This might well be the hardest list article we’ve ever written. Not because we’re struggling to fill it. The opposite. It has been heartbreaking to leave out so many classic matches. No event in wrestling history has such a plethora of classic matches to its name so some incredible ones have not made the cut.
Just to give ourselves a fighting chance, we have set a rule that we can only include a match featuring a specific set of entrants once. For instance, Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano have had at least three classic matches that could have made a top 10. We are only allowing ourselves to use one.
So here we go and in no particular order. Send the (deserved) hate for missing off your favourite to us on Twitter at @HO_Wrestling.
Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne (United Kingdom Championship Match), TakeOver Chicago, May 2017
For those that knew just how good these two were before they stepped foot into Chicago, the insanely high quality of this match was a nice surprise. For those that weren’t familiar with the two ‘Big Strong Bois’ then it must have been like a caveman discovering fire.
This was an utterly sensational match that made the UK Title and division credible on a worldwide basis. It was that rare beast of a match that was driven intimately by technical wrestling but also led by the characters of both men. The champion with the heart of a lion and the heel challenger who matched him in every way but was simply the better man on the night.
The NXT brand has always functioned best as a showcase of talent that had everything to prove but also incredibly amounts of talent to display. Never were two lesser known talents (In the US) given such a strong spotlight and delivered so strongly
The Revival vs. American Alpha (NXT Tag Team Title Match), TakeOver Dallas, April 2016
Remember when all PPV level events would start with a fast-paced, exciting tag team match? NXT TakeOver Dallas revived that tradition in spades with this incredible match. In the home of the classic Freebirds vs. Von Erichs rivalry, it felt fitting to finally crown the super-over babyface team of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable. These two teams were really the first in a line of fantastic tag-teams pumped out by NXT and it is a shame that neither team is active in WWE today. Beloved faces, hated, sneaky heels and two teams that wanted to make their name. Stunning, old school stuff.
Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs. Johnny Gargano (NXT Championship Match), TakeOver Philadelphia, January 2018
If you could refine and bottle the very essence of professional wrestling, this match is what you would end up with. Two men, the best in their company, coming together for a title match that is based on pure competition rather than personal issues.
The match itself followed that theme, feeling more like a true sport than any match in NXT history. These two men wanted, no needed, to be the best and the action was pitched perfectly to tell that story. Never slow, the match did though begin in a logically measured manner. Both men were feeling each other out and built their offence on actions that did or did not work out earlier in the bout. Not a shred of wasted motion or a single action that took you out of the moment. Perfection.
That the finale of the match saw Gargano’s rival attack him on his supposed grand hurrah from the brand rubbed further salt in the audience’s wounds.
Pete Dunne vs. WALTER (United Kingdom Championship Match), TakeOver New York, April 2019
685 days. That was the length of time Pete Dunne held on to that NXT United Kingdom Championship belt before he and WALTER clashed. There was a sting in the tail for the Englishman in New York as WALTER stopped the record breaking reign in it’s tracks. In truth, the result had never been in doubt. From the moment the Austrian sensation made his big entrance at the end of the first NXT UK Takeover earlier that year, it was simply a matter of when he would take the belt rather than if. He was the right guy and as it transpires, WrestleMania 35 was absolutely the right time.
We all expected the match to be a stormer and it really, really was. It was a lengthy effort that some may have thought was a bit too slow until the last quarter but this writer has no truck with that. These two methodically took each other apart with excruciating manoeuvres and holds until only WALTER was left standing. European style wrestling at its finest.
Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole, 2 Out Of 3 Falls Match (NXT Championship), TakeOver New York, April 2019
If you asked 100 NXT fans what the best TakeOver match in history was, this one would probably take the largest share of the votes. And how! An underdog face, a dastardly heel, the biggest stage, incredible ring work and the emotional, dramatic heft that you can capture once in a blue moon in wrestling. 38 minutes long and as good an example of everything that makes wrestling awesome as you will ever find. If you need any convincing of its greatness, don’t watch the match, watch the fans. Every one of them you can see on camera is in that ring with the two combatants. Feeling every strike, counting every near fall. It is just joyous. The emotional celebration with Candice LeRae and even Tommaso Ciampa is the cherry on the perfect cake.
