Over the past year the roster of WWE’s NXT brand has changed significantly. With the majority of the acclaimed women’s division moving to Raw and Smackdown, the matches that have stolen the show more often than not have been from the NXT tag team division. This is thanks in large part to it being built around The Revival as the dominant heel champions. Their title matches with Enzo & Big Cass and American Alpha were some of the best NXT matches of 2016 but their best up until this point had been a successful defense against Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II. The result of that match – Gargano was selling a severe knee injury that lead to him submitting to an inverted figure four – paired with Gargano defeating Ciampa in the Cruiserweight Classic had seemed to suggest a Ciampa heel turn was impending. Nevertheless, fast forward to the next NXT event, NXT Takeover: Toronto, and the newly-christened #DIY received a second chance at the gold, this time contested under best of 3 falls rules.
The ending to the first fall was brutal and sudden. #DIY had more or less dominated, outwitting the champions with speed, and Gargano running wild on both Revival members after a hot tag was particularly impressive. Unfortunately that enthusiasm would cost Gargano, as with Ciampa recovering on the floor he attempting the slingshot spear in the Revival corner, making him an easy target for a lightning Shatter Machine. This finish was really cool and made the Shatter Machine, already a well-established finishing move, look absolutely killer. It can’t be stated enough how important a good finishing move for a tag team is. Some teams have made careers out of having a move that people go crazy for, regardless of whether they’re actually a decent team or not. The Eliminators will live on in wrestling history because of their finisher and that is John Kronus’s enduring legacy. A finisher, plus matching ring attire and ideally a smashing pose during the ring entrances: those are the ingredients for a real tag team, and both teams here met the spec perfectly. More importantly, what the end of this first fall had also done was plant a seed of things to come.
Gargano took the brunt of the punishment in the second fall and he was the ideal babyface foil for a lot of The Revival’s attacks. A lot of their best work is very understated but it’s stuff that when you notice it begins to add a lot to their matches. Little things like standing on Gargano’s hand as he crawls for a tag, applying a body scissors and scraping Gargano across the face with your forearm. This keeps even the slower moments in a match interesting because it makes “rest spots” look less like what they actually are. You’re trying to portray a fight, after all. Dash and Dawson also talk a lot of shit which earns bonus points. Gargano worked wonderfully in opposition to all this, as he’s incredibly dynamic and never seemed content to just let himself get beaten. He’d fight back with a punch or a chop, and while it usually ended with him getting double teamed and pummeled unmercifully it showed he too actually gave a damn about winning. Ricky The Dragon at work, baby.
Gargano learned from his mistake at the end of the first fall too, as he countered another Shatter Machine attempt into a tornado DDT, kicking Dawson on the way round to kill two birds with one stone. However, Wilder crawled under the ring to grab Ciampa’s leg. When that didn’t work, Dawson grabbed the referee so he missed the hot tag. I loved this; not only were they doing inventive heel schtick to prevent #DIY from tagging, they had backup plans in case things went awry. They probably had a third scheme set up just in case these hadn’t worked either. This incensed Ciampa, although when he gave chase this resulted in the referee being distracted again, allowing the Revival to further punish Gargano with a Hart Attack. The best thing about this was Scott Dawson getting chased by Ciampa, glancing over his shoulder, then jumping right into the Hart Attack. Again, this made the Revival look like incredibly smart wrestlers. They took advantage of Ciampa being understandably fired up, lured him right into a trap and took the opportunity to hit another big move on his partner in one swift movement.
Gargano began another comeback by countering a Wilder back superplex into a crossbody. With Gargano about to tag Ciampa in, Dawson screamed for the tag, but when he went to stop Johnny he received a simple back elbow and that bought #DIY the time they needed. That was a nice simple move; there was no need for anything fancy when a quick elbow would do the job. Ciampa’s hot tag was good, highlighted by a jumping leg lariat, rolling German suplexes and massive running knee to the side of Dawson’s head for a nearfall. After preventing another Revival double team Ciampa stunned Dash with a knee strike, and while he was out on his feet #DIY sandwiched Dawson’s head with a superkick/running knee combo to level things up. The ending of this fall identified Gargano and Ciampa’s key strategy: divide and conquer. Together, Dash and Dawson are maybe the hardest team in WWE to beat, this was the purpose of the first fall. Isolate one of them, as #DIY did here in the second, and you have a chance.
Ciampa maintained his momentum in the third, taking on both Revival members on his own and avoiding Dawson’s feint into a DDT, showing he was wise to their tricks from the previous matches. Gargano’s official return to the fray yielded similar results, as he scored a big nearfall with a slingshot DDT, but a second attempt at the tornado DDT lead to The Revival not going for the Shatter Machine, instead employing a German suplex/running uppercut (the influence of British Strong Style goes far and wide). That move looked fantastic and added another interesting double team to their portfolio.
