NXT – January 2, 2019 (Best of 2018)

Date: January 2, 2019
Location: Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida
Commentators: Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness, Percy Watson

It’s getting close to Takeover time and the show is starting to come into focus. With some of the matches already set, the rest of the card can be put together over the next few weeks. As tends to be the case in NXT, you can probably guess what’s coming but the journey is the most entertaining part. Let’s get to it.

This is a special two hour edition as we look at the NXT Year End Awards. Well so much for seeing what we’ve got coming up.

In Memory of Gene Okerlund.

Opening sequence.

We go to Cathy Kelley at WWE Headquarters to hype up the Year End Awards nominees being announced tonight.

And we’ve got a Best Of show. As usual, full versions of the matches will be listed even if clipped versions are shown.

From Takeover: New Orleans.

North American Title: EC3 vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Adam Cole vs. Killian Dain vs. Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream

Ladder match for the inaugural title with EC3 and Ricochet making their in-ring debut. Cole is the heavy crowd favorite here but they’re not opposed to some of the others. The fans deem this awesome at the opening bell and it’s EC3 bailing to the floor. Ricochet is thrown outside with Dream and Cole following, leaving the battle of the monsters in the ring. Actually never mind as they both go outside to surround EC3, which doesn’t take much effort.

That allows Ricochet to dive off the top with a shooting star onto the giants though and the fans go even nuttier than they were just a few seconds ago. The first ladder is set up but Dream catches Ricochet before he can go anywhere. Ricochet flips around into a headscissors and a dropkick in an incredibly smooth sequence. Dream breaks up a springboard and goes up, drawing in Cole for a save this time around.

EC3 comes in with a jawbreaker and a Hennig necksnap to Cole but it’s Sullivan time again. A pair of powerslams later and both normal sized guys are gone, leaving Dain to knock Sullivan outside. Dain isn’t done with a HUGE suicide dive taking Sullivan out. Cole, Ricochet and EC3 manage to get Dain down and it’s a big brawl with the monsters down. That doesn’t last long either though as it’s Sullivan throwing a ladder at them and wiping everyone out without much effort again.

Dream gets gorilla pressed onto the ladder and Sullivan goes up, drawing some incredible booing. Ricochet can’t sunset bomb him off so EC3 and Dream help, along with Cole punching Sullivan in the face to FINALLY put him down. Now it’s Dain shoving Cole down though and backdropping Ricochet onto the ladder. Cole and EC3 get together to take out Sullivan and Dain in a smart move. With the monsters down, a ladder is bridged between the announcers’ table and ring, which can’t possibly end well.

Hang on though as EC3 does Cole’s pose and that’s just not cool with Cole, who AA’s EC3 onto the ladder. A series of superkicks put a bunch of people down and here’s the REAL pose. Sullivan is up to push the ladder over but this time it’s Dream getting up and cleaning house. Dream even shoves a ladder into a charging Sullivan’s face to cut him off, setting up a HUGE Purple Rainmaker off the ladder (with his head above the belt) to crush Sullivan.

The writhing in pain means Dream’s climb is rather slow and EC3 powerbombs him off one ladder and into another. A TKO off the ladder drops Cole as well but it’s Dain back in to kick EC3 down. He puts a ladder onto EC3 and drops a Vader Bomb, followed by a second with Cole on his back to make it even worse. It’s finally time for Sullivan vs. Dain but Ricochet runs back in….and is tossed back and forth between the two of them like a ball. With Ricochet thrown away, the big men slug it out until Sullivan powerslams Dain down to get the better of it.

Ricochet makes another save and climbs up but Sullivan shoves the ladder over, only to have Ricochet moonsault off (as the ladder is falling back) onto Cole and Dain outside. You know, because of course he can do that. Back in and Ricochet hits a shooting star onto EC3 onto the ladder, because he hasn’t taken enough abuse so far. Dream is back up though and bridges a ladder into the standing ladder, with Ricochet standing on the platform. That means a Death Valley Bomb to drive Ricochet into the ladder and everyone is down again.

Sullivan and Dream are up first with the former putting Dream on the bridged ladder. A Freak Accident puts EC3 through Dream through the ladder, leaving EC3 with a look of physical shock on his face. Not to be outdone, Dain drives Cole through Ricochet through a second bridged ladder to put all six down even longer this time. Sullivan and Dain crawl back in and go up the ladder, only to have EC3 and Cole come in with a ladder of their own to climb next to them.

