NEW ORLEANS -- One night before WrestleMania 34 takes place in the Superdome in New Orleans, the Smoothie King Center in the "Big Easy" was the setting for NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. And once again -- as if we should be surprised by now -- the yellow brand delivered on one of its biggest stages of the year.
There were fantastic championship matches throughout the night at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, with three new superstars walking out with gold around their waist. This, of course, included the crowning of the first North American champion for the brand. The main event of the evening saw the grudge match we've all been waiting for between Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa, and as we all assumed going in, these two brought the physicality to the table that only a feud of this magnitude deserved.
Check out the full recap and grades from NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, along with highlights from the event below.
NXT TakeOver: New Orleans results, grades
A complete set of highlights from the show can be found below the results and grades.
NXT North American Championship (Ladder Match) -- Adam Cole def. Velveteen Dream, EC3, Killian Dain, Lars Sullivan & Ricochet to win the inaugural title: If that wasn't the greatest match outright in NXT history, it was certainly the most dangerous and spectacular. The inaugural NXT secondary title was introduced in spectacular fashion with one death-defying spot after another and and a gluttony of "This is awesome" chants from the crowd (including one before the match started). In a weekend already loaded with must-see matches, it's going to be hard to top this one in terms of entertainment.
In the end, Cole popped the crowd by flinging Ricochet from a ladder to climb up uncontested to secure the title. But if there was an MVP award to be handed out in this match, Ricochet certainly stole the show. His acrobatic style was on full display in a trio of standout high spots including a springboard shooting star onto the floor early on. Later in the match, Ricochet was pushed off of a ladder in the center of the ring by Sullivan. But instead of landing in the ring or on the ring ropes, he leaped into a moonsault off the falling ladder onto two opponents outside the ring.
All six competitors will be lucky if they exit without anything more than bumps and bruises. Not only was Velveteen Dream cut over his left eye, a pair of physical spots late onto ladders which were draped across the announce tables produced chants of "Please don't die" from the New Orleans faithful. With Dream prone on the ladder, Sullivan hit a Rock Bottom on EC3 onto Dream, causing the ladder to snap. Moments later, with Ricochet prone on a separate ladder, Dain slammed Cole on top of him to collapse it. Grade: A+
NXT Women's Championship -- Shayna Baszler def. Ember Moon (c) via submission to win the title: This one was physical and gritty, which was likely the only way to set it apart from the spot fest of a ladder match it was forced to follow. After Moon fought through an arm injury to barely outlast Baszler at their NXT TakeOver match in January, Baszler did the same to claim her first title since joining WWE last year. In fact, Baszler sold an injured shoulder so well, at one point she fell to the ring apron in pain only to ram her shoulder into the ring post to pop it back into place.
Moon hit the spot of the match when she jumped off the second turnbuckle outside to hit an Eclipse on a standing Baszler. But Moon's attempt to hit her finisher inside the ring shortly after was blocked by Baszler, a former women's MMA pioneer, who sat back into a rear-naked choke. Moon fought hard to try and reach the ropes but ultimately passed out instead of tapping. Under a shower of boos from the crowd, Baszler celebrated her victory outside the ring by hugging former training partners Ronda Rousey and Jessamyn Duke, who were seated in the front row. Grade: B-
NXT tag team championship -- The Undisputed Era (c) def. Authors of Pain, Roderick Strong & Pete Dunne: Talk about a swerve finish. Adam Cole, who won the ladder match to open the card, was double choke-slammed through the Spanish announce table by AOP to start the match and was never heard from again. But Kyle O'Reilly received help from an unlikely source in Strong, as The Undisputed Era added a new member to its faction.
Dunne and Strong heated up to close the match, hitting a double-team finisher on Akam of AOP only to see Rezar break it up at the last second. Dunne then hit the Bitter End on O'Reilly and attempted a pin. But Strong turned on his new teammate and hit Dunne with a suplex into a double knee before placing O'Reilly on top of him for the 1-2-3. The addition of Strong to The Undisputed Era should ease the recent loss of Bobby Fish to injury. All four members posed on the stage with their three title belts and Dusty Rhodes trophy afterwards. Grade: B
NXT Championship -- Aleister Black def. Andrade "Cien" Almas (c) via pinfall to win the title: Bumped to the co-main event, Black and Almas produced a stiff and dramatic effort worthy of closing most shows. Well-timed interference from Zelina Vega was enough to help Almas extend the match numerous times and nearly claim victory. But Almas' manager went back to the well one time too many and the backfire lifted Black to the NXT championship.
Vega, who had twice hit black with hurricanranas earlier in the match, climbed to the top rope late in the match. But her attempt to splash Black missed when he shoved the referee into the corner, causing Vega to leap into the arms of Almas. With the champion's arms occupied, Black hit his Black Mass for the 1-2-3. The new champion had connected clean with his finisher earlier to knock Almas cold but Vega prevented the pinfall by placing Almas' leg on the ropes. Grade: B+
Johnny Gargano def. Tommasso Ciampa via submission (Unsanctioned Match): Gargano won his job back in this ultimate grudge match which survived a few slow periods in the second half to close strong with some incredible storytelling. Following an epic finish, which both former members of #DIY kick out in almost impossible fashion, Gargano appeared unwilling to finish off his former friend with a broken crutch. But after Gargano sat down next to heated rival, he quickly ducked Ciampa's attempt to hit him with his knee brace and went on to force the tapout via his Gargano Escape submission move (using the knee brace for extra leverage)
This blood feud was as physical as expected, featuring plenty of action outside the ring and into the crowd. The maniacal Ciampa used any weapon he could get his hands on, including a pair of crutches he stole from a fan in the crowd (which appeared to be a work). The action was so stiff throughout that Ciampa was left with a badly swollen right eye.
This 37-minute closer saw Ciampa hit his Project Ciampa finisher (powerbomb into knees to the back) but could only get two. Gargano came just as close after hurling Gargano face first into an exposed turnbuckle and hitting him with a running super kick. Gargano escaped the most dramatic near fall shortly after following a Project Ciampa from the second rope. Grade: A-