Ranking every NXT Championship match on an NXT TakeOver (and Arrival)

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18. Aleister Black v. Tommaso Ciampa(c)- NXT Takeover: Phoenix

This match was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest.

I can’t identify the exact cause of why this match failed to engage me, but I have a few ideas. The action here, while certainly good, wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring. This wasn’t helped by a huge portion of the match involving Ciampa working Black’s leg, and I’ve already listed my thoughts on that. The intensity from this match also left me wanting, with both men having worked previous championship contests that had much harder hitting, and more urgent stakes. There’s also a really dumb spot involving Black slipping on some water spilled earlier, which gave Ciampa the opening to hit a Fairytale Ending and nearly winning.

Good wrestling and a nice finish that at least paid off the leg work storyline (as Ciampa hit multiple Fairytale Endings, Black escaped and went for Black Mass, but his pivot leg gave out and Ciampa finished him off) save this from the doldrums of this list. Plus, while it is similar to the modern TakeOver style of one or both competitors repeatedly kicking out of finishers to the point of excess, I don’t mind it as much here because Black’s supernatural resiliency had been well-established and fit with his occult character. But overall, this match still should’ve been a lot better, given the competitors involved.

17. Adrian Neville vs. Bo Dallas (c)- Ladder Match- NXT Arrival

Looking back from 2019 and beyond, it’s incredibly weird that Bo Dallas was a) NXT Champion for nearly nine months, and b) main-evented the first ever NXT live special on the WWE Network. Despite that weirdness, though, Bo Dallas held up his end of a surprisingly decent ladder match.

The real star of the match, however, was Adrian Neville, and the structure of the match worked towards that. The story of the match was simple: Adrian Neville outclassed Bo Dallas in every way. Neville was faster, stronger, had more technical skill, and made better use of the ladders in the match. Barring tossing Neville off the top turnbuckle to prevent the Red Arrow, every advantage Dallas gained was through attacking Neville from behind while Neville tried to win the match, or in one case, accidentally bumping into Neville and sending him crashing into a ladder. Dallas was able to keep pace for a bit through sheer bastardry, but eventually, Neville slammed Dallas onto a ladder, hit Dallas with the Red Arrow while the former was still laid out on the ladder, and grabbed the championship.

This was hardly the most exciting ladder match in history, nor did it convey an epic feel to the match, nor did it display any sort of technical wizardry. But it established Neville to be on another level than Dallas (and the rest of the roster, as his reign would show) and was a decent main event to end the first ever NXT live special on.

16. Samoa Joe v. Finn Balor(c)- NXT TakeOver: Dallas

The middle match in the Joe/Balor TakeOver trilogy leaves me with a lot of conflicting thoughts.

On the one hand, this match has a hot opening, with Joe being busted open severely and Balor and Joe beating the brakes off each other, and a great finish, where Balor rises to his feet out of nowhere, hits the sling blade, John Woo dropkick and Coup de Grace, but Joe similarly awakens and suddenly reverses 1916 into the Coquina Clutch. Balor looks ready to pass out (the likelihood of which was reinforced by Asuka choking out Bayley earlier in the night), but gains one last burst of energy and does the classic climb-the-ropes and land in a pin counter, successfully stealing the win and retaining his title. In addition, this was a well-built match as a whole, with intensity throughout and adhering to the story of Joe seeming to have the Demon figured out, matching him blow-for-blow and consistently countering his big moves.

On the other hand, the early momentum of the match is halted as the doctors work to stop Joe’s bleeding. While possibly necessary, and definitely the safe move, it also put the brakes on for a match that had been really intense to open. Furthermore, the middle portion of the match wasn’t all that interesting, and the action itself wasn’t really innovative. In a lot of ways, until the finish, it was Joe and Balor taking turns hitting moves, albeit with the slight benefit that it fit the larger story.

Overall, this was a pretty solid main event, but it still ranks lower among the first few years of Takeover NXT Championship matches. This match has definitely benefited from hindsight; at the time, Joe’s loss seemed to be the feud ender, making the ending here head-scratching, but Joe won the title from Balor at a live event and successfully retained against The Demon at NXT TakeOver: The End. With that in mind, Balor stealing the victory made much more sense as a way to keep Joe primed for his title reign.