Naturally Dream and Ricochet are up on a third ladder and Cole gets knocked down. Ricochet and Dream go down with EC3 falling as well, leaving a battle of the monsters. Sullivan gives Dain a huge Freak Accident off the ladder and goes up again, drawing even more booing. Cue Ricochet to springboard in and land on Sullivan’s back, dropping two ladders down in the process. Ricochet goes up but Cole turns it over and pulls down the title at 31:15.

Rating: A+. Well that was incredible. I mean really, what else can you say? This never felt longer than it needed to be and was one insane spot after another. Coming in and during the match, it always felt like all six could have won, meaning that nothing felt like a waste of time. Cole winning is one of several acceptable choices and no one comes out of this looking worse than when they came in. Just an amazing spectacle and one of the best things I’ve ever seen in NXT, or any promotion for that matter.

Quick look at Ricochet winning the title from Cole at Takeover: Brooklyn IV.

Here are the nominees for Breakout Star of the Year:


Dakota Kai

Lars Sullivan

Rhea Ripley

War Raiders

Lacey Evans


Bianca Belair

Video on the rise and split of DIY. The fact that this is still going strong nine months later is remarkable.

From Takeover: New Orleans again.

Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa

Unsanctioned match, meaning anything goes and it’s pinfall or submission only with Gargano’s NXT career on the line. Ciampa comes out to no music, looking as carved up as you could imagine him being. The fans are all over him with some rather vulgar chants and Ciampa is reveling in soaking them all in. Ciampa gets on the corner and says that its his show and his moment. Fans: “F*** YOU CIAMPA!” He even closes his eyes to listen to the chants. Gargano’s music gets a heck of a reaction and you can feel the energy here. In a nice touch, the referee has a black shirt on instead of the usual referee gear.

They stare each other down at the bell and now it’s on with wild punches. That’s how it should start as there’s no reason for this to be about wrestling. The slingshot spear puts Ciampa down and Gargano stomps a heck of a mudhole in the corner before taking it to the floor. Ciampa gets sent over the barricade and Gargano dives right at him to get even more. This time Ciampa gets something out of it though by dropping Gargano ribs first across the barricade.

A backbreaker at ringside lets Ciampa shout even more…and it’s time to peel back the ringside mats. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen that and it’s a great sight to behold. Gargano slips out of a suplex attempt and kicks Ciampa in the head before throwing him over the announcers. Mauro gets in a MAMA MIA as he runs away but the fans cover for him with a MAMA MIA chant.

Gargano tries a piledriver on the table but Ciampa hits him with a monitor. That’s followed by a suplex to take Gargano off the table and to the floor with a sick thud. Ciampa gets creative by slamming Gargano onto the table cover as the pace slows. They get back inside with Ciampa’s face looking more and more evil by the second. Gargano uses the sneering break to get up for a slugout until a belly to back suplex cuts him off for one. A modified Texas Cloverleaf (more like a Liontamer) has Gargano in more trouble until he makes the rope….which means nothing here, as it shouldn’t.

Gargano crawls over the apron to force the break so Ciampa stomps on the back of his head, followed by applauding himself. The fans call Ciampa a rather mean British term and it’s made even worse as he steals a plant’s crutches. Back in and Gargano takes the crutch away and hits the rolling kick to the head to send Ciampa out to the apron. The slingshot DDT is blocked so Ciampa loads up an Air Raid Crash to the exposed concrete.

To prevent a bad case of death, Gargano reverses into a powerbomb onto the same concrete. Fans: “YOU DESERVE IT!” Thank goodness, as I was worried about the fans cheering Ciampa for being too good of a villain. Somehow that’s not enough to end Ciampa so Gargano unloads with crutch shots. Ciampa backdrops him to the floor to save himself and Gargano hits his back on the apron. He’s fine enough to crutch Ciampa in the head though and the slingshot DDT gets two.

Gargano pulls the turnbuckle pad off but can’t hit the Lawn Dart. Instead he’s sent to the apron and the slingshot spear is kneed out of the air. A torture rack powerbomb gives Ciampa two more before he goes old school with the Meet in the Middle knee to the back of the head. That’s only two again and frustration/disbelief sets in. Back up and Gargano grabs the beard so he can hammer on Ciampa even more. A reverse hurricanrana is more like a Backstabber as Gargano can’t get Ciampa over.

