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NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver Night One results and match grades

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NXT had their first two-night TakeOver event and kicked things off with a pair of title matches for Night One on USA Network before the event shifts to the WWE’s new home on Peacock for Night Two. 

Night One was a solid display of action as two new champions were crowned and we found out who Johnny Gargano would defend his NXT North American title against on Night Two.

Here’s how it all went down. 

Pete Dunne def. Kushida

There was no reason for this match to happen but nobody needs to care about that. Wrestling is what NXT does really well and there aren’t too many more intriguing options than having Kushida and Dunne give us a wrestling clinic. In the early going, it was Pete Dunne who was out-Kushida-ing (yes, I made that up) Kushida by stringing together submissions and out grappling the former NJPW standout. It has to be said just how incredible Dunne has looked since the pandemic. He’s slimmed down considerably and looks every bit of the ring tactician that he’s made himself out to be. As for Kushida, he’s always been great but he feels sort of stuck in the middle of a very loaded roster. 

Nevertheless, Kushida worked his way back into a match and sank in a beautiful hoverboard lock off the top rope that Dunne barely managed to escape from. But Dunne eventually broke Kushida down with his finger manipulation, stomped the hell out of Kushida’s hands, landed his Bitter End finish and got the pin. It wasn’t a classic but it was a fantastic opener to warm the crowd up. 

Grade: B

Bronson Reed wins Gauntlet Eliminator for an NXT North American Championship opportunity

It’s hard to be invested in a match to see who will challenge Johnny Gargano when nobody outside of Dexter Lumis has had an angle. For whatever reason, they decided to go with Bronson Reed, who has no history with Gargano in NXT’s biggest show of the year. 

The match itself was fine but never really gave us the all-out action that we’ve come to expect with NXT. And once Lumis was eliminated, it was a struggle for anyone to be invested in the winner.

Swerve Scott and Leon Ruff had some great exchanges early until Bronson Reed entered and used his size to bully his opponents. Reed showcased his strength but pulling off a German suplex simultaneously on Scott and Ruff. Cameron Grimes and his fantastic millionaire gimmick entered next. He attempted to pay off Scott to work together in an effort to eliminate Reed and Ruff. Ruff would end up being eliminated by Scott as Dexter Lumis entered next followed by LA Knight. Surprisingly, LA Knight and Grimes joined forces to eliminate Lumis. Reed then got rid of LA Knight. Reed, Grimes and Scott had a nice sequence until Scott eliminated Grimes. With Reed and Scott left, we had a decent sequence with an almost nauseating series of near falls until Reed hit the big splash off the top rope to finish the job. 

Unfortunately, this match felt like filler for an unnecessary two-night show. Reed and Gargano could certainly deliver but it just doesn’t feel like a match built for the biggest TakeOver of the year.

Grade: C

WALTER def. Tommaso Ciampa to retain NXT United Kingdom Champion

This was a difficult match to get invested in considering that Ciampa gets a title shot with little momentum against one of the most dominant champions in WWE. 

These two worked hard but Ciampa got in a significant amount of offense. Maybe too much. 

The story here was WALTER injuring his right hand and being unable to use his debilitating chops to take out Ciampa. It led to a competitive match where WALTER was hampered by the injured hand. The work was solid but the finish was never in doubt. It was kind of inexplicable to see Ciampa no sell WALTER during spots in the match considering that the champion has been a dominant force for nearly two years. But if we are to think that we’re getting the Ciampa from a few years ago when he was the NXT champion, maybe it makes more sense. 

Once WALTER kicked out of the Widow’s Bell the match hit another gear. Another near fall from an Air Raid off the second rope produced another near fall. Some brutal chops from Ciampa followed but WALTER used his left hand to chop his opponent. A pair of powerbombs from WALTER couldn’t seal the deal as Ciampa continued to kick out. It wasn’t until a sleeper suplex was followed by a chop that WALTER got the job done. 

This one is tough to grade because nobody thought Ciampa had a chance to win. The work was solid but we just didn’t get an angle where we could think that the NXT UK championship would change hands. It would be great to see WALTER in there against one of the best talents in NXT and hopefully, that will happen sooner than later. 

Grade: B-

MSK def. Grizzled Young Veterans & Legado del Fantasma for the NXT Tag Team Championship

We knew that this match was going to be fun the moment it was booked. MSK, Legado del Fantasma and Grizzled Young Veterans are the perfect teams to reboot a division that has been a little stagnant over the past few months. 

The action was fast and furious from the opening bell with everyone getting their time to shine. Trying to run down the action would do the match a disservice. Just know that the pacing was absurd with more than a few breathtaking moves.