Gargano scored a crazy nearfall, blocking a backslide by kicking Wilder off the apron and flipping over into a cradle on Dawson. There’s a constant theme in Revival matches where not only is it recommended that you take one guy out before pinning the other, it’s almost essential. This was shown moments later when Dash grabbed the ref and Dawson blocked Gargano’s rolling enzuigiri by using an NXT tag team title belt as a shield. Dawson, with a massive grin on his face, immediately locked on the inverted figure four, the very same situation that saw Gargano submit in Brooklyn, but this time he made the bottom rope. Not only was Gargano’s crawl to the ropes dramatic, Dawson added to it by screaming in anger as he was doing it, like a supervillain who was witnessing his plans fall apart before his very eyes. Increasingly desperate to put Gargano away, both Revival members attempted to hit #DIY’s own running knee/superkick, only for Gargano to duck, causing Dash to superkick Dawson. With his partner momentarily out of the game, Wilder turned around into a Shatter Machine from #DIY and everyone lost their shit. That somehow wasn’t enough as Dawson returned to make the save.
As the referee forced Ciampa to leave the ring Gargano’s attention was diverted, allowing Dawson to do a switcheroo with Dash, making sure to cover his beautiful bald head while pretending to be hurt on the mat. Said beautiful bald head didn’t prove quite so beneficial when the referee noticed the switch and refused to count the pin for a trunks-assisted schoolboy. This was more payoff to the earlier Revival shenanigans. We were shown (not just in this match, in almost every match they have) that The Revival have cheating down to an art form. They’re masters of it, and even this particular example was really clever. They just got unlucky in that this referee was unusually observant for a WWE official. Doubling up again, Dash took Ciampa out to prevent the tag and laid Gargano out with one of the most vicious chop blocks I’ve ever seen. This was “simple but effective” taken to its logical conclusion, Gargano’s legs were taken completely out from under him. I was a big fan of Gargano’s knee injury as a focus here, because in the span of about 2 seconds he superkicked Dawson, shook his leg as if to say “yep this is gonna hurt in the morning”, then had his leg completely and utterly destroyed. Yep, it definitely hurt.
Dash tried to clamp on the inverted figure four again but Gargano was having none of it and countered, trading reversals until he caught Wilder in the Gargano Escape. Dawson returned, attempting to make the save, but soon found himself trapped in the Star Armbar of Ciampa. Finding themselves both caught in an inescapable position, unable to help either other despite being about a foot apart, both Revival members submitted to give #DIY the tag team titles.
The structure of best of 3 falls matches, especially when all three falls are used, can be really interesting, but it can also become tedious. In essence it can be compared to a movie trilogy. You can make three films that, while broadly linked in terms of characters and themes, stand along and are just as enjoyable as individual pieces. A excellent trilogy takes the earlier installments, references them, has characters learn from their events, and takes the three individual stories to create one overarching story that’s, if all goes well, better than the sum of its parts. This was exactly that. Not only did it escalate as it went on, with all four wrestlers learning from each other, not making the same mistakes, maybe making new mistakes as the stakes increased, but it referenced prior encounters and used them to heighten the drama. When done badly the first two falls become an afterthought, the match doesn’t really matter until the third. On this occasion every fall mattered and made that final fall even more entertaining.
Gargano’s performance in both of the Revival vs. #DIY matches has been out of this world, so much so that I’m prepared to call him one of the best wrestlers in WWE at the moment. There’s a very, very small number who would be in contention alongside him. There’s a lot of potential there for him to fill that niche vacated by Daniel Bryan. He’s a very exciting wrestler to watch in general and his selling of the knee was consistently good here. He’d still attempt moves with it (because he’s not an amputee) but it constantly bothered him. However, unlike many wrestlers who have been plucked from elsewhere to ply their trade in NXT he hasn’t really changed. There’s no EVOLVE Johnny Gargano and a watered down WWE Johnny Gargano. He’s just Johnny Wrestling, the same guy people liked on the independents because he just seems like a bloody great lad. People can see that already so there’s an instant connection between him and the fans. That makes him ideal for these tag team matches because people will always root for him as the face in peril, but if WWE choose to tap into his full potential one day I think the sky’s the limit.
It feels incredibly lazy to compare this match to the same old examples. Dash and Dawson don’t exactly hide their love of old school tag teams, with the obvious love of the Midnight Express, the Hart Foundation and the Brainbusters, but as modern day approximations, with #DIY playing the Rock & Roll Express, you aren’t going to find much better than this. You couldn’t ask for any of the participants to play their roles any better. Looking at the overall arc of The Revival, this was an amazing conclusion to their reign of terror, and the final shot of the match, with both men doomed to defeat and unable to do anything about it, was almost artistic. Paint that up and get it in the Louvre. *****