Not that it matters as he grabs the Gargano Escape instead, even rolling back into the middle of the ring for good measure. Ciampa rakes the eye for the break, drawing a heck of a heel reaction from the fans. With nothing else working, Ciampa chokes with his wrist tape but Gargano grabs it and they slug it out (great touch as they’re attached here, just like they always have been).

Gargano gets the better of it but a low blow cuts him off. A crutch to the back and Project Ciampa (a powerbomb onto knees) give Ciampa two and they’re both spent. Ciampa pulls himself up and says this is his so Gargano slaps him in the face. A superkick has some more effect and now the Lawn Dart sends Ciampa into the buckle. The low superkick (and a GREAT one at that) gets two in an incredible false finish. They head up top and it’s a SUPER PROJECT CIAMPA (onto Ciampa’s bad knee) for two in an even better false finish that I bought even more than the previous one.

Ciampa takes the brace off instead and loads up the big running knee, only to get hit in the knee with the brace to cut him off. Gargano gets the crutch again and bends it down a bit….only to stop when Ciampa begs off. They sit next to each other (in a callback to their match in the Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016) but Ciampa swings with the brace. That misses though and it’s the Gargano Escape again. Gargano switches to an STF, using the brace to pull on Ciampa’s face for the tap at 36:59.

Rating: A+. And that might be the best match NXT has ever produced. This was a complete roller coaster with both guys looking like they wanted to kill the other, going from one great bit of violence to the next. Some of those near falls were great too, with the possibility that either of them could have won at different points. That being said, Gargano winning was the right call no matter what, as he was the hero in the end.

The emotion here was awesome too, with some perfect callbacks to the deep history between these two. I’ve seen this match a few times now and it does not get old, nor does it ever feel long. It’s an incredible performance and one of the best things I’ve ever seen in wrestling. Absolutely see this, but do yourself a favor and watch a lot of the earlier matches to set it up first. That’s the extra stuff that puts it over the top, making it one of the best things NXT has ever done.

Quick look at Ciampa winning the rematch at Takeover: Chicago which sent Gargano on a downward spiral.

Clips of Aleister Black winning the NXT Title from Andrade Cien Almas, also from Takeover: New Orleans.

From July 25.

NXT Title: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Aleister Black

Ciampa is challenging and still has no music. He even breaks up Black’s pre-match poses like a real villain. They lock up hard to start with Black getting the better of a technical exchange on the mat. It’s almost weird to see Ciampa wrestling but it makes sense because his hatred is at Johnny Gargano alone. A small package gives Black two as they’re still firmly in first gear. The hanging DDT is quickly broken up and Black hits his first kick to the chest to keep Ciampa down.

More kicks have Ciampa on the floor and Black moonsaults into the seated position so he can mock Ciampa’s wave. Back in and Ciampa gets in his first real shots to put Black on the floor for a whip into the steps. Now it’s Ciampa’s turn to mock Black’s pose because what’s good for one devil is good for another. Ciampa stays on the back with a backbreaker and an abdominal stretch.

Nigel is right there to talk about how this will weaken the Black Mass because it’s based on core strength because Nigel actually knows how to analyze a match. A Texas Cloverleaf switches over to the legs but Black is in the ropes pretty quickly. Black is fine enough to escape a super White Noise and a collision gives us a double knockdown, continuing the odd theory of one move balancing out a long stretch of offense.

More kicks have Ciampa in trouble and the standing Lionsault gets two. A hard kick to the head is good for the same and some kicks to the chest (Black: “TWEET ABOUT THIS!”) rock him even more. He’s fine enough to hit a top rope DDT for two but Black is right back with kicks to the head. A big spinning kick to the head sets up a German suplex for a near fall and Ciampa bails to the floor. Black misses a moonsault though and Ciampa sends him into the cameraman.

Back in and the hanging DDT gets a VERY close two so it’s time to pull the ring mats up. The referee starts yelling so Ciampa comes back in, only to be shoved into the referee, knocking him to the floor. Black Mass connects but there’s no one to count. Ciampa goes for the eye and grabs the title but here’s Gargano to superkick him. Gargano tries to take the belt away, sending it square into Black’s head. Ciampa sends Gargano outside and a lifting sitout Pedigree (Christopher Daniels’ Angel’s Wings, a FAR better finisher than that lame neckbreaker Ciampa was using) finishes Black at 22:18.

