NXT TakeOver: WarGames has become an annual tradition for the brand, closing the year of NXT pay-per-views with a brutal match filled with highlight reel moments. This time around, fans were treated to two versions of the match, a show-opening WarGames featuring women for the first time and a main event that ended with one of the most spectacular bumps in the modern era of WWE.
Saturday’s TakeOver: WarGames 3 card from Chicago — one night before Survivor Series at Allstate Arena — delivered big on all fronts. When the main complaints coming out of a show mainly focus on the two eponymous matches being a bit much for a single night and one very good match going a few minutes too long, you know the product delivered what NXT fans have come to expect from TakeOver events. Kevin Owens’ return to the WWE’s “third brand” as a mystery partner in the main event was a shock, even if it should have been obvious in retrospect. And it was just one of a string of moments that rank among the best in a huge year for NXT. Show grade: A-
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NXT TakeOver: WarGames 3 recap, grades
Angel Garza def. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott via pinfall after hitting the Wing Clipper. Very good kickoff show action from Garza and Scott. Scott hit Garza with a Death Valley Driver on the ring apron and a double stomp to the outside. Garza took several shortcuts, including attempting a low blow after distracting the referee. Scott caught the kick and tried to fire back but the opening was left in the ensuing back-and-forth for Garza to hit a knee and follow up with the Wing Clipper for the three count. Grade: B-
Women’s WarGames — Rhea Ripley & Candice LeRae def. Shayna Baszler (via pinfall), Io Shirai, Bianca Belair & Kay Lee Ray: High-drama, high-impact and highspot heavy, the first-ever women’s WarGames match hit all the expected notes inside the iconic structure. With every participant given moments to shine and a heel turn that will draw plenty of comparisons to Tomasso Ciampa’s legendary turn on Johnny Gargano, this was the best WarGames since NXT brought the match back from the classic days of WCW. A huge tower of doom served as the early highlight with Ripley driving Ray and Shirai into a pile of chairs and LaRae taking the biggest bump in the spot as collateral damage. Belair managed to use the cage to remain on the top rope, hitting a 450 splash onto Ripley and the chairs. As Kai’s time came to enter the match and even the odds, she executed a brutal heel turn, kicking Nox in the face before battering her inside of — and with — the shark cage at the top of the ramp. The turn and attack left the odds tilted hard against Ripley’s team (4 vs. 2) as Nox was down and out and Kai had walked off. Order of entry: (1-2) Shirai and LaRae, (3) Belair, (4) Ripley, (5) Ray, (6) Baszler
Ripley and LaRae tried to battle back as Baszler attempted to lock Ripley up with a pair of handcuffs. Ripley’s power and LaRae’s determination led to momentary hope spots and big moments, including LaRae hitting a super poisonrana off the top rope on Ray for a near fall. Moments later, Shirai launched herself with a moonsault from the top of the cage onto LaRae. Baszler was able to lock the Kirifuda Clutch on Ripley, but Ripley slapped the open end of the handcuffs on her. After dodging a kick, she locked Baszler in pumphandle position and hit the Riptide onto two chairs and get a three count on the NXT women’s champion, overcoming the odds with the faces scoring the win. Grade: A
Pete Dunne def. Damian Priest (via pinfall) and Killian Dain to become the No. 1 contender for the NXT championship: The three bruisers went at it in a match full of big shots, including Dain hitting a Michinoku Driver on Dunne directly onto the face of Priest. No slight to the efforts of Priest and Dain, but Dunne was the star in the match — as he is in most — being just as physical as the two larger men in the match but with more dynamics to his offense. Priest slammed Dunne onto the announce table with a Razor’s Edge only to be put through the ringside barricade by a Dain Cannonball. The match was dotted with convincing near-falls, including Dunne hitting Dain with The Bitter End, only to have a Priest kick break the pin at the last second. Priest hit Dunne with The Reckoning only to have Dain collapse on the men to break up the pin. Dunne also got a near fall on Priest with The Bitter End before locking a sleeper on Dain. Dain attempted to fall backward with a seton — with Dunne still on his back. Dunne used the moment to hook Priest’s leg and punch his ticket to the title match against Adam Cole at Survivor Series. There was good action throughout but the match would have benefitted from trimming a bit of time as it was overly long. Grade: B
Finn Balor def. Matt Riddle via pinfall: Riddle and Balor both started with a mat-based attack working headlocks and classic holds. Balor’s heel work is more deliberate and brutal than his lengthy face run — especially the time he spent on the “main roster.” Riddle, of course, is more than capable of matching anyone in a hold-for-hold capacity and worked over Balor’s legs, which Balor sold in collapsing and also clutching his leg after hitting a dropkick. Riddle had a nod and wink at his Twitter rival Goldberg by hitting a spear and Jackhammer combo. A Bro To Sleep gave Riddle an opening for a potential finish, but he instead went for — and missed — a Floating Bro. Moments later, Balor escaped from the Bromission and spiked Riddle with the 1916 DDT for the win in what had been an intriguing mix of styles. Grade: B+
Men’s WarGames — Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic & Kevin Owens def. Undisputed Era (Adam Cole [via pinfall], Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish): Two WarGames matches in one night may be one too many, but like the women earlier in the night, all eight men in the main event put themselves through hell inside the brutal structure. The moment that will live in highlight reels forever, however, came in the match’s final move as Ciampa drove Cole through two tables with an Air Raid Crash from the top of the cage. The other highlight of the match was Owens’ return to the NXT ring as the surprise fourth member of Team Ciampa. When Cole entered the match as the final member of Undisputed Era, he introduced several tables to the match, including one he inexplicably set up leaning against the guard rail. As expected, he was almost immediately put through said table by Ciampa. The match, at that point was still a four-on-three set up with Team Ciampa’s mystery partner yet to be revealed. When the countdown clock hit, no one entered for a brief moment before Owens’ music hit to a tremendous pop from the crowd — and the shock of Undisputed Era. Order of entry: (1-2) Ciampa and Strong, (3) O’Reilly, (4) Dijakovic, (5) Cole, (6) Owens
Owens cleaned house, concluding with a stunner on Cole, before the match broke back down into the expected chaos. The tables introduced earlier in the match came into play in the final stretch of the match, entirely backfiring on Undisputed Era. Dijakovic hit Strong with a chokeslam through one, Owens drove O’Reilly through another with a frog splash and Fish was powerbombed through another by Lee before one of the most dangerous bumps you’re likely to see in a WWE ring. Cole and Ciampa were on top of the cage, battling back and forth, before Ciampa got the upper hand and drove Cole through side-by-side tables with a spectacular Air Raid Crash. There was no kicking out for Cole after the massive move, which rivals the previous WarGames top moment of Ricochet’s 630 splash. Grade: A-
NXT TakeOver: WarGames 3 highlights
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