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Welcome, gang to the NXT Tracker. For this article, I try to keep my energy level high while fighting my third week of pneumonia. Thankfully, the WWE is doing their part by booking a very compelling weekend of shows, starting with TakeOver: WarGames.
WarGames Match: Roderick Strong & The Authors of Pain vs. Sanity vs. The Undisputed Era
I’ve long wondered if the idea was kicked around to have NXT whet the appetites of wrestling fans by doing a truncated version of their upcoming show the night before – for instance, a 15-man Royal Rumble or a single Survivor Series match. I have to assume that it’s been brought up, but it doesn’t do the business any good if the NXT roster outshines the main roster in their own event.
What we’re getting here, instead, gives the show its own identity while answering literally over a decade of fans begging for a return of WarGames, the historic event where Hulk Hogan made Zodiac tap out to a chinlock (okay, maybe that’s a bad example). The match is, of course, the brainchild of Dusty Rhodes, but the 3 vs. 3 vs. 3 format will, again, allow NXT to trod new ground while they honor Rhodes’s vision.
With three sides to this story, it’ll be interesting to see who’s allowed to work face. The Undisputed Era are clearly working heel, complete with the most awful name for a stable the WWE has come up with in a while (people can’t be an era!). Sanity have embraced the love of the fans to some degree, as Eric Young’s kooky act and Nikki Cross’s bizarre energy have gotten over with the fans. Roderick Strong has unquestionably worked face, despite the fact that the fans seemed to want him to get with the Undisputed Era, and his strange alliance with The AoE will be the one to watch, as I’m hoping it’s a marriage of convenience; I am strongly against the idea of the Authors going full-face before they head up to the main roster, unless the brass want to consider all options before their move north, which has to be coming sooner than later.
This has been a very dynamic feud, as all parties can carry their load in the ring. Sanity does seem like a bit of an also-ran as much of the issue is about Strong vs. Undisputed Era, but they’ll add a lot to the match. Additionally, the use of old WCW footage along with retired stars putting over the event has been a big help. Roderick Strong, Killian Dain, and Adam Cole have all shone in singles competition recently, and I think all sides have a good reason to walk out of the match with the victory. The Undisputed Era are kind of a Dangerous Alliance for a new generation, and I think they fit perfectly in this match, particularly against the overpowering brutes on the other sides of the aisle. As far as predictions, while I think this one’s hard to call, I see Strong and the Authors standing tall while neither of the other teams lose anything in defeat.
For the Vacant NXT Women’s Championship: Kairi Sane vs. Nikki Cross vs. Ember Moon vs. Peyton Royce
I’m sure we’ve all had our fill of multi-person title matches on Network specials in the last couple of years – the women in particular have done a lot of this – but there’s no denying that it was done organically this time, and they’ve created a field of four women who are all viable threats to win. Raw and SmackDown too often simply have the GM come out and give the rundown of the competitors in such a match, but the slow rollout of qualifying matches made for a merit-based system that seems to me like a no-brainer, and hopefully signals a turn to a system where wins and losses matter leading up to a major show.
In particular, I enjoy the fact that there’s only one heel in this match, and it’s the kind of heel who often runs when things get tough; I suspect we’ll get at least one spot where Peyton runs from Nikki, only to find Kairi, then runs from Kairi right into an Eclipse from Ember. Ember Moon’s obsessive title chase will be perhaps the main talking point of Ranallo and McGuinness, and will likely lead to her being a crowd favorite, though Nikki Cross’s lunacy has really endeared her to the fanbase, and the NXT machine is clearly behind her, as she dominated the battle royal to reach this match. Kairi Sane is probably the most polished wrestler in a stacked field, and is likely to provide some high spots for the match.
While there’s been a lot of time given to the architecture of this match, the personal build has been kept somewhat simple: Peyton doesn’t like anyone, Nikki doesn’t like anyone, Kairi sort of likes everyone, and Ember simply needs this title. While no decision here would surprise me, I’m going to predict Ember is rewarded for her matches with Asuka and walks out with the title.
