Thanks to the love (and good sportsmanship) of my wife I was able to spend my 40th birthday cheering my guts out at NXT TakeOver: Toronto this past weekend. This makes me two for two at Toronto TakeOvers and, in both cases, I walked away thoroughly satisfied with the experience. The matches were great, the crowd was electric, and it even ended at just the right time for us to catch the slightly earlier train back homeward.
While it’s not surprising the TakeOver delivered in terms of match quality, I was surprised with some of the outcomes, going about 50/50 with the predictions from my last column.
The ones I got wrong
Going into this event, I was sure that the golden prophecy of Adam Cole was going to be fulfilled, with the Undisputed Era walking away with all the gold to close the show. As it turned out, only Cole himself carried his belt out the door of the Scotiabank Arena. Both the tag team of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly and North American title hopeful Roderick Strong came up short in their respective matches.
This makes for a really interesting dynamic within the Era as Cole continues to be the guy that gets things done while the other members continue to fall short. Time will tell if this becomes fodder for a storyline that leads to the eventual breakup of the faction with Cole emerging as the top star on the brand. I don’t know that NXT creative would be keen to pull that trigger, especially when one has to think that a main roster call up for the entire group is in the cards somewhere down the line. But there is a story to be told here and I’m excited to see what comes next.
Win or lose, both the tag team and North American championship matches were absolute slobberknockers, with ridiculous Canadian fan service from The Street Profits and Velveteen Dream, finger-snapping goodness from Pete Dunne, and the continued emergence of Montez Ford as a universal treasure.
While I didn’t exactly predict a winner in Candice LeRae vs Io Shirai, I also didn’t predict that this contest would be in the conversation for my favorite match of the night. Heel Io is a fantastic character and her new entrance music is really unique. Pairing her with the bright sparkly goodness of Candice made for a great visual contrast. They really leaned into beating the crap out of one another which was fun, if painful, to watch. Shirai went over by submission, but it is hard to argue that these two ladies didn’t do everything they could to steal the show.
The ones I got right
Shayna Baszler vs Mia Yim was the match I was least excited about on this one and it lived up to that feeling in person. The match wasn’t bad by any means, but Yim had little to no heat with the audience and there was a general feeling of getting through this match to get to the main event. Baszler went over, her reign continues, Hopefully, the next challenger has a little more time to get steam behind them before heading up to the big stage.
On to Cole vs Gargano Three…
Before we even got in the doors for this one, it was easy to tell that this was an Adam Cole kinda crowd. “Bay-Bay” recitals were ringing through the halls and across the isles of the Scotiabank Arena before they so much as jerked the curtain. Undisputed Era shirts were everywhere. Which isn’t to say that my son and I were the only ones in Johnny Wrestling gear, but a 60/40 audience split favoring Cole is probably underselling it a bit.
That said, the entire crowd, regardless of whose shirt they had on, was 100% there for this match. “This is awesome” chants were rocking before the first lock-up and, thanks to the hard work of both guys, the place stayed loud for the entire match.
Holy crap, was this match great.
I went into this show fully expecting Adam Cole to retain, but damn if I wasn’t dragged into believing Johnny was going to pull this one off. It says something about the quality of Gargano’s work when an old smark like me can be drawn all the way into a match and forget all the things I “know” about how wrestling works.
Johnny is a chase guy. Johnny is likely main roster bound. Cole is over like Rover. I know all this stuff, but still, it hurt when that one, two, three got counted and Johnny was left once again on the losing side of a TakeOver main event.
I won’t get into recounting the match or any of the spot on chants that echoed behind it, but I will say that as far as wrestling PPV main events go, they don’t get any more awesome than that.
Where does Johnny go from here? (Please not 205 Live…)
After TakeOver went off the air and Johnny crawled up out of the wreckage left behind, the rest of the crowd and I gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. Then William Regal came out and raised his hands and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. “Thank you, Johnny” sounds an awful lot like goodbye…
In a different world, I would be thrilled to know that my favorite wrestler was on his way up to the biggest stage in the world. However, at under six feet and less than 200 pounds, it’s hard not to worry that Johnny TakeOver is going to be D.O.A. (no, not one of the Disciples of Apocalypse) if he is indeed getting the bump up to the main roster. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but the halls of Titan Towers are lined with the corpses of guys Vince thought were too small to main event.
Even beyond the issue of his size, it is the size of the WWE roster that may stand between Johnny Gargano and a top spot. I mean, right now talents like Bobby Roode, Rusev, Luke Harper, Sheamus, Shelton Benjamin, and scores of others are either sitting around in catering or being background goobers in 24/7 segments. The WWE is like that action figure collector that buys two of everything before you even get to the store: they have all the toys and most of them are still in the package. How does a guy like Johnny break out of the pack and climb the card?
Going into SummerSlam, I was prepared to say goodbye to Johnny Wrestling the same way I have said goodbye to other NXT favorites turned main roster fodder, Aleister Black and Ricochet. Goofy sound effects, goofy promos, and being on the largely unwatchable RAW and SmackDown Live has forced me to forget about two guys I was absolutely nuts for during their time on the black and yellow. However, something strange happened on Sunday night: SummerSlam was friggin awesome.
Yes. I said it. I loved SummerSlam.
Well booked, logical singles matches with clear stakes and mainly clean finishes were the story of the card (also The Fiend… holy crap, The Fiend) and as it played out I couldn’t help thinking: there is a place for Johnny in this.
Johnny could easily slip into a program with Andrade or challenge Shinsuke Nakamura for the IC title. He could backup NXT brother Ricochet against The O.C. In fact, I would be just fine with them going on a tag run just for the fun of it. He could beat Sami, because everyone else is. He could work Cesaro or showcase the skills of Chad Gable.
Hell with it, while I’m fantasy booking anyway, he could make Roman look like Bret Hart if you gave him 20 minutes.
It’s so easy to be cynical toward all things WWE right now. It’s so easy to wish for Johnny to get fired so he can go to AEW or New Japan where his work rate would elevate him higher than a set of platform boots. But, I’m going to believe in Johnny Wrestling one more time. In fact, I’m not just going to believe in Johnny Wrestling… I’m going to believe in Johnny Freakin’ Wrestlemania.
Give em hell, Johnny, and thank you for giving me back something I lost over the years: the ability to believe in wrestling again.
That’s it for now, fans. Until Dean Malenko catches up to Chris Jericho and learns 1002 holds, I’ll see you marks around the loop.