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NXT heads into their first non-big-four TakeOver special on Saturday night, which I guess makes this the Fully Loaded of TakeOvers. Then again, we got Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker in a First Blood match at Fully Loaded once, so maybe it’ll all be okay.
I have mixed emotions about TakeOver being expanded. On the WWE’s part, I get it. In addition to the obvious monetary gains from running another four(?) specials a year, these men and women are working toward a main roster spot, where they might do twelve major shows a year, so big-match experience is a good thing. On the other hand, one of NXT’s weaknesses has been doing the hard sell for their TakeOver shows, and cutting the hype time in half has the potential to make the problem even worse.
All that said, we can look forward to another night of strong work, as the next boring TakeOver will be the first. Additionally, NXT’s weekly show has seen an uptick in quality of late, with the shelves getting effectively restocked, much better work to get characters across in new and interesting ways such as Roderick Strong’s mini-documentary, and tweaks to the production to suggest a bit of a rebirth, which makes sense given all the major changes in the past few months. There’s still work to do to get to NXT’s dizzying heights of a couple of years ago, but even as is, NXT is a show I look forward to again.
NXT Championship: Hideo Itami vs. Bobby Roode (Champion)
Bobby Roode still has more fan support than you’d like a top heel to have, but I’m starting to think this might be more of an NXT issue than a Roode issue, as the NXT faithful tend to be hardcore fans that are a little more likely to praise the work than cheer for the good guy. I still worry a bit that he’s too cool for his own good, but if you have to have a problem, I suppose that’s a good one to have.
The #1 contender’s match came out of nowhere; it wasn’t really explained why Itami and Roderick Strong were tapped for this match. In the confines of NXT logic, surely there were more established stars to plug into the spot. I want to be clear: I have no argument with the match that we ended up getting – I only want some explanation as to why these two got the nod, and why others weren’t immediately annoyed that they were left out. The one major positive of the match is that it kept us away from WWE’s most irritatingly lazy trope – the multi-man contendership match that protects everyone and keeps the company from doing tighter storytelling. There was also an air of the unknown in the match we ended up with; both Itami and Strong had received a lot of positive TV time in previous weeks.
Hideo Itami is finally headlining a TakeOver special (though I think I’d put the women or the ladder match on last if I were booking this particular show), much later than many of us would have thought when he was introduced in September of 2014. We know this will be a great match, though a bit more of an issue would have helped a lot. The two have had very small jaw sessions, but a title shot 32 months in the making should have a little more weight. Since it doesn’t, I assume Roode wins this match and goes on to Roderick Strong before long, unless Strong’s being primed for a hero’s journey and Kassius Ohno gets a match in the meantime. You’ve also got Aleister Black and Drew McIntyre hanging around. While either could easily go heel, they’re both currently working as faces, so there’s no reason at all to ruin a good thing by giving one of these many strong faces the title before they’ve each made their contribution to Bobby Roode’s title run.
NXT Women’s Championship: Ruby Riot vs. Nikki Cross vs. Asuka (Champion)
Poor Ember Moon. Her mic skills were improving and there was a clear and palpable sense that she was on the verge of finally being the one to dethrone Asuka. Enter a poorly-timed injury that not only hurt Ember, but the match itself, as it went from being a real question mark to perhaps the biggest foregone conclusion on the show.
I continue to marvel at the mileage they’ve gotten out of Asuka despite her limited ability to cut a promo. Her dismissiveness in the interview this past Wednesday, followed by her warmly relating to the fans after her limo ride before walking off and showing annoyance with them – is really something we haven’t seen before, which I think makes for a realistic, dynamic heel. Nikki Cross has improved greatly all around, as I think her rough style in the ring is coming together, and she’s starting to come off as legitimately crazy rather than someone who’s just doing an impression of crazy. Ruby Riot comes in with a ton more polish than the average NXT wrestler, and is likely only there to learn the TV production aspects of big-budget wrestling and help out the women’s division for a while before heading to the main roster.
Ruby and Nikki have their whole thing, and it’s been done well. The champion is kind of a spare part in the three-way match, oddly enough, but that should allow the wrestlers to tell a fairly straightforward story as Asuka is able to take advantage of the feud that exists between the other two. Hopefully Ember is primed for a speedy recovery and we don’t hit a standstill with the issue between her and Asuka.
