NXT Takeover: Chicago’s theme song was called “Judas.” They tried to warn us.
The event ended with DIY processing their loss in the main event at the top of the ramp. Their ladder match against the Authors of Pain had me excitedly wondering aloud with my friend and perpetual watching partner: “How is every single match they put on better than the last?” Ciampa took Gargano’s head close to his and mouthed, so the audience at home could see, “This isn’t our moment. This is my moment.”
One partner turning on another is one of the most basic (and often predictable) wrestling storylines. But as often as the story itself can turn out to be by-the-numbers, the moment of betrayal is generally always good for a quick shock, an indicator that things are going to change, and usually, as in this case, a cliffhanger.
The moment – Ciampa throwing Gargano face-first into the Titantron was shocking and upsetting enough, but the beatdown went on for an uncomfortably long time. In fact, pictures indicate that Ciampa didn’t leave his psycho-killer perch on the announce table until after much of the audience had filed out, after Gargano was wheeled off on a stretcher.
The execution of Ciampa’s turn was a tremendous success because of two elements we’ve specifically seen before and one that felt completely unique.
When Kevin Owens first betrayed Sami Zayn – also at the end of a phenomenal NXT Takeover, in fact – the show leaned on its own fourth wall a bit, playing with the medium to fool the audience. The small corner graphic that simultaneously delivers copyright information and tells the viewer that it’s safe to shut the show off faded into view as two friends retreated up the stage and quickly faded back out as one was left lying on the floor. The production crew did the same thing with the implosion of DIY, which worked twice as well because the graphic took a while to come up in the first place. I held my breath and had just let it out when the twist came, perfectly paced.
The second thing that made this turn perfect is that it was surprising, but when you think about it, DIY didn’t really have anywhere left to go. Sure, they could’ve been called up, but storyline-wise they’d really run out of things to do in NXT. I’m reminded of The Shield – the breakup came at a surprising time, but just after they’d swept Evolution. A perfect situation where a breakup was really the only place to go, but it was hard to realize until after it happened. A good twist is surprising, but inevitable, which perfectly describes Ciampa’s return to The Sicilian Psycho-Killer.
The final component in making this scene perfect was on the part of Gargano. It’s cliché, but wrestling is pretty much the epitome of it takes two to tango, and often, the role of the victim of a betrayal is just to take the punishment and act surprised. But after the perfect amount of simply doing that, Gargano, his head in Ciampa’s lap on the announce table, started reaching for his attacker’s help with a far-off look in his eyes. It was completely believable portrayal of his brain basically shutting down and going into autopilot, and as the ladder-to-the-face he took during the match can attest, “autopilot” means looking to his teammate for help. It was great character work and builds Gargano as the most sympathetic face in NXT.
Wrestling is at its best when it’s simple, but complicated. Not in the sense that there are tons of bells and whistles, but in the sense that little touches mean a lot in such a theatrical storytelling medium. “The Judas” is one of the oldest tropes in the business, but done perfectly and with the right amount of subtlety, it can be pulled off like it’s new.
Oh, and it can still work the hell out of you.
Friendship is dead and I hate Tommaso Ciampa.
Written By: Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)
Image courtesy of WWE.com