NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas may have left Philadelphia with his coveted championship in tow, but it took the fight of his life to stave off a relentless Johnny Gargano.

El Idolo and Johnny Wrestling both lived up to their sterling in-ring reputations, putting on an early Match of the Year candidate.

With his family watching at ringside – including his wife and new NXT signee Candice LeRae – Gargano was razor-focused early on. The NXT Champion matched his challenger’s intensity though, as both in-ring technicians used the match’s beginning stages to test the waters.

The pace of this main event clash quickly reached a fevered pace that refused to slow down until the final moment as champion and challenger went back-and-forth, exchanging one spectacular maneuver after another.

The NXT Universe in Philadelphia stood in appreciation, chanting “NXT!” as Almas and Gargano traded an extraordinary exchange of moves that you had to see to believe.

The challenger had momentum on his side and the champion on his heels as the crowd rose to their feet. With Gargano standing in the corner, readying for a potential finishing blow, Zelina Vega reached out and tried to grab Gargano’s foot. The move from Almas’ business manager distracted Gargano long enough for the titleholder to kick him into the turnbuckle.

Almas later delivered a potential knockout blow when he delivered a double foot stomp onto Garagno as the Cleveland native hung from the top turnbuckle outside the ring. Almas doubled and tripled down on his assault, slamming Gargano’s back against the side of the ring. Almas then stormed ahead, hitting his challenger with a double knee strike in the corner. But, alas, it was not enough to keep giant-hearted Gargano down for the three-count.

Both men somehow forged on in this marathon battle, with Johnny Wrestling locking in his Gargano Escape submission move. It looked as though this could be the moment Gargano had been waiting his entire life for, but Vega once again inserted herself into the match by pulling her client’s arm over to the rope. Adding insult to injury, as the referee admonished Vega, the champion raked Gargano’s eyes.

With Gargano putting on his best “Rocky” impression and fighting until he had nothing left, Vega pounced once again, hitting the challenger with a hurricanrana that sent him face-first into the steel steps outside the ring. The NXT Champion then delivered his trademark hammerlock DDT back inside the ring, but somehow Gargano kicked out at two.

Gargano rolled to the outside as Vega raced to level another assault. This time, however, LeRae had seen enough, jumping the barrier to cut Vega off with a takedown to the ground. The NXT Universe roared in approval as LeRae unleashed a fury of punches on Vega who LeRae chased through the crowd. This epic NXT Championship Match had reached complete bedlam.

Back in the ring, Gargano hit a slingshot DDT on Almas, but the champion showed his own jaw-dropping resilience by kicking out. After managing to reach the ropes and break the Gargano Escape submission, Almas went on the offensive once again by hitting his opponent with a double knee strike against the ring post. The referee checked on Gargano as the NXT announce team speculated that the referee may need stop the match.

Almas didn’t wait, hanging Gargano’s legs up on the top rope, hitting his hammerlock DDT back inside the ring for the pinfall. This five-star NXT Championship Match had come to an end with Almas reigning supreme.

Following the heartbreaking loss, Gargano and LeRae stood at the top of the entrance ramp, taking in the crowd’s roaring approval. Just as TakeOver: Philadelphia was about to go off the air, out of nowhere, Tommaso Ciampa nailed his former best friend and #DIY tag team partner with his crutch. As Gargano lay battered and beaten on the ramp, Ciampa stared coldly with a heartless gaze.

NXT Takeover “Philadelphia” Results:

NXT Tag Team Champions Undisputed ERA def. The Authors of Pain
Velveteen Dream def. Kassius Ohno
NXT Women’s Champion Ember Moon def. Shayna Baszler
Aleister Black def. Adam Cole in an Extreme Rules Match
NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas def. Johnny Gargano