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Pick-Six: Best NXT TakeOver events of all time

For years, NXT TakeOver events have excited wrestling fans throughout the calendar year, and frequently exceed the quality of the featured WWE pay-per-view airing on the same weekend, as well.

Numerous stars got their start in the NXT Universe, with many putting together “Match of the Year” candidates and stealing the show at NXT TakeOver events throughout their tenure on WWE’s third brand.

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The problem when your events are taking fans out of their seats and sending them into a frenzy every few months? It gets difficult to narrow down the best of the bunch, which goes against the grain of what a competitive setting like professional wrestling is all about.

But, just like trying to follow a fan-favorite match when you’re walking out for a main event, you have to try. So, it’s time to determine the best NXT TakeOver cards of all time as of the 30th installment in the brand’s history.

6. NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia

It’s crazy to think about an event with a literal five-star match at its finish would only generate a spot as the sixth best NXT TakeOver of all time, but that’s just how good they have been since their inception in 2014.

In front of a fiery Philadelphia crowd, this NXT TakeOver event dominated the wrestling scene on the eve of a massive Royal Rumble event before the Road to WrestleMania.

Aleister Black and Adam Cole put together absolute pandemonium in an Extreme Rules match early in the night, while then-NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon and Shayna Baszler continued the trend of tremendous women’s matches in NXT TakeOver history.

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But, nothing could come close to the night’s main event, as then-NXT Champion Andrade Cien Almas and Johnny Gargano almost ended the race for “Match of the Year” before it could even begin. On that January night, the two put on a technical, physical and emotional masterpiece, complete with appearances from Zelina Vega and Candice LeRae to top off the madness.

In the end, the wrestler now known simply as Andrade successfully defended his title, but both NXT stars came out as winners. To wrap up the night, Gargano’s favorite friend-turned-foe Tommaso Ciampa returned to attack the defeated challenger, sparking the next chapter in their historic rivalry.

It was an all-around treat for NXT fans that night, and therefore serves as a fitting start to our countdown.

5. NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn

It hurts to stick this card in the fifth spot on the list, considering its status as many NXT fans’ favorite TakeOver event of all time. But, a position in the top five will have to do for this historic card.

This NXT TakeOver was simply known for one match, and it wasn’t even the night’s official main event. In one of two “main events” for the evening, then-NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks and challenger Bayley compiled an instant classic that had fans tearing up by its conclusion.

After a roller-coaster of emotions that lasted months, Bayley finally got over the hump by taking down the bully Banks in an absolute battle on NXT’s biggest stage. Following almost 20 minutes of hard fought combat, the two embraced in the center of the ring, and were joined by their fellow “Four Horsewomen” members Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch.

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Heading into SummerSlam in 2020, the two were both tag team champions and in control of both singles titles on RAW and SmackDown. But, they will likely go down in history for this match more than any of their other career achievements, showing you how strong this event was.

Oh, and then-NXT Champion Finn Balor successfully defended his title against Kevin Owens in a 22-minute ladder match, as if fans hadn’t been spoiled enough.

It was a show every wrestling fan dreams of attending, and set the tone for a history of successful TakeOver events in Brooklyn, which we’ll get to more of in a bit.

4. NXT TakeOver: New Orleans

New Orleans has a special place in the hearts of wrestling fans, specifically for the rise of Daniel Bryan during his WrestleMania moment at WrestleMania 30. But, the lone instance where NXT took over Louisiana turned out to be another memorable night for viewers at home to enjoy, and elevates the event into the top five on this list.

The night will forever remain in NXT lore for a few reasons: Adam Cole won a devastating, six-man ladder match to become the inaugural NXT North American Champion; Aleister Black won the NXT Championship against Andrade Cien Almas; and Roderick Strong turned heel on Pete Dunne to join the Undisputed Era, beginning a new era in the brand’s history.

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The star-studded event could only be topped off with one match and one match only: a bout between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano.

In an Unsanctioned Match, Gargano defeated Ciampa with a submission move featuring Ciampa’s own knee brace, earning a key win in their long-term rivarly. The victory led to Gargano being “reinstated” to NXT, all after Ciampa had initially cost Gargano in a “Title vs. Career” match against Almas a few months prior.

It was a stellar card from start to finish, and may have even exceeded the weekend’s WrestleMania as a result, launching itself into the NXT history books in the process.

3. NXT TakeOver: New York

Speaking of main events between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, NXT TakeOver: New York initially was going to be a peak moment in the duo’s longstanding rivalry.

