When Dave Meltzer revealed his star-ratings from NXT TakeOver New Orleans in this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the results were not all that surprising. There had been speculation among fans, who always try to predict how Meltzer will rate matches, that both the North American Championship ladder match between EC3, Killian Dain, Ricochet, Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream and Lars Sullivan, as well as the unsanctioned match between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, would receive the full-five stars.
That speculation was proved correct as Meltzer gave both matches five stars, while rating the rest of the NXT card quite highly as well (no match received less than 3.25). Again, this isn’t particularly surprising as NXT has been doing their best New Japan Pro Wrestling impression lately when it comes to churning out incredible matches.
At NXT TakeOver Philadelphia, Gargano took part in an NXT Championship match with Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas that was one for the ages. It received NXT’s first-ever five-star rating and WWE‘s first five-star rating since Money in the Bank 2011, when CM Punk defeated John Cena. Now, just one card later, NXT has three such matches, two of which came at NXT TakeOver New Orleans.
And that’s where the impressive history comes in.
For as great as NJPW has been over the past three years and it has been GREAT, not WrestleKingdom, not Dominion, not Sakura Genesis – none of those cards accomplished what NXT TakeOver New Orleans did. For the first time in history, Meltzer gave five stars to two men’s matches on the same show. It also marked the first time since the All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling Tag League The Best, in 1993, which saw Kyoko Inoue, Toshiyo Yamada, Akira Hokuto and Manami Toyota, put on back-to-back five star matches, that two matches involving any gender, received five star ratings on the same card.
North American Championship Ladder Match: Killian Dain vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Adam Cole vs. EC3 vs. Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream – *****
In just the second-ever five-star rated ladder match, the first of which saw Razor Ramon defeat Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania X in 1994, this one absolutely tore the roof off of the Smoothie King Center. And it was the opener!
Clearly, the crowd knew what they were about to see as before the match even started, there was the night’s first of many, “This is Awesome” chants.
For over 31 minutes, six of NXT’s best and brightest, absolutely battled, all wanting to win the brand new title that the company had introduced. For EC3 and Ricochet, this was their NXT in-ring debut and it certainly did not disappoint. If there was ever a wonder what these two would be capable of in the black-and-yellow brand, wonder no more. Ricochet showed off his high-flying prowess and EC3’s heel work was on point. But those were just two of the six men who made this match what it was and what it was, was one of the greatest ladder matches of all time.
You've got to see it to believe it. @KingRicochet #NXTTakeOver pic.twitter.com/ZiuMR87ct5
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) April 8, 2018
There was a great juxtaposition of sizes and unique styles with all six men finding moments to shine. The pace was blistering from the start and somehow, it managed to keep that momentum throughout. There were some fantastic spots: Dain hit a spectacular Vader Bomb while Cole was on his back, Dream hit one of the most massive elbow drops ever as well as a Death Valley Driver sending Ricochet crashing through a ladder, Sullivan tried to push Ricochet off a ladder only for Ricochet to flip off the ladder instead, Cole and EC3 worked together until EC3 stole Cole’s catchphrase leading to Cole superkicking everybody and about 14,000 fans saying in unison, “Adam Cole, bay bay!”
There were moments of oneupsmanship, including an incredible sequence near the end of the match that first saw Sullivan drop EC3 on top of Dream who was on top of a ladder, breaking the object and both men in half, before Dain, in an “anything you can do, I can do better,” moment, did something similar to Cole and Ricochet. It wasn’t long after this that the crowd chanted “Fight Forever,” not exactly something you normally hear from a multi-man match.
History has been made.
Meet your FIRST-EVER NXT #NorthAmericanChampion, @AdamColePro BAY BAY! #NXTTakeOver pic.twitter.com/RoIABFDrlD
— WWE (@WWE) April 8, 2018
With all six men fighting atop three ladders for the chance to make history, it was Cole, one of only two men in this match who had previously recorded a five-star rating (Ricochet earned his only prior five-star rating in the same match as Cole) who outsmarted and outlasted the rest to become the first NXT North American Champion.
Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – *****
When it comes to putting on classics, Johnny Gargano might as well be NXT’s Kazuchika Okada. Since forging a singles career post-NXT TakeOver Chicago, Gargano has been in three TakeOvers, and has gotten no less than a 4.25 rating in any of them. Entering this unsanctioned match, Gargano was coming off of his first-ever five-star match at NXT TakeOver Philadelphia. There was little doubt that with Tommaso Ciampa as his sparring partner, that the same outcome wouldn’t happen again.
From the very beginning, it was clear this match was going to live up to any and all expectations. Ciampa entered to no music, just a serenade of insults from the crowd. This went on for several minutes before Gargano even made his own heroic entrance. And then, with the audience firmly in Gargano’s corner, the match began.
Brace yourself for this one.@JohnnyGargano @ProjectCiampa #NXTTakeOver pic.twitter.com/zVfMWQiPG6
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) April 8, 2018
Both men were remarkable, taking every last ounce of emotion that had been building up since NXT TakeOver Chicago and allowing it to just explode. Gargano was the early aggressor, almost a year of pent-up rage coming out in a big way. But Ciampa fought back, not pulling any punches. Every hit, every facial expression, every moment added to the energy and intensity and brutality of this match. There was no wasted movement as for over 35 minutes, these two beat the hell out of one another.
Throughout the match, Ciampa played an excellent heel, delighting in the pain he was inflicting on his former best friend in a sick, sadistic way. He mocked Gargano and the crowd with mannerisms from DIY. He attempted to use crutches from a fan to force Gargano to relive the past few months, when Ciampa attacked him with his own crutch, time and time again. He used several other heel tactics that are otherwise banned, including eye gouging, low blows and attempting to choke the very life from Gargano with wrist tape.
Back to CONCRETE!!! @JohnnyGargano & @ProjectCiampa go old school in their #NXTTakeOver clash. https://t.co/cBEjjtr0is pic.twitter.com/n2rPrhBYsN
— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) April 8, 2018
Additionally, Ciampa took some massive bumps in his first match back in nearly a year. As the crowd chanted, “You deserve it,” Ciampa fell victim to his own masochism, landing back first into concrete that he had previously exposed. Later in the match, Gargano threw Ciampa face first into a turnbuckle. Gargano also wailed on Ciampa with the crutches, executing a modicum of revenge on his former tag team partner and best friend.
The symbolism was outstanding the entire match but perhaps the best moment came at the end. Ciampa removed his knee brace and pulled down his knee pad in a callback to a spot the two had in their Cruiserweight Classic match. Only that time, the two were still partners, and Ciampa hesitated to hit Gargano with the exposed knee. There was no hesitation this time, not on the part of Ciampa, but once again he couldn’t land the move as Gargano hit him with the brace. Gargano then broke one of the crutches in half, but as Ciampa got to his knees, he couldn’t do it. Gargano stopped mid-swing on two separate occasions. The two locked eyes and as Gargano mouthed the word, “Why?” Ciampa seemed to be showing some remorse. Of course, it was all an act and Gargano bought into it. Ciampa attempted to hit Gargano with the knee brace but Gargano countered and ended up tapping Ciampa out with an STF, using the brace to do it.
BATTER UP! @JohnnyGargano #NXTTakeOver pic.twitter.com/DxaInBtO7v
— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) April 8, 2018
There is an easy answer as to why this match was five stars and why perhaps, it could have even gotten anymore. It was because of the story behind it all, a story that was told perfectly in the ring, between wrestlers who are two of the absolute best in NXT.