Rating: A-. It’s basically Shawn/Bret/Undertaker at Summerslam 1997 and that’s not a bad place to be. You could easily get to a triple threat from here and for once I like that idea instead of going with the trilogy. Black vs. Gargano could be awesome on its own and you could really milk the build to Gargano vs. Ciampa III where Gargano goes back to his normal self (how fitting of a first line to his theme music: “Be yourself, can’t be no no else.”) to defeat the evil once and for all.

The match itself was a great piece of drama with Black knowing he had the big weapon ready to win in the end but getting caught by outside interference and Ciampa being evil enough to take him down. Black is kept very strong as he knocked Ciampa cold and didn’t lose clean, making this another near perfectly booked match.

Recap of the Whodunit story to find out who attacked Black.

From Takeover: WarGames II.

Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

Knee to the face beats Ohno in six seconds.

Ohno wasn’t happy and jumped Riddle a few weeks later.

Here are the nominees for Tag Team of the Year:

Oney Lorcan/Danny Burch

Street Profits

Heavy Machinery

Moustache Mountain

War Raiders

Undisputed Era

From Takeover: Chicago II.

Tag Team Titles: Undisputed Era vs. Danny Burch/Oney Lorcan

Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly are defending and have Adam Cole in their corner. The fans are behind the champs here (well duh) as Strong headlocks Lorcan to start. It’s off to O’Reilly for a headlock takeover and some right hands to Burch’s head but Burch easily wins a slugout. Everything breaks down and Kyle gets suplexed onto Strong before the champs are sent to the floor.

That just leaves Burch and Lorcan to get booed out of the building as the heels are going to be over all night long. Back in and it’s Kyle taking a hard beating with Burch unloading on him in the corner. A distraction lets Strong dropkick Burch down though and the champs take over for the first time. Strong’s backbreaker gets two and a running kick to the face drops him again. We hit the armbar for a bit until Burch fights up for a heck of a headbutt to take O’Reilly down.

That’s enough for the hot tag off to Lorcan and it’s time for the running uppercuts. Lorcan nails a big running dive over the top and alternates chops to both champs. The double elevated DDT gets two on Strong but a Doomsday Device is broken up with Lorcan being shoved hard onto the apron. O’Reilly scores with an enziguri on Burch and the cross armbreaker goes on. Somehow that’s rolled over so Burch can grab a rope and the fans are NOT happy that he survived. Geez guys give the bald guys a chance.

The High/Low is broken up and Lorcan is back up with a double Blockbuster off the apron. Now the Doomsday Uppercut gets two as Cole pulls Strong out at the last second. That means an ejection and the fans now hate the referee too. Strong saves another elevated DDT but Lorcan suplexes his way out of a guillotine choke.

A blind tag brings Strong back in so Lorcan powerbombs him down as the referee tells them they have one minute left. The champs get caught in a double submission with O’Reilly having to kick Lorcan off a half crab to break up Burch’s Crossface. A slugout actually goes to the champs and the High/Low ends Lorcan at 15:59.

Rating: B. This was getting close to the great level and that’s a very solid place for an opener. They were also smart to let the fans cheer for the Undisputed Era early on as you know they’re going to be the most popular guys on the card all night long. Burch and Lorcan looked great here and they might have their day later on. This was all it needed to be though and you can probably have War Raiders waiting on the champs in Brooklyn.

Burch and Lorcan get a standing ovation post match.

Here are the nominees for Rivalry of the Year:

Andrade Cien Almas vs. Johnny Gargano

Shayna Baszler vs. Ember Moon

Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa

Undisputed Era vs. Moustache Mountain

Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet

Aleister Black vs. Nikki Cross vs. Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano

Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane

Here are the nominees for the Future Star of the Year:

Matt Riddle

Mia Yim

Keith Lee

Forgotten Sons

Candice LeRae

Marina Shafir/Jessamyn Duke

Kona Reeves

Dominik Dijakovic

Io Shirai

Here are the nominees for Match of the Year (only a sampling listed here but the full list is from WWE.com):