NXT Championship: Drew McIntyre (champion) vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas
Almas, always a great worker, has had a great resurgence with Zelina Vega at his side. She’s done most of the talking for him, and it’s created a strong heel dynamic where Almas is at Vega’s mercy and only speaks when she allows it. NXT has also given us some documentary-style work to get Drew over as a babyface, after seeing what kind of boost it gave Roderick Strong.
Although this is for the NXT Championship, and is the only title on the main show (Dunne vs. Gargano will be a dark match, probably shown the following Wednesday), it’s likely to be buried below WarGames and perhaps even the Women’s Title match, which has simply gotten the stronger buildup leading to this show. All the same, this is going to deliver in the ring, and I expect Drew overpowers Almas and extends his title – ensuring a title change isn’t buried in a WarGames show, and perhaps allowing Almas to head to the main roster before long.
Aleister Black vs. The Velveteen Dream
Somewhat quietly, I think this is probably the best feud going on NXT TV right now. It’s extremely old-school in nature, with a quiet, confident face being tormented by a whining heel who’s desperate for acceptance at the cool table. Both guys have done fantastic work leading into this match, and it’s forced Black to get some mic time, and I think he made the most of it.
While the Aleister Black gimmick was powerful and worked from the beginning, I was a little skeptical if Patrick Clark’s Prince imitation was going to get over. I wasn’t prepared for him to throw himself so completely into the character, and to have the angry charisma necessary to pull it off. I think this is the match – and we see a lot of these on TakeOver specials – where it seems neither guy is ripe for a loss. All the same, we don’t get schmoz finishes on TakeOvers, so I’m forced to make a call. Either finish here works. They can play it straight and have Black continue a nonstop rise to the top, or Dream can heel it up and get a questionable victory on NXT’s coolest character, drawing the kind of heat that might prime him to be one of Drew McIntyre’s next challengers (assuming they hold off on an enticing match with Adam Cole). I didn’t expect myself to pick Dream here, but now that I’ve written that idea out, that’s what I’m going to do.
Kassius Ohno vs. Lars Sullivan
Recently I wrote about how strange it was that Ohno had appeared in so few meaningful matches and feuds. The ink had barely dried on my words when Ohno started a little winning streak against enhancement talent, which now looks like it was made to strengthen Ohno simply to allow him to put over WWE’s newest monster.
Lars Sullivan has been the beneficiary of a well-done, organic push, as he wasn’t overexposed early, picking up losses in tag matches that allowed him to destroy his partners afterward. I can’t think of any good reason for him to lose that steam so early, so I’d expect this to be another win for him, though Ohno will get in more offense than any of Sullivan’s previous opponents.
Pete Dunne will be defending the UK Championship against Johnny Gargano before the show, and we’ll see this on Wednesday. Gargano has taken quite a few defeats recently, but I don’t see a good reason to put that specific title on him. Ruby Riot and Sonya Deville had a bit of a backstage issue a couple of shows ago, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them booked as well. The Street Profits are in the midst of a push, so maybe we’ll get a rematch with Sabbatelli and Moss (I hope so, as I regret any show where Montez Ford doesn’t appear; I sincerely hope he isn’t stashed in a tag team forever). Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, and Wolfgang are absent, but there’s still no telling what the plan is for these UK performers. Mustache Mountain could potentially work with Heavy Machinery, though I don’t know who plays heel in that scenario.
All in all, though every Takeover seems to be a strong offering, I’m probably not hiding the fact that I think this is some of the best build they’ve done for a show since Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were headlining shows. Next week, I’ll cover Velveteen Dream or perhaps a standout in the WarGames match. Cheers, everyone.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: NXT TRACKER – KASSIUS OHNO: Assessing and predicting the prospects of an NXT wrestler’s main roster future