NXT Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: #DIY vs. The Authors of Pain (Champions)
#DIY is plenty ready for the main roster, but if they go north, what babyface duos are going to keep the tag division going? ™-61 is still going to be off TV for a while, and Heavy Machinery still seem a bit on the green side to have a good match with the Authors, though the tag division has certainly surprised me before.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Tommaso Ciampa, who suffered an injury at a house show. Though it was reported that Ciampa suffered no fractures or breaks, we don’t really know the severity of the pain, and whether or not WWE will be hesitant to put Ciampa in the match. If he can’t perform, that makes the outcome even more of a sure thing than it was before, although there are intriguing options for replacement partners for Gargano: No Way Jose, Aleister Black, Drew McIntyre, Kassius Ohno. Jason Powell of prowrestling.net threw out Scott Dawson’s name as a one-night partner for Gargano, which could help Dawson keep his name out there and would be a fun continuation of the divine three-way match these teams had with The Revival.
Whether Ciampa appears or not, The Authors are probably going to keep this title run going. Their monster status is earned at this point, as they’ve consistently had strong matches with a variety of teams, and they need the titles a little more than the other contenders in order to maintain their heat. If Ciampa appears, the match’s finish will rely on his injury coming into play; if he doesn’t, the babyface loss can be blamed on a lack of experience together.
WWE UK Championship: Tyler Bate (champion) vs. Pete Dunne
Pete Dunne is one of today’s great heels. He’s thoroughly disgusting and detestable, and once he shines in front of large “normal” crowds rather than small hardcore ones, his heel work will hopefully be rewarded with strong negative reactions. In the meantime, we’re fortunate to have someone as squeaky-clean and likable as Bate to be his foil. Though it’s stressed on television, I can’t say enough about how impressed I am that Bate is not yet even drinking age. Well, he is back home, but not here in the States.
Though this is a repeat of the main event of the initial UK Championship tournament, I don’t see any other match that should replace it. Dunne is leaps and bounds more deserving of the spot than any other heels in the position, and Bate’s unique offense and stunning power makes him a good matchup with the brawling Dunne.
While I don’t love the idea of Bate losing this title before a weekly show has been established for the Brits, I think Dunne makes more sense as champion with as many babyfaces as there are doing well in the UK division. He has a built-in issue with Trent Seven, another with Sam Gradwell if he sticks with the group, the Bate rematch and other strong opponents in Wolfgang and Mark Andrews. If Bate wins, what’s next? A quickie feud with Joseph Conners before we go back to Dunne?
Roderick Strong vs. Eric Young
This was quickly put together on Wednesday, though the two have a bit of history, as Strong was one of Tye Dillinger’s buddies in the SAnitY feud. Eric Young’s function in NXT, at this point, seems to be almost entirely to get other people over. As a unit, his gang rarely loses, but he’s eaten the pin in a few singles matches of late and I can’t think of a good reason for that to change here, as I’ve predicted a slate of heel wins outside of this match, and I don’t think Strong needs a loss at this juncture after his documentary bits have given him a greater connection to the audience. He could survive it, but I think it’s more likely that this match opens the main show and Strong goes over.
Drew McIntyre is set to wrestle Wesley Blake in Chicago in a match that will air on the post-TakeOver edition of NXT TV in what should be quick and hopefully a painless match. Aleister Black will also be “in action,” so maybe they didn’t know who his opponent was going to be yet. Being billed as being “in action” means your opponent never wins, so let’s say Oney Lorcan, Buddy Murphy or Kimchee. Killian Dain isn’t booked, which is a curiosity since his strong appearance in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal would have you believe that his time was coming soon. Andrade Almas is also off the current card, as his strange apathetic storyline continues to hopefully go somewhere – though I can’t see it working with anything other than a face turn (additionally, his loss to Kassius Ohno on Wednesday was a hard-fought, valiant battle where Almas didn’t lose due to a mental mistake. The story on commentary really isn’t matching the story in the ring). Kassius and No Way Jose aren’t on the card either. I have to wonder what’s up with Jose, as he was replaced in the six-way match at the last TakeOver and hasn’t really been featured since.
Heels and Strong. It’s stupid on my part to predict that heels walk out with all four titles, but here we are. I suppose Asuka could be back to being a tweener or face at the drop of a hat if needed.
Let’s keep the positive momentum going, NXT. Plus, I have some friends and podcast co-hosts at the show tonight, and therefore have a vested interest in this. Enjoy the show and I’ll be back next week with a feature on either Hideo Itami or Roderick Strong.
NOW CHECK OUT PREVIOUS NXT TRACKER REPORTS HERE.