Instead, an injury to Ciampa’s neck derailed the match, and forced NXT to put together a match between Gargano and a very-game Adam Cole, who went at each other in a 40-minute, Two-out-of-Three Falls Match for a vacant NXT Championship.

The duo went on to face off in a trilogy over the course of three consecutive TakeOver events, but their first battle for the title stands out among the rest due to its ability to exceed any expectations that fans had going in after the disappointment that came with Ciampa’s injury situation.

Fans still got a beautiful moment to end the show, with Gargano defeating Cole and the Undisputed Era to finally capture the NXT Championship after years with the brand. Gargano’s wife Candice LeRae, along with Ciampa himself, were there to celebrate with the new NXT Champion on the ramp, capping off a Cinderella story on the night before WrestleMania.

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Add in the final match of Ricochet and Aleister Black’s NXT careers in a loss against the then-NXT Tag Team Champion War Raiders, along with a fast-paced Fatal Four Way for the NXT Women’s Championship between the defending Shayna Baszler, Bianca Belair, Io Shirai and Kairi Sane, and this event had it all.

If not for some incredible TakeOver events before it, this could have taken the cake as the best in NXT’s history.

2. NXT TakeOver: Dallas

There are many different eras to consider when it comes to NXT. The recent Adam Cole era, the Finn Balor era in the brand’s peak, and even the early days involving names like Adrian Neville, Bo Dallas and Seth Rollins towards the NXT Championship’s creation.

But, it’s tough to ignore the times involving a wrestling superstar like Shinsuke Nakamura, and his origin story in NXT easily brings his TakeOver debut to a top spot in this list.

At NXT TakeOver: Dallas, Nakamura and an NXT legend in Sami Zayn put on arguably the brand’s greatest match of all time, all under the spotlight of a mid-card match. The two battled for 20 minutes in the center of the event, setting an almost-impossible bar to exceed for the following night’s WrestleMania at AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys.

Nakamura’s debut win made him an instant name to remember, and served as a spectacular send-off for Zayn after a successful career in NXT.

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While that match tends to be what most wrestling fans remember from that entire weekend, other highlights helped turn this NXT TakeOver into a true contender for the title as the event’s G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). Asuka’s record-breaking NXT Women’s Championship reign got its start at the event after her submission win over Bayley, and Finn Balor continued his reign as NXT Champion with a win over Samoa Joe in the main event.

This event lands as the top spot in many wrestling fans’ rankings for NXT TakeOver cards, but just like Roman Reigns in a Royal Rumble match, sometimes you just have to accept the shine of a second-place finish rather than a top spot.

  1. NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV

Sometimes, things just get better with age. So, it just feels right to have NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV at the top of the list for the best NXT TakeOver events of all time.

Triple H and those behind NXT seemed to continuously learn how to tweak and perfect events at the Barclays Center each summer, which seemed impossible to improve upon after NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn took place in 2015.

So, when NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV went live on August 18, 2018, wrestling fans knew that something special was in store, and the wrestlers on the card did not disappoint whatsoever.

The Undisputed Era and Moustache Mountain opened the night with a bang, with the former successfully defending the NXT Tag Team Championships in an 18-minute, picture-perfect tag team match. Then, the pace continued with a solid bout between The Velveteen Dream and EC3.

But, on a night where Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano were set to add another wrinkle to their rivarly, it was then-NXT North American Champion Adam Cole and challenger Ricochet who stole the show with a match for the ages.

For 15 minutes, Cole and Ricochet had fans on their feet in disbelief, with a superkick from Cole in the midst of a Ricochet moonsault nearly sending those in the audience over the railing in excitement. The chemistry between the two was unmatched, and Ricochet’s victory at the end of the match almost seemed like a disappointment to those who never wanted the match to end.

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Championship changes didn’t end there, as Kairi Sane took out then-NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler with a roll-up to win the title in a picture-perfect, 13-minute match before the main event.

To finish the night off with a Last Man Standing match between then-NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa and the challenging Gargano almost didn’t even seem fair to those looking to follow up the night at WWE’s SummerSlam a day later.

The two never cease to amaze wrestling fans, and they did just that under the pressure of the main event that weekend, with Ciampa getting back on his feet at a nine-count after nearly 34 minutes to retain his title.

It was the epitome of what NXT TakeOver cards bring to the table in WWE’s landscape, and rightfully earned its stripes as the best NXT TakeOver in the event’s history.

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