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QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you think that there is a plan for the recent NXT call-ups and, if so, what do you think that plan is?
Perhaps the most difficult decision that I had to make for my latest book, The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era, was to leave NXT out of the mix. The research phase of that project started two years prior to NXT becoming what we now know it to be and, because I think it fair to state that we are still developing a sense for how we are going to historically judge NXT against its main roster peers, particularly as it pertains to the yellow brand’s impact and scope, I just did not feel it was yet appropriate to put NXT on par with WWE proper or NWA/WCW lore.
Nevertheless, I love NXT, and out of a desire to study and contextualize the greatness from the canvas of its signature event, Takeover, this project was born. For my book, I crafted a detailed formula to thoroughly assess the various aspects that shape how fans and pundits use the term “greatest.” I took that formula and tweaked it to fit NXT Takeover. On a 1-5 star scale, appropriately, I graded the best match in each of the top rivalries in NXT history, picked from a pool of consensus classics, on the psychology, storytelling, selling, execution, and climax of their in-ring performances, their historic ramifications on NXT lore, the setting (as defined by a pre-made scale for crowd size), the strength of their pre-match build-up, and the rating given by Dave Meltzer to account for popular opinion, as well as a few additional points (not on a scale of 1-5, mind you) for any intangible qualities (i.e. a special entrance, an innovative move or sequence never before seen, a rivalry-befitting gimmick, etc.). The sum total of the scoring yields the rivalry’s standing, which will be continuously updated as this long-term process advances.
Read the full introduction here.
Psychology: 5 / Historic: 4 / Setting: 5 / Storytelling: 5 / Selling: 4.5 / Climax: 4.5 / Execution: 4 / Popular Opinion: 4.25 / Build: 3.75 / Intangibles: +2
Total Score: 42.0
Nearly a year has done a lot to help develop the reputation of this match given how much each of its combatants have achieved since it happened. At the time, it was an intriguing battle between a still-developing top prospect and a top independent star looking to build on his first impression just 10 weeks prior; and it did indeed deliver.
Dream is the organic by-product of a century thus far spent producing rabid diehard wrestling fans of an entirely different breed, who are aware very early on in their fandoms how the business operates from a place of fiction and who have grown up encouraged to have developed their sense of what constitutes a “great” or “5-star” wrestling match; let’s be honest: eventually, one of us internet wrestling fans was going to come out of puberty looking like Patrick Clark, ready to unleash on the industry the ultimate mark who just so happened to be physically and mentally born to sports entertain.
Ricochet is cut from a similar cloth – the kid who probably would have been an NFL defensive back had his passion not been for wrestling and who essentially represents to WWE what the Oregon Ducks under Chip Kelly were to college football earlier this decade: the evolutionary next step in tempo and innovation on offense.
They are each naturally inclined to believe that they exemplify what modern WWE is about to become, the Dream a perfect blend of athleticism and charisma and Ricochet the single most exciting in-ring competitor to come along in twenty years (and during an era when smaller stature defines you down less than ever before in the sport).
These themes, and others still (Dream’s take on classic WWE style versus Ricochet’s manifestation of the “This is Awesome” era), played out in front of us during their match in Chicago, informing their psychology and pace. Meltzer’s rating of 4 ¼ stars nine months ago felt about right back then – it was definitively great but it lacked that extra something to make it all-time great – and perhaps that is because we did not yet really know what we were going to get out of either of them as the year progressed, but hindsight has afforded the opportunity to reflect and identify that Dream vs. Ricochet might well have previewed the future of WWE; they had a match that fans of character and storytelling will adore, that fans of aerial innovation and heavy content will greatly respect, and that fans of a more casual nature will be entertained by for both personality and in-ring performance.
The dichotomy that emerged between them could not have found a better time and place to culminate; arguably the best fan city in the world, Chicago; NXT, the place that the wrestling Gods put in between WWE and the independents to help pro wrestling evolve; two hungry young guys whose words and actions scream how much they want it all. Dream vs. Ricochet reflects as something more special now than it was then.
Psychology: 3.75 / Historic: 3.75 / Setting: 5 / Storytelling: 4.5 / Selling: 4 / Climax: 4 / Execution: 3.5 / Popular Opinion: 4.25 / Build: 4 / Intangibles: +2
Total Score: 39.75
There is a cruel sense of foreshadowing when replaying this match knowing what happens afterward, as we get a pre-main-event reminder that Fozzy’s “Judas in My Mind” is the official theme song for the NXT special event.
Before Tommaso Ciampa emphatically began one of the rivalries in contention for the top spot on this countdown, however, there was he and Johnny Gargano’s final opportunity to regain the Tag Team Titles that had helped define the duo’s unlikely rise to stardom. Their Ladder Match against the incomparable AOP could have easily been labeled, “DIY’s Last Stand,” and through their collective entry into the story-driven category of the gimmick’s history, the four of them proved why their division at large had earned the right to close out a Takeover.
DIY added an important storytelling layer to the carnage, the most extreme of which was a spot that saw Ciampa throw one member of AOP violently through a ladder that proceeded to explode like a table when a Dudley fractured its wood and sent its splinters flying. That additional nuance, especially Gargano’s ability to sell the pivotal moment when he moved Ciampa out of harm’s way and ate a hard-swung ladder for his sacrifice, which so well set the stage for the heartbreak of Ciampa’s deplorable act later, cannot be overstated; it helped offset a few of the telegraphed spots that weakened the performance in the psychology and execution departments.
Ciampa’s heel turn is an intangible element that boosts the profile of the match that preceded it, one of the awesome touches about the character swerve being that it happened right as the WWE signature popped up in the lower left hand corner of the screen, having made us all strongly sympathetic to them, only for the rug to be yanked right out from under us once we thought the night had ended. Make no mistake, though, that DIY’s Last Stand was a highly effective concluding stage-setter for the feud-launcher to come.
#1- Revival vs. #DIY (46.5)
#2- Bate vs. Dunne (43.5)
#3- Undisputed Era vs. Mustache Mountain (42.25)
#4- Dream vs. Ricochet (42.0)
#5- War Games 2018 (41.5)
#6- Nakamura vs. Zayn (41.0)
#7- Asuka vs. Moon (40.75)
#8- #DIY vs. AOP (39.75)
#9- Dream vs. Black (39.5)
#10- Owens vs. Balor (38.75)
#11- Almas vs. McIntyre (36.0)
#12- Four Horsewomen-Way (33.75)
If you wish to dive deeper inside my mind when it comes to historical ranking via The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era, you can order it through pretty much any online avenue (just search for it in a browser and various options will pop up), but for those who prefer to buy your books via Amazon as I do, here are a few links to make it easier: