Mount Rushmores of Wrestling is a series that breaks down the cream of the crop of professional wrestling in our quest to come to a consensus on the top 4 of any given category. In today’s edition we’re looking at NXT tag team matches.
The Revival vs American Alpha, NXT TakeOver: Dallas
Darius: Even on a night where the oft-praised Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura match took place, I still walked away from Takeover: Dallas thinking about the amazing start that was Dash & Dawson vs Gable & Jordan.
There are a couple of notable hot tag-based teams in NXT’s history, with American Alpha being right up there with Enzo & Cass, but this match really was the story of one hot tag. For the entire first half of the match, Gable more or less wrestled a handicapped match, sometimes because he thought he could handle it, but mostly because Dash & Dawson would not let him escape their side of the ring.
But boy oh boy: when Jason Jordan came in, the crowd exploded.
This match saw The Revival make stars out of American Alpha, throwing every single maneuver they had at the infant tag team and allowing them to look equal parts sympathetic and strong. It wasn’t just a struggle for the babyfaces; there were multiple moments where the sheer athleticism of Gable and/or Jordan was obviously too much for The Revival to handle, and in the end, that same brute force got them crowned as the new tag team champions.
The match isn’t perfect — there’s a very awkward Doomsday Device spot that got pronounced Botchamania chants — but it’s still the beginning of NXT’s amazing tag team era, which took 2016 by storm the same way NXT’s women did in 2015.
Also, watching this match back, it really looks like anything that FTR does with Jungle Boy now is a spiritual successor to them clashing with Chad Gable.
The Undisputed Era vs The Authors of Pain vs Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne, NXT TakeOver: New Orleans
Vishal: TakeOver NOLA is one of my favorites, because I’m a massive #DIY mark. Everything involving Gargano and Ciampa in the ring together gets me popping. But that’s not the match I’m talking about here. No, what really stands out at this TakeOver, on the same night as Aleister Black’s championship victory, was the triple threat tag match for the NXT tag team championships.
A massive part of why this match hit so hard was the story going in. Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne, one of the last-minute tag teams of the Dusty Classic, had made it to the finals against last year’s Dusty Classic winners, the Authors of Pain. The twist? This match was a triple threat, where both Dusty Classic finalists would compete against the Undisputed Era, after the UE interfered in the finals of the Dusty Classic in a bid to not have to defend their tag championships. Another twist? The Undisputed Era had been trying to recruit Strong into their ranks for months. And a third twist on top of that? Strong hated the Undisputed Era so much that in the inaugural NXT WarGames match, he teamed with the AOP to try and beat them. It was a boiling pot of tension even before the actual match, and NXT has always managed to capitalize on this kind of tension, especially in their tag division.
But what’s great about this match is that you don’t need all this context to get it. Three fantastic tag teams put on a clinic and told the story in the ring. The AOP are monsters, especially compared to the other four members of the match – with Adam Cole as the largest of them, it’s really just four cruiserweights doing everything they can to outlast the biggest tag team in NXT history.
Despite being the heels of the match, the Undisputed Era are positioned immediately as the underdogs – Adam Cole had already been in a match earlier in the evening, and was thrown through a table by the AOP incredibly early, sidelining him for the rest of the match. Kyle O’Reilly put on a ferocious effort, but kept being stopped just due to the numbers game. Dunne and Strong brought in the true babyface element of the match – they worked together surprisingly well for two singles wrestlers, and their hot tags were the stuff of legend.
But the reason this match is so memorable, the reason it’ll go down in NXT history books, is because of the ending. Strong, Dunne, and O’Reilly managed to take the AOP out, incapacitating both of them at ringside. Dunne hit O’Reilly with the Bitter End, a move that had still never been kicked out of by this point. The Cinderella story was coming to fruition. Until Roderick Strong broke up the pin, hit Dunne with his own finisher, and lay an unconscious O’Reilly on top of his tag partner, giving the Undisputed Era the win. It was shocking and legitimately unexpected, and led to the most dominant faction in all of NXT.
The match itself isn’t the best wrestling (look at Darius’s picks for that), but it tells its story so effectively and so economically that it stays rewatchable to this day. Seriously, it’s just over 11 minutes long. It’s a match I go back to regularly, and one that NXT has never truly been able to replicate the feeling of.
The Revival vs DIY, 2/3 Falls, NXT Takeover: Toronto
Darius: There’s no way to make an objective argument for this, but I’m going to come out and say it: this is the greatest match in WWE history. Not just in NXT. Not just in tag matches. The whole shebang.
I’ve watched this match more times than any other WWE match, and it’s honestly not even close. It especially hits hard when watched back-to-back with their TakeOver: Brooklyn II match, but even without that previous context, the callbacks to match #1 still work well as the teams having each other scouted.
I adore the easter egg of The Revival wearing Bret-themed gear and DIY wearing Michaels-themed gear because they’re in Canada the night before Survivor Series (and how it leads to a smooth Hart Attack). I love that they subvert the standard quick fall/quick fall/long match formula of 2/3 falls matches by destroying underdog Gargano early but then having two back-to-back great matches for the next two falls.
The iconic don’t tap out ending with Dash & Dawson holding each other’s hands while locked in the Fujiwara Armbar and Gargano Escape has been ripped off by every indie tag team and Young Buck for years because it just works so well.
And even outside of that big spot, all of The Revival’s classic sneaky shenanigans were on full display. Though I’ve watched this match dozens of times, I still always buy into the idea that maybe this is the time where my memory is wrong and Gargano really does tap out for fall #3. Dash’s chop block to the back of Johnny’s leg is just so brutal that I can’t believe it’s not the end.
The Revival/FTR do go on to have great matches later in WWE and AEW. Gargano goes on to have great matches with Almas and Black and even then-tag-partner Ciampa.
But on this night, in the wake of Glorious Bombs and tag team naming and teased breakups and threats of AOP and just a brilliant age of NXT, this was tag team perfection. The best match in the best storyline that NXT has ever produced.
DIY vs Moustache Mountain, Worlds Collide: NXT vs NXT UK
Vishal: I’ve mentioned that I’m a mark for DIY, and nothing got me as excited in NXT as the late 2019 reunion of Gargano and Ciampa. They’d both gone through so much with each other and by themselves – neither of them was truly a face, but they both were able to pretend they were. Cue Worlds Collide, where this darker version of DIY faced a true white meat babyface tag team, a team that they could have been, had their fateful breaking up not occurred.
The match starts off with shows of respect. Gargano, ever playing the babyface, faced off against Tyler Bate, the perennial David to every single Goliath in the UK. After some strong technical wrestling from both of them, they amicably agree to tag in their partners, who amicably posture at each other before fighting. It’s all fun and games, right?
But the match starts to take a sinister turn. DIY are the fan favorites, even in the UK, but they’re not really the good guys. Slowly, every move they make in tandem feels almost like bullying, as if borne from a sense of disdain rather than honor. They start taunting their opponents, throwing them around outside the ring, and otherwise brutalizing them.
Moustache Mountain puts on a great performance, though. They’re not taking this disrespect lying down, they engage in their beloved hijinks. There’s a great spot where DIY are setting up their meeting in the middle and Trent Seven dashes to cover up his partner, and while both Gargano and Ciampa are unsure of what to do, Seven and Bate spring up and take both of them down. They’re lovable babyfaces, reminiscent of the DIY who faced off against The Revival.
The match ends in a DIY victory, and Gargano and Ciampa extend their hands to their opponents in a final gesture of respect. But in the match, something was lost. Moustache Mountain are gracious and accept this offer, but the audience knows it’s hollow. I was cheering for DIY along with the crowd, but was I happy they won?
I’m a sucker for this kind of storytelling, where the good thing happens but doesn’t really feel good. And Gargano and Ciampa are masters of this, as evidenced by how fantastic their years-long story has been. The match is nuanced and effective, and of course is wrestled to absolute perfection. It’s tragic, looking at Gargano and Ciampa stare at who they could have been, and spend an entire match trying to humiliate them. The real tragedy, though, is that it’s been over a year since then and DIY haven’t wrestled another match together.
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