Like this…

And this…

After Legado del Fantasma was taken out, MSK and Grizzled Young Veterans battled it out in a revisit of their Dusty Rhodes Classic finale. MSK got the upper hand and landed their finisher to be crowned as the new NXT tag team champions. Go out of your way to watch this match.

Grade: B+

Raquel González def. Io Shirai for the NXT Women’s Championship

It’s the dawn of a new era in the NXT women’s division. 

Raquel González took everything that Io Shirai had, including an absolutely bonkers dive from the top of the stage, to pick up the victory in what was easily the best match of Gonzalez’s career. 

It’s also a testament to just how phenomenal Shirai has been. One has to wonder if she is now moved to Raw or SmackDown, which feels a bit crowded at the moment. 

It was the athleticism of Shirai vs. the power of González and the two played off each other brilliantly. González isn’t nearly as experienced as Shirai but her power made everything seem believable as Shirai did her best to avoid her. It was an excellent display of violent ballet by Shirai as she found ways to outmaneuver her powerhouse opponent and gain the upper hand.

But this was all about the crowning of González and Shirai gave her everything she needed to start her journey as champion. 

One particular sequence saw Shirai hit the moonsault to González on the outside and crush her with a running knee strike. Shirai then climbed to the top of the stage and dived onto González that drew an audible gasp from the crowd as the two hit the ground hard.

 

 

Shirai would hit her trademark moonsault back in the ring but González kicked out. It was the first time that any of Shirai’s opponents have kicked out of the moonsault. 

González then nailed Shirai with the powerbomb on the outside, rolled her back in and crushed her with a lariat. Another one-armed powerbomb followed and González pinned Shirai to become the new NXT women’s champion.  

Nobody is sure if González can hold this division down. But the same could be said for Shayna Baszler, who had a dominant reign and won people over with a similar style that relied heavily on violence. One thing to pay attention to is how Dakota Kai settles into González’s shadow. 

Grade: A-


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As MLS season opens with Columbus Crew chasing rare repeat, league must seize chance to take next step forward

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The teams that won the two biggest trophies in Major League Soccer will open their seasons Sunday evening on national television. This is a big deal to the teams involved. It probably ought to be a bigger deal to the league in general.

The Philadelphia Union won the Supporters’ Shield at the close of the COVID-truncated 2020 season, compiling 47 points from 23 games. It was the first major trophy ever won by the club, but the celebration was shortened by its first-round playoff loss to New England.

The Union had to watch three weeks later as Columbus Crew SC won the league’s most coveted honor, MLS Cup champions, on a cold Saturday night at Crew Stadium.

“We’re not unique in that we want the ultimate prize, which is MLS Cup,” Union coach Jim Curtin told Sporting News. “We’re disappointed that our season ended on our home field against New England last year. … It’s always devastating when the year ends. But I think that also motivates us.

“We were able to lift the Supporters’ Shield, get a taste for our young players and our experienced guys of what that feels like. For some of them it was their very first trophy. And that’s a taste and a feeling that you want to have again and again and again over your career. There’s a lot of great teams in MLS this season. The league continues to get better and better. It’s exciting times for the fans now, as they slowly get back into the stadiums.”

MORE: If all MLS owners were like Matthew McConaughey, everyone would be a fan

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald, this is the first time that the Supporters’ Shield winner and MLS Cup champion opened the subsequent regular season against one another. This is probably something the league would be wise to turn into a tradition. It is important enough that FS1 will show the game.

The 26th MLS season opens Friday with a Houston Dynamo-San Jose Earthquakes game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) and one matching the Seattle Sounders and Minnesota United (9:30, FS1).

As MLS continues to try to grow among U.S. professional sports leagues, though, and in the broader soccer landscape, it continues to suffer from a sort of identity issue. Not a crisis, but perhaps a conundrum. It is covered less as a sports competition than the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball or the NHL. This is partly the result of too few league teams being covered daily by major media outlets and so much of the conversation about the league being driven at a national level.

As commissioner Don Garber took the time Monday to speak with reporters about the 2021 season, the primary focus was on the introduction of another new team, Austin FC, and the eventual openings of new stadiums in Cincinnati and Columbus. The comment he made that generated the most reaction involved a player who’s currently competing in England, Darryl Dike.

On loan with Barnsley in England’s Championship division, Dike could return to Orlando City FC or be sold during the summer transfer window.

“That’s a $20 million player,” Garber told reporters.

“Really the story of Major League Soccer today is about youth,” he said. “We are now at the youngest we’ve ever been on average, in the history of the league. We’re investing deeply in developing players, with academies in every particular market. And now you have to have programs that could provide opportunities for young players to be able to perform at their highest, develop at their youngest and ultimately build a professional career.”

