Over the last four years, NXT has told some incredible stories. Who could forget the personal nature of the NXT chapter of the Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn rivalry in 2015? Or when things got intensely personal for Samoa Joe when, as NXT champion, he tangled with both Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura? There's everything that happened between Sasha Banks and Bayley and, more recently, Asuka and Ember Moon tearing it up atop the NXT women's division.
As great as those rivalries were, none of them measures up to the remarkable achievement in storytelling that is the all-out war between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. The former NXT tag-team champions have created the greatest rivalry in the history of NXT, thanks to a story that stretches back over three years. Their match of the year candidate masterpiece at TakeOver: New Orleans seemed as though it could finally be Gargano's triumph but, as it turned out, that was just another chapter with tensions continuing to escalate
Ciampa threw lighter fluid on their bitter rivalry a couple weeks back when he blindsided Gargano while he walked down the aisle to compete for the NXT championship. Ciampa delivered a brutal assault resulting in Gargano being taken away in an ambulance.
With Gargano still nursing those injuries, Gargano's wife, Candice LeRae, interrupted Ciampa's gloating this week to add even more weight to the situation.
"Johnny Gargano may have won the battle, but I will always win the war," Ciampa bragged. "That's why I'm standing here and he's sitting at home in a neck brace that I put him in. Johnny Wrestling is gone. I win."
That comment brought out an angry LeRae. She spoke of her confusion as to what Ciampa had become -- how he no longer resembled the man who lived with Gargano and LeRae in Orlando, and had even been in their wedding party. Elements of real life have added an edge to this story, and LeRae's comments only served to further enhance things.
"You are a monster that I will never forgive," LeRae said. "And while my husband's future may be uncertain, you will know that Johnny Gargano was better than you."
After Ciampa said that LeRae was more of a man than Gargano, she responded with a vicious slap to Ciampa's face. He smiled and mouthed, "I win" as LeRae made her exit.
The amount of negativity that Ciampa's been able to generate of late is extraordinary, and should come as no surprise. The fans of NXT have embraced Gargano with a Daniel Bryan-esque fervor, connecting with him more and more each year as they appreciated his stellar in-ring work and underdog path to the top. Gargano, his former best friend, has channeled all of that into being the perfect antagonist trying to derail it all.
No matter what's in store for NXT TakeOver: Chicago, and beyond, we're in the midst of something very special.
The Undisputed Era tastes defeat
There's no denying WWE U.K. champion Pete Dunne's talent. He's one of the best in-ring technicians in the WWE, full stop. In fact, as we head towards the second installment of NXT TakeOver: Chicago next month, it's hard not to reminisce about the epic battle he and Tyler Bate had at TakeOver last year in Chicago, when he won the U.K. championship.
Over time Dunne's been folded into the world of NXT, and along with the underutilized duo of Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, he has a major quarrel with the Undisputed Era. The animosity began at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, when Roderick Strong turned on Dunne in their quest for the NXT tag-team championships in the moment it looked like they'd win said titles and instead joined the Undisputed Era. As Dunne was about to get a measure of revenge on NXT TV a couple weeks ago in a one-on-one match with Strong, Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly interfered. Lorcan and Burch stormed the ring to support Dunne, and that led to this week's six-man tag-team main event.
In a surprising turn of events following an entertaining bout, Burch ended up getting the biggest pinfall victory of his NXT career over O'Reilly. Don't expect the Undisputed Era to sit quietly in defeat, though, as this win certainly seems to set up Lorcan and Burch for an opportunity at the NXT tag titles.
Ricochet/Velveteen Dream short-circuited by Lars Sullivan
One week after some verbal sparring between Ricochet and the Velveteen Dream, the two squared off in their first one-on-one encounter -- but we only got a small taste of what's sure to be spectacular at some point in the near-future.
As Ricochet and Dream were just getting going, Lars Sullivan emerged and destroyed them both. Where Sullivan fits into the equation remains to be seen, though it seems Ricochet and Dream positioning themselves as Aleister Black's next challenger likely put a target on their backs, but it makes sense not to give away a match of this caliber for free; Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream belongs on a bigger stage. While we figure out what's next, the two emerging rivals are set to team up to take on Sullivan in a handicap match next week.
- Lacey Evans defeated Brandi Lauren with a moonsault from the middle rope and a right hand. After the match, Kairi Sane attacked Evans in retribution for a previous attack, though she escaped before Sane could fully realize her revenge with an in-Sane elbow drop.
- "The Finest" Kona Reeves picked up a win against Raul Mendoza in a solid effort.
- One week ago, Dakota Kai was chased from the ring by NXT women's champion Shayna Baszler after the former scored a win over Vanessa Bourne. For the first time in a long time on NXT TV, Nikki Cross appeared, lingering in the background backstage, watching everything play out. This week, as Kai was being interviewed about her training at the Performance Center, she was interrupted by Nikki Cross, who emerged from the gaggle of fake reporters. She asked when Kai was going to face her fear and fight Baszler, pushing Kai to overcome her demons. This could be an odd pairing, but early signs point to an unlikely alliance between the two.
- Heavy Machinery takes on TM61 next week.