WarGames Match (TakeOver: WarGames)
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas (NXT Championship Match, TakeOver: Philadelphia)
Moustache Mountain vs. Undisputed ERA (NXT Tag Team Championship Match, NXT TV, July 11, 2018)
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa (Unsanctioned Match, TakeOver: New Orleans)
NXT North American Championship Ladder Match (TakeOver: New Orleans)
Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler (NXT Women’s Championship Match, TakeOver: Brooklyn IV)
Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream (TakeOver: Chicago)
Aleister Black vs. Tommaso Ciampa (NXT Championship Match, NXT TV, July 25)
Pete Dunne vs. Zack Gibson (WWE U.K. Championship Match, NXT TV, Aug. 22)
Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole (Extreme Rules Match, TakeOver: Philadelphia)
Pete Dunne vs. Kyle O’Reilly (WWE U.K. Championship Match, NXT TV, June 13)
Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan vs. Undisputed ERA (TakeOver: Chicago)
Nikki Cross vs. Bianca Belair (NXT TV, Sept. 12)
Ricochet vs. Pete Dunne (NXT North American Champion vs. WWE U.K. Champion Match, NXT TV, Sept. 19)
Ricochet vs. Pete Dunne vs. Adam Cole (NXT North American Championship Triple Threat Match, NXT TV, Oct. 10)

From August 22:

Bianca Belair vs. Deonna Purrazzo

Purrazzo has wrestled all over the indies and had a few appearances with NXT a few years back. The fans seem very pleased to see her as some early headlock takeovers are escaped with a nipup and a handstand. A headscissors into a Fujiwara armbar doesn’t work so Purrazzo tries it again, only to get caught in a gutbuster to put her in trouble. Belair crashes down onto Purrazzo’s back and we hit the full nelson.

Back up and some elbows to the ribs have Purrazzo in more trouble as the EST chants begin. Belair’s standing moonsault misses and a basement dropkick connects. The Fujiwara armbar goes on but Belair fights up and hits a torture rack into the faceplant (kind of a reverse Samoan driver) for the pin at 5:40.

Rating: C-. This was exactly what it needed to be with the fans getting a little taste of Purrazzo as Belair goes over strong in the end. Purrazzo is going to be fine around here with her skill level (at 24 years old) and charisma so everything is going to be fine. Belair is likely coming for the title sooner rather than later.

Clips of Johnny Gargano vs. Aleister Black from Takeover: WarGames II.

We look at what seemed to be a DIY reunion in the cage match from two weeks ago.

Gargano isn’t sure what to think of what happened in the cage but he beat Black, which helps him become the hero at the end of the story.

Here are the nominees for Male Competitor of the Year:

Adam Cole

Pete Dunne

Andrade Cien Almas


Velveteen Dream

Johnny Gargano

Aleister Black

Tommaso Ciampa

Here are the nominees for Female Competitor of the Year:

Ember Moon

Nikki Cross

Kairi Sane

Bianca Belair

Shayna Baszler

Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

Riddle misses an early jumping knee so it’s off to some kicks in the corner, followed by some running forearms. Ohno can’t block an exploder suplex and a backsplash crushes him all over again. Back up and Ohno hits a few shots of his own before giving Riddle a flipping backsplash of his own. A loud kick to the head rocks Riddle again but he somehow scores a German suplex. Ohno scores with a jumping knee to the head of his own and the cyclone kick gets two. Riddle isn’t having this though and kicks him down, setting up the Bromission, with some slaps to the chest, to make Ohno tap at 6:05.

Rating: C-. It was hard hitting with Riddle winning as he should have. Riddle needs to move on from Ohno now though as there isn’t anything left for him to do there. The first match didn’t mean anything other than a surprise so this was the right way to go for the rematch. Ohno is still fine for the role, though they might want to have him win something along the way so these things can mean something.

Post match Ohno looks devastated and near tears. Riddle offers him a fist bump but Ohno sadly walks away. He turns around and gets back in though, eventually giving Riddle the fist bump….and sending him into the post. Another posting on the floor sets up some whips into the steps, followed by a rolling elbow. A fist bump to the unconscious Riddle ends the show. This was rather long and didn’t need to happen as the feud should be done instead of continuing.

Overall Rating: B. With the matches you got to see on here, either in nearly full or shortened form, you can’t go wrong. It was a great year for NXT as things somehow got even better than they had been before, which I didn’t think was possible. It’s an outstanding collection of matches with a few things that didn’t need to be there but were harmless for the most part. NXT is incredible, but I’m pretty sure you already know that.


Matt Riddle b. Kassius Ohno – Bromission

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