A match a year in the making headlined TakeOver: New Orleans as Johnny Gargano squared off with Tommaso Ciampa in an Unsanctioned match. With no liability on the part of NXT, the friends-turned-enemies would be able to bring their intensely personal rivalry to a head in a war of attrition.
Ciampa entered the arena, a chorus of boos replacing theme music, a look of disdain and disgust for the NXT faithful in his eyes.
The unreal heel heat for Ciampa ended the moment Gargano’s music played and the most beloved member of the NXT roster made his arrival. Referee Drake Wuertz sported an all black referee’s outfit, complete with gloves, really selling the unsanctioned stipulation.
The fight spilled to the floor, where Gargano launched himself over the guardrail and into his former tag team partner. Ciampa grounded Gargano and teased suplexing him on the exposed concrete of the arena floor.
Gargano sent Ciampa into the commentary table and teased a piledriver through it. Instead, Ciampa delivered a suplex off of it and to the arena floor.
Ciampa seized control, to the dismay of the NXT faithful. The fight finally returned to the ring and Ciampa too delight in systematically stomping away at his opponent. That includes a brutal stomping of Gargano’s neck, after which he mockingly clapped. A running knee lift was added for his own personal enjoyment.
The Sicilian Psychopath grabbed crutches from a fan at ringside and attempted to hit Gargano with one of them on a number of occasions but Johnny Wrestling escaped and delivered a kick that created some separation.
Gargano finally earned a measure of revenge, delivering a powerbomb to Ciampa onto the previously exposed concrete. Both men made it back into the ring and played tug-o-war over the crutch. Gargano won and unloaded on Ciampa, to the delight of the fans.
He delivered a slingshot DDT that scored a two as a nervous energy built in the arena.
Ciampa mocked DIY and delivered a big running kick for two. Gargano answered moments later with a series of slaps but ate a big lariat. He recovered and countered Ciampa, locking him in the Garga-No Escape. Ciampa gauged the eyes of his opponent, forcing the break.
An exchange of blows gave way to a backbreaker from Ciampa that should have ended the match but Gargano shot his shoulder off the mat at two. Ciampa talked trash to Gargano, allowing the underdog to fight back, send him face-first into the exposed turnbuckle and deliver two straight superkicks for another dramatic near-fall.
After another false finish, arguably the best of the year, Gargano blasted Ciampa’s surgically repaired knee with his own brace, then grabbed hold of a crush. He went to hit him but stopped, apparently having doubts about hurting his former friend, whose eyes was damn near swelled shut.
Gargano suckered Ciampa in and applied an STF using the knee brace and Ciampa tapped out, ending the rivalry and earning Johnny Wrestling his job back.
Candice LeRae hit the ring to celebrate with her husband after the match.
Gargano defeated Ciampa
If Dave Meltzer can break his own rating system, so can I.
This was the match of the year and the culmination of the best story WWE has told in years.
Not since Daniel Bryan’s triumphant WrestleMania 30 in the same city has a storybook ending been this effective of emotional. Consider the fact that this program had a better beginning, a more lucid story and better twists and turns along the way and you have a professional wrestling epic fans can truly appreciate.
This was a brutal war, a fight between two Superstars who cared as much about punishing each other as they did winning.
Ciampa was delightfully despicable, Gargano was the underdog fans know and love and the audience enhanced everything they did.
This was the best match since John Cena vs. CM Punk in Chicago at Money in the Bank 2011 and the conclusion of a story as good as WWE has told…ever.
There will be some who argue that that reaction is in the moment, that it is fresh and thus, somehow lacks credibility. Those who appreciate superb storytelling, which professional wrestling is at its very core, will understand the greatness of this match in the immediate aftermath and for years to come.
It was that good.