Those covering MLS generally express the view that it’s positive for the league to produce such players as Dike, Tyler Adams (now with RB Leipzig in German) and Brendan Aaronson (who started 23 games for and scored four goals for the Union last season and then moved to RB Salzburg in Austria).

It probably is best for the U.S. men’s national team to have players developing and competing on multiple fronts. It surely is an advantage to have young players developing in professional academies in the way more established soccer nations have for decades. And that’s part of why there is such a focus on MLS’ advancement as what some would term a “selling league.”

To gain greater traction in the U.S. sports marketplace, though, it needs to be viewed as, foremost, a league. Fans need to care about its race, standings, playoffs and champion as much as about how much one of its young stars might command in transfer fees.

That’s an area where the Crew could be of considerable use to the league this season. With star player Lucas Zelarayan injured for part of last year, they finished third in the East Division. But his return to health allowed them to surge through the playoffs and defeat the favored Seattle Sounders 3-0 in the MLS Cup final. The organization kept most of the lineup intact and deepened the roster by signing forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, who ranks sixth on the league’s career goal scoring list.

Columbus’ pursuit of a second consecutive championship could return the focus of the league to the field. Winning two in a row isn’t easy, as Bruce Arena is the only coach who’s done it twice — 1996 and 1997 with DC United, 2011 and 2012 with the Los Angeles Galaxy. And that’s part of what makes it compelling.

“Last year was an odd year. I give the Crew all the credit for winning the MLS Cup, as I give credit to Philadelphia for winning the Supporters’ Shield. But I think it’s going to be a lot different this year,” Arena said. “Columbus certainly has a good team, and I’m sure they anticipate competing throughout the year for not only Supporters’ Shield but also to return in MLS Cup.

“I think it’s probably more difficult with the more teams. This year, also, the schedule is different now. Now we’re playing conference schedules as opposed to playing everyone in the league. The league is certainly, probably, as competitive as it has been. It certainly will be a challenging year for anyone trying to win the MLS Cup.”


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Michael Jordan to present Kobe Bryant at Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

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The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Thursday revealed the presenters for the 2020 enshrinees.

Most notably, Michael Jordan — a 2009 inductee into the Naismith Hall of Fame — will present the late Kobe Bryant, who was the closest to emulating Jordan’s style and success on the court and whom Jordan considered to be a little brother. Jordan also spoke at Bryant’s memorial service in February 2020, showing the extent of their relationship.

MORE: ‘The Last Dance’ footage shows how young Kobe Bryant quickly earned respect of Michael Jordan

Bryant often peppered Jordan with questions about his game and preparation, much to the latter’s chagrin. But Bryant’s drive to succeed — coupled with his natural ability — revealed itself to Jordan, who took it on himself to help Bryant where he could. Their relationship began in the 1998 All-Star Game, where a 19-year-old Bryant forced Jordan to push himself. It eventually got to the point where Jordan considered Kobe the only player capable of beating him one-one-one.

“I don’t think I would lose,” Jordan said. “Other than to Kobe Bryant, because he steals all of my moves.”

Jordan will also present fellow 2020 inductee Kim Mulkey, coach of the Baylor women’s basketball team — making him the only person to present two inductees into the 2020 Hall of Fame class.

The 2020 induction ceremony will take place on May 15 after it was rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is a complete rundown of the 2020 enshrinees and their respective presenters:

  • Patrick Baumann, presented by Russ Granik (’13), Vlade Divac (’19)
  • Kobe Bryant, presented by Michael Jordan (’09)
  • Tamika Catchings, presented by Alonzo Mourning (’14), Dawn Staley (’13)
  • Tim Duncan, presented by David Robinson (’09)
  • Kevin Garnett, presented by Isiah Thomas (’00)
  • Kim Mulkey, presented by Michael Jordan (’09)
  • Barbara Stevens, presented by Geno Auriemma (’06), Muffet McGraw (’17)
  • Eddie Sutton, presented by John Calipari (’15), Bill Self (’17), Sidney Moncrief (’19
  • Rudy Tomjanovich, presented by Calvin Murphy (’93), Hakeem Olajuwon (’08)


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Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. nails fan’s beer with pinpoint accuracy

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Nachos, beer … no fan’s concession items are safe inside MLB parks.

The latest such example came from Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.; video shows him nailing a fan’s beer at a game earlier this week — at the behest of the fan, of course.

MORE: Justin Turner destroys, then replaces fan’s nachos

And another angle:

It’s uncertain which game this was, but it took place at Truist Park in Atlanta. The cheapest beer there goes for $5, with the most expensive at $12 — well worth the price for a ball from Acuña, who’s playing some of the best ball in MLB right now: He leads MLB in hits (23) and home runs (seven) and is third in batting average at .442.


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