Bianca is an athletic freak who has run over everyone through sheer athleticism and talent. Baszler is a bit older but more experienced and arguably well rounded. All Belair can say is that she’s undefeated, which makes her seem way too confident.

Women’s Title: Shayna Baszler vs. Bianca Belair

Bianca is challenging and drives her into the corner a few times to start for some bragging clean breaks. Thankfully Baszler gets tired of the UN-DE-FEA-TED chant and tries an O-VER-RA-TED version. A hard shoulder puts Baszler down and Belair takes over on the floor. Baszler shows off the intelligence though and grabs the hair to pull Bianca into the post. It’s only good for a nine count so Baszler is right onto her with shots to the face and an armbar.

The Dakota Kai arm stomp has Belair getting checked in the corner as Baszler is on a roll. We hit the armbar (makes sense in this case) for a bit until a hard kick to the face gives the champ two. The O-VER-RA-TED taunt earns Baszler a slap in the face and a spear with the bad arm gets two more. Baszler kicks her in the ribs and gets two off a running knee strike. The slugout is on until Belair whips the heck out of her with the hair, actually busting Shayna’s stomach open.

A toss into the corner knocks the referee down though and the KOD connects, meaning there’s no one to count. Cue Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke to interfere and be taken out, allowing Shayna to grab the Kirifuda Clutch. Belair still isn’t done though and fights up, somehow swinging Baszler to the side, setting up a suplex for the real break. Back up and Belair completely misses a 450, allowing Baszler to grab the Kirifuda Clutch. Belair somehow stands up again and we get an EST chant but she collapses and passes out at 15:13.

Rating: B-. There was some great athleticism on display here, but egads that UN-DE-FEA-TED thing isn’t exactly making me want to cheer for Belair. They did everything here to make her into a face and that worked well enough, but was I supposed to like her coming into this? Baszler winning made perfect sense here and was what I was expecting, though it was a little jarring to suddenly be cheering for the cockiest woman in the division. You can almost guarantee Belair wins the rematch though.

Velveteen Dream and said women are in the front row.

We recap Tommaso Ciampa vs. Aleister Black. Ciampa won the NXT Title thanks to some accidental interference from Johnny Gargano. Since then Ciampa and Gargano have tentatively reunited as Ciampa has gone on a rampage. Tonight, Black gets his long awaited rematch after trading wins with Gargano. This feels like a stop on a longer road, but that doesn’t mean it’s not looking great.

NXT Title: Aleister Black vs. Tommaso Ciampa

Ciampa is defending and sweet goodness Black’s entrance is still cool. That’s similar to Undertaker’s where you can do it time after time and it never gets old. They go straight to a hard lockup and fall to the floor without letting go. Back in and Black takes him down with a few more headlocks as you can certainly feel the anger. I mean, they’re some pretty harsh headlocks. Back up (eventually) so Black starts in with the kicks, sending Ciampa down onto the mat to duck a big one.

Black has a seat as well as the mind games are strong with this one. Mauro suddenly dubs Tommaso Tommy, all so he can say Black wants to “End Tommy.” Egads that was a stretch and even too hard of a pun for me. Black hits a big flip dive to the floor and Ciampa needs a breather. Instead he gets a kick to the head before getting smart, sending the knee into the steps. A suplex sends the knee into the steps again and it’s Ciampa in full control for the first time. Back in and Ciampa cranks on the knee like a smart villain should.

The leg gets tied in the ropes for a kick to the knee and Ciampa calls him a one trick pony. After wrapping the knee around the post one way, Ciampa does it again from the other side in a smart move. We’re not done yet either as Ciampa drops the knee onto the announcers’ table before having a rather evil seat. We continue the streak of leg work with a trip to the Tree of Woe but Ciampa lets him go pretty quickly. It’s a bit too quickly as Black hits a running kick to the head in the corner.

Back in and the kick to the chest with the good leg gets two but Black is slow to follow up. Neither finisher can connect on either of two attempts so Ciampa forearms him in the back of the head. Ciampa tries the Fairy Tale Ending for the third time, only to be reversed into a bridging German suplex (on one leg) for two. Black Mass is loaded up but the knee gives out, allowing Ciampa to dragon screw legwhip him into a half crab. That’s reverses into the same thing on Ciampa but since Ciampa’s knee is fine, it doesn’t last long.

Black tries his middle rope moonsault to the floor, which of course takes forever. Instead it’s a Tower of London (hanging cutter) onto the apron to give the champ two more. They slug it out with Black getting the better of it, including a double stomp to the chest. A brainbuster gets two on the champ and he heads outside with the middle rope moonsault connecting this time around. Black slips on the way back in though and the Fairy Tale Ending gets a very close two.

With nothing else working, Ciampa pulls the floor pads back (popular move around here) but the yelling referee allows Black to hit a Meteora off the apron. Back in and Black Mass connects in full but Black’s knee is way too banged up for the cover. Ciampa is able to roll onto his side and they’re back up again. Another Black Mass nearly hits the referee so Ciampa sends him into the ropes for the hanging DDT. The Fairy Tale Ending gets a heck of a near fall so it’s a third Fairy Tale Ending into a fourth Fairy Tale Ending to retain the title at 26:31.

Rating: A-. As tends to be the case on a lot of Takeovers, this wasn’t exactly surprising but they worked very hard and told a story with Ciampa taking away Black’s best weapon to slow him down. Black gave him a great fight but came up short, because Ciampa really is as good as he brags about being. It did feel like a stop on the way to a bigger story, but they beat the heck out of each other in a match that lets Ciampa look better without Black losing a ton in defeat. He would seem to be main roster bound pretty soon anyway so it doesn’t mean too much in the long run.

After a bunch of replays, Ciampa heads up to the stage to pose, drawing out Gargano to hold up his own title for the big super evil pose to end the show.

Overall Rating: A. And somehow, that feels like it belongs on the lower end of the series. This was another excellent show with three great matches and the worst match on the card being perfectly watchable. I’m almost scared to imagine what they have for the final, mega blowoff between Gargano vs. Ciampa, but somehow I completely believe that they could make it live up to the hype. Now where else are you going to see something like that other than NXT? This lived up to the hype and really, that’s all you would have expected around here.

Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 60,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 6,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books.

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