Thirty years after the first WarGames match, created by Dusty Rhodes for the 1987 Great American Bash, NXT renewed the classic format on Saturday with a contemporary twist in the main event. The result was an impactful climax to a memorable NXT TakeOver card at the Toyota Center in Houston, only one night before WWE Survivor Series invades the same building.
The five-bout card featured a pair of title changes and a handful of star-making moments for tomorrow's superstars, including NXT champions Andrade "Cien" Almas and Ember Moon. The show also retained a certain level of energy and steady drama that arguably hasn't been felt since the NXT's first heyday of late 2014 and early 2015.
With the NXT roster in a transition period, this night very much felt like a changing of the guard.
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NXT TakeOver: WarGames results, grades
Lars Sullivan def. Kassius Ohno via pinfall: Talk about a showcase opportunity to make a statement. The incredibly large and physical Sullivan did just that in a physical matchup with good storytelling that set the tone well for the evening. After Sullivan dominated early, including a near fall from a pop-up powerslam, Ohno rallied and floored Sullivan for the first time in his NXT career. But not only did Sullivan kick out of a pin attempt, he shook off a pair of vicious kicks to the head by mouthing the words, "I will end you." Shortly after, Sullivan intercepted a discus elbow attempt by Ohno to hit his one-handed slam finisher, the Freak Accident, for the 1-2-3. Grade: B-
Aleister Black def. Velveteen Dream via pinfall: Consider this a dual coming out party for two of WWE's future stars. And somehow, it lived up to its lofty expectations. After one of the more memorable and simplistically brilliant builds in recent NXT history, Black and Dream put forth a showcase of stiff MMA strikes and entertaining psychology. After spending the majority of the match challenging Black to simply say his name, Dream ultimately received his wish in defeat when a seated Black grabbed the microphone and said, "Enjoy infamy, Velveteen Dream."
At just 22, and fully in command of his dynamic character, Dream was ultimately the biggest winner in this match despite getting pinned as he showed just how far he has come in a short time. Dressed in tights featuring airbrushed images of himself and his opponent, Dream cemented the Rick Rude homage late in the match by swiveling his hips from the top rope. But Black is just as important a future commodity in WWE's future and he was more than equal to the task in terms of making a strong impression. Black kicked out of an incredible modified DDT from Dream late in the match, producing a deserved "this is awesome" chant from the crowd. Black also outsmarted Dream moments later when he raised a boot from his back to catch his opponent in the face coming off the top rope. The impact sent Dream into the ropes, locking his arms. They traded big strikes as Dream worked free. But with his leg still caught in the ropes, causing him to briefly stumble, Black took advantage by hitting his Black Mass finisher for the pin. Grade: A-
NXT Women's Championship -- Ember Moon def. Nikki Cross, Peyton Royce & Kari Sane via pinfall to win the title: This one had it all--- huge spots, raw energy and four superstars giving the impression as if they were literally reaching for the brass ring in front of our eyes. All that in under 10 minutes. The only thing holding this match from being a classic was the length as Moon, not far from her home in Houston, scored a somewhat abrupt finish. Afterwards, Moon received the full rub in NXT's transition away from the unbeaten Asuka era when the former champion entered the ring and handed Moon the belt before embracing her in babyface fashion.
Moon hit the first big spot of the match with a suicide dive that knocked her opponents down like bowling pins. Soon after, she hit Cross with a visibly stiff power bomb to the floor. The insanity only continued from there. Royce hit a perfect Northern Lights Suplex (with bridge) on Cross but the pin was barely broken up by a diving Sane. The winner of the inaugural Mae Young Classic then hit Royce with an Alabama Slamma onto Cross before climbing the ropes to connect with her Insane Elbow finisher on top of both women for two. That opened the door for Moon, who hit an insane double Eclipse finisher onto Royce and Cross before pinning Cross to win the vacant title. Grade: B+
NXT Championship -- Andrade "Cien" Almas def. Drew McIntyre (c) via pinfall to win the title: On a night littered with star turns, Almas (and incredible valet Zelina Vega) may have topped the list. "Cien" capped an intense and dramatic NXT title victory by throwing his belt in the air on the ramp and standing atop the announcer's table to hold it high in the air. Vega played a huge role in the match, even if her hurricanrana attempt from the apron early in the match was intercepted by McIntyre, who tossed her back up onto the ring. The match featured one near fall after another from there, including a two count from Almas after hitting an inverted tornado DDT from the top rope. He would top that move shortly after with a moonsault from the top rope and score another near fall on a double stomp and running double knee.
Almas fought through his own misfortune to keep his storyline title hopes alive by kicking out of McIntyre's Future Shock DDT to set up an insane finish. After Almas distracted the referee outside by reaching for the title, Vega snuck in to hit McIntyre with a spiked hurricanrana. Almas' hammerlock DDT which followed could only get two. He was then flipped head over heels on a last ditch clothesline from McIntyre and needed Vega to place his leg on the ropes to save the pin. But Almas ended matters with a spiked DDT from the apron that appeared to leave McIntyre legitimately hurt. In the end, the two superstars produced one of the finest men's NXT championship bouts in years. Grade: A-
WarGames -- The Undisputed Era def. SAnitY, The Authors of Pain & Roderick Strong via pinfall: The modern iteration of WarGames provided plenty of promised chaos thanks to dangerous high spots and multiple hard-way cuts. It also featured a modern-day twist with the absent roof, new rules and shark cages outside (making the match feel more Elimination Chamber than WCW classic). In the end, was it a cluster? You bet. That doesn't mean it wasn't fun to watch.
After a slow start, the action heated up considerably once all nine superstars entered the cage, signaling the start of "The Match Beyond" portion of WarGames. SAnitY's Killian Dain, the last entrant and arguably the match's MVP, spiced things up by bringing weapons and tables with him. He then uncorked a personal tour de force of big spots, including a crossbody off the top rope onto his six opponents and a Van Terminator across the ring onto Kyle O'Reilly. In between, Dain hit a Michinoku Driver on Cole, crashing onto O'Reilly below. He later hit a fallaway slam, Samoan Drop combination with two opponents on his arms, forcing the first "this is awesome" chant from the crowd.
Alexander Wolfe was badly cut open when he hit a super German suplex from the top rope on Akam, crashing into two tables below. But the spot of the match went to Adam Cole, who spent the second half looking to escape and hide on top of the cage. Roderick Strong eventually ran up to intercept him and hit a superplex onto everyone else down below. The finish came soon after as Cole hit a Shining Wizard on Young, who tried to block the move with a chair only for it to be slammed into his head, setting up the 1-2-3. After the match, The Undisputed Era stood tall while selling the injuries they incurred.
Comparing the new War Games to the classics of 30 years ago is difficult to do because of the rule changes and how much the in-ring action has evolved. But for what this match lacked compared to the old days in terms of juicy storylines, it made up for with big moments and overall was a success. Grade: B