Sasha Banks vs. Bayley (NXT Women’s Championship), TakeOver Brooklyn, August 2015
If there was a moment when women’s wrestling arrived in WWE, it was this one. The building blocks had long been in place but the final form needed a spotlight and in Brooklyn, Banks and Bayley got that in spades. It was the first TakeOver away from Full Sail and at the time, it felt mammoth. While Finn Balor and Samoa Joe were the main event, these two were the main attraction.
The biggest compliment you can pay to this match is that it stopped people talking about how ‘this was a great match for a women’s match’ and how it was just a great match, end of story.
The Revival vs. DIY, 2 Out Of 3 Falls Match (NXT Tag Team Championship), TakeOver Toronto, November 2016
If American Alpha vs. The Revival was the arrival of the NXT tag team divison, this match was the pinnacle. The Revival’s greatest triumph was to reinstall the values of old school tag team wrestling (Something AEW are actually building into the story line, to wonderful effect).
The structure of this match was wonderful. A Shatter Machine put The Revival 1-0 before a knee strike/super kick combo evened up the score. Both teams traded believable near falls before an iconic double submission ended the match. Seeing each member of the heel team urging the other not to tap just added to the sheer poetry of the finish. Breathtaking.
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa, Unsanctioned Match, TakeOver New Orleans, April 2018
The intensity of this grudge match simply cannot be overstated. Far and away the biggest and best feud in NXT history and this match was the highlight.
With Gargano banned from NXT following a loss to Andrade, this match was fought under the Unsanctioned banner and the pair took full advantage in the same building in which their rivalry started the year prior.
The match was just brutal with every blow, with both men’s necks taking particular punishment, forcing discomfort in every fan watching. The eventual win by submission for Johnny Gargano prompted more relief than elation in fans and my word, did this encounter put us through the ringer like nothing else in NXT history.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, TakeOver Dallas, April 2016
The second match on this list from TakeOver Dallas. Even thought nothing was on the line in terms of championship gold, it may be the most pivotal moment in NXT history, signifying as it did, the transition from the brand’s first, development territory phase, to its bright future as a showcase within WWE for great independent performers from around the world. Simultaneously Sami Zayn’s first and Shinsuke Nakamura’s first match with NXT, both men were desperate to deliver for different reasons.
And deliver they did. The energy was palpable from the moment Zayn made his entrance. The crowd was in awe when Ol’ Nakkers made his entrance and we first heard the strains of those now iconic violin strings.
These two put on as pure a wrestling match as you ever did see. The victor was never in doubt, really. The old guard always left a territory on their back and NXT is seriously old school in its approach.
Wonderful wrestling and a magical slice of history for those lucky enough to be in attendance.
Adam Cole vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Ricochet vs. EC3 vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Killian Dain, Ladder Match (NXT North American Championship), TakeOver New Orleans April 2018
A top 10 list of NXT TakeOver matches and we end on one with Lars Sullivan in? Your eyes don’t deceive you, it really happened. What’s more, he played his part to perfection.
In fact, the beauty of this multi-man ladder match was in its mix of ingredients. It was perfectly balanced between high-flyers, brawlers, giants, smaller guys and everything else you need to create an effective match of this type. What’s more, every single man in this match came in with absolutely everything to prove in front of the NOLA crowd on WrestleMania weekend.
Ricochet was the star of the show in terms of ‘wow’ moments but as has been the case so often in NXT, Adam Cole was the secret sauce that made this match purr. Whilst everyone else toiled, Cole played his sneaky heel role to perfection. He didn’t resort to staying out of the action but just watch how he deliberately keeps himself out of danger and lets the other five damage each other and themselves. It is a masterclass. No wonder he has gone on to become arguably the most effective star in NXT’s history.
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